Our plans are not God’s plans.

Today I want to talk to you about how God’s plans are not your plans… they are even better. That no matter how much preparation, good efforts and high hopes you have in life, God has even greater plans… greater than you ever could have ever imagined.

Let me explain….

How many of you have either had an addition put on your house, or you know someone who has put an addition on their house? I know many people, and have heard many other stories, of people who have decided to add an addition on their house, and things ended up taking far longer and far more expensive, than they had originally planned. When they are 75% percent of the way through, they usually throw up their hands in exasperation and say “If I knew it was going to cost this much time and money, I never would have done this!”

As any engineer or contractor will tell you, once you start tearing down walls or digging underground, you don’t know what you’ll find, or how long it will take to fix!

Our spiritual life is like that.  When we say “yes” to something, we agree to take on everything that comes with it. I can’t imagine the two examples Jesus uses the Gospel – building a tower and organizing an army – to go exactly as planned. Likewise, whether we are asked to be the president of a committee, a Girl Scout leader, or most importantly being a good Christian… there are often more responsibilities than we bargained for.

The first time someone ever asked me to speak in public I had a panic attack. It was years ago, at my older sister’s wedding. I couldn’t believe how people could stand up and talk in front of people. In church! I said “yes” to that, never realizing that was such an important step on my journey to be here, today. God went to work on my life.

It’s sort of like what C.S. Lewis describes so well in Mere Christianity:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. And God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He starts by fixing the gutters, and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But then He starts tearing walls down in wats that don’t seem to make any sense…. He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – adding a new wing, putting on an extra floor, building towers, making courtyards. You thought you were living in a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

We might enjoy our “a decent little cottage”, but God has bigger plans for us. God wants to live in your spectacular mansion, the one He is working on right now.

You might thing that someone like Mother Teresa, who is begin canonized in Rome today, understood this immediately. But she did not. She voluntarily lived a life of poverty in one of the worst places on earth. She heard Christ’s voice say to her in a prayerful vision – “Come, be my light”…. show the world what poverty and abandonment look like. How could she have known the struggles that lie ahead? Likewise, how could she have imagined the glory? Maybe that’s why our first reading from the Book of Wisdom begins “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?”

She did what God asked her to do, never realizing the impact her life would have. She never tried to be a saint. That was God’s plan.

What do you think are God’s plans for your life?

You know, almost everyone I know who gets an addition always ends up saying the same thing. After the contractors and the builders have gone, after all the blood, sweat and tears, when you go visit their home, it looks wonderful, doesn’t it?  It looks even better than what the owners could have imagined. They all say “It was worth it.”

So, too, with God and our lives. So, too, with our decent little cottage.

22083-large-mansion-exterior

 

Michelle and Charlie. August 20th, 2016.

Aren’t weddings wonderful? Think about all the hard work that’s been done to get us to this moment, and how much fun the reception will be. Times like these are great opportunities to pause for a moment and reflect on what this day is all about, don’t you think? And not just for Charlie and Michelle.

I’m reminded of the story about the middle-aged man who had a doctor’s appointment. He was getting agitated because the doctor was running late. Noticing that the man was getting agitated, the doctor asked him if he had another appointment. The man replied that his wife was waiting at home for him. The doctor asked, “Surely she won’t be angry if you’re a few minutes late.”  The man replied “You’re right. She’ll be fine. We had lunch together.”

The doctor nodded and said, “I thought so. Just give her a quick call and tell her your doctor was busy.”  “I could do that.” The man replied, “But you see, she’s in the later stages of Alzheimer’s. She wouldn’t remember I called. She doesn’t know where she is most of the time.”  The doctor said, “Does she have a caretaker?” “Oh, yes. I’ve provided the best.” Well, if she’s doing well now where she is, I think she’ll be fine until you get there.”

The man replied, “You don’t understand. I’m not rushing home to make sure she’s OK. I’m rushing back home because I love her, and I want to spend time with her.”

St Ignatius of Loyola said “Love always shows itself more in deeds than in words”. The husband in this story doesn’t want to talk to his wife about love. He just wants to love her. And it’s those actions that move our heart, fill us with joy, gives us hope.

