Sunday, July 16, 2017

Being Distracted - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT (A)

There are so many things that vie for our attention. Advertising, the child crying “Mom,” the daily worries. At any given time, we can go from being focused to being distracted. An occasional distraction isn’t always bad (we have a nice sign advertising our parish picnic), but when we don’t keep distractions in check, then they can become a serious problem.

An example: have you ever seen a distracted carpenter hammer a nail? Probably not, because it would not end well. Or have you ever sat as a passenger in a car where the driver was distracted? That last one causes me anxiety because I want my driver to be attentive—else we could die. So, distractions, if they are left unchecked, can become a serious problem. Attention and mindfulness, therefore, are important.

Last week, Jesus talked to us about rest and giving Him our worries. This week, Jesus is honest about how we can lose that rest or even have it stolen if we are not careful. He gives many ways that we can lose that peacefulness and I’ve found that, connected to His explanation of the thorns, distraction can easily steal our peace.

So let me pose a question for you. It is not meant to condemn. It’s just a question to get you to think about the soil—that is, the state of your soul. Here’s the question: How long do you usually go before you forget about Jesus dwelling in you from the Eucharist at Holy Mass? Do you make it to the evening, but then forget about Him before bed? Will you remember Him this afternoon at the parish picnic? Will we make it through the parking lot after Mass today?

Some of you are saying: “Father, I’m not going to make it through Mass!” I know. I get distracted at Mass, too.

It's not a fun question. But again, no condemnation here. It's just a check of the soil. And I think all of us battle with distraction, of losing our attentiveness to God’s presence in our lives. I think this is The Battle going on in our modern culture, actually. I think if we remembered God dwelling in my soul and in the souls of others, there would be a lot more civility and a lot more peace. So, what are we to do?

Well, I think that all of us can say that we want more out of Mass and we want more out of life. Is this true? Do you want more out of life? 

There’s a scientific principle [Newton’s First Law] that says: an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force. So, imagine a huge freighter on the ocean. It’s chugging right along. And let’s say that the captain wants to turn the ship around because he realizes he’s going the wrong way. So the captain reverses gears, turns the rudder, and what happens? Does the ship make an immediate U-turn? No, it keeps ploughing ahead in the same direction for a while.

The same can be said with our souls. We may come to Holy Mass with every intention on turning things around, on giving God our full attention, but the reality is: if we have been spending the past 167 hours in the week distracted by everything else, then we are likely going to keep that course during this hour. There's a brutal truth here: if we live a distracted life, a life only partially attentive to God, then we will be tempted to have God Himself become a distraction. That's the reality of so many of our family and friends who aren't here, who are pre-occupied with the job or the me-project or whatever, and they are terribly tempted to think that what we do here is a distraction from the other really more important stuff in life.

This temptation makes its way into our lives too. There’s a spiritual principle at play here. And that is that distraction and agitation at Holy Mass is often Jesus waving a yellow, caution flag for you, alerting you to the fact that you have a distracted life. A peaceful person 167 hours of the week is not going to be bothered so much by the crying baby or the immodest dress in this one hour as the distracted, agitated person who wants to be peaceful now but has been distracted and agitated for the previous 167 hours. An object in motion stays in motion. And object at rest stays at rest.

What we are getting at, therefore, is the concept of integrity of life. Jesus doesn’t want to be a distraction; He wants to free you from distraction. When we are distracted by something here at Mass or on the parking lot or later today, we need to turn to Him and admit it: “Jesus, I was distracted by this. I lost sight of you.” Ok, you gave it to Him. Now we can re-focus and move on-- but now we are with Him. Whatever we are doing, we are now going to do it in the presence of God. And that's peace!

You see, Jesus doesn’t simply want to be a part of your life or a distraction to your life. He wants to be your life. A priest once told me, “Even the Mafia baptize their babies.” What he was getting at is: yeah, they get their child baptized, but then they have no other thought about God; they are distracted by that whatever else. Jesus is only a part of their life. And so there is no integrity. And no peace.

Jesus wants to be our life. And that starts by acknowledging the state of our soil, then acknowledging our distractions, and then re-focusing on Him. “Jesus, come into my soul once again,” we pray. “Jesus, I remember that you dwell in my soul. Please help me remember this.” "Jesus, help me to remain in your peace."

And I can guarantee you: if you remember this for even just a handful of hours in the coming week, you will get so much more out of next Sunday’s Holy Mass and from life in general. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rest - Homily for the 14th Sunday in OT (A)

Reality: we all worry. Some of us wake up worrying. We worry about the bills and whether we’ll make ends meet. Parents and grandparents: you worry about your children, about their safety, about who they will grow up to be. We worry about our health. We worry about our eternal salvation. Shoot, I worry about that left turn onto highway 61. (Always: a good Act of Contrition there!). Yes, all of us at some point or another carry this weight, this burden of worry.

