God. Change. Me.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 16, 2020)

Isaiah 56:1,6-7                     

Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8 

Romans 11:13-15,29-32

Matthew 15:21-28

How many times has something been going on in your life that you don’t like? Something that is causing you grief, heartache, or stress and it would just be easier if things were different.

We get a glimmer of that in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew. A woman begs Jesus to help her daughter who is being tormented by a demon. I’m a huge fan of scary movies and have seen my share of movies showing possessions and demonic activity. So I can imagine how miserable the daughter’s life is and also how difficult it is for the mother to watch helplessly.

It is with this desperation that the woman approaches Jesus and begs for his help. Surprisingly, Jesus actually initially ignores her request. Not once. Not twice. It took her pleading with him three times for Jesus to help the daughter. It was a test of faith. The mother could have easily walked away after getting denied once or twice, but kept pleading. Jesus granted her request and this encounter has a nice, happy ending.

But what about the times we beg God to help us… but we don’t get the answer we demand? What about the times we cry out to God in desperation… but feel ignored?

A terminal diagnosis. Financial struggles. Unemployment. “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!”

Infidelity in a marriage. Addiction. Feeling unloved. “Lord, help me.”

What do we do when, even after praying, there seems to be no answer?

Last week, as I was going over today’s readings trying to figure out what to preach, I came across a Christian singer named Micah Tyler. He wrote a song titled, “Different” that really caught my attention. But what makes the song even more powerful is the story behind the song. It’s helped me greatly look at things in a different way the past few weeks.

So, I have a treat for you today!

I don’t know about you, but I really miss all the music during Mass. Granted, Micah Tyler’s song is not a liturgical song, I still thought it would be very beneficial to play it for you today in the context of my homily. Listen to the lyrics but especially listen to the opening story:

“God change me so I can handle the things you are walking me through.” God. Change. Me. How beautiful is that??? That is the take away from the song. It is such a powerful prayer, which is why I encourage you to add it to your daily prayers.

Our current society is very self-centered. It’s all about me. Do what you want. So if something is not going well, we too often are quick to want to change the factors outside ourselves. We are quick to say, “God, change these things” or “God, change that person.” Then we get mad when our prayer is not answered.  But… what if God really is answering our prayer, but not in the way we want? What if God is using our current situation to change… US?

It’s still very much appropriate to pray to God like the woman in today’s Gospel passage. Ask God for what you need. He knows, but tell him anyway. It helps to hear it out loud. But if God doesn’t answer immediately, consider changing the prayer. Ask God to change YOU so you can better handle the situation with grace and understanding.

It’s funny, because here is a typical prayer that sounds like something I would have said in the recent past,

“God, my kids are driving me crazy. They don’t listen; they don’t clean up or follow the rules. I need them to be quiet so I can have some peace. If they would just stop running around screaming, then I’ll yell less. Please help them change their bad habits. Amen.”

After meditating on this song, my prayers are now sounding more like this,

“God, thank you for my crazy kids. Help me to put aside my work struggles and love them more intensely in the moment. Help me have more patience with them. I pray that I can be firm, yet always loving when disciplining them. Help me appreciate these times with them because I know they will grow up and be off on their own in the blink of an eye. Thank you God for choosing me to be their dad. I pray that with your grace I will be worthy of that title. Thank you for all the blessings in my life. Amen.”

Don’t be discouraged if things aren’t going the way you want. Keep praying and be faithful.

But, if you are feeling brave…. try adding 3 words to your prayer life:

God… change… me….

Weeds and Lilacs

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 19, 2020)

Wisdom 12:13,16-19              

Psalm 86:5-6,9-10,15-16             

Romans 8:26-27

Matthew 13:24-30

When I was going to Chiropractic College in Iowa, there was a lilac garden at a local city park. It was beautiful… for about one week out of the year. Lilacs are one of those flowers that are very pretty and fragrant but only bloom once a year for about a week. Then the flowers fall off and it’s just a big bush with green leaves.

My wife also loves lilacs so naturally, when we moved into our house in 2004, I planted two lilac bushes in the back yard. Year after year, they would grow bigger and bigger. And every year, for about one week, Angie would cut the flowers and put them around our house in vases. Our house was filled with purple lilacs and smelled amazing… for one week.

Over the past few years I noticed one of the lilac bushes wasn’t doing as well. It still seemed very green and full but was producing fewer and fewer blossoms each year. So last season, while it was starting to bud, I went out to investigate it further. I then noticed that about 40-50% of the plant was not even a lilac bush at all. Somehow, a “sucker” got it there and grew right up the middle of the bush.

It had gotten so big because it’s green leaves looked a lot like the leaves of the lilac bush. It blended in very well. I had to wait until all the lilac blossoms had bloomed, then one by one, cut off the branches that were without blossoms. I eventually had to carefully dig out the roots of the sucker plant that grew along side the lilac bush.

The cool thing was, once the sucker plant was removed, the lilac bush began to flourish again. This past year was probably the biggest harvest of lilac blossoms we’ve had and it allowed us to once again, fill up our house with the smell of lilacs for one great week.

