Sunday, April 16, 2017

Doubt and Surprise


This Sunday millions of Christians will raise their voices to share in the ancient Easter acclamation, “Christ is risen! But what if you don’t believe in resurrection, or at least aren’t sure? Perhaps you’ve been attending church for years but feel a little left out, even guilty, on Easter morning as you wonder whether Christ was really raised from the dead. Or maybe you don’t often go to church but are willing to concede doing something “spiritual” as you attend Easter service with your in-laws. Or perhaps you flat out think resurrection is fantasy, something that just couldn’t happen.

If any of these conditions describes you, it turns out you’re in good company, as this is the attitude of most folks on that first Easter morning. Notice, when the heavenly messengers first announced the news of Jesus’ resurrection, no one said, “Praise God” or “Hallelujah,” let alone, “I knew it — just like he said!” That’s right — not a single one of Jesus’ disciples at first believed the report of his resurrection. In all four-gospels, it appears that the natural response to word of the resurrection is doubt, fear, and bewilderment.

How come? For practical reasons the evangelists recognized that the resurrection is, quite literally, incredible — that is, not believable.  Resurrection isn’t simply a claim that Jesus’ body was resuscitated; it’s the claim that God entered human history and created a new reality all together. Which, quite frankly, can be frightening. After all, if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?  

Second, notice that faith and doubt are closer together than we might imagine. Doubt, questions, even downright skepticism — these aren’t the opposite of faith, but an essential ingredient. Faith, after all, isn’t knowledge; rather, faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews: 11:1).

So let me share a true story to help you put aside any doubt about Easter. Her name is Maggie, a neighbor and cancer survivor. She had to mortgage her home to pay her hospital bills. At 6.5% interest on that loan, half her social security goes to pay off her debt. Over a year ago, I took her to her bank in the hope of refinancing her loan at a lower rate. Initially, the loan officer said no problem. But three months later, Maggie shared that she was denied because she had no fire insurance and she had no extra funds to pay any additional premiums.

Ten days ago on a Wednesday, I called the Refinance Dept of her bank and explained her dilemma. After four hours on the phone, she put her thumbs up in the air with a big grin. She gives me the phone and Shane, the bank customer service rep, said: “Father, we can do this!” That was an Easter moment.

The bank promised that it would refinance her loan from 6.5% to
4 % and that would reduce her debt by $100 per month. This bank listened, lowered it rates and help an impoverished senior maintain some dignity. Now that’s a resurrection moment. There is a God who cares about her people.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that Easter was a day with church family and friends to celebrate something incredibly true. Christ is Risen, Indeed!
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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Finding God in a Donut



At our retreat, a participant shared that she found God in donuts. All kidding aside, her memory, as a child was a five-year-old unrefined child who didn’t think that she was anything special. She somehow found herself inside a church and she remembered watching the people eating donuts. Perhaps, it was coffee social after a morning service. She felt awkward and hungry, but nobody looked down on her or said anything to make her feel unwanted. At one point, she noticed that people were putting money into a basket for the donuts, and she felt like a “bad little girl” for taking a donut. Instead, out of nowhere, someone placed a few coins in her hand and let her put them in the basket. No nasty looks or nasty comments, so these must be God’s special angels.

Life can be messy and maybe you have memories about your past in which you felt awkward, out of place, someone who didn’t belong, or worse you had no one in your life that made you feel special.

One of the topics we discussed at the parish retreat was: “Life is Messy.”
For example, when a patient was told that they have cancer. You walk out of the doctor’s office and your head is just spinning, and you realize that nothing else in the world has changed. Life goes on and everyone is just going around their business, going about doing their thing. Nobody knows what you’re struggling with. Yet in reality, we’re all struggling with something. A tough childhood where no one made you feel special, or you suffered the humiliation and shame of an injustice that still haunts you in your dreams. 

