Monday, October 30, 2017

The Real Meaning of Halloween

Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and a witch walking down the aisle with the processional cross. In tow, our kids from the parish dressed as pirates, princess, skeleton and lady liberty. Pumpkins in the sanctuary and lots of smiles introduced Holy Familys celebration of All Saints Day.
Beyond dressing up and gorging on candy, theres a deeper spiritual meaning that underlies this holyday. As the witch with her wonderful black brim hat stepped up to the lectern she invited the children to pray: “God wants everyone to be a saint.”
She told stories about St Paul, St Peter, and Saint Mother Teresa and the children in chorus shouted: God wants us to be a saint.”
On a side table, our liturgy artists designed a table with pumpkins and leaves and invited our parishioners to bring photos of their loved ones to remember and pray in gratitude for their lives.

Our little witch proclaimed: “These people on our Remembrance Table are fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters who prayed and worked and served Jesus in our homes. We miss them all very much. They were special people who taught us how to love Jesus. Bless them with happiness in heaven and may we always be grateful for their love and kindness to each of us. And the children shouted: “God wants us to be saints.”

Finally, she read, “My name is Maddie. I probably won‘t ever walk on water or get captured by pirates while preaching. But God is helping me be a saint too. I am just an ordinary person doing ordinary things. I wake up every morning and pray to do my best for God. I like to laugh and sing and work. Sometimes I get mad and sometimes I cry but God loves me anyway and wants me to be a saint too.

During the Kiss of Peace, our little saints were invited to walk around the church and share the love of Jesus with hugs and high fives. But most profound was at the end of our celebration, we asked all our grownups to kneel and instructed our children to place their hands over the heads of their parents and neighbors as a blessing and we prayed: “The saints were people like us, weak, with faults like the ones we have; only, they did not take these failings for granted. They led the same lives as we do, only in a more courageous way. We are called to the same holiness to which God called them. May you respond to God’s call with the strength and blessing of the almighty and loving God: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends whose baskets are ready to treat those who come knocking at their door. May your hearts always be filled with treats and gratitude for the kindness and mercy we have received from the saints we have met on our journey of faith.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What Do I Need to Bury


Once a woman was jogging down a dirt road that wound through the fields of corn and she stumbled upon an eating disorder clinic that caters to the wealthy. She veered off the trail onto a groomed cider track, which she discovered was a twelve-step trail. Signs with motivational slogans such as “expect a miracle” lined the trail. The trail ended at a cemetery of tiny craved grave markers. She stopped to read each grave.

“Here lies my resentment of people” someone had written on a tombstone. Others buried such things as cigarettes, an obsession with chocolate, diet pills, a lack of self-discipline, the need to control others, a habit of lying, alcohol and marijuana. She thought to herself, what do I need to bury?

If there were one spiritual corpse common to us all, is the attitude that our sins and shortcomings put us beyond the reach and concern of God. This unbiblical attitude is quite common. I contacted a colleague who deals with alcoholics and drug addicts. I asked this question: “Have you found that people who live with failure each day, that backsliding draws them further from God or presses them toward God?”

This retired school counselor who has been attending AA for 35 years said that it pushes people toward God. She shared stories about alcoholics and addicts who have done terrible things to themselves and their families. Yet in those moments of weakness they are the very moments when they are likely to turn to God, to cry out in desperation. They have failed terribly. Now what? Can they get up again and walk again, or do they stay paralyzed? Through the grace of God, some of them do get up. In fact, she decided there is one key in determining whether an individual can reach recovery; if they deeply believe they are a forgivable child of God. Not a failure-free child of God but a forgivable one.

Francis de Sales wrote: “Now the greater our knowledge of our own misery, the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God.”

You see what I’m trying to get across? Our failures, do not separate us from the love of God. Our fondness’ for sin, does not force God to give up on us.

My dear fellow sinners, my dear fellow failures, there is much to be buried in the graveyard of our spiritual disorder clinic. You and I know what moral failures need to be entombed forever. Even though we walk in the dark valley of addiction or violence in our hearts and hands, God is there. With rod and staff, he offers possibilities, hope, and a better future.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends, who believe that the Lord is indeed forever at my side, even in my worst moments. He forever sees not what I have done, but what I can do.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Don't Blame God

On Monday night, I’m staring at my emails with a message looking for volunteers to help in Las Vegas and provide crisis counseling. Without hesitation, I would have forwarded an email to say that I was available but it seemed that the responses from local counselors would meet their need for onsite debriefing. Later that evening their staffing needs were met. However, on Wednesday, I get a urgent request to provide crisis counseling for a local double murder where one adult was shot and the other committed suicide.

