Thursday, June 30, 2016

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

Scripture Text: (AM 7:10-17)
Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam,
king of Israel:
“Amos has conspired against you here within Israel;
the country cannot endure all his words.
For this is what Amos says:
Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel shall surely be exiled from its land.”

To Amos, Amaziah said:
“Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah!
There earn your bread by prophesying,
but never again prophesy in Bethel;
for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.”
Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet,
nor have I belonged to a company of prophets;
I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.
The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me,
‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Now hear the word of the LORD!”

You say: prophesy not against Israel,
preach not against the house of Isaac.
Now thus says the LORD:
Your wife shall be made a harlot in the city,
and your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword;
Your land shall be divided by measuring line,
and you yourself shall die in an unclean land;
Israel shall be exiled far from its land.

Amos, the Old Testament prophet from whose book we hear in today’s First Reading at the Mass, was considered obnoxious because he preached the need of repentance on the part of everyone in Israel, including the king and the priests. Amaziah tired to get the king to get rid of Amos: not only because he took offense at Amos’ preaching, but also because he held Amos in contempt. Amaziah considered Amos a “nobody”. Amos actually admitted that he was not a prophet in his own right; nor did he belong to the official guild of prophets, which was a considerably large group. Amos was just a shepherd, and a dresser of sycamores. On top of that, Amos was not even from Israel: he was from the southern land of Judah, which had not yet been combined with Israel into one kingdom. So he was a foreigner in Israel.

But in spite of all appearances, Amos had credentials of the highest order. It was the Lord Himself who had taken Amos from the south, to be a prophet in the north. Amos’ worth was not due to his own wisdom, but due only to the fact that the Lord had called him. As the old saying goes, “God does not call those who are qualified. He qualifies those whom He calls.” In other words, we trust, that when the Lord gives us a job to do, He’s also going to give us the grace needed to complete that job. This is true of any small, daily job the Lord might hand one of His sons or daughters. God probably has such a job in mind for you this day: so expect not only that job, but trust that the grace to complete it will be there for you also.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We’re Catholics before we’re Democrats. We’re Catholics before we’re Republicans. We’re even Catholics before we’re Americans, because we know that God has a demand on us prior to any government demand on us.

Gospel Text: (MT 16:13-19)
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Today we celebrate two of the great first generation saints, Peter and Paul. There are many things that could be said of them. I want to approach today’s reading a little differently by considering the view of the world these men had.

Peter, whom Jesus in today’s Gospel passage entrusts with the care of the Church, was very different than Paul. Peter’s personality was rough and impatient. He was poor and uneducated. Now if Jesus had thought as worldly people do, he never would have chosen Peter as the first pope. Instead, he would have chosen someone like Paul, refined and educated.

Regardless of their differences, these two men came to the same end: martyrdom for the Holy Name of Jesus. In the year 67, Saint Peter was crucified upside-down in the circus of Nero, and buried nearby in an out-of-the-way cemetery on a hill called the Vatican. Saint Paul, after being held a prisoner in Rome for many years, was beheaded just outside the walls of the city.

As with their Lord, these two men came to what seemed to be shameful deaths. Unfortunately, unlike their Lord, there was no report of Peter or Paul rising from the dead. They were simply failures. That’s surely how they were sized up by many around them, both in the Roman Empire and perhaps even among some members of the Church. What kind of foundation had they laid for the Church?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Roman Catholic Church, the church that spread from that city throughout the world. Twenty centuries later, the Church certainly is universal, with more than one billion members across the globe, but are we really any holier than those first members of the Church? Are we willing to put our lives, or even our names on the line for Christ?

Our spiritual lives are never a “done deal.” They are always under construction. The Mass we share in is a continual source of strength for us, as each week we struggle to be faithful disciples of Jesus. Each day is a building block of faith, in which, by our daily sacrifices, we build up others as well as our own spiritual lives.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

There is never a moment when God is not in control. The Lord will either calm your storm . . . or allow it to rage while
 He calms you.

“In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness….. Faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.” – Pope Francis: From His Cuba/U.S. visit in September 2015

Gospel Text: (MT 8:23-27)
As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

Once again, Jesus has to chastise the disciples for their seeming lack of trust and faith in him!  In retrospect, we really aren’t any different from the disciples in this regard!  Like them, we know deep down that Jesus is in charge, always there for us and trustworthy and faithful. As the frail human beings we are, we forget, we jump to conclusions, we quickly judge, we just plain mess up!  The scriptures are filled with the good news that Jesus is all about love, goodness, faith, trust, forgiveness.  He always has our back even when we don’t want to believe it.  It’s easy to trust in his goodness and love for us when things are going the way we want them to be.  But, the first little storm that comes our way we get all up in arms and cry “ WHY?” and can fall into despair!

What we and these disciples have in common is the same gracious Lord Jesus. To each of us, no matter what dangers we face and no matter their origins, He responds by offering the “great calm” that is ours through faith.

Monday, June 27, 2016

“We are free to choose our paths, but we can't choose the consequences that come with them.”

Scripture Text: (AM 2:6-10, 13-16)
Thus says the LORD:
For three crimes of Israel, and for four,
I will not revoke my word;
Because they sell the just man for silver,
and the poor man for a pair of sandals.
They trample the heads of the weak
into the dust of the earth,
and force the lowly out of the way.
Son and father go to the same prostitute,
profaning my holy name.
Upon garments taken in pledge
they recline beside any altar;
And the wine of those who have been fined
they drink in the house of their god.

Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorites before them,
who were as tall as the cedars,
and as strong as the oak trees.
I destroyed their fruit above,
and their roots beneath.
It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and who led you through the desert for forty years,
to occupy the land of the Amorites.

Beware, I will crush you into the ground
as a wagon crushes when laden with sheaves.
Flight shall perish from the swift,
and the strong man shall not retain his strength;
The warrior shall not save his life,
nor the bowman stand his ground;
The swift of foot shall not escape,
nor the horseman save his life.
And the most stouthearted of warriors
shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD.

Today’s first reading from Mass comes from Amos in the Old Testament. Amos was a common man from a little village who was powerfully used by God to remind the Jewish people to stay focused upon God who is ALWAYS with them.  He points out that God is not only aware of their sins, but also that His people often tend to forget the many times God has forgiven them and delivered them from evil.   Sadly, Amos also points out that righteous judgments and discipline are often the result of the choices made by His people. 

It is so easy for us to fall into this same trap in the fast paced world we live in as did the people that Amos was addressing in the reading above.  Are we really aware of God’s presence with us each hour of every day?  Do our thoughts, words and actions really grasp that God is constantly beside us?  I look at the horrible list of sins Amos mentioned and tend to think that I am really not that bad.  But are my quick judgments,  unkind thoughts & words, and my inability to see the needs of all those God has placed in my life any different?  In reality, they are each simply a symptom of my inability to maintain my focus upon Jesus. 

How is it that despite our best intentions at the start of each new day, we find it so difficult to maintain our focus upon our triune God?  We follow worldly influences that we know will lead to pain and suffering and, exactly like the Jewish people of Amos’ time, forget all the times throughout our lives when God brought us through difficult times and blessed us in spite of our endless wandering and worrying.

Amos reminds us that each of us has the power to make a difference, to be used by God.  As Jesus powerfully points out in Matthew 8, following Jesus must be our focus, every second of every day - above all else.  That directive certainly makes sense for us today, as keeping our focus upon Him leads us to incredible peace and joy, well beyond anything we could possible imagine.