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Monday, December 10, 2018

Do You Have FoMO?! (2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Have you ever experienced a strong sense of anxiety because you might be missing out on a great party or similar event? Have you ever had a nagging fear that maybe your friends are doing something without you? This feeling can put you in a terrible mood, it can lead you to check your phone compulsively for messages, and many people will get on social media to see what their friends are doing to make sure they didn’t miss something incredible. This experience, this feeling, has a name. Even though I think it sounds more like a cartoon character, it is no joke. The word is FoMo (F-O-M-O) and it is an acronym for the phrase “Fear of Missing Out.” FoMo is something that most, if not all of us, have felt at some time or another. It is something that teens and young people are especially familiar with because of the ways social media pervades modern life. And while the word “FoMo” might be something relatively recent, the feeling is as old as the human race. All of us hate to miss out on something good or interesting. That’s why people rubberneck on the highway after an accident. They don’t need to see it but wouldn’t it be terrible to drive past something everyone might be talking about? That’s why people run out to scoop up great deals on things they don’t really need or can’t afford. It would be wrong to pass up such a bargain! Or, some of my friends are going to do something I don’t enjoy but I want to go anyway because I can’t stand the idea of them having fun without me. I could give more examples but you get the idea.

The reality is that people lose sleep over this stuff. FoMo keeps many people from enjoying the good things they actually have while they worry about something that may not even happen. Truthfully, most of things we fear missing out on, while they seem important at the time, really aren’t that significant. 

A good question for us to think about in this brief Advent season is this: Are we as worried about missing out on spiritual opportunities as we are about social ones? Are we paying as much attention to the invitations God is sending us to spend time with him as we are to the invites and evites from our friends and family? Are we equally anxious about missing out on the incredible deal to receive forgiveness of our sins, to experience peace and joy in a personal relationship with God, as we are about something on Black Friday or Cyber Monday?

Honestly, probably not. Most of us, myself included, often have FoMo over the wrong things and as a result, we miss out on what is truly important and worthwhile. Fear of missing out on trivial things leads us to become neurotic and needy. It makes us paranoid and suspicious and makes it hard to enjoy the blessings we have.

By comparison, when we have a holy fear of missing out on the good things God wants to give us, we become more grateful and in tune with the gifts we have received. When we are on the lookout for God and his blessings in our daily lives, amazing things happen. We can find goodness in situations where others only see hardship. We begin to see a silver lining in places of defeat, disappointment, or hurt. There is nothing negative that can’t be turned around or redeemed or blessed by God. 

Fear of missing out on the right things is the beginning of holiness. It’s what propelled the saints to make the most of their gifts, their lives and do their part to make the Church and world a little bit better. 

We see this principle at work in our readings this week. Baruch, who was the right-hand man of Jeremiah, is exhorting the people not to give up. Even though their entire world has been destroyed and they are in slavery. He doesn’t want them to miss out on the coming of God, who will defeat their enemies and restore them to a place of peace, joy, and blessing. John the Baptist is doing the same thing as he preaches his baptism of repentance. He quotes the prophet Isaiah as he encourages all who hear him to, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Baruch and John realize that the kingdom of God, just like life itself, can speed right past us if we are not vigilant and watchful for its presence. They don’t want us to miss it so we are told to prepare a road, a path, a highway, so the love and glory of God can travel as fast as possible into our heart, mind, and soul.
Consider the spiritual opportunities we have right now. Do we realize we have multiple options to experience God’s complete forgiveness in the sacrament of confession? Or that we can receive the Eucharist any day of the week at daily Mass here or at any one of the many parishes nearby? Each of us has the chance to show God’s love to the people around us with a kind word of praise or affirmation, a mindful act of kindness, or a thoughtful prayer for someone who is hurting. These, and many more, are the occasions we have to love, forgive, and grow for our benefit and the good of others.  

