Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017)

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

Psalm 66:1-3,4-5,6-7,16,20

1 Peter 3:15-18

John 14:15-21

Actions speak louder than words. How many times have we heard this phrase before? It is an absolute truth in my opinion. If you say one thing, but your actions prove otherwise, you are living a lie. It’s that simple.

Another word that comes to mind is “integrity.” My definition of integrity is: doing the right thing, even when no body else is around to see it. For example, if you are at Walmart and see a man unknowingly drop his wallet in the parking lot… and you pick the wallet up but keep it for yourself because no one else saw it… you lack integrity.

This is one of the basic Christian teachings that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel from John. “Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you say you are a Christian, you should do the things I tell you to do.” Actions speak louder than words.

Being a Christian can be a struggle… I get it. Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. Some of the teachings from Jesus are… let’s just call them, “challenging.” Why? Because many of our Christian beliefs go against the grain of the world. But that doesn’t make them impossible to follow or at least try.

Jesus himself knew that we would struggle in this area after he ascended to Heaven. That is the very reason he promised to give us an Advocate to be with us always. This Advocate is the third person of the Trinity, better known as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is who guides us and strengthens us in our day-to-day lives. He’s the one who we should be relying on to help us when we have to choose between doing right or doing wrong in any given situation. And the more we choose to do right, the more He will strengthen us.

Just like an athlete training for the Olympics. If they train and eat right faithfully, they’ll perform at their best come game time. But if they cheat on their training regiment and on their diet over and over again, they will fail miserably when it really counts.

So too with us. If we consistently live out our faith in word and action, those ethical and moral challenges we will face later won’t see some overwhelming. But if we continue to choose poorly in little things, we’ll fail miserably when we are really challenged.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you by now. I’m sure there’s at least one person out there saying, “Yup, I fail daily with little things. My integrity stinks. I’m doomed.” Well chin up buttercup! Go to confession and get a fresh start. That’s the great thing about our faith. We serve a merciful God who LOVES giving us a fresh start because He is overflowing with his divine mercy. We just have to ask for forgiveness and try again. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

Love God. Learn your faith. Live out that faith. Ask the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance. It’s really that straightforward. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father.” So please, let us all show Jesus how much we love Him by learning and living out our faith more and more each day.

The Holocaust and Forgiveness

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 19, 2017)

Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18

Psalm 103:1-2,3-4,8,10,12-13

1 Corinthians 3:16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This could very well be one of the toughest actions Jesus teaches us to do.

About a month ago, I was able to see this teaching in real life in an extremely graphic way. Along with others from St. Andrew’s, I went on a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. as part of the March For Life trip this past January. During the pilgrimage, our group was able to tour the Holocaust Museum. It contained four floors of photos, images, videos and actual items that were used during the Holocaust. The museum tells the story beginning with the uprising of the Nazi Party and all of their propaganda, to the rounding up of the innocent victims, to the death camps, to the eventual liberation of the prisoners after the defeat of the Nazi’s. It paints a vivid picture of what hate and persecution looks like in real life.

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Before going to the Holocaust Museum, I previously read stories of people who had survived the concentration camps. I knew the history and how much evil went on there. I even remember hearing a survival story straight from the mouth of a Jewish survivor when I was in middle school. But standing in the midst of the Holocaust Museum, surrounded by all of the memorabilia, it just seemed… I don’t know…thick with heartbreak and unimaginable agony. Literally… hell on earth.

It especially took my breath away when I entered a room that contained hundreds of pairs of shoes piled up on either side of the room. You see, the Nazi’s didn’t like to waste material goods. So before they killed prisoners in the gas chambers, they would strip them naked and either sell their clothes for profit or reuse them. A quote on the wall of the shoe room reads, “We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses. We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers from Prague, Paris and Amsterdam. And because we are only made of fabric and leather and not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.”

As I stood in that room, I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world does one who lived through this nightmare firsthand ever get over it? Furthermore, how does one forgive anyone who willingly participated in these evil events?

