Sunday, September 22, 2013

Expect the Unexpected


This weekend, I invited the children of the parish to come up into the sanctuary and help me tell a trickster story. The story a was about a Rabbit who challenged a Turtle to a race. Odd thing, the Turtle won with the help of his family members hiding in the tall grasses with their feathers. The children pretended to be Turtle holding their feathers, Rabbit was determined to win the race, so he plucked up the last few ounces of his strength and sprinted up the hill, passing the Turtle with the feather. As Rabbit rounded the last corner and braked to a halt in astonishment. Sitting by the stake, waving his feather proudly was Turtle. He had won the race!

The message is this: In Jesus Christ’s kingdom be prepared to expect and do the unexpected and put one over on the scoffers, the movers and the shakers. Be spiritually clever and live by the surprises of the gospel where people forgive seventy times seven, go two miles when forced to go one, return good for evil, pray for enemies, choose the last place, wash the feet of the slave, and throw banquets for the who can never possible repay. That will turn things upside down and unnerve your worldly masters.

Why? Because, to their amazement, you chose the road less traveled. You choose to live the paradoxes of the gospel and to that degree, in gospel terms, you have acted prudently.

Pope Francis’ vision for the church is an invitation to expect the unexpected. He shared that “the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.”

God prays for us as we reflect: “When the unrighteous see them, they will be shaken with dreadful fear, and they will be amazed at the unexpected salvation of the righteous.” (Wisdom 5:2).
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who do the unexpected and wait on their neighbors and strangers with the dignity of the Lord. Bless you for all the kindness and mercy you offer to those in need. Keep doing the unexpected!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Creative Flair


Two floral designers, Mike and Frank have provided the leadership and inspiration for the local Rochester Floral Association for many years. They sponsored yearly workshops for local flower shops and designers to enhance their designer skills. I had been invited as chaplain to offer the invocation at their dinners and photographed their flower arrangements. Unfortunately, the Rochester Floral Association was disbanded this year in 2013 due to lack of support.

Rochester has long been known as the "Flower City." From where did this moniker come? Back in Rochester's early days, a man named George Ellwanger stumbled upon the infant city of Rochester, as he traveled the Erie Canal from Long Island to Ohio. He had just come over from Europe, and was on his way to learn English while staying with his Ohio relatives. On his brief visit, he noted that the area seemed prime for developing agricultural opportunities. He returned to the area in 1835, quickly taking over the Rochester Seed Store and Horticultural Repository, thanks to his agricultural background. One of his partners was another immigrant, Patrick Barry. Barry had also come over to the New World from Europe, and quickly found himself working in the agricultural industry in Rochester. Together, the men developed the Mount Hope Garden and Nurseries. The men were quickly recognized for having the best dahlias and cut flowers in the area. They became known throughout Upstate New York for their plants, which became hardier due to their location on Lake Ontario.

Later, they pushed to create locally prolific fruit trees in orchards. Orchards were already popular in the area, in part thanks to the efforts of Johnny Appleseed and the local Native American tribes. The success of these two men in propelling Rochester in the horticultural industry led to the nickname, "Flower City." Their legacy has led to numerous greenhouses and nurseries over the years, and a strong love for flowers.

Like these early pioneers, Mike and Frank have inspired florists to create incredible floral arrangements. Despite the demise of the floral association, I’m glad to share that their designer craft continues at Holy Family. In 2012, I took photos of our sanctuary and altar and asked Mike for his ideas on how to decorate the church. Several volunteers in the parish who I refer to as the “Liturgical Art Designer Team” started to decorate the sanctuary. This past Sunday, they designed beautiful autumn corn stalks on each side of the altar. The corn stalks are green and their intention is to continue to add to the display each week in the sanctuary focusing on the harvest of the local farms.

So to Mike and Frank, your legacy goes on despite the sadness of disbanding the association. Ask yourself, what creative flair has God blessed you with and how do you share that with others. Are you a woodworker, a painter, a railroad designer, bake apple pies, jam and jellies, or make a batch of ale or stir up a bottle of cabernet? Can you design a basket for the parish spaghetti supper raffle? Let’s get to work on your unique craft and let your creative juices flow. Yes, we do find God on a canvas, writing poetry, singing hymns, baking bread, anywhere our senses lead us to the Creator.

God prays for us as we reflect: “For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.” (Wisdom 13:5).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who You have blessed with the gift of creativity. Let their flair for the divine shine bright and bring joy to all their family and friends.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Track of Faith


What track in life are you on this morning? Is it despair or fear? Do you prefer to travel alone? Or doubt that God exits? Or that Jesus really cares?