Advent is an opportunity stop and think about what gives us FoMo. What are we afraid of missing out on? Even if they aren’t the correct things, there is still time in this beautiful season to make things right, to prepare the way for the Lord when he arrives anew in our hearts this Christmas. May we fear missing out on the proper things, the most important things this advent season so we can grow in holiness and receive the abundant blessings God wants to share with us. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

YourSuffering Won't Last Forever (1st Sunday of Advent)

To listen to this homily, click here.

For high school, I went to a college-prep boarding school that was also a seminary. At the time, there were only three places in the US where a young man could go to start studying for the priesthood while in high school and this was the closest, located in Hannibal, Missouri. As you can imagine, there was not a huge number of guys ready to make that commitment and live away from home, with strict rules, no girlfriends, no cars, and only about 14 hours of unscheduled time each week! In fact, during my years there, there were never more than 30 students across all four years but we were still expected to field a basketball and soccer team to play against the other schools in the area. As you can imagine, we were terrible. we made a lot of other bad teams feel great about themselves. I suppose one benefit was that we practiced a lot of humility, whether we wanted to or not. 

One of the things that sticks in my memory from those futile sporting days was the conditioning drills the coach would put us through. The worst were the sprints! At the end of practice, he would line us up and have us run as fast as we could until he blew his whistle, then we would stop, recover, and begin again when he blew the whistle once more. The worst part wasn’t even the sprinting, it was not knowing how many sprints you had to do, how long each would last, and how long you would get to recover in between.

Human beings can endure tremendous hardship when they know what or who they are suffering for and when it might end. It is the uncertainty that can break a person’s resolve.
The readings this weekend are all about hanging in there and not giving up. They are God’s version of a pep-talk where he tells us to keep fighting, keep struggling because we are almost through the worst of it. 

In our first reading from the book of Jeremiah, something terrible is happening. For the first half of the prophet’s ministry, he goes about warning people to repent, to listen to God’s commands and stop putting their trust in worldly kings and power. He warns them if they don’t listen, the worst possible things will happen. Well, the people don’t like Jeremiah’s message and they don’t listen to anything he has to say and of course they reach a point of no return. They back the wrong king who gets defeated by the Babylonians who then punish Israel by destroying their cities and sending them away to Babylon as slaves. This is a full-on armageddon type of disaster and Jeremiah is right in the middle of it. The second half of Jeremiah’s ministry is passing along God’s consolation, where the Lord essentially says, “I tried to warn you and you didn’t listen so you had to be punished. But this punishment won’t last forever. Just stay faithful to me and I will make things right.”

In the Old Testament, God loves to speak through the signs and actions of his prophets. In the chapter right before today’s reading, the Lord tells Jeremiah to go buy some land. Keep in mind that Babylonian armies are closing in on Jerusalem. They are burning cities, slaughtering populations, and shipping the survivors away as slaves. This is not the time you would expect for a real estate deal, although I suppose it was probably a buyer’s market! Jeremiah does what the Lord asks, buys the property and then puts the deed into a jar and buries it. When people ask him what in the world he is doing, he tells them this is their sign, that a time will come when they return and claim this land once again and that deed will mean something. Their punishment and suffering will not last forever. In other words, hang in there! 
Something similar is happening in the gospel. However, for Jesus’ disciples, life is great right now. Even though the Scribes and Pharisees want to put him to death, he is a fan favorite, working miracles, healing the sick and drawing huge crowds wherever he goes. As his inner circle, the followers of Jesus soaked in all this praise and glory and some of them even argued amongst themselves who was the greatest. But Jesus sees what is coming, He knows his victory will only take place on the cross after indescribable agony and suffering. He knows the confusion and fear that will follow for his apostles who, like the people of Jeremiah’s time, wanted to follow an earthly model of kingship and power. Their world will be shattered as they face persecution, exile, and even martyrdom for what they believe. Jesus’ words today, at the beginning of our Advent season, are words of hope in the midst of darkness. He doesn’t pull punches. “Terrifying times are ahead. People will die of fright. Nations will be in dismay.” But you, you who believe and follow me. Stand up straight, lift up your heads because the time of redemption is near!” 