We have another story, just like that one, starting today. Sure, the specifics are different, but the action is the same.

And maybe that’s why Michelle and Charlie chose these readings for us. They all talk about a love so powerful that people are willing to sacrifice everything for another person. What a wonderful road map for their marriage!

I mean, just look at the Beatitudes. Three of them ask us to bear a burden, a sacrifice. Being poor, being sad, being persecuted. Something we weren’t expecting.  And because we weren’t expecting them, we depend on love to get us through. It’s God blessing our reactions, our responses.

And in the other five – being meek, being a peacemaker, being merciful, fighting for what’s right, remaining clean of heart – those are things that we do. Things we do with our love. That’s when God blesses our pro-activity, our actions, as well.

In both instances, action is more important than words. And I’d like to suggest that they challenge to ask ourselves: how have I loved today? What actions have I done that show, and not tell, my love for God and creation?

Maybe it was choosing the perfect wedding gift. Or, you’ll be driving someone to the reception. Or, telling someone how lovely they look. Or maybe next weekend you’ll volunteer again at the soup kitchen, the nursing home, the homeless shelter.

In a way, these things we do are our answer to all the stories in the newspaper. Syria, ISIS, racism, the anger, the violence, the pain. Putting our love in action – no more evident than this public declaration of love — this is our antidote. These are the things that remind us that love is more powerful than hate.

In a moment, Charlie and Michelle will exchange their wedding vows. Like a white canvas before an artist, there will be so many different experiences, so many acts of love in their painting. But you know Michelle and Charlie will not be the only two people on that canvas. We will all be in the picture. Our Church will be in the picture. Christ will be in the picture. Our deeds, our presence, our support, will speak so much louder than best wishes or good intent. They need all of our actions to complete their masterpiece. All of our actions, together.

So, happy are those who rush home to their spouse from the doctor’s office. Happy are those who seek God in all things. Happy are those who are blessed to fall in love, and decide, together, to let their actions on August 20th, 2016 speak so much louder than their words.

 

 

 

“…No, I Tell You, But Rather Division.”

When was the last time you had an argument with your family? And — you don’t need to answer this, either — what were you arguing about?

The sad reality is that we fight the most with the people we love the most. And it’s usually over something we think is important. We want to get our point across. Money. Parents. Grand kids. Tuition. Doctors. Moving back home. Moving out. These things matter to us.

In the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Albus Dumbledore said this: “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.” And, as we know from our own experience, even our families.

Now, in case you haven’t seen the movies or read the books, Dumbledoor is the Hogwart’s headmaster. He’s a source of wisdom in the Harry Potter series. And while most of J.K. Rowling’s characters are caught up in the emotion of immediate things, Dumbledore sees life from a broader perspective. Being 150 years old will do that.

Likewise in today’s Gospel, Jesus sees the broader perspective. He not only acknowledges that disagreements happen, but He almost guarantees that we will fight about God, about religion, about the Church. The same way a respectful teenager will fight with their parents as they figure out what they believe in the world.

That’s an inconvenient truth we may know too well. That’s not always easy for us to hear.

As Martin Luther King Jr has said, “Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.”  He knows what it means to be human. He knows the struggles, He knows the challenges, He knows how difficult it can be to hold on to what you believe in.

Now, you might ask, I thought Jesus was the ‘Prince of Peace’? I thought he was against fighting?

Well, He is. But the reality of the early Church was this: if you decided to tell your family you were thinking about becoming a Christian, it meant you were deciding to break the law. And, in the first 300 years of the Church, your whole family could get arrested, beaten, tortured — or even worse. Even if you weren’t a Christian, but your brother or sister was. Guilt by association.

You’d pay a price for your belief in God. But so would your family.

Jeremiah is taking a risk in our first reading. He’s telling the telling soldiers that the city of Jerusalem was doomed. God was punishing them. Resistance was futile. They might have a better shot at being allowed to repent if they just surrendered. Which all turned out to be true… And for his boldness, he was thrown into a cistern, a hole, the ancient form of solitary confinement.

His faith almost cost him his life.

Just like Jeremiah, Jesus is telling us the truth about what will happen. There’s no sugar coating, no pulling any punches.

