Sunday, January 19, 2020

Jesus Gets in Line With Sinners

On January 17, 2017, while driving home from work, I received a text from Steve, our volunteer custodian, that the rectory had experienced severe water damage. He had trouble getting into the front door, and when he entered, he was shocked to see all the ceiling tiles were floating on the floor. Every room in the house was a foot deep in water including the basement.

In times of darkness, it is easy to despair and throw up our hands towards heaven and scream, “why me, Lord.” This is why it is so important to be reminded that even in times of darkness there is light and that we need to look for it.

I contacted the bishop and shared the news that the rectory has suffered severe damage. He was most sympathetic and shared that the community was responsible to work together to find the best solution for repairs. There were no special funds for this kind of disaster, no experts in the PNCC to help and we could not count on Rome or Scranton to bail us out.

What happened next was a “God moment.” Corey, Harry, Karen, Tina, Brandon and Larry and members of our parish committee immediately contacted the insurance company to begin the restoration process. No one panic, rather, each person rolled up their sleeves to mop the floors, contact the insurance, deigned new plans, tear down the walls, install the furnace, rewire the walls, paint the walls, lay the floors, and do whatever it took for the next three years to give this home a new purpose, a comfort home for the dying. From the darkness of despair came the light of generosity and compassion.

Every one of us has something that we are fighting or facing – whether it’s broken water pipes, or something else that can feel equally as devastating: a loss, a setback, a failure. Whenever we’re in the midst of those dark nights, when we feel completely alone, or overwhelmed… When we think no one understands or cares.

...someone reaches out to you after you’ve experienced a loss;
an unexpected friend stops by to see how you’re doing when you’ve been ill and laid up;

...volunteers from this parish and the community step up to the plate to tear down and rebuild, raise funds, and volunteer to work with residents.

This is Our Lord’s spirit alive and thriving in a community that can change many lives. It is Jesus saying: you’re not alone, you’re noticed, you’re cared for, you matter, and never forget that. You are my daughter and son.

When Jesus came to the river Jordan to be baptized by his cousin John it was not for the forgiveness of his sins. Folks were going out to John the Baptist for his baptism of repentance because they knew how messed up the world was, how messed up their lives were. They knew they themselves had not been “without sin”- doing things they shouldn’t have – not doing things they should.   

Jesus gets in line with the sinners. He enters the waters of repentance that He doesn’t need – but, he wants to be near to meet us in our brokenness, in our guilt and shame. He’s right here with you now in your lowliness. In other words, Jesus is saying: you’re not alone, you’re noticed, you’re cared for, you matter. 

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are experiencing some darkness, poor health, poor decisions and embrace the thought that at this moment the light is shining a path in which you hear the Our Lord’s voice, as He looks at each one of you, saying “This is my beloved daughter, This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Messes in Our Church