The apostles didn’t get it at the time, when everything was still going great. But once Jesus is crucified and they are persecuted, they will reflect on his words and understand that he was encouraging them not to give up. He was telling them their time of suffering and pain had a limit and would not last forever; all they had to do was be faithful, keep holding on, and things would eventually get better.

This message is just as relevant for you and me today. We see a lot of bad things happening in our world and tremendous human suffering everywhere. There seems to be corruption and selfishness at every level of power. Even in our Church, we see horrible things that have taken place and innocence lost. It seems to get closer and closer to home like the poor woman murdered at Catholic Supply two weeks ago. It can be tempting to chase after worldly power to solve these problems and make things right. Or we can think that fear is the new way to survive as we withdraw from the world and just hope everything will pass over us. But a better way is given to us in this first week of Advent from the words of Jeremiah and the wisdom of Jesus: 'Hang in there! Times will get dark, things will get rough. But they will not last forever. Stay true to me, lift up your heads and one day you will see, I will bring victory and joy where world only saw pain and defeat!’ 

The rest of this short advent season is deepening our belief in this promise and remembering the many ways God has always kept his promises, albeit in unexpected ways. May we join with the psalmist in saying, “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.”

Monday, November 26, 2018

Viva Christo Rey!! (Solemnity of Christ the King)

To listen to this homily, click here.

In 2006, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary began a program for the seminarians to learn Spanish. My classmates and I were the first participants in this program, which sent us to Mexico City to be immersed in the language and culture of that country. We spent five weeks of our summer learning the basics of Mexican culture and language. We discovered some crucial information very quickly: don't drink water from the tap, don't eat fruits or vegetables washed with tap water, and make sure that the water you buy has an unbroken seal around the top. Some of us found this out the hard way. But one of the most interesting things I learned during my time there was the popular devotion surrounding a young man named Blessed Miguel Pro.

Blessed Miguel was born in 1891 in the area of Guadalupe to a prosperous family. By all accounts he was the life of the party, often disposed to practical jokes, mischief, and dangerous stunts. He was a handsome young man, very intelligent and witty, and he enjoyed socializing with the senoritas as much as they liked spending time with him. As the eldest son in the family, he was in line to take over the profitable family business and live a comfortable life. 

But when he turned twenty, Blessed Miguel discovered God was calling him to the priesthood. He gave up everything he had and joined the Jesuit order. He had to study outside of his native Mexico because the country had become violently anti-catholic. He was finally ordained a priest in 1925, at the age of 34 and he returned home the following year. From this time on, Blessed Miguel Pro became something of a legend to both friends and enemies, because of his courage and cleverness.

The persecution of Catholics was in full-swing, churches were closed, and the only priests remaining were those who were hiding. Blessed Miguel used all of his cleverness to disguise his identity in order to carry out his priestly ministry. He dressed up as a beggar to do baptisms, he would disguise himself as a police officer to visit Catholics in jail, and he would wear a fancy suit to visit wealthy neighborhoods, appearing as a salesman while begging for the poor. 

Eventually he was captured by the government and sentenced to death by firing squad. Unafraid, he knelt down, a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and prayed for the men who were about to shoot him. He refused a blindfold and faced his executioners bravely. In his final moments on this earth, he stretched out his hands, imitating Christ on the cross and exclaimed "Viva Christo Rey" - which means "Long live Christ the King." His death energized the Cristeros movement, which eventually forced the Mexican government to stop persecuting the Catholic Church and recognize the rights of the poor. This struggle was made into a movie, called For Greater Glory.

The life and witness of Blessed Miguel Pro points to the feast we celebrate today, the feast of Christ the King. His last words of "long live Christ the King" were the culmination of a life that loudly proclaimed that truth. Here was a man who was able to give up all he had, including his life, because his allegiance was first and foremost to Christ. This feast day invites us to do the same in our own lives. It should make us ask questions about what or who it is that we serve. 