I bring up the Holocaust as an extreme example of what hate and evil can turn into. Many of us, thankfully, won’t have to deal with persecution to that extreme. But if there’s even one story of healing or forgiveness that comes from this pit of Hell, then I believe it can help us put our own personal struggles into a better perspective and give us the courage to overcome them.

I came across such a story last week about a Hungarian Jewish woman who was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Her name is Eva Kor. In April of 2015, Eva traveled to Germany to give evidence and testify against a former SS Sergeant named Oskar Groening. Oskar was accused and later found guilty of being complicit in the murder of 300,000 people at Auschwitz (including Eva’s father, mother and two older sisters). In the courtroom, Eva approached Oskar and publicly forgave him for the sins he committed against her family and then shocked everyone when she embraced him with a hug. When Eva was asked how she could have possibly forgiven such a man, she replied, “Why survive at all if all you want to be is sad, angry and hurting? That is so foreign to who I am. I don’t understand why the world is so much more willing to accept lashing out in anger rather than embracing friendship and humanity” (www.telegraph.co.uk, 20 Jan 2016, “Why I forgive the Nazis who murdered my family” by Joe Shute).

This strong woman, lived out what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” By our human standards, Eva had every right to curse, spit on and assault that man. But she chose differently; she chose a better way. A way that lead to the healing of her own soul. This Jewish lady was living out a core Christian teaching that many of us Christians, all to often, chose to ignore.

I am 100%, fully aware with how hard it is to pray for people you don’t like. I am also 100%, fully aware of how hard it is to forgive people who have persecuted you or committed a hurtful act against you. But do you realize how much damage you will continue to cause in your own life, to your own soul, if you cling to the hate?? When you attach yourself to hate, it will eventually overflow into other areas of your life. That will eventually spill out on relationships that you thought were good. Before you know it, your stubbornness to forgive has lowered your quality of life and those around you as well. It quietly consumes your soul.

Remember, Jesus didn’t say, “Come and follow me for I will show you an easier way.” He did, however, offer to show us a “better” way. He wants you to be happy. He wants your soul to shine. Praying for those frustrating people in your life, forgiving those who have wronged you, not lashing out in anger… these are the things Jesus Christ asks us to do.

As I’ve said many, many times before… our time on this earth is temporary. So don’t be tempted to harbor anger and hate in your soul during your short, mortal life. Focus instead on the eternal love waiting for you in heaven.

Forgive often. Pray constantly. Love always.

Patience With God

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 16, 2016)

Exodus 17:8-13

Psalm 121:1-8

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Luke 18:1-8

Imagine you are standing at the checkout counter at Wal-Mart patiently waiting for your turn. Your sweet, innocent little child is standing right next to you. The child then turns their head and gazes at all of the delicious, sugar loaded, chocolate covered heavenly treats right at their eye level. The loving child gently turns their head towards you and says, “Hey dad, can I have a candy bar? Dad, just one? Can I have some candy? Dad? Are you listening? I want a candy bar? Can I get one? Please? Pretty please? I’ll be good the rest of the day. Can I have some candy Dad?” To which you reply, “NO.” “Why not dad? Just one? Please can I have a candy bar? Come on…. It’s just one candy bar!” “FINE! But don’t tell your mother!”

This is the image that came to mind after reading today’s Gospel from Luke. In it, there is a dishonest judge that doesn’t really care about God or people in general. We then hear that a widow wants him to render a just decision against someone who did her wrong. The judge only decides to render his decision due to the lady’s annoyingly persistent pestering of him. He didn’t give a decision based on it being the right thing to do. No, he did it to get her to be quiet and leave him alone. Now, in my candy analogy, I’m NOT saying that anyone who gives their child a candy bar in the check out aisle of Wal-Mart is doing it to simply quiet their kid, I’m just saying…. Well, come to think of it, I am guilty of doing that in the past!

