I think this marks the first time I have ever preached about snowcones.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus cautins His listeners to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate”. The thing is, though, sometimes we need help finding the gate!
Go ahead…it’s only 12 minutes long.
Howdy Do! After a relatively long hiatus from the blogging world, I have decided to make a return. It isn’t that my time is any more free than it was when I last posted (though I am arguably less stressed out about my role at my secular job, a field sales manager for a medical device company); I do have a sense, though, that I have stuff to say.
Thing is: There are tons of folks in our lives (and yes, I am talking to you; yes, you…yeah. I am looking at you) who need to hear about the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. There. I said it. And it isn’t that “they need church” (or Church – ask me the difference, if you want); church is a second, third, or subsequent thing they need. And too often, I think we “Church folks” are so busy making sure that everyone is following the rules, that we forget to lead with the love of Christ, whose Father “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
I’ve always found that next line in the same passage (John 3:17) so interesting: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” And for all the presence of that statement, that Jesus came so that the world “might be saved through Him”, we often hear our Church leaders lead with fire and brimstone, and condemnation.
How did Jesus approach the Samaritan woman at the well? He started a conversation with her. And even when she wasn’t honest with Him, he merely pointed out that He knew the truth of her life. Then, he offered her a different Way: Himself. And her response? She went and told the whole town that she’d met Someone “who told me everything I have done. (John 4:29)”
She was among the first lay evangelists, who shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with other people, “who then began to believe in Jesus because of the word of the woman* who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.'” It wasn’t some professional preacher who brought those folks to faith in Jesus Christ: it was an outcast woman who’d had five husbands, someone who went to the well at noon in order to avoid her neighbors, someone who ultimately brought many in her town to faith in Jesus…because she was so moved by meeting Jesus, and coming into relationship with Him, that she couldn’t not talk about Him!
Y’all: if a person nobody wanted to deal with, because of her lifestyle, can bring people to the joy and peace of faith in Jesus…why can’t you and I do it? And if she can encounter Him in the normal course of a day’s events, why can’t you and I?
People need to hear about Jesus. They don’t need to hear about all the regulations and rules (those come later, after they have a “why” to go along with the “what” of the Church); they need to hear first the we love them, and that we love them because God loves them. They need to hear about the person of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. First.
Because without Christ, the rest of it is just a really big club with a lot of subordinate organizations and a lot of rules. Without Jesus, it’s really just all about us.
And it ain’t all about us.
Had to mention this one, too.
One of the ladies who attended the retreat yesterday stopped me after we finished, expressing appreciation for our having put on the retreat. That was nice of her… I thought.
Then she said something that both encouraged and kinda floored me, at the same time.
She said, “I was just so pleased to see so many men here! These things are usually full of women!
I thought some on that; being a man, and usually being at the things I am responsible for, I don’t usually notice it. But she’s right.
Men, where y’all at? You do realize that you’re called to be the spiritual leader of your home, right? You do realize that, when you had your child(ren) baptized, you promised God and His Church a bunch of stuff…remember?
Of course you do. I was just asking.
So, men…come on out. The ladies notice!
And you know what else?
The ladies need us.
It is our job to assist the women in our lives…to get to Heaven. And we can’t do that sitting on the couch watching football (or locked in our “home office” watching porn!). God has called and gifted every man on Earth to step up and lead others to Heaven; problem is, we’ve gotten so accustomed to the %>$&@ we get shoveled by the evil one, we now believe his lies: that it’s all about us, that our wives don’t mind, or don’t want us telling them what to do, that we aren’t hurting anyone by the things we do in private.
But boys: those are all lies. Those are all excuses for inaction. And they leave the people we love…in the dirt. We can’t do that!
Jesus hasn’t stopped calling us. Jesus hasn’t stopped gifting us. And He stands ready to accept us back into the ranks of His soldiers, fighting for the lives and the souls of the people we love, against a culture that wants to chew them up and spit them out like so much garbage.
Your wife needs you to love her more than yourself. Your girlfriend needs you to love her more than yourself. Your daughter(s) need you to love her/them more than yourself!
Get up, man! We have been called out, by our Savior, to do His work on Earth! We have been called, and uniquely gifted, to be men of God!
And if you’re already out there, man…reach back and grab one of your brothers! Support him, love him, and help him to be the man God has called into being!
Time is short. God is calling. And we need to answer. And we can’t do that sitting on our butts.
We need to BE there.
I was listening to the first talk at the Dare To Be A Disciple retreat this morning (I know, you intended to be here, but something came up…(-: ), and Fr. Eduardo mentioned something important. I thought I’d share it with y’all.
He said that, if we constantly break ourselves open, and empty ourselves out being Eucharist to others, we run the risk of developing something he calls “Eucharistic Fatigue”: we can find ourselves “running on empty”.
The Eucharist, received at Mass weekly (or even daily), is for us our “spiritual filling station”: we receive Christ in the Eucharist, and, if we open ourselves to His physical Presence within us, we are “filled with His Holy Spirit”, to “become one Body, one Spirit in Christ” (remember the Eucharistic Prayer that says that?).
