Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!

Putting this story in context, we know that Jesus had heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded and given to a woman who danced for the king. Jesus who was grieving, withdrew to a deserted place where people tracked him down. Jesus was moved with pity when he got out of the boat. He taught them, but the disciples were very anxious and wanted him to send them away to get food. Jesus asked them to give them some food yourselves. The disciples complained, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have.” Jesus asked them to “bring them here.” Was he asking them to bring to him the 5 loaves or the people? He then transformed the five loaves into enough to feed 5000 men, not including the woman and children.

When I was ordained 27 years ago I was quite nervous and my homilies were a mess. No comment! Anyways, the bishop called me into his office about this issue. I assured him that I was well prepared, but my anxieties took possession of me. The bishop suggested I use a story or humor to start the homily. I told the bishop it was a great idea, but I did’t know any stories. The bishop offered me an example, “I begin sometimes saying, ‘I am in love with a beautiful woman… and her name is Mary!’” I thought that was a great idea and told the bishop so. The next Sunday, I went into the pulpit with great confidence and peace. I couldn’t wait to share the Good News. I began my homily like this, “The bishop is in love with a beautiful woman!” After a moment for it to sink in, “But I forget her name!” Needless to say, I was called into the office by the good bishop, but he was merciful to me.

Whenever we fail to be calm, we can make huge mistakes. Jesus asked the disciples to get in the boat at first, but then he began to ask us to get out of the boat in the storms of life. We can all relate to Peter. When we get anxious, we stop seeing the persons before us, and focus only on our fears, real or imagined.

It is like this boat that we can imagine being in together. What happens if someone points out that there is a whale on the starboard side? Yes, everyone runs to the other side and before long, we forget about the whale and focus only on the fact that we are dipping deep into the water. We react and run to the other side. This continues until we capsize or see Jesus walking on the water. Jesus calms and encourages us, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” And yet our terror and fear blind us. We start focusing on the anxiety and depression like it is an illness. Like Peter, we doubt that Jesus knows cares, or can cure our mental turmoil, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus simply says, “Come.” We know his voice.

So like Peter, we get out of the boat and walk on the water until we lose our focus because our addictions, financial woes, relationship problems or children floundering terrorize us. While we are sinking, we cry out, “Jesus, save me!”

What irritates us is that Jesus does catch us, but he says those sometimes dreaded words, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Those words sometimes sting. We forget we have much to learn. We forget that we must constantly step out in faith to learn more about God, to fly on our faith, and walk on water like Jesus. After all, we are created in the likeness of God.

This reminds me of the story of the farmers who found an abandoned eagle egg, and then placed it in a chicken coop. The eagle hatched and was adopted by the chickens. He grew up to peck, scratch, cackle and run around like his adopted chicken siblings… but he did not learn to fly. One day, after a very long time, a beautiful golden eagle flew above them. The shadow caught the little eagle by surprise and he looked up. He hollered out to his fellow chickens, “What is that?” The other chickens said, “O that is an eagle, the king and queen of all the birds. They fly and rule the skies. Us? We are just a bunch of chickens.” The little chicken that looked like an eagle simply said, “Oh.” And then he went back to pecking and scratching and cackling. He died a chicken, for that is really all that he was.

IMG_6341          You see no chicken could teach the little fellow how to fly. Only a disciple who walks on water like Jesus can show others how to do likewise. Often we resort to the behaviors of those around us, because we don’t know how to be kind, merciful, compassionate and loving like Jesus. We can only learn to fly and walk on water like Jesus if we have faith. But if the anxieties and fears overwhelm us and blind us, we simply cry out to Jesus. He immediately stretches out his hand saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” All of us must not only learn to walk on water, but we must learn how to fly like the Eagles. Jesus is our true flight instructor and “lifesaver”. Isn’t that Good News?

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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ August 13, 2017

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1 Kings 19:9-13 ~ After the wind, earthquake and fire…there was a tiny whispering sound.

