Archive for March, 2018

Perfection Through Suffering

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Holy Thursday Morning Prayer
Heb 2:9b-10
Dc. Larry Brockman

So, the leader in the work of salvation was made perfect through suffering. And if the leader, Jesus Christ, had to bear his suffering with dignity and grace; how appropriate it is that we, who follow after our leader, must also learn to bear our suffering with dignity in grace.

I think that one of the things we easily overlook is that Jesus lived a normal life for some 30 of his 33 years. It is just the last three years that the majority of the Gospels relate to us. But therein lies the story. Jesus embraced his mission from the Lord, and carried his cross all the way to the end.

All of us are given a special gift by God- the gift of life. During our lives we are blessed with periods of joy- a joyful youth; a special courtship; children and grandchildren, wonderful vacations and leisure; great athletic ability; and special talents in music or art, for example. But in between the good times, there are challenges. Those challenges generally involve suffering- suffering which we really cannot, and in many cases should not avoid.

Now, suffering isn’t something we should go after, don’t get me wrong. That is not the point. Nevertheless, no matter who we are, will have to face suffering in the course of our lives- suffering which is dealt to us by way of circumstances and/or time. The loss of a loved one, an illness or infirmity, a job dilemma, a problem child, the ravages of war, an accident, hurricanes and fires, you name it. Those are the crosses that we have to bear.

And if we are to learn anything from this reading, it is that all of us who follow the will of God need to embrace our crosses with dignity and grace; even with a sense of joy. And in so doing, we become perfect through that suffering.
That’s what Jesus example in the Gospel shows us. That through suffering, we will become better people, purified in our quest for the Kingdom of God.

Show Me the Father!

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

St. Philip and St. James, Apostles(U)
1 Cor 15: 1-8; John 14: 6-14
Dc. Larry Brockman

How often have we heard Philip’s words in our society? For Philip said “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Yes, everybody wants to be shown the Father; everybody wants proof of God’s existence! And yet, the fact is that people are blind to that proof when they see it. They are blind because the truth is ultimately incomprehensible to our limited nature.

You know, it’s hard to believe that the events that unfolded before Philip’s own eyes hadn’t been enough for him. For this man had heard Jesus personally during his three year ministry. He had eaten with him, and had been one of his closest disciples; he had heard everything first hand; and seen everything first hand. Philip had witnessed the death and Resurrection first hand; and he had heard Jesus unfold the scriptures for him after the Resurrection. Philip had seen, touched, and experienced the glorified risen Christ. One would think that such a person would know God for who God is as well as anyone possibly could. Such a person would know God in their heart. And yet Philip still says “Show me the Father”. Oh ye of little faith! What more could Philip have seen or experienced to convince him to believe!

Yes, it is a leap of faith to believe in the Gospel story. We don’t have the first-hand knowledge and experiences that Philip had. And yet, we are called upon to believe, to accept what seems unlikely, and what can’t be proven by human reason. We are called to accept it precisely because we simply must surrender our wills in the salvation process. We must recognize that we are not in control- God is and always will be in control. If we don’t accept that, we simply can’t be happy with him in the Kingdom of God because no matter how you slice it, we can never ever understand and match the mind of God. Something will always be a mystery to us- some things we must accept on faith.

Our Faith is worth any residual doubt because of the revelations Jesus made to us about God and his nature and laws. These revelations were not made by some transcendent distant unapproachable God; but rather by God made man who lived amongst us. His is a unique story in creation; the story of a God who loved us so much he manifested himself as one of us. And Jesus left us the legacy of that story- more than 500 eye witnesses and the Gospels themselves that record all those events. The Gospels also give us the roadmap for living life in harmony with God’s will.

Now many people cannot believe in their hearts what the Gospel relates. So Jesus comes right out and says that if you cannot believe because it touches your heart; then believe because of the great works that were done- the many miracles Jesus performed.
St. Paul summarizes what the rewards are for those who believe and follow Jesus’ teachings in this way. We have all been saved and will share in the glorified life of Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the answer, because no one can come to the Father except through belief in God and the Word of God- that is, they cannot come to God except through Jesus because Jesus is the Word of God.