My point is this…. I think too often we act like the kid in the check out aisle or the lady in today’s Gospel when we are praying to God. We tell God what we want in our prayers and sometimes have the tendency to get impatient or annoyed when He doesn’t answer us immediately. Are we doing this because we think we know better then God or is it in hopes that God will get annoyed with us and grant us our prayer just to keep us quiet?

And that’s the problem. God is not a genie that is granting us 3 wishes. Oh how I wish He were sometimes! No. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. He knows what is going to happen to each and every one of us. So when we offer up our prayers, we need to do it in faith that God hears us and has everything under control. And if we don’t get that $1 million lottery ticket, that new job or our sick friend that we’ve been praying for dies… know that there is some greater good to come of the situation no matter how dire it appears.

We get anxious and upset though because we can’t see the entire picture like the way God sees it. We live in the here and now. God lives in the infinite.

I have a priest friend that has been helping me through some recent struggles. He helped me realize that I get very anxious and upset when I focus on what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week or next month. You see… I’m trying to figure out how things are going to end, rather then focus on the here and now. He very clearly pointed out to me that in the “Our Father” we pray, “give us TODAY our DAILY bread.” Not our weekly or monthly bread. We are asking Him to give us the strength and the grace to get through TODAY. One day at a time.

So, you want to pay off a debt? Don’t ask, “How am I going to pay off this $5,000 credit card bill?” Instead think, “What expense can I cut out today which will free up some of my money.”

Want a better marriage? Don’t ask, “Where can I take my spouse so we can have a great vacation next year.” Instead think, “What little thing can I do today to show my spouse that they are the love of my life?”

You see, when we work on the here and now… the good days add up and eventually you’ll have a good week. Good weeks lead to a good month. And before you know it, you realize that God has been there all along, giving you the grace to get through your life one day at a time. What may have seemed impossible, paying off the debt, improving your marriage, suddenly then becomes possible…. All with the grace of God.

And when things don’t go smooth… when your have 4 good days then suddenly things fall apart on the 5th day… look to see what God could be saying to you in that moment. See what went wrong. Learn from it and make the next day better.

Thankfully, God doesn’t get annoyed with our prayers the way the dishonest judge got annoyed with the women in today’s Gospel. God can and will outlast us. So if we keep sending up the same prayer over and over again with no immediate answer, maybe it’s time to shift our thinking. Maybe God’s plan is bigger then our immediate need which, I realize, can be incredibly hard to accept sometimes.

So remember this… God made each and every one of you with a purpose. He wants you all to be loved and to return to Him after your mortal death. Your life here is temporary. Your life with Him is eternal. Trust that God has your best interests in the palms of His hands. Trust that God hears your prayers and is answering them in the way that they need to be answered according to His plans… not yours.

Focus on today.

Turn the anxieties of “tomorrow” over to Him.

Breathe, pray, keep focused…

and most importantly,

be patient with yourself and with God.

Time is running out

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 21, 2016)

Isaiah 66:18-21

Psalm 117:1,2

Hebrews 12:57,11-13

Luke 13:22-30

The clock is ticking. Time is running out. The door is closing and will soon be shut and locked… for good…

It is with this serious and urgent tone that Jesus speaks to us today through Luke’s Gospel. Jesus Christ loves you more than you could possibly ever imagine. In spite of all of our sins and shortcomings, our fears and failures, our addictions and frequent negative attitudes… He still died for YOU. Please don’t take that lightly!

Jesus suffered an unimaginable amount of pain when he was tortured and crucified. Most of the images and crucifixes we see don’t do justice for what Jesus actually went through on that Good Friday 2000 years ago. Mel Gibson’s movie, “Passion of Christ,” is probably the most accurate depiction that I’ve seen of what a scourging and crucifixion actually looked like at the hands of the Roman Empire. I personally can’t watch that movie very often because of how graphic it is. But when I do, I cringe constantly and always end up in tears.

