Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples

Fr. Jerry's Homilies

June 13

Again, Jesus uses parables to express deep issues like faith, wisdom and, in this case the Kingdom of God. The imagination enters in to expand our thoughts on the subject rather than just a mere description.

So, today we have the parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus is correct in saying that the mustard seed is among the tiniest of seeds, but why would you say that the glorious Kingdom of God is like a tiny seed? Especially since a mustard plant is usually considered a weed. It’s invasive and difficult to eradicate; like crabgrass. There are no great fields of mustard seed plants set out to harvest. And, it’s really not that pretty either. Think of a tumble weed in a western movie.

Then Jesus says the birds will make nests in its branches since it gets as big as a tree. A tree? Well, yes and no. It depends on what you call a tree. At its height, the mustard plant is about 10’ tall. Nothing, compared to a might oak or a mature cypress.

Every parable has a twist in it and the twist in this parable is its comparison to the Old Testament expressions of what the coming Kingdom of God would actually be like. In Ezekiel, 17 and 31, the glorious kingdom is expressed as a tree as well in Daniel 4. But this tree they speak of is in the area of being something like a mighty oak or the Cedars of Lebanon. Tall, strong and magnificent, the Old Testament “House of God”, the Temple was built from the Cedars from Lebanon. So you would expect the Messiah to say the Kingdom of God is like a tall, splendid, mature tree, not a weed.

The establishment of the Kingdom of God starts out small, Jesus and 12 others and when it takes off, it is like a stubborn and invasive weed. Growing, unable to be eradicated and spreading out to all the garden; earth.

Daniel 2 gives us a vision of the Kingdom starting out as a little stone growing into a great mountain. Mountains may become little stones by erosion, but stones do not become mountains. Jesus uses the little to grow into the big. 1 billion Catholics worldwide and that doesn’t consider the people of the history of the Church from Jesus time until now.

Birds nesting?  In Ezekiel 17 as well as other places in the Old Testament, birds and bees are images of the Gentiles.  This growing plant Jesus mentions will pervade not just Israel, but the entire world describing a kingdom of universal proportions.

When feeding the thousands, Jesus takes a little, blesses it and feeds a multitude.

Our little bit can grow. Our singular decision to do the right thing can change our family, school, workplace, the world.

Each one of us participates in the Kingdom of God and the “mustard seed” we plant helps perpetuate the world.

June 6 - Corpus Christi

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Resurrection of Christ proves that what He told us while He was on earth was true.  So when He tells us in the Gospel that the bread is His body; the wine is His Blood. He is speaking the truth. If this had been a metaphor, He would have said the bread is “like” my body; the wine is “like”. The words were difficult to comprehend and some disciples left Jesus.  If it had been just a symbol, Jesus would have called those who left back; “look, I was just speaking as a metaphor, I was just kidding”, but He meant what He said and did not change to accommodate those who did not believe.                                                                                                                         

Although faith is the requirement to accept the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the explanation of how this happens is given to us by St. Thomas Aquinas:  transubstantiation.  He built upon the teachings of Aristotle with his explanation of substances and accidents. 

Think of how many chairs there are in the world. They are made in different ways: wood, plastic, leather, in many different colors and many different styles.  However, they all have one purpose: there act as chairs. Although though look different, they all share what Aristotle calls the substance of chair, or “chairness”. 

We humans, millions of us, are all unique; no one is like you. Even identical twins are not the same. However, we all share in the substance of being human. The differences we hold are referred to by Aristotle as “accidents”.  I’m accidentally 5’8”, accidentally have blue eyes, male, Caucasian.  We identify each other, each chair by their accidents. Substance and accidents.

Now, there are many different types of bread in the world ranging from white to brown to black, Pita, sandwich, cornbread, etc…  They all share the substance of bread but we can identify which bread is which by their accidents; their color, shape, size, etc…. The bread we use at Mass is accidentally round and tan. Again, the bread of the Mass has the same substance as all bread, but we identify a host by its accidents.

St. Thomas explains that the substance of Christ replaces the substance of bread.  When I elevate the bread at the consecration, the substance of Jesus pushes out the substance of bread. But the accidents do not change.  The Eucharist still looks like bread, smells like bread and tastes like bread. The accidents of Jesus do not follow. And that’s a good thing, because if the accidents took over the accidents of the bread, we would have a grown man standing on the altar. We would be nibbling on His toes and fingers and we would be cannibals. Christ would not last long in that case. We do not consume the accidents; we consume the substance of God. When the wine is elevated, the substance of God pushes out the substance of the wine and again, the accidents of Christ do not follow or we would again, have a grown man on the altar; we would be cannibals.  The accidents of the wine remain. It still looks, taste, and smells like wine but we drink the substance of the Blood of Christ.

We have a God who loves us so much that He doesn’t just stand beside us, over us, in front of or behind. He loves us so much he wants to be inside us.  When we consume good food our bodies incorporate the nutrients and vitamins into new cells of skin, brain and heart. God is in us. The two become one. Sound familiar?  In the Sacrament of Marriage, the two become one in a spiritual and physical unity. Christ wants to become one with us in a sort of nuptial relationship but we become one at a molecular level.