It’s funny how some things can grow right under our noses, without detection. We can get very comfortable in our daily routine and not even notice an outside negative influence has camouflaged and inserted itself right in the middle of our lives… slowly draining us. The scary thing is that if we allow this negative influence to remain planted and grow, it can steal our light and make us wither and slowly die.

This is one of the main messages in today’s Gospel parable about the wheat and the weeds. Both the wheat and weeds, when very young, can grow side by side almost undistinguishable from each other.  It isn’t until the wheat crop bears fruit that one can distinguish it from the weeds.

At that point, today’s parable gives us two options. Option one is to come in with a heavy hand and tear out the weeds. This can be tricky because both plants grew up closely together and some of their roots are intertwined. So to pull one will result in possibly pulling out some of the other.

Option two involves more patience. Allow both plants to grow… carefully watching… slowly waiting. Waiting for just the right time when the wheat is mature and strong enough to hold it’s ground. It is then that the weeds can be separated and safely pulled out by the roots.

In today’s parable, Jesus is telling us to try for option #2. You see, God loves us and doesn’t try to force Himself on us. He doesn’t rule us with a heavy hand. Instead, He gives us time and space. Hopefully just enough to allow us to see our own negative ways, our own negative habits… change them… and follow Him

The hard truth is that if we don’t try to change, or worse if we refuse to change, God will sort it out in the end on our judgment day. That is why Jesus tells us in the parable, “at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

So pay attention. Pay attention and try to avoid bad seeds from being planted in your life. This in itself is extremely difficult because bad seeds can be camouflaged to look like good ones. Or in the case of today’s parable, the bad seeds could be sown without one even knowing it because it was done in secret. But it’s hard to avoid or ignore the fruit one bears come harvest time. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” comes to mind because it is so very relevant and true.

The hardest part about following the message of this parable is when you see a negative influence affecting others. When you can plainly see weeds surrounding your loved ones, but they can’t see it… it’s hard. We naturally want to help others. We want our family and friends to reach their full potential. But many times, people don’t want to change or don’t see the harm that is happening to them. That is when a strong prayer life is extremely important. Pray and try to be a positive role model in their life. Hopefully, over time, they will see the weeds and change.

But as for us… do not allow negative influences to dominate our life. Do not allow negative voices to convince us of our self worth. Do not allow negative people to dim our light. Pay attention and stay awake. As stated before, this takes a strong prayer life AND frequent visits to the confessional to be successful.

It’s hard to get rid of the weeds 100% of the time.

So always, always leave ample time for prayer, confession, and the Eucharist.

These are the things that help us stand tall and grow strong roots.

These are the things that help us walk closer with God. These are the things that will get us ready come harvest time.

Sports and Scripture

Corpus Christi (June 14, 2020)

Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14-16                1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Psalm 147:12-13,14-15,19-20        John 6:51-58

Last week, we heard one of the most famous Scripture verses in all of sports. Yes, I said sports. This verse became famous because anytime we watch a major sporting event on TV, we almost always see at least one person holding up a sign that simply reads “John 3:16.” When I was younger, probably in my middle school years, I remember seeing that sign during a baseball game on TV but not knowing what it meant. Out of curiosity, I looked it up. Now, anytime I see a “John 3:16” sign, my mind automatically recalls,

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Whoever came up with the “John 3:16” sign did a very good job at finding a simple yet effective way to get people to pick up their bibles and hear a very foundational message of Christianity.

This gave me an idea. Going along with this same concept, I’d like to propose to all of you today a new sign. “John 6:51” which reads,

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

If you are not familiar with this verse from today’s Gospel, it is one of the Scripture verses that helped form the teaching on the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist (Holy Communion). I encourage everyone to go home tonight and look it up. But don’t just read verse 51, read all 72 verses of John Chapter 6. A careful and prayerful study of John 6 will help anyone better understand why Catholics believe what we do. That the Eucharist in not just a symbol… it is really and truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

For many Catholic Christians, the teaching on the real presence in the Eucharist is what keeps us coming back to Mass week after week. This core teaching is one that sets us apart from other churches. It is why I personally can’t see myself ever leaving the Catholic Church.
The Eucharist feeds our soul and gives us life. It may taste like ordinary bread and wine, but there is nothing ordinary about it. It is the Bread of Life. It is Jesus Christ. Several times in Scripture we hear how Jesus took bread into his hands, raise it up and say, “This is my body, given up for you.” These are the very same words we hear the priest say at the consecration during Mass. It is why we are all kneeling down during that time at Mass. We are truly in the presence of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine. We are on our knees because we are kneeling before God.

Is it hard to understand and accept? Yes! Even Catholics struggle with this teaching. We struggle because it defies logic. It looks and tastes like ordinary bread and wine. So how can it be God? We even hear in today’s Gospel that the Jews “quarreled among themselves” and questioned how a man can ask us to eat his flesh. Later in John 6 we read that many of Jesus’ followers actually walk away from Him over this teaching.

He hear about quarreling and we hear about people walking away over this teaching… but there is one thing that we do NOT hear in Scripture. Nowhere in the New Testament do we ever read about Jesus telling these people who quarreled or walked away to come back because they misunderstood Him.