Every day we wake up is a miracle. Every moment of our life is a miracle. Every flower, life form, and star in the sky is an awesome miracle. The scientists unravel some details about these miracles and think we are in control. These details are like the peels of an onion; no sooner does one layer get explained when another layer appears.. What scientists find is incredible simplicity and incredible complexity intertwined in all things. There simply has to be some architect of all that; it cannot happen by accident. That should be proof enough; because again, we cannot hope to understand all that God knows. But it isn’t. People want to know absolutely.

Well God didn’t send Jesus’ generation the “sign” they were hoping for so they could know absolutely. And the Father did not show himself to Philip with any more clarity than Jesus revelation. God doesn’t reveal himself with any more clarity because we are incapable of understanding. What we are capable of understanding is what God has revealed to us; that was the reason for Jesus Christ. There is no need for the Father to show us any more proof than that.

Anticipating Our Resurrection

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Westminster Towers Ecumenical Service
John 11: 1-45
Dc. Larry Brockman
“Anticipating Our Resurrection”

We have just heard the story of the most dramatic and moving miracle of Jesus in the Bible- the raising of Lazarus from the dead after 4 days. It was performed in front of a large audience of family and friends, with Rabbis and Pharisees of the Jewish faith looking on. This miracle can shed light on our Resurrection, so, let us consider some details in this story that are easily overlooked.

The first thing about this miracle that helps us understand it better is to know something about first century Jewish burial customs. When a person died, it was required that they be buried within 24 hours. The body was perfumed with oils and fragrant material, and then tightly wrapped in a shroud of linen. It was paraded to the tomb in a procession. The people used group tombs with stones in front of them. The body was carried down a dozen or more stairs to a chamber and laid on a flat surface adjacent to other burial positions in the chamber. Bodies were not cremated, and they were not placed in coffins.

You can imagine that medical technology in those days was much more primitive than ours. So those who examined the body could not absolutely certify that the person was dead. And in fact, there were cases where folks were not dead; they only appeared to be dead, and once and a while someone would recover.

But this just never happened after the third day. So, the rabbinic traditions held that the spirit hovered about the body for the first three days; but by the fourth day, all hope was lost. And also, by the fourth day there would also be a pronounced stench as well as signs of decomposition would be clear. If you look at the other Resurrection miracles in the Bible, including several involving Elijah the prophet and the raising of a dead child by Jesus, all of them occurred before the fourth day.

With this background in mind, all of the bystanders were thoroughly convinced that Lazarus was dead. So, when Lazarus ascends those 24 or so steps at Jesus command, wrapped in a tight shroud of linen cloth from head to toe, you can just imagine the shock and amazement of the people. How could this be! This was completely unheard of; the resurrection of the dead; body and spirit. Clearly, this Resurrection gave credence to Jesus’ teachings about an afterlife.

Now, there are two stories of weak faith imbedded in this account that lead up to Lazarus awakening. The first relates to the Apostles and disciples of Jesus and the second has to do with Martha and Mary. Jesus is testing the faith of both the Apostles and Martha and Mary. Jesus had left Jerusalem and Bethany, having been chased away by the Jewish authorities who tried to stone him. So, when Lazarus got sick, Martha and Mary did not send for Jesus right away, knowing that he would be in danger if he returned. Rather, they waited until Lazarus was very, very ill, and then sent a messenger to Jesus, giving him the option.

Notice that the Gospel says that when Jesus was told that Lazarus was ill Jesus first says “This illness is not to end in death”, but then the Gospel says “So, when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was”.

Let me ask all of you a simple question. If you knew that someone you dearly loved was deathly ill, would you purposely hold up your departure for two days before you visited them? I don’t think so. So why did Jesus do that?

Well, notice Jesus has a little discussion with the Apostles, saying that Lazarus is asleep. In fact, Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. The Apostles didn’t understand that and took Jesus literally. Then Jesus tells them quite plainly that Lazarus is dead. Jesus knew that it took two days to get to Bethany. So Jesus knew he would arrive at Bethany 4 days after Lazarus was dead. Jesus wanted to wait so he could be sure everyone was convinced that Lazarus was dead! Jesus clearly planned to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus plan was to perform a miracle that would prove his divinity and establish everlasting life at the same time.