God became man so that we could become like gods. This is the Body and Blood of Christ, coursing through our veins, dwelling in our cells, molecules, atoms. Think of a grandparent hugging a grandchild. They can’t get enough of that child; they can’t get close enough. But God can get so close to us that He dwells in us. We become living tabernacles taking the reality of the True Presence out into the world.

May 30 - Holy Trinity

If someone asked you what is the central mystery of the Church, what would you say? Perhaps the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives; or the Resurrection? But although these elements are important, the Catechism has the following to say: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself.”                 (CCC 234) This is how God reveals Himself to us. And that’s where we start in our RCIA classes: “Who, or What is God?”

The Trinity is the truth of God existing as a Triune God. Three divine Persons in One. It’s easy to say but difficult to explain. In fact, it’s impossible to fully explain.  But even though we can’t explain everything, we can offer attempts to grasp or to comprehend some part of the whole:

FIRST EXPLANATION: In the beginning, before everything else, there was God. God always was, is and will always be. Even His name declares His existence: I AM WHO AM. St. John tells us that the Word was also present in the beginning and that the Word was God. This Word is Jesus, Who is begotten, not made. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; consubstantial of the Father, that is, both are of the same substance. John goes on so say, “…the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”                                                                         

In Genesis, we read that there was also present, “a mighty wind” that swept over the waters at the                          time of creation. This “mighty wind”, is the “breath of God” speaking creation, and us, into existence.  When God speaks, things happen. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. “Let us make humanity in our own image”, and we were made.  The “mighty wind” is the Spirit of God we just celebrated last week at the Pentecost. I AM, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; three Divine Persons in One.

SECOND EXPLANATION: We know that God IS and St. John tells us that God is LOVE.  There are three parts to love.  The one who loves, the one who is loved, the beloved, and the love between the two; the bond connecting the lover and the beloved. God is the Lover. Jesus is the Beloved. The Holy Spirit is the Love between the Two. 

And so, the explanation of the Trinity as a community of Love is reflected.  Whenever we fall in love with someone, there are those three elements.  One is the lover who loves another.  The other becomes the beloved and the bond between the two is their love for each other. The love between two can even manifest itself in an image of the lovers; a child.

If you remove any of the three elements of love, relationships fall apart. Love without an object of its affections is unrequited. God the Father, creator of all things is love itself. Out of His love, all things came to be; all things, visible and invisible.  God loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, the Beloved, the Word among us to redeem us, to reconcile us to the Father, and to love us. Through Jesus’ work, we are now called “children of God” and “friends, not slaves.” The Son completes His mission of love and returns to the Father but we are not left alone.  The Holy Spirit is sent.  The Holy Spirit, the powerful Bond of Love engulfs us and carries us through our lives and back to the Father Who made us. God the Father, creates us. God the Son, redeems us, and God the Holy Spirit, sustains us.

THIRD EXPLANATION: At room temperature, water is a liquid. At 212 degrees Fahrenheit, water becomes a gas; steam.  At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water becomes a solid; ice. All three share the same substance, but in uniquely different forms of matter:  liquid, gas, solid. The liquid is not gas. The solid is not liquid. The gas is not solid, yet all three are water.  All share in one substance while being different in nature. God the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Son; yet all three are God. Three distinct and Divine Persons; One God.

It’s trivial to think of Almighty God as a basic element. And the Trinity is more difficult to understand and much more involved than human love relationships. These explanations are just human attempts to explain some part of the reality of the Trinity. The full truth regarding the Trinity will be revealed to us in Heaven where all of our questions will be answered.  

Our lives, if lived well also reflect the Trinitarian God because the Father creates us in love, the Son teaches us to love others, even our enemies and the Holy Spirit empowers us to life lives of fidelity in faith or: Love God, Love others, Make Disciples.

 

May 23 - Pentecost 

Before the Christian celebration of the sending of the Holy Spirt on Pentecost, the Jews already had a long standing celebration which they called, “Pentecost”.  Remember that the Jews at one time had been conquered, ruled and occupied by the Greeks. They adopted the Greek word Pentecoste from the Greeks, which literally means 50. For the Jews it was the celebration of the fiftieth day after the offering of the sheep at Passover. In Hebrew, the fiftieth day was called Shebuoth known as the Feast of Weeks. As we know, numbers were important to the Hebrews and held different meanings. Seven was the number of fulfillment. So the Shebuoth was 7 weeks, or seven weeks of seven days or 49 days; a completion; a fullness of time after Passover. On the fiftieth day, among other sacrifices, bread would be offered to God. It was a harvest festival. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 16, the Jews were instructed to remember to keep the Passover, but also to celebrate the fiftieth day; Pentecost. 

But what were the Jews celebrating; what were they called to remember? The giving of the Law to Moses.  The Passover is the deliverance of the Jews form bondage and Pentecost is the remembrance of the Jews arriving at Mt. Sinai, which, of course brings to them the giving of the Law to Moses. Freedom to go their own way and a law to govern their way of life. Many people would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost; devout Jews form varying places, with varying languages.

