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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Finding God in our Weakness

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ex 2:2-5, 2 Cor 12:7-10, MK 6:1-6
A Homily adapted from a version from Fr. Murchadh

A couple of years ago I was talking to a man who was telling me about his life.  He said that most things in his life were great, except for one thing.  He shared that had a terrible temper, which was so frustrating.  He said, ‘If only I didn’t have this temper, everything would be perfect.’ 

I couldn’t help but think that this weakness that was so frustrating to him, was probably also one of the things that helped him to stay close to God.  Because if he thought he was perfect he would probably also think that he had no need for God.  I heard it once said that if we are not aware of our weaknesses we can become terribly arrogant, and in the face of arrogance, God is hidden.

The readings today remind me of a priest known simply as Brother Andrew, who co-founded the Brothers part of the Missionaries of Charity with Mother Teresa.  In one of his books about his experiences, he writes: ‘Few people would believe the weakness on which the Missionaries of Charity are built.’ 

It is a strange statement for most people to hear when we think of people like Mother Teresa and the extraordinary work that she and the many other sisters and brothers do.  Brother Andrew speaks a lot about his own weakness, although he doesn’t say exactly what it was, except that he suffered from some kind of addiction.  This weakness, which frustrated him so much, was also one of the things that made him holy.   He doesn’t say that, but you can see it from his writings.  The reason why God did such great work through him, through Mother Teresa and through so many others, was not because they were talented enough, but because they were aware of how weak they were and so they relied totally on God for everything.

The reason why God was able to do such extraordinary things through the saints is not because they were perfect, but because they were weak people who continually turned to him and so God was able to use them in an extraordinary way.  It is very easy to get a false impression of what holiness is since books can often give us the impression that saints were people who did no wrong.  The truth is saints were and are weak people, with just as many weaknesses as any of us, but they continually turned to God for help and as a result God was able to work through them in an amazing way.  To understand this is key to growing in the spiritual life.  If the saints were perfect people who never did any wrong, then very few of us could relate to them.  But if they were weak people just like any of us—which they were and are—then not only can we relate to them, but it should help us to see that the same path is open to us, because it doesn’t depend on us being good enough, rather it depends on us continually turning to God.  That is the key.

There is no one here who doesn’t struggle with weaknesses of one kind or another.  It could be some kind of addiction, it could be a need to control, an emotional dependency, whatever.  We all have something and as you well know it can be extremely frustrating.

However, I find it consoling that two thousand years ago St. Paul writes about the exact same thing (See this Sunday’s second reading 2 Cor 12:7-10).  Paul was a very intelligent man, well educated and obviously very talented.  And even though he had visions of Jesus which converted him and then he went and preached everywhere, he too suffered from some kind of weakness, although he doesn’t say what it was. In today’s second reading you can really sense his frustration as he says that three times he asked God to take this thing away from him, and three times God said ‘No, my strength is at its best in weakness.’  This weakness, whatever it was, obviously helped him more than he realised.  It kept him humble and it meant that he continually needed to turn to the Lord and ask for his help and that is why he and so many other men and women were such powerful instruments in God’s hands, because they relied totally on God and not on themselves as they were well aware of how weak they were.

I have no doubt that all of us probably feel that we would be much better off if we could overcome our weaknesses.  But perhaps these readings will help us to see that the Lord knows what He is doing when He allows us to struggle with them.  Yes, they are frustrating, but they can also be a gift in the sense that they make us rely on the power of God more than on ourselves.  It also reminds us that it is not a question of being ‘good enough’ for God.  We will never be good enough, but that doesn’t matter.  As long as we know that we are weak then we will see that we have someone to turn to who really can and will help us.

In closing, let’s take a moment and prayerfully reflect on our own personal…. You know , that thing tha we struggle with week after week.

 Let’s just how powerless we are when we rely only on ourselves….. We need God’s help.

Now take that weakness and allow it to humble you….. allow it to make you a little less judgmental…… maybe a little more forgiving, understanding, and compassionate.

