Sunday, August 20, 2017

PRAYER THAT MOVES GOD


Lay people make up about 99% of the Church. The pope, bishops, priests, deacons and religious make up the rest. Now, God reveals Self and speaks to all of us. The Church officially recognizes this, calling it sensus fidelium. So today, instead of a homily, I thought we would take a few minutes of silence to see what God wants to say to each of us. What do you think? [Pause]

OK, I’ll give you my take. There are two key themes in today’s readings: first that we are called to be inclusive, and secondly the power of prayer. Is there's anything our country needs more today than prayer and to be united?

A leading politician dies and goes to heaven. As St. Peter escorts him in, he is shocked to see members of the other political party. They, in turn, stare at him and are speechless. He asks St. Peter, Why are they speechless? St. Peter replies, Because you're the last person they expected to see you here.

If there’s anything Jesus taught us, it is that we are called to be inclusive – to be one - not "us" and "them". Indeed that was his last prayer…not just to be kind in church, but to change our way of thinking...our way of living.  

Let’s look at today’s readings. From Isaiah, Foreigners will worship in my temple…for my house shall be a house of prayer for all. In our Responsorial Psalm we sang, Let all the nations praise you. In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul speaks of God’s mercy upon all.

And in our gospel, Jesus goes to pagan territory and there encounters a Canaanite - ancient enemies of Israel. Why did Jesus go to Tyre and Sidon? Perhaps, down deep he knew, as he says to his disciples at the end, Go to all nations and proclaim the Good News of God’s great love for all.

One thing we know for sure is that Jesus was not exclusive. He ate with all kinds of sinners: Pharisees, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He loved all. Still does.

We know this, and we seek to be most welcoming and inclusive at Our Lady of Good Counsel. But does this carry over into the rest of the week?

We are called Christians because we are his disciples …we want to follow him…to have that same attitude…especially when we gather to pray and break bread in God’s house.

But even more important than whether we receive Holy Communion is how we live holy communion.

Now regarding the second theme, we all love our children and know what’s best for them. We know what we need to do for their best interest. Still, at times, they have a way of changing our minds.

Does that also happen with God? Well, amazingly, that is what happened in our gospel passage. The Canaanite woman spoke up to Jesus and caused him to change his mind. 

Jesus said he was not there to cure Gentiles, but when he saw the faith of this mother, he was moved to do it. He saw things differently and did something he hadn't intended to do. The Canaanite woman caused him to change his mind, and make a miracle happen.

The first thing to bear in mind is that today's gospel passage is not just some historical story, but rather it is the Word of God speaking to us live today. What is God saying to us?

Perhaps that we shouldn't be all that surprised that our prayer can move God, just as Jesus was moved to change his mind. In part, this was because Jesus was a human being, like us in all things but sin. Though we may not think of him that way. 

We must remember that Jesus accepted human limitations - he got hungry and thirsty, just as we get hungry and thirsty. He had to learn to read. He had to die, as you and I have to die. And, like us, he sometimes changed his mind.

But perhaps there’s more. Perhaps, since we are made in the image and likeness of God, our willingness to change our mind also reflects God’s willingness to do so as well.

This has great implications for prayer. Some people say, Why should I ask God for this or that? God already knows everything and God knows what I'm going to ask before I ask it. Besides, God is changeless.

Let’s not be so quick. Remember God is a mystery. Let us not pigeon-hole God as if we know all about God and how God behaves. More importantly, we’ve all experienced the power of prayer. Perhaps our prayer does indeed influence God.

By “prayer” we mean not just going through the motions. There is a real conversation going on, as there was with the woman in today's gospel passage. Which means that prayer is nothing more than simple conversation...and we all know how to converse...we talk and we listen...heart-to-heart.

The Canaanite woman reminds me of another resourceful and witty woman - St. Teresa of Avila, who lived 500 years ago. She had a very special relationship with God, and she wrote a great deal, describing her experiences with God. One of the famous stories about her is the time she was riding in a donkey cart and it was overturned, throwing her into the mud. She said to Jesus, If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!