Interesting…

Nowhere does Jesus say, “Hold up guys! You misheard me. It’s only a symbol. Come back and let me clarify!” No. He meant what He said and people walked away because they understood what He meant. My guess is He allowed them to walk away so they could process it on their own time and hopefully one day return back to Him.

The true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is a core teaching of the Catholic Church that can be traced back to the Gospel itself. “This is my body, given up for you.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” But even with over 2,000 years of study and contemplation over this teaching, it is still a hard concept to fully grasp 100%. And that… brothers and sisters… is where faith takes over.

Let me ask you… Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin? Do you believe Jesus turned water into wine at Cana? Do you believe Jesus healed a blind man and raised Lazarus from the dead? Do you believe he multiplied loaves of bread and fish to feed thousands? Do you believe in His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven?

Do you believe these things to be 100% true? They happened without a doubt, right? Right??? If Christians can accept these things as truths… then why is it so hard for some to trust that God can turn ordinary bread and wine into His body and blood?

It takes faith. Put your faith in God. Put your faith in the Living Bread that came down from heaven. Put your faith in the God who said, “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Jesus Christ offered us himself as the bread of life. So have faith and approach the Eucharist as you would approach a King… because that’s who waiting for you in that small piece of bread.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

“Wentz, party of 8. Your table is ready!”

6th Sunday of Easter (May 17, 2020)

Acts 8:5-8,14-17                  

Psalm 66: 1-7,16,20

1 Peter 3:15-18

John 14:15-21

I have been struggling a lot lately. The more I talk to others, the more I realize it is not just me. Many of us are getting tired, anxious, annoyed… some of us are getting depressed and desperate. It seems like the biggest reason this is happening is because of two things: 1. Mixed messages on what to believe regarding anything Covid 19 related and, 2. Mental exhaustion from waiting to see what is going to happen next.

We were told 2.1 million Americans would die from this virus. Now it is closer to 100,000. Do not wear a mask because they are ineffective became everyone needs to wear a mask. Do not gather in groups of more than 50, no make that 20, or rather 10. That turned into a “stay at home” order. Schools were closed but do not worry, they will open back up in the fall, unless they do not. People were laid off and given unemployment assistance. Now we are hearing that many still have not received any money because the system is overwhelmed with claims. We were told to “flatten the curve” to slow down the virus spread so our hospitals would not be overwhelmed. Now many of our hospitals are sitting empty while millions of dollars went wasted on unused facilities built specifically to handle the overflow of patients that never occurred. We are told that we will be ok once a vaccine is made… but that could take another year or two or three. If that were not enough to stress us out… then came the “murder hornets!”

Let me be the first to say that I am very thankful that I am not in charge of making any of these decisions. Our President, the State Governors and all those in charge have had to deal with something that is new to all of us. Only time will tell how well they responded to this situation. So, do not take what I just said as me whining or complaining that I could do it better. I am just pointing out how mentally exhausting this entire pandemic has become. It seems to have put everyone on edge.

We all long for the day when we can go outside and enjoy life again without the restrictions. Someone on Facebook recently asked, “What are you most excited about doing once the lockdown is over?” My wife wrote, “Wentz, party of 8. Your table is ready!” We miss going to restaurants as a family treat. We miss the smell of fresh popcorn while watching the newest movie at the theater. We miss giving a hug to a friend or shaking someone’s hand. We miss playing sports at a local park. There are so many things that we want to do right now but cannot.

Restaurants, movies, and hugs are nice… but after 10 weeks of watching Mass online… is anyone out there excited to return to Church? I was so excited when we heard our Governor announce the reopening of churches here in Kentucky. Then I waited in anticipation for the Kentucky Bishops to meet and discuss how we can all safely worship together once again. Then on May 11, the anticipated email arrived.

By now, everyone registered here at St. Andrew and St. Mary should have received a copy of these procedures in the mail along with a letter from Fr. Al and Deacon Richard. Please, please take the time to read it carefully. There are many changes that are being implemented. The sole purpose of these procedures is to try and make it safer for people to attend Mass during this pandemic.

The most important thing to understand is that even though you will be allowed to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist again soon, you are still not required to attend. Bishop John, along with all the US Bishops, has extended the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. This means you may still watch online without any of that “Catholic guilt.” So, if you feel uncomfortable attending church in person, it is ok to stay home. We will still live stream the 11am Sunday Mass here on our Facebook page for those interested in that option.

The next major issue to handle is limiting Mass attendance to 33% of capacity. If we reach our limit, nobody else will be allowed to enter the building. No exceptions. That is why we have included in that mailing instructions on how to preference which Mass you will be attending. If you did not receive the letter, call the church office this week. Again, read the entire mailing carefully as soon as possible!

As we have learned with most things by now, things will be a little different when Mass resumes next week. We are creatures of habit and do not like change.

However, our faith has stood strong for 2,000 years and will continue to stand strong in spite of these challenging times.

Remember… All these changes, all the uncertainty, all the mixed messages we hear in the media… but one thing remains unchanged.

God.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel from John, “I will not leave you orphans.” God is always with us. His presence can be felt… but sometimes in order to feel it, we need to turn off all the noise.

When you feel overwhelmed, afraid, or anxious… Put down your phone. Turn off the news.

