Archive for July, 2017

Cooperating With God’s Purpose

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 55: 10-11; rom 8: 18-23; Mt 13: 1-23
Deacon Larry Brockman

You know, God’s purpose is really very simple and clear. Isaiah sums it up perfectly: “It (that is, His Word) shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Thus, no matter what anyone tries to do to the contrary, Including the Caesars, the Vikings, the Vandals, and the Napoleon’s of the past; or the Stalins or Hitlers or Bin Ladens or Putins in current times; ultimately God’s Word will return to Him fulfilled. That is God’s intent and purpose: His will will be done.
The questions that remain for us are how well will we cooperate in helping accomplish the Word, and how long will that take. Paul makes it crystal clear, that although we may have to suffer in cooperating with Jesus’ Word, the rewards are incomparable and involve everlasting happiness. That’s what he means when he says that all creation is groaning as we await for the redemption of our bodies.
Well then, how can we cooperate? Today’s Gospel is all about how we respond to the word of God. If we respond properly to God’s Word, then we are cooperating. Parables are rich in ambiguous and multiple layers of meaning. But what is interesting about this parable is that Jesus deciphers many of those layers of meaning for us in plain ordinary language. We don’t have to speculate on them.
First Jesus talks about why he uses parables in the first place. He says it’s because people look but don’t see or understand; and they listen, but do not hear. So, we have to be disposed to listen and understand.
Now all of you folks are here today. You are willing and anxious to hear the word of God, right. But there is more to it than that. Jesus is really talking about a disposition of the heart.
Where is your heart this morning? Is it focused on what you are going to be doing after Mass? Perhaps it’s focused on the baseball game this afternoon; or the gathering you are planning tonight? Or even the beach trip or picnic you are planning? We owe God our undivided attention right now as we hear the Word of God. Else, we may hear, but not understand.
Now notice that the seed, which represents the Word of God, is scattered just about everywhere. So everyone is exposed to the word of God. Jesus explanations bear on the reason, or ultimately, the excuses, for why no fruit is born of that seed.
As Jesus unravels the meaning of the parable, we learn that the seed, or Word of God, is heard but not understood by some; others hear it, and initially respond, but when they are challenged, they fall away because they have no roots; others yet receive the word amongst thorns, that is distractions, and so they easily cave in to the distractions of this world. Only those who receive the word with the right disposition, the rich soil, produce fruit.
Now, as we listened to this parable, my bet is that most of us quickly dismissed how some of those excuses fit us. But maybe that’s not really true. Maybe all of us are a little bit guilty of each one of the excuses. So let’s talk about each one.
First, lack of understanding: If you think that you can come here once a month; or even once a week, and truly understand the Word of God, you are kidding yourselves. Real understanding comes with familiarity. You have got to be familiar with the Word of God to really understand it. Let me ask you this: What do you read and what kind of TV or movies do you watch? Do you do any spiritual reading? Do you read or study the Bible? Or are you mostly watching and listening to products of “Pop culture”- the latest whiz-bang surrealistic movies and secular music? If your diet is the latter, you won’t really understand the Word of God- it will just go in one ear and out the other, because as soon as you leave here, your senses and attentions will be reinforced with what you normally feed them. Your fleeting exposure to the Word will most likely be lost- “Out of sight; out of mind”.
Then there is the matter of our roots. What are your roots in your Faith? The deeper your roots- the more you know about and embrace your faith. Then you will be better equipped to fight temptations and allurement. That means the more you read about and know God, the more you spend time with and pray to God; then the better off you will be in resisting temptations, because like a friend in need, God will be nudging you when you are tempted.
Next are those who are dazzled by the wonderful things of this world- indulgence in pleasures, money, sex, power, pride; all the things that give fleeting happiness, but not lasting fulfillment. Once again, where is your heart? What is it that really gives you joy, real joy? I’ll bet that most of us feel the best when we know we are helping others; when we know that we have responded to the voice of our conscience; when we are aligned with the directions God nudges us in. The joys of this world are always followed by tomorrow’s hangover, aren’t they? But doing God’s will brings us peace and true contentment.
We all have an opportunity to be part of something truly magnificent- the Word accomplishing God’s purpose. God is after each one of us 24/7 with nudges and inspirations that help the word of God achieve its end. We have only to pay attention and listen- a child calling us; someone in need in our neighborhood; our aged parent or friend. When you hear it, take heed. It is an echo of your salvation in the making.