I don't know about you, but it makes me impatient with God. How can God allow people to run wild in their violence? Why doesn't God do something? For that matter why doesn't God do something about the violence and suffering of the innocent in our day?

What is behind all this violence in our world? I want to suggest that part of it is a shocking lack of empathy for other people, for victims, an inability to feel what those who are hurt or dying are feeling. We lack empathy and we hurt and kill others because we have divided the world into “us” and “them”—a distinction, mind you, that is high on Jesus’ list of what is horribly and terribly evil in the world.

For Jesus, there is no “us” and “them,” no Hispanic and Mexican, no blacks and whites, no gay and straight, no Roman Catholic and Polish Catholic. Jesus taught that our neighbor is everyone—especially everyone who is hurting. We must understand and appreciate his or her pain. In fact, it is not too-far-fetched to say that empathy for victims is Christianity’s cardinal virtue.

God's word to us today is a word of judgment. Just as surely as Jesus was judging the religious leaders of his day with the parable of the landowner and tenants, he is judging us. We are called to share what we have with others, that’s why in our parish we bid on a cow to make food for the poor, why we are donating bricks to maintain the playground, why we voted to build a hospice for the dying, why we are preparing our raffle baskets for the Spaghetti Dinner, why we invite you and your family to come join us on Sunday, October 22nd to eat and bid on over a 150 baskets to support our various ministries, because together are producing fruit for God’s kingdom.

Noe when you hear about pain and suffering, the terror in Las Vegas, devastation caused by the hurricanes, an innocent child killed by their parent, don't blame God. And don't respond in anger at God when you see suffering or ask why God permits this and why God doesn't do something. The truth is that God has done something. God came in Jesus Christ to die for our sins and bring new life. And God is doing something in that God has made you and me. We can and are making a difference with God's help.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who have been victims of violence, through abuse, selfishness and greed. Restore our empathy to reach out to anyone who has felt this pain and suffering and let us be a sign of Your comfort and peace.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Why Did You Do That?

A curious thing happened at the county fair this year. Once again, our parish won the bid on a cow to the delight of a 4H student who had won his division. Now his prize would be used to feed many poor families in the county. A person questioned why would the church pay so much money and then give it away. The answer that he was given was profound.
You see the people of this parish have made a choice that when they come to church it not about the buildings, paying the mortgage, or working on a committee. Rather, it’s our opportunity to be another Christ. She shared that all are welcomed in this faith community to learn about the love of the Lord who rejects no one. But our gospel story took her message up another notch.
Once upon a time, a pastor received a note from a family that had become inactive in the church. After listing a series of familiar reasons for their absence, (summer time at the lake, busy weekends with soccer and basketball and vacation trips at Christmas, etc.,) they closed their letter with these words, “But one of these days, don’t be surprised when you look up and see us out there in the congregation, because we just love you, and we just love our church.” “We just love our church;” we just can’t be bothered with showing up and participating in any noticeable way. That is a pretty clear example of saying yes while living no.
Week after week we gather in church and will pray the Lord’s prayer and say, “Forgive us our sins while we forgive those who sin against us.” And yet we go on for years harboring resentments, nursing grudges, withholding grace and forgiveness and reconciliation from others while accepting it for ourselves from God.  Saying yes while living no.
In the parable, it is the Chief Priests and Elders who are accused by Jesus of saying yes while living no. Jesus tells the parable about the two brothers, each of whom was told to go to the vineyard and work.  One says no, but later changes his mind goes to work.  The other says yes, but never shows up at the vineyard. Then Jesus asked the Chief Priests and Elders: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” They say, “The one who went to the field and worked.”
Now, Jesus drives his point home. The tax collectors and prostitutes may have turned their backs on God at one point in their lives, but because they eventually repent and obey and serve God – they are way ahead of the Chief Priests and Elders, who have spent their lives professing their love for God but who have never done any of the works of love and mercy which God asked them to perform.
So, like that person at the county fair who was shocked by the generosity of the parish, we have our excuses for saying no to God. Times when we have resisted the burden of the cross, when we have made it clear that we prefer to go our own way rather than God’s way.
Perhaps we thought it would be easy, but then found out that walking the way of Christ was harder than we thought.  Or perhaps we really, really meant to, but got distracted and waylaid by the troubles and trials of life.  Either way, we all need help, we all need to find a way to say yes and live yes.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who make time to come to church, pray for their family and friends and give a little extra of themselves when least expected.