Do we allow Christ to be Lord of our lives and king of our hearts? Or do we allow a desire for earthly power, personal autonomy, and worldly comfort to take hold of us? Do we choose Christ’s version of power, with its mandate to serve and sacrifice ourselves? Or do we seek the power of this world, which so often crushes and dominates?

At this time, we still enjoy religious liberty in our country. But anyone who is aware of the social climate knows that even now in our country some of the core values of our faith are under attack. In many corners of our culture, it is not Christ who is king but rather cash, power, prestige, comfort, convenience, and unlimited personal freedom. Sadly, we see people who call themselves Catholic who embrace these things rather than Christ. The same can happen to you and me, if we do not give Jesus pride of place in all that we think, do, and say.

So how, practically speaking, do we make Christ the king of our lives? How can we be sure that we are not just paying lip-service to the King of kings and the Lord of lords? Asking a few simple questions can put us on the right track. Do I give Christ some quality time each and every day in silent prayer? Do I allow him to speak to me and do I listen to what he says? Or, do I simply assault him with requests, demands, and complaints? Do I worship him at Mass, at least once a week on Sundays or am I counting the minutes until I am out of church? Do I know who Jesus is, both through reflective prayer and through the Scriptures, in which he reveals himself? Is my life about taking care of myself or is it centered on pleasing God and taking care of others? Am I investing the best of who I am, the best of what I have into the things of this world or do I give the best of everything to the greater honor and glory of God?

In some way, each of us can do better in most, if not all, of these areas. Celebrating Christ as King means letting him rule over us in our daily lives and not just in the times we find ourselves here in church. Jesus has promised wonderful things to those who love him and follow him during their time on earth. But he does require us to listen to him and to be led by his word. This is demonstrated not by what we say but by how we live. Through the grace of God and the example of Blessed Miguel Pro, may our lives daily proclaim, "Long Live Christ the King!" 

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Widows' Might (32nd Sunday of OT, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

I am, by nature, a cautious person. Maybe that’s due to my place in the birth order; the oldest child is normally not a risk-taker. I like to have every scenario covered. I keep flashlights in my car and in the rectory. I have water filters in multiple locations in case of a natural disaster or zombie apocalypse. My car is a moving triage vehicle with a first-aid kit, jumper cables, air compressor, blanket, and fire-starter and tool set. This cautious approach can be helpful, except when I fall into it dealing with God. There are moments when I am cautious with God and his invitations. I rely on my own wisdom and preparation, I consider the earthly odds rather than going “all in” with what God offers.
Today we meet two widows who do not treat the Lord with caution. Both are everyday, hard working women. Both are poor. Both put their trust in God. Both are rewarded for their faith. 

The first widow is from Zarephath, a coastal city on the Mediterranean, northwest of the Kingdom of Israel. Elijah traveled through this land during a famine. This woman was poor. When Elijah met up with her, she was putting her last scraps together for a final meal before she and her son would die. Imagine her as one of the 1 billion starving people in the world today. Imagine her son as one of the 3 million children who die of starvation each year. Now a stranger, the prophet Elijah, goes up to this woman and asks for food in the name of the Lord. Hospitality to strangers was a law of God. Should the widow turn from God’s law or should she share the little she had? The woman put her total trust in God, and she received enough for her and her son to eat for a full year, when the famine finally ended. 
The second widow from the Gospel puts two small coins into the Temple treasury. Jesus was people-watching, observing the people’s giving. There were big shows as some of the wealthy came forward letting everyone know about their great generosity. After all, the money from the wealthy had paid for most of the rebuilding of the Temple. What value did the widow’s small coins have next to their thousands? But Jesus knew how much she was really giving. It was far more than two small coins. Her donation, although it seemed insignificant, was tremendous because she gave all she had. Her donation was an act of putting her faith in God to care for her. 

