Posts Tagged ‘Listening to God’

Is Following the Good Shepherd Easy?

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 13: 43-52; Rev 7: 9, 14b-17; John 10: 27-30

By Deacon Larry Brockman

It sounds so easy.  Jesus says that all we have to do to experience eternal life with God is to believe in him, listen to his word and follow him.  If we do that, then Jesus, the good shepherd, will protect us from anything and everything; and we cannot be snatched away by anything the devil throws at us.  It sounds easy; but in reality, it is the challenging path.  Because it takes fortitude to do all three of the required things- believe in, listen to, and follow Jesus.

First, there is the belief part.  That’s kind of what the first reading is about.  You see, right after Jesus’ resurrection, there were hundreds of eye witnesses to the Resurrection.  And these people were fearless in the Lord; they were truly zealous witnesses of all the Jesus said and did.  And, as the story in the first reading shows, they met with great success in the synagogues.  Why? Because the Apostles and the Disciples told their story with conviction.  The witnessing that Paul and Barnabas did was so effective that thousands of people believed.

They believed that a poor carpenter led an inspired life; performed miracles; claimed that he was the son of God made man out of God’s love; preached repentance and conversion of heart to do God’s will; suffered because of his message; died, was buried, and rose from the dead to eternal life to show us the way to eternal life if we followed him.  These people believed all this on the basis of the Apostles’ word alone.  That took real faith for the folks of the time.  And it takes great faith for those of us separated from these events by 2000 years.

But you know what?  Paul, Barnabas, and the Apostles are present today to all of us; they are the Church.  And the Church preaches with the same conviction.  What we are to believe is called the Creed, which we will all recite in just a few minutes.  That Creed has all of the elements I mentioned above and a few more.  Yes, it is a challenge to believe all of it just on the word of the Church.  But that is what all of us are called by God to do- to first of all believe.

And then there is the “listen” part.  That’s maybe the hardest part of all for us- to listen to the word of God.  Perhaps it’s because we are so busy with life; and perhaps it’s because we don’t really want to know.  Ignorance, after all, is bliss; but listening means more than just coming here on Sundays for an hour a week.  Listening means taking time out for really getting in tune with God.  How can you do the last part, following the Lord, if you don’t know what you are following?

Now all of you here today are part of a family.  Indeed, you are Holy Family; but aside from that greater family, all of you are part of a nuclear family.  Are you listening to what God wants for your family?

Pope Francis has just issued an Apostolic Exhortation to all of us on the Family.  It is based on the results of the Synod of Bishops that has been meeting to discuss Family matters in Rome over the last couple of years.  And let me be clear about this-  what you hear on radio and TV and the press about the document is probably not accurate.  Because, despite what you might have heard, the document reaffirms all of the traditional teachings of the Church on the family.  It does recognize that times have changed   So that the Church must present these traditional teachings in a way which is relevant in today’s society; and it exhorts the Church to always, always, be pastoral in dealing with persons who have gone astray.

But it doesn’t change any of the traditional positions of the Church.  In fact, the document strengthens them by giving justifications for the church’s classic positions on controversial topics such as gender identity, gay marriage, cohabitation; and divorce.  It is well worth reading; and I encourage all of you to read it.  It is a free download on the internet and,  although it is 257 pages long, the type is large and one single column..  Reading it would be a big part of what it takes to listen to the Lord on what his pattern is for families.

And lastly, we are called to follow.  With respect to the teaching that the Pope issued on the family, that means a lot of challenges to all of us.  For example, when you read the document you will see that the primary responsibility for educating children rests with the parents, not the Church; and that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation of children out of mutual love; and that the family includes the elderly and those who are marginalized with infirmities.  These later categories of people are opportunities for all of us to learn patience, humility, and a spirit of service.

In the second reading, we hear about those called to the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb.  There is cause for great rejoicing in those words from Revelation, words such as the fact that those saved are: “A great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue”; and: “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Yes, this is what is in store for all of us who follow- and it is a great throng of people.  And it includes all of us who believe in, listen to, and follow the Lord Jesus.

The Soft Sell

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Is 55: 10-11; Rom 8: 18-23; Mt 13: 1-23

Dc. Larry Brockman

It’s a soft sell.  That’s what today’s Gospel is.  Rather than tell everybody what it takes to get into the Kingdom of God in the most direct way, Jesus uses a soft sell.

Consider the Sermon on the Mount by contrast.  In John’s account of the Sermon, Jesus speaks directly.  He tells everyone He is the bread of life, and to gain everlasting life we must eat His body and drink His blood.  He meant that literally- the Eucharist; and he meant it figuratively as well- by taking on his very way of life as our own.  This direct approach turned off a lot of people in His time, and it is something that people still have a hard time with in today’s world.

But the parable of the sower- well it’s a soft sell.  First of all, Jesus is really just addressing those who are truly interested in following Him.  Most of the crowd, including the Pharisees and Scribes, are not really interested in following Him.  They are looking for conventional wisdom.  Some of these people were looking for the easy fix- the easy way into the Kingdom of God, and when you are of that frame of mind, you are like the person who is hoping to make a quick fortune or lose weight through miracle pills.  Such folks are impatient unless they hear the magic in the words that is both specific and clear, and right now.

Others were looking for Jesus to trip up so they could “get him”.  But Jesus made His pitch with parables in such a way that anything that might be considered confrontational would roll off the listener’s backs as vague and indirect.  They probably regarded the parables- speaking obliquely- as an irritant because whatever was said was too vague to distill any real evidence against Jesus.

