Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Traditions

I have a story about a grandmother who lives with her daughter and son-in-law and two young children. Something happened that made a lasting impression on grandma. Grandma was asked to babysit 3 month old Ben so that her daughter could have some one on one time with her 4 year old Issac. Dad was out of town for business so it was a good weekend to devote to Isaac. Grandma was sitting in their living room and she could hear her daughter getting Isaac’s piggy bank off his shelf.  She heard money clinking as she explained that they were going to the store to buy a toy for a child that may not get one from anyone else. She had him take out some money and had him put it in his pocket. A 4 year old can't really grasp what they were about to do but grandma was impressed that they are starting him out at a young age doing this. They came home from the store with this beautiful big dump truck that they would give to an unknown little boy. Of course, Isaac wanted to play with it and hear the sounds it made but her daughter stood her ground and told him he was not allowed to play with it. Grandma thought that this was a lesson that children should be taught from a very young age, to know that they must help others in need. It may have been hard for Isaac to empty his pockets at the store but non-the less he did it and hopefully it will leave an impression on him to continue doing that in future.

Two weeks ago twenty children came into this sanctuary not to sit on the knee of Santa, but St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. They had been asked by their religion teachers to go home and empty their piggy banks to buy a toy for some poor child in Wyoming County. I did not hear if anyone got grumpy and refused to part with their gift, but on that Sunday you could see the smiles of each child as they came up to St. Nick to give him a toy to help someone they would never see. Incredible, there were over 300 toys piled on the back pew that were delivered to Angel Action. Hopefully, this example will make a lasting impression as the kids as they grow up in life. That reminds me of another story.

Ten minutes before I was getting ready to drive to church, Sue gets a phone call from Maggie our next door neighbor that she thinks Kandee her 15 year old dog had broken its leg. Sue went over to the house and shared that Kandee was hurt and could not pick up her hind end. Kandee is Maggie’s faithful friend who walks along with Maggie on our farm for the past six years. Sue made an appointment with the vet but asked him if I could help put the dog in the car since he weighed over 50 pounds.

On Monday, Sue drove Kandee and Maggie to the vet. Later that morning, I get a call at the office that Kandee had to be put down. The X-rays showed a severe break in the hip and the other leg was also severely damaged. Tears fell from Maggie’s eyes because this dog was her best friend. Maggie was crying and could not be in the exam room, so Sue told Maggie that she would stay with Kandee so he would not be alone. Interruptions always come when we are busy but the decisions we make to help other in needs gives us peace of mind knowing that God is using us to bring His love to those in need. Helping people at the end of their life is what’s taking place next door. The former St. Nicholas convent is taking on a new life after being abandoned for decades. A group of enthusiastic volunteers from this county plan to renovate the convent and make it into the Charlotte Comfort Home, a hospice home for the dying and their families. All will be welcomed to use this free service. Patients don’t have to be Catholic. Anyone from any village or town will be welcomed. The mission of these volunteers is to bring the comfort and compassion of Christ to patients who are dying with hope and dignity. My final story is about this manger in front of the altar. I like you to focus on something you might never have thought about.

The first people to experience the coming of the savior were shepherds, those lowly, uneducated ones who lived among the animals. In our jargon, the misfits of today who might include the divorced, elderly, widows, children, migrants, the poor, physically and emotionally challenged, addicted, gay and anyone demeaned and rejected by society, family, sadly even the church.

Last Sunday, in this sanctuary your children put on a Nativity play. It’s playing on You Tube over the Internet and a wonderful story was published in the Batavia News on Wednesday. One scene that was special for me occurred when Joseph pulled out a blanket for Mary to lay down on to make her comfortable. I never read that in the Scripture, but it showed the compassion of this man for a young girl who already suffered shame for being an unwed woman. So when the angels came to the shepherds and God came into the world born in a feeding trough, we need to realize that Christ came first as Lord and Redeemer to anyone who has feel abandoned and misunderstood.

We are challenged at Christmas to do what Jesus and the angels did: bring the good news of redemption to the outcast and the lowly. The “tidings of great joy (are) to be shared by the whole people,” and no one is to be left out, not even the most hopeless or despicable person.

