1 Lent 2019

Long ago I read this story in Stephen Covey’s Book:  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and have liked using it ever since.

A professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him.  When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agree that it was.

The professor than picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full.  The student responded with a unanimous YES!

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand.

The students laughed.

“Now”, said the professor as the laughter subsided,

“I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.  The golf balls are the important things: family, children, health, friends, faith, and your favorite passions — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained – your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, house, car.  The sand is everything else – the small stuff.

If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.  The same goes for life. If you spend all you time and energy on the small stuff – you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”

“Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter.  Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

Lent is a time given to us every year to “come to our senses”  — to re-prioritize our lives, to reorganize and re-focus on what is important – the values of the kingdom of God – rather than focusing our time, energy, and attention on what is NOT important:  the values of the world.

And what better place to begin this process – than we do every year on the first Sunday of Lent:  going into the desert with Jesus — where one quickly determines what is essential – and what is not.

Before Jesus began his public ministry by declaring his mission statement in the synagogue at Nazareth:  “I have been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to let the oppressed go free.” — he was first Baptized by John  in the Jordan River – and a voice heard by everyone, including Jesus proclaimed: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus was then immediately led into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he faced  three temptations offered by the devil in order to pull him out of or away from his status of God’s beloved Son. . .  The devil was trying to get Jesus to forget who he was called to be. . .

Jesus was tempted — to use his time and energy and attention to take care of his own well-being (command this stone to become bread)

He was tempted to seek out power and glory (all this will be yours if you but worship me)

And Jesus was tempted to place his faith and trust in someone besides his Father — the all-powerful God (throw yourself down from the temple – and the angels will support you).

Jesus overcame all of these temptations with the power and knowledge of Scripture, and by remembering that he was God’s beloved Son.

Throughout our lives – and most times on a daily basis – we are faced with temptations in order to pull us out of– or away from — our status as beloved sons and daughter of God which we received at the time of our Baptism.  We will be tempted to forget who we are, and the values we stand for – by forgetting to put the golf balls, the important things, into our lives first – and concentrating instead on the pebbles and the sand. . .

The late first lady, Barbara Bush, once told soon to be graduates of Wellesley College in their commencement address:

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal.  You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, a partner.” and I will add:  regret not having spent more time with a merciful God remembering that we are God’s beloved – and will regret time not spent within the loving embrace of a faith community.

What do we value—– what do we expend our time, talent, and treasure in order to achieve— what are the golf balls we put into our jar of life – first?  Lent is a good time to figure all of this out – and the desert is a good place to start.

One more story – about a man who had his priorities right in life – which led to giving us a little quirk in history – and a minor claim to fame of a man from Missouri.

President James Polk spent his last day as President of the United States on March 3, 1849, and at midnight Polk was out of office.  But his successor, General Zachary Taylor, a staunch church goer, refused to be sworn in on March 4, 1849 — because it was a Sunday.

By his actions — Taylor was saying quite loudly: “Going to Church is a higher priority for me than becoming President of the United States.”

He postponed his inauguration until Monday, March 5.  So for one day, U.S. Senator David Atchison of Missouri (buried just up the road in Greenlawn cemetery in Plattsburg) was president of the United States.

Can you think of anything more important than becoming the President of the United States?  Zachary Taylor could – it was going to Church.

What do we value – what do we expend our time, talent, and treasure in order to achieve – what are the golf balls we put into our jar of life – first?  

Lent is a good time to figure all of this out – and going in to the desert with Jesus is a good place to start:    a place to “come to our senses”

and remember that we are God’s beloved – and it is in remembering this – that we will get our priorities, our golf balls,  right – and not be tempted by the pebbles and the sand. . .

Merciful God, we start every Lent by going into the desert with your son.  In the desert, we quickly learn what is essential and what is not – what we need to take with us, and what we need to leave behind.

As we enter into this season of Lent – a season to re-prioritize, to re-organize, to refocus on what is important and what is not – help us to “come to our senses” and know that you alone fulfill all our needs and desires.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, almighty and merciful God.

Just as the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, so, too, you give us this season of Lent every year – so that we can be driven to discern what is of value and what is worth pursuing by our very lives.

Touch us with your grace so we can come to our senses and return to you with all our hearts and minds.

And so with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the hosts and powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim.

Ash Wednesday

St. Luke’s Gospel, from which we will be reading on every Sunday but one during Lent –

is known as the Gospel of Mercy. . .

Mercy, Pope Francis says is essential in living the Christian life – because it not only allows us to understand ourselves and God better – but it also prompts us to recognize and help those in need.

St. Luke, in his Gospel of Mercy, gives us many stories that are found only in his Gospel to illustrate his radical ideas on mercy and compassion.

One of those stories we will read on 4th Sunday of Lent – and it gives us a focus and theme for the Lenten season we will all share together over the next 40 days.

