Whom Do You Serve???

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 26, 2012)

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Eph 5:21-32

John 6:60-69

A young man was walking home one snowy, winter day. He would always cut across a certain field because it was shorter than walking all the way around the twisting road ahead. He’d done it a thousand times before. There was a large lake just past the field that was usually frozen this time of year. Normally the ice was so thick, you could walk on it and that’s just what he did. Only this time, when he reached the middle of the lake, he heard a pop followed by dreadfully, ire cracking noise. In an instant he had fallen through the ice and was thrashing around in the bitterly cold water. He couldn’t swim and there was nobody around to help him. His arms and legs were quickly losing feeling and he was on the verge of going under the water for the last time. In sheer desperation he called out, “Jesus, Son of God, help me!” Suddenly Jesus came down from heaven and wrapped his loving arms around the man. “Thank you Jesus for saving me!” “Don’t worry my son, I’ve got you.” “Quick Jesus, pull us out of the water, I can barely feel my arms and legs anymore.” Jesus then said, “My son, I am going to save you, but not the way you think. I need you to stop thrashing around and trust me. Now…I need you to drown with me.”

“What did he just say????”

What would you do? Would you ask God if there was anyone else up there that could help instead?

Whom do you serve…

Sometimes we hear Jesus’ teachings or read other sayings in the bible and they don’t always make sense at first glance. It’s as if you do a double take when you come across one of these…

For instance, in that second reading today, did St. Paul really just tell women to be subordinate to their husbands? Yup, he sure did! There you go, another example of why the Catholic Church is sexist and how women are always being suppressed! Now hold on a minute, let’s take a closer look…. The passage reads, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord (Ok, stop there for a second. Another word for subordinate is submission. Submission means to be under the mission of someone. So here it’s saying that wives need to be under the mission of their husbands. But what’s the mission? Let’s keep reading). Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church (how did Christ love the church?) and handed himself over to her to sanctify her. Husbands should love their wives as their own body.” WOW! This is not a scriptural defense saying that men are superior to women at all! Sorry men. St. Paul is telling wives to allow their husbands to serve them and be willing to lay down their lives for them just as Christ laid down his life for his bride the Church.  So women, raise your hands if you now think this is one of the coolest verses in the bible. Whom do you serve…

What about last week’s Gospel? It too requires a second glance. Did Jesus just tell the people to “eat me?” Yup, actually in the original Greek Jesus didn’t use the word “eat” like one would use to describe eating a hamburger or a hotdog, he used the version of the word “eat” that means to “gnaw,” the same way a dog would chew on a piece of meat or a bone. And keep in mind that he’s telling this to a group of Jews who had very strict dietary guidelines against eating certain flesh and meat. Well there you go, another reason Catholics are crazy, I knew they were cannibals! Surely Jesus just meant this symbolically right? He can’t possibly expect us to believe that we are “eating his flesh?” This saying is hard, who can possibly accept it? Today’s Gospel gives us the answer to this tough question. Notice Jesus didn’t say, “Sorry guys, time out, you must have misunderstood me. I didn’t really mean that you had to eat me, come back, let me explain it better.” Nope, he stood there and said, “Does this shock you? The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For all of the conspiracy theorists out there, this is one of my favorites! John 6, verse 66 (get it, 666 which is the mark of the beast in the Book of Revelation) says that because of this hard teaching, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” They walked away from the Son of God over this teaching, which is the foundation of our Catholic belief on the real presence in the Eucharist. Whom do you serve…

Jesus constantly challenges us to conform our lives to the Gospel. And here I’m not talking about the Gospel that some of us twist to fit our own personal agenda. No, I’m talking about the actual Gospel as it was meant to be understood. Jesus uses THIS Gospel to ask us to make some big and very difficult changes that will often require us to take a second look because they don’t make sense at first; sometimes they are small and easy changes that we can do without a second thought. But we always have to strive to make the right choices in life using the teachings of Christ and His Church as our moral guide. Granted we will sometimes be heading down a path, which we think is correct, only to suddenly fall through the ice. At that point, we have a choice. We can thrash around violently and resist. Or we can call out to Jesus for help, allow Him to wrap his loving arms around us and drown with Him.