On this celebration of Pentecost, gathered behind locked doors in the Upper Room of the Last Supper, the Apostles and others were sent the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit visualized by descending tongues of fire. They receive the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, rush out and begin telling the “Greatest story ever told.” And though they speak one language, people with different languages hear and comprehend in their own tongue.

Nothing is happenstance in the scriptures. Why tongues of fire?  We look back at the Book of Exodus, also chapter 19 and see Moses on Mt. Sinai. God descends upon the mountain in fire. Smoke envelopes the mountain. The law comes to us through fire. The work of the Messiah is completed and the Gift of the Holy Spirit descends in fire. The law, through fire is written on tablets and now, at Pentecost, the fulfillment of the law is written on our hearts by fire.

So now we see two important points. Pentecost is a type of new Mt. Sinai and as God descended in fire, now the Holy Spirit descends in fire meaning the God, Who is divine comes to us in the Holy Spirit Who is also divine. We have the completion of the revelation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God, three distinct persons which we will celebrate next week on the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.

It is so fitting that our young people will receive Confirmation on Pentecost Sunday. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit came to them at their Baptism. Now the work begun in the primary sacrament comes to completion in the Sacrament which offers the entirety of the Divine Holy Spirit with the seven fold gifts.

The Father has created each one of us in love and since He loved us first, we should love him. The Son teaches us to love our neighbor, even our enemies and now the Holy Spirit empowers us to go out to all the world to teach others. Love God. Love Others. Make disciples.

May 16  - Seventh Sunday of Easter

Deacon Philip Moore

       A little over 34 years ago my family and I were living in Mobile, Al.  We had a pretty good life.  I was with International Paper Company, Shona was a stay at home mom, which was wonderful for our three boys.  Our kids were in a Christian School.  We were 45 minutes from Gulf Shores and ate fresh shrimp, oysters, flounder, and gumbo anytime we wanted to.   Shona's mom and dad lived just 1 mile from our house and my dad was only a 10-minute drive away - - - Life was good.  

         International Paper Company had just announced that the company was moving to Memphis, I didn’t think that would affect me or my family.  You see we had lived in Mobile our whole lives.  I had 16 years with the company and my plan was to live in Mobile and retire from IP.  

         Than one Friday afternoon that all changed.  I was offered a job in Memphis but told if I did not take it, I would be without a job.  

         We had to leave all our friends and family.  It was hard, we loved Saint Dominic Church so it was just as hard to leave our parish family.  

         A little over a year ago, we again decided to move from Memphis to Spring Hill.  And again, we loved the parish that we were in and the parish family we had grown to love over 33 years.  But we felt called to be here.  

         Sometimes we are asked to do something or to accept something that does not fit into our plans- - -but we must remember that God is in control and we must trust the Holy Spirit.  I stand here today a Deacon, because of a yes long ago.  

         I paint this picture to say I believe anyone who has experienced something like this - - can understand the disciple’s feelings when Christ told them he would be leaving them.  In the first reading, we are told that he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.  How frightening this most have been for them to see their friend and teacher - - Christ - - leaving them.  

         Than - - - in these short verses of Mark’s Gospel he left them a strong message.  Each word of this reading was carefully chosen and inspired by the Holy Spirit, just as the rest of the bible, but in this final chapter of Mark the disciples of Jesus are receiving a charge, - - their marching orders, - - their commission!  

         Jesus said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”  We believe that Mark’s Gospel was the first one written, so it is the shortest.  In Matthew’s account, he makes a statement that is puzzling.  - - He says, "When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubtedReally?  by now they had seen Jesus several times, twice in the room where they were hiding.  There were also two eye witnesses on the Road to Emmaus, that recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Then on the sea shore where the apostles had gone back to what they were comfortable with, fishing!  - - and some still doubted.  This is important, because we are being told, no matter how great our faith, at times, - - we are tested - - we may still have doubts.  And Jesus knows this because he knows us, just like he knew the disciples, and yet, He left these men in charge.  And like the disciples - -  we must continue to move forward - -   Jesus is counting on us.  Jesus is counting on His Church.  

         Jesus than tells his disciples that, they will have power over demons, they will speak new languages, and they will cure the sick.  And that they should Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.   

         Certainly Jesus - -  must have been addressing just the apostles, he could not possibility mean for us to spread the Gospel everywhere we go.  This would be just crazy.  He didn’t mean when we are on vacation, or at the office, or at school, or at the grocery store, or certainly not when we are driving on the streets of Nashville.  Spreading the gospel should be done on Sunday when we are in a Church mode!  I hate to break the news to you, but yes, we are to spread the gospel wherever we are.  Sometimes that means taking a stand on a certain issue, or speaking up for someone who does not have a voice.  It could mean actually referring to the bible.  But more importantly, it means, spreading the gospel through our actions.  What we do, especially when we are out in public, speaks volumes more than our words could ever do.  

         We - -  are now his disciples, we are the Church - - we must teach all that he had commanded.   - -  Now I know what you are thinking to yourselves, how can I do this, I have not been trained to preach the gospel. Yet, you really have!  If I asked you what are the two great commandments, you would say, WAIT - - - “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  So you do know what Jesus commanded us to do. And if this is not enough, the last sentence of the Gospel tells us, "they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them."  

