Cut It Off

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (September 29, 2013)

Am 6:1, 4-7

Ps 146

1 Tim 6:11-16

Luke 16:19-31

On April 26, 2006 Aron Ralston was hiking in the Blue John Canyon in Utah. He was an avid outdoorsman and was hiking down a slot canyon by himself. These are known to narrow, but very deep. In this particular canyon there was a suspended boulder lodged between the walls, which was blocking his way. He decided to climb down deeper and go below it. Unfortunately as he was climbing down, the 800lb boulder somehow came loose, rolled back and pinned his right arm against the canyon wall. He was trapped down in a deep canyon, with little food or water and he never told his family or friends that he went on this hike.

Aron Ralston was able to take a photo of himself while trapped in the canyon.

Aron Ralston was able to take a photo of himself while trapped in the canyon.

He spent the next three days trying to lift the boulder or somehow wiggle his arm free with no luck. Aron was becoming dehydrated and delirious. On the fourth day, he realized his only way out was to amputate his arm. He spent the rest of that day practicing making different tourniquets and trying to figure out where to cut his arm using only a two inch pocket knife. Aron gave up because he came to the realization that his little knife would never be able to cut through the bones in his arm. He ran out of food and water the next day and was trying to make peace with the fact that he was going to die in that deep chasm all alone. So he took his knife and carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death on the sandstone wall. He fell asleep, fully thinking he would never wake up. But he did wake up the next day and had an epiphany. Without going into the gory details, he figured out how to break the bones in his forearm, then took the knife and completed the amputation. Aron was able to finally free himself, climb up out of the canyon, rappel down a 65-foot sheer wall all with only one hand. By the grace of God, another family was hiking in the area and was able to contact a rescue helicopter for Aron. In total he spent 127 hours trapped, lost 40 lbs of body weight and 25% of his blood volume. He survived the ordeal, married his wife Jessica in 2009 and became a father with the birth of his son Leo in 2010. During an interview in January 2011, Aron said, “I smiled as I cut off my arm. I was grateful to be free.”

I think this story, which may seem gruesome at first, is actually very inspiring. It can teach us a lot especially when viewed in light of today’s Gospel parable from Luke. Lazarus spent his time on earth with no money and hardly any food. His body was covered in sores so he obviously was in poor health. He was the poorest of the poor. lazarusLazarus spent his final days lying at the door of a very wealthy man hoping that this man would give him a scrap of food. Perhaps the rich man was too busy to intervene, didn’t want to get his hands dirty or just didn’t want to waste his time with a poor beggar. So, with no charity shown to him, Lazarus died. But what he lacked in earthly wealth, God more than made up for in Heaven. His lack of attachment to material things allowed him to let go of this world as the angels carried him up to God and Abraham in heaven. In an ironic twist, the wealthy man who ignored everyone else but his own needs also died. All of his wealth, all of his attachments to this world could not keep him out of the fiery pits of hell in the afterlife.

What happens next should be a wake up call to all of us. There is a definite separation between heaven and hell that can’t be crossed. Once you enter one, you are not permitted to venture to the other. Not even Lazarus in heaven is permitted to give a drop of water to the rich man in hell. Even more daunting is that Abraham denies the request of the rich man to warn his sinful brothers, who are still alive, to repent. Abraham’s reason is that those sinful people have everything they need to make good moral decisions, but still choose to do wrong. They still insist to separate themselves from God and cling to their own ways, which will ultimately lead them to the same fiery pit as the rich man.

lazarus chasm

Why do I say this is a wake up call? Because you never know when today or tomorrow will be your last day. You never know when that sin you insist to cling onto will be the very thing that sinks you deeper and deeper into the chasm of hell on your judgment day. Some may be out there thinking, “Oh come on. I am a decent person. It’s not like I burnt down a church or murdered someone.” It’s funny how we default to that mentality when we try to justify our own shortcomings. I’m pretty sure on our judgment day God isn’t going to ask you, “So…what did you NOT do?” “Well I’m glad you asked. I didn’t burn down a church or join a gang.” No, God is going to ask you, “What did you do for me? What did you do to the least of my people? What did you do with the gifts I entrusted to you?” As the rich man shows us in this parable, “seeking happiness in material things is a sure way of being unhappy” (Pope Francis, Twitter, Sept 15). We need to identify what things are pinning us down and separating us from God right now. Sometimes we may even get so involved with the wrong things that we become delirious and don’t even realize what we’re doing is harming our souls. That is why prayerfully examining our daily lives and regularly going to the sacrament of reconciliation can be so very powerful. This is how we identify what things we need to cut out of our lives. Sometimes this can hurt. Talk to someone who went through alcohol or drug rehab and they will tell you of the pain they went through to cut out their sin. But here’s the glory of it all; the thing that makes it so beautiful in the end. If you are willing and able to deal with your sin now…if you are willing to help others instead of only focusing on yourself…you too can experience the glory of heaven after death. But waiting to start tomorrow may be too late.