What these two widows did is extremely difficult for us. I know there are many of you with great faith, but I also know that no matter how great our faith, it is extremely difficult to put our total trust in God. There is something within us all that looks for solutions to our problems outside of the realm of faith. Perhaps as rugged individualists, we think we can solve our own problems, conquer obstacles ourselves. Certainly, we are all tempted to believe that enough money applied in the right places can heal all ills. 

The great lie of our time is that money and possessions can solve our problems and provide safety. It is the job of advertisers to convince us that we can buy happiness, and they have done their job well. The truth is, among those who have been blessed with material success, the happiest are those who trust in God, not in their wealth. All you have to do is look at the many sad examples of rich and famous people who spend their lives and fortunes looking for happiness everywhere but in God. It's important to note that being rich doesn’t make you sinful nor does being poor make you a saint but rather where you put your trust and hope.

The radical message of today's readings is that we must place our confidence in God rather than in material possessions. This is difficult because it demands our practicing the forgotten virtue of humility. Humble people recognize where they stand before God. Humble people recognize their profound need for God. Humble people are certain that the presence of God in their life is fundamental to happiness. 

The two widows gave from their substance. They put their trust in God, shouting with their actions that his presence in their lives was infinitely more important than any single thing they owned, even more important than everything they owned. They give us the example of ideal Christians, humbly trusting in God and generously returning the blessings they received from him.. 

These are not easy times to be Christian. Gospel values are ignored, or, at least, not given their proper priority. Many ignore life issues, from conception to natural death, and only worry about other, lesser issues. From grade school through college, our children are immersed in the glorification of secular values along with the subtle and not so subtle mocking of all who believe in the spiritual. We turn to the Church, but sometimes we find priests and bishops who are more concerned about careers or comfort than caring for the flock. Maybe that is a blessing in disguise because it forces us to choose Christ and be a deliberate disciple.

When we feel overwhelmed we need to put our trust in God. No where in scripture did He say that His followers would be in the majority. He never said that following him would make you wealthy, comfortable, or popular with everyone. But He did say that He would be with us every step of the way. Like the two widows, we need to give Him our all. We need to put our faith and our trust in Him, and we need to be assured that He sees us; He knows us, and He cares for us. This Divine Assistance stays with us always, no matter how rich or poor we are. 

I hope we can learn from the two widows in our readings and try not to be so cautious with God. I pray we can support each other in generosity and faith so, like these holy women, we will always know what is truly important and share freely with God and others.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Assume the Best (31st Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

If you are a faithful, observant Jew, there is nothing more important to living a good life, than the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. These inspired writings of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy lay a foundation for how to follow the Lord. In the Torah, 613 mosaic laws, including the 10 commandments, are laid out for the faithful to follow. Over the centuries, rabbis and scholars would build secondary laws around the 613 laws to keep people from breaking them. Think of them as a sort of fence, so you wouldn’t even come close to stepping on the sacred grass of the law. Over the centuries these became more and more complicated and technical, almost to the point of being ridiculous and distracting people from God rather than pointing them towards him. To be clear, I am talking about the laws of men, not the 613 laws given by God to Moses and the prophets. They started with good intentions but almost becoming an end in themselves. How many steps could you take on the sabbath? Were you carrying water? What constituted a step? etc…

It was this technical, legalistic mindset that motivated the enemies of Jesus. They would constantly propose scenarios with the law to try to trick him so they could discredit and kill him. For many of the scribes and pharisees, religion was all about legalism and ritual rather than relationship with God. It would have been very easy for Jesus to roll his eyes today, when this scribe asks which of the 613 laws is the greatest. He had been asked these questions many times before and he had shut down his critics. We would all understand if he assumed the worst in the scribe, especially since his experiences with them, over and over again, was negative because of their malice and lack of faith. 