Take that weakness and give it to God…… and then, let’s humbly pray that we may become a reflection of God to others in the world

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Kingdom of God

Click on the above video to hear the homily

The Kingdom of God
Mark 4:26-34
Homily adapted from a sermon by Jonathan Davis

Jesus begins his teaching: “The kingdom of God is…”. Now, what do you think Jesus means when he says “kingdom of God”?  What is he talking about? Well, back in the days of Jesus, there was this long held belief that the history of the world would contain five great kingdoms. At that time our great kingdoms had already come and passed and now the ruler of the world was Rome. Rome had an overwhelming military, and a unbelievable economic and political control over the world. So everyone was a bit anxious. Is this it?, they feared.  Is the kingdom of Rome going to be the fifth and final climactic kingdom of the earth? Will Rome have the last word? Is our world coming to the end? But in the midst of this Kingdom of Rome Jesus came preaching about the Kingdom of God. It seems like he’s trying to tell the people something. 

Maybe the message that whether the end is near or not, the final kingdom of the world will not be the kingdom of Rome, that it will be the kingdom of God.  That Rome will not have the final say; but God will. That it is about the power and activity of God in the world, not some power and control of an emperor. Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God to try and help the people see it and understand.

But, Jesus isn’t the first person to try this, to try and give an image to what the kingdom of God looks like. In the first reading we heard the prophet Ezekiel describe the kingdom of God as being something like a big noble Cedar tree.  He uses the image of a large and strong tree, so big that every kind of bird could nest in it. A description that makes sense, especially since most of us like to think of God and the kingdom of God as large and powerful and protective over the whole earth.

But that’s not how Jesus describes it.  Remember, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God in a different way, in parables.  And a parable is a lot like a riddle, or a puzzle.  The answer isn’t obvious at first. Its meaning isn’t immediately clear. In fact, it is meant to initially confuse and frustrate the person hearing it before it begins to shed any light on the situation.  It is supposed to make you stop and think. Parables allow us an opportunity to change how we normally think about something. They are meant to give us a different perspective and understanding of things and ideas that we have built for ourselves.

So if everyone thinks the kingdom of God is like a cedar tree, large and in charge, Jesus turns the whole thing upside down when he begins to speak about his version of the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a sleeping gardener. The kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses some seed on the ground and goes back to bed, without the faintest idea of how it begins to grow. It just does.  And in the end, the farmer gets to reap the benefits.

Hmmm…so what’s Jesus trying to say here?  Well, knowing that a parable is like a riddle, whose meaning isn’t quite clear at first, he gives us and the people another chance at it with a second parable. He then states that the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed, a mustard seed in fact. It is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, but when it grows it becomes the greatest of all…shrubs.

I wonder if the people gathered around Jesus at the time he was teaching this message were a lot like you and me. Maybe they came together hungry for a word of hope.  Maybe they had difficulty seeing God at work in the world and in their lives. Maybe they feared another power had more control over the world than God.  Maybe all they could feel was the suffocating weight of an oppressive government. Maybe all they could see was their chronic illness, or a broken relationship, or hatred, or loneliness. Maybe they just wanted to know that God was a part of their lives and that they were not alone.

So Jesus tells them a parable – That the kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses seed on the ground. The seed begins to grow, even though the gardener can’t see it. He reassures them that the kingdom of God, the presence of God, the activity of God, is not something we have to wait for.  It is happening right now, even though we can’t always see it. In fact, not only is the kingdom of God growing, you can’t stop it from growing. Because the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed. And a mustard seed when it grows into a bush, acts just like…a weed. Those of you who are gardeners and farmers know how weeds work.  You can’t kill them.  They’ll always find their way back.  And that is what the kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. You can’t kill it. You can try, but it will always find its way back into your life.  And then it just grows and grows and grows.

The kingdom of God, the activity of God, looks different than the world’s understanding of a kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is not the same as the kingdom of Rome was.  It doesn’t look like power and strength. And sometimes, we just can’t see it.  It’s like a seed, growing slowly underneath the soil, where the gardener can’t see what’s happening beneath the surface.  But other times, when we do see it, it just seems so small and insignificant, like a mustard seed, that we don’t recognize the kingdom of God that was hidden within it.

I don’t know about you, but in the midst of our work-addicted, status-addicted, award-winning, and medal-wearing society where it’s all about what you can achieve in your life, it is often difficult to see the kingdom of God.

But Jesus wanted the people surrounding him, and us to know, that the kingdom of God is here. Right in front of us, right now, and that we don’t live under the kingdom of Rome, or the kingdom of the United States, that we live in the Kingdom of God.  And even though we might not always see it, whether we see it or not, we cannot keep it from growing – because it’s like the tiniest of mustard seeds.  A weed that when planted and set loose, there is just no stopping it.