And so our Lord Jesus speaks to us and says, “Come to me” … “Come to me all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” Isn’t that wonderful?

I mean, Jesus is our rest. How many of us have gone on vacation and everything is great, but then we get home. And what happens? All our worries are waiting for us again. “Come to me,” says the Lord. “I will give you rest.” The vacation isn’t enough. We can go to so many things to help us stop worrying, but they don’t solve the problem—the weight is still there. “Come to me,” says the Lord. St. Augustine put it so well: "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you."

You see, Jesus doesn’t want us to be worried (see Matthew 6). He wants to free us from these weights; He wants to carry them for us. I know some of you are farmers and probably know this better than I do, but I hear that when a farmer is training a beast of burden to use a yoke, the farmer will have a more seasoned animal carry the lion’s share of the weight. The yoke will be on the shoulders of that bigger brother. And the animal being trained won’t have to carry much at all. This is what Jesus is getting at when He says, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” Because He’s the bigger brother who will carry the burden. He wants to carry the burden—if only we will let Him.

And yeah, sometimes we wonder whether Jesus will be powerful enough, strong enough to do this. I wondered why we had a first reading that talked about the Messiah coming in on a donkey—what did this have to do with rest? Well, it's a humble image-- a scandalous image (isn't the Messiah supposed to be great and strong? Why is He on a weak donkey?) In much the same way, sometimes we are scandalized by the meekness and humility of Jesus—scandalized just as the Apostles were on Good Friday. Jesus fell three times—surely He is not strong enough for my cross. But, you see: that was your Cross! And each time, He got up. And He was successful: He conquered death. He can carry anything you give Him!

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Every morning at 7 o’clock, you can find me there on the bench where our altar server is sitting. There, I have an honest conversation with the Lord. I place all of my worries at His feet, there at the crucifix—Jesus is present at this tabernacle. And do you know what happens? Within five minutes, I start to breathe easier. I breathe deeper and I think more clearly. He’s helping me—and I didn’t even realize that I had woken up that morning worrying. Things are going to be ok.

And I need to know that because, well, sometimes I worry about whether things are going to be ok. You know I’m a first-time pastor. And there are decisions to be made. And some people will be happy. And some will be angry. And if I try to make everyone happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy. And, and Lord! What am I supposed to do? And He says, “Let me carry this. I will help you. I will give you wisdom.”

Pope John XXIII—the man who carried so much of the weight of the world on his shoulders—do you know what he would say before he would go to bed each night? He prayed and would say to Jesus, “Ok, Lord, its your Church. The Pope is going to bed.” Haha, yeah—because it’s God’s show. It’s His work; He provides the growth.

There are so many anxiety issues and sleep problems—and those are very real—but some are just because we cannot put the day to rest. All of us, at the end of the day, have to look up to the Lord and say, “Ok, Jesus, I gave it my best” or, even “Jesus, I’m sorry, that wasn’t my best today.” And we place that in the hands of Jesus and He says, “Ok, I know. I’m going to take care of you.” And we can rest. Finally rest!

This is the whole logic behind the Sabbath, right? I mean, God knows that we can easily go week after week working ourselves into the ground, a flurry of activity. But God tells us "hey, we need to put an end to this past week. It’s over." The Sabbath is the punctuation mark that signals the end of the week and a new beginning. So many people are burned out because they think they have to do it all themselves and the weeks just blur together. So, ok, put your past week with all of its successes and disappointments, all of its worries—put it right here at this altar. Let Jesus take care of this past week. And as we pray at the Offertory, ask Him for the strength for this upcoming week. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest!”

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That’s a good place to end our homily today. But can you indulge me for one more minute. There is something pressing on my heart that I must tell you. I feel that there is someone here who is carrying a weight greater that worry. There is a sin in your heart that you have been carrying for ten, twenty, maybe even thirty years. I know you have been carrying the weight of shame and you maybe have been too embarrassed to confess it in the past. I want you to know that Our Lord is saying this to you especially, “Come to me... and I will give you rest.”

Truly, there is no greater experience in the world than that moment of relief when Jesus frees you of that sin—that it’s over, that you can stop carrying it now. If you have been carrying that sin, I want you to come to confession. Let me free you of this weight. One of the greatest joys of my priesthood is that moment when the heart is finally free. When someone comes to me and says “Father, it’s been twenty years since my last confession…” Do you know my reaction? Behind that screen I am jumping for joy like the Father of the Prodigal Son. My son was lost and is now found! I am saying to myself, “What courage this person has!” And what a great honor it is for me to be an instrument of this grace of God. So, come to Him. Hear Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest!”