Psalm 85 ~ Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Paul’s letter to the Romans 9:1-5 ~ Brothers and sisters: I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie;

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33~ After Jesus fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

                  Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened: and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

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Best Baked Bread Ever!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
22-23 July 2017
St. Monica & St. John the Evangelist Catholic Communities

Wisdom 12: 13-19 ~ And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.
Psalm 86 ~ Beloved, you are good and forgiving.
St. Paul to Romans 8:26-27 ~ The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
Gospel according to Matthew 13:24-43 ~ Jesus proposed another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”

Jesus goes on to teach that in the first parable, “The one who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son o Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
Jesus did not explain who the slaves of the Master were. Who do you believe are the slaves? Jesus tells us that the harvesters are the angels, which means that is not any of us. I am certainly not an angel.
My hunch is that the slaves are those of us that are ministers of the Word and the Eucharist. The good seed are the baptized. St Paul has told us in Philippians that Jesus took the form of a slave, something to be grasped.” So we priests and you ministers and volunteers of St. Monica and St. John are slaves, something to understand, something to ponder. We ask Jesus what to do with the weeds that seem to be in heaven. I am pondering writing a book called, “Mosquitoes in Heaven”!
Beloved, what if the mustard seed is the church of St. Monica? Surely it is the smallest of parishes that was sown by Jesus in 1858. It survived a civil war and so much more. But when we grow, we have become the largest parish in Palatka where people from all over Florida and parts of the States have come to her branches and dwell here. St. John the Evangelist in Interlachen is the same. People are fed through the food distributions and ministries to the poor. People come in and rest within the bountiful branches of our beautiful but simple sanctuary.
I love the parable of the yeast where God is portrayed as a woman and Jesus is the yeast. Look at this unleavened bread with no yeast (hold the unconsecrated bread). This is what we use at Mass. It really is rather tasteless and, well, flat. But this is the wheat gathered into the barn. God takes the gift of Jesus and mixes him into all of us through the Word and at Communion until we all rise together as the whole Body of Christ resurrected. Wow!
Now this is real Good News, don’t you think?
Let’s make the Best Bread we have ever eaten!!!

 

 

The best Easter ever!

And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow…. Gospel according to St. Matthew 28:1-10

The Magi who came seeking the Messiah were overjoyed at seeing the star of Jesus, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Women who came to the tomb seeking Jesus the crucified were not expecting an angel with the appearance of lightning. After seeing the angel of the Lord, the women went away from the empty tomb fearful yet overjoyed. But then Jesus greeted them as they ran. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage like the Magi did. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of humility, surrender and love. Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.”

Here I was in Fallujah, Iraq on Christmas night 2004, I was exhausted, beat up and depleted. I had celebrated about 19 Masses in three days. It was rainy and cold with broken glass all around me. A 19 year old Marine on lookout was unable to receive communion and asked for me to bring Jesus to him. I almost said no, but here I was. He was fearful yet overjoyed at seeing me with the Eucharist. We didn’t know that the battle was over. My homily was the same for every Mass and Communion service. “If this is not the best Christmas ever, then something is wrong.” The Marine looked at me from the mud, death and broken glass as if I was crazy. Even though I truly believed that every day living and believing in Jesus makes it the best ever, my hope was frail and despair was building. My joy was on life-support.

This young Marine reverently opened his grimy hands to receive the Body of Christ. I thought of Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes in the crèche and on the cross. As I began to sing O Holy Night, which is really an Easter hymn of resurrection, the Marine sang louder and louder in an operatic voice. Could the whole world hear this Marine? With our eyes closed, tears streamed down my face and soul. I was no longer afraid. When I opened my eyes and saw the Marine radiant with face awash in tears, he gave me a smile and simply said, “Yep, Padre, this is truly the best Christmas ever!” We had approached Jesus, embraced his feet, and did him homage. We offered him gifts of innocents lost, broken minds, and love. Jesus simply said, “Do not be afraid! Tell my brothers and sisters the Good News! You will see me in the Eucharist!” And now today is the day that springs from the best Christmas ever. It must truly be the best Easter Ever…

Some people are still trapped in the rubble of life and some, like you, with the help of God, are raised from the rubble and rebuilt with strength, courage and patient hope. We have the choice, will we step out of the tomb new and renewed, resurrected in our lives, or will we be tempted to return to the tomb with our same old perspective, and, like shackles, take them again into our life’s experience?

This is the atmosphere of the tomb, but Jesus wants to instead, open the way of life, the way of joy and the way to lasting peace. The light has conquered darkness; hosanna to God in the highest!  ( Check out the short video clip which will inspire)

Best Easter Ever

I pray for each and everyone of us that we might be filled up, filled up with the joy of salvation, filled up with the joy of justice, filled up with the joy of the Sunday experience so that our lives speak something, so that our lives mean something, so that our lives have a purpose, so that our lives have an impact. Jesus is the light that comes into our world, his words echo through the Gospels, may we remain young as they also echo in our lives fully alive with strength, courage, wonder, awe and hope, as Good News.