Why then, did Jesus endure this sort of death for us? To give us life. To give us hope. To give us a chance to experience eternal love with him and our Father in heaven. And now, through His Church, Jesus gives us the opportunity to “enter through the narrow gate.” Jesus’ Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us all of the resources we need to have a better relationship with God.

What, you may ask, are the resources the Church offers us? The bible, Sacred Traditions, Apostolic teachings, lives of the Saints, the Eucharist, reconciliation and forgiveness, mercy, the priesthood, baptism, marriage, confirmation, prayers, anointing, the Mass and so much more. These resources, when acted on and used properly, lead us closer and closer to the doors of heaven. They keep us focused on what’s important and strengthens our faith.

Jesus speaks to us with a sense of urgency in today’s Gospel because the gates of heaven won’t stay open forever! This is a reality that I think we fail to talk about often enough. Jesus wants us to take our faith seriously NOW and live it out NOW before it’s too late. However, we keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow” but I’m telling you, “tomorrow” is no guarantee.

And take heart, even Jesus acknowledges that this is no easy task. Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” It takes determination. It takes learning the faith (yes, even after confirmation). It takes living on God’s terms, not our own. God gave us the sacraments, the bible, Church teachings and so forth to give us the grace we need to persevere to the end. He gave us the Saints as role models to imitate and to give us hope that if they can do it, so can we.

Through the Church, Jesus has laid out for us a road map to follow. And when we don’t use this map, it’s like slamming the door on Christ. We do this out of fear or sometimes because we think we know better. But who could possibly know better then the one who created us? Please, as the saying goes, “don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” We already know what to do; now it’s just a matter of doing it and doing it faithfully.

If we follow this road map, we will be living in a house built by God. If we do it halfway or worse, ignore the map completely, then we will be living in our own self-made house apart from God. This is the warning Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel when He says, “I do not know where you are from.” It’s because the people knocking on His door, after it was too late, have been living away from God rather then in the house He designed.

So, like Jesus, I’m up here today trying to convey a sense of urgency for everyone to re-evaluate their lives (myself included!). Nobody is perfect. We all can improve something regarding the way we are living out our faith.

As a Deacon, I was ordained to serve Jesus Christ and His Church. I was commissioned to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. I undertook a mission to help Christians better understand Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation that He offers to each and every one of you. The last thing I want to hear on my judgment day is, “Hey Brian. You know… not bad. Not bad at all. You did the basics. For the most part you followed my teachings. But let me ask you this Deacon. How many times did you shy away from preaching the truth to my people? How many people were motivated by your preaching and by your example to turn away from sin and improve their lives?”

Kind of a scary thought, isn’t it??

So please, take this Gospel passage seriously. Get to know God better TODAY, not tomorrow, TODAY. Evaluate your life and improve the areas that may be lacking…before it’s too late.

I would hate for you to be locked out of the greatest gift of all…. Your Salvation!

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.

Can a Selfie Get Me To Heaven?

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (October 11, 2015)

Wisdom 7:7-11

Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 4:12-13

Mark 10:17-30

We live in a very technologically advanced society. The advancements in the last 150 years have been astonishing in many areas of life. For example, there are now robotic arms that a surgeon can control remotely to perform the most detailed of operations. This is a far cry from the operating room tents during the Civil War. Where one computer used to fill up an entire room, we now have computers that fit in our hands. The days of the horse drawn carriages are over. Now we can go from 0-60 mph in a matter of seconds. We went from watching the corn grow to watching Netflix. Alexander Graham Bell made the first clear speech phone call on March 10, 1876. Now we have wireless cell phones that have cameras, wifi and ability to send text messages. And everyone seems to be “connected” through the Internet and different forms of social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

We don’t even need film anymore for our cameras since most things are now digital. Which makes it easy for posting things on social media! We can just take out our fancy smart phones and take a “selfie”….

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…or even an “usie” (apparently this is what you call a group selfie).