He knows people. He knows that when we get fired up about something, when we believe, we might make some people mad. You might start a fight. Like when you are opposed to a political policy or party, and get accused of being unpatriotic. Or if you challenge something in your workplace, you might be labeled uncooperative. Or if you disagree with your family or your friends, you might be ignored.

It’s like that with Christ. He’s reminding us today to consider what we are most passionate about. It’s as if He’s asking us the question: When was the last time we had an argument with someone about God? When were we willing to take a stand, even against those who perhaps we love so much?

So let us be encouraged by today’s readings. Jesus knows it’s only through your on-going strength, your courage, your persistence and your passionate arguments that the world will change. Your good efforts will be rewarded, even if you feel dejected, alone or frustrated.  Always remember how inspirational your life truly is.  No one ever promised you a rose garden following Jesus. Most especially Him!

Let me finish with a quote from Billy Graham, who perhaps gave us one of the best reasons why we need to keep up the good fight…

“We are the Bibles the world is reading; We are the creeds the world is needing; We are the sermons the world is heeding.”

A Christian response to our violent world. (July 17, 2016 Homily)

Once again, we come together after a week of horrible news. And, once again we are all asking ourselves one simple question: How can we make this stop? We know there is no simple answer, but we are looking for encouragement. We are looking for hope.

Like Abraham and Sarah. When strangers sent by God approach Abraham’s home, he doesn’t response with hate or violence to strangers. He welcomes them, offering them water to bathe their feet, food, a place to rest. One simple act which has great consequences, as soon after this God blesses Sarah with a child. As the book of Hebrews says, he was ‘entertaining angels’.

Did you know the cab drivers turned off their meters and gave everyone free cab rides around Nice the night of the tragedy? They didn’t know who they were driving, but they welcomed the stranger in a time of great need.

We need to hear these stories. They give us hope in humanity. The hatred and racism that fuels so much violence in our world comes about because some people  do not feel accepted. They don’t feel welcome. By doing small things with great loves, we can build a more loving, more accepting world. The Kingdom of God. We can’t stop someone who is psychologically unbalanced, but we can welcome the immigrant, the refugee, the person who is not like us.

Think of it this way: If we each lit a candle, soon we would have a great light. The light of Christ, a light to guide everyone through these most difficult times.

That’s the promise we know through one crucifixion, and one Resurrection. The Book of Revelation promises us that evil and hate will never be victorious over the goodness of God. That is our hope. That is our answer this week.

Like Martha and Mary. Let’s not argue this morning whether it’s better to run around the kitchen and serve Jesus or sit at his feet. Let’s take a step back and recognize they both welcomed Him into their home. They both offered hospitality, not hatred.

It’s probably good to keep in mind these days that if the news channels broadcast all the good news that happens in Orlando, in Dallas, in Baltimore, in San Bernadino,  they wouldn’t have enough reporters or broadcast space to get all that love on the air. They would need a 24/7 news station,  broadcasting all year, to show the kindness and good deeds that occur every day in those cities. And our city as well.

Last week, former President George Bush spoke at the Dallas Memorial for the slain police officers. I was deeply moved by his words, and I’d like to share them with you this morning.

“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose. But Americans, I think, have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values.

We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals.

At our best, we practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions.

And it is not merely a matter of tolerance, but of learning from the struggles and stories of our fellow citizens and finding our better selves in the process.

At our best, we honor the image of God we see in one another. We recognize that we are brothers and sisters, sharing the same brief moment on Earth and owing each other the loyalty of our shared humanity.

At our best, we know we have one country, one future, one destiny. We do not want the unity of grief, nor do we want the unity of fear. We want the unity of hope, affection and high purpose.

The Apostle Paul said, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of strength and love and self-control.” Those are the best responses to fear in the life of our country…

Hospitality, not hatred. That’s what we can do. That’s the answer. And in knowing that the Lord is with us, may we go in peace this morning, glorifying the Lord with our lives.

 

 

A Father’s Day Reflection

A few years ago at the Paris opera house, a famous singer had been contracted to sing, and the show was a sellout. The opening night sense of anticipation and excitement was still in the air as the house manager took the stage and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your enthusiastic support. I am afraid, however, that due to illness, the man whom you’ve all come to hear will not be performing tonight. But don’t worry, his stand-in is excellent. We know you will love the show.”