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Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

Gospel of St. John 11: Now A man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” ~ When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days…

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When Martha acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world… she would pay the price and no longer be welcome in the synagogue, but she would no longer be frozen in the fear of death.

Last week we heard that the Jews had already agreed that if anyone recognized Jesus as the Christ, they would be expelled from the synagogue. The man who regained his sight was thrown out when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, but his parents chose to remain in their fear rather than rejoice with their son. In many ways they were dead.

The religious leaders were corrupt and didn’t want to be exposed. They were divided about how to actually love God, neighbor and their way of life. They were poisoned by greed and power. They were divided about who was in the synagogue legally and who should be deported. Jesus was their enemy. They concluded that, “It is better for one man to die rather than a nation to perish.” They weren’t bad people, just afraid, lost and blind. Jesus says of them from the cross, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Martha and Mary were healed of their fear of death by the love of Jesus and their love for Jesus. They knew that Jesus could heal people, but they didn’t realize yet that he could bring their brother back from death. He could also help them to understand that if they live and believe in Jesus they will never die.

The religious leaders recognized that fear of death was big business and made gross amounts of profits. Having wealth and security is not a problem, unless we neglect the poor, the orphans, those fleeing war, the hungry and the oppressed. The United States is well-known as the world’s biggest spender on arms and weapons systems. Catholic bishops have regularly denounced as moral scandal a defense budget measured each year in the hundreds of billions. (America Magazine Jesuits, April 3, 2017)

Less noticed is the nation’s status as the world’s top merchant of arms and the government’s role as facilitator in that market.

In a historic address in Washington on Sept. 24, 2015, Pope Francis told congress:

Being at the service of dialogue and peace… means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world… Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and stop the arms trade. 

Congress applauded Pope Francis, but they spent more on exported weapons. We are divided in politics, but mostly in defense of our profiting from war.

The devil doesn’t want us to believe that he exists. The biggest fear of the Beast (the Devil) is that we believe in the Jesus who says, “I am the resurrection and life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

When we don’t fear death, when we don’t care if we are even rejected by our parents, we truly live in the freedom of God’s Kingdom today. Jesus is looking for followers who are brave enough to see him crucified without giving into despair. Jesus is counting on each of us to answer the question he asked Martha. Then, and only then, will we truly be free and be instruments of God’s peace and love. Do you believe this? If you do, you are Good News!

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5th Sunday in Lent

April 1, 2017 ~ Queen of Peace Catholic Community

Ezekiel 37:12-14 ~ O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them

Psalm 130 ~ With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

 

“I Thirst”

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him or her a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Gospel of St. John 4

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Life can sometimes harden our hearts. We are always looking for something more. There are many billionaires in this world. But have you noticed how happy they are? NOT! You would think that they would be satisfied and enjoy their wealth and security. Something is missing. They still thirst, just like you and me. Some of us are gifted with retirement, money, national championships, family and/or fame, but there is still a thirst for more. What are you thirsting for today? In the first reading we hear, “In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses.” O yes, they got their water from the rock, but they did not know that they thirsted for the Rock of Jesus. If Jesus asked you for a drink today, and I believe he is asking, how would you respond?

“Jesus, you don’t even have a bucket or a place to lay your head. You have a cross and suffering. The hatred in the world is deep. The problems of this world are massive. People are filled with anxieties, hunger, thirst, division, depression and politics.” Our reactive response to a simple question from Jesus blinds us to the man before us who simply asks for a drink of water.

This woman of Samaria came to draw water and was beginning to feel that her bucket list had perpetual holes. She was addicted to unsatisfying relationships and the tediousness of life. She must have been unbelievably beautiful to be able to secure so many men! She kept looking for love outside of her own beautiful self. When she came to the seventh man, she did not think anything would be different. She was indifferent and in a way, she had lost hope, but she did have one last drop of hope in her bucket. That is all that Jesus needed.

Jesus was pouring his mercy and love into this woman even before her first failed marriage. Jesus, the Son of God, had been waiting at the well for a very long time. Jesus is waiting for each of you. Jesus simply reaches into our hearts and says “I thirst.”

If we want to get closer to God, we must be thirsty first. We need to transform our grumbling into desire, our hostility into hospitality, and our illusions into prayer. We need to open up our hearts. “We have peace with God through Jesus the Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.”