If you think we show up at Mass, line up, then stick out our hands (or tongues) just to get a cookie and go sit down…you’re incorrect. That Living Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is our power-up; it’s our spiritual Red Bull; it’s our recharge to go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19).
Y’all, we have work to do. There are people in our lives who need to hear about Jesus! There are people who are flailing about all over the place, trying to find something to fill the gaping, aching hole left in their lives because they don’t know Jesus!
So this weekend, when you receive the Eucharist, consider this: can you become what you receive? Are you receiving something that you can offer to others? Jesus doesn’t want to stay locked up in you: He wants to get out into the world to transform lives!
Remember: when you’re sent from Mass, your destination isn’t supposed to be the couch to watch sports (or “Say Yes To The Dress”). You are sent out to complete the mission the Apostles received from Jesus. So…GO.
Preach the Gospel Wherever You Go
Something is going on in the Church these days. Of course, that’s nothing new; something is always going on in the Church, every day.
But today is special. Today commemorates that day, almost 2,000 years ago, when the Church began. It commemorates that day when the Apostles, and Mary, and the whole company of disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, and the Holy Spirit came upon them and lit them on fire! Today commemorates the day the Holy Spirit pushed them out of the room they’d been hiding in, and sent them off to fulfill what Jesus commissioned them to do!
Here’s what I think, though: This story, for many of us, much of the time, is just that: a story. It’s one of those little vignettes we see through all of Lent and Easter; we’ve heard the story so many times we don’t really think about it. “Oh, yeah…wind. Tongues of fire. Hear them speaking in our language. Just doesn’t “pop” for us.
But I need to tell you: This ain’t just some old story.
I’ll confess that, in this modern Church of ours, we underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. We know about the Holy Spirit; we have readings like today’s to give us information. In the second reading, Paul outlines the general way the Holy Spirit works. “…Different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; …different forms of service but the same LORD.” We get that.
But look more closely. Paul says that, at our Baptism,…”we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” All. Of us. In the Gospel, Jesus breathed on the Apostles and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He set them up to be able to do what He wanted them to do in the world, but even then, they were afraid.
Remember the sequence of events. Today’s Gospel is an account of the first time the Apostles see Jesus after the Resurrection. Last week’s readings are an account of the last time they saw him. It took weeks for Jesus to get the disciples to understand what He wanted from them; even after the fifty days He spent with them, when they saw Jesus on the Mount of Ascension, what did they do? The Gospel says, “They worshiped, but they doubted [emphasis mine].”
Do you think they doubted after the Holy Spirit got all over them in that Upper Room? I’d say…not.
That Great Commission Jesus issued in last Sunday’s Gospel wasn’t just for the people standing there that day. It’s for us, too. And as both our priests pointed out last Sunday, we cannot be afraid to “preach the Gospel wherever we go.” The stakes couldn’t be higher! If we really believe the things we profess (say, in the Creed, for example), we have to go tell someone about it!
And the Holy Spirit is just the change-agent we need!
The Apostles went out into Jerusalem and started preaching to the masses, people from all over the known world, who were in Jerusalem. And everyone understood them! AS Father Russ pointed out last weekend, the early Church grew by leaps and bounds, in spite of the vicious persecutions of Christians! Roman soldiers who were involved in executing Christians converted to the faith. Why? Because they saw the witness of those Christians’ lives; they saw the joy with which they approached even torture and death; They saw how they loved one another!
And we have that power! We have that same Spirit! We can draw people to Christ through the way we live!
Except…a funny thing happens to us on the way to the soapbox.
We unfortunately buy into the LIE the Evil One sells us: that all this Holy Spirit stuff is for the “weirdoes”. Or we buy into the LIE that we are somehow too smart, or too advanced, or too intellectual for all this mumbo-jumbo, speaking-in-tongues, snake-handling business.
We watch the caricatures of Christians in the media, and we buy them; we think about our separated brethren, like the Pentecostals, or the Amish; those of us who are old enough think about Jim Jones and Jonestown, and we figure that all that extreme religiousness is “dangerous”.
Or…maybe it’s simpler than that. The Church tells us that there are things we can’t do: contraception; sexual relationships outside of marriage; pornography. Or it tells us that we shouldn’t pursue money above everything else, or that we have to give to the poor. The Church tells us what to do and not do, and we are Americans, by God, and “they can’t tell me what to do!”
Brothers and sisters, we’ve been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! We have been told over and over that religion is for inside our churches, but that it has no place out there” in the world! We have been cowed, even bullied, into thinking that we need to just keep quiet, and not disturb other folks with our troublesome moralizing.
But y’all: I’m here to say that this is exactly what the Apostles were doing in the ancient world. They were different people, changed in important ways by the power of the Holy Spirit to do things they’d never done before! And they went out and changed the world, because they were empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit!
And you know what? So are we, if we will only embrace the gift!
Most of us here, if not all, are baptized. We received the Holy Spirit. We are, most of us, confirmed. In that Sacrament, we received the fullness of God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit arms us with all the tools we need, to take the same world–changing, life-changing message of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, to a world that is desperately scrambling to find its way!