Christmas means living a life that allows your needs, and your desires, and your talents to all live in harmony. Where you spend your days doing the things that we have a God-given talent for. We are filled with a passion for life. I like to call that, “living in the zone.” The zone that God intends you to be in. God wants us to be alive and thriving, and joyful, and happy. There are many traditions that keep us busy during this season. You made your cookies, cut and decorated your tree, hung the lights, planned your dinner and now you have come tonight to this Christmas Mass.

What people have discovered at Holy Family is that their God-given talents are best used to better this community. It might be visiting the sick in a hospital, or bringing communion to a neighbor, it could be teaching our little ones about Jesus or preparing teens for Confirmation. During Advent, while the kids donated toys, their parents and parishioners donated over 300 gifts to help three poor families in Wyoming County buying socks and underwear. Or, it could be decorating the sanctuary, baking cookies for our social gatherings after Mass, sewing costumes for the children’s Nativity Pageant, or helping to renovate the convent for its future mission. Believe me, Holy Family is not short on using our God given talents to make his presence known. And what do you get in return, not another sweater or chia pet, a power tool or gas grill, maybe a new pony would be nice, but the feeling that God has chosen you to make this a better community, that you are living in the zone, the zone that God intends you to be.

If you ask anyone, what they want out of Christmas, simply put it’s to feel joy with the people that they love. That’s it. I want to have great joy and happiness with my friends, and my family, and my wife, and my children.

The surest way to happiness, is for me to become the-best-version-of-myself. When I strive to be the best dad, and the best husband, the best son, the best brother, the best neighbor, and the best friend that I could possibly be, I don’t have to go chasing after happiness. Happiness finds me. If you want to choose happiness this Christmas, choose to be the-best-version-of-yourself.

Scripture says: Mary gave birth to her first-born and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Christmas is a time to eat and celebrate, but it is also a time when we should realize more deeply that our vocation, like that of Jesus, is to let ourselves be eaten, as Christ’s flesh which is food for the life of the world.

Another tradition comes from a mother who used to set out a little manger for her kids and ask them to place a little piece of straw in it every time they made some small sacrifice: “To make a bed for the baby Jesus.” That’s not bad piety, it’s good theology!

Finally, one tradition you might want to add this year is when you exchange gifts, take 2 or 3 minutes, to say to the other person that you’re giving the gift to, what it is about them that you love, what’s special, and honor them for who they are. Everybody has something that they deserve to be honored for, and everybody needs to be told that they’re loved. Not only does it give you an opportunity to express your love for that person—to tell them why you love them and what’s so special about them—but it slows down Christmas morning and makes it much more about our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with each other. It’s a way for you to focus on the person instead of the gift.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends in gratitude for their support and prayers throughout the years. May the Lord bless you and your family, and give you much happiness and joy with all your loved ones during the Christmas Season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

North Java Church Holds Momentous Natavity Play

Photo by Fr. Matt Kawiak
Youthful members of Holy Family Parish presented a Nativity play, Sunday at Holy Family Parish in North Java. It’s believed to the location’s first full-scale Nativity play in possibly 50 years.

By Matt Surtel Batavia News Assistant Editor
Published by Batavia News on December 21, 2016 at 12:30am