When we come to Mass, are we open to the thirst of Jesus? “Give me a drink.” How amazing that we have access to Jesus every day. The Mass never ends; we take it with us. Jesus in the Eucharist totally quenches our thirst for so much more. I was at the well with Jesus… and all was well. “And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

 

Psalm 63:

My soul is thirsting for you O Lord, thirsting for you my God.

O God you are my God, and I will always praise you.

In the shadow of your wings I cling to you, and you hold me high.

Through the day you walk with me. All the night your love surrounds me.

To the glory of your name I lift up my hands, I sing your praise.

I will never be afraid, for I will not be abandoned.

Even though the road grows long and weary, your love will rescue me.

3rd Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017 ~ Queen of Peace Catholic Community

Exodus: 17:3-7~ In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses

Psalm 95 ~ If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts

Romans 5:1-8 ~ And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I Have Set My Soul in Silence and Peace

2nd Sunday of Lent ~ 12 March 2017

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1st Reading: Genesis 12:1-4 ~ Abram went as the Lord directed him.

Psalm 33 ~ Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield.

2nd Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Timothy 1:8-10 ~

Beloved: bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.     While Peter was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

 

Every time we come to the Eucharist, we go up the mountain and experience the transfiguration and the glory of God. Sometimes our clouds of anxiety, depression, fear, addictions or worldly affairs prevent us from seeing even the love of God. That is so sad.

I am a licensed mental health counselor and I counsel part time at a psychiatric hospital in Jacksonville. Many of the people have serious addictions that require treatment plans and a commitment to sobriety. It is like some of the things that we fast from during lent. Many of us give up sugar with a secret benefit of losing weight. There is nothing wrong with that, except after Lent we begin to realize that nothing has changed and it sometimes get worse. We relapse to not bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

When we listen to Jesus and do a fast that he suggests, we would be foolish to stop that fast after Easter Sunday. God is very clear in saying, “This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly; setting free the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” In other words, Jesus is taking us up the mountain with Peter, James and John to undergo a reality check. We say here at Queen of Peace: “The Mass never ends, we take it with us. Thanks be to God.” I would like to propose that, “Lent never ends, we take it with us.” When Lent is over, we don’t go back to the way we were before Lent. When an addict quits drugs, alcohol, or internet porn, they can never go back. If they do, we call it relapse. Most addicts go through many relapses before they find total peace and sobriety. We do it one day at a time and humbly admit our weakness.

In order to heal we ask addicts to go to anonymous meetings (90 meetings in 90 days). This is so they can replace a bad habit with a good habit. It is like seatbelts. Why do we wear seatbelts? Some will say safety, but when I was a kid we didn’t have seatbelts in the car. We knew wearing a seatbelts increases the chances of surviving an accident, but we didn’t take it serious until the introduction of an annoying ding, blue lights in our rearview mirror, or slogans like, “click it or ticket”. The mountain transfiguration with Jesus is a wakeup call to take this season seriously, to listen to Jesus. Eternal life depends on it.

When I look at the group of men or women before me, they are detoxed from their destructive behavior. They are balanced. Sometimes I play my flute and ask them to breathe in… and breathe out… After I play, it seems that their anxiety and depression are momentarily balanced and they seem quite normal. I believe they are normal. We all need depression to sleep and we all need anxiety to wake up. It is when they are out of balance that trouble snowballs. They need to take this calm and serenity out into the world even when they are triggered or tempted. We must stay calm when we encounter the Cross.

We are like a little toddler having a temper tantrum because Mom is weaning the child off of breast milk. The key to recovery of any addiction, including getting into bad relationships, is to wean our selves off. Our hope is to come to Easter as mature Christians who not only accept the Body of Christ into our bodies, but also the Blood of Christ. If you choose to give up chocolate for Lent, you will never see God until you give up chocolate for the rest of your lives. If you choose to go on a mission to a poor nation, you will have to go on mission every year. But we can do this in our mind. Even if an alcoholic misses an AA meeting, he or she will be fine if he simply puts on the seatbelt of sobriety in the morning. Today I will not drink. Today, I will be God’s child. All of us need to be weaned off of worldly things and mean it when we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We need to go up the mountain and then listen to God’s Beloved Son.