Now the apostles, having been told that Lazarus is dead, are reluctant to return to Bethany because they fear the Jewish authorities will still kill Jesus. So, having been told that Lazarus was dead, it is an incredible act of faith that the Apostles agreed to return to Bethany at all. After all, what could one do? It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that Jesus would raise the man from the dead.

And yet, they went with Jesus. Their attitude is summed up well in Thomas’ comment: “Let us also go to die with him.” For although these men believed in Jesus, they just could not see the possibility that Lazarus would be raised. They had faith, strong faith, faith enough to trust Jesus’ judgment and follow after him; but not faith enough to grasp what Resurrection and everlasting life really meant.

The second story of insufficient faith is that of Martha and Mary. Both of these women knew that Jesus loved them and their brother; and that Jesus would come despite his life being in danger. Both of them separately say the same thing to Jesus after he arrives: “If you had been here our brother would not have died”. Both of them say that they believe in the Resurrection on the last day. But they also didn’t see that everlasting life had already arrived for those who believe.

Now one of the verses in this Gospel is the shortest verse in the Bible. It simply says: “And Jesus wept.” This verse is packed full of meaning. Why did Jesus weep? Jesus planned to raise Lazarus from the dead, so it is doubtful he wept over the fact that Lazarus was dead. But Jesus did have compassion; compassion for his friends Martha and Mary. It grieved Jesus to see the two of them suffering and in pain. Jesus could feel their sense of loss; but he also saw that their faith was incomplete and that saddened him.

But that is not all. Many commentators say that Jesus also wept because he was angry. Jesus was angry that the whole process of his salvation mission had to occur. Jesus was angry over the fall of Adam and Eve which ushered the advent of death itself into the world. Jesus was angry over the evil in the world and the inability of the people to embrace the faith that he had preached to them.

And so, Jesus wept in frustration and anger over the plight of the people that He was born into. Jesus knew that this was the culmination of his ministry. Jesus was taking this last opportunity before his passion to make a point: There is death, yes; but the Resurrection of the Body and everlasting Life are on the way.

Now there are other things about the Gospel of John that are unique and shed light on our Resurrection. The Gospel of John contains a number of messages which are hidden, Much like the Book of Revelation also attributed to St. John, contains hidden messages. These messages are especially hard to pick up when we read a selection out of context, as we did today. One of those messages is that John talks about “signs” that Jesus performed during Jesus’ ministry. These “signs” demonstrated Jesus divinity. It turns out that John records 7 such “signs” performed by Jesus prior to his Passion and Resurrection. These seven signs are the turning of 180 gallons of water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana; curing a royal official’s son of disease without even visiting him; cure of a blind man on the Sabbath; multiplication of the loaves and fish with the feeding of five thousand families; Jesus walking on water for miles; the curing of a man born blind from birth at the pool of Siloam; and seventh and last, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Now, the number “7” has significance in several ways in the Bible. It means perfection and completeness taken together; and it also means a sort of perfect ending. There are seven days in a week; seven days of creation, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; just to mention a few examples of perfection and completeness.

However, there are two examples of the second meaning of seven as well in the Gospel of John. First, John begins his Gospel by talking about things that occurred in the “first seven days”. These are the things that occurred before Jesus ministry began. And it happens that the Wedding Feast at Cana occurred on the seventh day.

Now there are strong parallels between the wedding Feast at Cana And the Wedding Feast of the Lamb described in the last chapters of the Book of Revelation. Indeed, the Wedding at Cana points to the final resting of all believers That will take place after the Resurrection of the body at the Wedding feast of the Lamb. And so, the seventh significant sign of Jesus as recorded by St. John points to a sense of completeness of Jesus ministry.

Notice that Jesus ministry began with the wedding feast at Cana; And it all ended with the working of the seventh and last sign. In this sense, the raising of Lazarus brings to perfection the message of his entire ministry.