         He will not leave us hanging, he will give us the words to say and He will guide us in our actions.  For our part, we need to do - - 3 things - - first we need to Pray, second we need to Pray and third we need to Pray. 

         I'll close with a quote from Saint Theresa of Calcutta, keep in mind that we are the Church - - 

 “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

 

Deacon Tim Conley

If you don’t believe in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, then Christianity will make no sense to you.  The apostle Paul said: “…if Jesus is not raised from the dead, our faith is useless.  Of all men we are most to be pitied.”  And if this world is your one chance at happiness, then a religion that promotes self-denial, can only be seen as something standing in your way.  

In our first reading, the two men in white garments ask the disciples: “Why are you looking up at the sky?”.  It is as if to say: “Focus on where to go from here.”.  We must keep one eye on the sky and one eye on the ground.  We must not be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good!

In our gospel, what Jesus says to the disciples then, is what he says to you and I today – “Go”.  The disciples “went” and extraordinary signs followed them.  Not all of us will cast out demons and heal the sick, but every Christian has a powerful message that cannot be disputed and that is their own faith experience.  The sign of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is our changed lives and that has impact.  People don’t want to know what you know about Jesus; they want to know if you know Jesus.  

Our culture of skepticism, is choking the meaning out of people’s lives!  The problem most people have is that they’ve never seen the real Jesus.  The only God they’ve ever seen is through the lens of a failed religious system.  Things change when people have the opportunity to see the Jesus of someone with a personal relationship with him.  People are hoping what you have is real.  We must set aside our fears, trust the message and share the sign of our changed lives.

 

May 9 - Sixth Sunday of Easter

All of us have made plans for ourselves. Myself? I wanted so badly to be a concert pianist; travel the world playing recitals, concerti with orchestras, truly not for the fame but rather because I just loved playing the piano that much.  So, I went off after high school on my trek. It never even occurred to me that I might fail. Four years of undergraduate school in a discipline where you either succeed big, somewhat or not at all. Then, without any worry, another two years of graduate school in a discipline with no guarantee. Income, stability, the future did not matter to me because I was doing what I really wanted to do. I emphasize what I wanted to do.

Then reality hit.  Back home with mom and dad. Well that wasn’t going to last. So I took any and every job I could get my hands on; even working at a fast food restaurant.  Eventually, music grabbed a foot hold and things paid off, better and better. Things did go my way. I planned another route in music as I literally became fascinated with how children learn; the process of gathering information, storing, processing and finally utilization of what they learned. Especially in the area of music.

More success, growth, and yes, income.

A gritty divorce knocked me off my feet. No matter what I had done in the world, now I was a failure. I applied for an annulment and to my great surprise, it was granted. Yet I never dated again. I had failed and was not going to set myself up to fail again. I was sticking to the things I knew I could do well.  Then, years later, out of nowhere, Priesthood called. My reaction? NO! Six more years of college and I loved teaching. Retirement wasn’t that far off and I’d pick up a second job and travel. But now, and I don’t think I could be happier.

Up to then, it had all been about what I wanted and how I thought things should go.

Today, we have a sentence that turns all of that on its head.  “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…”

You see, we all work out a sort of ego drama. The way we want things to go.  What I want to do; what I think is right.  Even in faith, I want to seek God and I decide the best approach on my own.

So, it’s not really about trying to get my agenda across in some manipulating ego drama. God is actively looking for me; for you. We don’t need to fight to the top but rather surrender and accept what God wants for us. We don’t choose to love Him; He has always and will always love us. He seeks us to be with him.

We stop being a small character in a play we direct to become a very grand character in the Theo-drama; the play God directs. Our plots fall by the wayside and drift away. God’s plot is everlasting, fulfilling and brings us to the end we all desire: happiness forever.

 

May 2 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

At the rectory, there are many, many trees.  Every time we have a strong wind, I have to pick up limbs.  These limbs are easily relinquished by the trees because they are dead; they are ready to fall with the least provocation. After the limbs are collected, I burn them in the fire pit.

There are some very big and beautiful tress in the yard. Strong and vigorous, they mostly stand up to every storm we have. But some parts just die.  As long as the limb is connected to the main tree, they prosper, but a small tear, crack or even some disease removes them from the healthy plant.

Jesus tells us today in the Gospel that He is the true Vine; the healthy part of the plant and if we don’t stay connected to Him, we can become diseased, cracked or broken off. Without the sustenance of the Vine, nutrients and water can’t make it to that part of the plant.  Without Christ, we can wither and die spiritually.

Sin, disregard, even discontent and anger can remove us from the Vine Who is Christ. However, in our case, we can return to the main plant; be grafted back on time after time and return to the vigor of the main Vine; we can return to the life we have in Christ.

Staying close to the sacraments: Confession, Eucharist and doing our best just to do the “right thing” in life keeps us connected and can even return us from a separated state to grow with Christ.

We can make a decision to remain with Christ or fall away. Today, Jesus tells us the fallen away limbs are gathered and burned. Everlasting life is a decision. Remember, He is the Vine, we are the branches.  Stay connected to the Vine to remain in His care and love.

