Archive for January, 2016

How Wonderful We All Are in God’s Eyes!

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jer 1: 4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12: 31- 13: 13; Luke 4: 21-30

Dc. Larry Brockman

Isn’t it wonderful!  Isn’t it wonderful how unique and special each one of us is? In fact, I get excited every time I hear the words of the first reading.  “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you”.    Because, isn’t it exciting that each one of us is known to almighty God, even the least of us by world’s standards?

In today’s world, “the least” include all the disadvantaged of the world- the young, the old, the poor, and the handicapped.  And if we are honest with ourselves, that’s all of us at one time or another in our lives.  But yes, God takes a special interest in each one of us.  We were made in his image and likeness, and formed by God in our mother’s womb to be just exactly the person we are!

Now the reading also says that we were dedicated, and appointed as a prophet to the nations.  That is exciting too, because it says that each one of us has a Mission.  Yes, God has dedicated each of us to a Mission, our own specific Mission.  I think that we all lose sight of that fact by becoming embroiled in the things of this world- including the joys, the pains, and the distractions.

So, just what is or was our Mission?  Well, we were born into a particular family at a particular time in history.  Another way of saying that is that now is our time; and that we are charged to bloom where we were planted.  When we get older, we can sometimes see how that Mission unfolded.  We can see the fruits of our labor; we can see the family tree for which we are the roots; and we can see how good many of our experiences were.  We can even see how we have benefited from our mistakes because those were learning experiences.  And all well-meaning people take away a resolve to do better from their mistakes, particularly if we are sorry and have resolved to change.

You see, God is relentless in his pursuit of us.  He coaches us at every fork in the road to return to His favor.  But more often than not, we cannot see how all our lives fit into God’s overall plan.  In other words, we just can’t see how we fulfill our roles as “appointed prophets”?

Many of you probably watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” over Christmas.  It’s a great way to see how a seemingly common, yet well meaning, man’s life influences others for the good.  Just like the Jimmy Stewart character, each of us has blessed other people’s lives; fulfilling God’s appointed mission for us in some ways that we often-times cannot even begin to imagine.

Rather than seeing our value, we are focused on how we haven’t succeeded at this desire or that want; or how we weren’t given this gift or that gift, usually some “thing”; or how we are limited by time and age in what we can do; or how others have fared better in the World’s eyes than us.

In the second reading, St. Paul explains that each of us should   “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.”  Indeed, that is the way that each of us can discern God’s plan for us, our Mission, present and past.  Paul goes on to list them:  faith, understanding, knowledge of the Lord, the gift of prophecy, and others.  But he prefaces this list with the words:  “But I shall show you a still more excellent way”.  And so, as he lists the spiritual gifts we should all seek, he makes it clear that the gift that eclipses all of them is Love.  If we love one another in all of our contacts with one another, then we cannot go wrong- ever- in fulfilling God’s Mission for us.

And the love Paul speaks of is:  “Love is Patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth”.  And that kind of love for others is often hard for us.  But it is the way all of us hope God will treat us.  And so, it is the way all of us should treat others.

As background for this Gospel, recognize that Jesus has just been Baptized   And has spent 40 days in the desert using spiritual gifts to discern his mission.  Very confidently, he reads from Isaiah the prophecy of a savior; and boldly proclaims that the reading has been fulfilled in him.  Jesus certainly did what Paul recommended.  He loved all that he came in contact with.

We need not search for our Mission too far.  It is hard, but it is ultimately very simple.  We need to rejoice because the time and place we have been given in life is God’s gift to us.  We need to embrace the challenges of our lives, and to love all those placed in our lives by God.  That’s recognizing how wonderful we really are in God’s eyes; that’s blooming where we are planted.  And we will reap the rewards of our love for others, which is a form of Loving God, by experiencing the everlasting love of God in the Kingdom of God.

Them That Has Gits!

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Thursday of 3rd Week in Ordinary Time

2 Sam 7: 18-19, 24-29; Mark 4: 21-25

Dc. Larry Brockman

So, “To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  Wow!  That sounds so harsh, doesn’t it?