NORTH JAVA — Two children walk down a church’s center aisle dressed as Mary and Joseph
They’re accompanied by more youngsters dressed as shepherds and angels — the stuff of any Nativity play.
But an event on Sunday marked a special return of sorts at Holy Family Parish. Church officials and organizers believe it’s possibly the location’s first true Nativity play in as many as 50 years.
“It honestly happened very organically,” said children’s liturgy teacher Molly Haungs. “We were talking about Christmas and the things we like to do for Christmas. The church once had a Christmas pageant, and the idea was we would do a play.”
Nativity plays were once very common at Christmas time, said Rev. Matt Kawiak, Holy Family’s pastor. But they often took place in conjunction with religious schools. As the latter began closing or consolidating from the 1970s onward, the chances for full-scale plays dwindled.
Holy Family Parish’s play took place during the parish’s regular 10 a.m. Mass.
“We found a Nativity play online and rewrote it so it would be our own, and reflect the things we would want our kids to know, understand and work around,” Haungs said.
About 20 youngsters participated in the play — reflecting the parish’s growth, Haungs noted, since its youth program had only about four children four years ago.
Does a traditional Nativity play still have relevance to young people, in an age of smartphones and wireless entertainment?
Haungs noted the lessons the youngsters gleaned from characters including a second innkeeper, who was too caught up in managing the place to realize what was happening.
“I think that’s kind of our lesson for our day and age with how busy we get and overwhelmed with life in general,” she said. “We can still make room for Jesus. It ends up being this lesson that’s not just for them, but it’s for the adults.
“I know that’s true for me as I’m teaching,” she continued. “There’s a kid that says something that’s so profound and so simple. That’s kind of what this play is about.”
Kawiak said it harkens to a larger impact.
“From my perspective, I see people, families, always searching for purpose in their life,” Kawiak said. “ ... If they’re searching for God and following His will, it’s what they find or doing in life.
“The fact they can share their faith, and that the parents are helping poor families in the community — the fact they’re teaching their children about the importance of God in their life, if that what brings them happiness and helps them grow as a family, I think that becomes contagious,” he continued. “Then it’s passed around the community and that’s why it’s growing.”

Sunday, December 18, 2016

When Your Furnace Is Red Tagged Before Christmas


The director of the county program to help the poor shared that my next-door neighbor had received prior funding six years ago and no longer eligible for future funding. The only problem was that a recent onsite visit suggested that her furnace might be leaking carbon monoxide. So he hands me a free carbon monoxide detector to give to the senior neighbor. Is that it I ask?

Well you could have someone run a test and if the furnace is defective, there might be some special funding available to replace the heating system. I “cold called” a local heating contractor who was generous enough to make a house call. He called back later that day to confirm my worse fears that there were several leaks.

Our neighbor left her home to stay with her sister and Susie is caring for her ten kitties. The director contacted two vendors who came to evaluate and bid on the project. I’m feeling terrible, our senior lady has to evacuate her home, her cats are lonely and cold and I have no idea what special funds will cover the costs of this project. I’m praying for a miracle!

Twenty-four hours goes by and no word, from vendor, contractor or director. I learned that one contractor bowed out of the bidding and the other contractor was busy with other work. But on Friday morning, the director said: “I have awarded the contract, however, we like to make a few changes from oil to propane.” Once again, I’m on the phone begging for favors from a propane dealer and at the end of the week we are a go to begin replacement this morning.

Christmas means living a life that allows your needs, and your desires, and your talents to all live in harmony. Where you spend your days doing the things that we have a God-given talent for. We are filled with a passion for life. I like to call that, “living in the zone.” The zone that God intends you to be in.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they are living in the zone God want you to be. God wants you to be alive and thriving, and joyful and happy. A blessed Christmas to you and all your loved ones.

One more note, in feeding and watering the kitties, we found that this senior’s kitchen sink drains into a bucket, the plumbing underneath is shot! This morning I’m working on another grant. Again, I have no guarantees and ask for your prayers.

Monday, December 12, 2016

St. Nicholas Comes to North Java


Something happened last Sunday that has really made a lasting impression on our parishioners. A grandma has a 4-year-old grandson at her apartment on weekends for some special bonding time since he's having a hard time adjusting to his 3-month-old brother. On Sunday, she babysat for her 3 month old Benjamin, while her daughter in law could have some one on one time with 4-year old Issac. Grandma was sitting in the living room and she could hear her daughter in law getting Isaac's piggy bank off his shelf. She heard money clinking as she explained that they were going to the store to buy a toy for a child that may not get one from anyone else. She had him take out some money and had him put it in his pocket. A 4 year old can't really grasp what they were about to do but grandma was impressed that they are starting out Issac at a young age doing this. They came home from the store with this beautiful big dump truck that they would give to an unknown little boy. Of course, Isaac wanted to play with it and hear the sounds it made but this daughter in law stood her ground and told him he was not allowed to play with it. Grandma thought this was the best example of what children should be taught from a very young age, to know that they must help others in need. It may have been hard for Isaac to empty his pockets at the store but non-the less he did it and hopefully it will leave an impression on him to continue doing that in future years. 