Stop… breathe in God’s love… pray.

Feel the Holy Spirit.  

Because with God, nobody is ever alone!

What Do You See?

3rd Sunday of Easter (April 26, 2020)

Acts 2:14, 22-33

Psalm 16: 1-2,5,7-11

1 Peter 1:17-21          

Luke 24:13-35

What do you see? This can be a very deep and profound question if we take the time to really meditate on it. Now, I’m not talking about just looking around the room and seeing stuff… “Hey I see a chair, my phone, there’s the kitchen where I eat too many quarantine snacks and there’s my razor that I got tired of using a few weeks ago.” No, I’m talking about really taking the time and looking around to see the hidden opportunities right in front of our faces in this very moment.

First, let’s take a look at the scripture passage that was just read from chapter 24 of Luke’s Gospel. It is commonly referred to as the “Road to Emmaus” story. Most of us have heard this story several times before. It begins, “Two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village…” As the story goes, they were conversing and debating everything that had just happened to Jesus regarding his teachings, crucifixion and burial. They were really concerned that it has been three days since his burial and now Jesus’ body is missing from the tomb. Furthermore, an angel announced to some women visiting his tomb that Jesus was indeed alive. During the disciple’s journey, the risen Jesus, out of nowhere, joins them along the road and engages them in their conversation. But oddly enough, the two disciples don’t recognize Jesus and talk to him as if he was just a regular guy.

Does that seem strange to you? These were two of Jesus’ disciples. From the story, we don’t know much about them except that they were disciples. One would think that Jesus’ disciples would have recognized Him, right? After all, He is the subject of their current conversation. So He was right on their minds in that moment. But for whatever reason, they did not SEE Him, even though He was standing right in front of them.

Imagine the opportunity. If we had the chance to speak with Jesus, face to face, in a real conversation. I’m not talking about prayer. I’m talking about having the opportunity to ask Him a direct question and get an immediate answer. Or to ask Him to explain something we’ve always wanted to know and get an immediate explanation directly from the mouth of Jesus. What an amazing opportunity… MISSED… by the two disciples. All because they could not SEE the opportunity right in front of them.

So I’ll ask again… What do you see? What opportunities are right in front of us that we are missing? Our lives have been thrown way off kilter during the COVID 19 quarantine. Nobody will deny that. But are we using this as an excuse to throw up our hands, complain, quit and be bitter? Or are we using this opportunity to see things differently?

The schools are shut down. For parents of school-aged kids who are not used to being the teacher, this can be challenging. Should we get mad and quit? Or do we see this as an opportunity to really get to know how the minds of our kids work. What if we find better ways for our kids to study or learn things so they can be an even better student when the schools open back up?

Many of us have been temporarily laid off from work due to this pandemic. This is an extremely stressful time regarding financials for the majority of us. I had to stop looking at my retirement account early on after I watched its value drop by around 30%. This is out of our control, but will hopefully one day bounce back. What if we now see this opportunity to get rid of some of the excess spending we’ve done in the past? Maybe this situation forces us to adhere to a stricter budget. This could be a good opportunity to become more frugal with our finances when the economy opens back up.

There are many workers that were deemed “essential” and continue to work through this pandemic. What opportunity can we see in this? Maybe this will allow us to better appreciate the first responders, military, medical personnel, food workers, truck drivers, and many, many more that continue to work so our basic needs can be met. When we see these people, will we take them for granted or do we now thank them?

Now for the really hard one. Our churches are closed right now from having in-person services. We Catholics are used to going to Mass every weekend and receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion. It’s so important to us that it is actually a sin to not attend Mass without a valid reason. It is ingrained into our very being to “go” to church. But what if… what if… we’ve been taking that for granted… Even just a little bit. How many of us have thought at one time, “Uggg… do I HAVE to go to church today?” And now, how many of us are longing for the day when we’ll all be together at the Lord’s Table instead of watching from a laptop or phone. To receive Him in the Eucharist with our church family, side by side, worshiping and praising God together.

By now, we are familiar with the term “spiritual communion.” But to be honest, as good as that is, it’s just not the same. As a Catholic Deacon, I can still receive the Eucharist currently. It’s something I do not take lightly. Not even for one second. Mainly because I realize how many people would love to trade spots with me during Mass. That is why when I receive the Eucharist at Mass, I offer it up for all of my family and friends who long to be here, but can’t.

In the Road to Emmaus story, it was in the breaking of the bread that allowed the disciples to recognize Jesus. Since we can’t physically be together at church right now, we need to use our time to prepare. Unlike the disciples in the story, use this time to SEE all of the opportunities right in front of us. Use this time to SEE the things that need to be changed and do it. Use this time to SEE how much we mean to each other so that we don’t take them for granted again later.

What do you see? For me, it’s simple. I see opportunity. I see a church community that has been forced down a solemn journey, one that will make us all better Christians. But only if we take the time to SEE and ACT on the opportunities we face day to day.

And if we can use this time to get closer to God now…

Imagine how much stronger we will SEE Him… when we can once again break bread together… as His church family.