In today’s gospel, Jesus also talks about lamps hidden under the bed or being covered up.  He says these lamps were intended to be out in the open to shed light.  We are the lamps.  We cannot afford to hide under a bed or run for cover in the stream of life.  We are being told to shine the light of Christ for all of our brothers and sisters to see.  And what is it we are to illuminate?  The things hidden in the darkness- those things that are shrouded in secret.  Because light has not shone on them, they need to be exposed for what they are.  Yes, those who are people of the light need to expose evil for what it is- no covering your lamp when you hear of corruption and dishonesty; no hiding under the bed when someone speaks against the law of God; and no turning the other way when Christian values are being compromised.

There are a lot of folks today who do that, you know.  They hide or cover their lights in the name of “freedom”.  They say “After all, who am I to judge”; and “Everyone should have the freedom to live according to their own standard; isn’t that what freedom is all about?”

No, it is not.  Rather, it is our responsibility to save those who are on the wrong track.  It’s part of our responsibility as Christians to evangelize; to shine our light in the darkness.  And what is more, there are consequences if we don’t.

Now I suspect the people of the time didn’t understand this parable either.  So Jesus tells them that those who have ears need to listen.  Jesus probably sensed a Deer in the Headlights response from the people after he said that.  So he made the situation crystal clear.  “To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Just what does that have to do with the whole matter?  Well, grace is a free gift from God.  All of us who were Baptized received the graces of Baptism.  All of us who pray receive graces from God.  All of us who do God’s will, receive graces from God.  There is a relationship between the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and the graces that we receive.  And to those who do these things, more graces are given, while to those who don’t do these things, fewer graces are given.

It’s all up to us, isn’t it?  It depends on our Faith, our spirituality, our initial and follow-on response to God how much favor, or grace, we receive from God.  And ultimately, if we don’t act on our graces, what graces we have will be dissipated.  We will lose favor with God.

If I said to you  “Things will go smoothly for those who exercise good judgment; whereas things will go poorly for those who don’t.”  All of us could certainly see the logic and fairness to that.    Likewise, to those who make an effort in response to graces, more graces will be received. and to those who don’t make an effort, little will be given, and in fact, they may lose the faith and graces they do have.  And that is definitely fair.

The great challenge in life is not just to believe in God and his work of salvation that saved all of us who believe but to act on that Faith by shining our light as Christians no matter what the world tries to do to us.    And in very clear unmistakable terms, for those who do that  “Them that has, gits”.  And that is as fair as fair can be.

A Jealous King Learns a Lesson!

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time (U)

1 Sam 18: 6-9, 19: 1-7; Mk 3: 7-12

Dc. Larry Brockman

Jealousy!  It is one of the seven deadly sins.  This morning we hear how Saul had become jealous of David, so much so that he considered killing him.  And all because people sang and danced over “10 thousand” enemies that David allegedly slew whereas they gave King Saul credit for only “one thousand”.  For a while, David had been an answer to a prayer for Saul because he was so successful, but Saul’s ego got in the way and so he plotted against David.  Some of the text has been left out of this selection.  If you read it, you find Saul trying to use David’s attraction for his daughter Michol as a way to get at David.  Indeed, Saul’s anger runs deep.

Jealousy over someone else’s success is a human reaction that we all share, isn’t it?  It seems particularly hard for people to accept someone else’s success after they been successful themselves.  I am sure that all of us can think of a time when someone stole the spotlight from us.  And rather than rejoice in the other person’s success, we became envious or jealous.  I think about a first-born children, for example.  Perhaps a little boy is basking in the attention and the joy that went with undivided attention from his parents.  Along comes a baby sister and what a shock that little fellow has.  It seems as if the baby stole all the attention right out from under him.  I have seen that over and over in my innocent grandchildren as they came along.

But, when folks get older, this natural, innocent bewilderment can turn ugly.  Perhaps you feel you did a really great job on a work project, and all of a sudden someone else steals the show.  They did something themselves that for one reason or another, the boss raves about, but he seems to just gloss over your achievement.