It’s important that we realize that everyone’s carrying a heavy burden. It’s important that we realize everyone’s struggling with something. It’s important that we realize that everyone is fighting a hard battle. Because when we do realize that, we treat people differently. That means we surrender our tendency to judge others, to gossip, or put other people down.  

We are challenged to see one another as Christ sees us, women and men who are not perfect but in whom God has limitless love. Sometimes, we even need to see that in ourselves.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they learn to be gentle with themselves because you got your own struggles. And give us the grace to be gentle with other people, because everybody is fighting a hard battle. Life is messy, but nobody can take your hope from you. So hold onto your hope no matter how messy life gets, and share it with everyone who crosses your path.

 



Sunday, March 05, 2017

Be Happy for Lent

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It was only 5 degrees this morning when I went outside to fill the bird feeders and put warm water in the kitty bowls. You might have slept in this Sunday when your alarm clock went off in the morning, what did you do? Did you get straight out of bed, thinking it’s the First Sunday of Lent and you need to get ready to come to church and get your ashes? Or, did you roll over, and think, “I can get a few more minutes of sleep.” What just happened? You just took a few extra minutes of sleep and never got to Mass. Wrong. Resistance just kicked your butt.

Resistance is that sluggish feeling that stops us from doing the things that we know are good for us. Like, I should be coming to church every Sunday especially during Lent. It’s that sense that, “I don’t want to do that,” even though we know it’s the thing we should do. Sometimes it’s the sense that, “You know what, I’m going to do whatever I want even though I absolutely know it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Resistance is a big part of the reason why we often feel like happiness is just outside of our reach. God created each of us for happiness. You got to remember that what happened on Good Friday was designed to restore the possibility of happiness for you and me. Not only in this life, but in the next life. Because God does have this enormous desire that we experience the happiness that he created us for. And resistance absolutely gets in the way of that happiness. It gets in the way of us accomplishing our dreams. It gets in the way of us doing what we know is good for us. It gets in the way of us being the-best-version-of-ourselves. And what I want to help you discover  this Lent is that resistance is real.


So, how did you experience resistance in the last 24 hours? There will be hundreds of temptations to make excuses. You will push the idea out of coming to Mass, or fasting on Friday, or reading the bible, or donating money for the missions, or coming to the Parish Retreat or attending Holy Week services because they’re held on a Thursday or Saturday night, maybe you’ll come to Easter, just maybe, no guarantee. These are your temptations, and behind all those temptations, very often, you’re going to find resistance. What we’re talking about here, this concept of resistance, it’s real. It’s something we experience every day.

That’s really the paradox of happiness. It’s that, we know the things that make us happy, we just don’t do them. We want to be happy. In 90% of the cases, we know the things that will make us happy, but we don’t do them. Why? Resistance.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they keep in mind that in every situation to be holy, either resistance is going to win, or you’re going to win. There’s no middle ground. So when people received ashes on their foreheads, instead of saying: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” That won’t make any of us happy, we offered this blessing prayer:
“Let go of worry and resistance and with the help of God be happy.”


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Give Up Worry for Lent




Lent started for me four weeks ago when I received the news that our parish rectory suffered major water damage due to a frozen pipe. I shared with our people that I was heart broken.  For the past eighteen months, a group of dedicated volunteers have planned to restore the former convent into a hospice home. Now this parish faces another awesome challenge to discern what does Jesus want us to do with the rectory. The initial response is to dry out the damage, assess what it will take to restore the structure and decide what direction is best for the future of the parish. The possibilities can be overwhelming or depending on your perspective an exciting new opportunity.

So this morning is ash Wednesday, and let me suggest that you might want to “give up worry” for Lent.

Lesson #1: Just focus on today. Jesus says, "Do not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." Dr. Seuss explained, "Step with care and great tact, and remember that life's a great balancing act." That said, sometimes we make it worse on ourselves. Sometimes we just make up extra stuff to worry about, like what might happen tomorrow or what could happen day after tomorrow. Dr. Seuss explains, "I've heard there are troubles of more than one kind; some come from ahead, and some come from behind. But I've brought a big bat. I'm all ready, you see; now my troubles are going to have trouble with me!"