Pursuing Perfection

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 23, 2020)

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18

1 Corinthians 3: 16-23

Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 

Matthew 5: 38-48

If only I’d win the lottery, then my life would be perfect. If only I’d find my dream job, then my life would be perfect. If only my spouse and kids would finally listen and do things my way, then my life would be perfect. If only I could get 6-pack abs from eating chocolate, then my life would be perfect. If only….

In today’s Gospel from Matthew we hear Jesus make mention of being perfect. It’s perhaps a little different than the humorous examples I just gave. He says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Did anyone else out there hear this and think to themselves, “You’ve got to be kidding me! How am I supposed to be perfect like God???” I have a better chance at getting the abs from eating chocolate than being perfect like God!

Let’s take a closer look at what exactly Jesus is telling us to do in order to be perfect like our Heavenly Father. According to this Gospel passage, we are to offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes us on our right cheek, turn the other one as well. If someone wants our shirt (tunic), we are to give him our coat (cloak) as well. If someone wants us to go one mile to help them, offer to go 2 miles. We shouldn’t turn our back on someone who wants to borrow something. Lastly, we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In our modern society, these statements seem preposterous… ridiculous… out of touch with reality.

Now recall last week’s Gospel. It was the verses in Scripture just prior to today’s Gospel reading. It was the one that told us to tear out our eye and to cut off our hand if it causes us to sin. The reasoning behind this was that it is better to lose a part of our body now if that would keep us out of hell in the afterlife. Again… this seems preposterous… ridiculous… out of touch with reality.

When things appear ridiculous or unrealistic in Scripture, we need to closely examine the overall message. It’s important to not take things out of context. This is where many people get into big trouble.

Ephesians 5: 21-33 is perhaps my favorite example of taking things out of context. This is the famous text that tells a wife to be subordinate to her husband. I’ve personally heard men use this text to try and prove that men are superior to women. You know… since it’s “in the Bible.” Unfortunately, these men have a bad understanding of the text and have taken it waaaaaayyyyyyy out of the context that St. Paul intended. If one reads this text in its entirety and with understanding, it actually is the most beautiful description of married love. It’s telling the wife to allow the husband to be willing to lay down his life in service for her, just like Christ laid down His life for the Church. That is what wives are supposed to be subordinate to…. Not abuse, degradation or being made to feel inferior… but to allow the husband to serve her. Even to the point of death if necessary. Proper context changes everything.

I believe that this week’s Gospel reading, along with last week’s, has the potential to also be taken out of context. At first glance, both the readings would make us believe that all Christians should be 1. Missing appendages, 2. Have bruises on our face from constantly turning the other cheek to our enemies, and 3. Be broke since we gave everything away to anyone who asked.

Deacon Bruce did an excellent job last week in his homily of explaining the meaning behind the “cut off your hand” Gospel. Jesus used extreme examples of cutting out eyes and cutting off hands, instead of sinning, to shock us into self-reflection. The message is that avoiding sin and occasions of sin are so important, that we must be willing to go to extremes. Sometimes we need to make serious changes in our lives because the afterlife is really and truly that important. We need to take it seriously now, before we are standing face to face with God on our judgment day.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew, which continues the theme of extreme examples from last week, is just as serious and important to consider. Obviously we can’t be perfect like God. But we sure can try. We sure can pursue perfection. Jesus is telling us today in His examples to do more than just the bare minimum when it comes to helping those in need. If I was to summarize today’s Gospel into a common phrase we all have heard, it would be to “go the extra mile” to help others.

Want to go even farther? Let’s combine last week’s Gospel theme with today’s Gospel theme. Stop sinning + Help others. Isn’t that a great description of what it means to “pursue perfection?” To stop sinning means we are actively making an effort to put God first in our lives. It means we are actively trying to live out His commandments. Helping others means we are living a life of service.

Stop sinning + Help others. It’s also important to note here what it is NOT saying. It’s not saying life is all about YOU.

I went on a marriage retreat with my wife this past weekend. The priest said if we want to find JOY, then we need to put our priorities in the right order. He then pointed out that if we take the word “JOY” and break it down, we get: J = Jesus, O = Others, Y = You. Last week’s Gospel was about avoiding sin and following JESUS. This week’s Gospel is about helping OTHERS. Now, it’s up to YOU.

Lent begins in a few days with Ash Wednesday. Don’t just go through the motions. Go deeper. We need to evaluate our own lives and put things in the proper context. Then… actually commit and make the necessary changes this Lent. How? Root out all sin. Root. Out. All. Sin. Start that by coming to the Parish Penance Service on March 11 and confess your sins. Burdens will be lifted. Hearts will be opened. Stress will fade. God will fill us with His Grace. Come and get a fresh start.

Then let us commit to serving others in our family and community. Don’t just do the minimum. Go the extra mile and be a light for someone else. C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see Him.”

Let us use this Lent to get our priorities in the right order. This will allow us to fully experience the love and JOY that awaits us with our risen Lord on Easter. Love God. Avoid Sin. Help Others. This is how we discover joy. This is how we pursue perfection.

Follow The Star

The Epiphany of the Lord (January 5, 2020)

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13

Matthew 2:1-12

They followed a star. The Magi left their homes, they left their family and friends, and they left what was familiar to them. They journeyed to an unknown destination using only a star as their compass. They didn’t know a lot about where the journey would take them, but they were open to taking the journey.