I ask you one last time, whom do you serve?

Peter, Jesus’ most trusted Apostle fell through the ice when he denied that he even knew Jesus, not once, but three times. However, when Jesus asked Peter that very question, I believe he answered perfectly when he said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God.”

May we all strive to serve Christ in every action of every day!

Watching The Pendulum Swing…

Deacon Brian Wentz, Deacon Tom Kaldy, Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB,and Deacon Michael Lynch

Christ the King Cathedral was the location of the annual diocesan conference on vocations this past Saturday, August 4, 2012. The keynote speaker was the Very Reverend Denis Robinson, OSB who is the president-rector and assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Meinrad Seminary. He also taught one of my deacon formation classes about two years ago. If you ever get a chance to listen to him lecture, GO…you will not be disappointed! His sense of humor definitely can keep anyone’s attention.

The conference gave us a chance to learn and reflect on how can we best support vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our local church. Fr. Denis focused his discussion on the characteristics of those called to the priesthood and religious life in the 21st century. In other words, how do different people think and how does this relate to how they worship.  He broke it down into four different generations: pre-Vatican II, Vatican II, post-Vatican II and Millennials. Each generation had a different “church experience” and processes things in a different way.

The pre-Vatican II group tends to have a lot of visual cues to their worship experience. During that time religious wore habits, the churches were full of stained glass windows, statues and high altars and the clergy had more education than the people sitting in the pews. The Vatican II group experienced a total opposite shift. The habits were tossed out along with the statues, artwork and such. This was done because people didn’t want to be told how to worship because their worship experience occurred mainly in their own mind. Much of the visual stuff that was removed was seen as a distraction. The post-Vatican II generation, unfortunately, had the joy of trying to combine both experiences. However, as Fr. Denis pointed out, what resulted was more of a division. Half the people wanted the visual “traditional” church while the other half wanted the more whitewashed “progressive” church. People during this time were also becoming much more educated on church and religion and often had more education than the pastor. Now enter the Millennials. This younger generation is made up of people who don’t want to be told what to do and how to think. If they don’t agree with something, they tend to leave and join a protestant church. However, the ones still remaining tend to be very passionate and lean towards the visual experience similar to the pre-Vatican group. They are highly educated, very energized about their faith and are the current seminarians of our diocese (your future priests).

Hopefully you’re still with me! Fr. Denis described these different generations or movements as a pendulum swinging. At one point the pendulum is on the far left then it swings to the far right. If you are standing on one side and refuse to budge, the other side seems very far away and scary. Blessed John Henry Newman said, “to live is to change and to grow perfect is to change daily.” We must all be willing to change to some degree. An evolving, changing church is one that is alive! Obviously there are some things that will not and should not change. But we will all get a better church experience when we realize that one group is not more right or wrong than another. They are just different experiences. So matter what side you are on when that pendulum is swinging, remember that the common place for all of us to meet is at the altar of Christ!

Need help discerning your vocation in life? Click here for the Vocations Office!

Evangelazation…More Than Knocking On Doors!

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 15, 2012)

1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19

1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20

John 1:35-42

For some reason, there is one word that tends to make Catholics cringe. One word that when we hear it, cold shivers go up our spine. And no it’s not tithing. The word…is EVANGELAZATION. Immediately we picture someone going door to door with their bible in hand asking people it they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Imagine, (knock, knock), “Hello?” “Hi, my name is Brian Wentz and I’m a Catholic. Did you know that Jesus named Peter the first Pope, that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus and that priests can forgive sins by the authority Jesus gave His Apostles? Would you like to sign up for RCIA and learn more?” Although I haven’t met any Catholics that have actually done this, I wonder if any would be willing to or if fear would paralyze them? Is this scary because we don’t like confrontation, don’t know our faith well enough to explain it or simply are too busy with our jobs, families and everything else we’re trying to juggle in life?

