Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day-Why We Fight




They arrived at a concentration camp and saw first hand the horrors for themselves, the diabolical conditions the prisoners have been subjected to. They saw prisoners near death next to corpses – people malnourished and starving. The men in their shock and horror raced to get food and supplies only to be stopped by one of the medics who told them they can’t just do that… they can’t just give them food and water and free them. That they needed to be careful and cautious and slowly work to help these poor souls if there was any chance for them to physically recover – so, at that moment, they had to keep the prisoners inside the barbed wire fence until they could make sure they could get the care they needed. It was heart-wrenching on every level. These soldiers finally had their answer, why they fight – but it was hell getting to this moment, and in that moment, it still was a living hell.
The author wrote about the incredible contradictions that these soldiers experienced: They found combat to be ugliness, destruction, and death, and hated it. Anything was better than the blood and carnage, the grime and filth, the impossible demands made on the body—anything, that is, except letting down their buddies. They also found in combat the closest brotherhood they ever knew. They found selflessness. They found they could love the other guy in their foxhole more than themselves. “They found that in war, men who loved life would give their lives for them.”

Now during this pandemic, our faith in God is being tested.  Sadly, many families had to say goodbye to a family member, or worse, a child to this dreaded virus. The pain of letting go, through a window and not being allowed to hold the hand of our dying loved one is living hell.

This Memorial Day will always be remembered, not only as a time we honor our heroes on the battlefield, but also our heroes in our hospitals who are fighting an enemy we cannot see, an enemy that threatens people of all ages, all nationalities, all countries throughout our world.

Our faith gives us hope and courage that all or beloved have ascended into heaven.
It will take a long time before the coldness of death is turned into warmth. Jesus taught: “It is better for you that I go away!” These are painful words most of the time, from brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives for our freedom to worship, to those in the Covid-19 isolation wards of hospitals at this very moment, a loved one or comrade saying goodbye in death. Separation hurts, goodbyes bring painful tears, and death of every kind wrenches our heart.

But that is part of the mystery of love. The mystery of the Ascension. Eventually we all reach a point where what is best for everyone is that we go away so that we can give our spirit. The gift of our lives can only be fully received after we ascend. What will you remember?

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Frineds who remember the sacrifice of our soldiers who gave their all, the dedication of our medical teams who continue to give their all daily to save lives. May their spirit of faith, courage, generosity and compassion be our inspiration to make God’s love contagious so that no one dies in vain and our prayers of gratitude bring healing to our world.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Biscuits


A while back I read a story of a visiting pastor who attended a men's breakfast in the middle of a rural farming area of the country. The group had asked an older farmer, decked out in bib overalls, to say grace for the morning breakfast.
  
"Lord, I hate buttermilk", the farmer began. The visiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wonder where this was going. The farmer loudly proclaimed, "Lord, I hate lard." Now the pastor was growing concerned.

Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, "And Lord, you know I don't much care for raw white flour". The pastor once again opened an eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn't the only one to feel uncomfortable.

Then the farmer added, "But Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I do love warm fresh biscuits. So Lord, when things come up that we don't like, when life gets hard, when we don't understand what you're saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits. Amen."

Within that prayer there is great wisdom for all when it comes to complicated situations like we are experiencing in the world today. 

Stay strong, my friends, because our LORD is mixing several things that we don't really care for, but something even better is going to come when HE is done with it. 

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are nursing those sick with the coronavirus. Protect them and keep them safe from the virus and may their compassion bring healing to those in their care.



Sunday, May 03, 2020

Due to Technical Difficulties


“Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to bring you this program.” My sincere apologies, but prior to today’s Sunday’s Mass, we just could not get our computer to link up with ZOOM. Folks would click the link and get a message that said, “meeting in progress” or worse, call on your phone and the voice said, “the meeting had not started.”

My reflection was about the Gospel in which Jesus refers to himself as “the Good Shepherd” and the “gate for the sheep.” Images that need a bit of explanation.

