Archive for February, 2016

Take Care Not to Fall

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent

Ex 3:1:8a, 13-15; 1 Cor 10: 1-6, 10-12; Luke 13: 1-9

Dc. Larry Brockman


“Whoever thinks that he is standing secure should take care not to fall”. Such is Paul’s advice to us in the second reading. Well, just how secure are we then?

Today, we hear about God the Father identifying Himself to Moses, and hence to all of God’s people. We learn than He is the God of the living and of the dead; that He is the only God. Indeed, part of our security rests in believing that there is just one God; and in putting our allegiance, our faith, in him. But that is not all there is to it.

We also hear that, our God is so holy, so almighty, and so awesome, that not even Moses and the prophets, including Abraham, could look directly at Him. God expects, and even demands, that we respect and honor him with a humble and contrite spirit, one that recognizes that life is not all about us; that God is the ultimate authority; and that it is His will that is of utmost importance. All of us need to be right with God and recognize our true self when we stand before him.

In the second reading, we hear the whole saga of the Old Testament Israeli Exodus summed up in one paragraph. God chose the Israelis as his chosen people and saved them from disaster at the hands of the Egyptians. How? Well, He protected and guided them in the shadow of his Spirit, the cloud, during the Exodus. They all emerged from the waters of Baptism, the Red Sea, as a new people, free from domination by the Egyptians. And they all ate of the one food- mana from the desert; and drank the one spiritual gift- the water from the rock at Horeb; which sustained them through the desert- a symbol of the rocky and barren spiritual environment that all of us have to weather in this secular world.

Yet, even in the very wake of these incredible deeds of salvation, the Israelis forgot the Lord and began to worship idols and to doubt God’s providence. As a result, they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and were held back from the promised land. We are told that their “sins”- that is, rejection of the salvation won for them, doubt, and their turning towards the world- are written down for us as examples of what we need to avoid.

Now I suspect that all of us are guilty of the same errors as the Israelis in one way or another. All of us have learned about the Messiah Jesus Christ, and have heard the good news, the Gospel, about how he suffered death because he was obedient to the will of His Father; and how he was resurrected and lives now forever with His father in the kingdom of God. In addition, He left the church to us to pass on His story, and to offer all of us everlasting life if we believe in Him and follow God’s will for us, just as He accepted God’s will for Him in this life.

But despite all of what we have heard and all of what we have professed that we believe, we drift away from God’s will for us from time to time. Temptations, preoccupations with our own condition, desires for things of this world, and laziness, are just some of the symptoms that keep us from listening to and doing God’s will for us. And so, the warning from Paul not to be complacent: “Whoever thinks that he is standing secure should take care not to fall”, also applies to us.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are all called to repent, that is, to change; otherwise, we will perish as others did. Notice that the Gospel story makes it clear that people are not singled out by God for retribution.  Hence the tower of Siloam did not fall on the guilty, nor were the folks slaughtered by the Romans singled out for their sin. Rather, Jesus tells the people that one cannot know the time and place that we will be called to account by God.

The parable of the fig tree sums up how God will deal with us. Jesus’s mission in Israel was 3 years long, just as the fig tree had been given 3 years to bear fruit. Neither the Israeli leaders nor the fig tree had responded. But Jesus says that God is merciful, and will give everyone an extra “year” to bear fruit. Yes, all of us will be given time after we hear the message to repent. That “year” might end tonight, tomorrow, next year, ten years from now, or whatever. But the point is that we all still have time to repent, to change.

Lent is our opportunity to reflect and change. Use the time wisely.

Praying as an Adult

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Thursday of First Week in Lent

Esth C12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7: 7-12

Dc. Larry Brockman

Prayer! It’s one of the three pillars of our Lenten observance, along with Almsgiving and Fasting.  And Prayer is the topic of both of today’s readings.

Jesus is quite explicit about prayer in the Gospel.  “Ask and it will be given to you.”  He says whether you ask, seek, or knock on the door, God will give to you; will help you find; or will open the door.  And then he makes sure we know that not only will God answer our prayer, but it will always be with His best for you.

Yet sometimes we feel that our prayers go unanswered.  So, how do we reconcile that?

Two thoughts come to mind.  The first is that we are children of God now; and His relationship with us is truly like a Father’s relation to his children.  We can relate to a father fielding the requests of his children, can’t we?  Their requests are kind of like prayer, you know.  When they are young, they hold their father in great esteem.  There is nothing a father can’t do; he is the ultimate authority figure; he is the giver of good things; and he loves through and through.  He is always the person who disciplines; and to that extent, we respect and fear him.  Sound familiar?

Now, the things you asked your father for were not always the best for you-  particularly at the time you asked for them.  So, sometimes you were told “no”; sometimes you were told “maybe”; and sometimes you were told “later”.  But most of the time, as a good Christian father, he always did what was best for you.  And if you didn’t get what you asked for explicitly, chances are you got something more suited to your real needs.  So it is with God.

The other thing that comes to mind is that we need to make our prayer requests in a mature manner.  So, instead of praying to God the Father as a child makes requests to his father, we need to make our requests at a higher level.  We need to learn how to pray at an adult level.  That’s where Esther’s prayer to the Lord in the Old Testament can help us.