Last Sunday, twenty children came into this sanctuary not to sit on the knee of Santa, but St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. They had been asked by their religion teachers to go home and empty their piggy banks to buy a toy for some poor child in Wyoming County. I did not hear if anyone got grumpy and refused to part with their gift, but on Sunday you could see the smiles of each child as they came up to St. Nick to give him a 100 presents to help kids they would never see. Hopefully, this example will make a lasting impression as they grow up in life. It’s like that God who humbly came down to earth to show us the secret to happiness. It’s not Amazon, or some new IPhone, it’s thinking about other people who are hurting. 

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are giving of themselves this Christmas. Instead of just survivng another hectic holiday, may you thrive knowing that you helped a poor family or child make their season bright. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holy and Unholy Fear


Sadly, since the election, fears have risen that we are on the brink of doom. There’s a fear that’s healthy and good, a sign of maturity and love. There’s also a fear that’s bad, that blocks maturity and love. But this needs explanation.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about fear in the Scriptural passage that says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Too often texts like these, as well as religion in general, have been used to instill an unhealthy fear inside of people in the name of God. We need to live in “holy fear,” but holy fear is a very particular kind of fear that should not be confused with fear, as we normally understand it.

What is “holy fear”? What kind of fear is healthy? What kind of fear triggers wisdom?

Holy fear is love’s fear, namely, the kind of fear that is inspired by love. It’s a fear based upon reverence and respect for a person or a thing we love. When we genuinely love another person we will live inside of a healthy anxiety, a worry that our actions should never grossly disappoint, disrespect, or violate the other person. We live in holy fear when we are anxious not to betray a trust or disrespect someone. But this is very different from being afraid of somebody or being afraid of being punished. 

Bad power and bad leadership intimidate and make others afraid of them. God is never that kind of power or authority. God entered our world as a helpless infant and God’s power still takes that same modality. Babies don’t intimidate, even as they inspire holy fear. We watch our words and our actions around babies not because they threaten us, but rather because their very helplessness and innocence inspire an anxiety in us that makes us want to be at our best around them.

The Gospels are meant to inspire that kind of fear. God is love, a benevolent power, not a power that wants to control and intimidate us, a gracious authority, not someone to be feared. Indeed God is the last person we need to fear. Jesus came to rid us of fear. Virtually every theophany in scripture (an instance where God appears) begins with the words: “Do not be afraid!” What frightens us does not come from God.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that all our relationships are based on a “holy fear’ of respect, tolerance and compassion for one another without prejudice or bigotry. Let us pray for our political leaders that they learn to lead with a “holy fear.”

Sunday, October 23, 2016

And God Made a Disciple of Holy Family

The late Paul Harvey was famous for his radio commentaries and I have used his story entitled “When God Made a Farmer.” Yesterday, the people of Holy Family invited their relatives, neighbors and friends from over 20 towns for a Spaghetti Dinner and Raffle to support this faith community. A record 280 dinners were served and over 90 gift baskets were donated for the celebration. I was humbled and grateful when one of the autumn landscape photos was auctioned for $500.  I like to give you a glimpse of the spirit of this humble community with the following story that begins…

“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, display the desserts and serve the neighbors taking orders with a smile for 3 hours and then run home to get more meatballs because we ran out and listened to complements from people who shared their gratitude for a delicious meal. So God made a disciple of Holy Family.”

"I need somebody with arms strong to help a neighbor whose house had burned down that morning and yet gentle enough to hold their own grandchild. Somebody to call the winning basket numbers, tame cantankerous microphones, wait on hungry neighbors, have to wait to eat until everyone is served and tell the neighbors to be sure to come back real soon -- and mean it." So God made a disciple of Holy Family.”

