Wednesday, August 26, 2015

You May Serve the Devil or You May Serve the Lord, but You Gotta Serve Somebody!

Serve Somebody

"You may serve the devil or you may serve the Lord," Bob Dylan once sang, "but you gotta serve somebody.

We heard in the First Reading, "If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve: Whether the gods your father served beyond the River, or gods of Amorites and those countries you are now dwelling; as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

We all have to make the choice of who we are going to serve.  We may serve the devil or we may serve the Lord; but we can't serve both, and we need to make a choice.

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There is a good man at our parish. I went to see him the other night in the hospital.  It was around ten or eleven o'clock at night.  I got there and his children were still there. They were sharing stories about their father.  He was a little discouraged because he is coming towards the end of his life and he is having heart failure.  The kids were trying to tell him what a good father he has been and what a holy man he is.  It was interesting because they started sharing stories of how their father has inspired them his whole life.  His father's only hope, as many parents' only hope, is that his children will all go to church one day.

They shared many stories of their father, but one that really struck me was actually from the son-in-law.  The father had first told his grandson this story.  He was going through a difficult time and there was a lot of arguing.  He is a farmer, and back in the day the farmers would have to decide things for the whole county in terms of the land. There was a big hole one year that needed to be dug out to prevent flooding.

So the city council had a meeting and people came from all over the county. It was a hot-topic.  There was arguing and yelling. You could feel the tension in the room and everyone was permitted to stand up and speak their case.  Finally, one man came to stand at the podium, he took a second in silence and looked at everybody, and then he made the sign of the cross and said a prayer. This brought peace to the entire room.  At that moment, he had made a choice for the entire city to serve the Lord.

We have to serve somebody.  It is going to be the devil or it is going to be the Lord?

In that moment, the man standing at that podium made a visual choice; that is, for him and his household, for him and his city, he was going to serve the Lord.

Parents, it is so important for you to realize that it is up to you.  I mean, nail that plaque to your household:  "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."   It is up to you to make it that clear that you have made the choice to serve the Lord.  You and not only you, but your entire household, is at the service of the Lord.

When you were Baptized as a child, that choice was made for you.  But at some point we have to make that choice in the depths of our own heart.  We have to choose to serve God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul.  We have to make a fundamental choice for our life, that is either going to take us towards God or towards the enemy.

One of Pope Saint John Paul II’s beautiful documents, Varitatis Splendor, which means the splendor of truths, says it has been rightly pointed out that freedom is not only a choice for one or a particular action; it is also, within a choice, a decision about oneself, and a setting for one's life, their total life for or against God, for or against the truth and ultimately for or against the God of the universe.

There are certain moral choices we make that shape our entire destiny.  Some decisions change everything. At some point, we all need to make this fundamental choice towards God, by means of which there becomes a total commitment of oneself to God. Are we going to give Him everything?  As disciples, we are ultimately called to make this radical decision. This radical choice:  That is, for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Saint Ignatius had what we call, the two standards.  The two standards were actually flags.  He wanted to use the image of two Kings, one on each flag. The flags were used for an exercise within his 30-day retreats, where others were given a choice to decide which flag they would stand under. The choice designated which team you were on. He would then relate it to the history of the Church, where Christ calls all, and wants all, beneath his standard. Meanwhile, Lucifer, the devil, calls all and wants all to be under his standard.

Ignatius said there is a mental representation for this; a great plain comprising the whole region of Jerusalem. This will be the sovereign kingdom of the commander in chief. All that is good in the Lord.   Then there is another plain. The region of Babylon, where the chief enemy is Lucifer. It is up to you to make a choice.  Which side will you choose?  Which flag will you be under?  Which standard will you be under?  What choice will you make as to who you will serve?  You have to serve somebody; it is either the devil or the Lord.

Bob Dylan’s song, "Gotta Serve Somebody" was based off the First Reading today:  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  But it also deals with the Gospel- Jesus gives a profound teaching about the Eucharist, and He says, "Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, unless you live and breathe in Me and die in Me, you have no life within you."  It is such a hard teaching to comprehend that after He says it, many of the disciples turn away.  They could not handle it.  They did not choose Christ. They walked away.  Then finally, He asked the remaining twelve, "What about you?  What will you do? What choice will you make?"  And Simon Peter, the leader and future Pope of our Church says to Jesus, "Lord, to whom else shall we go?  You have the ways of everlasting life."  It comes to that moment of desperation and realization, that if we choose anywhere else, we are serving the devil; but if we stay with the Lord, we inherent eternal life.

Below are the lyrics to Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" and I just want you to think about the words as you read them -- he gives a lot of different examples. Think about who you might be in this song. Have you made that ultimate choice in your life?  Have you made that ultimate choice to serve God with all your heart, your mind and your soul?