Funeral Reflection for Hank Caruso

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Funeral Eulogy for Hank Caruso
Mt 5: 1-12a (Beatitudes)
Deacon Larry Brockman

It has been my pleasure to know Hank for over 12 years now. My wife Jane and I met the Curusos in Tennessee at St. Francis in Townsend while on vacation, and quickly learned of some common ground- our roots in Orlando and a common friend in the Diaconate. Hank and Jane were very helpful to Jane and me whenever we visited our place in Tennessee, right across the road from their house.
Hank was the middle son of an Italian immigrant and his second wife. Hank was born in 1939. He grew up going to school at St. James Cathedral and later Bishop Moore High School. After Hank married Jane, they settled along the South Florida Coast, but returned to the Orlando area a few years later, where Hank and Jane lived in Winter Park and raised their family for 36 years. Hank was a Corvette owner for over 20 years, an avid boat owner, and a water sports enthusiast. He worked as a Biomedical Engineer at Philips; but Hank was one of those people who worked to live; not lived to work. He rarely talked about his job in the time I knew him. But Hank took his Catholic faith seriously; he was a Eucharistic Minister and a very active member of the men’s club at Sts. Peter and Paul for many years.
Hank had a dream for when he retired. He wanted to live in the East Tennessee mountains, relax, hike a bit, and farm. So, in the 2003/2004 time frame, the Caruso’s left Orlando and built their retirement home halfway along the Foothills Parkway at some 2000 feet elevation in the Top of the World above Maryville Tennessee. It is 10 degrees cooler there than in Knoxville in the summer; and yet still relatively mild in the winter. Hank bought a tractor, and cleared enough land for a fair-sized garden. And so, Hank had a good 10 years to live his dream. Daily, he used his tractor and tended his land. I can remember tales of bumper crops of butternut squash, grapes, and tomatoes; and lots of hiking. Indeed, I remember a garage full of squash! And the Carusos took us along on some of those hikes. Hank also helped maintain order and peace in the Top of the World Community as an officer of the Homeowners Group.
Hank became a Reader at St. Francis, and a member of the Parish Finance Team. He was a key player in their effort to establish a parish there when St. Francis was a Mission church. Hank was also quite helpful to the Deacon there, Deacon Mike Nestor. Although Mike couldn’t be here today, he asked me to pass along his respects.
Jane and I really enjoyed the 10 years or so of visits to our vacation spot and Jane and Hanks company and hospitality. We hiked together, played together, and chewed the fat around our fire pit as retired folk do. We shared our family experiences; we relished in the photos of Hank and Janes tour of Sicily and the hospitality of his family; we watched how kind and generous Hank and Jane were in caring for Janes’s 90+ year old mom for many years. We were also witnesses to the onset of Hank’s Parkinson’s like disease. We watched it slowly but surely eat away at Hank’s vitality. We never heard Hank complain. Indeed, he endured his infirmity with the utmost of dignity. But we could feel the pain that they both experienced when it became clear they were going to have to leave their mountain home and retirement dream to return to Orlando and be close to family.
Over the last two years, we have remained close to the Carusos with frequent dinners out and evenings of cards. And in that time, we saw Hank maintain his spirit in the face of his terrible disease.
Our Gospel today talked about the Beatitudes. Life is all about learning to live the Beatitudes so that when we meet our Lord Jesus Christ, we will be ready for the Kingdom of God. It seems to me that Hank Caruso learned that lesson well. Time and circumstances led him to humble acceptance, generosity, mercifulness, peacemaking, and other aspects of the beatitudes. Rest in peace now Hank; enjoy your heavenly reward. We will all miss you.

Aligning Our Work Ethic to God’s Will

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Thursday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time
Gen 44:18-21, 23b-29; 45:1-5; Mt 10: 7-15
Deacon Larry Brockman