Remember Aron’s quote from earlier? “I smiled as I cut my arm off. I was grateful to be free.” Ask God to help you identify your sins right now. Ask God to give you the strength to cut them off right now. Ask God to show you how you can help others right now. Jesus loves you! Allow him to set you free. Allow him to raise you out of the chasm of sin. And as you are going through the pain of cutting off your sins…as you are going through the pain of letting go of your ways and following God’s ways…smile and be grateful that you are being set free in Christ.

freedom

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Cavanaugh-Click Wedding

Cavanaugh-Click Wedding Homily (September 21, 2013)

Genesis 2:18-24

Psalm 148:1-4, 9-13a, 13c-14a

Ephesians 5:2a, 21-33

Mark 10:6-9

I have a confession to make. Although my wife Angie and I have been involved with wedding preparation since 2006, this is the first wedding I’ve presided at since being ordained a Deacon last year. I’m hoping I won’t wake up tomorrow realizing I left out an important step voiding the whole thing. Shawn, keep your cell phone on in case I need to call you tomorrow!

click wedding 2With that being said, it’s an honor to be here tonight on the day Shawn and Stacey start their married life together. It’s always interesting to me to see what readings from Scripture the couple chooses for their ceremony. There are many different ones to choose from, each conveying a slightly different meaning. Therefore, since Shawn and Stacey picked the readings we just heard, I think it’d be wise to try and figure out what message they are trying to convey to us as they form a new bond together in the presence of their friends and family.

Take the first reading from Genesis. It’s one of the two creation stories that we are all familiar with. God created Adam and then says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” Then what’s the very next thing God creates…wild animals and birds. What?!?! Think about that. God just said He wanted to make a suitable partner for Adam but then makes, I don’t know, a monkey and a parakeet instead??? What may seem strange at first actually is pretty creative on God’s part. It is almost like God is saying, “Shawn, I want to give you a suitable wife. But rather than just making her appear out of thin air, I want you to tell me when you see her in this long line of my creations.” Shawn, then patiently waits and waits and waits. It’s a challenge from God. He’s wondering if you are willing to wait for the right one, the one He created just for you. Tiger, no. Pelican, nope. Zebra, not even close. Finally, Stacey comes walking along and Shawn says, “Whoa, Man!” Which, of course, is where we get the term woman (kidding). No seriously, he yells out, ‘this one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” This is the first recorded instance of love at first sight. The two are then married by the husband and wife clinging to each other and becoming one body.

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The next reading from Ephesians is probably the most beautiful passage in the entire Bible describing married love. This is the passage often misunderstood by people because it tells women to be subordinate to their husbands. Another word for subordination is submission, which means to be under the mission. Therefore to understand what is being said here, we need to understand what the mission is. Here’s the mission assigned to the husband, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her.” Stacey, this Scripture passage is saying that you should allow Shawn to love you and be willing to lay down his life for you just like Jesus laid down his life for the church. Are you okay with that? However, that doesn’t mean you can come home at 2am after a long shift at the restaurant, wake Shawn up and say, “Brian said you need to love me so go make me a snack!” It’s calling for a mutual and respectful love of each other. This passage also finishes with a reference to the man and wife becoming one flesh similar to the first reading.

The Gospel from Mark is a short, to the point retelling of what was already said in the other readings. It’s talking about the permanency of the marriage bond. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human beings must separate.”

So what are Shawn and Stacey trying to convey by choosing these readings? They were made for each other, they are willing to lay down their lives for each other and they are willing to take their two separate bodies and unite them into one inseparable married body brought together by God.

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Shawn summed it up nicely when I got to spend some time with him and his family a few weeks ago at a cookout. He came up to me and said, “Brian, I’m glad the first wedding you get to do is our wedding. That way in 20 or so years you can see Stacey and I and think, look, they were my first wedding and they are still going strong.”

20 or so years away is not an easy task, but it is doable if you are willing to put forth the effort. Both of you put a lot of effort into getting to this day. You need to keep putting in that same effort after today as well. There will be moments during your marriage when things are going great almost like a fairy tale. Then there will be days when one of you (probably Shawn) will be sleeping on the couch after a disagreement. All married couples go through these highs and lows. The difference between the couples that make it and the ones that don’t all starts with today. If you two truly believe that God brought you together, if you two truly believe that the Scripture passages you choose for your wedding are true, then the only option you have is a life long committed marriage together. This new unbreakable marriage bond begins today with the exchanging of your vows. In order for this new marriage bond to be formed, you need to believe in your heart what you are saying with your vows and ask God to guide you through the rest of your married life together.

With that being said, Stacey and Shawn, are you ready to exchange your vows and start your married life together?

click wedding

It’s Not About You

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 1, 2013)

Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29

Psalm 68

Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On three separate occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time at the Saint Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary in Indiana. It is both a monastery for Benedictine Monks and a seminary. That school is in charge of the permanent deacon formation classes for the Lexington Diocese and was also where Fr. Noel attended seminary. It’s a beautiful, quiet place in a small town just 10 minutes from the Holiday World amusement park. One of the highlights of visiting Saint Meinrad is being able to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with the monks in the abbey church.