What should we do when we feel that emotion of jealousy and envy, and even anger in situations like that?  First of all, recognize that life is just like that.  God’s gifts are given to everyone; everyone has a share of the limelight.  And, we should be happy when someone else succeeds.  After all, we all want them to be happy for us when we succeed.

But more than that, gifts are not balanced.  Whenever my wife baked a pie, she always used to have one of our kids cut the pie.  And whoever cut the pie was the person who received the last piece.  Everybody learned a key lesson from that.  No matter how hard you would try, it was just very hard to cut that pie so that everyone gets the same size piece.  And it is that way in life as well.  You might get the larger piece of the pie today, but someone else is going to get the larger piece of pie tomorrow.  That’s life.

Second, these deadly sins, like jealousy and envy, are the devil’s best chance to derail you from your real goals in life.  They draw attention to ourselves and our wants rather than God’s will for us.  And if we become consumed with jealousy and envy, we lose sight of what our lives are really all about-  the mission and goals that God has in mind for us.  That’s exactly where the devil wants us- consumed in ourselves.   On the other hand, sharing the limelight is a lesson in humility that all of us need to learn.  Because when you come right down to it, we are all really the same in God’s eyes even though we are as different as night and day in gifts, talents, and limitations.  It is God’s attention and praise we should be seeking; not the world’s.

Today’s Gospel echoes the same lesson.  All those people closing in on Jesus were doing it not because they loved God or Jesus; but because they wanted something from him- something worldly.  They were into themselves.  And so Jesus arranged for an escape from the pressure.

The next time you start to feel jealous or envious of someone else.  Think about how the devil is working on you.  Let it go, and seek after God’s praise first.

The Church as a Symbol (U)

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Thursday of the First Week In Ordinary Time

1 Sam 4: 1-11; Mk 1: 40-45

Dc. Larry Brockman

You see it quite frequently, someone riding around with a Rosary hanging from their rear view mirror.  Sometimes even cabbies have rosaries dangling from their rear view mirrors.  I asked a cabbie with such a rosary once if he was Catholic, pointing to his rosary.  He told me “no”, but said he believed that “it couldn’t hurt” and it might protect him against an accident!  This poor cabbie was just putting his trust in symbols, but not having any real sense of belief in what the symbol represented.

And so it was in the story about the Israelites defeat in battle against the Philistines this morning.  The words very clearly show that the Israelites summoned the Ark itself-  they wanted the physical presence of the Ark there.  There wasn’t any semblance of faith in what the Ark symbolized- the presence and power of Almighty God.  In fact, the Philistines seem to have a better understanding of the power behind the Ark than the Israelites did.  For they said “Gods have come to their camp”.  This motivated the Philistines to redouble their preparation, and to make sure they were as ready as possible.  Meanwhile, the Israelites whooped it up in a party, trusting that the symbol itself would carry the day.  Such a dreadful mistake.  Where was their respect for the God the Ark represented?  How did they prepare in God’s name for the battle?  By whooping it up?

Contrast all of this with the story of Faith presented in the Gospel.  Lepers were isolated from society, and if they approached people, they could be severely dealt with by the authorities.  But this leper violates all these taboos and takes a big risk because the leper’s faith is strong; and his attitude is very humble.  He has a plan, and he boldly approaches Jesus directly.  Kneeling before the Lord he says “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

Notice that his faith is strong, and he takes direct action.  By contrast the Israelites faith is lukewarm, and they are content to let the symbol do all the work for them.  There’s a lesson for all of us in this contrast.  It isn’t enough for us to just go through the motions that our Faith demands.  We need to embrace the Faith itself and take action.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am all for proudly displaying religious symbols in our homes and even on our persons.  But, the symbols are there to give witness to our Faith and to remind us of our Faith. They are there to call forth our Faith, whether we are in need or not.  But the Symbols themselves are powerless without the faith behind them.