 

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Then we post it to Facebook or Instagram, sit back and see how many “likes” and comments we get.

These things can be good fun and can make our lives more convenient at times. But the question is, do they really matter in life? Or in other words, do they help or hinder our journey to be closer to God? I believe this is the question that Jesus is trying to get us to consider in today’s Gospel from Mark. In it, we hear about a man, who apparently had a lot of wealth, approach Jesus and ask Him the question we should all be focusing on….”What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus refers him first to the 10 Commandments. Do not commit adultery, steal, lie or defraud and also make sure you honor your father and mother. The man eagerly replies that he has been following these rules his entire life. Jesus then gives him a challenge, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor…then come, follow me.” The rich man turned away and left sad. We are left with the impression that the man choose his material goods over eternal life.

My sisters and brothers… Jesus Christ is giving this same challenge to each one of you. I personally don’t think he wants us to deliberately be poor. But I do believe he wants us to put God before all of our material things. And if those things get in the way of God, get rid of them! If we keep putting more value on material things than on God, we’ll continue to have a messed up society where life is not valued.

In his book, “The Rhythm of Life,” Matthew Kelly had this to say about the status of our society:

“We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less common sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too little. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and lie too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, but not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we’ve done larger things, but not better things; we’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait; we have higher incomes, but lower morals; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; we’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men and short character; steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; more kinds of food and less nutrition. These are the days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are the days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window, and nothing in the stockroom. Indeed it is all true.”

For far too long, we’ve put other things ahead of God and wonder why the world is so messed up. Too often these things have added convenience but also unneeded distractions to our lives. We’ve forgotten how to relax and enjoy the simple things in life. And unfortunately, we have gotten so indoctrinated with our “modernized” culture that we are now afraid to let go of our conveniences. We are afraid to let go of our “stuff” and focus on what really matters in life… being a devout Christian that isn’t afraid to live out your faith on your journey to heaven. I’m not sure who said it but, think of it this way… if you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Our Father in heaven will be the judge of that question at the moment of your physical death. He’s not going to ask you how much money you had, what kind of car your drove or how many likes you got on Facebook. He’ll judge you by the love you have for His Son and by how you expressed that love in your actions.

So, you want to know how to inherit eternal life?

Remove anything that hinders your path to heaven and put God first!

How My Brown Scapular Helps Me Face Death With Trust

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (June 28, 2015)

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

Psalm 30:2,4,5-6,11,12,13

Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15

Mark 5:21-43

One thing that has always impressed me about the Catholic faith is that, no matter how long you live on this earth, you will never know everything there is to know about the faith. What I mean is that our faith is very rich and not boring at all. There is always something that you can learn. If you ever think that Catholicism is boring, well then, you are not even trying! Studying the Mass and the Eucharist has led me to some of the most mind-blowing teachings I have ever come across. These teachings have literally changed my life forever and I still haven’t come to a complete understanding of them.

I’ve also always been impressed by all the “stuff” our faith has that can help us grow our prayer life and become closer to God. Some of this “stuff” I’m referring to are things like the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, veneration of the Saints, veils, holy oils, Stations of the Cross, novenas, candles, Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, incense, Icons and going on pilgrimages. We have so many prayers and practices that I can’t even come close to naming them all. I mean, who hasn’t lost their keys or cell phone and shot up a quick prayer to St. Anthony for help? Need to sell your house? Bury a St. Joseph statue in your yard! Think your house is haunted? Call your local crucifix carrying, holy water sprinkling, bible in hand priest who’s ready to pounce on the devil! These things are not superstitions, but devotions and sacramentals that help us stay connected to God and His Church.

devotions book

One practice that I have been doing for a few years now is wearing a Brown Scapular. In the year 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite. She handed him a brown woolen scapular and said, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire.”

our-lady-apparition-st-simon-stock!!

