Archive for March, 2017

Making the Works of the Lord Manifest Through You

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Sam 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Eph 5: 8-14; Jn  9: 1-41

Dc. Larry Brockman

Blind from birth!  In Biblical times that kind of defect was considered the consequence of the sins of the parents.  But we hear very clearly from Jesus’ own lips that this blind man’s blindness was not a consequence of their sin; but rather: “It is so the works of God may be made visible through him”.  Just how?   

Well, have you considered that in a way, all of us are “blind at birth”?  The great St. Augustine made this observation, and I quote:  “For the blind man here is the human race.   Blindness came upon the first man by reason of sin: and from him we all derive it.   That is, man is blind from his birth” – end quote.  Yes, we are all blind to God’s message not by virtue of our sins or our parent’s sin, but because of Original Sin- the sin of Adam.  We are born into the world prone to sin, and we are of the world unless we make a conscious decision to seek God; unless we make a decision to be enlightened about things that are not of this world.   

And so, St. Paul speaks about that enlightenment.  We were once darkness, he says. That is the darkness that comes from being children of the world.  Children of the world seek the things of the world- it’s comforts, it’s pleasures, and it’s works, in the hope that it will bring happiness and satisfaction.  The problem is that at some point in our lives we realize that things of this world really can’t bring happiness.   

All of us are prone to limitations- whether they are from our minds or our bodies or our environment.  And eventually these limitations take over.  In other words, we lose our loved ones, or we lose our agility, or we lose our minds or both; and eventually we die.  And if all there is to life is life in this world; then life to the fullest in this world will all have been in vain.    But if we live in the Lord, it is then we are living in the light of the Lord.  Paul goes on to tell us that we should live as children of the light “Which produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth”.   

Now Jesus also says this directly in the Gospel:  “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work”.  So, Jesus is telling us that while we live, our mission is to do the works that the Father desires for us.  We have to do that while we live, because after we die we will not have an opportunity to choose him- we will have already made that choice in our lifetimes.   

It is only after Jesus gave that advice that he heals the blind man.  Jesus heals the blind man, a symbol of all humanity, as a sign of the path to salvation that He the Christ will provide.    Notice that he mixes his spittle with the dust of the earth, forming a kind of clay; just as the origin of life emanated from clay in the creation story.  But it is clay that uses Jesus spittle, symbolizing the effect of God’s creating Word coming from his mouth mixed with the dust of the earth.  And so, this blind man goes to the waters of the pool of Siloam, which means “sent”.  This prefigures Baptism, for the blind man emerges from that pool in a new life.  He is able to see, he is able to understand,  and he is sent forth to do his mission.  And this is the process each of us experiences- Baptism, a new life in Christ, and a mission selected by God for us.   

The blind man’s mission, of course, is to be a witness for Christ in front of the Jewish Establishment.  This he does fearlessly, only to be rejected by them, thrown out of the temple.  Jesus invites him to follow him as the Christ, which he does.   

And so, let all of us reflect on our salvation process.  For we were all called, as was the blind man, to go and be Baptized, and then sent from Baptism to be witnesses for Christ by doing his will for us. 

Lent is our opportunity each year to reflect on our mission.  Have we responded “yes” to our Baptismal rebirth in the Church?  Have we rejected the things of darkness, which are solely of this world and embraced our mission to shine the light of Christ in the world around us?   

Because the blind man represents all of us our positive response to the Lord at Baptism and in our lives is the way the works of the Lord will be made manifest to all.  We who believe and follow are the body of Christ, and we will be the light of the world till the end of time.

Have You Stiffened Your Neck?

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week in Lent

Jer 7: 23-28; Lk 11: 14-23

Dc. Larry Brockman

They have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers”.  Such are the prophet’s words from the Lord to the Israelis.  For generation after generation after they had been delivered from slavery to the Egyptians, the Israelis became complacent with their prosperity and freedom. They were so complacent that when the prophets told them that they were drifting away from the Lord by ignoring the law that Moses had handed onto them,  they “stiffened their necks”, meaning they just kept going right along in  their former path oblivious to the words of the prophets.   