Sheep have a connection with the shepherd unlike that of other farmers with their animals. The Shepherd knows every one of his sheep. For example, at Holy Family, Joy and Dan sit with their children to my left, behind them are Mary and Roy, then Mary on the aisle with Tina, Tori and Donna behind her. Further down the side aisle are Karen and Bob holding grandson Jamison, then Harry, and Tom and Donna. And holding up the back pew are Denny and Gus. Yes, this shepherd knows where you sit in church and even knows when one of you is missing. 
During Jesus’ time, there would be three or four shepherds who’d put all of their sheep together in a pen while one of the shepherds would watch though the night protecting them from thieves, or wild animals; and in the morning, the shepherds would call, and the flocks would split and follow their respective shepherd. They knew which voice to follow in order to find direction in life. They recognized the voice of their shepherd.
Jesus tells us that if we listen to His voice and follow Him, He will lead us to an abundant life. That we will be saved. That death will have no power over us.
Sounds like good news, but for the early disciples it wasn’t enough, disciples are leaving town, or like Thomas, thinking it can’t be true; or like Mary Magdalene, unable to recognize Jesus Christ standing right in front of her, and dare say we are in the same boat wondering in this moment of history when we are going to be able to come back into church to pray and share fellowship.
What will lift us out of those thoughts of despair is by hearing Jesus voice and remembering who we are.
Where do we hear the voice of Jesus? First: you will find His voice in the people who are caring for our sick and dying people in our hospitals, the doctors, nurses and first responders giving comfort and hope and healing. Second: you know it in the voices of volunteers who bring food to our school children or caregivers at Charlotte Home. Third: you may know it in the voice of a family member or friend inviting you to a ZOOM gathering to connect or simply pray together.  Fourth: in the voice of mom and dad praying at the bedside of their children that God will protect grandpa and grandma from getting sick.
Lord, I pray for all my  Sonshine Friends, the parishioners at Holy Family, their relatives, neighbors and friends around the country that despite my failure to connect they can hear Your voice. We have a sign outside the front of our church today that says it all: “CAN’T SLEEP, DON’T COUNT SHEEP. TALK TO THE SHEPHERD.”
One quick story, last Sunday, I was sitting in the sanctuary and it is 10 minutes before Mass and I heard the side door of the church open. I shout ‘Whose there and got no response.” Again, I hear shuffling in the hallway and the next moment Mary peaks around the corner of the door. I say to Mary, “you’re not supposed to be here, I don’t want you to get sick.” She says that she wanted to leave me something and places an envelope on the chair next to me. She then says she going back home to watch Mass on her computer. I send her off with a blessing. However, curiosity got the best of me and I took the envelop into the sacristy and opened it up with a note that said, “I can barely see anymore but I hope you and Sue can use this to keep safe.” When I opened the tissue, I found a homemade mask to keep us safe. I’m thinking about Mary’s voice right now, disappointed that I couldn’t stream the Mass to you this morning. Jesus is saying “Fr. Matt, no big deal, you ‘re going to be alright and so is everyone else who believes in Me.” 

Thank you, Mary, you are the voice of Jesus telling all of us to be safe and so I want all of you at Holy Family, your family, neighbors to continue to wear your masks with a smile and may God bless you Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Blaming God or Finding God


Not surprisingly, recently there have been articles speculating that this viral pandemic we’re experiencing is God’s wrath, His anger, His punishment for – and fill in the blank – everything from not being the devout and faithful people we should be to not being good stewards of the Earth.

God does not unleash plagues as punishments on people.

As Christians though, we’re not to dwell on that. Instead we’re to redirect our thoughts on what Jesus reminds us: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(John 3:7).

When each of us takes steps to confront evil in a charitable but just way… when we find ways to offer forgiveness and begin the hard work of reconciliation…. when we look for opportunities to be selfless and loving and reaching out to help someone in need – that is the gentle breeze of the Spirit working in and through each and every one of us who claims to have been “born from above.”

So for those looking for where is God in the midst of this crisis – look at the health care workers putting their care for the sick above their own well-being; look at the people who are creatively finding ways to reach out and to connect with people feeling isolated, alone and depressed; look at our volunteers helping the residents at Charlotte House-- look at the littlest of gestures – the kindness and genuine care offered by a neighbor to attend to someone else’s needs. It’s far too easy to blame God for the evil we’re experiencing and missing the reality of His grace, His blessing, His very spirit being at work through countless and oftentimes unknown, invisible folks.   Kind of as invisible as, say the wind – that is blowing and driving about bringing healing, compassion and new life in the midst of this storm.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are connecting through Facebook, Skyp or cell phone to make sure their neighbors are safe and sound with plenty of toilet paper, face masks, medications and food on their tables. As our church sign says outside the front door of our church “Put a Smile on Your Mask It Will Brighten Your Day.”




Sunday, April 19, 2020

Feeling Separated from God




As a Chaplain you visit many different people from various walks in life. The one thing they have in common is that they are all facing a difficult time in life. It might be an upcoming operation, or rehabilitation or for some it is their final steps in life as they face a terminal diagnosis. On one of these visits there lies a young woman, about 35 years of age, when she sees me, she becomes tearful. When I ask her what is behind the tears, she confides that seeing me, she is reminded of all the bad decisions she has made in life, and that she will never be able to enter heaven because of those bad decisions. She feels separated from God and unworthy to reach out to Him.

As we continued our conversation, I ask her if there was a time she remembers when she felt close to God. She goes on with a smile explaining a time in a church yard she was swinging with her sister and singing songs to Jesus, and how amazingly safe and joyous it felt. 

Is there a time we can remember when we were or are especially close to God? Is there an emptiness in our hearts because we find ourselves separated from God because our lives have not lived up to what we think God expects?

As I explained to the young woman, Jesus came expressly to close that separation, to reach out from the cross, to welcome us to see the empty tomb, and to cure our unbelief as Jesus did to (doubting) Thomas when he showed his nail scared hands and wounded side. Jesus loves us, and gives us forgiveness for our confessed sins, and welcomes us into the safety of his arms and blessed assurance of an eternal home with Him in heaven.