First, let me say a little about Esther’s plight.  Esther was a Jew who was selected for her beauty to marry the Persian King, but, the Persians were unaware that Esther was a Jew.  Her foster father, Mordecai, was a leader of the Jews in exile.  Mordecai had irritated the King’s number one man, Haman, because he refused, as did his Jewish followers, to kneel before the pagan gods.  So, Haman manipulated the king into issuing a decree that would have exterminated the Jews.  This decree was seemingly irreversible, else the king’s written word would appear to be compromised.  Esther knows that she has influence with the king, and so, we come to our scripture for today.

Notice these things about Esther’s Prayer.  First, she opens by praising God and approaching Him with humility.  That is established in some of the missing text, where she takes off her Queenly garments, and dresses in plain clothing for mourning.  Next, she admits that the Lord alone can help her, and even recognizes that approaching the King might put her own life at risk.  Yet, she asks not that God work some miracle; rather, that God will give her the wisdom she needs by asking that God;  “Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and his co-conspirators may perish.”   And this prayer takes hours and hours and hours.  Esther shows great patience.

Esther is asking God to enable her to do God’s will; she is offering to take the risk and do whatever is required herself.  And she defers to the saving power of the Lord, a sign of submission.

So should we pray to the Lord our God.  Our prayers should openly praise God; and we should approach Him with humility and patience;  but most of all, we should ask him to enable us to do his will in the situation we find ourselves in.  And so, to have faith that He has already done it, and accept His providence.

Indeed, be confident to “Ask and it will be given to you.”

Where is Your Heart?

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Thursday After Ash Wednesday

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

Dc. Larry Brockman

Where is your heart?

When you break down Moses speech to the Israelite people, that was the essence of His speech to them.  Moses laid out a set of laws and precepts to live by that would assure the people would remain in God’s favor.  Then he tells them that each of them has a choice; and their society has a collective choice.  Either the people would listen to God’s plan for choosing life everlasting that Moses had set before them; in which case they would be blessed by God.    Or they would turn their hearts from God’s way allowing themselves to be led astray by the world, and by choosing other gods to worship; in which case, disaster would strike their nation.

The Old Testament is filled with cycles of obedience and disobedience; prosperity and disaster; and belief and disbelief as the Israelites wandered back and forth in their allegiance to the Lord.  In each of these cycles, we can see where the heart of the people was; and we can see whether their nation was blessed or not.

It comes down to that, you know.  It isn’t just your heart, or my heart that matters, but it is the collective allegiance of all of the people that determines prosperity or disaster for society.

And yet, Moses was talking to each person in that crowd.  And the Church uses Moses to talk to each of us this morning because Moses message applies to us as well.  We have the same choice as individuals today that each of the Israelites had in Moses time.  We are being asked where are hearts are this morning.

And Moses message was repeated in Luke’s Gospel in one of Jesus parables.  Remember the line “Where your treasure is, there is your heart”?  Jesus was talking about the same thing.  Wherever each individual’s priority is, that is where their heart is.  And if the hearts of the people collectively are focused on something other than God’s way, then that is a recipe for disaster for society as a whole.

The world has seen many cycles of faithfulness followed by lack of faith since Jesus birth, death, and resurrection; and so, whole nations have experienced rises and falls in their prosperity.  And it can all be traced to where the hearts of the people were.  Our nation seems to be wandering from a collective heart that favors the way of the Lord.  Woe to us for that.

But you know what?  The good news is that it doesn’t really matter to the individual.  Each of us has a choice; and our salvation doesn’t depend on what the rest of the people in our society do.  The health of our society depends on it, but not our individual salvation.  All that matters for you is where your heart is.

That’s where our Gospel comes in today.  Jesus boldly proclaims that he must suffer and die at the hands of evil men, men who have made another choice with their hearts; people whose society sanctions other gods and lack of faith and trust in God.  It was a shocker to his disciples that Jesus would have to suffer; it was inconceivable to them.  But he was showing them the way to salvation, as he is showing it to us this morning.

Each of us needs to follow Jesus example and live according to God’s law regardless of how the rest of society tries to undermine us.  We have to stand up for what we believe in our individual lives- to support respect life; to support real marriage and family values; to be generous and kind to the poor and disadvantaged; and a whole host of other ways of living the faith that is written in our hearts.   In the extreme, we may even have to suffer the backlash of the establishment as Jesus did, that’s what it means for us to take up our crosses and follow him.

Lent is a great time for all of us to ask the question.  Where is your heart?  Because where your heart is, that is where your future lies.

Why Should I Observe Lent?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Ash Wednesday Service

Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18

Dc. Larry Brockman

Ashes! All of us are gathered here to receive ashes? Why?

Is it because it’s the thing to do?  Is it because you long for something different, some change in life?  Or is it because you hope the meaning of life will come into focus for you?