"If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today who you will serve:  The gods of which your father served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites of whose country you are now dwelling...

Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an Ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. 
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody. 
Might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, 
Women in a cage 
You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief. 
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody. 
You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name. 
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes 
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody. 
You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody's landlord you might even own banks. 
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes 
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody. 
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir. 
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes 
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody. 
Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed. 
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody. 
You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say. 
You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Who will you serve?  Have you made that ultimate choice in your life that is going to direct all of the other actions in your life?   Will you serve the Lord?  The choice was made for you in Baptism, but have you claimed that choice for yourself?  Have you come to the point, the depth of your heart like Peter, where you say to the Lord, "Yes, Lord, to whom else shall we go?"  You have the words of eternal life.  If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today who you will serve.  ...As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Friday, August 21, 2015

SportsThis Weekend? As For Me And My House, We Will Serve The LORD!

"If it does not please you to serve the LORD, 
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

The other day I took a quick run through Beaver Creek Reservation and as I was running back to the rectory I decided to cut through the football fields.  I recognized a familiar sound.   I’ve always thought it was construction workers with an electric sledge hammer, but it turns out it is some kind of metronome device used for the marching band practice.  I couldn’t believe it!  There had to be over a hundred kids listening to that annoying sound, marching step by step to the beat – for hours at a time!  There were drummers practicing, among other instruments – it was quite the production!  (I talked to a couple of them who were serving for mass, one being the drum major, and they told me that in the last weeks of summer they had 14 hour days and now that school is in session they practice every day after school for two hours!)  

I continued running... next my trek took me by the soccer goals, where there were about 40 kids practicing drills.  Two separate offense and defensive lines were practicing on either side of the field.  Again, probably another hundred kids on the field going over plays. There was a ton of energy on that field and it was quite a sight to see!  I began thinking: “What is it about sports that draws these kids?  What is it that makes them so dedicated?  These kids practice EVERY day after school for HOURS!  And they want to!  For what?

I can’t help but think of when my former pastor, Fr. Martello, had asked me to run the parish's Confirmation program.  At the time, this was a program for freshman and sophomores.  I enjoyed doing this -working with the teens, and the facilitators- but I have to admit it was absolutely EXHAUSTING!  Now believe me, I want to help people and accommodate them, but it was ridiculous the amount of times kids had to leave early or come late because they COULDN’T miss a practice / scrimmage / game.  I would often say to the parents: “What’s more important.”  And the response was commonly: “Father, can’t they do both?”  Well, yes, they can, but to a point!   At some point you do have to choose.  This is where Joshua’s challenge rings true:  “If it does not please you to serve the lord, decide today whom you will serve.”  I think after praying with this passage, I’m not doing in anymore… no more allowing sports to dominate your lives… you have to choose. 

Fr. Larry Richards describes this modern day dilemma very well, in his book: Bea Man!  Becoming the Man God Created Youto Be.

Most men are willing to spend time doing just about anything else – making money, work out, watch sports, etc. – rather than spend time getting to know God.  I used to teach boys at an all-boys Catholic high school.  The main argument every year was, what is more important – God or sports?  What do you think won?  Sports!  Sports can become a god for people because, many times, people give so much of their time and energy to sports.  Every year I’d have the same conversation.   
“Gentleman, what do you want to do this year?”  I’d ask.  
“We are going to be state champions, Father”, my Catholic School students would reply.  
“Whoa, state champions.  I’m impressed.  What are you going to do, gentlemen, to become state champions?” 
Do you know what they would say?  They will have to spend four hours a day, every day, throwing a football, kicking a soccer ball, or hitting a hockey puck; the swimmers will have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to start swimming – and they did it.  They still do it to this day, so they can become state champions.  They did it gladly.  Can you imagine? 
Years ago, the football team actually became the state champions!  Those kids were on the top of the world!  “Look at us, we’re state champions.”  A lot of them went to college and received full scholarships.  But, now, they are doing nothing when it comes to sports!  Nothing!  When they get to be my age, they will tell their sons, “When I was your age, son, I was a state champion football player,” And their kids will look at them and say, “Shut up, Dad.  You are just fat and bald now – nobody cares." 
People put all this time and energy into things that are passing and ultimately will not matter.  If I asked those same kids, “Gentlemen, what are you doing this year?”  
“We are going to be state champions.”  
“What are you going to do to prove to me you are going to be state champions?”  
If they say, “Well, we are going to practice once a week, if we feel like it, for forty-five minutes to an hour and we are going to have good thoughts about the game.”  
I would say:  “Wrong answer, gentlemen.  You are going to be horrible in sports.  You are not going to go anywhere if you give it only forty-five minutes to an hour and add some good thoughts.” 

