Love God, Love Neighbor (Without Strings Attached)

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 29, 2017)

Exodus 22:20-26

Psalm 18:2-3,3-4,47,51

1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10

Matthew 22:34-40

If I asked you to recite the 10 commandments, could you? I mean, there are only 10 of them, right? Now don’t avoid eye contact with me. I’m not going to quiz anyone today because I don’t want to embarrass anyone in front of the Catholic priest over there. If you struggle with remembering all 10, don’t feel bad… even this Deacon has trouble sometimes naming them all. But if you think remembering 10 commandments is hard… did you know that the Jewish people have 613 commandments?? 10 doesn’t sound so bad anymore, now does it…

In today’s Gospel, referring to the 613 commandments, a Pharisee asks Jesus, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Without hesitation, Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God with everything you have. Heart, soul and mind. Everything. But then, without being asked, he names the second most important commandment. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus goes yet even further and says that all of the 613 commandments are dependant on these two… Love God, Love neighbor.

As many of you have already heard, my mom died unexpectedly three weeks ago. She was 68 years old and without any serious, life threatening conditions to our knowledge. She had a lot of chronic health concerns and underwent more surgeries than most, but it was still a shock when we got the news.

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My mom, brother and I at Ocean City, MD (early 1980’s)

In the funeral-planning book that she gave my brother and I awhile back, it stated that she did not want to have a funeral but did allow for a visitation. My brother took on the task of planning the majority of the visitation and that was ok… because who really likes to deal with those decisions? I was still in shock and those decisions made things seem all too real. And I was fine with not dealing with reality at the moment.

So a little less than a week after her sudden death, Angie and I loaded our 5 kids up in the minivan and headed to Ohio for her visitation. To be honest, I was not looking forward to it at all. I don’t particularly enjoy crying in front of others and I still had a lot of unanswered questions as to “why” this happened. It was going to be a very emotional weekend that I wasn’t ready for at all.

But now, looking back… that visitation was the best thing for me.

Of course it was sad. But it was very healing as well. So many of my mom’s friends, neighbors and church family came up to us, one after another and told us stories of how much my mom helped them in their lives. From going out to dinner, helping with landscaping around the condos, to praying for others at the adult Sunday school she attended…. The stories I heard about my mom’s giving heart put a smile on my face. I didn’t realize just how much she was involved in the community and enjoyed helping others.

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My mom being introduced to Snapchat filters

Towards the end of the visitation, a man from mom’s adult Sunday school class got up to offer prayers and give a short talk about the Joan Wentz he had come to know. He talked about how my mom loved God, showed concern for others, and was always willing to help out however she could, in spite of her chronic aches and pains. This was comforting to hear because for some reason, she and I never really talked about faith very much. She was proud that I was involved in my faith and became a Deacon. I was proud that she found a church that she loved and got involved in. But we didn’t have many deep talks about God. However, when that night’s visitation had come to a close, there was no doubt in my mind of two things…. My mom loved God and she loved her neighbors.

Now, what about you? Where do you struggle in this intimate connection between loving God and loving your neighbor?

If you claim to love God, but you gossip, hate, hold grudges and ignore your friends, family and neighbors…. you do not truly love God to the fullest.

If you are the life of the party, the person everyone wants to be around and you’re the nicest person in the world to everyone… but ignore God… you do not truly love your neighbor to the fullest.

You see… this is a both-and. Jesus is telling us that the most important thing we can do as Christians is to love God AND love our neighbors. Just a little heads up…. Loving God is the easier of the two in my opinion. Loving some of His creations… a little bit trickier.

The reason for this is because God loves unconditionally and forgives totally. You do something wrong, you sin…. Confess it to God and make an honest attempt to not do it again. God will wipe that sin away and continue to offer His love and mercy without any strings attached.

We are the ones that hold grudges… we are the ones that can be a little judgmental… we are the ones who have trouble telling the whole truth… we are the ones who struggle with forgiveness of others and ourselves.