You know what is really interesting to consider? To the best of our understanding, the Magi didn’t have knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. They probably didn’t know who Isaiah was or about his prophesies. They simply were following a star. The only thing they knew about the star was that it signaled the birth of the newborn king of the Jews. And that was enough to motivate them to seek him out.

Interestingly, Matthew’s gospel makes no mention of people joining the Magi on their journey. I’m sure they met people along the way who inquired about where they were going. “To find the newborn King of the Jews,” sounds like a response they would have given. Yet nobody asked to tag along.

Even the chief priests and scribes with King Herod didn’t care to follow the star. Did you catch that in today’s Gospel? The Magi asked King Herod about the location of the newborn king of the Jews. Herod had no clue what they meant so he asked the chief priests and scribes to explain it to him. They readily quoted the Scriptures because, unlike the Magi, they knew the biblical prophecies. They validated that the Magi were not crazy and told them to go to Bethlehem. But they did nothing to search out the child themselves. They sat by and did nothing.

This sounds eerily similar to our modern society. There are people who are actively seeking out Jesus like the Magi. They are open to the journey and trying to cooperate with God’s plan for their lives, even though they don’t know where it will take them exactly. But they have faith it will lead them back to God.

Then there are people who hear about God, but for whatever reasons aren’t motivated enough to change their ways and follow. They simply go back to their daily lives without giving it a second thought.

Then there are the ones who claim to already know God, can quote Scripture all day long and appear on the outside to be devout. But their actions don’t match up with their faith. They are too afraid to actually take the journey.

Which one are you? We are all following something. So I guess I should be asking… whose star are you following?

One of the most beautiful sights to me is looking up on a clear night and seeing a sky filled with stars too numerous to count. Out of the billion stars in the sky, the Magi followed only one. If they had followed any other star in the sky, their journey and destination would have been dramatically altered. But when they came to the final destination marked by this particular star in the sky, they met an infant. They met a King.

Only one star leads to our King. Other stars may appear to be shinier and brighter at times. Some stars could even lead us down a path that seems more pleasurable or easier. But only one star leads us to salvation. Only one star leads us to complete and total love. Only one star leads us back to God.

We are all looking for some light in the darkness. So be careful which star you are using as your compass through life. Because some day you will reach the end of your journey and see what or whom you’ve been following. I pray you won’t regret or be disappointed when you come to that end.

If you want to avoid that disappointment, consider this:Jesus Christ is the only star with enough light to overcome the darkness. Put your faith in him. Open your hearts and fully trust the journey. Follow the star to our newborn King!

The Crazy Man in the Desert

Second Sunday of Advent (Dec 8, 2019)

Isaiah 11:1-10

Romans 15:4-9

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17

Matthew 3:1-12

We all love a good spectacle. When two people start fighting, we tend to circle around and watch. Anytime we pass by an accident on the road, we slow down to look. If a large protest or major catastrophe occurs, it’ll end up on the news for days. Things that are out of the normal get our attention easily.

In Scripture, there are not many people that are more “out of the normal” than John the Baptist. Picture a strange man out in the desert. Rather than wearing a common robe or tunic, he is dressed in clothes made out of camel’s hair with a simple leather belt. John is usually depicted with a beard and his diet consists of wild honey and locusts (if you don’t know what that is, picture a grasshopper). I don’t have a beard, but I know guys who get teased because their food often ends up in their beard. So… picture that strange bearded man… eating sticky honey… 

When I read this passage from Matthew about John the Baptist, I can’t help but picture a rough dressed guy, with a big, burley beard that is full of grasshopper legs. Furthermore, he’s preaching and shouting at everyone to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John is very much a spectacle who attracts large crowds from the local cities. They all want to get a look at the crazy man in the desert.

John the Baptist even drew out some of the “higher ups” from the community known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. These men are very knowledgeable regarding the Mosaic Law. John greets these particular people by yelling at them. He’s calling them out for not living up to their own high standards and lack of internal repentance. He says, “You brood of vipers. Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” In other words, the crazy man in the desert is telling everyone that actions speak much louder than words. Not so crazy if you ask me….

Ever wonder what drives John to do this? To give up a “normal” life and live like this? Dressing oddly. Eating oddly. Preaching about repentance out in the desert. We don’t know a great deal about John the Baptist from Scripture. We do know he lept in his mother’s womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came to visit. We know that John preached about repentance of sins and baptized many in the desert including Jesus. And we know that John was later beheaded prior to the crucifixion of Jesus.

But can anyone doubt the faith of John the Baptist? Can anyone doubt that he put complete trust in Jesus when he said, “the one coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” No! The thing that drove John to do this was his complete trust and faith in God. He lived out a life that was congruent with what he preached. People believed John the Baptist, as odd as he was, because they could feel the passion in his words and see how he lived. This moved people to their own action. They repented of their sins, asked for forgiveness, were baptized in the Jordan River and then tried to live for heaven.