April 25 - Fourth Sunday of Easter

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays down His life for His Sheep. Imagine sheep without a shepherd, without protection. They wander away and are picked off by wild animals. In a group, they are stronger. Alone, they are defenseless. We, in this community are gathered into a flock; a family led by Christ the Good Shepherd. We belong to an even larger flock; the universal Church, protected by the Good Shepherd. But many of us worry about those who have left the flock; our community and the Church. Are they left out?  No. Jesus goes on to tell us that,” I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Lately, I’ve been immersed in the study of why people leave the Church and how to bring them back. I’d like to share some of that with you today. There are many reasons why someone would leave the Church, but surprisingly, the largest percentage of those leaving noted that they didn’t have a particular reason, they just drifted away (71%).

There are also several myths as to why people leave the Church but the biggest myth is that it’s the parent’s fault. We all develop into a sense of self determination and have free will. It is usually never a parent’s fault. However, what you hold important, your child will see as important also.

So if they do leave the Church, what do we do? Well there are five ways that will guarantee that they will not come back.1. Don’t force them to go to Mass. Now, I’m not talking about young children, but late teens and college age. You will only frustrate the situation. For Catholics, the Mass is the final point of return; not the initial. Here is where we differ from our Protestant brothers and sisters. In the Protestant churches, the notion is like an upside down funnel; pointed end up. Get them in the church building and then branch out into an overwhelming welcoming atmosphere where it’s all about the individual not the group. They will hear a relevant and powerful message. Add fun activities, social groups, relationships and the like which make you feel comfortable. It’s fun so you come back.

In the Catholic faith, we have to establish an understanding of God, the underlying fundamentals of faith, what worship is, the sacrifice of Christ, redemption, theology, sacraments and relationship with Christ in a one-on-one basis and THEN the Mass reveals its reality of what is actually happening; the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ and the reception of His real presence in our bodies. Mass without these underlying attributes can be meaningless ritual. The Mass was never intended to convert. Its primary focus is to worship God and provide us with sanctifying grace to be Christ in the world. 2. Don’t criticize their lifestyle. That is, don’t lead with moral correction; waging a finger about how they are doing the wrong thing. Focus on the heart’s sickness rather than the symptoms. Be open to how they see things, listening without moral correction.3. Don’t nag. 4. Do not dismiss their objections. Listen with an open mind. There may be some validity there. If you refuse to see their side, you’re telling them they are not adult or smart enough to know what they need. 5. Do not assume you can change your adult child. However, live your faith joyously. Success breeds success. Is what you have in your faith what they would want?

So what should we do? 1. Do the front end work of prayer, fasting and sacrificing for your child. Get others to pray for your child. These are powerful tools that all of us tend to overlook while being extremely important. 2. Equip yourself. Do you know your faith? Do you know why you are a Catholic? Do you know your story? Why does the Church mean more to you than to them? Familiarize yourself with answers to the big questions. 3. Plant seeds. Drop off a good book, send a link to a good YouTube video. Put a crucifix in their luggage while always sharing unconditional love with your child no matter what their decisions are. Take an interest in your child’s hobbies. Cultivate a household of hospitality. The door is always open, there is always a place at the table, your child is always welcome despite their disagreements with you. It’s OK to disagree. Love each other. 4. Start a conversation. Ask them if they are happy. That’s what we’re all looking for anyway. Ask them what their objections are to the Church, but don’t criticize. You have to find out what they don’t like to address the situation. Conversation can lead to many good outcomes. Don’t start with faith. Remember the thresholds of faith. Start with trust. Let them know they can talk about anything and not be ridiculed. It may be as simple as just asking are they happy with the decisions they have made? Invite and connect but when you get to an impasse, be big enough to acknowledge it’s time to take a break. Don’t argue.

There are three types of issues that can separate us from the Church: Personal, Moral and Theological. Personal Issues: 1. “I just don’t have time for church. I’m too busy” Response: Mass becomes the highest priority only when you realize it offers a direct encounter with God. 2. “The Church is focused on too many rules and making us feel guilty.” Response: The Church doesn’t add guilt; it takes away guilt Its mission is to forgive and heal. Ever read the book of rules for basketball? Baseball? Driving? Which rules would you eliminate and still be able to play the game or drive safely. Rules are there to assist not hinder. You can really boil it down to one basic rule: go to Mass.                                                                                                                        

Moral Issues: 1. “The Church is so judgmental, didn’t Pope Francis say, ‘Who am I to judge?’” Judgement is in two levels. The woman caught in adultery brought to Jesus’ mind the fact that she was wrong but He didn’t condemn her. Judgement of the soul is for God. Judgement of actions are within our human ability. We can judge right from wrong. 2.“The Church hates the LGBTQ person.” Response: The Church welcomes everyone and demands that Catholics treat all people with respect, compassion and sensitivity. We are the sinners when we hate others for who they are.

Theological Issues: 1. Evil in a world God created. 2. Science and faith are at odds and I choose science.