Lesson #2: Realize that worry is a waste of time. Jesus says, "Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?" Can we? No. We can't worry a mistake away. Harsh words or actions can't be taken back. And worrying about it simply takes the focus away from what we should be doing: working to move forward and making things right. The irony is that if we stop worrying, we might be able to take some steps forward on the things we are worried about! Dr. Seuss adds, "When things start happening, don't worry, don't stew, just go right along and you'll start happening.

Lesson #3: We have no reason to worry for we are loved and worthy exactly as God designed us. Jesus taught: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these."
Jesus says, look, if God dresses these little flowers so beautifully, will he not even more clothe you, you of little faith? Bottom line: humans and lilies are not that different. We are both creatures molded from God's hands. We are both exquisite and perfect just as we are. Most importantly, we are loved and we are worthy. The main difference is that the lilies know it, and we don't.

Imagine this morning on this first day of Lent: the dawn is beginning to break, the skies are lightening, not quite its cloudy in western New York, the birds are beginning to chirp, and the little lily raises its beautiful face to the morning sun and says, "I feel fat. I hate what I'm wearing. Everyone hates me.” No, a lily is not going to say that. But we will. We will because we just can't trust the gift we've been given. Unlike human beings, lilies know without a doubt they are loved and worthy and beautiful exactly as they are made. There's no worry that they should be something they are not. There is no worry about where they fall short because every moment of their lives is spent living their gift--living simply as God designed them to be. As Dr. Seuss said, "Why fit in when you were born to stand out!"

Let us pray: “The Lord is my shepherd. Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that you remind them we are your beautiful, beloved children of God. Do we not trust? Do we not have the faith that we will be cared for like the lilies of the field or the tiniest of creatures? What is the old saying? Worry or believe. You can't do both.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

You Got To Be Kidding

 

It was such a nice break from the winter cold and ice. Many people skipped Mass to take in the warmth on a 50-plus degree day with sunshine. Last year, we were clearing two feet of snow from a storm. What you missed was perhaps the hardest lesson Jesus ever taught. In a nutshell, “love your enemies.”

Most of us don’t have to look very far to find someone we can’t stand; someone who never listens, and over time we grow to even hate. Our “enemies” are in our hometowns, and they’re even members of our own families. Hatred and revenge cut across all boundaries—they are tragically rooted in our nature. We all know people who have been terribly hurt by others. Where anger got out of control; where a simple innocent encounter turns into a yelling match and a shoving contest; where two family members can no longer be in the same place at the same time; where something awful was done to another person; where the one person feels like Swiss cheese when ganged up on by their fellow neighbors or co-workers, and the worst of human behavior is exposed.

Along comes Jesus who teaches that there is to be no retaliation of any kind, not even measured or proportionate. When someone harms you or tries to take advantage of you, return it with a blessing. And we are to love our neighbor. And by neighbor Jesus means our families, our friends, our fellow parishioners, the strangers, and the illegal immigrants, those we can’t bear to look at or be with. All of them. And after he has laid down all these principles, he adds one more—be holy and love like God loves.

Very few of us think of ourselves as being holy. Oh, we strive for holiness, pray for holiness, and occasionally do holy things. But to be holy, well that’s reserved for the saints. But let me help you understand what it means to be holy.  It means that we will be more compassionate; more forgiving. It means going beyond justice and standing not on rights but responsibility; it means giving more, maybe even so much that it hurts; it surrendering your need to be “right” all the time, it means letting go of your “ego”, it means walking away from confrontation even when the blame is someone else’s; it means responding in silence when to utter even a single word would be to escalate an argument; it means not having to win; not having to get the better of another in any circumstance; and it means re-thinking our basic attitudes in situation where I think I have all the answers.