All tracks, our journey on this earth, lead to an empty tomb. The Teacher taught that God hears the cry of the poor. To be poor has nothing to do with how much we have piled up in our bank accounts or garages. But it is a reference to a student who is lost on an exam. They don’t have a clue how to solve the answer and worse they think that they know more than their teacher.

Michael, my brother-in-law, imitated his life after the Master teacher who taught a message of hope in times of death. Come away from your doubts, your anger, your pride and blame—anything that distracts you from the truth. Michael taught Literature for over 35 years and remembered the stories about the resurrection. The final gift Jesus shared with his disciples was “peace.” In Hebrew, “shalom” never denied the reality of suffering and the heartache of pain.

The Book of Wisdom teaches that from our grief, insanity of war, pain and disease comes new life. The resurrection stories that Mike read in his bible are real and not fiction. What track have you chosen to travel?

Mike taught his students to believe in themselves that their studies would prepare them how to live a life of holiness. The track that Mike laid down for us is called faith. His suffering had a purpose to make us a better people—more holy—compassionate, kind, forgiving, generous and grateful. Mike lived a life of holiness and Jesus has taken his hand and led him to the Station of Glory. In gratitude, we need to humble ourselves for people like Mike that God has given to us and believe!

One of Mike’s operating buddies at the funeral reception shared that Mike’s dad Charlie needed someone to help him build another train switch in heaven. When Mike arrived, his dad pulled up his son into heaven and the two are at their workbench building more train scenes and designing more switches to bring all their friends into the Station of Glory.    

As a special tribute to Mike, I found this Railroad Prayer on-line. Forgive me, but I have edited some of the phases and hope all our railroad friends enjoy!

"A Railroad Prayer"
Lord, now that I have flagged You down, I lift up my feet from the rough road of life and plant them safely on the deck of the train of salvation. Let me use the safety lamp known as prudence, and join all the couplings in the train with the strong arm of love. Let my hand lamp be Your message of love for all passengers who board this train. Heavenly Engineer keep all the switches closed that lead off to the sidings, especially those with a blind end. Lord of the track, have every semaphore block along the line show the white light of hope that I may make the run of life without stopping. Conductor of Life may your Beatitudes be our schedule for the journey. With Your guidance help us to finish on schedule and when we pull into the dark station of death, may the Station Master of  Heaven say, "Well done good and faithful traquero (railroad track worker), come and sign the payroll and receive the check of eternal happiness."

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


I am humbled by sharing this reflection after learning this morning that my brother-in-law Michael has been taken into palliative care. His wonderful wife Irma has stood vigil over her “beloved” for the past two months after his third brain surgery to remove a growth that has entwined itself around his brain stem.

Michael has suffered since January battling chronic dizziness and nausea. Still, family and friends were praying and hopeful that God would bring this man comfort and heal him of his complications.

I wonder how many of you have felt disappointed by God or worse downright disgusted that the Creator did not rescue you from some serious medical condition or save you from a fall in life. It takes a” humble” person to pray “Your will be done, Lord.” But the God who failed to answer our prayers has us on our knees as we pray for those miracles or simply save us from another trauma that has overwhelmed us in life.

Are you simply being too needy? Do you think God has a purpose behind all our suffering and pain? The saints had their struggles with human weakness. Yet, their holiness had nothing to do with stuffing their tears, or putting aside their neediness to complain or get angry at God, rather, it came from their perseverance not to abandon the invitation to keep on praying for healing, understanding or a sense of peace. God sees every tear, hears every plea for mercy, and comes to be at our side when we are exhausted and empty.

The miracle comes in the form of family and friends and even medical providers who hear about our concerns and stand by us in a hospital room, or hospice or home to reassure us that we are not alone. God does not bring this any kind sorrow to make us stronger. That’s pure nonsense. Jesus was aware that the human condition has its share of suffering from chemical warfare, to downsizing, to watching family members slip into eternity.

The message for us “needy” people is to listen within our hearts to the voice of a confident, loving God who taught this message. Be at peace little one for you have nothing to fear. You will survive this journey with all its perils. God’s plan may break our heart because we need to surrender our beloved friends who have been a wonderful gift to us in this lifetime. God has power over death or why bother setting foot on this harsh planet to teach us that His love will prevail and not death.

What we humbly need is a heart and soul that believes this message of love and lots of loving hands to hold us up when we are falling apart.

Never fear for God is true to His promise and will raise us all up from our fears, our doubts, and our selfish desire to hand on to this life. In return, we will experience the surprise that brings comfort to our tears and peace to our troubled souls.

God watches over us as we pray: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (Proverbs 3:5).

Lord, I pray for Michael and Irma and all my dear Sonshine Friends who are experiencing a gut check moment. We pray for strength and the humility to place all our trust into your loving hands.