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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.

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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.

 

 

Moved to Tears

When was the last time you were moved to tears?

For me, one of the most memorable cries I’ve had was at a waterpark this summer. My kids were off on the rides, and I was finishing a wonderful book called “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman – in the shade on a lounge chair. Here’s a summary from the Simon and Schuster web page:

Ove is getting older. He’s the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People in Ove’s neighborhood call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But behind Ove’s cranky exterior lies a story and a sadness. When an accident-prone young couple with two young daughters moves in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox one November morning, overturning his well-ordered routine, it is the spark in a surprising, enlivening chain of events—featuring unkempt cats, unexpected friendships, arrogant bureaucrats, several trips to the hospital, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. Swept along in the tide, Ove is forced to change and learn to understand his neighbors and the modern times into which he has been grudgingly dragged. But as his neighbors learn more about the reasons behind Ove’s grumpy façade, they must also band together to protect each other and their neighborhood in a struggle that will leave no one, including Ove, unchanged.

As I sat there finishing this book, the tears were rolling down face behind my sunglasses. I wasn’t expecting that. I cried at the selflessness of the main character. I was moved recognizing someone living a life of true virtue. It got me thinking about my own life, and what I do for my family. I was blessed.

People are moved to tears in our first reading as well. About 100 years after the Babylonian Exile in 587BC, most of the Jewish population has returned home to a city destroyed. They are trying to rebuild their faith, and it’s very difficult. Nehemiah returns to his home and tries to encourage them in their faith.

When he arrives, he proclaims the word of God, explains it to them, and they weep uncontrollably. They are filled with remorse. Their hearts are moved. They change their ways.

Not so in our Gospel. Jesus stands up and also reads from the Old Testament — Isaiah 61. Glad tidings to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free. He explains the word of God to them as well.

But there are no tears here. In fact, if you continue on in Luke chapter 4, you find that people will say ‘Is this not the carpenter’s son?’ It’s just the opposite. This hometown Jesus, he’s the Messiah?  Eventually, Jesus chastises them for their lack of faith, and they are so angry they chase him out of the synagogue.

One group hears the word of God and is humbled, the other gets angry and rejects the invitation.

Our hearts are moved at weddings. At the news of a car accident. When you find out your wife is pregnant.  When you close the casket for the last time at your dad’s funeral. When you read an amazing book, see a great movie, hear an awesome song.

Tears, emotions, force us all to stop and say “This is important.”  When you weep, it’s as if God is showing you what really matters. That whatever it is, God wants you to take a closer look. Reflect and pray. It’s part of being human. We all need to pay attention.

I think it was TS Eliot who said “If we read the newspaper – really read the newspaper – every day, we would be moved to tears.”  Are there any moments we could say the same? Maybe over how we gossip a little too much, how we haven’t been a good son or daughter, maybe how the drugs, alcohol or the Internet have taken over our lives, or the lives of someone we love? Or maybe it’s a new job, a new house, a cancer beaten, a new grandchild?

God moves your heart, every single day. And we are better for it. Like the Israelites in the first reading, we are changed. We are filled with hope. Emotions help us recognize what we need to do. And with God’s help, we can. With God’s help, we do it together. That’s our second reading, in a nutshell.

When St. Ignatius of Loyola first began to celebrate Mass as a priest, he was moved to tears every single time. Tears would stream down his face as he read the Eucharistic prayer.

When was the last time you were moved to tears? When was the last time God invited you to stop and pray? When was the last time you looked out at the world as God does?

Michigan’s Waterfall Wonders

Lovely!

Photo Nature Blog

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Photos and Story Copyright Jeffrey Foltice

Above from left- Sable Falls, Chapel Falls, Agate Falls and Munising Falls

The waterfalls of Northern Michigan stir feelings of power, renewal, wonder, tranquility and beauty as they rush forward in their never-ending journey that is part of nature’s wonder. There are many to be seen in my home state, although driving to some near the Michigan, Wisconsin border from where I live in Southwest Michigan would be the equivalent of driving past Pittsburgh, Pa. That’s about nine hours of nonstop driving over a distance of about 500 miles. However, if you take a shortcut via Muskegon’s Lake Express Car Ferry, the drive from Milwaukee is about 300 miles or 5 1hours of driving.

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Bond Falls

Two of the falls to visit in the far western Upper Peninsula are Agate Falls and Bond Falls. The pair are great to see in autumn with the colored trees accenting the beauty of whitewater spilling over dark rock formations.