The story – is known by many names:  the loving Father, the pouty brother, the absent mother — but commonly known as the Prodigal Son.

One line in particular gives us our focus and theme – as the younger son in the story, having taken his share of the estate and squandered it on a wild life – longs to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine feed – comes to his senses

And thinks, “How many of my father’s hired

workers have more than enough food to eat” and he heads home to find the loving, and forgiving embrace of his father to welcome him.

Lent is a time given to us every year to “come to our senses” and to get up and go to our heavenly father.

Lent is a time given to us every year to “come to our senses” – to re-prioritize our lives, to reorganize and re-focus on what is important – the values of the kingdom of God —- rather than focusing our time, energy and attention on what is NOT important:  the values of the world.

Lent is a time given to us every year to “come to our senses” returning to our heavenly Father with all our minds, hearts and souls.  Turning from fear – to love – by our prayer, fasting and almsgiving — to run into the loving and forgiving embrace of our father – who is diligently searching the highways and the byways – patiently waiting for us to return.

Loving and merciful God – help us to “come to our senses” during these 40 days – so that when Easter comes, we may be closer to being the people you call us to be.

Come to your Senses Come to your Senses       and return to the Lord. and return to the Lord.

Come to your Senses Come to your Senses       and return to the Lord. and return to the Lord.

Come to your Senses Come to your Senses       and return to the Lord. and return to the Lord.

Come to your Senses Come to your Senses       and return to the Lord. and return to the Lord.

Come to your Senses Come to your Senses       and return to the Lord. and return to the Lord.

Blessing and Distribution of Ashes

Dear brothers and sisters, let us humbly ask God to bless with the abundance of grace these ashes, which we will place on our foreheads as a sign of repentance & renewal.

Merciful God, who are always diligently searching the highways and byways – patiently waiting for us — help us to use this time of Lent to “come to our senses” and return to you with all our minds, hearts, and souls.  

Open our eyes to see that violence, resentment, and revenge have no place in our Christian lives.

Renew in us a humble and contrite spirit – so that when Easter comes – we may be more and more like your son – compassionate, merciful, and forgivingl

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  AMEN!

8 Ordinary Time

Jesus knows human nature so well — he knows how easy it is for us to see the weaknesses and faults of other people — but how hard it is to see those same things in ourselves.  Each of us has a plank in our eyes which blinds us to our faults – while they are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with us – or worked in the same office. . .

Once there was a young monk who committed a serious fault.  Immediately, the older members of the community assembled to pass judgement on him.  However, they would not proceed until their abbot joined them. So they sent the message that they were waiting on him.

The abbot stopped work at his desk and took up an old basket which had many holes in it – filled it with sand, and left his office to meet up with the assembled monks — all the while leaving a trail of sand in his wake – which was leaking out of the holes in the basket.

The elders of the monastery came to meet him and asked him what the reason for the trail of sand was all about – after all, someone was going to have to sweep it up!

The abbot calmly and quietly said:  “my sins are running out behind me. Everywhere I go I leave a trail of faults after me –

only most of the time I don’t see them myself.  And yet today, you want me to sit in judgement on my brother. . .”

On hearing the story, the older monks felt ashamed of themselves.  They quickly pardoned their brother and life went on in the monastery.

Without realizing it, we can become professional fault-finders and critics.  But fault-finders and critics are not the ones who change the world. . .

Jesus tells us to take the beam out of our eye first – and then we can think about removing the splinter from our neighbor’s eye.  We must put our own house in order before daring to try to put someone else’s house in order.

If we neglect this — then we are judging others not to bring about good in their lives, but only to feed something within our own lives – like jealousy or pride.  There are few things that give as much satisfaction to the ego as pointing out the mistakes and faults of others!

But oh how anxious we are to correct others!  If only we could tell someone else their faults – life would be so much better for all of us!  When we think like this, we are thinking only of ourselves. But how we hate and dread being corrected ourselves!  We find it unbearable – especially if it is done by certain people in our lives.

An old sailor who had a pack-a-day smoking habit, took his pet parrot to the vet when it developed a persistent cough.   He was worried that the second-hand smoke had damaged the parrot’s health. He had the vet examine the bird and after a thorough check-up, the vet determined there was nothing wrong with the parrot —- it had merely been imitating the constant cough of its smoking master.

Pseudo-religion, which Jesus calls hypocrisy – is forever trying to make other people better.  True religion –which Jesus consistently calls us to — tries to make only oneself better. And perhaps in making oneself better – making those around them better.

Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.  Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.

What wonderful thoughts to carry with us into Lent!