And I don’t care if you’re young or old, black or white, tall or short, fat or skinny, introverted or extroverted: Somebody needs to hear about Jesus Christ…from you! Somebody needs to see Jesus Christ…in you! Somebody needs to be saved from the clutches of hell…by you!
The New Evangelization that the last three Popes have called for is not just my job. It isn’t just our priests’ job. It isn’t just the job of the people who work for the institutional Church.
It’s your job too! Do you have to preach in the streets? Not necessarily; only if God calls you to that. But you do have to preach…with your life.
This story of Pentecost is not just some old story we read every year. It’s a story, sure enough. But it isn’t old: it tells us where we came from, and where we are sent.
Something new is going on in the Church these days. Almost 2,000 years ago, the Apostles were sitting in prayer in the Upper Room, and Christ kept His promise! Remember what He told them: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He kept that promise.
Now it’s our turn, brothers and sisters. The same Jesus who stood on that hill with the disciples at Ascension, who breathed on the Apostles in the Upper Room after the Resurrection, that same Jesus is present to us now: He’s present in his Word; He’s present in his people and in his ministers; and He’s present most perfectly in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
At the end of the Mass, I will say, “Go!”, and send us all out into the world. What do you think you’re sent out to do?
The Holy Spirit knows what He wants from us. Ask Him!
Pray with me, please: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You will renew the face of the earth.”
It is easy to become skeptical of one’s fellow-man, if you watch or listen to too much news. I try not to, and I try hard; every once in a while, however, God kind of jump-slaps me on the back of the head with the reason I’m in this thing. And He does it in some of the most interesting places…
So, this morning, after I talked with a surgeon about something I am hoping he’ll do Monday, I stop at Krispy Kreme (confession to my wife: Yes, sweetheart, I went to Krispy Kreme and had donuts this morning. I am still stressing a little bit…). There’s only one Krispy Kreme in town; it was next door to the hospital I visited. And, the Krispy Kreme donut being an eighth day creation of Almighty GOD…well, you know why I stopped.
Anyway, so this guy walks into Krispy Kreme right behind me, and since I was on the phone, he walked around to wait to be helped. As I got off the phone, I heard him ask, “How much is a cup of coffee? I have a coupon for a free donut with a cup of coffee.” THe lady tells him the price of a small coffee, and I could see his shoulders drop a little as he quietly uttered “Oh…” and started to feel around in his pockets. So I stepped up to the counter and said, “I’ll get your coffee, bruh. What donut do you want?” (This is NOT the cool part of the story.) SO he thanks me, and gets his donut ordered, as do I.
So we walk around the counter to the register, and as I’m getting ready to pay, the man (whose name was John) looks me dead in the eye and says, “Thank you for reflecting God this morning.. I haven’t seen a lot of that lately.” (this is NOT the cool part of the story.) THEN, as I’m swiping my debit card to pay, the lady manning the drive-through window walks over, palming a bill of unknown denomination, and puts it in his hand, saying “The lady at the drive-through window asked me to give this to you.” He steps around me and waves across the counter and out the window, and yells, “Thank you, ma’am!” and comes back to get his stuff. (This is NOT the cool part of the story…”
So, we walk over to the end of the counter to the cream and sugar, and we talk a little more as we make our coffee drinkable. It turns out that today , January 31, is his father’s birthday, just as it is my oldest daughter’s birthday. THEN, an older African-American lady walks over to him, and holds out coupons for a free donut, no purchase required, that expire today. There were like fourteen of them! He takes them, thanks her profusely, then turns to me, takes two off the strip, and holds out the rest, and tells me, “There’s no way I could eat all these donuts today. Is there someone you can take donuts home to? I hate to see them go to waste.” (Now we are getting to the cool part of the story.)
There was nothing I could do with that many donuts (I love my family, and I would NEVER take a box full of donuts home to a house full of women. Just wouldn’t go well.) so there are three guys standing there waiting to order; I turn to them and ask them if they could use the coupons, since they hadn’t ordered yet. I gave away the twelve to those three guys, and left with my coffee.
So, what was the cool part, exactly? Just this: the face of Christ kept popping up, over and over, in that Krispy Kreme! Christ was there in John, who was just trying to get some breakfast and a little coffee. Christ went through the drive-through, feeding the hungry. Christ was there again in John, (loosely) paraphrasing Matthew 25:31 ff. And He was present in the little lady with the coupons, pulling off a mini-feeding of the five thousand!
And all this in South Memphis, down the street from Graceland, where the more genteel among us here in Memphis might fear to tread!
We are accused of a lot of things here in Memphis, many of them unflattering. But I am here to tell you that I saw Christ, over and over again, this morning, down the street from Graceland (how appropriate!)! And I saw total strangers reach out to each other, recognizing each others’ dignity as human persons, and acknowledging the presence of Christ in one another! And it all happened anonymously, and quietly, and over the course of about seven minutes.
“…how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
Romans 5:15 NABre