Indeed, just a very few were willing to dig deep into Jesus message so that they could make a change in their lives.  It’s like that in our society, too.  “Say what you mean, and mean what you say”; that’s the way we Americans like it rather than all this double talk in the parables.  Not only that, we are a gullible society that is looking to hear that there is a quick and easy way to make a million and to
lose weight with some magic pill; or even to get a job without working to acquire a skill.

So, only the people who were motivated to learn, the people who were motivated to look deeper; only the people who were willing to make a change in their lives- like the Apostles, were able to hear and see beyond the surface of the parable.  These were the folks that Jesus was trying to reach; and these were the folks that He would reach with this parable.  And so, Jesus message is a soft sell.  If you really want to get something out of it, you will.  But if the parable message doesn’t resonate with you, at least it didn’t alienate you either.

Now most of the time that I have heard this parable, I have been pre-occupied with the thorns and the hard ground and the good ground; and what those metaphors mean as obstacles or inducements to growth of the seed so that I could see my own perspective as just one of the three.  But there is another perspective to the parable that I would like to suggest to you.

Perhaps Jesus is also taking about a journey along a path- a path that is leading to the Kingdom of God.  All of us are on such a journey, and we encounter seed which falls on hard ground or thorns or good soil along the way.  Yes, as we progress along the path of life, we are like seed exposed to all three of these environments at one time or another.

Sometimes we don’t understand, or don’t attempt to understand, the word of God.  And so, the devil comes along and steals our attention away.  That happens all the time whenever folks sleep through one of Holy Family’s excellent homilies!  At other times, we do have an understanding heart, and really mean well, but the roots are shallow.  And so, we don’t have the willpower to change our ways.  That’s what seems to happen to me every January first when I make a New Year’s Resolution!

But sometimes, and hopefully more often than not, we react to the word of God like it was seed sewn on good ground, and we do something in our life that bears fruit that we can see- like the feeling we get when we do something really nice for somebody else- helping a friend move, or being there for them when they lose a dear one, or pitching in and help with the kids.

And so, what can we do to maximize the times that we fall on good ground?  Have you ever asked yourself this question: what does it mean for you to fall on good soil?  Well, first of all, like any good seed, you need the right kind of nutrition.  Fertile ground and water are essential.  For us the food and water that we need are spiritual foods- like the Eucharist that is available to us, and like the educational opportunities to learn about our faith and our God offered by our Church.

Secondly, you have got to grow.  And growing involves extending yourself, moving out, changing.  You have to emerge from the seed pod and move off in the direction of your talents.  It does no good to stay confined in the seed pod; you have got to grow into an apple tree if you started as an apple seed, for example.  In other words, you have got to grow and bloom in order to bear fruit.  Sometimes that can be very hard- growing and blooming.  It is safer to stay in a comfortable rut in our lives.

In the second reading we hear about suffering.  Indeed, the lives that we live, as we encounter these three environments described in the Gospel, are full of sufferings of one kind or another.  Growing
pains will be there for sure.  And there is one sure fire way to detect lack of growth, and that is when our lives are stuck in a rut- a routine that doesn’t ever change;  one that is designed to minimize suffering.  Believe it or not, God’s word is alive for us all the time.  We just need to be looking for the fertile ground so that we can become fruitful.

There is good news about seeking growth in this way, even though it involves suffering.  Because as Paul maintains, these sufferings are nothing as compared to the rewards available to us in the  Kingdom of God- everlasting life.

God is Always There for You

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Thursday of 13th Week of Ordinary Time

Gen 44: 18-21, 23b-29: 45: 1-5; Mt 10: 7-15

Dc. Larry Brockman


It sounds like a clear condemnation from Jesus, that those who don’t listen to his Evangelists, are doomed to be condemned and condemned harshly.  He even says it will go worse for them than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  And those people were violently destroyed!  


And yet, look at the mercy God the Father through Joseph bestowed on Jacob’s other errant sons.  These men definitely did not follow the will of God when they sold their brother Joseph into slavery.  But Joseph says at the end of this reading:  “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you”, making It almost sound like God willed that Joseph be sold into slavery!   

Indeed, there is such a contrast between these two readings and it’s kind of in reverse compared to the norm we are used to where the God of the Old Testament seems harsher,   and the God of the New Testament seems more merciful.  So, what gives? 


Well, I think that people are challenged to live the life that God intends for them- God’s will for them, alright.  But let’s face it- things happen.  Fortunately for us, when we sin, life is not like what happens if you fall off a tall building.  God does cut us some slack.  Each moment of our life God is there offering us a new plan to repent and harmonize ourselves with His plan, even as we go wrong.  It is kind of like these new GPS devices in our cars.  When you make a mistake, the device right away calculates a correction.  Oh, we have to face the consequences of the mistakes, alright, just like the consequences of missing our turn or exit on the road.  But the correction is offered to us by God immediately, relentlessly merciful in His approach, just like these GPS devices offer us an alternative right away.


Jacob’s sons made a big mistake, and they had to face the consequences.  One of those consequences was the famine that they experienced as a family.  Fortunately for them, it was in God’s plan to bless Joseph as he was offered his alternate path to God’s plan for him once he was sold into slavery. 


What God teaches us in the New Testament is that He hates to be ignored, not listened to, put on the back burner, and rejected.  It is then that His attitude is severe.  The Evangelists in the Gospel are commissioned to spread the Good News.  But when folks ignore it and reject the Good News, they are turning their back on the constant reform that is offered to them.  Jesus is advising His Evangelists to be harsh under these circumstances.  But to those who listen, who are in tune with God’s ever present urges to respond to Him even as we fail, God will be merciful and kind to us.


And that’s the Good News.  No matter what you’ve done; God is always there for you, even in the midst of your sin, urging you to repent and make a correction.  And just like Jacob’s family in the Old Testament story, you will be blessed when you get back on track.