Room For Improvement

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (November 22, 2015)

Daniel 7:13-14

Psalm 93

Rv 1:5-8

John 18:33b-37

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out our flowerbeds at home with my wife. As I was pulling some dead flowers, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bug fell onto the back of my hand. Then I felt the sting. I yelped and danced around like a circus clown as I cursed those little flying demons we call wasps. My left hand turned red and swelled up. It hurt and throbbed the rest of the day.

That same night, I was trying to fix a tent that had a broken fiberglass pole that was snapped in half. As I was removing the pole from the tent, it slipped and I jammed the fiberglass into my right hand. Have you ever had fiberglass lodged in your body somewhere? You can’t see most of the tiny needle-like fibers in your skin, but you can most definitely feel the jabbing pain when you move the afflicted body part.

So I had a bee sting in my left hand and fiberglass in the right hand. I am a Chiropractor, which is a profession that requires me to use my hands a lot. The next day at work, every time I worked on a patient, I was very uncomfortable. However, I had a job to do so I continued on no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel.

Another one of the hats I wear is being a Catholic Deacon. It too can be uncomfortable at times. Last month I went on a retreat with all of the Catholic Deacons in our diocese. The retreat leader, Fr. Dennis, challenged us to always preach the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Trust me, it’s so much easier to get up here and preach, “God loves you just the way you are” vs “Hey, God loves you, but to be truthful, I think we may need to change a few things.” Isn’t this what Jesus said in today’s Gospel? Jesus Christ, our King, came into the world to “testify to the truth.” Granted…I’m not Jesus Christ, but I was ordained to preach His word and help build up His Church.

So sit back, open your minds and your hearts and please allow me to challenge you a little without anyone getting offended. Deal?

Today we celebrate the feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It reminds us to evaluate our lives and see if we are truly living a life for God or are we living a life for us. To answer this truthfully, I want us to examine our commitment to our faith and see if there’s any room for improvement.

For instance, if you only give God 1 hour a week on a Sunday but ignore Him the other 167 hours in a week… there’s room for improvement. If there’s an inch of dust on your bible at home… there’s room for improvement. If you haven’t been to confession in the last month or two… there’s room for improvement. If you only put a few bucks into the church collection basket but drop hundreds of dollars on the latest and greatest gadget on Black Friday or Amazon without a second thought… there’s room for improvement. If you’re more willing to defend your political party rather than your faith… there’s room for improvement. If the only thing you have to say about Mass is that it’s “boring”… there’s room for improvement. If you can’t remember the last time your prayed without being told… there’s room for improvement. Parents, if you put more emphasis on youth sports than on attending Mass or teaching your kids the faith… there’s room for improvement. If you’ve never told anyone about Jesus Christ or His Church… there’s major room for improvement.

Listen, I’m no angel up here and I’m not trying to make you feel bad… just a little uncomfortable perhaps. As I said, it’s my job as your Deacon to challenge you a little. The last thing I want is to get up to those pearly gates and have Jesus say I was too easy on you. I can picture it now…I approach Jesus and he gives me “the look.” You know… the “I don’t care what the vegetables taste like, they are good for you so quit whining and eat them!” So I’m here to remind you that your faith is more important than vegetables or anything else this world has to offer. So quit whining and start living out your faith better!

Finding those aspects of your spiritual life where there is room for improvement is important. Why? Because your salvation depends on it! All that you have could be over tomorrow without warning. A car crash, a heart attack or as we saw on November 13, a terrorist attack. More than 120 people left their homes that day in Paris to go out on the town and have a good time. They had no idea that would be their last night on this earth.

This may sound scary and even fearful. That is the job of terrorists… to instill fear in our hearts and give up all hope. If your faith is weak and your priorities are off, they will win. If you worship the world, they will win. But if you truly worship God, if He is the center of your universe, no amount of evil can conquer you. No amount of fear will keep you away from your ultimate destination… in Heaven… with our Father.

So I ask you… at whose throne are you going to worship? The throne of the world that promotes selfishness and is filled with false pleasures or at the throne of Christ the King which is filled with eternal love, hope and salvation?

Mahatma Gandhi said, “If all Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian.” You want to change the world? I challenge you to find the areas of your life where there’s room for improvement, no matter how uncomfortable it will make you, and live in a more Christ-like manner. I say it’s about time we put the name of Christ back in Christian.

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Catholics Are Weird

Christ the King (November 24, 2013)

2 Samuel 5:1-3

Psalm 122

Col 1:12-20

Luke 23:35-43

Before I became Catholic in 1999, I always thought Catholics were weird. Now, after being Catholic for the past 14 years and being ordained a Deacon along the way, I know for a fact that Catholics are weird. Here’s what I mean: We love stain glass windows, candles, bells and incense. We love organ music, chanting, monks and nuns. We love rosaries, relics, statues and fancy vestments. vaticanWe love the Virgin Mary…A LOT! We love to sit, stand, kneel, genuflect and bow at Mass. We love holy water, baptizing babies, making the sign of the cross and smudging ashes on our foreheads. We promote chastity, traditional marriage, love of neighbor and support for the poor. We confess our sins to a priest, consume Jesus’ flesh and blood at Mass, pray with the Saints in heaven and support life from conception to natural death. Through the eyes of the world, these things aren’t normal!