You got to be kidding, Lord. Impossible you say, beyond our abilities?

Holy and Christ-like?—Yes. No doubt, this is difficult and it’s risky.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that we humbly admit that we can’t do it without your help.  Lord, help us to be holy, as you are holy. Help us to love our neighbor as you do—the stranger, the outcast, the lost, the broken, and the enemy, those close to us and those far away from us. Give us all that we need and hold us up whenever we fall short. We know that you will never give up on us as long as we keep trying.







Sunday, February 12, 2017

All You Need Is Love

 

“All you need is love,” familiar lyrics from days long ago, but this Sunday takes the cake. In the front pew, Chris and Trisha have brought their baby son Ethan Christopher to be baptized. This little one was making cute sounds during the service that led me to say to the congregation, “Ethan has lots to say, maybe it was the salt.” Note, in this Catholic tradition they still use salt in the ceremony as a sign of being preserved by Christ from sin.

This was a “Childrens' Sunday Liturgy” so our young students read the scriptures followed by an invitation to bring all the kids up to the sanctuary for a story about St. Valentine. Remember, “all you need is love” so I share the tradition about St. Valentine curing a little girl of blindness and asked the children for a sign of love. A young voice said that we should give people cards and then a darling “little one” no more than three years old whispered “heart.’ She meant put a heart in the card. Not a dry eye in the congregation.

We continued with the baptism of Ethan, mom and dad, grandparents and godparents were all smiles. The kids joined me around the altar as we said our prayers, but after communion the people were in for a surprise. Gannon, our choir director, had been rehearsing a song with the children for several weeks and what did he choose: “ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.”

After their song, Miss Molly, our religious education coordinator, shared that the children would be passing out a heart sticker to put in your shoe. So our photo shows one of the kids giving a sticker to the family of Ethan Christopher. The symbolism behind the heart sticker is that as we go about our work, we know that Jesus walks with us throughout our day and that we follow in his footsteps. Nice way to end a perfect baptism on another cold, freezing rainy day in North Java. 

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who feel left out in the cold by their faith community. Sometimes the rules and regulations get in the way of the love that Jesus brought into our lives. Forgive them, whomever hurt you, and let Jesus embrace you back with open arms and a warm heart.

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BREAKING NEWS: Holy Family has NEW Facebook page. Please take a moment and join our facebook page and share your comments:
FIRST: Go to your Facebook account
SECOND: Log onto: Holy Family Parish PNCC-North Java
THIRD: Click Follow, Share etc
Let us know if you like the page and add your feedback. fr. matt

Monday, January 16, 2017

BE BOLD FOR LENT



 I saw an ad on the Internet that said: “Don’t give up chocolate for Lent.” It’s only 44 days till Lent that begins on March 1st. Perhaps, too early to think about what you plan to give up. After all, you’re still working on breaking your New Year’s resolutions. Or, more likely you blew them off in the first week.

Giving things up might help us to have a meaningful Lent, but that’s not what Lent is really all about. Lent is about doing something—something bold to become a better husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, friend, a better neighbor etc.

Lent is the perfect time to form new life-giving habits and abandon old self-destructive habits. But most of us just give up chocolate. Then, when Easter arrives, we realize we really haven’t grown spiritually since the beginning of Lent.

Lent is an opportunity to examine your life, give your struggles to God, and invite him to help you become the-best-version-of-yourself.
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So the question we need to take time to reflect on before Lent begins is what do I need to change about myself in order to become the best version of myself?


What if this year you did more than just give up something during Lent? DO SOMETHING LIFE CHANGING!

I have attached the following “You Tube” presentation given by Tim Kibler. He is the founder of Charlotte Comfort Home, the hospice program that plans to renovate the abandoned St. Nicholas convent and restore the building to serve the needs of families In Wyoming County.

Please forward his presentation to everyone on your Facebook list so that more people will BE BOLD and generosity come forward to support this project.