I was invited by the plant manager after a presentation to 150 employees to stay for lunch. I’m in line and an employee standing next to me shares that his daughter is in high school and wants to go into medicine. She wants to be a doctor. I gave him information where he might want to start his search for subsidies to pay for her college tuition. When I suggest that he needs a second job, like “Uber” to pay her college bills, he shared that his mother lives at home with him and she has kidney disease and needs constant medical care. When he is working, his sister comes and takes care of their mother. I suggest that she might qualify for home care and that this would give him time to earn extra money.
He shared that three years ago he moved up from South Carolina to Buffalo with his girlfriend. She was diagnosed with cancer and they sought help at Roswell Cancer Center. Sadly, she died two years ago. I put my arm on his shoulder and told him that he has been through hell these past three years so where does he get support. He says that he just keeps plodding along with the messes in his life.
Mary and Joseph, were no strangers to messes in life. Besides delivering a newborn away from their home and relatives, now they are literally running for their lives and getting out of town to a foreign country to escape the evil intentions of a jealous and evil ruler.
This morning I had a very strange dream. I imagined a “manure truck” dumping manure on the front steps of our church. I thought that was outrageous and nasty. But then I recalled that during this past week manure trucks were out in the fields dumping their loads getting the fields ready for next season’s planting.
What does all this mean for us?
The messes that families find themselves in is no fairy tale, children’s story, or crazy dream, rather life is serious business.  Not solemn, but definitely serious.  Scripture reflects this seriousness. There is both good and bad around us and in us, in each of us.  People are born and die; some soon after birth, others as children, some as young adults or in middle age, later – some die naturally and others quite unexpectedly or cruelly or badly.
The good news is that God has not abandoned God’s families to their fate. God has not created this mess and then left us to our own devices.  The story of the Holy Family tells us that God surveyed the mess we made of God’s good creation and acted to be with us and to care for us and to lead us in changing the bad fix that humanity is in.
Family messes can produce a harvest of compassion and generosity that can make our faith community grow now and for future generations. Yes, the church has made a big mess, and many people have chosen to stay away from our churches because they have lost respect for the shepherds who failed to protect our children. So like Joseph we get this crazy dream to move away and stay away from the church so that no one gets hurt, so Jesus and our children remain safe from predators, But remember, the angels came back to Joseph in Egypt and in this dream, he is told to get back home. This time not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth. Interesting in Scripture it was foretold that the root of salvation would come from Nazareth.
The good news for us today is that the Messiah came in the person of Jesus, to begin what has been a long and arduous and sometimes seemingly never-ending rescue operation to pull us and all humanity back from the brink of our own annihilation.
So that’s why we need to email, chat, twitter, Facebook, call or meet face to face with folks in your home, relatives and neighbors and invite them to come back to church. Yes, we need to admit frankly that the church, and we are the church, have made a mess of things, but like good farmers we go back into the fields to spread the manure that will make the soil fertile to plant the seed and produce good fruit again. Like good farmers, the word that we need to spread is “Good News” that the Lord’s Jesus thrives in North Java at Holy Family Church.
In the front of our bulletin it says: 
“Whether you are a lifelong Catholic, a member of a different faith, or new to exploring your spirituality, you will find a home at Holy Family. We come together each week to worship and pray, and to celebrate life as we prepare ourselves for the week ahead. We have great music, sermons, and hospitality to lift our spirits and inspire us for the work and relationships we have. Our outreach to the community gives us all a chance to grow and make a difference in the world. We welcome and love one another as God loves us, with open doors, open minds and open hearts.”
The most important, question for us on the feast day of Holy Family is this: “Are we ready to join the Messiah is this work?”

Sunday, December 29, 2019

When the Cravings Die?


For Christmas, I received a basket with wine and chocolates. The wines were very good, but it was chocolate that I was craving. Each morsel was filled with cappuccino and that is my downfall. I love cappuccino. Think of some of your cravings that make you smile. 

Let me share a story about cravings that come from one of best-loved piece of poetry in the world, the 23rd Psalm. Of course, lots of people only hear it read at funerals. 

Now there's a lot more to this psalm than just a funeral ditty, because the 23rd Psalm is about life, and it shows how the Good Shepherd leads us through all the stages of life's journey. 

The first stage is the “green pastures” of childlike faith. The Lord is my shepherd, and I have everything I need. Green pasture means food and comfort. Still waters mean every thirst is quenched. Restored soul means good health: physical health, mental health, spiritual health. This is what we want our children to believe. This is what we teach them. Little prayers for mealtime: "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest...." Little prayers for bedtime: "Now I lay me down to sleep...." The green pasture of childlike faith, where a child learns that when things go well it is because God is there! So far, so good. 

BUT, we all know that childlike faith cannot last. Every one of us, at some time, has to pass through the shadowy valley of adult anxiety. That childish faith no longer satisfies, and we ask, "Where is God when it hurts?" "Why doesn't God answer my prayer, when I need help so badly?" The shadowy valley of adult anxiety. 

Each of us has to leave the green pasture and walk the valley of shadow. But we don't have to walk it alone. God wants to walk it with us. The shepherd who protects us with a swinging rod. The shepherd with His guiding staff. The shepherd of comfort with a hand to hold. 

If the great truth of childlike faith is that good things happen because God is there, the great discovery of adult faith is that even when things go wrong, God is still there! 