In time, the Church extended this to all the laity who are willing to be invested in the Brown Scapular of the Carmelites and any priest can enroll them into the Confraternity. Fr. Noel enrolled my family. The three things you agree to do after being enrolled are: wear the scapular continuously, recite daily the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary or pray a daily Rosary, and to observe chastity. So this Scapular is my “yes” to those conditions. It is also a symbol that represents my belief that God allowed Our Lady to appear to St. Simon Stock in 1251 and that the promise she gave was real. The Scapular I wear around my neck is not superstition; it represents my faith that God is not a liar and that there is indeed life after death.

scapular

I then take this one step farther. Every time I visit a church or shrine that has a saint’s relic (a bone chip, piece of hair, a piece of clothing they wore, etc), I touch my scapular to the relic. I do that so I can keep the Saints closer to my heart and I ask them to pray for me. You see…our Catholic faith teaches us that the Saints are in heaven with God and can pray for us. I believe this with my whole heart and that inspires me to live better. Many of the men and women we refer to as Saints lived a not so perfect life on earth. But they eventually turned their life around and lived a life pleasing to God… some even laid down their life for God. Their reward for being faithful = HEAVEN. So, my Brown Scapular visibly reminds me to pray, be chaste and know that the Saints are praying for me in Heaven. It is a gentle reminder that life on earth is temporary so I need to prepare now for my eternal life after death. Now I ask you…how can any of that possibly be boring!?!?

Another thing that is not boring is today’s Gospel reading from Mark. It’s the account of Jairus asking Jesus to heal his daughter who is near death. He begs Jesus to come to his house and simply lay His hands on his daughter to heal her. Just before they arrive at the house, they are told the girl had already died. Imagine the grief the father felt. He was hopeful that Jesus could cure her but now she’s gone. So close… but Jesus was just too late to save her… or was He???

You see…what frightens us sinners the most is death. To many, death seems like the end…total darkness. We are often unable to surrender and trust in God’s promises and therefore we fear death. Apparently, we humans have trust issues! Jesus fully realizes this, which is why, on hearing the news that Jairus’ daughter had died, Jesus turns to Jairus and says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” and they continued on. They arrived at the house and found people were “weeping and wailing loudly” at the death of the daughter. You can then sense Jesus just shaking His head, possibly rolling His eyes as He says, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” I recently listened to Fr. Robert Barron’s homily on this same Scripture verse and this is how he used it to help explain death as we know it now. The “weeping and wailing” represents our human perspective of death. We resist it with all our might due to our fear and lack of trust. However, Jesus referring to the girl as being not dead but “asleep” represents God’s perspective of death. We simply fall asleep to this life and awake to our eternal life. This goes back to the opening line we heard today from the Book of Wisdom stating, “God did not make death,” especially the “weeping and wailing” perspective that we all fear due to our lack of trust.

I guess this is actually why I continue to wear a Brown Scapular around my neck. Because I fear death more often than I embrace death. I need this Scapular to remind me daily that my faith is not to be feared, but to be celebrated with trust. Death should not be seen as darkness and the end, but as light and a new beginning. Trying to stay connected with the Saints also strengthens my faith because it reiterates in my heart that if the Saints made it to heaven, there is hope for me. And my brothers and sisters, there is hope for you as well.

The Church so beautifully has given us all of that “stuff” I mentioned earlier to help us stay focused on God and His teachings. Life is full of distractions that try to veer us away from God. So I challenge you to study your faith and find a devotion or sacramental (like the Brown Scapular) that you can cling to when life gets rough or when your faith feels weak or challenged. This is important because all of these things will help lead us to heaven because they point us to Christ. He is the only one who can alleviate our fears. As Fr. Barron said, “The way of Christ enables us to face the power of death with trust rather than fear.”

So trust in Jesus Christ with your entire being so that the next time you face tragedy, uncertainty, suffering or even death, you will fear no more.

** For more information or to order a Brown Scapular, I highly recommend this site: http://www.sistersofcarmel.com/brown-scapular-information.php