So on behalf of God, as one of His Deacon’s in the Catholic Church, I’m begging you… STOP IT! Stop living in the struggle. Stop living with grudges and burdens. Trust in the Lord that His plan is greater than yours. Forgive others completely. Love one another fully. Love your family, friends and neighbors without strings attached.

Life is precious…. and as I found out 3 weeks ago… can end suddenly and without warning. So while there is still breath in your lungs and a beat to your heart… smile more, laugh louder, hug tighter, spread joy wherever you go and most importantly… Love God and your neighbor… to the fullest!

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Forgiveness Has No Limitations

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept 17, 2017)

Sirach 27:30-28:7

Psalm 103:1-2.3-4,9-10,11-12(8)

Romans 14:7-9

Matthew 18:21-35

I remember when I was an elementary aged kid…. Oh yes, the good ole days when life was less complicated… back then, if someone made me mad or was mean to me… I would give them the worst possible punishment that I could dream up. Seriously, it was earth-shattering cruelness that would make anyone think twice about crossing me again. If you were mean to me, I’d look you right in the eyes and say, “you’re not invited to my birthday party.”

Yeah, I know… I was pretty extreme back then. But the funny part about it was that within 20-30 minutes of banishing them from coming to my birthday bash, I was right back playing tag with them as if nothing was wrong. But that’s what we did as kids. Someone wronged us, we told them, we calmed down, forgave them and then moved on with life.

But now as adults, what do we do when people wrong us? We pull out our smart phone, open up our favorite social media app and blast away at the person. Then we hold onto that grudge tighter than a winning lottery ticket.

Let’s now turn to today’s Gospel to see what advice Jesus gives us regarding forgiveness… spoiler alert… it’s challenging and not very popular in our modern society.

“Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’” I’ve often wondered why Peter uses the number 7 here. Apparently in those days, many Jews thought forgiving someone 3 times was enough. This is from Amos in the Old Testament (Amos 1:3-13) where God punished foreign nations after three transgressions. Kind of like 3 strikes and you’re out!

So Peter probably thought, if the Jews forgave 3 times, then 7 is above and beyond. Plus 7 is symbolic of “completeness” based on the creation story where God made the world in 7 days. So Peter actually had a pretty logical suggestion by using the number 7.

And what is the response from Jesus? “Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’” I’m positive that when Peter heard this, he had to pick his jaw up off the ground. Forgiveness, according to Jesus, has no bounds… no limitations.

So why is Jesus putting so much emphasis on forgiveness?? Why is it so important?? Forgiveness really and truly has nothing to do with the person who wronged you. It doesn’t. But it has everything to do with healing YOU. When someone wrongs you… and you forgive them… in a sense, you are saying, “I forgive you, you no longer have control over my emotions or my life, I’m moving on to bigger and better things rather then dwelling on your drama.”

Now hopefully the person you forgave will also realize they were wrong and change their ways so as to not offend again. But sometimes you just need to wish that person well and move on with your life. Granted this can be extremely hard, especially with “big” transgressions. But that’s where you especially need to rely on God and His bigger picture for your life.

However, if you continue to harbor resentment and unforgiveness in your heart, beware, and prayerfully consider what happened to the “wicked servant” at the end of today’s Gospel. The wicked servant was granted full pardon for his wrong doing, but then refused to pardon someone who had wronged him for something lesser. The master found out and, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Remember, forgiveness has no bounds according to Jesus. When someone wrongs you, you’re allowed to get mad. You’re allowed to “uninvite them from your birthday party.” But at some point you need to offer forgiveness so that YOU can heal and move on.

This is possible because God’s loving mercy is unending and overflowing.

So much so…. (walk over to the crucifix) that He did this for YOU.

And if He can do this (point to crucifix) for our sins, the least we can do is offer that same love and mercy to one another.