And the image of the psalm changes from shepherd and sheep to a great banquet. Mature faith discovers that God is the surprising host who overwhelms us with grace. 

At the end of our journey, we discover ourselves the guests of honor at a great banquet. We can ask, what have I done to deserve this joy? But there isn't any answer to that question. The joy comes not from what we've done but from what our host is doing. 

I like this part of the psalm the best. Dwelling in the house of the Lord forever means a never-ending buffet, the mother of all potluck dinners, an all-you-can eat gourmet banquet. Chocolate filled with cappuccino and chocolate chip cookies without guilt. And not a lima bean in sight.

Childhood faith discovers that every good thing comes from God. Our adult anxieties are calmed when we discover that God is there even in the dark valleys. And as we near the end of our journey, we realize that all along it has been a love feast, a banquet in our honor, pure undeserved joy.
But anyone who has sat at the banquet table of God is outgrowing those cravings that make us doubt this love. What earthly chocolate chip cookie can compete with the food offered at the altar?  

How do you recognize the Good Shepherd's voice? When the cravings die away. When our need to be impatient, rude or unforgiving dissolves.The Lord is my shepherd, there isn't anything else I want! 

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they hear the voice of God calling them to this banquet. Help us with our anxieties. Listen! Do you hear a voice? I think we're being invited to the banquet.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

From Darkness into Hope

I am debriefing a group of dedicated teachers who are struggling with the death of a student. This student teen had a complicated medical history and sadly surgery and treatment did not bring him back to their classroom. These passionate educators were disgusted and angry that the medical community had failed to bring their precious young person back into their care.

What is clear is that all of us have dark moments in our lives, times when we feel disappointment with God or even anger at him.

No doubt, we have times when we are challenged by struggles in our lives, when circumstances end up overturning our plans and perhaps even riding roughshod over our dreams.

Perhaps a conflict with someone has created an impenetrable wall between you and that person and you have no idea how to restore the relationship. Perhaps shame or guilt is crippling you or someone you love and the offer of grace seems no more real than a mirage. Perhaps simple loneliness is the ghost that haunts your days.

Perhaps illness stalks you or a loved one and effective treatments are elusive or nonexistent. Or perhaps death has brought an end to their suffering, but deepened your own.

In all those circumstances and many more, we may feel disappointed by a Savior who didn’t live up to our expectations. Admit it, you want Jesus to come and you want Him to come right now. You want clear helpful answers to your questions. You want to be relieved of the burden of waking up every day without knowing what you’re supposed to be doing next. You want to put your hand under the pillow and find the answer there like a quarter from the tooth fairy, but morning after morning all you feel is the empty sheet.
Deep down, we secretly hope that if we believe in Jesus, he will use his awe-inspiring, cosmos-shaping powers to make our lives easier. But instead, He calls for us to embrace the bitterness of life and live it more deeply. And instead of easing our suffering, He chose to walk through it with us and teach us how to transform our pain into gateways to healing for ourselves and others.

And so, in answer to the question how do we cope with dark moments that make no sense like, we have to say, He’s the one who opens our eyes and brings us sight when we’re blinded by suspicion, hatred, prejudice or greed.
Jesus is the one who lifts our feet to walk in service to others, to share from our wealth, to reach out in compassion.

Jesus is the one who frees us from our prisons of loneliness, grief and fear.

Jesus is the one who brings good news into our lives even when we doubt God’s presence in our lives. 

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends this Christmas that as we look upon that baby born in the manger, we recognize that He is the Lord God incarnate, the hope of the world, the one who calls us friend, and as you gaze at the babe in the manager, remember He comes to bring us strength, courage and peace in our dark moments. Blessed Christmas, my friends.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Together Time Advent

I’m watching a commercial where the little girl looks out the window at the beautiful snow falling down, but her mom is busy on the computer, her dad is on the phone and her brother can't be distracted from his video game. She starts to walk dejectedly up the stairs to her room when she sees Tick and Tock -- two cats in her family's grandfather clock. She follows the cats to the clockmaker's shop who says there's "lost time," "time that flies" and "together time." She wishes she could get more of "together time" so the clockmaker sends her back with a card. She presents her parents with a card that promises that it's good for one hour of snowman building, and they smile as they go outside to make their memories. Chick-fil-A says that it can help give you and your family the gift of time. I have to admit that I did shed a tear at the end of this commercial. I wonder where that tear came from? Why did it strike such a sensitive spot?