The crowd groaned in disappointment. The environment turned from excitement to frustration.

Now, the stand-in performer gave the performance everything he had. He was amazing. When he had finished, there was nothing but an uncomfortable silence. No one applauded. They were so busy being disappointed they hadn’t really appreciate the wonderful performance they had just seen.

Then suddenly, from the balcony, a little boy stood up and shouted, “Dad, I think you are wonderful!” The crowd, shaken back into the moment, broke into thunderous applause.

The boy spoke up. The boy led the way.

I bet Jesus could relate to that man on stage. Sure, His disciples acknowledge Him as the Anointed One of God, but he was not what most of them had expected. They were looking for physical security and prosperity. They wanted revenge on their oppressors. But this Messiah offered neither. He would end up dying on a cross.

Knowing our first reading from Zechariah, the disciples were waiting for God to “pour out His spirit of grace and understanding” over the house of David, to make them a great nation once again.

But Peter doesn’t care about what the other disciples or Jewish leaders think. He finds the courage to stand up, just like that little boy, and say “You are wonderful… You are the Messiah, the Christ of God.”

Peter was grateful for all the sacrifices that Jesus made salvation. Grateful for Jesus’ presence. Grateful for His courage. Grateful for His love.

And isn’t that what Father’s Day is all about? Isn’t it about our opportunity to stand up and say “Dad, I think you are wonderful!” You know, that story does not tell us about the relationship the singer had with his son, but I bet it was special. Peter loved Jesus dearly as well.

Would you have done the same? Would you have stood up, like the little boy, like Peter, and shouted out what was on your heart? For your dad?

Let’s pray for that strength today, pouring out from hearts filled with gratitude, with the help of a reflection I’ve adapted, originally offered by Tony Rossi on his blog at Patheos.com

“Lord, today we ask You to bless our earthly fathers for the many times they reflected the love, strength, generosity, wisdom and mercy that You share with us, Your children.

We honor our fathers for putting our needs above their own convenience and comfort; for teaching us to show courage and determination in the face of adversity; for challenging us to move beyond our obstacles, for modeling what it means to be responsible, principled, caring adults.

Sadly, not all our fathers lived up to these ideals. Lord, give them the grace to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes. Give us the grace to extend to them the same forgiveness that you offer us. Help us to resist the urge to stay stuck in past bitterness. May we move forward with humility and a peaceful heart.

Lord, bless those men who served as father figures in our lives when maybe our biological fathers weren’t able to do so. May the love and selflessness they showed us be reflected back to them in all their relationships, and help them to know that their influence has changed us for the better.

Lord, give new and future fathers the guidance they need to raise happy and holy children, grounded in a love for God and other people, and remind these fathers that treating their wives with dignity, compassion and respect is one of the greatest gifts they can give their children.

And finally, may our fathers who have passed into the next life remain in Your loving embrace, and that our family will one be day be reunited in your heavenly kingdom.

In union with St. Joseph, whom you entrusted with Your Son,
we ask Your generous blessings today and every day.”

Amen.

John 20:19-23

Have you ever been given a gift that you weren’t quite sure what you were going to do with?  Maybe at first you just put it aside, figuring you might use it someday. But then, only later, did you find yourself using it all the time? You didn’t realize what you had?

Years ago for my birthday, my brother gave me one of those pocket Leatherman multi-tool knives — the one when you flip it open you find pliers, wire cutter, serrated knife, a can opener, a bottle opener, a screwdriver, even toenail clippers. I was grateful, seeing as we just bought our home, but I really wasn’t sure when I would use it. Of course, after about a year in my home, I found myself needing and using that tool so much that I started carrying it around with me on the weekends. In fact, I used it so much, I broke it. And I bought another one just like it.

All of us have a story like that. Maybe we received a gift like a jacket or hat, a kitchen utensil, something for your garden, or your garage. We were just a little puzzled about what we were going to do with this new thing, maybe a little stuck in our ways… we just weren’t open to all the possibilities… until we started to use it.