Now Lazarus Resurrection also points to and predicts details of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. And it also points to the Resurrection of the body that all of us believers will experience as we enter the wedding feast of the Lamb on the last day! This miracle foreshadows and anticipates the perfection and completion of our lives. We may have to sleep after death for a while, in a state of unknown Just like Lazarus did. But all of that is in preparation for what happens on the last day- our life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

“Whoever is Not With Me is Against Me”

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Thursday of the Third Week in Lent
Jer 7: 23-28; Luke 11: 14-23
Dc. Larry Brockman

Make no mistake about it, evil exists and is real. One of our greatest challenges as a Faith Community is to recognize evil in our world and hold firm against it.
This morning, we hear Jeremiah speaking to the Jewish people after over 1000 years of history following the Exodus event. In just these few words, Jeremiah summarizes all of that history.

Moses had acted as a Priest to set up a covenant between the people and the Lord God at the foot of Mt. Sanai when he delivered the Ten Commandments. These were the people the Lord had rescued from slavery and planned to deliver to the promised land, his own special people. God would assure that his people would flourish if they kept His commandments and loved their God with their hearts and minds and souls. That covenant was sealed by the blood of a sacrifice that Moses offered, a blood covenant. Moses warned them of consequences if they agreed to the covenant and then broke it. And so, Moses asked the people three times if they would abide by it. They all responded “yes”.

But despite a long and consistent history of prophets sent by God to his special people, prophets who constantly reminded the people of that covenant and warned about the consequences of breaking it, the people were not abiding by the blood covenant that God made with them. Why? Because of the evil that creeps into men’s hearts and takes possession of them.

That evil is characterized by three things- a failure to pass on the covenant to their children- either by laziness or indifference; preoccupation with things of the world, especially in times of prosperity- life is just too good; and selfishness, the tendency to put their individual interests ahead of the spirit and intent of the law.

And so, over the course of that thousand plus years of history, the Israelis did not obey the law of the Covenant, and fell victim to idolatry and grievous sin. The Old Testament shows cycles of up and down adherence to the covenant over the course of this history and speaks over and over of the Kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord”. Over time divisions arose amongst the people, the tribes separated from each other, and that caused the Israelis to lose their national identity. Finally, the kings were powerless and were overrun by stronger and more resolute adversaries. Evil had undermined the Israeli nation.

In Jesus’ time, evil was symbolized in several different ways. But today, our Gospel talks about evil through a man possessed by an evil spirit. We can see the division in the people within this Gospel. Some feel that casting such a demon out of a person could only be done by someone close to God. But cynical observers accuse Jesus of casting devils out by the prince of devils, Beelzebul. These self-serving folks didn’t want to acknowledge that someone who they didn’t want to listen to could be right; so they tried to turn his good deed into an evil one. Boy, does that sound familiar in today’s world! But Jesus makes it very clear that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. He shows that even Satan must keep his followers focused on that.

And so, the lesson for all of us today is clear. Evil exists, and we need to work together to recognize it and to counter it. We must be unified in our faith and then practice our faith to recognize evil and counter it.

Evil today feeds off divisions caused by things like moral relativism, pro-choice attitudes on life issues, and mistaking inaction for tolerance. Evil also feeds off of self-righteous clicks, greed, and over reactions. We can heal these divisions by all of us agreeing with the core beliefs of our faith.

These core beliefs are well represented in the teachings of the Church in the Catechism. The catechism guides us in what we believe and in how we should respond. But we have to believe in all of it. Yes, it’s the whole enchilada, or nothing.

Second, we need to cast out the modern demons in our world. We don’t cast these demons out by tolerating them. We have got to be proactive; stand up for our faith; and do whatever it takes to change the system. That includes voting, running for office, standing up before civil authorities and school officials when needed, and other forms of witnessing of our faith. It even means speaking up in discussions amongst our peers when they say things that are offensive to us.

Remember these words from today’s Gospel. They pretty well sum up Jesus’ attitude towards evil: “Whoever is not with me is against me”.