In one of her books, Teresa gives us some advice on prayer: Remain in the Lord's presence continually, and speak to him, pray to him in your necessities, and complain to him about your troubles; be merry with him in your joys. All this you can do without set prayers, but with words that come from the heart. 

In another place she simply says, Avoid being bashful with God, as some people are. 

That's a refreshing thought. We need to give that a try... perhaps today, this week. I suspect that few of us really talk to Jesus that way. We can learn from the Canaanite woman and from St. Teresa. 

We might discover how close Jesus really is to us, and how close we are to him. We might discover how easy it is to pray. After all, Jesus is our brother. And we can talk to him as one of the family.

We might also discover that prayer can move God and make miracles happen. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

SAILING WITH JESUS


Storms. We're used to them in Florida. And we have one in today's gospel. Let's look at it.

First, let's set the scene. It takes place in the Sea of Galilee, which is about seven miles by 13 miles, and over 150 feet deep. It's a large body of water.

Jesus came walking on that water, the gospel says, during the fourth watch of the night. That would be between three and six a.m. - the darkest part of the night.

The apostles are in a storm. A bad one. We've all seen them. Been in them. Perhaps while driving. We know the fear. But in a boat, in the darkest part of the night, in 150 feet of water? That is terrifying.

Speaking of the boat, it was probably about seven feet by 25 feet. Not a very large boat to be sailing on a body of water that large and that deep, but it's what they had back then.

So that's the scene, during the darkest part of the night, a storm is blowing, and the disciples are in a small boat. And where's Jesus? Not in the boat with them. At the beginning of this passage he was up on a mountain. Then he appears at some distance, walking on the sea.

You know the rest of the story. What do we learn from this scene?

The Sea of Galilee represents our world. You and I were born into this time and place. This is the piece of history on which we sail...where we spend our lives. It wasn't our choice, but here we are, and we can't escape into the past or the future. This is the sea we sail.

The darkest part of the night - the fourth watch. That represents whatever darkness there is in our life. May not know why. Part of our life is dark, not bright. We've all got those dark places.

The storm represents the problems in our life, problems great and small, which we can't seem to control, any more that the disciples could control that storm. Some are on the world scale. We worry these days about terrorism and the threat of nuclear war, 65 million displaced people - refugees - driven from their homes, alternative truth, health care for the poor and elderly, the ever-growing divisiveness in our country, and more. You and I can't seem to do much about these.

There are also problems in our Church. We seem to be just as divided here as well. Something that bothers all of us very much is that we haven't been able to inspire many of our youth and young adults to follow us in the path of faith that we were given by our parents. They don't go to Church regularly, if at all. We haven't been able to pass on our faith very well.

Then there are the storms in our personal lives. I can't list these for you, but we all have them. They churn in our stomach, and they're with us every day, and like the storm on the Sea of Galilee, we can't seem to control these either. Each of us has our own.

What about the small boat? That represents each of us. We face all these things and we feel small. We're tossed about by them, like that small boat on the Sea of Galilee. We're just trying to make it through the storm.

And Jesus, where is he? Of course, we believe in Jesus. That's why we come here to be with him in the Eucharist, but in these dark places and stormy places in our lives - he just doesn't seem to be part of them. He seems one step removed, looking at them from the outside. He can seem as far away as on that mountain, or nearby as he was on the sea, close to the boat, but not in it.

So what do we do? Well, I think we can learn something very, very helpful from this passage. We do what the disciples did. We cry out to him, and we bring him into our darkness, into the storm. We bring him into the boat! That's the key. And indeed that's what we do when we receive his Body in ours.

That dark place in my life? The storms in my life? Sometimes, I sit and talk to Jesus who may seem far away. Sometimes, I try to run from them and go somewhere to find Jesus, rather than bringing Jesus into the boat. That's the mistake Peter made. Jesus is willing to come here. He wants to come here. We have to let him in. But too often, we talk to him as though he were one step removed from us as we face the darkness and the storms.