Peace and Forgiveness

Pentecost Sunday (June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1,24,29-30,31,34

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

John 20:19-23

 

The Understanding Widower

After a long shift at the fire department, Matt Swatzell fell asleep while driving and crashed into another vehicle, taking the life of pregnant mother June Fitzgerald and injuring her 19-month-old daughter. Fitzgerald’s husband, a full-time pastor, asked for the man’s diminished sentence—and began meeting with Swatzell for coffee and conversation. Many years later, the two men remain close. “You forgive as you’ve been forgiven,” Fitzgerald told Today.

Interesting….

 

The Unbelievable Friend

During a night swim with girlfriends, bride-to-be Rachelle Friedman was horsing around and got jokingly pushed into the shallow end of the pool, where her head hit the bottom. She cracked her neck and has not been able to feel anything below it since. Despite the life-changing injury, Friedman went on with her marriage and has said she never harbored resentment toward her friend about the freak accident. “There is no use in being down in the dumps and depressed. It’s not going to get you anywhere,” she told Today in an interview.

Very interesting…

 

The Unexpected Connection

Sandra Walker, a mother of two, lost her husband in a car accident that also caused her to have a life-changing brain injury. At the trial for the accident, in her court statement Walker said she sympathized with the woman who crashed into them—who herself lost a child in the accident—and gave her a hug. “I know she is going through as much pain as I am feeling. I wanted her to know that I forgive her for what she did,” Walker told WSB-TV.

Very, very interesting…

 

The Compassionate Officer

Steven McDonald was a young police officer in 1986 when he was shot by a teenager in New York’s Central Park, an incident that left him paralyzed. “I forgave [the shooter] because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart,” McDonald stated.

Very, very, very interesting…

 

These are four very powerful, real life stories of what can happen when forgiveness and peace are fully realized. And this, my friends, goes to the heart of what Jesus did for us in today’s Gospel from John.

The Risen Jesus offers us two gifts in today’s Gospel. Both of which have the potential to change our lives. Peace and forgiveness.

Jesus stands in the midst of the Apostles and says, “Peace be with you” as he shows them his hands and his side. It’s almost as if Jesus is reminding them that, in spite of the torture He suffered, He still offers peace, not vengeance. He says a second time, “Peace be with you.” The peace Jesus is offering us here is not just the absence of war, but of a complete calmness of mind and body. No more worry. No more stress.

In order to achieve this type of peace, we have to use the second gift Jesus offers us… forgiveness. In the four stories I shared with you, the people who were wronged had a choice. Harbor hate or offer forgiveness. Each one of them chose forgiveness. I couldn’t imagine how much their lives would have been altered if they chose hate and resentment. Those negative things tend to bleed over into other aspects of your life. Before you know it, you’re not only mad at the person who wronged you, but everyone else as well. It leads to unhappiness.

So I ask you… do you want to have peace in your life? Then you need to take a very close look at whom you need to forgive, or whom you possibly need to ask forgiveness from. And yes, as we’ve all heard it said before, forgiveness doesn’t always mean forgetting. If you forgive someone, but they are not healthy to be around, you should stay away from them. But true forgiveness means you are not allowing another person’s words or actions to control you or rule your mind. And that, my brothers and sisters, leads to peace.

Today, on Pentecost, Jesus offers us the gifts of peace and forgiveness before he ascends to heaven. And in His supreme wisdom, He also leaves us the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us on our journey so we are not alone!

So I ask you one more time… do you want to fully experience the peace of Jesus Christ??? Then open your heart, allow yourself to forgive and be forgiven. Find peace in our risen Lord. Find peace through the Holy Spirit. Allow your bodies to fully surrender over to God’s loving mercy and fear no more….

Peace be with you!

 

*The four stories above were found here:

http://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/extreme-forgiveness/

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.

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!