Upstream from Bond Falls is an amazing palette of colors…

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Media hacks’ cheat sheet. What the pope wants you to know in bite-sized bits

Pope Francis at World Communications Day yesterday…

CNS Blog

VATICAN CITY — What’s the recipe for successful communication?

Pope Francis spelled it out in his first World Communications Day message released yesterday, and on other occasions as well.

For today’s feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of the Catholic press and journalists, here’s a sampling of some of his simple tips:

  • Without losing your bearings, expand your knowledge. Don’t barricade yourselves “behind sources of information, which only confirm (your) own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.”
  • Don’t isolate yourselves from the people around you.
  • “We need to love and be loved” so help your digital connections “grow into true encounters.” Make it a network “not of wires but of people.”
  • Be deliberate, calm. Take the time to be silent and listen. Be patient with people “who are different” as you try to understand them.
  • Don’t just tolerate, be genuinely attentive and accept the other…

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August 25th Homily

Twenty years ago last week, I was invited to Chicago to begin theology studies at Loyola University Chicago.  I can remember they had a Mass for all new students, and a big cook-out on the grass abutting Lake Michigan.  It was magnificent.  But the natural beauty was nothing compared to the people I would meet.  They could not have been more welcoming, more generous with their time, their experience, and their gifts.  That was the start of my falling in love with Chicago, my home.  I felt so welcomed.

There are other times in my life, however, when I have felt less than welcome. Less than invited.  We all have.  People might have pre-judged us, heard something about us, or were upset that we were now ‘in the picture’.  If we are honest, we have all been guilty of that type of behavior as well.

Today’s readings are all about welcoming, and inviting.  A call to break through prejudices, those stereotypes, and those moments when we decide who we are going to accept, or who we are not.

Today we are asked to consider this: When God created you, He loved you into existence.  And nothing you do is going to make God love you more. You don’t have to be perfect for God to love you. You don’t have to be more intelligent, more charitable, more wealthy.  It’s done.   God loves you, with all your history, with all your sins.  You are welcomed and invited into the Kingdom of God, just as you are.  It’s called agape, unconditional love, and it’s a challenging concept for us to fully understand.

So, if that’s how God sees you, the readings ask, why can’t you see others the same way? Why can’t you look at people the way God looks at people?

That’s what Isaiah and Luke are talking about.  They are telling us… stop judging, and celebrate God’s favor.  Stop trying to figure out who is good, and who is bad, and welcome them in.  Stop trying to figure out what people did to lose their job, who is having a romance with who, why someone is in counseling, why someone left the Church, why they moved out of our neighborhood.

In 536BC, after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and exile, the Jews were welcomed back.  There was a catch, though.  Anyone who returned would have to commit themselves to a lifetime of rebuilding.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  Given the circumstances, many thought that staying in Babylon was the better option.

But some people did return.  They know the work that needed to be done.  And Isaiah is telling those folks: don’t judge those who stayed behind.  In fact, don’t judge those who come from the north, south, east or west to help you, either.  God is the one calling.  Everyone has a place in the New Jerusalem, the heavenly banquet.  Don’t assume you know what God is up to.  Just invite, and welcome people into your world.

So don’t be surprised if you see your neighbor, the person at work who annoys you, the family member you are not getting along with, the salesperson who is rude to you… don’t be surprised if someone like that is standing next to you today in Church, or at the parish picnic.  God has called them to the mountain top.  This is the day the Lord had made, let us rejoice and be glad.

Isaiah reminds us that the covenant doesn’t start with Abraham, the covenant starts with Adam and Eve.  Before classifications, before ethnicities, before rituals.  God created and loves atheists, agnostics, people who doubt God even exists, people who are spiritual but not religious.  God created liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, and He accepts them all. He forgives.  He understands. As Pope Francis recently said, if someone has repented of their sins, who I am to judge them?

Here’s our take-away: We live and work in a community… not with the people we have chosen, but with the people God has chosen.  We are not that diverse, if you think about it, if we are unified in Christ and our Church.  If we are all called to the Sacraments — we, the imperfect. Welcomed… like at a cook-out by Lake Michigan on a beautiful summer day.

A more important anniversary happened 50 years ago this weekend. Martin Luther King JR understood what a nation would look like if everyone stopped judging others, and welcomed them in to their community.  I’ll close with his powerful invitation…

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.  Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”