One of the foundations of our American society is a good work ethic. It’s that conviction we have that we can do wonderful things if only we find our thing and apply ourselves to it judiciously. Early on, we are all taught that if we go to school and learn a skill or expertise to our liking; then we can do it; we can become self-sufficient and successful in society and make our own destiny. We even pray that God will bless our efforts to do whatever it is that we want to do. We are taught that we are free to choose our vocation and run with it.
But our readings today add some twists to that whole idea of living life that way. Because the stirrings inside of us to discover “our thing” are a battle between God’s word and spirit on the one hand; and the devil and his forces on the other hand. If our primary motivation for what we do is “self” fulfillment; then the devil is winning that battle, and we need to be cautious. But if our motivation is based on seeking God’s will for us, then we can be comfortable we are on the right track.
Today’s readings have some interesting perspectives for us about this battle. In the Gospel, Jesus says: “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give”. Yes, each of us has received gifts that we have not had to pay for. They are our talents; our likes; and even our limitations. So it is quite natural for us to move towards those things we are good at and away from the things that limit us; we are drawn to the things God has graced us with. But then there is the other part- “without cost you are to give”. So, these talents are not just for us, but for the benefit of others as well.
Therein lies the key to discerning how we use what we were given without cost. For example, the disciples were given the power to cure and drive out demons. It was not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of those who needed it to recognize the Kingdom of God. In today’s world then, a financial adviser’s success in the eyes of God is not whether he makes a lot of money for himself, but rather, whether he helps a lot of people. This kind of discernment is needed in each of our lives- doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, teachers, engineers, whatever.
Now sometimes we have a feeling of being trapped in life. Despite our best efforts, we look back on life and we see that we are in a job or career or situation where we sense that things are not right. Our inner voice tells us we are on the wrong track. And we resist making a change because we are afraid. Just what can we do?
Well there’s another major message imbedded for us in today’s reading on the story of Joseph and his brothers. Our lives, from God’s perspective, are a “zero sum” process. No matter how disastrous your experience in life is up to now; if you are humble enough to recognize and repent of your mistakes, then God views the process going forward as more important than whatever has happened in the past. Not only that, God can turn disaster into triumph for you.
And so, as we listen to the deplorable mess that Joseph’s brothers caused by selling their brother Joseph into slavery and lying to Jacob; we see how God turned the whole situation around. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and in Joseph’s own words: “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”
So, no matter how disastrous you may think your situation is, take heart, because God is there for you with a solution. It may mean some pain- certainly Joseph and his brothers felt pain. But he is there for you nevertheless. It is never too late to get on God’s page for you.

When People of Faith Pray Together

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Thursday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time
Gen 22: 1b-19; Mt 9: 1-8
Deacon Larry Brockman

“When Jesus saw their Faith…”. That really caught my attention this morning. Picture the scene in your mind for just a moment. Jesus gets off the boat and a large crowd approaches him with a paralyzed man on a stretcher. Then try to capture just what there might have been about “them”, the people who were carrying the man, that projected great Faith? Was it their great numbers, their enthusiasm, their persistence? This, by the way is the same incident described in Mark, the one where the paralytic was lowered through the roof. So yes, these people were determined and persistent.

Or was it something that Jesus could just sense in the air- an intangible group sense of sincerity, hope, trust, even deferral amongst the people. Maybe it was all of these things. Think of a time when the sense of a crowd that you observed spoke more than anything else.
Now we too, are a people of Faith. We are sincere, committed, believers. We come together, we pray together, we know each other, we support each other, just as the people in the small town of Capernaum did. And all of us, yes every single one of us, has our share of trials and sufferings that we bear. And when we pray, we usually pray for specific solutions to our trials and specific reliefs of our sufferings. After all, that only makes sense.
Now all of us know someone we would like to collectively lower into Jesus house and ask for a healing just as the people bearing the paralytic did. They had one and only one thing in mind: this poor man was paralyzed and they sincerely wanted to see him cured. We would have only one thing in mind: our friend or relative is suffering greatly and we really believe that Jesus can heal them.

Now call back the vision of this incident in your mind. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus does not heal the paralytic at first. Rather, he forgives his sins. Think about that for a moment. Jesus, who is God made man, and who can look into the minds and hearts of all of the people there and the poor paralytic, decides that what is really needed is forgiveness of this man’s sins. How many times do we pray on behalf of someone else and feel that our prayers are not answered? Well, those folks who lowered the man to Jesus must have felt the same way.

The cynics in the crowd, the religious leaders, noticed this immediately, and accused Jesus of Blasphemy. You see, they believed that nobody but God could forgive sins. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that Jesus was playing games with those people. I believe his immediate response, the forgiveness of sins, was what God mandated. But given the challenge, Jesus used the situation to make an important point: that it was easier in human terms to forgive sins than to heal a paralytic. And so, Jesus went on to cure the paralysis to make the point that he was God.

Nevertheless, we can miss a major teaching in this incident if we concentrate on the cure and not Jesus’ first response. The fact is that our prayers, especially the sincere, faithful prayers of groups of people- people like families suffering as a result of the illness or infirmity of a loved one; or communities suffering from the effects of some man made or natural disaster; or groups suffering the effect of discrimination- their prayers are heard by God and they are answered. But they may not be answered in the way all of us hope or expect.

If we are lucky, we are sometimes enlightened on how God answered our prayers. We sense that things came out for the best sometime later. But in the short term, our faith may be tested. Isn’t this exactly the case in the story of Abraham and Isaac in the first reading?
So, I urge all of us to hang in their when we pray together as a group- for our families, our community, and for our nation. God hears our prayers, always, when we pray together with great faith and sincerity.