One such symbol that we must carefully consider in today’s world is the Church itself.  People come to Church for a variety of reasons.  Do they come just to be associated with what the Church symbolizes- a religion.  For example- coming to be seen; to provide a social context;  to validate a life style; to fulfil an obligation or to find a safe haven.

Or do they come to worship God and to get to know him?  For example, to give special time and praise to God; to seek direction in one’s life; to know more about God; to teach and foster faith to our youth; to help spread our Faith to others outside the parish and to serve others as an example of Christ’s love.

I say all this because as numerous as Christians are in this country today, we are losing ground in battle against the forces of secularism each and every day.  Why?  Perhaps we are lukewarm in our Faith and hoping the Church will do the work for us?  But you see, the Church is us.

Oh, What a Wedding!

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Westminster Tower Wednesday Service

John 2: 1-12

Dc. Larry Brockman

So, the Christmas Season is all over!  Our joy is complete.  The Lord has come.  Well, not quite.  Let me explain.

We celebrate the coming of Jesus during the Christmas Season.  And we celebrate Christmas for 12 days until the Epiphany because the Epiphany commemorates when the three Wise Men arrived from the East and gave gifts to the baby Jesus, honoring him as the newborn King.  These three wise men, or kings, represent all of Mankind.  They were not from the Chosen people, the Jews; rather, they were from diverse Gentile nations.

Now Epiphany means “Manifestation”; and so, God “manifested”, that is, showed His presence as God-made-man, to all his people through these Wise Men because God’s gift of Jesus was meant for all of us, not just the Jews.  So traditionally, Christmas ended with this event since the joy of Jesus Coming had been shared with everyone.

But wait, there’s more to the Epiphany than that.  You see, most Christian Churches teach that there are three elements of God’s manifestation to us.  First, the Wise Men’s coming and honoring the new born King.  Second, the Baptism of the Lord, in which Jesus accepts God’s mission for him.  And third, Jesus will to execute his mission to all Mankind.

Now I know that your Chaplain shared thoughts on the Baptism of the Lord with you last week.  Baptism is our opportunity to shed our sin, and to be reborn by water and spirit into the Church.  Yes, we arise from the waters of Baptism as new people, committed to the will of God and our Christian faith.

The Baptism of the Lord had similar significance for Jesus.  Although Jesus had no sin, he arose from the waters of His Baptism a new person as well.  He accepted his Mission from the Father to live a different life.  Rather than the life of a Carpenter in the sleepy little village of Nazareth, Jesus was reborn to a new life.  He recognized that his mission was to become the Savior of the World by following God’s detailed plan for him to preach the good news of God’s love and to proclaim to all peoples that they should repent of their old self-centered worldly lives and follow in His footsteps to do the will of God the Father, even if that meant pain and suffering and rejection by the world.

And so, Jesus was awakened to that mission at His Baptism.  And he went away in the desert for 40 days to reflect on it all and to decide what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it.

That brings us to today’s incident, the Wedding at Cana.  You see, after returning from the desert, the third element of the manifestation occurred.  Jesus now implemented his mission by “coming out”, so to speak, and revealing that he was special.  Jesus launched his ministry by performing an extraordinary miracle at Cana, by turning water into wine, 120 gallons of it.    This was a public ministry that brought salvation to us all.  And our joy as Christians is not complete without salvation.

There are a couple of things that the Gospel tells us about this “Coming Out” that we will talk about.  But first, I will share a little on the culture of a first century Jewish wedding.  Scholars tell us these wedding celebrations went on for a week.  Not only that, but wine was a key element of them.  In fact, the Aramaic word for the nuptial celebration was “Mistita”, meaning drink festival.  And if you think that’s shocking, consider this Rabbinical dictum, or saying, of the time:  “Where there is no wine, there is no joy”.  So, what a wedding that must have been!

Scholars also tell us that the bride was probably related to Mary in some way.  The Bible says Mary was there already, and that context implies she was there other than by invitation, presumably because she somehow belonged there as a relation.  We know Jesus and 5 of his disciples were invited, that is, called to the wedding, and that it took 3 days to get there, from Nazareth to Cana.  Each of the men probably brought a guest.