But notice what Jesus does. He assumes the best in this scribe and instead of being cynical, believes he might actually want to learn something. Jesus listens to the question and answers with a thoughtfulness and wisdom which moves the scribe to exclaim that this answer is perfect, “That God is One and there is no other than he.’ And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Jesus sees that this scribe is different, that he is seeking understanding and to truly know how to follow the law in the way that will most satisfy God. And Jesus’ willingness to engage him respectfully, thoughtfully, and with a loving desire to lead him to the kingdom, leads the man to grow in faith and come to a greater understanding of the law. His act of faith moves Jesus to say, “ you are not far from the kingdom of God”!!

The reflection I offer you for today / tonight, is how Jesus does not assume this scribe is just like all the others he has debated with. He had every reason to assume he was. But Jesus engages him with respect and truth, and because of that, draws out faith and greater understanding, which may lead to this man discovering eternal life rather than just some legalistic following of religion.

Think about the times we live in. How easy it is to label people and place them into stereotypes that fit nicely with our lived experience. How quick you and I are to judge and pigeon-hole someone because of their appearance, political party, race, or some other quality. Jesus engages each and every person on their own merits as a unique and important child of God. He never clumps people together or dismisses them because he once met someone who acted or looked like they did. 

I believe people can sense when we treat them with respect for who they are as an individual person, created in the image and likeness of God, with their own merits. I think the dynamics of interpersonal relations are changed when we go into conversations and situations assuming the best in each other rather than looking for the negative and ulterior motives. We can learn something from others who are completely different than us, who even disagree with us, if we are open to learning from their perspective rather than winning and being right. If we pay attention to how Jesus treats the people who come to him, we cannot help but notice the consistent respect, patience, and concern he shows, without exception, even to his enemies, even when he is not given the same courtesy.

Our world needs this today and our faith demands it of us. We cannot be content to sit back and only love those who love us. Our Christianity is not alive and well if we assume the worst in others and look for negative motivations as a matter of habit. People should not have to earn our respect; they are entitled to it because they are made and loved by God just as we are. We should engage each person hoping and praying for their eternal good and happiness, not just for what they can do for us. This assumption of the good and hope for human flourishing should be our default way of thinking that informs how we act and treat each other.

The temptation is to sit back and say, “I will do this once those other people do.” Or to harden our hearts and put on our emotional armor because we are afraid of being wrong about someone or looking like a sucker when they act like a jerk in the face of our kindness. But it’s God’s job to sort that out. Think of all the people who received the love of Jesus and threw it back in his face or took it for themselves and never spread it to the people around them. That sad reality didn’t make Jesus cynical or cause him to stop offering the love and mercy of God. Through his prayer and closeness to the Father, he could continue, time after time, to see each person as a potential saint and disciple rather than a likely Judas and sinner. 

God is so patient with us! He constantly draws the good out of us and focusses on our potential good rather than the very real faults we so often commit. It’s time for us to go and do likewise with each other without exception or excuse. God made us all; he loves each of us as individuals. Let’s assume the best in one another and find the good in others. Let’s be the first to do so. Who knows, someone may find their way to greater faith and understanding of God if we follow the Master’s lead!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

To See As God Sees (30th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Keep in mind that Mark’s gospel is written from the viewpoint of an elderly, wise, and holy St. Peter. We can only imagine his thoughts as he retold these stories to Mark after many years of reflection and seeing the truth of Jesus’ words and actions.

Let’s zoom in on Jericho, which is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. People have been living in it non-stop for 11,000 years! It was the location of both the rise and fall of Israel’s political fortunes. It was the first city that Joshua and the Chosen People conquered as they entered the Promised Land. Perhaps you remember the story as they walked around its walls, blew their trumpets and the walls came tumbling down leading to a great victory. It was also to Jericho that the last king of Israel fled before he was hunted down and killed, leading to God’s people being scattered in slavery and the 12 twelve tribes were lost forever. At the time of Jesus and the early Christians, Jericho was seen as a city of sin, worldliness, and pain. Even the geography seem to reinforce this notion because Jericho sat almost 3500’ lower in elevation from Jerusalem, the holy city, even though it was only 15 miles away. 