This is what gives us hope as Christians, that there is a kingdom of God and that we are a part of it.
In closing, Let us pray…… that in faith, our spiritual eyes will open and we will see and participate in the kingdom of God here on earth, and in time, in heaven.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Love One Another-the Supreme Commandment

John 15; 9-17 Love One Another-the Supreme Commandment

If you were going on a long trip, what would you say to your family and friends before you left?

If your children were moving away from home, what would you say to them?

If you knew that you were going to see someone for the last time, what would you say?

In each case you would probably remind them of your love and care as well as give them some instructions or words of advice. Well, not unlike us, knowing that He was soon to leave, Jesus gave us and his disciples His final instructions and words of advice. Today’s Gospel passage is part of the final instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples the night before he was crucified. Jesus knew that the disciples would not find love in the world. He knew that the world would largely hate them and his message. In fact, the world still hates his message today. How often are Christians belittled, ignored, or even attacked? Nevertheless, we, like the disciples, are called to love each other and our fellow man in spite of opposition. When we love each other, we will experience the joy of obeying God. When we love one another, we also allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and grow in us. But how it grows will depend on our connection to each other, to God, and to His church. The stronger our faith the more we will do, and it is the things that we do for God and for others that brings glory to God and strengthens the Holy Spirit within us.

Love for others means being willing to die for others. Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross for our sins. The men and women who serve in our armed forces also show this same type of love. They and countless others who served were willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of others. They were willing to go out of their way for others by dying to save their lives. They came to the aid of those who were in need even at their own personal expense, and they are still willing and ready to do so today.

Mothers show this same type of love for their children. More mothers than not would willingly lay down their lives for their children rather than see them suffer. Their love is freely given and given without compromise or cost. That is why we honor them so much. They reflect in a powerful and mystical way, God’s love.

Jesus also showed how far that type of love can take someone when he died for us. If Jesus could lay down his own life for us, isn’t there a part of our lives that we are willing to lay down as well? Maybe it has to do with a prejudice, an unwillingness to help, envy, something related to material goods, hatred, an unwillingness to forgive, or even something else?

This message that speaks of love is intimately connected to relationships. God wants us to have relationships that are more than superficial. But relationship building takes time and requires compassion, wisdom, empathy, kindness, courtesy and forgiveness. When we love one another we act as God’s hands and feet to those that he puts in our lives. Serving others does take time, effort, and sometimes even a little money but the blessings outweigh the costs.

We must not forget that loving others as God loved us is the heart of Christian discipleship.

Christian life can only exist through these human relationships, especially when they are based on mutual respect and humane values. The apostle Peter showed the same type of love in the first reading. His love for others, combined with the visions he and the Roman centurion Cornelius had led Peter to minister to Cornelius and his family. When Peter proclaimed the Good News, the Holy Spirit moved within his audience, and it marked both a second Pentecost and the spreading of the Good News to all people (not just the Jews). If the Holy Spirit could move in the hearts of Peter’s audience, it can also move in the hearts of the people in our world today. Yet, these people will need to be open to hearing it, and more especially we need to be open and willing to share it.

If we are to be fruitful for Christ, we must seek his will for our lives and let him lead us to what he wants us to do for others and for him, even if it seems a little uncomfortable.

Because when we love one another, we fulfill the second of Jesus’ two Great Commandments, to love thy neighbor as thyself. When we love Jesus, he also becomes our true best friend.

· Friends have our best interests in mind, just like Jesus does.

· Friends will be with us in good times and bad times just like Jesus is.

· They help us to expand our world, expose us to new and creative possibilities, and sustain us when we are in need.

God has chosen all of us for the purpose of bearing much eternal fruit in such personal characteristics as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These characteristics will grow within us and help us when we tell others about Jesus and lead them into a fruitful and personal relationship with him.

Let’s take a moment and reflect upon our lives, our lives as Christians.

· We can say that Jesus is our friend, but can we say that we are his friends?

· Do we listen to him when he speaks to us, or do we only want him to listen to us?

· Do we want to know what’s on his heart and mind, or do we only want to tell him what’s on ours?

Being a true friend of Jesus means listening to what he wants to tell us and then using that information to do his work in our world and in our lives.

So what is the true message for us here today? The message is:

· Christ is love, and we are to love as he has loved, even to the point of willingly laying down our lives for our friends.

· Even if the world shall hate us, we are to love, and in that love, and service of love, we will be eternally united with God.