I love this passage, because it is how many of us so often approach our spiritual lives!!!  Really!?  Is this going to win you the game in the spiritual life?  Is this kind of commitment going to get you to heaven?  Is this what Jesus suffered and died for? 

What is so commendable about Joshua is that he took a stand. 

"If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

"As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

I repeated that last line for a reason- Who will you serve?  To whom will you dedicate your time and your energy too? 

Who or what preoccupies your thoughts and desires?  What are you most dedicated to? 

Now I know the immediate answer most will say is “God.” but if we are honest… if we really look at how we order our lives, we will probably find that we are really not as dedicated as we think.  Really, think about this.  How much time and energy do you really dedicate to focused practice?  These grade school and high school kids will spend three hours every day after school in sports.  How much time ought we spend 'practicing' our faith, getting to know God, learning, praying, and being intensely focused on God?  Think about all of the things that your pour your energy into, willingly or unwillingly.  Think about what consumes your mind, what you spend the most time and energy thinking about.  Is it really God? 

What I’m asking you to do today is the same thing that Joshua commanded.  “Decide today whom you will serve.” 

Here are three ways that I think this can be done:  

Dedicate yourself, your heart, your home, and your family to God.  “As for me and my family we will serve the Lord.”   Take command and control of your family and choose to dedicate yourself to the Lord.  Stop giving in to all of the other things, activities, and events that are less important.  Make a concerted choice to put God first.  Actually do this.  Make it some kind of ritual – hang a crucifix or paint these words on your front door.  Claim yourself and your family to Christ and do so BOLDLY.  
Make a daily “Holy Hour.”  Now I know this may seem difficult, but think about it, we are talking about investing in eternal life!  Kids will spend hours in sports, you may spend hours at work, or with a hobby like golf, or watching TV.  "Where your treasure is, there is your heart...." "Could you not watch one hour with me?" (Mt 6:21; 26:40)  You can make time in your life, you need to make time in your life every day in a dedicated and focused time with God.  Do this if possible at your church in front of the Blessed Sacrament (For further reading see "24 Reasons for Spending a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament"

I hear it from 'practicing' Catholics all the time.  They’ll start by saying “Father, I’m a good Catholic… I go to mass on Sundays, and Father, I pray every day.”  “How do you pray?”, I ask.  “Well, I don’t really spend time in prayer, but I talk to God all the time, well actually mostly when I need something.”  We need to have that same dedication that we have to sports, and work, and hobbies, and even more so we need to have it with God.  Traditionally the Saints have called for a 'holy hour.'  The idea is that if we are really committed to Christ and serious about serving the Lord then we need to spend at least one hour with Him every day. 

Come early and stay late.  I’ve noticed this more and more at my parish and I know it happens at others.  People come late to mass and leave early.  I know, I know.. this is hard for me too, especially when it’s the early mass!  But, if this is the source and summit of our faith… that is to say, if the Sunday Eucharist is 'game day', then we simply cannot be coming in late.  Every time we leave early or come late we are making a choice to put something else in front of God… we are creating an idol.  Every time we leave early or rush out to something else – we are placing that thing or event above God.  If you are leaving early to get home and watch TV, you have just made TV an idol.  If you are leaving early to get to a sporting event, you are worshiping an event above God. If you are leaving early to go to breakfast, you are placing food above God… whatever it is, you have just created and worshiped an idol, because you have either come late or left early from the event that is supposed to be the center of our lives. 

Today, God is asking you to make a choice.  He is asking you to look at your life and what you are dedicated and committed to, and He is asking you to choose “Who you will serve.”  For the followers of Jesus this was a 'hard saying', and many of them left.  “Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges, and their officers.  When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people and he forced them to make a choice.  And with great conviction he dedicated himself and claimed his family for God.  As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” 

Today, dedicate yourself to Christ, make a resolution to a daily holy hour, and come to mass early and stay late. 

Today, decide whom you will serve… as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

10 Foods You Would Think Are Healthy, and the True Bread of Life

10 Foods You Would Think Are Healthy...

I'm sure you're familiar with the adage, "you are what you eat", but I'm willing to bet you don't know what I'm about to tell you.. and if you do, you're probably living a much healthier and perhaps happier life!

Audio Version Available - Click To Listen

Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware! Just because something seems to be healthy, it doesn't necessarily mean it really is. I have learned this over the past few years. For some time now, I have been trying to eat healthier and trying to eat food that is really good for me.