Why? Because the prophets told them what they didn’t want to hear.  The prophets kept telling them that things had to change- they had to repent and follow the Lord’s law.   

That’s exactly what the Pharisees and Scribes did in the face of miracles that Jesus worked.  These religious leaders were the standard that others were supposed to seek- the good guys.  But Jesus kept telling them that they needed to change- they needed to live the law with their hearts.  The suggestion that they were less than perfect in their religious observance was threatening to them.  Because Jesus message was so repugnant to them, they sought desperately to discredit him by claiming his works were actually from the devil.  And Jesus called them on it. Only rather than get into an argument by quoting scripture to these scriptural experts, Jesus uses plain, simple, everyday logic on them; logic that the crowd of observers could easily relate to. 

How absurd were their claims that casting a devil out of a man be seen as the work of another devil.  Indeed, a house divided against itself does not stand.  And finally, he uses the argument “you are either for me or against me”.   

The lesson for us today is very simple.  It is so easy to get into the rut of complacency in our spiritual lives.  We desperately want to feel that we are on the right track.  And so, we really don’t want to hear about having to change our lives.  We want to just keep doing what we are doing, just like the Pharisees did.  And as long as our righteousness looks better than what we see other people doing, we tend to become complacent with our current situation.  In a sense, we “stiffen our necks”.   

Perhaps that’s why these scriptures were applied to Lent. because Lent is that time of year when we are challenged by the Lord to become better people.  Yes, better than we are even if we think everything is OK. 

In the other gospels, the man Jesus cured today was not only possessed by a demon, but he was blind and deaf as well.  When we are in a rut in our spiritual lives, we are blind and deaf to God’s message.  You know what? 

God’s message on how we can serve him better is all around us.  All we have to do is listen to it.  For example, our country is filled with those who hunger and thirst, they come for help at St. Vincent de Paul and other places.  Our country is full of people who hurt- they are in hospitals and rest homes and jails; and there are many who are taken advantage of- human trafficking is a real problem right here in Orlando.  But the more entrenched we become in our daily lives, the more we “stiffen our necks” at the suggestion that we have to change.   

Next week, the parish conducts a mission- right in the middle of Lent.  It’s a great opportunity to stop and listen and take to heart the lesson of the Old Testament that we are continually being called to conversion of heart; we are continually being called to become better. 

After all, we are either for Christ, or we are against him.

Shaking Us From Our Apathy

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Thursday of the Second Week in Lent

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

Dc. Larry Brockman

How ironic!  First, Jesus tells the parable about the rich man and Lazarus.  And in that parable, the rich man wants Abraham to have Lazarus rise from the dead to warn his 5 brothers that they need to mend their selfish lives.  But Abraham says that if people will not listen to Moses and the prophets, then neither will they listen to someone raised from the dead!  Jesus told that parable for the Pharisees and Priests benefit.  But they didn’t get the connection then, even though the Chief Priest was one of 5 brothers!  

But then, irony of ironies, Jesus actually went on to raise a person name Lazarus from the grave!  You know, Martha and Mary’s brother Lazarus.  And it was in front of the Pharisees and Priests and Scribes, too- the same people the first parable was directed to.  And do you know what the Pharisees, Priests and Scribes did?  They got so angry they actually plotted to kill Lazarus because of his testimony.  Not only that, the raising of Lazarus was one of the things that pushed the Jewish Rulers over the edge  After that they wanted to have Jesus arrested and put to death.

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

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

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

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

There is one thing all of us can do and that is to pray.  That’s what the Blessed Mother continually asks us to do when she appeared to visionaries at Medugorje and other places; and it’s what the Church is asking us to do during Lent.  Remember, we are being asked to engage in Fasting, Alsmgiving and Prayer during Lent.    And what is it that we should pray for.  Lots of things: our enemies conversion; inspiration on how we can deal with and solve our problems; that God will somehow intercede, and perhaps even send us a leader; but most of all, to trust that when we pray, our prayers will be answered.   