6 Ordinary Time

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Remember in St. Luke’s Gospel:  this is Jesus’ mission statement:  who he is and what he stands for. It is so clearly exemplified in Luke’s Parable of the Good Samaritan which will hear later this year.  This is Jesus’ mission of mercy — and he invites us, his disciples, to “follow me.” – that is, he wants his mission to become ours.

One excuse we might give for declining Jesus’ invitation – is that we don’t feel worthy enough or qualified enough to follow him.  Hopefully we did a good job of de-bunking that excuse last week —

for when the grace of God is at work within us — all things become possible.  We can join the long list of the most unlikely people God chooses to do great things:  because it isn’t the equipped that are called – it is the called that are equipped.

Just like in our day – Jesus faced people with a radical choice:  to live by the values of the world (the pursuit of money, pleasure, popularity, power, prestige) OR to live by the values of the Kingdom of God  —

which he clearly continues to lay out for us today:  poverty of spirit, cleanness of heart, capacity to show mercy, and the ability to suffer in the cause of right. .

Today we begin reading what is known as St. Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” which continues for the next couple of weeks – until we begin the season of Lent.  We are often cheated out of hearing these readings every three years – because by now, we have usually started Lent: it has been nine years since we have heard these particular readings. . .

So over the next couple of weeks – we hear some radical stuff – love your enemies, pray for those who mistreat you.  Stop judging and you will not be judged. >>

Don’t complain about the splinter in your neighbor’s eye all the while having a plank in your own.  All coming down to the choice we can freely make: building the house of our lives on the solid rock of Christ – or the shifting sands of the world. . .

Like St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount – because Matthew says:  “when Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain and began to teach them” – St. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain – because Luke says:  “Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground” —– both begin with a version of the Beatitudes.  

But there are differences.

Where Matthew has eight Beatitudes, Luke has only four – which he contrasts with four WOES:  which is keeping with his uncompromising style when it comes to following Jesus – the language of Luke is always much more direct and hard-hitting.

Matthew’s Beatitudes propose a set of attitudes which reflect the spirit of the Kingdom – qualities to be found in the truly Christian and human life.  

Luke, on the other hand, speaks of material conditions in this life which will be overturned – much like we hear in Mary’s Magnificat – found only in Luke’s Gospel:  “God has shown might with his arm – dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.”

Radical  stuff!

Again, Luke’s Gospel is known as the Gospel of Mercy. . .  which Pope Francis said is essential in living the Christian life – -because it not only allows us to understand ourselves and God better – but it also prompts us to recognize and help those in need.

Mercy, the Holy Father says, “makes us understand that violence, resentment and revenge have no place in our Christian lives, and the first victim is whoever lives these sentiments – because it deprives them of their own human dignity.”

Additionally, mercy allows us to open the door of our hearts and draw close to those who are “alone and marginalized, recognizing those in need and finding the right words to say to comfort them.”

Luke, in his Gospel of Mercy, gives us many stories that are found only in his Gospel to illustrate his radical ideas:

The sinful woman who bathes the feet of Jesus (7:36-50)

As we already know — the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37)  

The parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and the lost or prodigal son (15:1-32)

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector at prayer (18:9-14)

The call of the tax collector Zacchaeus (19:1-10)

Jesus’ prayer on the cross for the forgiveness of his executioners (23:34)

And Jesus’ words of mercy to the “good thief” (23:39-43) “today you will be with me in paradise.”

All show that no one is outside of the possibility of salvation — offered by Jesus.

I think St. Luke wants to accomplish a couple of things by his radical nature –

1st he wants us to know that there is a cost in following Jesus – being a Christian will not make us popular people – because we are living our lives by a different set of values than everyone else may be living theirs.

2nd – that the choice of following Jesus is not something we make once – and then are finished with – but the choice to follow Jesus requires a commitment from us every day — to seek out the lost and the brokenhearted and those wanting to be healed or those hungering for forgiveness.

And that 3rd – both of these require our full attention – and not just our passing thoughts from time to time as we keep ourselves focused on something else.

Radical thinking – more precisely – radical being and radical acting.  So are we going to commit or not? Or do we now have the excuse we have been looking for – not following Jesus – because we don’t want to go where he leads?  But if we are unwilling to go where our leader, our Good Shepherd wants to lead us — we cannot call ourselves a Christian!!!!!!

Blessed are you who are poor.

Blessed are you who are hungry.

Blessed are you who are weeping.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, and denounce your name as evil – simply because——— you follow after me. . .

5 Ordinary: February 9/10, 2019

So last Sunday – I invited you to think forward a few months – to mid-July, when we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

          This week, I want you to think back a couple of months  – all the way back to the 4th Sunday of Advent — December 22-23. . .

          Yes, our anticipation was running high – as Christmas was just a couple of days away – and there was still so much we had to get done…..

          And that’s a disadvantage of Advent – sometimes we are so focused on Christmas that we forget Advent is a season of watching and waiting – of preparing ourselves – more than our houses – for the coming of the Messiah.