God said, "I need somebody to set up tables and chairs, spread the tablecloths, decorate with pumpkins and then break them down after standing all day over hot boiling pot of pasta. I need somebody who can decorate a sanctuary like an autumn garden, design a basket with chocolates and toys, crave a wooden bowl or rolling pin from maple and ash, take photos of sunflowers and swans from a local pond, sell raffle and meal tickets and who can wash pots and pans, knives and forks, feed the kids and play cards with the ladies. And who, after harvest season that does not end till the 1st of November will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain'n from 'tractor back,' put in another seventy-two hours." So God made a disciple of Holy Family.”

“God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor's place. So God made a disciple of Holy Family.”

God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church or sometimes twenty-five drive to Holy Family to bring the kids to religion class.

"Somebody who'd invites all people, 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, when you feel the spirit calling you home, 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.”

Lord, I pray for all the volunteers of Holy Family exhausted from a another day spreading the seeds of God’s love. This shepherd is most grateful and know that you are in my humble, daily prayers for your family good health.

fr. matt

Monday, October 10, 2016

Gratitude, Grit or Grouch


I am grateful to the volunteers who worked last Saturday to wash the walls of the rectory to get ready for our future tenants.

Jim shouting let’s get this show on the road, Shirley wiping each venetian blind, Judy and Linda scrubbing the dining room, Steve taking out the broken furniture on the tractor to the dumpster, Roy sledge hammering the contents to fit, Ron helping me scrap off the rubber backing on the porch floor and moving furniture downstairs; Tina wiping the walls, floors and refrigerator, Karen cleaning kitchen cabinets, Sue scrubbing the laundry room, Jean working in the front pallor, Donna cleaning the sinks, Corey washing upstairs bedrooms, Tom putting up the ceiling tiles, Bob bringing in the supplies,  Mary bringing the pizza and wings and getting on her hands and knees in the kitchen.

You could tell we were good Catholics, everyone was on their knees, cleaning the grit. This shepherd was humbled and grateful for a job done with such grace and grit. The rectory now smells like pine sol. There was a moment when I spotted the guys chewing the fat by the garage door while all our ladies were inside scrubbing the walls, so I shouted out the window ”break time over guys lets get back to work.” Moments later they all scattered back to work.

Last Sunday, Jesus cured some lepers and only one came back to say thanks. The lesson teaches us to get moving in gratitude for the love God gives us daily. So cleaning a rectory, making baskets for the Spaghetti Dinner, teaching about God’s love to our kids, decorating the altar, or singing our lungs out in praise of God is our thanks. God wants a personal relationship with each of us. In return, we come each Sunday to thank God for the opportunities He has given us, our life, our families, our farms, our faith, this church.

One last note, before I left the rectory I was given a mission by the scrubbing team. Might I hussle the local furniture store down the road for some free carpeting to put on the floor and maybe even a donation to the Spaghetti Dinner. My new job description includes: "professional beggar." So on my way home, I stopped at Harding Furniture Store and talked to the owner. Without hesitation, he searched for the carpet and wrote out a voucher to be raffled at the church dinner. Then he said this, “I know who you are, and you are doing a wonderful job with that church in North Java.” So I told him: "Many thanks for his donations and most important his compliment of the people of the parish."

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they take two minutes each day and think of something to be grateful to our God. Over time, this spiritual exercise will help us all to be a people of grit, grace and gratitude.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

No Excuses

I just returned from providing emergency critical incident services to a plant where its employees were told that their site was closing and their jobs were moving out of state.

The initial response of the people was shock, disbelief, anger and mistrust. Many of these highly skilled workers have served their company for over 25 years, They are machinists and engineers who design, mode and produce medical devices like heart pacemakers.

Jesus was no stranger to the fact that bad things happen to good people. In fact, this often happens more than once. So what’s should our response be? Initially, no matter how pious or unholy we think some people deserve a watery grave. Nine times out of ten, we know the names of the people who cause us the greatest hurts in life—most of the time they are also people who at one time or another we called our friends and who we may well call “friend” again in the future!

The probability that we will be hurt by one another even in the community of faith is high and ongoing.  Bummer!