Pray, identify the issue, share, discuss, but above all love. Never give up. God loves your child more than you could ever love them. Even if they have left the Church, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have left God.

They have a Shepherd just like you do Who calls us back. Holding us carefully close to His heart; leading us home.

 

April 18 - Third Sunday of Easter

Deacon Philip Moore

We have all heard of Medjugorje and how the visionaries have seen apparitions of the Blessed Mother.  The youngest girl of the visionaries, Ivanka was only 15 years old when the apparitions began.  Her mother had died in May of 1981, one month before the apparitions started.  When Ivanka saw Mary, she asked about her mother and Our Lady responded by saying: "She is happy.  She is with me."

       In May of 1985 Our Lady told Ivanka this would be the last apparition and Our Lady asked if she had a wish.  Ivanka replied she would like to see her mother.  In Ivanka's own words she says that just after she asked this of Our Lady. Suddenly her mother was in front of her and she was able to talk to her and hug her.  

       Ivanka said, "I am living proof that heaven exists. I saw my mother and spoke with her after she died."  

       In today's Gospel we hear an account of Jesus suddenly appearing to the disciples after the resurrection.  The last two Sundays Jesus has been calling his disciples into a deeper faith and belief and it continues this Sunday.   This time to help them believe that what they were seeing was real Jesus does something very human and loving.  He asks them for something to eat.  He eats it in front of them.  He wanted them to be convinced that they weren't seeing a ghost.  This helped them to believe that this was the same Jesus, with real flesh and blood that they had lived with and traveled with for three years.  The disciples did not no doubt after that.  

       Something else very interesting that Jesus did this time was to help the disciples understand that all that had taken place, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection made sense.  He showed them that the prophets had foretold it and that the Scriptures had proclaimed it.  And then Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  In other words, he was saying that all the events that had taken place, which were so horrifying and disillusioning for them, had their place.  They were meant to happen and like a puzzle each piece was part of God's plan for the world.  Now this was something that took the disciples a while to get their heads around, as suffering never makes sense to any of us.   So Jesus had to help them understand not only that he was alive, but that all that had taken place was meant to happen.  

       We are all continually faced with difficult situations of suffering.  Sometimes it is suffering that we ourselves go through, such as cancer or relationships breaking up, and sometimes it is watching other people dear to us suffer.  It never seems to make sense and it always seems unfair.  We find ourselves asking God, how can you let this happen?  Why me or why our loved ones.  So often we cannot make sense of why we have to suffer and we may even see it as a punishment.  

       There is never a direct answer to this question, so what Jesus says to his disciples in this Gospel is a help, because he reminds us that everything that happens fits into God's bigger plan.  The struggles we go through don't make sense to us and sometimes they are even caused by the wrong-doing of others.  How could this be part of God's plan, we ask?  The point is that God can bring good out of every situation, even turning the evil work of people into good.  But for the most part we cannot see that.  However, the Lord is telling us that there is a bigger picture which makes sense of everything that happens.  In other words, God has this,  and when we get to heaven, we will see that the picture makes sense to us.  Occasionally, we may see how something that happened that we thought was terrible, turned out to be just what we wanted to happen.   

       Jesus is also letting his disciples know that he forgives them.  What a mess the disciples would have been in after Easter if Jesus did not forgive them for abandoning him during his Passion.  We have had three accounts of Jesus appearing to his disciples, to not only restore their faith and belief, but to let them know he forgives them.  Imagine the sense of shame the disciples must have felt for having abandoned Jesus during his Passion.  We too feel a sense of shame when we abandon Jesus when we sin.  That is really what happens when we sin; we abandon Jesus.  We choose something else above Jesus.  We put Jesus in second place.  Sin is always abandoning Jesus for something or someone else.  So it is good when we are sensitive enough to recognize that we have abandoned him and we feel a sense of shame and guilt.  It is good, because from the guilt we feel, we can turn to Jesus for healing.  He does not want us to remain in shame or guilt.  He did not want his disciples to remain in shame or guilt and so 

His first words to them as we heard in our Gospel were, "Peace be with you."  Jesus is accepting his disciples and he accepts us, just as we are, even after we have abandoned him.  Jesus wants us to return to him quickly.  Once the disciples had received the forgiveness of Jesus he gave them a mission, to preach his forgiveness to others.  We too, once we have repented for our sins and Jesus has forgiven us, our mission is to spread the forgiveness of Jesus to others. 

 

Deacon Tim Conley

All of today’s readings are about the gift of the Father, which is his mercy through his Son, Jesus Christ. Peter describes the time when the Jews asked for a murderer to be released instead of Jesus, whom they could not convict of any sin. About that, Peter says they did it out of ignorance. Peter, who never forgot the mercy he received, after having denied the Lord three times, gives them the benefit of the doubt. At the cross, Jesus says: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

What was Jesus’ response when he appeared to the disciples, after his resurrection? Does he demand explanations? Do we hear him say: “Three years I taught you and showed you my miracles!  What happened to you all when I went to the cross?” The disciples 1st reaction to Jesus’ appearance was terror! Could it be that they feared he would demand an accounting?