          But on that 4th Sunday of Advent – we had a guest speaker:  the prophet Micah.  Who, among other things, reminded us that sometimes when it comes to our encountering and experiencing God – we have thoughts and feelings of being unworthy.

          Yes, the thought that when it comes to opening oneself to the great free gift of God’s love – we should be passed over – because somehow we don’t deserve such a gift.

          Peter, who we will come to know as Mr. walk-on-water and in our Catholic tradition as the 1st Pope  — is certainly caught up in this way of thinking and feeling:  “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person.”

          But Jesus counters Peter’s thinking — and all who may be lead to believe such things (which just might include you and me) by saying:  “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men and women.”

          You see God, and remember Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God —

God has a long track record of picking the most unlikely of people and allowing them to do great things. . .

          Abraham was old.

          Elijah was suicidal.

          Joseph was abused.

          Job went bankrupt.

          Moses had  a speech problem.

          Gideon was afraid.

          Samson was a womanizer.

          Rahab was a prostitute.

          Noah was a drunk.

          Jeremiah was young.

          Jacob was a cheater.

          David was a murderer.

          Jonah ran from God.

          Naomi was a widow.

And as we know, Peter, the one who walked on water and became the 1st Pope:  denied Jesus three times.

          Martha worried about everything.

          Zacchaeus was small and money hungry.

          The disciples feel asleep while praying.

          And Paul – a Pharisee, persecuted Christians before becoming one.

          If you ever feel like you aren’t worthy enough to hear Jesus’ call of “come follow me” – then remember that God has a long track record of picking the most unlikely of people and allowing  them to do great things.

          God uses flawed people (which more than likely includes you and me) to share HOPE to a broken world.  In Christ we find renewal and mending.  Jesus did not call the equipped, he equipped the called. 

And no matter what you’ve been through in life – remember that the same power that conquered the grave — lives within you.

          Remember – apart from God’s grace – we are just splendid sinners, lovable losers, miserable misfits and fantastic failures.  But with God’s grace working through us ——-each of us can succeed at being everything God intends us to be:  for all things are possible with God.  So we have no excuses to heed Jesus’ call:  come follow me!

4th Ordinary, Feb. 2/3

Last week, we heard in the Gospel of Luke how Jesus travelled back home to Nazareth – where he went into the synagogue – when he opened the holy scroll of Scripture and read from the prophet Isaiah:

          “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tiding to the poor.  To proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

                    St. Luke’s Gospel is known as the “Gospel of Mercy”.  Now while each of the other Gospels:  Matthew, Mark and John – do show the mercy of God at work through Jesus – St. Luke emphasizes this aspect of Jesus’ ministry in a profound fashion.

           It was thought that Luke was a doctor, a physician  – so Luke was accustomed to the sufferings of humanity – and so he draws from his own experiences, highlighting the Lord as a kind of “divine physician” and stressed Jesus’ tenderness, concern, and kindness.

          This mercy of Jesus culminates in Luke’s Gospel as Jesus hangs on the cross and says of his executors:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And to one of the thieves hanging with him:  “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”  Both unique sayings to Luke’s Gospel – because for St. Luke – no one is outside of the possibility of salvation offered by Jesus!

          How one understands the role of Jesus as the Christ shapes one’s understanding of discipleship.  Jesus is the model to be imitated.  Jesus is empowered by the Spirit, he is compassionate toward the poor and the oppressed, he heals and forgives, he prays, and he dies a model martyr’s death.

          And as disciples — we are called with an unconditional, absolute, person-centered call:  “Follow me.”

                    And there are two responses we can have – both found in today’s Gospel reading: 

          Either we “speak highly of Jesus and are amazed at the gracious words that come from his mouth” and we are moved to action to build the kingdom of God in our midst.

OR   we are filled with fury and want to drive Jesus out of town – or at least – out of our lives – and choose not to imitate the divine physician in our words and actions.

          There is a story we will hear in Luke’s Gospel – that we hear ONLY in Luke’s Gospel – which I think is one of the pivotal stories which puts all of this into perspective. . . 

Now we don’t hear this story until the middle of the summer –  July 14th — during our long stretch of Ordinary Time – and yet we are all so familiar with it — The story of the Good Samaritan.

          Let’s save ourselves some time — unless we are willing to commit to being the one, the Samaritan – who stops and helps his brother in need — instead of being like the priest and the Levite – who pass him by

–unless we are going to commit ourselves to building the kingdom by seeking out the lost and brokenhearted, those seeking to be healed or hungering for forgiveness       —then why sit here week after week – listening to the Gospel read to us???

          Accept – in doing that – maybe our hearts will eventually  be softened to accept that unconditional, absolute, and person-centered call:  COME FOLLOW ME!