What this means is that Mary, Jesus, and his group of disciples represented a significant part of the wedding party’s guests.  So, presumably they were consuming a significant portion of the wine, too.  And that puts a different light on Mary’s request to Jesus, doesn’t it.

Now, did you notice that Jesus was reluctant when challenged?  He tells his Mother- “Woman, how does your concern affect me” when she mentions the wine is running short.  You know, there’s a lot in that exchange for us to ponder.  Think back on your own lives about your relationship with your parents, or with your children.  If you and your children went to a party and their friends drank all the wine, wouldn’t any good mother be concerned about what she saw happening, and say something to her child?  And what would your son say to you if you pointed that out to him?  And yet, this exchange sounds kind of sharp to us, doesn’t it?  So, what was Jesus thinking?

Well, scholars tell us that similar use of the word “woman” elsewhere in scripture actually implies that Jesus was using a formal term of respect when addressing his mother as “Woman” in public.  Additionally, they say that his response was more like “we just have a different way of looking at it” with regard to the fact the wine was gone, rather than “don’t bother me, it’s not my concern”.  In other words, it was not a rebuke or rejection, as it sounds to us.  And so we are sidetracked by this first seemingly shocking part of his response, and may not have noticed the essence of his response.  Because the real crux of his response is this:  “My hour has not yet come.”

Could it be that even after the Baptism and reflection in the desert, for 40 days that Jesus is still not sure how to handle his mission?  Is Jesus holding back on launching his public ministry?

Whether his mother sensed all this or not, we do not know.  But we do know she didn’t let the matter ride.  Rather his Mother tells the servants to “do whatever he tells you”.  Ah, yes.  Children might appear to be on a different page and not fully responsive to their parents.  But Mothers know their children and trust they will do the right thing.  “It’s the way I brought you up”, right?

Now stone vessels were not something you left around the house.  They were not fabricated out of clay, but had to be carefully hewn- they were expensive.  So, these 6 vessels had been brought in especially for this event-   And they were used to hold water, some 20 gallons of water apiece.  And this water was used for purification purposes, the “ceremonial washings” associated with the wedding.  Now, these were filled to the brim- a sign of plentitude.  And miraculously, they were turned to fine wine- 120 gallons of wine.

It strikes me that all of this symbolizes things.  First, the ceremonial washing with the water symbolizes the old way of doing things, strict adherence to the Mosaic Law and the Old Testament.  The water made wine prefigures the wine at the Last Supper and the New Testament.  So the new way to purity is to live the life of the Lord by consuming his flesh and blood in the Eucharist and taking on his way.  Lastly, all who partake are joined together, with Christ the Bridegroom and his people the Church, the brides.  Oh, what a wedding that symbolizes!

But for the moment, the just wine serves to meet a need for the embarrassed bride and groom.  It is pronounced by the expert to be truly exceptional wine; wine that which should have been served first.  Indeed, the New Covenant is the way, the truth, and the light.  Would that it had come earlier.

It is clear that word of this miracle would spread and spread quickly.  Indeed, the third manifestation of the Lord to us had arrived- Jesus public ministry had been accepted and begun.  The word was out; Jesus had performed a miracle.  And thus, the Church launches “Ordinary Time”, a time in which we hear of Jesus public Ministry.

Every one of us goes through a three-fold process in life to manifest our worthiness for everlasting life.  First, we are born into this world, just as the Baby Jesus was born at Christmas.  Second, we die to the things of this world and recognize that life is all about believing in God and following Jesus.  That’s what the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are all about.  And lastly, it is not enough to accept Jesus in our lives, we have got to take action.  We have got to move out and do the will of the Father.  Our joy in recognizing the path to Everlasting Life isn’t complete until we take that last step.  And each of us is confronted by obstacles along the way, just as Jesus encountered them.