Recently, I came across an article in Forbes magazine that talks about foods we think are healthy that really are not. So I asked a friend who is a nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic about dieting and how we frequently hear about foods that are good for you, then later hear that they are not good for you. I said, "Do we really know what we are talking about with all of this?" She thought for a minute, and she said to me, "No, we don't." She continued, "We know more about space than we do about our own bodies and about how we process food.

So here's what I found to be the most surprising items on the list, which according to Forbes, are the top things people think are healthy for them, but are really not....

Wheat Bread & Whole Grains: Wheat bread! We think it is really healthy for us. However, you can literally add wheat to just about anything and call it whole wheat. This is the same for all grains. For instance, they have whole grain Lucky Charms. You can eat whole grain Lucky Charms! Do you think they are healthy for you? No, they are not, right? One of my favorite things growing up was Raisin Bran Cereal. I always thought I was eating so healthy eating bran cereal. Raisin Bran Cereal has as much, or more, sugar as Lucky Charms or Fruity Pebbles. Whole grains are not healthy for you!

Dried Fruit & Fruit Cocktail: Fruit is good for us, right? Of course, fruit is good for us! However, fruit cocktail is terrible for us because it is filled with sugar and preservatives, same with dried fruit. We think because it is fruit that it has to be good for us, right? Well, no. Both contain a lot of added sugar and preservatives. Dried fruit in particular, has three times more calories per volume than fresh fruit. So do not eat processed fruit, it is not good for you -eat it fresh!

Trail mix: Let me preface this one by saying that I love trail mix!  Of course, if it were just unsalted nuts, uncooked, and raw, they would be wonderful for us. But everything in the trail mix is cooked, salted, and sweetened. It turns out that it is not a very healthy snack for us.

Yogurt - Frozen & Fat Free: It has to be good for us if it is yogurt, right? Frozen yogurt! Again, there is absolutely no nutritional value to frozen yogurt. None. We are doing a disservice by eating FroYo instead of ice cream. It is actually filled with sugar. Then, of course, you put all of the toppings on it. We might as well go to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. 

What about the fat-free flavored yogurts?. It has to be good for us if it is fat free, right?  "Fat-free flavored yogurt..." -say it with me- "fat-free foods are not health foods!" Just because the label says 'Fat Free', does not mean it is healthy for us. It is probably actually worse because it lacks all the good fat, and marketing it as 'fat free' makes it sound as if it were healthier than it really is. 

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter: Labeling something as 'Reduced Fat' is not any better than calling it 'Fat Free'.  By reducing the good fat content, we are left with empty carbs.

Protein Bars: I eat protein bars, but you have to read the label because there are some that are not good for you -and by 'not good', I mean that most protein bars are the equivalent of candy bars. If you are going to eat a protein bar, do not bother eating a disgusting one -just grab yourself a Snickers candy bar. and you will feel a lot better!

And finally...

Organic Snack Foods: Again, just because the label says 'organic', doesn't mean it really the connotation of 'organic' that you and I think it is -nor is it really good for us. We all know Pop Tarts aren't really the best source of nutrition, so just because it is an organic Pop Tart, does not mean it is going to be healthy for us.

The reality, and the truth, is that advertising agencies do whatever they can to try and sell their products, and it has worked amazingly well on us. If a company slaps the words 'whole grain', 'whole wheat', or 'nonfat', on a product, all of a sudden we think it is healthy for us. I have to say, it is just down right confusing! If you read the back of the label to find what is actually in the food, it is really absurd and impossible to try to eat healthy and naturally when we are being mislead by such misconstrued buzzwords.

Jesus says to us, "I am the true food that came down from Heaven. I am the true bread."

He is telling us that He is the true bread. Now, the question is, can we really believe Him? Do we really believe that, or is this just kind of like a marketing ploy coming from Heaven?

When Jesus says, "I am the true bread that came down from Heaven",  He is making a promise to us. He is telling us the reality of who He is. For thousands of years we, as Catholics, have believed in the real presence. We believe that when the bread and wine are transformed at the consecration, they become the Body and Blood of Christ; that we are really eating the Body and Blood of Jesus. That in sacrament, He is present to us. This is one of the main distinctions between the Christian religions.

Some people say, "Well, Father, aren't all Christian faiths the same? Don’t we all believe in the same God?" The difference is that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic Faith. You are what you eat. We are what we eat here within the Sacrament. The Eucharist is the true food come down from Heaven. Eastern Orthodox have always maintained from the very beginning in the ancient faith that this is the real presence. The earliest teachers of our church, the doctors of our church, scripture, all reveal the reality of the true presence. It was not until about the 1500 or 1600s, with the Protestant Reformation, that different groups, as they separated from the Catholic Church, also stopped believing in the real presence.

When Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin, and others began to break away and form their own churches, they stopped believing in the Eucharist. They stopped believing in the real presence. Now we have this condition that we live in where there is a questioning and a doubting, even among Catholics.

It is said that only 50 percent of Catholics really believe in the true presence of the Eucharist, that this really is the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet for 2,000 years, it was never questioned. We always believed it. I think some of it has to do with this confusion where we are taught and told all of these different things. Some say it is a sign. Some say it is just a symbol. Some say it is not even that, it is just bread and wine. We are crazy for thinking this. But the truth is, and the reality is, we firmly believe in the real presence.

Jesus could not have been more clear to us when He said, "I am the true bread that came down from Heaven." When He said this, the Jews began to quarrel. They began to get upset and say, "Who is this guy?" "What does He mean, we have to eat His flesh and drink His blood?" "He’s crazy." and they began to quarrel.

It is interesting, because Jesus says it seven times -and anytime we hear the number seven, it is supposed to remind us of the Divine. We have seven days in the week; Sunday being the seventh day. We have the seven Sacraments. He says it seven times. Why would He have made such an effort to say, "My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink," over and over again? 

Because, "Unless you eat this flesh and drink this blood, you have no life within you."

Now, the Jews began to become confused by this concept. They did not understand. The first two times when Jesus says, "Unless you eat My Body and Drink My Blood," He uses the Greek word phago. And phago means 'to consume a meal'. It means what we would consider eating. When they are not getting it, Jesus finally says to them, "No. I tell you, unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life within you." But the interesting thing is that time He says a different word, and it is a Greek word, which is trógó, which means 'to gnaw, crunch, and chew'.

Jesus is literally saying, "Unless you really eat this body and blood, you have no life within you." He is making it clear. He is not talking in analogies. He means real devouring; that we must consume the Body of Christ or we will have no life within us. Jesus meant exactly what He said. Anytime He was questioned, He response became clearer, stronger, and more graphic; that His flesh and blood is true food and drink.

In our world we can really get mixed up on what is healthy for us, what is good for us, and what is not good for us. What is wonderful about Jesus and the Sacraments, is that He made it very clear: This is the true food; this is the real presence. If we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we will have life within us. The wonderful thing is that Jesus says not only will we have life within us, but if we receive Him, “I will remain in you and you will remain in Me”.  His flesh and blood comes into you, and your flesh and blood becomes one with Him. You remain in Him and He remains in you.

This is not just a marketing ploy. This is not just a gimmick. This is the real and true presence of God. Jesus says with great strength, "Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life within you."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Today's Feast of the Assumption

The Feast of the Assumption

As humans, we get caught up in alot of things - some good, some not so. As we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption today, we are reminded that it is possible to be caught up in God. So on this Feast day,  I thought I'd repost a Homily from a few years back that reminds us that God shows us through the Assumption of Mary, that it is possible to be caught up entirely body and soul in Him (Enjoy - my apologies there is no audio with this one!) .... 

A couple of weeks ago I spent my summer vacation on Lake Erie. It was a great week. I had people out to the house non-stop… priests, friends, my family. There was one evening where I was actually alone for about a half an hour between company so I sat by the lake to pray. 

At our house we have a cement patio that overlooks the water with a metal pole that goes all around it for a hand railing. I opened up my breviary and began to say evening prayer. When I was about half way through (praying the Magnificat, which is Mary’s great proclamation of the Greatness of the Lord) I noticed something happening in the horizon. It got real dark and windy and I noticed way off a whirlwind and water began to lift out of the water. The neighbor told me he’d only seen a couple water spouts in his lifetime and that he’d never seen one anything like the size of this. The tunnel got larger and larger and began to come closer. Numerous times I debated watching or running for cover. 

It finally got so windy that it blew all of the patio furniture off the patio and down into the neighbors bushes. I closed my breviary and decided to clench my arms around the rail and I held on as the wind raged around me. Even then I thought, maybe I shouldn’t stay here, but I was totally taken up in the wonder and the power of God before me. After it came within about a hundred yards and I was almost ready to run, it shifted and began to move East up the coast. It got calm for a moment and then rain poured so hard it felt like hail. It was then that I ran for the house. 

I realized that I have this innate attraction to be taken up into something, even if it is against my better judgment. And I think it’s true for all of us. We all desire to be caught up in something. Wanting to stay, knowing I should probably run. We all desire to be caught up in something. We are attracted to this idea of being taken out of ourselves. It can be scary at times. But Mary shows us that we can be caught up in God. A total and unconditional Yes. 