But Jesus makes clear that it can never be for the sake of revenge alone that we confront those who hurt us. Our hope is restoration that the offender repents, but our next job is to get off our high horse of confrontation and forgive this person, letting the matter drop for good. 

What’s more, that posture of forgiveness needs to be true even for repeat offenders who do the same thing to you over and over and over.  And let’s be honest, the people whom we know and maybe even love who hurt us tend to inflict the same hurt repeatedly across the years.  “Why is she ALWAYS like that?” we ask about a mother-in-law, a sister, a friend, a coworker.  And the little adverb “always” is apt: those who criticize you for your weight, for your clothing, for the kind of car you drive, for your work habits.

“Keep on forgiving," Jesus says.  But the disciples reply, “Fine, Lord.  We can do that just as soon as you increase our faith.”   We know, I think, where that request came from.   There is more than a hint of an attitude of “Yeah right!” behind this.  Jesus was the Son of God in the flesh.  Easy for HIM to talk.   As someone once said, God forgives wholesale but most of us muddle through on the retail level of forgiveness.  God is a five-star general of forgiveness whereas the rest of us are mere lance corporals.

But Jesus doesn’t let it go at that.  Instead he reaches for a bit of good old gospel hyperbole—“the smallest faith in the world can tell trees to walk."  You’ve got more faith than that right now so don’t go telling me that you don’t have enough in your faith tank to forgive someone seven times in a row.”  

In other words, what you need is not more faith but fewer excuses. 

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that we realize that we already possess the seeds of forgiveness. So forgive corporate, forgive your neighbors, forgive your in-laws and let your faith forgive those who have hurt you as God has forgiven us.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cool spot to pray

There's a gospel story when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to  pray. Unlike customer service chat lines that fail to listen, Jesus promised that when we pray we can expect a response. However, when its time to pray we usually doze off or our thoughts wonder into a thousands directions. Why is it that we get sleepy when we pray? I’m sure you can relate to this problem? It’s not that we don’t pray at all because there are times we pray quite a bite:

On our tear stained pillows, we pray.
At a funeral Mass for Hermie a dear neighbor, we pray.
For Grace, a four-month-old baby in the pediatric intensive unit with her parents and grandparents, we pray.
For my friend Mark, who is in hospice care with terminal cancer, we pray.
For Fr. Don’s weak heart at the VA Hospital in Buffalo, we pray.

We pray to be sober, centered, and less afraid. We pray when the lump is diagnosed malignant. When the money runs out before the month. When the unborn baby hasn’t kicked in a while. We all pray…some
But wouldn’t we all like to pray… More? Better? Deeper? Stronger? With more fire, faith and fever?

Yet we have kids to feed, cows to milk, bills to pay, deadlines to meet. We want to pray, but when? We want to pray, but why? We might as well admit it. Prayer is odd, peculiar, Speaking into space. Lifting words into the sky. We can’t get customer service to answer us, yet God promised He will? Our neighbors are too busy, but God isn’t? Yet, we still have our doubts about prayer.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them a prayer. Not a lecture on prayer, not the doctrine of prayer, He gave them a quotable, repeatable, portable prayer. Let me end this short meditation on another hot summer day with this simple, easy-to-remember, pocket size prayer:

Father, you are good. I need help. Heal me and forgive me. They need help. Thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are feeling hurt, alone and afraid. Let them gaze upon the image on the screen and sense your desire to cool their fears and bring them comfort and healing. Keep on praying my friends, for the more you pray the better, deeper, stronger your prayer will be. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

God Overcomes Scrambled Eggs


Some years ago, a young man came to me for confession. It was a difficult confession for him. He had been having an affair with a girl and she had become pregnant. For a series of reasons, marriage was out of the question. The pregnancy would, irrevocably, disrupt both lives; hers and his, not to even mention the life of the child who would be born. Being a sensitive person, he needed no reminders that he had been irresponsible. He made no attempts to rationalize, to offer excuses, or to escape blame and responsibility. He recognized that he had helped create a situation that was irrevocable, some things would never be quite the same again. He ended his confession on a note of sadness and hopelessness: “There is no way I’ll ever live normally again, beyond this. Even God can’t unscramble an egg!” What this young man was saying was that, for him, there would always be a skeleton in the closet. Ordinary life would limp along, but he would remain forever marked by this mistake.