When you receive ashes, you will hear these words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return”.  Yes, the real meaning of life in this world becomes blurred in the glitter and the attractions of the world.  After the joy and celebration of Christmas, the Church reminds us that life in this world is not about self-indulgence; it is not about the joys and fruits of the world.  All of that, good or bad as it seems, will end as it began for us- in ashes.  And it is certain to end in ashes.  So, what is life all about?

Jesus spent 40 days just after his Baptism reflecting on his life and mission.  His whole person was in turmoil- facing the promptings from the Spirit that told him what life in this world was really all about for him.  But Satan tormented him with the other side.  “You don’t have to suffer; you’ve got it Jesus; and I can make you anything you want; just worship me”.

And that’s the way it is for all of us too.  All of us are tempted to make our lives comfortable; to focus on what’s best just for me; rather than follow the tiny whispering sound of the Spirit working through our consciences to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

The Gospel we read provides us Jesus’ advice on how to conduct our Lenten journey.  It was based on his own 40 days in the desert.  Find some time alone to reflect and pray.  And divest yourselves of attachments to things of this world.  He suggests three things.

The first suggestion is to give alms.  That means giving something to others.  But you don’t give alms to win points with those watching.  Rather, you do it to help you focus on others, not yourself.  Who or what is it that God is calling you to serve in this life?

And Jesus advises us to pray in a quiet of space, not openly for all to see.  Jesus is not against public and group prayer.  That’s not his point.  His point is that when you need reflective prayer, and all of us do, then that prayer is not for show, for others to see.  Rather, it is for us to get in tune directly with God so that the Spirit can help us to focus on God’s mission for us.  Where can you go and when can you go there so that Jesus has a chance to touch you in that way?

And lastly, Jesus advises us to fast.  Again, not to call attention to our self- induced suffering and how holy we are; but rather, so that we divest ourselves of what is blocking our spiritual growth.  Just what is it that is blocking your spiritual growth?  What is it that is taking so much of your time, so much of your energy, or so much of your resources that you cannot hear your inner voice; you cannot focus on God’s mission for you.  Give that up for Lent rather than beer or chocolate or coffee or whatever.  Maybe it’s TV or the Internet or, God forbid, Facebook!

Lent is an opportunity to come to grips with the real meaning of your life so you are ready for the Resurrection and life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.  Take advantage of the 40 days just as Jesus did.  Or the ashes you receive today will have lost their meaning.

Who Speaks With Authority?

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 2: 1-4, 10-12; Mark 6: 7-13

Dc. Larry Brockman

I couldn’t help but notice some common threads between our Old Testament reading and the Gospel.  In both cases, authority was delegated by the principal.  David delegated his authority to Solomon; and Jesus delegated his authority to the Apostles.  In both cases, Kings delegated their authority- the righteous King of Israel, David; and Christ the King.

The delegations carry with them some important advice.  David tells his son to always, always, obey the law of God.  Jesus tells his disciples to preach repentance; meaning that the folks in the towns they visited needed to mend their lives in accordance with the law of God.

However, there are some differences as well.  David’s delegation of authority carried the full weight of the government.  After all, he was the earthly King of Israel.  Jesus delegation of authority was totally outside either the political or religious governing bodies.  Jesus was heralding a “new way of living”.  Jesus was asking folks, through the “Church” he was forming to convert the minds and hearts of the people to repent , without the legal weight of the government.

Just who should we listen to these days?  The Government?  The media?  Charismatic  self-proclaimed experts?  Information and pundits are prolific in our society.  All of us have access to hundreds of TV and Radio Stations;  an infinite resource of information sources over the Internet; and more books, periodicals, and other written sources than one can imagine.  And lots of the information we hear conflicts.  Political commentators conflict on root causes of problems and there are many views on moral standards because of the acceptance of pluralistic views on religion, all of which vie for our time and claim to have the truth, the answer to what life is all about.  Just who should we listen to?

The answer rests in what real authority is.  The root meaning of authority in this sense of the word is simply this:  They were given power by the legitimate source of power.  David was the King of God’s chosen people, the people of God in the Old Testament.  Jesus is Christ the King, the King of all mankind in the New Covenant.  Jesus has the legitimate power to delegate, and his message is pure and unencumbered by earthly corruption.  The Apostles didn’t assume this power; they were given this power by Jesus.  So, the message was not their message; it was God’s message.

Now, the Apostles were told not to take anything extra.  In other words, they weren’t bringing their own message forward; and they weren’t asking for anything of material value in return for it.  They were neutral; they had nothing personal to gain.  They were messengers who were simply following God’s will for them.  They had the simplest and most pure motivation, their enthusiasm for the message of Jesus.  Lastly, they had faith, great faith- the kind of faith that David speaks about in his parting words on his deathbed.  David told Solomon to always, always obey the Lord in all things, never questioning the law.  That takes tremendous faith.    And because they had these simple characteristics- faith, authority, and purity of purpose; they were able to work wonders as they moved through the people, driving away unclean spirits, curing the lame, and healing the sick.

In the politically correct, pluralistic , secular society in which we live  Who should we listen to?  Our government? Wikipedia? The latest silver tongued “feel-good” preacher?   Or do we listen to people who are like the Apostles that Jesus sent out.  The choice is yours.  As for me, I’ll stay with the Church.