Beloved, our fast must somehow further the mission of Jesus and not our own pursuits. Our fast must always be good news for the poor, the oppressed, the homeless and the addicted. My fast is to continue to visit those imprisoned by addictions and to be an instrument of God’s peace to console, to understand and to love. In the book, The Imitation of Christ, we hear, “Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross. He has many seekers of consolation, but few of tribulation. He finds many companions at His feasting, but few of His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him; few are willing to endure anything for Him. Many follow Jesus as far as the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of His Passion. Many reverence His miracles, but few will follow the shame of His Cross. Many love Jesus as long as no adversities befall them. But if Jesus hide Himself and leave them but for a brief time, they begin to complain or become overly despondent in mind.” (Thomas A Kempis)

Jesus is trying to wean us so that we too hear God’s voice, “You are my Beloved”

We all must wrestle with God from time to time, just like child being weaned wrestles with its mother. Jesus lived and breathed the psalms. He cried out Psalm 22 and 63 on the Cross. Before we sing “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want”, we need to understand Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me, why so far from me?” The following psalm is for us to when we experience the transfiguration of our souls.

Psalm 131

O Lord my heart is not proud

nor haughty my eyes.

I have not gone after things too great

nor marvels beyond me

Truly I have set my soul

in silence and peace

A weaned child on its mother’s breast,

even so my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord,

both now and forever.

Don’t Worry and Sister Death

26 February 2017 ~ 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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1st Reading: Isaiah ~ Even if your mother should forget you, I will never forget you.

Psalm 62 ~ Only in God is my soul at rest; from God comes my salvation.

2nd Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 4:1-5 ~ Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34 ~ “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” Jesus

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A child does not worry all day long whether his house will be there when he gets home from school or whether her parents will have a meal for her that evening. Children do not worry about such things, because they trust their parents. In the same way, we as Christians should trust our heavenly Father to supply what is best for us. *

And although our country says, “In God we Trust”, many children are now worried about whether their parents will be there when they return home. All of us have ancestors who were undocumented at one time. This is against our Gospel principles and love itself. Solutions need to be thought out and prayed about.

Death was walking toward a city, and a man stopped Death and asked, “What are you going to do?” Death said, “I’m going to kill ten thousand people.” The man said, “That’s horrible!” Death said, “That’s the way it is; that’s what I do.”

As the day passed, the man warned everyone he could of Death’s plan. At the end of the day he again met Death. He said, “You said you were going to kill ten thousand people, and yet seventy thousand died.” Death explained, “I killed only ten thousand. Worry, anxiety and fear killed the others.” *

Left to our own, our anxieties can cause wars in our own family and beyond. Let us trust in Jesus when he tells us, “Do not worry about your life. Your heavenly Father knows your needs. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”*

* Taken from Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, edited by Michael P. Green, 1989, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Law of Love Within ~ 6th Sunday

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time   Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37

God is love.

All commandments coming from God are about love.

There are no exceptions and no amendments.

“Night to Shine” is an annual prom for people with special needs sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. The proms were hosted Friday at over 375 churches in all 50 states and 11 countries including South Africa, Peru, and the Philippines. In his welcome video, Tim Tebow proclaimed to people with special needs, “You are created by love, for love and in love.”

A follower of Jesus must be all about abundant love and fruit of God’s love. Followers of Jesus are like trees of life. We welcome all who come to our shade. It doesn’t matter if one is saint, sinner or lumber jack, the tree of life will freely and indiscriminately offer her shade, beauty, fragrance, fruit, oxygen, peace and even wood. The tree bears much fruit beyond what we see. The tree is gratuitous in that she gives while asking for nothing in return. The tree loves unconsciously in that she is unaware. She gives her gifts even when no one is present or appreciates her. What would it be like if we realized that each of us was created by love, for love and in love?

Jesus was baptized to fulfill the law. When he came up out of the water a voice was heard from heaven. “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus follows the law of love even if it costs him his life. Jesus knows that God has written all the laws and commandments of God into his heart and to his followers’ hearts. He knows the law better than lawyers, politicians and judges. We also must know God’s commandments this well. All we have to do is look within and share this wisdom and love with all.

It is something like learning to swim. When I asked my father to teach me to swim, he simply picked me up and walked me out to the end of the dock on that delicious morning and threw me out into the deep water. As I flew across the sky with panic and joy, I didn’t have time to be mad at my father for putting me out into the deep, because it was about survival. My heart was as pure as a six year old who grew up on the waters edge. My father knew I had the rules of swimming in my heart and soul. If for some reason my fear froze my ability to start the dog paddle, my dad was ready to jump in and save me if I cried out to him. I never cried then.