What about us? Can we live out our faith better? Or will we continue to ignore our sins and live out a life controlled by worldly things? I’m not asking us to wear ratty clothes, switch to a honey and locust diet and move out to the desert … but can we put down our smart phones and pick up a book? Can we spend time with our family instead of watching TV? Can we forgive someone instead of holding onto that grudge for dear life? Can we go to confession more often? I know this is hard to do and is counter-cultural, but isn’t that what we are called to do as Christians?

Let me ask it a different way: if we really and truly believe that there is a heaven and a hell… why don’t we live like it right now? Pray on that. We need to spend time looking at our own lives and see where we are pushing God aside or ignoring Him all together. There is so much joy in life if we would just turn over some of our control and put our trust in God.

But I can already hear it, “Oh Deacon Brian, you don’t get it do you?!?! Life is hard. I am struggling financially, my spouse and I rarely talk, my kids run the house when they are not destroying it, I have deadlines to meet at work, Christmas presents to buy for 27 more people, laundry to do, and have no idea what to make my family for dinner tonight. Plus, have you seen all the evil in the world? The Government takes half of my money and can’t agree on what to spend it on next. People are getting beaten up or killed all over the world. The news is nothing but violence and sad stories. And you expect me to trust in God? Life is nothing but sadness and evil so why even bother. Sometimes I wonder if there really is a heaven or hell or if God even cares about us at all.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard something like that before. And to that I say… fair enough. The world can be a big ball of gloom and doom if we choose to see it that way. But here’s something to consider:

It’s not God’s job to stop the evil in the world…. He’s there to give us the strength to get through it.

God came to earth, not as the leader of a power-hungry army, but as a baby. He did it to show us a better way. He did it to show us how to live and how to treat others with dignity and love. He broke into the world to show us that it’s ok to be odd and not let the evil stuff of the world define us or rule our lives. He showed us how to find joy if we turned our eyes toward the things of heaven and trusted Him.

So this Advent, listen to the odd man in the desert (who may or may not have grasshopper legs in his beard) and, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Refuse to be part of the brood of vipers already out there. Rather, look inwardly and get rid of sin. Repent of it and go to confession. Then ask God for the strength to get through it. Trust God and His plan for your life.Remember, If you really believe there is a heaven… prove it…live it…today…

Apocalypse and Toilet Seats

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov 17, 2019)

Malachi 3:19-20a                            

2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

Psalm 98:5-6,7-8,9                                   

Luke 21:5-19

I realize that humans are very curious. So let’s get this out of the way now… I’m sure many of you saw me walking around up here like a pirate on a peg leg. It’s hard to hide that I’m wearing a medical boot on my right foot. When someone is seen wearing one of these boots, the natural question to follow is usually, “What happened?” Was it from CrossFit? No. Did you trip on a toy that one of your kids left out? Nope. Did you injure it while you were a referee at a recent soccer game? Not quite. Did you hurt it while tackling a robber that was trying to steal your wife’s purse? Unfortunately, not even close.

I fell off a toilet. Before the jokes get even worse, to clarify, I was changing a light bulb while standing on a toilet. You know… that silly light bulb that is above the toilet that a 5’7” man can’t reach because it’s a 9’ ceiling. To make it worse, I actually put a small step stool on the toilet seat so I could reach the light. Yup… I did that… and I’ve done it many, many times before. But this time, apparently, the seat did that little “shift” thing which immediately caused every muscle in my body to react like I just heard my favorite break dancing song straight out of the 1980’s. But instead of break dancing, I broke a bone in my foot.

Between Deacon Richard’s shoulder and my foot, Deacon Bruce is the only healthy deacon left standing! But I’ll be fine. Bones heal. Life moves on. It’s not the end of the world.

Speaking of the end of the world, let’s turn our attention to today’s Gospel from Luke (See what I did there? Wasn’t that a smooth transition?). This is one of those passages in the New Testament where Jesus alludes to the “end times.” We hear that nations will rise against nation. Earthquakes, famines and plagues will occur. Wars and insurrections will erupt. Seizing and persecutions will be wide spread.

Sometimes, when we look at the current state of our own society, it’s hard not to wonder if we are indeed in the end times right now. Well, we are not alone. People have been thinking they are living in the end times pretty much since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. When I looked up a list of dates predicted for apocalyptic events on Wikipedia, it had around 200 entries. All of them wrong (obviously since we are still here having this discussion!).

When we focus on all of the negativity around us, it tends to foster a sense of helplessness. We want to just throw our hands up and say, “What’s the point of even trying?” I mean come on… I tried to change a stinking light bulb and broke my foot! Did I mention it was a LED light? I was trying to be more efficient and environmentally friendly since it uses less electric and is supposed to last 20 years. But now I can’t exercise like I want. I get funny looks hobbling around Wal-Mart and at my office. My ankle aches from the lack of movement caused by the boot. Plus my back is hurting because I’m walking off kilter! Negative, negative, negative, blah, blah, BLAH!

But you know what this experience does allow? It forces me to slow down a little. Spend more time in prayer and less time in the gym. It makes me rely on others for help, which can be very humbling. It is an icebreaker for people who I don’t know very well but ask me what happened. And it allows me to better understand how these lovely boots really do affect people’s low back. This has made me a better Chiropractor for future patients who will also experience wearing one of these. It forces me to let go of the control I mistakenly think I have on my life.