Advent is about preparing ourselves-for a most important event—the coming of Christ—whose date we cannot know? None of us truly understands what it means that “the Son of Man will come,” nor can we pinpoint the day when his kingdom will be fully realized. There is no specific strategic action for us to take here. Rather, we are called to develop habits that will make us and keep us spiritually fit and ready. First among these is the habit of prayer. 

My electric toothbrush has a built-in two-minute timer that frees me to focus on the act of brushing rather than on the passage of time. We might adopt such a mechanism as we strive this Advent to prepare for Christ by deepening our prayer life.  The simple act of setting a smartphone or a kitchen timer to five minutes—or ten, or twenty—will allow us to be fully present as we pray.  Within the frame of those five minutes—or ten, or twenty—we can express regret, give thanks, ask a favor, pray for those we love. Instead of using this time of year to exhaust our credit card limits, Advent becomes a time to spend with Christ as we prepare our hearts for his coming by the daily practice of prayer.

What is prayer? Prayer doesn’t just happen when we kneel or put our hands together and focus and expect things from God. Thinking positive and wishing good for others is a prayer. When you hug a friend. That’s a prayer. When you cook something to nourish family and friends. That’s a prayer. When we send off our dear and near ones and say, ‘drive safely” or ‘be safe’. That’s a prayer. When you are helping someone in need by giving your time and energy. You are praying. When you forgive someone by your heart. That is prayer. Prayer is a vibration. A feeling. A thought. Prayer is the voice of love, friendship, genuine relationships. Prayer is an expression of your silent being.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they set their timers to experience your love, affection and genuine desire to be our friend.

Here are some “Together Time” Advent ideas to celebrate the coming of Christ in serving others:

·      Shop for a gift and donate to a local charity.
·       Visit an elderly home and hand out homemade cookies.
·       Take a few small gifts to a shelter for women and children.
·       Write a letter to a family friend or some troops stationed overseas.
·       Drive to a store that has a Salvation Army bell ringer just to donate (without going into the store to buy anything!).
·       Buy a small gift for a child in the long-term care wing of the children’s ward, and bring a bouquet of flowers for his/her mother.
·       Serve a meal together as a family at a local homeless shelter.
·       Clean out your toy boxes and donate good quality items to an opportunity store.
·       Raid the pantry for canned goods to donate to a charity.
·       Take a plate of cookies and a homemade Christmas card to your  veterinarian or animal shelter, library, church, doctor or dentist office.
·       Anonymously pay for the Santa photos of the person behind you in line at the mall.
·       Wear Santa hats and take some doggie treats to your local shelter.
·       If you go to the woods to chop a Christmas tree, buy an extra tree and bring one home for a neighbor who may not have the resources to get their own.
·       Wear Santa hats and take a garbage bag to clean up garbage from your neighborhood.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Thanksgiving Prayer for Your Family Table


And on the 8th day, God looked down on his farms in North Java and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a disciple of Holy Family.

God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, boil water, stir the sauce, prepare the meatballs, work all morning in the kitchen, mix the salad, bake the desserts, serve our neighbors with a smile for three hours and then run home to get more meatballs. So God made a disciple of Holy Family.”

God said, I need somebody to take down the leaky parish hall windows and replace them with new insulated panes to keep the chill out so our kids can learn in a warm classroom, the AA members can support one another, our seniors can enjoy their luncheon and social activities and our sewing ladies won’t freeze their fingers sewing blankets for newborn babies, kids in hospitals and seniors in nursing homes.

God said, I need somebody to take care of Clayton Park, so nineteen people bought memorial bricks. Then volunteers got down on their knees to ply out the old bricks and carefully insert the engraved stones with beautiful verses and memories of loved ones so that we can take care of anything that breaks and keep the playground safe for our children.