But what makes us really weird is that we worship a King that was tortured and died like a common criminal on a cross. We then take that image, the crucifix, and hang it on the walls of our homes and churches and wear it as jewelry around our necks. crucifix-2-flashNow imagine someone who has no concept of Jesus, walks into your home and sees a crucifix for the first time. They see a tortured, beaten and bloody body wearing a crown of thorns. They see a half naked man suspended on woods beams with nails through his hands and feet. Then they turn to you and ask, “Who is that?” Your response, “That is Christ, our King.”

So I guess being Catholic means we have to be a little weird in the eyes of the world. Are you OK with that? It’s taken me a long time, but I’m finally to the point in my life where I don’t care if others think I’m “that weird Catholic.” The thing that has helped me to accept my “weirdness” is through studying the lives of the Saints and seeing how they have offered up their sufferings to God. Countless men and women have suffered for their faith in the form of persecution, torture and death in the name of God. If ever I begin to doubt the existence of Jesus as my King, I read about the early Saints and erase all doubt. They were some of the weirdest Catholics I’ve studied. The Apostles gave up everything to follow Jesus and, except for St. John, were killed for their beliefs. Men, women and children were fed to lions for being Christians. They were either completely insane, or understood that Jesus was truly who He claimed…the Son of God, our True King.

But not all of those killed for their faith were from the early church. One such Catholic I recently studied was Jose Sanchez del Rio. He was a 14-year-old boy in Mexico who died on February 10, 1928.

jose-sanchez-del-rio

Why was he so weird? Listen to how silly this boy was. Jose lived in Mexico during a time of severe persecution of the Catholic Church from the Mexican Government. He wanted to join the rebel forces so he could have the opportunity to give his life for Jesus and, in his words, “go to Heaven easily.” Jose became the flag bearer for a troop of Catholic rebels and was captured during a battle. The enemy commander demanded that Jose renounce his faith under threat of death. Jose refused. He was forced to witness the hanging death of another Catholic in hopes to scare him into renouncing his faith. Instead, Jose encouraged the man and said they would soon meet again in heaven. In frustration, the commander cut the bottom of Jose’s feet and had him march around barefoot outside. If he wasn’t walking fast enough, they would jab him with a machete. As they marched him around, they told him all the torture would end and his life would be spared is he simply say 5 words, “Death to Christ the King.” Jose replied, “I will never give in. Long live Christ the King.” Jose was then marched to an open grave and stabbed with bayonets. As he laid on the ground about to die just before the commanding officer shot him, he had just enough strength to draw a cross in the dirt out of his own blood and kiss it. Weird right??? He chose a painful death rather than speak 5 simple words.

The story of this 14-year-old martyr, especially when read in light of today’s Gospel from Luke, teaches us a lot about suffering and what happens when we unite it with Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Jesus was being crucified with two other criminals. It is interesting to note that the people walking by and one of the other criminals being crucified were all mocking Jesus. “Hey tough guy, what are you going to do now? You got yourself into this mess, let’s see you get out of it.” “Hey, what about me? Get me down from here!” They wanted to get a response out of Jesus but what they got was silence. That’s when the so-called “good thief” does something really weird. He acknowledges that his punishment fits his crime. He actually owns up to his sinful past. Then rather then asking for the pain and suffering to stop, he unites it with that of Jesus and pleads for mercy. Only then does Jesus speak using the words we all long to hear, “today you will with me in Paradise.” Why does God allow pain and suffering you ask? I don’t know…maybe he is trying to get your attention and help you to a point of conversion like the “good thief.” And when you accept it and unite it to the cross, you will definitely get His attention!

Stations-11-remember-7

So you see, you have to be a little weird to be a follower of Christ. You may be looked at differently because of your beliefs. You may have to suffer from time to time. You may even be called to lay down your life for the faith. But remember, earth is NOT our final destination. So no matter what trials we may go through here on earth, it will pale in comparison to the joys of heaven. So always keep your eyes focused on Christ. He is our King. He is our Everything.

Viva Cristo Rey!

Solemnity of Christ the King, Last Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov 25, 2012)

Dn 7:13-44

Psalm 93

Rv 1:5-8

John 18:33b-37

Viva Cristo Rey! This was the war cry of the Catholic Rebels, known as the Cristeros, who fought against the anti-Catholic Mexican government during the Cristero War of the 1920’s. Translated it means, “Long live Christ the King!” When we refer to Christ as a King, what images do you conjure up in your mind? I picture Jesus wearing a golden crown sitting on top of a jeweled covered throne holding a sheppard’s staff in one hand.

This may sound nice and fancy, but this is not the image we get from reading Scripture. Jesus was born to a poor family in a stable. He was raised in a humble home as the son of an ordinary carpenter and never had wealth or riches. When he was old enough to leave home and travel, a small group of close followers surrounded him as they traveled from town to town. He would tell stories and perform an occasional miracle, which peaked some people’s curiosity but frightened others. But when things got a little too dicey, these close friends abandoned him to save their own lives. The closest he got to be a king was when he was handed over to the Romans soldiers who dressed him up in a purple cloak and placed a crown of thorns on his head. This apparent “King of the Jews” was then hung on a tree and crucified like a common criminal. Not exactly a pleasant ending for a so-called king.