Jesus enters this “low city of the world” on his way to the heavenly city for Passover. He would have been teaching as he walked, answering questions and explaining the Scriptures. He is just walking through, at least that’s the plan. What good could be found in such a place, some might have asked. But Jesus is always listening for the cry of the poor. He is always on the lookout for a heart filled with faith.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” , a blind man yells. Even as people tell him to be quiet, to have some manners because Jesus is teaching and shouldn’t be interrupted, that he has bigger and better things to do, that he is just passing through Jericho, the blind man doesn’t care. In fact, he gets louder, more persistent, more obnoxious. He calls him the Son of David, which is a term for the messiah, demonstrating his belief that Jesus is the Chosen One of God.

These things catch Jesus’ ear and he tells the people to call the blind man to him. Does Bartimaeus hesitate? No, we hear that he jumps up, throws off his cloak, which is a symbol of his worldly possessions, and comes right to the Lord. 

Once he is standing in front of him, Jesus says, “what do you want me to do for you?” If you remember, Jesus said the exact same thing last week, when James and John came up to him. They blew it by asking for the places of honor at his right and left. Bartimaeus gets it right. He doesn’t even ask for the good thing of having his sight restored, he asks to see, which is not just his vision but the ability to see the world as God sees. And here is the important part, Jesus not only gives him what he asks but his vision as well. That is probably the most important part of the reading today. Don’t aim too low when asking God for something.

Think back to King Solomon when he was a young man. God appeared to him and said I will give you anything, just ask. Solomon could have requested power, money, a long life, peace, —— whatever he wanted. But he doesn’t request any of these things, instead he asks for wisdom. And guess what, he gets all those other “lesser” goods as well!

The blind man wants to see the world, his life, and God as Jesus does. The Lord says, not only will I give you that but your sight is restored too! And what does he do with the Divine gift of properly seeing the world, his life, and Jesus? He follows him on the way to Jerusalem, the way of the cross! He shows us the perfect progression of how a Christian should act: first he asks God for help, after receiving it, he gives thanks, and finally, he follows the Lord with conviction and loyalty.

I have to think St. Peter smiled as he told this story to St. Mark. He must have shaken his head at how blind James, John and all the apostles had been leading up to Jesus' death on the cross. I imagine Peter must have given glory to God for the faith of Bartimaeus and maybe even said to Mark, “make sure this story is included, so future believers don’t make the same mistakes we did.”

So, consider a couple questions in light of what we know now about this story:

  • Do we ever make the mistake of “passing through” a place or passing by a person, assuming God cannot be found there?
  • Do we think at times that God doesn’t care about me or my problems and fail to call out to him for help? 
  • Do we allow allow embarrassment, pride, or the voices of this world to convince us to be quiet instead of yelling for Jesus?
  • Do we have a holy boldness when we go to God for what we need? Do we ask for the gift to see everything with his eyes or do we instead settle for lesser things that are good but not the best?
  • Lastly, do we use those moments of Divine clarity and spiritual vision to give thanks to God and then follow him? Or do we settle back into the cares and concerns of worldly life until we need Jesus again?

The simple prayer of Bartimaeus is all that we need tonight, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me; help me to see!”

Monday, October 22, 2018

Jesus Knows What He Is Doing! (29th Sunday, Year B)

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One of the great things about having parents is that they remember good or funny things you forgot you did growing up. One of the downfalls of having parents is that they remember bad and stupid things you forgot you did growing up. As a I child, I had an inquisitive mind. I liked to problem-solve and philosophize. I loved to take things apart and see how they worked. I would try and put them back together and see if they would still work. I even went through the neighborhood every time there was bulk trash pickup and go through people’s garbage looking for hidden treasure. Before you judge me, let me tell you, I found some pretty amazing things like an accordion, ski goggles, and some retro luggage that our family rocked for years. I still look at big trash piles to this day but I usually manage to stay in the car, at least when I am wearing my collar. 