However, over the years there were times when I rebelled against my father’s commands. Some were unreasonable or mixed with anxiety or alcohol. Some of the rules I came to understand protected me from dangers. Some of those commands were good, but overkill.

So to begin his mission to teach us his Father’s laws and commandments (to swim in God’s love), Jesus climbs up the mountain and tells the people how loved they are by God. He tells us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are they who grieve, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are peacemakers, blessed are the persecuted for helping the oppressed, poor and orphaned, and blessed are you when you share the cross with me.” He goes on to tell us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Basically we are love in the world!

Jesus is like my father. When we desire with all our heart, soul, strength and might to love like God and follow all of God’s commands; he is going to bring us out into deep water and throw us into the sea. We have the wisdom, courage, understanding, knowledge, counsel, reverence and fear of the Lord to interpret the law of God. Jesus knows we can swim even in the storms of persecution. If for some reason our fear freezes our ability to love (which is the law) in the storms of insult and persecution, Jesus is standing ready to plunge into the deep water and save us if we cry out to him. He might also say, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So after fifty years, I am beginning to remember another commandment that my father gave me just before he threw me off that dock into the deep waters, “Do not be afraid, I will be with you.”

Jesus assures us that he loves us too much to ever abandon us. He promises to be faithful always, in good times and bad times, in sickness and in health. God throws us with love to be love for a world in desperate need of love and truth. Are you ready to plunge into the Good News and follow this law and love of God into the kingdom of heaven? Here is even Great News. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to cry out to him, he jumped in with us. Let us swim and dance. The Mass never ends, we take Jesus with us.

Eye has not seen

Ear has not heard,

What God has ready for those who love Him

Spirit of Love, come give us the mind of Jesus,

Teach us the Wisdom of God.  

(St Paul to the 1st Letter to the Corinthians 2:6-10)DSCF3464

Jumping in Cuba

QUEEN OF PEACE CATHOLIC COMMUNITY ~ CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK ~ Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them saying, “Blessed are…” nine times.

Jesus was a Teacher, not a trainer. A true teacher teaches in a way so that the student (or disciple) becomes an equal. Jesus, the Teacher, does not want to be our Master, but he does want to be our Friend and Beloved.

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Today we heard the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount. This is at the very beginning of his Mission. His Mission is to teach us all about the Kingdom of Heaven. He is attempting to give us the rules, just like we have rules of conduct in school, work and growing up in a family.

What kind of rules do we have growing up in a family? Yes… clean your room, say “please” and “thank you”, go to bed a certain time, eat your vegetables (not just M & M’s), take out the garbage, do your homework, go to church, say your prayers. When we are kids, if we rebel against these duties, there are consequences. As an adult, we have the freedom not to follow through with these rules, but the consequences might be more grave and could rob us of a peaceful and productive life.

A thousand years before Jesus, God gave us the Ten Commandments through Moses. They tell us to love and obey God, our parents and our neighbors. We are to rest and worship with God one day a week. We don’t kill, cheat, steal, lie or become envious and greedy. This Gospel passage today is like the first day of catholic school. Jesus is going to teach us much more than rules, which can be challenging by themselves. If we don’t learn these beatitudes, there are grave consequences like remaining slaves rather than children of God or never finding the Kingdom of Heaven.

When our minds are developing, they work more like a puppy that needs to be trained or disciplined (discipled). If I train my puppy to be mean, what does it grow up to be? Yes, a mean dog. Does it have a choice? No, of course not. Can the dog say to itself, “I don’t feel like being mean anymore.”? That is why rules for dogs are so important when they are young. That is why rules for children and teenagers are so important when we are young. But here is the difference. We don’t just learn rules growing up. We have to learn how to think and grow in faith. We need to master the gifts of the Holy Spirit like wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

When Jesus goes on to finish teaching the crowd, the Gospel writer tells us, “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

Jesus is the best teacher we will ever find. Our catholic schools allow the Jesus in our teachers, parents and guardians to connect with the Jesus in every student. Once we learn the basic commandments, the goal of catholic schools is to become disciples and teachers. Let us all grow in wisdom, faith and love.

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1st Reading: Prophet Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility;

Psalm 146

Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!

2nd Reading: St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:26-31

God chose the foolish… the weak, the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing..