Peace Be With You

Pentecost (May 15, 2016)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1,24,29-31,34

Romans 8:8-17

John 20:19-23

Of all the things we know about Jesus… through the Scriptures, through the Apostles… I’ve never heard Him repeat Himself without a reason or speak a word without meaning. So in this very short Gospel passage we hear today, we should have perked up a little when Jesus spoke the exact same phrase two times. It wasn’t by accident! The phrase he speaks is, “Peace be with you.” To which every good Catholic should reply, “And with your spirit!” Now if Jesus has a purpose for everything He says, it would behoove us to discern what that purpose is.

Let me refresh your memory as to what happens in John’s Gospel right before the passage we hear today. It’s the Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection. Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and John just discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Jesus then appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her to tell the other disciples that He would be ascending to the Father very soon. By now, the Jewish authorities knew something wasn’t right. They’ve probably heard stories and rumors that the Disciples have somehow tricked people into thinking Jesus has resurrected by stashing His body somewhere. The Disciples were being hunted down for questioning. They were hiding behind closed doors…. full of hope and anticipation…. full of fear of the unknown… perhaps even afraid that they would be crucified next if found.

So there they were… behind locked doors… running around the room like a bunch of preschoolers on a sugar high… not knowing what was going to happen next. Through all of their fears, through all of the commotion, Jesus then stood in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.”

How many times do we allow our lives to spin out of control due to fear and anxiety? How many times do we lose control of reality simply because we don’t know what it going to happen next? How many times do we try and hide behind locked doors rather than confront our fears? In spite of all of our fears and trials that we may be facing, Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that He is the only one who can truly give us peace. We can’t lock Him out. He is ALWAYS in our midst offering us His divine peace.

Our Risen Lord offers us His peace, and then He shares with us the surest way to sustain it. That is where the second, “Peace be with you” phrase comes into play. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

So the surest was to sustain the peace of Jesus Christ is two fold: 1. Go out and spread the joy of the Gospel, and 2. Offer forgiveness.

How does this sustain peace you ask? Let me ask you this: Do you feel more at peace when you talk about death, destruction, evil, and failure OR when you talk about happiness, joy, love and excitement? The Gospel message is the ultimate love story. If you continually talk about and share this love story to others, you will be more at peace even if the world is falling in around you. You see this love story ends with you being embraced by Jesus Himself in heaven. This world is temporary. Heaven is eternal. I don’t know about you, but that gives me peace.

Now, I know there’s at least one person out there thinking, “Sure, that sounds nice. I can do that. I can spread the Gospel message. But what about that whole ‘forgiveness’ thing you mentioned? Listen, You don’t know ‘so and so’ because I’ll never forgive what they did to me.” Sound familiar to anyone??

Yup, I said the surest way to sustain the peace of Jesus Christ is TWO fold. Spread the joy of the Gospel AND offer forgiveness. Don’t worry… I feel your pain! There have been a few people in my life that I swore I’d never forgive and it ate at me for YEARS. Interestingly, it was in the confessional that a priest pointed out that the only one that this was hurting was myself. So through much prayer, I forgave these people and the weight that was lifted off of my shoulders was unbelievable. The hate in my heart was replaced with peace and joy.

To be clear, me forgiving them doesn’t mean I have to interact with them again. It means that I can move on to bigger and better things rather than reliving past hurts. And that, my brothers and sisters, leads to peace.

Yes, it’s intimidating to spread the Gospel message in a world full of sin.

Yes, it’s hard to offer forgiveness.

But take heart…the Holy Spirit will help us, strengthen us and guide us…if we let Him in.

Let us all continue to strive for true and lasting peace by spreading the Good News of the Gospel and by offering forgiveness to others.

Peace be with you!

Letting Go of the Bell Rope

7th Sunday Ordinary Time (February 23, 2014)

Lv 19:1-2,17-18

Psalm 103

1 Cor 3:16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

Today’s readings are tough to hear…at least for me. I have personally struggled to develop this homily because I know I fail in some way with each point being made in today’s Scripture readings. Here’s the highlights in cased you missed them: Be holy. Do not hold grudges. Our bodies are temples of God. Take no revenge. Give to the one who asks of you. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies and strive for perfection like your heavenly Father. I fully realize that I don’t like these readings because they call me to constantly examine and change my heart and therefore my actions. And change can be very hard.