As a result of this thinking and tinkering and theorizing about things, I came up with a pretty solid worldview and approach to solving my parents problems. I figured if I could get them straightened out then I could eventually move on to addressing the larger stage of the world’s problems in my teenage years. One night, very seriously, I sat my parents down and tried to explain to them a better way of parenting, based on my observations, critiques, and extensive experience of nine or so years of life. I don’t quite remember it this way, but my parents do! After they politely listened to my advice and recommendations on how they could better raise my younger siblings, they simply smiled and encouraged me not to worry about it, that they had things under control. Some twenty-plus years later, I see they did ok, that they actually had a plan in place and maybe my sage advice wasn’t so great. But I certainly didn’t believe it at the time and I definitely didn’t think my theories on life were all that outrageous.

Any parent or wise person here knows this experience. How often the people who know the least about something are the first ones to speak up and give suggestions. And those who are the least qualified to speak with authority oversimplify a given problem and present the so-called solution as indisputable truth. 

In our gospel today, this dynamic between the all-knowing and wise master and his naive and over-enthusiastic students is on display. James and John come up to Jesus and ask for a favor. They would like the privilege of sitting at his side when he arrives in his heavenly kingdom. The Lord has been working miracles and awing the crowds with his profound and definitive teaching. The twelve apostles must feel like rock stars as they journey from village to village and see huge groups of people lined up to listen to Jesus. So these brothers decide to secure their future with Christ. What better way to do this than get him to promise them the places of honor at his side?

For James and John, this made a lot of sense. In their philosophy or worldview, this was a good move. They had a plan, they had it figured out, and all they had to do was get Jesus to sign off on it. Kinda like that kid who tells his parents, “listen, all you have to do is this...”
Jesus doesn’t buy what they are selling but he corrects them gently. He says, “You do not know what you are asking.” Seeing this as a teaching moment, he asks them, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared."

Now what does this mean? Jesus first tells them he cannot give what they are asking for; it is not reasonable or good for them. Secondly, he tells them they will get to be with him and share what he has, but it’s not what they think or what they want to hear right now. The cup and baptism that they will share with Christ is suffering and death for the sake of the gospel. They don’t know it yet, but that is the one thing that will let them sit with Jesus in his heavenly kingdom. This cup of suffering is, ironically, the only way to the glory they desire and the life they ask for. They will understand it later but not right now. For now they must be corrected and trust that the Lord might just know what he is doing, even if it doesn’t make sense right now.

This is a timeless lesson for you and me. So often we are like James and John, asking Jesus for this favor and that. Wanting him to grant various things that we believe hold the key to our happiness and fortune. These requests seem like a good idea at the time. They make perfect sense to us while we are asking them. They nearly always represent good intentions and good things. But how many times they are immature, limited in scope, and actually less than what God wants to give us!

Friends, we may not ask to sit at Jesus’ side in the heavenly kingdom but don’t we often come to him seeking something else? Like that new job that pays a better salary or that bigger house that seems perfect or that relationship that we believe would complete us, or the Megamillions Jackpot!? It can be large or small, but don’t we often come to God with a request and a plan and a thought, even if we don’t say it out loud, that we have it figured out and if God would just do this, then we would be set?!

God wants us to talk to him and to ask him for the things we need. But he also wants us to realize that sometimes we don’t know what we need or what is actually best for us and for others. He wants us to trust that he will give what we need and more to be happy and joyful and, most importantly, to live with him forever in heaven. Even if his answer doesn’t always make sense at the time, even if it isn’t exactly what we asked for. 

In the end, James and John got what they asked for. As saints, they sit at his side in the glory of heaven. But they got there by a different road than they planned; they got there by embracing the suffering of the cross and trusting that God knew what he was doing. You and I should expect nothing different. We can and should enjoy that same eternal glory that is endless life in heaven. But first we will need to drink of the cup that Jesus did and embrace the same baptism of suffering and sacrifice that he lived. Are we willing to trust the Lord this much? Are we ready to humble ourselves and realize that God has things under control? “Lord, let  your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you!”