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

Find Your Holy Life

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent

Gen 12: 1-4a; 2 Tim 1: 8b-10; Mt 17: 1-9

Dc. Larry Brockman

Guess what? You were called to a holy life! That’s what Paul’s message to us is today. Yes, every one of us is called to a holy life. But what exactly does that mean?

Well, Paul says something very profound about that today. He says that a holy life is not measured by our works; but rather by our willingness to embrace the mission we are called to by God’s design. What is more, he says that mission was bestowed on us even before time began! That’s how universal and sweeping God’s overall plan is. And he tells us we have been given the grace to accomplish that mission, whatever it is.

The church gives us two examples today of persons who embraced God’s call and followed their mission. The first is Abram, known as Abraham. Abraham left the land of his fathers at the ripe age of 75, leaving everything behind; and settling in the land of Canaan. At the age of 75! That’s a lifetime for most of us; a time 10 years beyond normal retirement age.

But Abraham was willing to begin all over again in a new land. Abraham listened to the voice of God in his heart; trusted in the providence of God; and did as he was prompted. He could have raised more sheep; more cattle, and had much more influence right where he was because his family was well off. He could have retired in relative luxury. But he was a man of faith and trust in the Lord. And so he left and embraced a future of unknown challenges- all because he listened to God and trusted.

The second example is Jesus. Jesus has already had his 40 day sojourn to the desert by the time of this morning’s story about the Transfiguration. He had prayed, he had reflected, he had been tempted, and he had prevailed over the devil. He knew that his Father wanted him to preach repentance of sins and the coming of the kingdom of God. Now he was ready for that mission that God had chosen for him from the beginning of time.

So he ascends the mountain with his closest associates- Peter James and John. There, he is transfigured, transformed into a state that reflects his future glorification. He converses with Moses and Elijah. Scripture scholars tell us Moses represents the Law; and Elijah represents the prophets. The Gospel of Luke tells us what they were talking about- “Jesus departure from Jerusalem”. That means they were talking about Jesus mission to go to Jerusalem; preach the truth in the name of God and announce the coming of the kingdom of God; urge all mankind to believe in him, repent, and follow him. Because he followed that mission, he was arrested, tried, suffered, crucified, buried, and then rose on the third day. All this would happen according to the law and the prophets, because Jesus fulfilled what the law had prescribed and what the prophets had predicted.  This is represented by the conversations with Moses and Elijah. And we know that Jesus departure from Jerusalem was accomplished through his death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus tells them in both Matthew and Mark’s account that they should tell no one of this event till he rises from the dead. And they were baffled by that reference.

Now the Transfiguration is important to all of us because it is validates who Jesus is, and provides a pattern for the Apostles, and ultimately all of us to follow. All three persons of the trinity were present at the Transfiguration. Jesus, of course, in his body; the Father in the voice; and the Holy Spirit in the cloud that overshadowed the Apostles. Just imagine how powerful this must have been to Peter, James, and John. They fell face down on the ground in terror; that’s how remarkable it was. But then, Jesus predicts everything that would happen to him three times after the Transfiguration.  At the time, this baffled the Apostles; as wee; they couldn’t believe it. But on Easter when everything had happened just as Jesus had predicted, these men were firm in their belief.  These were powerful, unforgettable, God incidents that gave them unshakeable faith and firm resolve to go out and spread the Gospel to all nations. That was their mission; that was how they lived a holy life.

And so, we come back to our mission. How do we live a holy life? We need to follow the pattern. First, we have to reflect on our lives and listen to the voice of the Lord. That’s what the 40 days of Lent are all about. As we do that, we need to remember works are not as important as that urge inside of you on what God’s design is for you.

Some seem to be called to the glorious things of life- they are physically or mentally gifted, they are talented in art or music or sports, they are leaders; they are intelligent. But talents don’t always correspond to God’s call. Talents are gifts we use to fulfill God’s call. And it’s not about our agenda it’s about God’s agenda. His goals and the accomplishments needed to achieve them may differ from our personal goals and objectives. God is looking for a team effort, and just like any team effort, the team goal is what is most important, not the individual achievements. The team goal is conversion and salvation for all.