As we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption we are reminded that it is possible to be caught up into God. Mary was so taken up with God, her Yes was so strong, she grabbed onto that rail of faith so tight that: 

She gave birth to a son, a male child, 
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. 
Her child was caught up to God and his throne. 

We too, will either be caught up in God, or caught up in something else. Think of all the things we can get caught up in...

We get caught up in the moment, maybe an argument that we didn’t intend to start, or caught up in an action or behavior that we never intended, or caught up in good book that we can’t put down, maybe the latest Twilight book or Harry Potter or John Grisham, caught up in a fight or a bad relationship, caught up searching for new apps for our droid or IPhone, caught up in facebook or Farmville and waist way more time then we intended.. The worst is when I get caught up in a lame TV movie on a lazy afternoon and waist hours because we feel like we have to watch it until the end. Or we get caught up surfing the net because of some junk email that someone sent us, or caught up surging the net going to websites we have no business going to. Or we get caught up in a relationship that we should not be in or a love affair that needs to end. 

Like me watching the waterspout and clenching my hands to the rails, we often have this tendency to get caught up into something and we often times stay longer then we reasonably should. The truth is that God gave us this desire to be caught with Him. And if we are not caught up with him we are going to be caught up to something else. 

What are you caught up in right now? Where are you staying longer than you reasonably should? 

The truth is we all desire to be caught up in something. If we are not caught up in God we are going to be caught up in something or someone else. On this Feast day, God shows us through the Assumption of Mary, that it is possible to be caught up entirely body and soul to Him.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hit Rock Bottom? Well You Have An Angel!

"For He has commanded His angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go."

Elijah went on a long journey. When he was tired from traveling, he laid down under a boom tree in the hot sun and he fell asleep. He was exhausted. He could not journey anymore. He was giving up. As he laid down to fall asleep, he prayed this final prayer out to God. He said, "This is enough, Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers."

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I would gather to say that Elijah was at rock bottom. He was completely done. He was laying under this tree and he was ready to go. Then two angels came upon him, touched him, and ordered him to get up and eat. They had provided for him a hearth cake and a jug of water.

Elijah got up and he ate. Then he went back to sleep again. The angels came back and shook him and woke him up, and they said to him, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you." So Elijah got up and ate and he walked on from there for 40 days and 40 nights.

Sometimes the journey seems long for us, doesn't it? Life with all its difficulties and all of its hardships? Sometimes we just want to give up and throw in the towel, like we can't take it anymore. We feel like Elijah, saying, "Take my life, Lord. This is enough." Then we find that God intercedes. Just when we think we have hit rock bottom, just when we think we can't go on anymore, just when we think life has become too difficult, God intercedes -and He often does through angels.

Angels ultimately are God's messengers and God can come upon us in many different ways. God can send angels to us, the actual angels from heaven, or He can also send messengers to us here on Earth that can become earthly angels.

Recently I received an email from a father about his little girl who has been suffering from seizures. I would like to share their story with you. The father, Matt, struggled with spinal meningitis when he was a boy. He had the illness early on in his childhood. His parents would often pray Psalm 91 for him. And Psalm 91 is, "For He has commanded His angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go."

Matt had to be treated at Akron Children's Hospital. He lived in Norwalk, Ohio. Think about the drive from Norwalk to Akron Children's Hospital (about 1 1/2 hours one way, for my nonlocal readers). Now imagine doing that every day with your child, that's close to 3 hours roundtrip -just in the car. The rides were long, so Matt's family began to pray Psalm 91 together on the way home. And you know what? A few nights after they began this, Matt was essentially healed. They really believe that God performed a miracle; that through the angels Matt became totally healthy. The doctor said that he was probably going to grow up to have many complications, but he never did. From that moment on, Matt was completely healed.

Now years later, Matt writes that his daughter, Katie, has started having seizures recently. The last one that she had was just over a week ago. So he went to his parents for advice, and his parents said to him, "Well, we've always prayed Psalm 91 for you. Why don't you pray that for Katie."

So Matt and his wife began praying Psalm 91 for Katie: "For He has commanded His angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go." They began praying that prayer over and over and over again.

The family began to ask everybody to pray for Katie. They started prayer chains on Facebook and other social networks, and through e-mail. Everyone began praying for Katie. 

Then as Matt's mother was praying with one of her friends, his mother's friend said that she clearly heard God say to her, "Can I not protect Katie wherever she goes? Can I not do that?"  Matt's mother got the sense that this was a confirmation of Psalm 91: "I will protect you with My angels."