Another thing. When we call the Lord into our boat, no need for some long-winded prayer. We need straight talk. Direct talk. Peter, when he was sinking didn't say, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, and I praise you and thank you for your goodness, and I was wondering if you would please turn toward me and be with me. No, Peter yelled, Lord, save me!

We need to talk straight to the Lord about the problems in our world, our Church, our personal lives. We need to speak clearly, emotionally.

What happens when we do that? Well, all the problems don't evaporate. But the storm inside me calms down. And the darkness in me brightens. And when the Lord gets into my boat - my life - I feel deep peace. In this gospel passage, when Jesus got into the boat the wind and sea became calm...and the twelve did too.

Today as you receive the Eucharist, feel the presence of our Lord in you, and this week as you think about the storms in our world, our Church, and in your own personal life, remember you're not sailing alone. He's with you... in your boat. Feel his peace. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

SUPERMAN


A while back, though it seems like yesterday, I spoke with children and parents in our Family Faith Formation program, regarding today's gospel passage about the Transfiguration of Jesus. I asked the children, What happened to Jesus in the gospel today?

Lots of little hands shot up. I called on one who answered, Jesus was changed. So I asked, Was he no longer Jesus?

They said, Yes, but he shone like the sun...and his clothes were like a bright light.

Someone else said, God spoke to him.

Let’s see, I said, Jesus was the same…and yet different. And God spoke to him.

Could that be true of us also? The kids were hesitant. So I asked, Do we know of anyone else who is the same, and yet different?

After waiting a bit, I gave them a clue…l unbuttoned my shirt to show a Superman T-shirt underneath. Both kids and parents burst out laughing. 

Then I asked, What do we know about Superman? Once more the children were quick to answer: He came from somewhere else. He was very powerful.

A little girl yelled, He was both Clark Kent and Superman …and he had a job to dofight evil.

I thanked her, and added, Jesus also had special powers because he came from another place, and he, too, came to fight evil.

And I asked, Do you believe we came from another place? Once again, without waiting to be called on, several children yelled, Yes, we came from God.

Well then, I asked, do you believe we have special powers? Do we have the power to make people feel better?

And I shared the following story: A mother told her son, Johnny, I need you to come home immediately after school today because I have some very important things to do. Johnny was a very obedient and loving eight-year old, and said he would.

Three o’clock came and went but Johnny was nowhere to be seen. Thirty minutes later, still no sign of Johnny, so Mom called the school and was informed that Johnny had left as usual when school ended. At four, Mom was getting angry and worried. She called some of the moms of Johnny’s friends and learned that Johnny had walked from school with Susie. When five o’clock came and Johnny was still not home, Mom was livid.

Finally, Johnny arrived, and Mom yells, Where have you been? I told you I needed you home immediately after school. Johnny explained that he noticed Susie was sad because her dog had died, so he walked her home. Now Mom is feeling kinder and not a little proud of her son. She asked, What did you say to her?

Johnny said, I didn’t know what to say. She sat on the porch and cried, so I did too.

Fighting evil is not about performing great miracles, but about being aware of someone who is hurting and being moved with compassion to help them...and we will amaze ourselves at the results. As St. Francis of Assisi said, Start by doing what is necessary, then do what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. 

That’s how we become like Jesus. The transfiguration is about radiating the truth of our being...as children of God. In a way, we are like Superman! Though at times we may limit ourselves, choosing to act only like Clark Kent.

And we actually do have an “S” within us...within our heart, waiting to be discovered. It doesn’t stand for Superman or Superwoman, but Saint. Saints are those who let the bright light of Christ shine through them. 

The more we become aware of the needs of others and respond with love, the more we not only believe that we came from God and have the power to help others, but the more we also discover this radiant, holy presence in us.

And maybe we, too, will hear God say to us, You are my beloved child. I would bet on it.