But…what if Our Lord asked us to do this? Would our response be different?

In today’s Gospel we read about the Apostle Andrew. He was a devout disciple of John the Baptist and tried to live a life according to John’s teachings. So when Jesus walked by and John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” it definitely caught Andrew’s attention and curiosity. Now Andrew could have sat there and said, “Hey look, the Lamb of God, cool.” Or he could have said, “You know, I’m too busy to go after that man and talk to him; after all, I’m comfortable right here.” Imagine if Andrew didn’t go after Jesus because he didn’t know enough about him to think it was worth his time!! But he didn’t do those things. He stood up and followed after Him.

Andrew then got to do something I would love to be able to do. He spent the entire night with Jesus. He had the chance to ask Jesus any question about anything. There was no need to look it up in the catechism or call the priest to ask what something meant, he got to ask the living God directly. Could you imagine what they talked about?? Could you imagine having the ability to do this?? Ask Jesus a question and hear the answer directly from His lips?? Apparently Andrew liked what he heard. The very next day he ran home in excitement. Andrew immediately went to his brother Simon and proclaimed, “I have found the Messiah! Let me introduce you to Him! Come with me!” When Jesus met Simon he said, ‘You are Simon; you will be called Cephas.” Hopefully you picked up on the fact that Simon, whom Jesus now called Cephas, is Peter, as in St. Peter our first Pope.

Statue of St. Peter outside of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

Andrew was so excited about this new knowledge he gained from Jesus that he went out and evangelized his own brother. And we all know how critical family tends to be at times. Andrew evangelized the person who would become the first Pope! Think about it….the first Pope’s journey to Jesus started because his brother was not too scared, not too busy and not too ashamed to tell him about his new found faith in the Messiah.

There’s a new movement going on in Catholic circles. It’s called the “New Evangelization.” We as a Church are trying to get Catholics excited about our faith again. Excited to the point that, if need be, we would be willing to lay down our lives for our faith like so many of the Saints have done previously. We need to be reminded about where we came from, how we got here and to be able to understand our faith so that we can, as St. Peter puts it in his 1st Letter in the New Testament, “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” We have a rich faith founded by Jesus on His Apostles that has been passed down through 2,000 years. There have been many ups and downs throughout our history, but the very fact that the Catholic Church is still around after all these years is a sign that the Holy Spirit is with us. And remember, we are a church that would have faded away and gone nowhere if it were not for evangelization.

We may not be able to sit in a room with Jesus and have a conversation like He did with Andrew. But we do have a chance to sit quietly with Jesus in prayer. Better yet we can sit in quiet prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, which the Catholic Church teaches is Jesus. We can sit is his presence and talk to him. I’ve heard some people say that prayer is too hard or that they don’t know how to pray. Prayer is easy. It’s just a conversation with God. Tell Him what’s on your mind and what you are struggling with. The hard part, is quieting our minds and mouths and listening for His response. It usually won’t come in the form of a bright neon sign. After all, that would not require much faith or patience on our part. So you have to pay attention to the little details of life with your eyes wide open and unclouded. We as a society need to stop being so busy that we leave no time for God. A friend of mine told me that the word busy (B.U.S.Y.) means Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Satan would rather you spend your entire day listening to the world rather than listening to God. The best way to hear God’s voice is to keep a healthy prayer life and live the Gospel message daily without sin clouding your view. That’s why frequent visits to the confessional for the sacrament of reconciliation can be so beneficial. It helps remove the cloud that skews our view.

Jesus is calling each and every one of us to tell others His story of salvation. Please don’t be too afraid, too busy or too ashamed of your Catholic faith to tell others. I’m not asking you to run out and start knocking on doors. I’m asking you to start living the Gospel more deliberately in your daily actions and to try and learn more about your Catholic faith. You never know, maybe the next person you end up evangelizing will turn out to be the next Pope.

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