If, however, that were the end of the story, those Catholic Rebels would never have been shouting “Viva Cristo Rey” while they risked their lives in the name of religious freedom. Yes their King had been crucified, but he conquered death and ascended into heaven to sit on His heavenly thrown next to His Father. You see, Christ was not meant to stay here on earth to rule over this world like an ordinary king. He was meant to come down and open up the gates of heaven and to encourage us to listen to the truth of His voice. So when the extremely anti-Catholic President of Mexico tried to ban all Catholics from practicing their faith, they had a choice to make. They could ignore the truth by staying away from Mass and the sacraments and stay alive, or they could shout, “Viva Cristo Rey” and risk execution.

One such man who had to make this choice was Miguel Agustin Pro. He was a young priest who originally left Mexico in 1914 to avoid the wave of anti-Catholicism that was spreading through his beloved country. After several health issues, his superiors granted his request to return to Mexico in 1926. All Catholic churches during that time were closed and the priests were in hiding. If a priest was caught saying Mass or offering the sacraments, he could he hung or shot on sight. So Fr. Pro, refusing to ignore his duty to his fellow Catholics, turned into a master of disguise. He would dress as a beggar in the middle of the night so he could celebrate Mass and perform baptisms and marriages. He would imitate a police officer and enter the prisons to bring Viaticum to the imprisoned Catholics. Fr. Pro even dressed up as a fancy businessman and went door-to-door trying to collect money for the poor. He did all of these things in obedience to Christ, his King. In 1927, he was arrested and falsely accused of an assassination attempt against a government official. On November 23, 1927 President Calles ordered the execution of Fr. Pro by firing squad. Fr. Pro was marched from his cell into the courtyard where the firing squad awaited.

He blessed the soldiers and then kneeled down quietly to pray.

Declining a blindfold, he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and held his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, Thou knowest that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” He then shouted the defiant cry of the Cristeros, “Viva Cristo Rey!”

…and was then shot to death.

President Calles knew Fr. Pro was innocent of the assassination attempt, but also got word of his clever disguises and thought this was a good way of teaching others a lesson for defying his ban on Catholicism. So Calles had the execution well documented and put photographs in the newspapers throughout Mexico. In spite of this, it was reported that around 40,000 people lined the road for the funeral procession and another 20,000 waited at the cemetery to pay their respects.

Fr. Pro’s witness to his faith gave the Cristeros a renewed enthusiasm and many carried the newspaper clipping of his execution in their shirt as a reminder of what it means to live out the phrase, “Long Live Christ the King!”

Today Fr. Miguel Pro is referred to as Blessed Miguel Pro and hopefully one day will be given the title St. Miguel Pro. He knew that the King he worshiped was not of this world and was ready to lay down his life in hopes to be able to worship his King in heaven rather than ignore the truth he believed in. His faith was the most important thing he had.

I often wonder how many of us in today’s society take our faith for granted. We have the opportunity to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist any day of the week. We can receive God’s mercy and love in the sacrament of reconciliation at pretty much anytime. You need a baptism or want to get married, just call Sara in the office and she’ll get it on the schedule! However, the last time I checked, there was no firing squad outside our church doors waiting for us to come out or preventing us from coming in. So then why do so many Catholics today skip Mass, put off confession for years at a time and don’t make an effort to learn their faith?

What we need is a renewed enthusiasm! We need more people that are willing to stand up and shout “Viva Cristo Rey” without caring who hears them! We need more Catholics to authentically live out their faith like Blessed Miguel Pro so we can inspire others to do the same! This obviously will take some work and won’t happen overnight.

I propose the following suggestions for your consideration to becoming a better Catholic:

1.                 Learn everything you can about the real presence in the Eucharist. To miss this one is to miss the heart of Catholicism. Today Fr. Noel will commission our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Think of these as Cristeros who aren’t afraid to stand up in public and proclaim the real presence of our King in the form of ordinary bread and wine.

2.                 Attend Mass as often as possible. The Mass is the banquet Christ our King left for us on earth to do in remembrance of Him.

3.                 Try going to confession once a month. Admitting when you fail is humbling and will make you want to be a better person.

4.                 Instead of reading those romance novels or watching movies with morally questionable material, take that time to learn something new about your Catholic faith.

5.                 And finally…pray every single day. It doesn’t matter if it’s the rosary, quiet mediation or just saying, “God, I need your help.” Your Father in heaven loves you and is waiting to talk to you. It’d be a shame if the first time you had a real conversation with Him were on your judgment day!

I say it’s time for Catholics to set the bar. If the 77 million Catholics in the United States start learning and living out our faith, we can create real change in our country. If we as a Church start honoring Christ as our true King and show it in our daily actions, then we will evangelize and change the world. It’s time we as a faith community unite and put Christ back on His throne! Viva Cristo Rey!