Saint Meinrad Abbey Church

Saint Meinrad Abbey Church

Visitors are allowed and encouraged to sit in the pews next to where the monks sit and join them during the prayers. From the moment you walk into the abbey church, you can feel the presence of God. There are high ceilings, numerous stain glass windows, enormous pipes from the organ, a large painting of Jesus, marbled floor tiles of various colors, and a beautiful altar with a crucifix suspended above it from the ceiling.

One of the numerous stained glass windows

One of the numerous stained glass windows

Large painting of Jesus behind the exposed organ pipes

Large painting of Jesus behind the exposed organ pipes

The main altar on the marble floor

The main altar on the marble floor

Altar with crucifix suspended from the ceiling

Altar with crucifix suspended from the ceiling

All of these things point to the presence of something higher. The bells toll at set times, alerting those near the church that it’s time to gather for prayer. The monks walk in reverently wearing their black habits, bow to the altar and quietly take their seats.

Choir stalls where the monks sit

Choir stalls where the monks sit

At the appropriate time, the monks stand up and begin their prayers in the form of chants. The first time I witnessed this, it literally took my breath away. For a group of 30 or so monks, their voices gave me goose bumps and left me in awe. The neat thing was that, aside from the lead cantor, you can’t hear individual voices…just one unified voice. Nobody is trying to outdo anyone else or overpower their neighbor. All the monks sing just loud enough for those right next to them to hear. This simplicity in their effort is what makes the chanting so pleasing to the ear. You see, it’s not about the individual, it’s about being unified with something bigger. It’s about humility and this humility leads to something great…something that allows people to enter into a prayer experience that is profoundly deep. From today’s Gospel, “The one who humbles himself will be exalted.” How bad would it sound and how much of a distraction would it be if one or two of the monks belted out their loudest opera singing voices instead? I have a feeling the abbot would make that monk stand in the corner. “Whoever exalts themselves will be humbled.”

The message Jesus is trying to get us to understand in the parables from today’s Gospel and the message I’m trying to convey with my story is this…it’s not about you! It’s about someone else, someone higher than us. It’s about a God who knew we needed a wakeup call so He became man. jesuswithparentsBut rather than lead us by force and be a political or military figure, Jesus humbled himself to become the son of a simple carpenter. The son of a teenage, unwed girl. He didn’t give himself glory and riches, but dressed and lived simply. He led by example by helping those who couldn’t help themselves or were considered undesirable. Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes…it didn’t matter what you did because Jesus can see your ultimate potential. He can see your soul because He gave it to you. He can see the Holy Spirit burning inside your heart. He made the first step, now He’s waiting for you to actively engage in your faith and put your talents in motion. St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!”

Jesus eventually gave us the ultimate lesson in humility when He allowed himself to be handed over and crucified. Remember He is God, so He can do anything. He could have avoided torture and crucifixion but He allowed it to happen. He knew we couldn’t fix the mess we were in so “He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). DSC_0365Next time you have a chance, meditate on the large crucifix in our daily Mass chapel. Better yet, come out on a Wednesday afternoon or evening during Eucharistic adoration and gaze at the crucifix in the presence of our Lord. Look at His wounds. Look at His crown of thorns. Look at His pierced side. Look at the nails in His hands and feet. And as you look at Him and see what He did for you, ask yourself this one question…what have I done for Him?

If you feel a little weak in this area, here’s a few suggestions of what you can do for Him: Daily prayer.praying It’s so simple, yet so easy to ignore. If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then you’re just going through the motions. If you aren’t talking to him on a daily basis, then you’re too focused on you.  You can LOOK like a good Catholic. You can ACT like a good Catholic. But you can’t BE a good Catholic until you realize it’s not all about you! Another suggestion is daily Scripture reading. bible15-20 minutes a day. God only wrote one book and I’m sure everyone has a copy of it at home. I think it’s about time we blow the dust off of them and dive into what is the ultimate love story between God and His people. Daily prayer and daily Scripture reading is a good foundation that we all need. If we aren’t talking with our creator and reading our salvation story, then how are we to truly be His disciples? How are we to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow the one who gave us life?

It takes a real humility to authentically practice the faith this way. We need to be intentional disciples because there is no such thing as an accidental disciple. What I mean by this is that we can come to Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments but if that’s where it ends then we are missing the bigger picture here. Just coming to church on Sunday and just going through the motions of receiving the sacraments does not have much weight on our ultimate salvation. Jesus is calling each one of us to follow Him. He sent the Holy Spirit to actively help support and guide us on our journey back to Him. But we have to make an intentional decision to follow Christ and we have to actively live out our faith. Blessed John Paul II said, “It’s not permissible for anyone to remain idle.” We will not end up in heaven accidentally, we need to intentionally strive for it.

If we are to be intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, we obviously need to realize it’s not about us. It’s about a personal and active relationship with Jesus…it’s about going to church every weekend…it’s about actively receiving the sacraments. And when you can combine all three of these elements together, then you can truly count yourself as a Disciple of Christ!

So remember, gaze on a crucifix and thank the one who humbled Himself for us out of a love so deep it can move mountains. Talk to your creator daily. Read His book. Humbly deny yourself, take up your cross, let go of your ways and follow the only wayJesus Christ. jesus the way