The 1st thing Jesus says is: “Peace be with you.” When someone hurts you, what’s the 1st thing that comes to your mind? Is it peace you’re after or a pound of flesh? Thank God when we sin, it’s peace the Lord is after with us!

John says: “He that says I know him and does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” A reasonable person will admit that they do not live up to their own standards. How can we demand others to live up to our standards, when we cannot live up to our own?  To do so is to forget what we’ve been forgiven.

Through Jesus Christ, the Father provides for us, the way back into fellowship with him.  Confession leads to forgiveness and we are able to let go of our shame. Repentance leads to a change of mind, which leads to a change of attitude, which becomes a change in our behavior.  Honesty with self and others brings a quality of life which cannot be found anywhere else. 

Today let us pray: “Lord, I confess where I have failed you. I choose your way over mine. Bring me into fellowship with you and keep me there.”

 

April 11 - Second Sunday of Easter

During his 3 years of Jesus’ public life, he has said all that needed to said; the completeness of revelation is wrapped up in his message to the world; to us. On earth, he gathered many disciples and a close following of 12 Apostles; an inner circle. One, Judas betrays Jesus, so now we’re down to 11.  Of those 11, Peter, their leader denies Christ three times and through the suffering of his crucifixion, 10 of them run away and hide. Only St. John stays. Only 1.

The Apostles, and others, have secreted themselves back to the Upper Room with locked doors certain that the authorities were coming after them. They were the closest of Christ’s followers. They killed the leader, surely they will want to eliminate his followers. But perhaps, even more frightening is the fact that Jesus is back. He is alive; resurrected. Peter and John saw the empty tomb; Mary Magdalene saw him. 

Aware of the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and the fact that all, save John, ran and hid. What will he do to them? Will he punish them for their desertion? Will he let John live and kill us?  What will he do to Peter for his denial? Then, on the evening of the first day, Sunday for us, the light begins to diminish. Shadows take over the light of the day. The fear and trepidation are thick. Amid all of this, Jesus appears. The doors were locked but he just walks right through! Everyone is holding their breath to see what he will do. He looks at everyone and says, Shalom; peace.  Not, “I told you so”, not “I’m disappointed”, not “I’m angry” or “I’m mad” but “Peace”. That’s his message. That’s his power. Peace conquers. Love overcomes hate. The tyrants of the world are helpless against the love of God.  He shows all of them exactly what he is. He is God and God is love.

Love is not what God does. Love is not what God has. Love is what God is. He cannot deny himself of what he is. He loves us all. No matter what. Nothing can make him stop loving us. His mercy endures forever. But for us humans, his primary expression of his love for us is in his mercy; his willingness to forgive. Just as there is nothing that can make God not love us, there is nothing that God will not forgive. We need only to ask.

As I mentioned last week, the sacraments are powerful; they are efficacious in that they actually do what they say they do. But we need that personal relationship to connect the effectiveness of the sacraments to our way of life. Half the relationship is done since Christ is with us 100% of the time from conception to natural death.

Have I secreted myself from Jesus? Am I afraid of what He will do or say as to the way I act?  His answer is always in our favor; always inviting, never imposing Himself, but inviting. Come home, come back, be with me, be my friend.

Let’s look at some thresholds we must cross over to get closer to Christ; to build up that relationship.

  1. Initial trust. We must have a trusting and positive association with Jesus Christ, the Church, another Catholic believer, or something identifiably Catholic. Notice I didn’t say trust everything and everybody, just some thing or somebody. Do away with lifelong grudges. Holding onto them only hurt the one who holds onto them. This includes someone who may have been hurt by another Catholic, physically or emotionally. Even if you disagree with some parts of the Catholic faith, if you can hold a positive view of God, the Church overall, or other Catholics, you have reached this first and necessary threshold.
  2. Spiritual Curiosity. Even though you may not agree with everything yet, is there an aspect of the faith that you are curious about? This could be a range from mere interest about a new possibility to a strong fascination. Maybe personal change isn’t there yet, but an awareness that something is happening to you rather than through you.
  3. Spiritual Openness. This is the threshold we cross over and acknowledge to ourselves, and perhaps even to God, that you are open to the possibility of personal change. This step is merely being open to change. It doesn’t require you to commit to change, but you are open to simply admitting the possibility.
  4. Spiritual Seeking. We move from being passive in our faith to an active search. The seeker is engaged in a quest to seek to know whether you can commit to Christ in His Church. This is accomplished by personal study; reading Catholic books or articles, listening to podcasts, YouTube videos or films.  We wrestle with our difficulties and doubts about the faith yet we want to know the truth. We want to know not only what the Church teaches, but why it teaches the items in our faith.
  5. Intentional Discipleship. I have decided to a part of it all: part of the Church, part of the Faith, and want to be an active follower of Christ. I want to walk as a child of the light putting the cross before me; the world behind me.

 

Sacraments of Intuition:  Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation plus the four stages of faith to connect the sacraments with a personal relationship with Christ lead you to an active and engaging faith. Don’t see Jesus as out to get you.  He loves you more than you love yourself.