Today we live in a world and a church in which this kind of brokenness and attitude are becoming more the rule than the exception. For more and more people, there is some skeleton in the closet: a broken marriage, an abortion, a pregnancy outside marriage, a betrayed trust, a broken relationship, a soured affair, a serious mistake, a searing regret; sometimes with a sense of sin, sometimes without it. Sadly, for many, this comes, as it did for the young man, coupled with a hopelessness, a sense that something irrevocable has happened.

What we need more than anything else is a theology of brokenness that relates failure and sin seriously enough to redemption. Too often, what is taught as redemption is little more than harsh dogma: one chance per lifetime, salvation through getting it right, happiness and innocence only when there is nothing to be forgiven. We have too much fear; in the end, of God. Ultimately, we look at the scrambled egg, at our own mistakes and sins, and believe that the loss of a certain grace is irrevocable, that a mistake hangs us. Basically, we do not believe that there is a second chance, let alone 70 x 7 chances, that can be just as life-giving as the first one.

If the Catholicism that I was raised in had a fault, and it did, it was precisely that it did not allow for mistakes. It demanded that you get it right the first time. There was supposed to be no need for a second chance. If you made a mistake, you lived with it and, like the young man, you were doomed to be sad, at least for the rest of your life. A serious mistake was a permanent stigmatization, a mark that you wore like Cain.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they realize that the God we pray to is a God of mercy. We need a theology that tells us that a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance are just as valid as the first one. We need a theology that tells us that mistakes are not forever, that they are not even for a lifetime, that time and grace wash clean, that nothing is irrevocable.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Hugging Prayer For Mother's Day

My Mother taught me many prayers when I was young. Often, they were prayers of comfort, in contrast to my father, who usually taught me prayers to meet life’s challenges.
          I didn’t always think of my Mother’s prayers as prayers, even though that’s what she called them. Sometimes, I just went through them with her to satisfy her. Nevertheless, because they were based on experience, many of them stuck with me.
          This is one of my favorites. I was about six years old at the time. I was sitting outside on a block of concrete, and I was crying. I don’t even know why. I was just crying and crying. My Mother came along and said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “Nothing, leave me alone!” She did - and then I really started crying!
          About 15 minutes later she came back and sat beside me. “You know,” she said, “I have to tell you something. There are going to be a lot of times in your life when you are going to cry, and you won’t know why. You won’t understand and neither will anyone else. You can marry the nicest man in the world, but at times like this he won’t know what to do to help you stop crying.”
          Then, she said she was going to teach me a prayer for the times when I was crying and didn’t know why. She made me get off the cement block and stand up. She said, “Now, put your arms around yourself. “I did but it wasn’t good enough.
          “You’re just folding your arms” she said. “Put them all the way around yourself. Cuddle your body. Hold yourself the way you would hold baby in your arms.
          “Now, after you have a real good hold of yourself, close your eyes and begin to rock yourself. Rock yourself real good, the way you would a baby, and just keep doing it. When you grow up, no matter how old you are, and you are crying and you don’t know why, I want you to rock yourself just like this. As you do it, remember that you are God’s little child, and that God understands why you are crying even if no one else does. And, remember, too, that God holds you close just the way you are holding yourself because God loves you very much. Then just keep rocking yourself and be comforted.”
          Isn’t that a good prayer? I still say it today when I feel bad. I recommend it for you, too. Just stand wherever you are - in the kitchen, in the shop or in the bathroom - and wrap your arms around yourself, tight as you can and rock yourself.
          Before long you’ll be able to feel God holding you in the same way you are holding yourself, and you’ll be comforted the way you were comforted as a child when your mother held you in her arms and rocked you.
          God understands why you are crying, even if no one else does.         