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed are…, for they…

Teaching, Preaching, Curing

3rd Week Ordinary Time, January 2017

Matthew 4:12-2 ~ When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee… Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”… He called them and they immediately left their boat…and followed him… Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

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Two brothers were discussing their future goals after Sunday school one day. The first said he wanted to be rich and famous. The second said he wanted to follow Jesus to the fullest. The second went on to reach his goal. His name was David Livingstone, the renowned medical missionary and explorer of Africa. The first went on to be rich, but his fame came from another. His tombstone reads, “Here lies the brother of Doctor David Livingstone.”

Jesus was on a mission to teach us about a God of mercy, love and compassion who happens to be his Father. Jesus, walking along, met Peter and Andrew, James and John after they had just finished their hard days work as professional fishermen. What happened to their nets and boats? What was so compelling about Jesus that they’d leave without concern for the details that had preoccupied their lives and gave them a sense of security?

Clearly there was something magnetic, even contagious about Jesus that caused people to forget the important and unimportant-the boats and the nets—and all the things that distract us everyday to follow him. There was something about Jesus that compelled people to connect with our God who they had heard of, often spoken of and who drew them toward goodness.

We might say it’s no problem connecting with Jesus, he was a healer of both external and internal wounds, he was exemplary, he put his life on the line for his friends. Our problem is more about connecting with God’s people. Maybe that’s because God’s people don’t represent Jesus very well in the world today. God’s people don’t practice what Jesus preached. We need to connect, though, because God’s fullness is not revealed in any one of us; but when we connect with one another we manifest God’s goodness.

“Repent, (metanoia, change course), the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” What John and now Jesus is saying is that repenting or changing course is essential to entering heaven. To follow Jesus is a drastic change of life goals or plans. Before the brothers could teach, preach and heal people, they had to first change course. They had to learn to fish in a different way. It was like learning to drive in one of those countries that drive on the other side of the street. It was like learning to write with the other hand. It was like learning to speak a new language or breaking an addiction or a toxic relationship. It could also be like trying to learn to speak after suffering a stroke. In reality it is all of these. It sounds impossible, but nothing is impossible with God.

Even Simon had to let go of his name and pick up a new name Peter. Once we repent, the hard work begins. So often, people go back to their old ways because the internal emotions are too uncomfortable.

Before we can go out and proclaim the good news or heal the sick, Jesus must first call us. Then we must listen to his teaching. Then and only then does Jesus send us out two by two. An isolated Christian is a dead Christian.

This Gospel passage is from the 4th chapter of St. Matthew’s account. The Gospel passages we hear in the following five weeks are critical if we wish to reach our goals in life. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 speak of the goodness and expectations of God. This is what he was teaching in the synagogues. This is what Jesus was proclaiming as Good News. This is where his authority to cure every disease and illness comes from.

I am going to go out on a limb and assign some homework this week. It only takes about 5 or 10 minutes to read, but it will probably take you a lifetime to learn. I am still learning! What would it be like to hear Jesus as he went to all the synagogues? Read and pray these chapters out loud a couple times this week if not daily. You will most likely recognize many of the teachings which all boil down to “love God and love neighbor” with no exceptions. However, to apply these teachings will be a true metanoia experience, but don’t be afraid, you are in good company. Mark Twain once said: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I have always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me the most are those which I do understand.”

It may be important to invoke the Holy Spirit. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of your love… O God who by the light of the Holy Spirit instructs the hearts of your faithful, grant that by that same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in your consolation forever.”

Jesus is longing to go to the ends of the world, teaching the mercy of God, preaching the kingdom of heaven, and curing every disease and illness. All he needs is your body, soul and fire… and your change of direction.

Lord, when you came to the seashore
You weren’t looking for the rich nor the wise,
But only asking that I might follow
O Lord, with your eyes set upon me
Gently smiling, you have spoken my name
Close to you, I will find other shores
Lord, you knew what my boat carried
neither money nor weapons for fighting,
but nets for fishing my daily labor

(PESCADOR DES HOMBRES  by Cesareo Gabarain)

We could connect with others and follow Jesus toward God, toward pleasing God, by seeing the Sacred in others. The Holy Spirit unites us with the Divine and offers the only route to Good News in this world.

Jeff McGowan and I worked together on this homily.

Have a blessed and holy week. Pray and journal about Matthew 5, 6, and 7 and see how Jesus calls your from your boat. You might even walk a few steps on water!