You know, God gave us an even greater gift than that, one He expects us to use every day. A gift that is always present, 24/7. Always at work. A gift that brings us wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and wonder. The gift of the Holy Spirit.

Think about this: Jesus told his apostles that His resurrected self would not be practical once Christianity hit the four corners of the earth. He told them He had to leave them, so that the Holy Spirit could remain ever active, ever present in everyone’s life. Today. It’s like Christ changed from flesh and blood to spirit in order to be able to dwell in every heart. Your heart. In order to guide our feet into way of peace.

No one likes change. We like things just the way they are. At work, at home, in Church, even how we understand God. As Pope Francis has said, often we are willing to follow God, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves like that with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind some of our narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own.

We are not supposed to simply receive this gift.

We are asked to be bold enough to use it.

And the Pope also said that throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness and change. God demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel.

Are we open to Gods surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which Gods newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in habits which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

Do we toss our gift of God’s presence in the kitchen drawer, not realizing all the wonderful things it could do for us?

I was much more grateful for the gift of that pocket tool after I had begun using it. It was almost as if I needed to see it in action before I saw just how valuable it was.

I pray this morning, the feast of Pentecost, that I don’t make the same mistake with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

John 10:27-30

This morning I want to talk to you about being called out to do great things. God has a tremendous plan for your life. Even though at times you might feel overwhelmed, like just a person in the crowd, that’s not the end of your story. You might say “Chuck, with so many people in this world, why would God care about me?” No, God cares deeply about you. Every wise choice you make, every temptation you overcome. Your life matters. You are not a number. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is calling you out to do wonderful things for Him.

It’s like today’s Gospel. They say that in Jerusalem, there was only one sheepfold. If three or four shepherds stopped at one place, all the sheep from all the flocks gathered in one field. There was no branding or marking of the sheep in those days. You or I couldn’t tell one from another.

So, how did the shepherd gather back his sheep?

The sheep recognized their master’s voice. When the shepherd called, they followed. They knew he was leading them to great places.

Of course, they could have ignored the shepherds voice, but then what would have happened?  They would have been left behind, choosing to live a life on their own. Trying to figure out food, how to protect themselves, without offspring.

Who would choose that?  No, they knew the shepherd was there for them. It was the best decision they could make… not a mindless one.

But it gets even better. Not only did they know the shepherds voice, but he heard them as well.

Jeff Cavins tells the story of when he was a small boy, he had a few older friends who liked to bully him, play tricks on him. One day he was at a house about three doors down, and his friends decided to put up a ladder on a garage roof. And they dared him to climb up the ladder. After they teased him some more about how much of a coward he was, he finally climbed the ladder. When he arrived at the top, they pulled the ladder away.

Stranded, he started screaming as loud as he could “Dad. Dad. Daaaaaaad.” His house was only three doors down, and as it was a spring day, his dad came running as fast as he could. When he arrived, all of the bullies ran. His dad put the ladder back up, made a few phone calls when he got home, and that was the end of Jeff being friends with the bullies.

His dad knew his son’s voice. And the son knew his dad would come as soon as he called out his name. The son was not just a number. His life mattered.

Our responsorial Psalm tells us that “we are his people, the sheep of his flock.”  Our second reading tells us the Jesus “will shepherd us and lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

God will never leave you stranded on a garage roof. Like in the Prodigal Son, God will come running to be on your side. He is the Good Shepherd.

But it’s not enough be loved… we are called to pay it forward, to go out and love. That’s what sheep can not do. But we can.

This Friday, April 22nd, is Earth Day. And that’s a day that we stop for just a moment and listen as well. We listen to the cry of the oceans, the mountains, the birds of the air, the fish in the sea, plants, vegtables, the air we breath. Our earth is in trouble as well. It’s calling out to us. Friday is a day set aside to remind us to listen. It’s our chance to say ‘thank you’ to God for all the He has given us. It’s a chance for us to be a Good Shepherd as well.

You have been called out to do great things. You are not just another number in this world. Jesus is leading us all today to green pastures and life-giving streams. It’s the power of the Eucharist. It’s the true meaning of the Year of Mercy. It’s the selflessness demanded of Earth Day.

It’s the voice of God.