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Yo Yo Sunday

You are going to love this Sonshine moment. It’s “Good Shepherd Sunday” and I’m thinking what can I do to help my parish family understand God’s love for them. The theme is “Nothing can take us out of the Jesus' hand.” So the light bulb goes off and I’m on the phone with a Sonshine friend and ask if he can find a vendor to order 100 “yo yo’s.

On Good Shepherd Sunday we read from the Gospel John: “ I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28).

After the reading, I invite all the kids into the sanctuary. I ask: Do any of you have a yo-yo?  Do you know how to do any tricks with your yo-yo?  I brought my yo-yo this morning and I thought I would give a little demonstration.  I'm not really very good, but I can do a few simple tricks.
Then I bring out yo yo’s for all the kids to practice. What a sight!

Then I shared this story as the kids were playing with their yo yo’s. Did you notice that every one of my tricks started and ended exactly the same way?  Each trick began and ended with the yo-yo in the palm of my hand.  Jesus said, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."  When we give our heart to Jesus and place our life in his hands, we know that we are safe and that nothing can snatch us from his hand.  Oh, we may have our "ups and downs."  We may even stray away at times, but just a little tug will pull us right back into His hand.  Even when we really mess up, like I did on the "around the world" trick, he picks us up and dusts us off and there we are, right back in the palm of His hand.

Then I turned to the congregation, I have a surprise for you. I had the kids pass out yo’yo’s to the whole congregation. I told them to get up from their seats and start practicing. It was an incredible moment of grace, 7 year old's and 70 year old's were pulling their yo-yo’s up and down, people were laughing, making a scene, but everyone was having fun and learned the lesson. What an incredible group of folks who know how to laugh and pray!

You know isn't it great to have the assurance that Jesus has put us in the palm of his hand and that nothing can harm us or take us from his hand!
Then I offered this prayer with the children: “Dear Jesus, we thank you for holding us in your hand and for giving us the promise that nothing can take us from your hands.”

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends to remind them that You are always there to hold us in Your loving and compassionate hands. Let us all never forget that. Get your yo yo and starting practicing your “round the world.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

On My Knees


Last night, I received a call from a long-time friend who wanted to share that his doctor has diagnosed him with prostate cancer. His medical team explained his options, and so he’s quite concerned and needs our prayers.

Then another online friend requested prayers for someone whose teenage children have left home. However, the kids came home and trashed their parent’s apartment. At the same time, this mother’s cancer has returned and she feels overwhelmed.

This morning another friend has been waiting for two weeks after his alcohol evaluation to start detox. He plans to drive to the clinic this morning with his overnight bag in hand and scream, “I’m ready for treatment, what’s taking so long!” In the meantime, he needs his pain medication to control his cancer.

Then last night, yes Sunday night, I was requested to conduct a memorial prayer service for a family whose brother committed suicide. Before the service, I met the brother and sister, nieces, nephew and girlfriend. They shared wonderful stories that he enjoyed riding horses and boating along the canal. However, he struggled with depression.

Imagine yourself standing on a dock beside one of those great old-time sailing vassals. It’s standing there, sails folded, waiting for the wind. Suddenly the breeze comes up, and the captain orders the sails to be hoisted and catches the sail full force and carries the ship away from the dock, where you are standing. Inevitably you are bound to say: “Well, there she’s goes!”

Soon the mighty ship is on the horizon where it looks like a speck before it disappears. It’s still grand and mighty, but it’s left us. We’re standing on the dock quite alone. But imagine on the other side of the ocean people are standing in anticipation and the speck on the horizon becomes larger and they begin to cry something different. They are crying with joy, not abandonment. “Here she comes!” And at the landing there is welcome, joy, embracing and celebration.

When you are on your knees and life is drifting away over the horizon, picture Jesus waiting on the eternal shore, who understands the human heart even when everything has gone wrong. And at that moment, instead of despair, fear and confusion, we are filled with life and hope and in the arms of the One who makes all things new again, the one who says, “Welcome little one. Welcome home.

This Easter season let us pray and remember: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” (Isaiah 40: 11).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are “on their knees” at this moment feeling anxious, exhausted and afraid. The Risen Christ stands on the shore waiting to embrace you in his arms to bring his healing and peace