First, we might recognize what God’s will is for us, but we fight it.  Perhaps you haven’t taken the time to reflect on the urgings from your heart to focus on the mission God is calling you to.  If that is the case, then the upcoming season of Lent is for you.  Lent represents the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert sorting his life and mission out.  So, Lent is the perfect time to discipline yourselves to get away from it all, listen to God, and resolve to make a change, that is repent, and follow his urgings.

Or you might have a vision of what God intends for you, but you are afraid or reticent to move out.  So you waffle over when the time is right to move out.  So, be looking for those little signs that direct you to move out now.  Jesus’ mother, Mary, acted in that capacity in this story when she told Jesus about the waning wine.

For three years, virtually all of Jesus’ public life, Jesus spread a message of love- proclaiming the beatitudes, telling parables, and giving first hand examples that all people are God’s children.  Jesus’ life was a script for all of us on how to relate to one another.

And that’s what we are all called to do- to minister to the people that God has put in our lives- the difficult neighbor; the prodigal son; the selfish children; the quiet person in the corner; the noisy chatterbox in the center of the room; and your best friend who has just lost a loved one.  All of these folks are our mission.  And all of them help us to experience the ultimate joy.  That comes with the Coming of Christ, and membership as a Bride of Christ in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.  Oh, what a wedding that will be!

God Loves Everyone (U)

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Thursday After Epiphany

1 Jn 4: 19- 5:4; Lk 4: 14-33

Dc. Larry Brockman

So, “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  Wow! That’s a very significant insight from St. John.  And he is not just talking about our blood brothers either.  Because we are all the brotherhood of man.

Look at it this way; God made all of us.  And God doesn’t make junk.  So all of us are God’s people, and all of those he made are loved.  Why would God consciously make someone he didn’t love?  And God has shown us that his creation is varied- black, brown, yellow, white;  unborn; Children; Men; Women; Homosexuals; rich; poor; talented; handicapped;  athletic; and crippled.  Whoever has been conceived by natural processes to be born into this world; God loves  We are all God’s children and so each of us is fashioned by God with our own unique talents, gifts, and limitations with the same love.  It’s just that our perspectives don’t necessarily see it that way.

We can’t really love God if we don’t love all the people that God loves because our rationale for following God’s command to love has to match God’s own concept of love.  We can’t reject anyone that God loves; that’s not the love of God.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us what God’s plan is for him.  First, he reads the prophecy of Isaiah on the Messiah’s coming:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”  Then, he declares boldly that this prophecy has been fulfilled today by him; making it clear that he is the Messiah, the one who will accomplish all that was promised in the prophecy.

God loves the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed, just as much as the well off, those already free, the physically able, and those with the upper hand; and it is clear from this Gospel that his first priority is those the world considers as disadvantaged!

We have just embarked on the year of Mercy as announced by Pope Francis.  What does that mean for you and I?  Well, these readings should awaken a sense of duty within  us to internalize what mercy means in our own lives, t live the love of Christ for all of his creation.  It doesn’t just mean dropping a few extra bucks in the collection basket for the poor.  It doesn’t just mean adding an extra intention to our daily prayers.  It should mean something more than that.  It should mean that we have mercy on the poor, captive, and suffering in our own lives.

Who are the poor and captive and suffering in our lives?  They are those in our families with imperfections and limitations;  those who are captive to their own blindness and who resist God’s love. And it includes those who take advantage of our better nature in society- the homeless, those in disastrous relationships, those who are bullies and those who have turned their backs on God.

Why?  Because that’s what we hope God will do for each and every one of us when we recognize our own weaknesses; and because we are the only window that these people may have to the love of God.  Our limitations should teach each of us to be humble in the face of our God; but our talents are to be shared for the good of all our brothers; and a talent all of us can develop is true Christian love whereby we continue to love even those who give us the worst time.

Our first reading ends with this quote:  “For whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.”  We don’t conquer the world by rising above the worldly in a worldly way.  Rather, we conquer the world by echoing God’s love through our faith in God and by loving with our own loving spirit, no matter how difficult the people in our lives are and what they throw at us.

So, think of someone in your life who needs mercy; and with the love of Christ, be merciful to them.