And that is a main point that comes across at the end of today’s passage from Luke. 90% of the passage is Jesus talking about the chaos that will happen in the world before the end. And like I said, we tend to focus on the negative stuff. But the main point to focus on is not in the details of the chaos… not in the unavoidable evil that some people will spread… not in trying to “read the signs” that the end in near…

Shift your focus instead to the final two lines spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Nothing… and I mean nothing… should be able to destroy our faith in Jesus Christ. Granted, there will be times in our lives that our faith will be shaken. There will be times when our faith will be tested. But faith can never be “taken” from us. The only way we can get rid of our faith is if we abandon it by our own choice.

But if our faith teaches and we truly believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God and will welcome his faithful followers into eternity with Him… what could this world possibly throw our way to make us want to abandon our faith?

That’s the message Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel. No matter how rough life gets, hold fast to our faith. Persevere in the face of evil to secure our eternal life.

Remember, we may get shaken, we may be tested, we even may fall off of a toilet… but if we persevere to the end in faith… God will never give up on us.

Grenades and Prayer

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 20, 2019)

Exodus 17:8-13

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Psalm 121:1-8

Luke 18:1-8

Kyle Carpenter was born October 19, 1989 in Jackson, Mississippi. At the age of 19, he enlisted in the Marines and later was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. On November 21, 2010 he was a sentry on a rooftop providing cover for the rest of the squad down below. It was just he and his best friend on the roof standing watch. A Taliban fighter threw a hand grenade up on the roof and it landed between Kyle and his buddy. Instinctively, Kyle jumped towards the grenade in an attempt to shield his friend from the blast. When the grenade detonated, Kyle’s body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him, but saving the life of his fellow Marine. 

5 weeks later, Kyle woke up in a hospital bed wondering where he was and why there were Christmas decorations in his hospital room. He had no memory of what had happened the past few weeks. The doctors told him he had a minimum of 2 years before he would be somewhat put back together. Over the next three years, he would undergo a total of 41 surgeries and was declared dead a total of five times.

Rather than laying in the hospital bed feeling sorry for himself, Kyle decided to set some goals. His first goal was to sit up in bed. Next was to be able to move and sit on the side of the bed with his feet dangling to the floor. After that he wanted to be able to stand up on his own. The next goal would be to take one step… just one. And all of this was to get to his ultimate goal of being able to walk again. Little goals. One day at a time.

Do you realize how much persistence this takes? Kyle had every right to just lie there on that hospital bed and quit. But apparently Marines are pretty stubborn and don’t like to be defeated. Well… not only did Kyle learn to walk again; in 2012 he entered and completed the Marine Corp Marathon.

One word keeps coming to mind. Persistence.

After all the surgeries and physical therapy, he was finally discharged from Walter Reed Hospital. It happened to be on a Friday. The following Monday, he enrolled in college and graduated 4 years later.

Persistence.

In June 2014, the President of the United States awarded Kyle Carpenter the Congressional Medal of Honor. He became the youngest living recipient of the military’s highest award for valor.

Persistence.

And to cap it all off, he is now a published author. His book titled, “You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For” was officially released this past week.

Persistence.

In an interview with Kyle, he was asked about his experience from the time the grenade changed his life forever to the present. He recited this quote, “The smallest of steps eventually completes the grandest of journeys.”

I came across Kyle’s story shortly after I read today’s Gospel reading. As I was praying on the theme for this homily, I kept coming back to that word… persistence.

Persistence is defined as having a firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

Very often in the Gospels, Jesus talks in parables to try and get his audience to think, rather than just be told what to believe. Some of the parables are open to interpretation and some of them are hard to understand. Today’s parable… not so vague.

The opening line tells us all we need to know. It reads, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Without this intro, the parable almost seems like the widow got justice only because she annoyed the judge.

However, since we have such a blunt intro to the parable, it’s very obvious that Jesus is telling his disciples how important it is to be persistent in their prayer life… no matter how long it takes God to answer them… to not become weary. This is especially important to remember when it appears that God is not answering our prayers in the way we would like.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but Kyle Carpenter probably wouldn’t have written a book, become a motivational speaker or inspired so many people with his amazing recovery if it wouldn’t have been for his act of bravery on the rooftop in Afghanistan. I’m going to make a huge assumption that Kyle, like most of us, prayed at some point to have a successful life, one with meaning and purpose. But I guarantee his prayer did NOT involve a grenade detonating next to him. The struggles he went through to get to this point have redefined his life dramatically. And when listening to him in an interview, he has no regrets.

Could you imagine if our prayer life had that much persistence? To pray without ceasing, no matter the outcome or our current situation? To pray with our whole heart, knowing with 100% faith, that God hears us and will answer us in His time and in His way. To know that no matter the struggles that lie ahead, if we are persistent in our faith, we will reach our grandest of journeys… our ultimate goal… unification with God in heaven.

So pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray with the eyes of faith and know that God is listening. Know that He will answer your prayer in His time and in His way. We just have to keep the faith and be persistent in prayer… knowing that struggles lie ahead. But with faith and prayer, we too can handle any grenade that life throws our way.