Others have talents which are less glorious in the eyes of the world but may be more in line with God’s objectives. Like people who are caregivers; people who humbly serve other’s needs, and people who support and enable but don’t lead. These efforts all contribute to the team goal of universal salvation when they are done in love.

We still have 4 weeks to go till Easter. Use Lent wisely, and find your holy life.

Reflecting on Our Mortality

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Ash Wednesday Blessing/Distribution of Ashes

2 Cor 5: 20- 6: 2

Deacon Larry Brockman

In just a few minutes, each of you will be given ashes on your foreheads. Each of you will hear the words “You are dust and to dust you shall return” as the ashes are applied. And that is a reminder to all of us of our mortality. Yes, each of our bodies came from the earth, and they will return to the earth.

But that is not the destiny of the true believer, is it. For we all believe as Christians that our immortal souls will live on, forever, in the coming Kingdom of God. That is our hope and our destiny. The problem is that many of the children of this world just don’t believe that. Some don’t believe in God, some say they don’t know, and some don’t believe in the kingdom of God.   But it is different for those of us who believe. Each of us recognizes that we owe everything to God, and we live our lives as Jesus passed on to us in the Gospel in the hope that we will experience everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.

In God’s infinite goodness, he sent his son Jesus to be one of us. And the scripture we just read said this of Jesus: “For our sake he made him sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteous of God in him.” Jesus, God become man, took on our corruptible body, and humbled himself by living within the limitations of the human form. Jesus accepted God the Father’s will that he suffer, die, and be buried for three days; only to rise from the dead and take his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. Each of us is called to die unto ourselves, and accept God’s will for us. That includes the good things of life- our talents, joys, gifts, and families. But it also includes the suffering that life entails- disease, old age, separation from loved ones, and lots of other things. We know that if we do that, we will be saved.

But wait a minute. Paul is saying something else about our role as Christians. Paul says we have a responsibility to be “Ambassadors for Christ”. That’s how Paul opened up this reading. Just how do we do that, how do we become ambassadors for Christ, and what does that mean?

Well Paul mentioned a couple of things. First, he says we need to be reconciled to God. Being reconciled to God means that we are in harmony in our relationship with God. That is the reason for the Church season of Lent. Lent is the opportunity that each of us has each year, to reflect on our own relationship with God. It is a season of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting lasting 40 days. The 40 days represents the length of time that Jesus went away into the wilderness and reflected on his life before he started his 3 year public ministry. We are being asked to spend 40 days each year reflecting on our lives.

During Lent we are advised to practice almsgiving and fasting  As a way of divesting ourselves from whatever it is that diverts our attention from God. Fasting usually means food, but when you think about it there are probably other things we should fast from that free us up for a better relationship with God. Consider for example the time we spend watching TV.

And almsgiving usually means giving money to a worthy cause. But giving away anything that really helps someone else puts us into a spirit of self-denial, a sort of emptying of ourselves from pre-occupation with ourselves.

Both fasting and almsgiving can then be seen to facilitate our ability to be open and ready for what God has in mind for us when we pray and reflect.

Now when you reflect on your own sinfulness, you reflect on those things that you do or fail to do that hurt your relationship with God. Deep down, you know what those things are because your conscience works on you when you are free of the distractions and the hustle and bustle of life. God is nudging you, even nagging you, to repent- meaning change. Because no matter how you look at it, none of us is perfect; all of us are sinners and need reconciliation with God.

Now when we become reconciled with God, then we “become the righteousness of God in him”, as St. Paul says. And so, we will receive the grace of God. That grace works through the Holy Spirit to shine in us. And together, the light of Christ becomes as a beacon for the rest of our companions. They will know we are Christians by our love, the love of Christ. That’s how we become “Ambassadors for Christ”. That’s how we fulfill our Baptismal promise to evangelize, just as Jesus evangelized all of us- by example.

Our reading today ends in an interesting way. Paul says in the name of the Lord that “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” So Paul is speaking of Jesus role as our evangelizer. But he finishes by challenging all of us to do the same. For he tells us: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”