During this difficult Easter time, when the news of the day brings in loneliness and fear, go back to that time when you felt closeness to God, allow Him to enter back into your heart, take His hand and fear no evil only His love. Accept the joy of Easter morning, for He has risen he has risen indeed.

Father in heaven, help all of us to look to you for strength and assurance of your love for each of us. Grant all those that support our communities, the medical staffs, first responders, police and spiritual comforters your protection from illness and harm. Remove any doubts we have in your sacrifice for us on the cross and your rising again. Bring us peace and strength during these difficult times. We pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

It Started in the Dark



For a great number of my friends this Easter morning, this coronavirus seems to have been far more successful than the Grinch could ever have imagined in his most diabolical of schemes. The Easter Bunny had to file for unemployment this year. The Easter egg hunt that would have kids decked out in their new Easter outfits has been cancelled.  Family dinners have been sidelined with, at best, arranging a Zoom or Facetime gathering.
All of those things pale in comparison to the tremendous suffering of people who are ill; people who are exhausted as they try to care for those who are sick, or are pressed into extreme overtime as an “essential service” provider; people who have died; people who are grieving their losses and cannot even gather to mourn; people who are losing their jobs; people who are depressed, and anxious and filled with fear. It’s hard for us to say ‘Happy Easter’ with the true joy we normally do on this day.

Easter happened while it was still dark. If you had been in church this Easter morning, you would have heard me read John’s version of the gospel where Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John all encounter the empty tomb. They see the stone rolled back, they see the burial cloths rolled up – but there’s no earthquakes, no angels, and not even the Risen Jesus. Mary Magdalene saw the stone removed. Peter and John race to the tomb at her news. John tells us that he saw and believed. But then quickly adds they did not yet understand.

Easter happened while it was still dark . . . the first of Jesus’ followers were grieving in sadness, reeling from the betrayals and failures on their parts, overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. And encountering this empty tomb has completely disoriented them. Sound a lot like we are experiencing these past weeks

While it was still dark – the world completely changed.
While it was still dark – the promises that Jesus made were fulfilled
While it was still dark – while it still looked as if death had the last word, God’s word, His love, His life destroyed death.

There’s no shortage of people who feel they are in a dark time and a dark place. Yet, Easter still comes . . . Despite the locked churches and cancelled celebrations. Despite the social distance, the isolation that we’re experiencing in unprecedented ways . . . do we welcome, do we sense, do we believe in Easter?

For us today, the challenge is far greater than to just turn away from the fear of this virus. It’s more challenging because the importance of this day, Easter, for if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, we wouldn’t care about Him or remember, let alone celebrate, His birth.   But because He has risen from the dead, that good news, that great news has to move us. For Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John, Easter started in the dark, but it didn’t remain there – and neither did they. They returned to share that good news with their fellow disciples . . . and as they did, they encountered, they experienced the Risen Christ for themselves. We need to believe it and share it.  We have to allow Christ’s victory over all the forces of death and Covid-19 to work in us, here and now. 

Take a look at the smiling faces of our children from last Easter. This is the challenge to share with our kids and grand-kids to see our faith and hear our prayers that we believe in the Risen Christ. Let your children experience the Risen Christ in your home. Blessed Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

No Greater Love


A story was told some years ago that after a forest fire at a National Park, some park rangers made their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno’s damage. As they walked, a ranger came upon what initially was a sickening sight – a bird that was literally petrified in ashes, perched on the ground at the base of a tree.

Kind of put off by the sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. As he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother’s wings. The loving mother bird, keenly aware of impending disaster had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety, but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.

Being loved this much should make a difference in our lives. Hearing the Passion of Jesus Christ proclaimed on Good Friday by Maddie in a quiet church isn’t about hearing a story that’s long and familiar. The station that really made a difference was when His Blessed Mother held him when He was taken down from the cross. At that moment I  remembered what’s really important – remembering what perfect Love is; remembering that Love is more than just saying I love you but the actions behind those words. It’s about remembering how Jesus loves each and every one of us, and being different, being changed because of it. Know that this shepherd loves all of his children, their parents, grandparents, your neighbors and friends.

I know that this love takes place in our community when you have gone shopping for groceries for a neighbor, or when you called a long-distance family member to make sure they are safe, or when you skyped your grandchildren and wished them a Happy Easter, or when you felt sick and are self-isolating to make sure you won’t contaminate anyone in the community, or when you pray for the sick and dying in New York City. 

In the past 72 hours, I have had the privilege of serving as a first responder to people in New York City listening to their courageous stories of compassion for one another. May we all continue to be resilient, may our faith give us strength to persevere through this storm. As you drive by your church on Easter Sunday know that my Mass and prayers will be offered for your continured safety and good health.

Jesus is Risen. Indeed, He is Risen!