You may have been afraid that you didn’t stand up for Christ or the Faith because you were intimidated or unsure of an answer just like Peter before the cock crowd twice. You may have turned your back on Christ at some point like Judas. You may be in a state of fear, loneliness, anger, distrust and have your heart locked up in some upper room. But Jesus’ answer will never be negative, never “you don’t deserve”, “you haven’t been good enough,” “you are not loved”.  No matter where you are in your relationship with Christ, no matter what you’ve done or failed to do, no matter how far you are away; His answer is “Shalom”, “Peace”.

Think about this; the God who made us, died for us, remains with us constantly, loves us more than we can love ourselves and wants to be your best friend. He will make it through the locked doors of our hearts, in the darkness of the shadows; inviting; never imposing.

Say yes. 

April 4 - Easter Sunday

So, we who believe come to yet another Easter.  Again, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and His triumph over the grave; the triumph which allows us eternal life also. We have the ability to live forever; past our earthly home onto the happiness of Heaven.  We will resurrect as Jesus did. If Christ is not risen, we are living a lie. If He has not been raised, He is not God. If He did, He should be the center of everything in our lives.

So, another year comes and is moving on. Tempus fugit; time flies!  Will this year be the same as last year? Will this year be different.? We definitely hope that our isolation from Covid will loosen and our freedom to be out and about will be regained, but how about our spiritual lives? Will it be the same this year as it was last year?

Year after year, we Baptize, offer First Eucharist, First Confession and Confirmation to the members of our faith. Year after year, we lose people from the faith. 80%, they tell, us are not with us at Mass; the source and summit of our lives.  What are we missing? What are we failing to do?

The sacraments do what they say they do; Baptism washes away original sin and incorporates us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Reconciliation offers us freedom from the sins we commit after Baptism and Sanctifying grace to endure. The Eucharist feeds us with the true presence of Jesus and His blood courses through our veins; His body joins with our molecules. Jesus becomes so close to us, so connected to us, that it is impossible to distinguish where Jesus leaves off and our humanity begins.  Confirmation delivers us the gifts of the Holy Spirt and the ability to be full, active and participating members of the Church.  The sacraments are true. They are efficacious. They are strong. Yet, we continue to lose people from the faith.

The reality is that as good as the sacraments are; as powerful as they can be, we don’t connect with them unless they are meaningful and that means Christ must be meaningful. Christ must be our personal friend. We must establish and feed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Christ has a personal relationship with you because He is with us 100% of the time. But are we aware? Are we bridging the gap?

The three sacraments of initiation to full membership in the Church: Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation must be accompanied by the four stages of faith we must establish to bridge that gap between us and Jesus and make the sacraments meaningful. As I go over these stages, see where you fit and see if perhaps, you have completed the stages or need to complete more.

  1. Initial trust. We must have a trusting and positive association with Jesus Christ, the Church, another Catholic believer, or something identifiably Catholic. Do away with lifelong grudges. Holding on to hurt is like taking a pill and hoping the other person gets sick. It limits us and weights us down. Clear up suspicions.  This includes someone who may have been hurt by another Catholic, physically or emotionally.  Even if you disagree with some parts of the Catholic faith, if you can hold a positive view of God, the Church overall, or other Catholics, you have reached this first and necessary threshold.
  2. Spiritual Curiosity. Even though you may not agree with everything yet, is there an aspect of the faith that you are curious about? This could be a range from mere interest about a new possibility to a strong fascination. Maybe personal change isn’t there yet, but an awareness that something is happening to you rather than through you.
  3. Spiritual Openness. This is the threshold we cross over and acknowledge to ourselves, and perhaps even to God, that you are open to the possibility of personal change. This step is merely being open to change. It doesn’t require you to commit to change, but you are open to simply admitting the possibility.
  4. Spiritual Seeking. We move from being passive in our faith to an active search. The seeker is engaged in a quest to seek to know whether you can commit to Christ in His Church. This is accomplished by personal study; reading Catholic books or articles, listening to podcast, YouTube videos or films.  We wrestle with our difficulties and doubts about the faith yet we want to know the truth. We want to know not only what the Church teaches, but why it teaches the items in our faith.

 

The sacraments are great and wonderful in themselves; powerful and efficacious; they do what they say they do and the power of the sacraments fill us with sanctifying grace.  That’s why we come to church week after week; to fill our tanks up with grace for the next week to be Christ in the world. If we miss the next week, we putter along without proper fuel and finally have no fuel at all.

But to accompany these wonderful gifts given to us, we must intentionally bring ourselves along in developing our response to Christ by means of our own personal decisions. Every Catholic, whether they attend Mass every day or just now and then, faces the inner desire we all have, as humans to attain happiness. Exteriors are pleasing for a while but the interior relationship with Jesus is the true happiness we seek.

Happiness, for Christians, is not a constant feeling of euphoria but rather a deep abiding joy over which the toils and snares of life can influence but never destroy. A fish is surrounded by water. Take the fish out of the water; it dies. Animals are surrounded by air. Take away the air and the animal dies. A Christian is surrounded by God. Take God away, and we are spiritually dead and that death affects every tangent of our lives.

It is a new Easter, a new spring, a new year and a new opportunity. Will I be the same this year as I was last?