That very day Katie's mother was driving her home, when all of a sudden Katie began to have a seizure in the car. Katie's mother called the father and said, "Katie is having a seizure." She didn't know what to do   Meanwhile, the father is just listening on the phone this whole time. He could not see anything, but he was listening on the phone. Katie's mom pulled the van over, and got Katie out of her seat. While Katie was having a seizure right there on the side of the road, a car pulled over and asked if they were they okay and needed any help.

Katie's mother told the passersby that her daughter was having a seizure and was in need of some help. And as it turns out the driver of the other car is a firefighter and his wife, who was also in the car, is a specialist in the school system, where she treats kids with seizures. So she knew exactly what to do with Katie; she massaged her sternum and helped her to be still and to silence the seizure.

Matt wrote in his email that he realized God's intercession came through in these good Samaritans. Who other than a paramedic and a specialist in treating people with seizures would pull over to help them? The same people also happened to know Matt's neighbors.  So as Katie went on to the Emergency Room, they were able to drive their van back home for them.

There are two insights to draw from this, and I think they are good insights for all of us. First of all, as Matt explained, when God spoke to his mother's friend, "He said that He could protect Katie wherever she is, and He showed up." So that is the first insight. God can protect your children wherever they go. I know a lot of you have children going off to college or getting ready to go away to school. So I want you to think about Psalm 91; God sends His angels with your children, and He can protect them wherever they go.

Secondly, he says in Psalm 91, "He commands His angels with regard to them, to guard you wherever you go." It seems hard to think how God could not have commanded His angels to this place where they needed Him at that very moment. We don't know the final outcome, but through these events, and everyone's prayers, Matt feels that God is with Katie, and while they would not have chosen for God to reveal Himself in this way, God did reveal Himself in this way. 

I want you think about how God reveals Himself to us in our struggles. While Katie's parents do not want her to have this condition, it is because of this condition, that God has revealed Himself.

Maybe there is a condition that you have or that your children have, and you wish that you did not have it. Sometimes people ask me why... "Why, Father, does God let me have this, or let my child have this, or let whomever have this."  Well, we know the answer to the why, actually. It is for His greater glory. God is going to reveal Himself in that condition. 

However, we are not always sure of the how or when. We do not know how God is going to do it. I think, for all of us, we can be reminded by Psalm 91, "For He has commanded His angels with regard to you, to go with you wherever you go." Just when we think the journey has become too long, just like Elijah, and we are ready to give up and lay down, -and just like Katie on the side of the road lying there in her seizure, that is when God comes to us. That is when He sends His angels and that is when He performs miracles and helps us to believe. Whatever it is that you are going through in life; if you are just about ready to give up, know that God will minister to you, either through His angels or through other people.

Katie likes to sit by the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue in front of the Rectory here at Saint Joseph, and has been doing this every week since Easter. She goes in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue and she sits there and prays with Jesus. Last weekend while doing this, Katie said to her mom and dad, "Picture. I want a picture."  They realized that she wanted a picture with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. So maybe when you are leaving Mass and you pass by the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the picture here on my blog, you can say a pray for Katie.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

You're Going To Want To Sit Down For This!

You're Going To Want To Sit Down For This! 

I was trying really hard to get a prop for my Homily this past weekend. It is a virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. If you haven't seen one before, it's basically a device that you put on your head -like giant goggles.

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So I put a feeler out on Facebook, which usually comes through and it did -just a little too late for Mass. Turns out a friend of mine has one. So I asked him, "Well, can I still borrow it?" And he said, "Well Father, the headset's charged up to this supercomputer-like thing, you can't just move it into a church." So I asked him to at least tell me what the experience is like so that I can explain it. He said, "It is pretty amazing! For example, if you put it on and you set it to go on a roller coaster ride, when you go over the hill, you actually feel your stomach drop. It is a real experience!" I asked him if it was like 3D and he said, "Yes. Except it is much more than that - almost like 4D. Everywhere you look, you are there. Everything you see and experience, you are there."

I was trying to read up about this, and I found an interesting article. The article begins like this, "Children, you might want to sit down for this one."

I recline in an office chair. A moment later, after whizzing through a space-time tunnel that looks like a tornado made of pure light, I find myself sitting on a beach in Hawaii. -They had me at that part!

The colors are vivid and rich, sunlight dappled. The sound of waves echoed in my ears, the palms swayed in the wind, and the wide ocean sparkled to the horizon. I am alone.

I feel an immediate sense of calm. It is uncanny, but I would swear my skin is growing warm in the sunlight, and a faint breeze is carrying a mist off the water. My heartbeat begins to slow. As I crane my neck to look at the coconuts in the trees, the landscape becomes pixelated. It is kind of like being on spring break in the World of Warcraft.