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Seriously…many of us struggle to love our own friends and family, so how are we supposed to love our enemies?? And to turn the other check?? Our culture tells us that only the tough survive and that if someone pushes us, we need to push back even harder! And you can forget about perfection! Every time I sin I’m reminded of how imperfect I am. So how can I possibly be holy?

It was in a moment of prayer that I realized that line of thinking is precisely the problem. I was confusing the world’s definition of perfection with God’s definition of perfection and how it all relates to holiness. Allow me to try and clear this up with a true story.

A Dutch Christian family by the name of Ten Boom was living in the Netherlands when the Nazi regime invaded their county in 1940. The Ten Booms had made a secret room behind a closet wall in the upstairs bedroom to hide Jews if Nazi soldiers ever searched their house.

The secret room behind the closet wall

The secret room behind the closet wall

Corrie, the youngest daughter of four, would go out and bring back food rations for the people they hid in their house. On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazi’s about the Ten Boom family and they were all arrested. Corrie spent 10 months in a Nazi concentration camp in Germany. After her release, she returned to the Netherlands and set up a rehabilitation center to help concentration camp survivors and even the Dutch informants who turned in their fellow countrymen to the Nazi’s. In 1946, she began traveling the world as a public speaker and wrote numerous books. One very powerful story she wrote about happened when she was teaching in Germany in 1947. One of the former Nazi concentration camp guards, known to have been one of the cruelest, approached her. Corrie was very reluctant to forgive him for obvious reasons. But she turned to prayer and described the encounter by saying, “For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.” Corrie went on to say that in her post-war experience with other concentration camp survivors that, “those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.”

“Forgiveness is letting go of a bell rope,” Corrie further explains. “If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”

This story is what holiness is all about. Corrie held no grudge against the former Nazi guard. She could have punched, yelled or spat at him. But instead of hating this enemy, she extended her hands and offered a forgiving embrace. She let go of the bell rope. And in doing so showed us an example of perfect love through her holy actions.

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Isn’t this what Jesus did for all of us? The Jewish people at the time were waiting for their messiah. They assumed he would be a great military leader that would destroy their oppressors with force. Instead, God sent his Son to teach us how to live and love in an entirely new way. Ultimately, when faced with evil, Jesus did not fight back with violence or run away. Neither would have done the world any good. Rather he stood His ground and taught people how to live rightly. This eventually led to his death. A death he willingly cooperated with and by doing so changed the world by showing us a more perfect way.

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To drop a grudge, offer forgiveness or to love an enemy is, in my opinion, about as close to perfection as we can get. Why? Because it means you are not worried about yourself. You are not expecting repayment or trying to get approval from someone else. You are simply respecting and loving the other person as God loves. So it is in our holy actions that we achieve moments of perfection.

Granted there will be days when we sin by choosing evil over good. But God, in His infinite greatness, gave us a way to receive His grace and start over when we fall short through confession and penance. The sacrament of reconciliation gives us a clean slate. It is the perfect response in the face of sin.

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So perfection in the eyes of God is not having the perfect car, the perfect family or even a perfect credit score. It’s not about making perfect choices every time we’re faced with a decision. The perfection God is calling us to involves making right choices and repenting when we don’t. It involves forgiveness and willing the good of others, even if you don’t like them all that much. God is asking you to be holy because He made you and knows that you are capable of it. You are, after all, created in His image and likeness. And if we will just let go of that bell rope long enough…all of the anger, hate and confusion of this world will one day stop…

So don’t focus on being perfect according to worldly standards, but rather focus on being holy through good actions. That is all God is asking of you. The more you fill your days with holiness, the more perfect you will be in the eyes of God.

Be holy