Getting Things Right With God

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent
Ex 20: 1-17; 1 Cor 1: 22-25; John 2: 13-25
Dc. Larry Brockman

Did you notice that most of the words in the ten commandments deal with our relationship with God? We are to love and honor God, not take his name in vain, and rest on the Sabbath.

The other 7 commandments deal with the relations we have with others- a list of “thou shalt nots”. Sin seems so much easier to determine in these later commandments, doesn’t it? We know when we don’t honor our parents and elders; or when we hurt someone physically or mentally; or when we lust after someone or cheat on our spouses; or lie or covet things that don’t belong to us.

But how about our relationship with God? How do we determine when we are in a right relationship with God? When are we loving God with our hearts and minds and souls, rather than having “false gods” before him? In fact, what does a false god really mean in this day and age?

In order to appreciate what it really meant to have false gods for the Hebrews I think it’s instructive to transport ourselves back to what it must have been like in their day The Hebrew People were escaping slaves. For centuries they had been subjected to Egyptian Masters who worshipped pagan Gods. And being subject to them meant lots of things. Not only were they subservient to them, and so had to do all the menial work for them; but the Hebrew people and their customs were suppressed at the expense of these Egyptian overlords and their ways. The culture they grew up in worshipped cows and pharaoh; the value system that was in “vogue” was different.

So, many of the folks who were Hebrew slaves gave lip service to the practices of the Jewish faith at the time. They were just along for the ride- trying to escape slavery. So their faith in God was secondary, weak, maybe even non-existent. Most of them lived their lives according to norms for Egyptian society.

When Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Hebrews go, God worked incredible miracles for Israel in the plagues that wreaked havoc upon Egypt. After God sent all the plagues on Egypt, the Egyptians wanted to be spared from blood in the Nile, drought, famine, flies, locusts, and dead first borns. In fact, the Egyptians were so anxious to get rid of the Hebrews at any cost after these plagues that they even gave the Hebrews all their gold and silver when they sent the Hebrews on their way!

But then, they thought better of it, saying “What have we done”; so they chased the escaping Hebrews down, backing them up against the Red Sea. Then God worked another miracle- parting the Red Sea, and after the Hebrews had a chance to cross, God backfilled the sea on top of the Egyptian pursuers.

One would have thought that these mind boggling miracles would convince the hardest of hearts that the God of the Hebrews was the one, almighty, all powerful true God; and that they would be thankful and heed God’s will. But the sad truth is that even after all that, as Moses heads down the mountain with the commandments written on them, he finds the Hebrews having cast a golden cow as a god. Why? Because they were hungry and thirsty; and because Moses had left them alone for a time. They longed to return to Egypt where water was abundant and there were fleshpots to eat. They neither appreciated what God had done for them, nor had they put him first.

Our society is not really so different, is it? As Catholics we are a minority, imbedded as slaves to an ever growing secular culture. Many of us live in a false sense of worldly prosperity. We are neither thirsty nor hungry, and what satisfies us is what we spend most of our effort pursuing. It isn’t just food and drink either. What captures the attention of our hearts is often the things that our culture offers- Sex, Drugs, Pop Culture, Sports, Computer Fantasies, whatever. How many of us really put God first?
You know, that’s what made Jesus so angry in the Gospel. The whole temple scene disgusted him because the people were not putting God first. People were supposed to bring the right offering to the temple for sacrifice. But it was convenient to pick up a dove or oxen in the courtyard inside the temple rather than bring it with you on your journey. This convenience, according to some sources, was conveniently expensive as well. The people were being taken advantage of. And then, the money changers made it convenient to leave just the right size offering.

Yes, people were there in the temple doing what was required But they had lost sight about what it was really all about- putting God first in all that they did; and worshipping God with their hearts and minds.

We are in the middle of Lent- a time to examine our lives and make a correction. It’s time to put God first in your life. It’s time to trust in that little voice you hear in your head that tells you something needs to be changed. For as Paul says to the Corinthians, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom”.

So, ask yourself if there is anything in this world that is holding you back from God’s mission for you. Let go of it, and come to the Lord during this holy season of Lent.