I am immersed in a virtual-reality experience, aptly called 'The Teleporter'. The Hawaiian expedition, along with the virtual journey to the top of the London skyscraper, was designed by Marriott Hotels as a way for its guests to experience the future of travel. The founder says, as he helps me lift off the head set, the Oculus VR Rift. It is then that I realize that the ocean spray was actually just beads of sweat that collected around my forehead and around the edges of the mask.

It is as close as you can get to a real-life experience.

It will be cheap. It will be safe and hassle-free travel. Think of all the trauma involved in travel: the fossil fuels that are spent, the germs that you get on a plane, the money that it costs, the amount of time it takes to travel somewhere. The founding director of Stanford University, says “Virtual Reality allows you to travel when you want to, and not when you have to. Forget the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pat downs, jet lag, long lines, luggage, bewildering menus, lumpy mattresses, predatory locals all of which actually make travel such a drag. The Oculus Rift never runs out of space in its overhead bins. 

This is how the tech people tend to talk. They talk with total confidence that every new tool is going to change the face of the world and we are going to experience things that we never have before. Yet research will suggest that this 'virtual reality' does offer some benefits. The University of Melbourne in Australia conducted a study which consisted of 40-second-long virtual reality micro breaks for people at work. The result: a reported increase in the workers’ ability to focus on the task at hand. So the new theory is that if they put suites in offices, people will never need to go on vacation.

Well I don't know about you, but I don't think that is going to be true for me!

Marriott Hotels are considering incorporating these 'Virtual Reality Suites' into their hotel rooms to better advertise their properties, but also allow people in-room entertainment (I hope this does not get into adult entertainment as well). The idea is that guests won't even have to leave their hotel room. The prospect of virtual travel and my whirlwind of tour-pixelated destinations leaves me pining for the glorious inconvenience of a delayed flight or a malfunctioning hotel thermostat. No matter how seamless the 3D scanning, a virtual vacation will never manage to replicate the greatest thing about going somewhere: Serendipity.

The truth is, virtual reality will never take us as far as reality can.

Jesus said in the Gospel today, "I am the true bread that came down from Heaven. I am the real presence." He says, "Amen. Amen I say to you. You came looking for Me. Not because you saw a sign, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. You ate the loaves and were filled."

What brings YOU to this reality every Sunday? Why do you come here on Sunday? What brings you to Mass Sunday after Sunday? Do you experience Jesus truly as the true bread that came down from Heaven? The truth is, are you willing to experience reality on God's terms?

Yes, Virtual Reality is an escape, but the truth is, just like any journey, the journey to Heaven oftentimes is accompanied by difficulties, inconveniences, frustrations, the trip not going as we expected it to: life's disappointments. All that comes with the journey in travel, just as it comes with our travel to Heaven. But like all journeys, there are wonderful graces. There are wonderful experiences that we could never have anticipated. Those serendipitous moments where we discover something that no one else has discovered before.

In the latest Encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si' ('Praise Be To You'), the Holy Father talks about the wonder of creation. The wonder of being able to experience creation as God intended. He talks about the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist today. The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life.

Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plain, on a different reality. Water, oil, fire, and colors taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated into this act of praise. The hand that blesses us is God's instrument; it is God's love and the reflection of our closeness with Jesus Christ and the journey that we are on together.

For all of us, as we think about experiencing reality and life as it truly is, with its pitfalls, but also with its graces, I want to end with a poem. It is by a Jesuit theologian poet. His name is Pierre de Chardin. The poem is called, "Patient Trust." I want you to think about this. Whatever is going on in your life's journey right now, this is what happens when we trust in the reality God presents in the Eucharist.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
To reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
Unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
That it is made by passing through
Some stages of instability—
And that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
As though you could be today what time
(That is to say, grace and circumstances
Acting on your own good will)
Will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
Gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
That His hand is leading you,
And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
In suspense and incomplete.
On a virtual vacation, everything is bitmapped, everything is programmed. The programmer is your tour guide, and you can never stray from the group. You can't say you discovered this tiny little restaurant, or met these amazing people on the street, or saw this impromptu concert. The truth is, for all its bells and whistles, virtual reality is more like a postcard than a journey. It flattens what should be a multi-sensory voyage in a shallow facsimile. 

Albert Rizzo, a psychologist who launched a Virtual Reality Lab at the University of Southern California in 1996, said this: "People are always going to go and want to go in the flesh." You don't have the feel of the sand, the sun shining on you, and all those tactile senses." And it is true with us, too. We want and need to experience God in the flesh. We need to be fed by the true bread that comes down from Heaven. So if you are one of those early adopters that can't wait to lie on a virtual beach, go right ahead. It just means there is going to be more space on the sand for those of us who prefer the real thing.