(This homily was adapted from a homily written by Craig Condon)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Holy Thursday Mass

Holy Thursday Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Redding, California

Friday, March 6, 2015

True Meaning of Life (3rd Sunday of Lent - Year B)

Homily: True Meaning in Life
Third Sunday of Lent – Year B

It’s common to think of Jesus as a gentle and peace-loving man, but in today’s gospel we also see a different side of him. We see him make a whip out of cords, over-turn tables throwing coins everywhere, and attempting to drive evil-doers out of the temple area. Surely many were shocked by what they saw and witnessed…. but was there a point to his actions?

Do you think the merchants in the temple area thought of themselves as “evil-doers”? Probably not! Do you think there were always merchants in the temple area? No, probably not. I would assume that one day a man set-up shop, and entrepreneur, and then another, then another, and overtime a large market developed. There might have been some initial dissatisfaction over the selling of goods in the temple area, but overtime the gradual process of adding more and more merchants probably went unnoticed and after a few years it not only became normal but was expected.

Can you begin to see some similarity between this example and what has happened in our society? Just the other day I was visiting with a man who described a recent event that left him troubled. He told me that more than 10 years ago he removed the television from his home because he and his wife were fearful of what was being shown, fearful of the influential power of TV, and fearful of how it could negatively affect them and their children. He stated that since that time, 10 years ago, he hadn’t really seen much Television.

He then informed me that he had recently returned from a family visit in which he watched a variety of TV shows with his relatives. He reported that he was shocked at what appeared to be in almost every show: varying levels of nudeness, pre-marital sex, same sex relationships, affairs, and ramped immorality.  And what bothered him the most was that his relatives, who he believed were good Catholics, who attended mass every week, who adhered to all the catholic rules, and who also saw nothing wrong with the content of the shows.

He stated that in response to his relative’s apparent non-reaction, He initially questioned himself? Is Pre-Marital sex ok? Is looking at Naked and Half-Naked people ok? Is having an Affair ok?

Then he stated that he snapped out of it, recalling that all those behaviors were not only wrong, but actually sinful…. and that they ultimately separated people from God. He realized that his relatives had become “Desensitized”!  Might I ask, How many of us have also been desensitized through a gradual process, and now find little to no objection to what is so prevalent in society?

If Jesus were here today, do you think he would find our current culture Acceptable?  Holy?  And Just? I don’t think so, at least not much of it. As we begin to look at the world around us through Christ’s eyes, we begin to see a much different world. We can begin to see how certain behaviors and attitudes have evolved and have led many away from God and his ways.

Yet, it is more than just being desensitized that has caused this problem, we are still missing something important. I recall a story of a priest who was coming back to his parish house one evening in the dark only to be accosted by a robber who pulled a gun at him and demanded, “Your money or your life!”  As the priest reached his hand into his coat pocket the robber saw his Roman collar and said, “You’re a priest? You can go.”  The priest was rather surprised at this unexpected show of piety and so tried to reciprocate by offering the robber his pack of cigarettes, to which the robber replied, “No, Father, I don’t smoke during Lent.”  On the surface this sounds like a funny joke, but can you see how this robber is trying to keep the pious observance of not smoking during Lent while forgetting the more fundamental commandment of God, “Thou shalt not steal.” He is acting but not understanding the why of the action.

Maybe we are doing the same in our own lives, at least on some level.

Recently Pope Francis said that we are to ensure that on Fridays we aren’t avoiding meat to only feast and gorge ourselves on seafood. If so, what sacrifice would that be?

Our actions and behaviors as Catholics are to have a deeper meaning, and it is that meaning that is always more important than the action. Our lives are to have that deeper meaning also, the meaning that originates our actions, and that meaning that sustains us through difficult times, trying times, and through temptations.

As Catholics we should know the meaning of life, our unique meaning. Is it clear what that meaning is in your life? Is that meaning actually the thing that directs your actions, or are your actions just something you do, a pious gesture? These are good and important questions that we need to ask of ourselves.

This time of Lent is a time to slow down, quiet down, and to seriously reflect upon our lives and upon our true meaning and purpose here on earth. It is a time to identify our shortcomings, our inequities, to repent, to turn away from sin, to reunite ourselves to Christ, and to prepare ourselves in a special and meaningful way for the coming of Lord and Savior.

Take some time today and prayerfully ask God to open your hearts and minds, to allow you the ability to see where change is needed, and for God to help you in humble way to understand your true meaning in life.
Praise be Jesus Christ, Now and Forever.