God said, "I need volunteers to teach our kids about God’s love. Moms and dads willing to get the kids ready for church and drive in stormy weather to bring their children to class. So God made a disciple of Holy Family. Because our kids can’t wait to see what their teachers have planned to teach them about God’s love for our little ones.

God said, I need people with faith and creativity, openness and welcoming smiles to work on various projects and many of you accepted the invitation but prefer NOT to be mentioned. So in my quiet way, let me say thank you for your donations for our new insulated windows in the parish hall, flowers for Christmas and Easter, buying winter coats for the poor, getting gifts for children during Advent, cleaning the bathrooms, cutting the grass, planting flowers, plowing the snow, remodeling the rectory into a hospice, planting flowers around our parish, bidding on a pig at the County Fair to feed the hungry through the winter, organizing the Spaghetti Dinner, serving on the Parish Committee, balancing the books, donating religious education supplies, practicing with our kids for their nativity pageant, writing our bulletin, training our altar servers, lectoring at Mass, taking up the collection, increasing your weekly donation, and singing in our choir leading us in praise of God for His goodness and kindness to our farms and homes.

God said, all are welcomed at my table, the divorce and separated, the proud and the humble, the self-righteous and imperfect, the hypocrite and the gossip, the fearful and abused to bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, the people of Holy Family will welcome your family, your children and your soul with peace and good will. So God made a disciple of Holy Family.

Last Sunday, all our parishioners were invited to a gourmet breakfast. It’s my thank you for their daily sacrifices, their generosity and their many acts of kindness that each person brings to this community. Make no mistake, they deserve all the credit for growth of this dynamic Catholic parish.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and humbly pray in thanksgiving for serving as shepherd of this parish. Please feel free to use the following Thanksgiving Prayer for your Family.

"Lord, We feel so blessed to have been given such a wonderful family.
We ask that our roots would be deep in your love. Fill our hearts, friendships and homes with your truth and forgiveness. We thank you for each person, for their unique qualities and special gifts. Watch over each one and keep them safe, Fill their lives with your goodness, Inspire their hearts to follow you, Bless the work of their hands, And weave us all closer together."

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Open to New Possibilities

About a month ago, a friend forwarded an email on Friday afternoon asking if I would be willing to take pictures at his son’s wedding reception on Saturday.

I replied that I am not a professional wedding photographer. His response was “you’re better than you think.” It seems his son forget to hire a photographer for the reception so I was his backup. Well, I’m not afraid to tackle another vocation at this stage in my life so I reached out to a real professional wedding photographer who shared his experience with some practical tips on the web. The website made a list of what a wedding photographer needs to shoot at a wedding like when the bride throws the bouquet, or when the bride dances with her dad. I got to review the photos that he took at previous weddings and made my notes. When the guests arrived, no one knew my cover since I was dressed casual, so I just walked around the hall snapping away and looked for “sacred moments” when family and friends were greeting one another.

During the reception I noticed five young men all sitting together at a table. I asked the father of the groom what’s up with these guys. He shared that they were his son’s best buddies when they were 10 years old. He remembered they use to pile into his kitchen on a Saturday morning and he make them French toast. Now they all live and work around the country and yet they traveled to share the joy of their old buddy’s new vocation.

I only took 150 shots, a wedding pro takes 4,000. I edited my best 10 images and forwarded to this dad. The image he liked the best was his son smiling with his old buddies around the table. I was embarrassed when this dad’s response after he looked at the photos was that they were better than the wedding pictures. 
I feel blessed that my primary vocation has been a spouse to my beloved Sue and to serve as shepherd at Holy Family. However, I am approaching another milestone that offers the possibilities of embracing other vocations.

Some of my Sonshine Friends have offered their encouragement and suggestions that include: mentoring young people for ministry, a forest ranger working with professors to teach college students the physical sciences, photography ambassador for visitors to national parks, and a baker of artisan breads.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that we are open to Your possibilities, Fill us with Your wisdom, grace and courage to step out of our self-imposed limitations and live in your possibilities.