Sermon: RCL C – “All Saints Sunday”

A picture I took while in Florence, Italy, of the ceiling in The Baptistery of St. John at the Duomo

Irish History: Stingy was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother, and even the Devil himself.  He once invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin he could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Stingy decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. He eventually freed the Devil under the condition that he would not bother him for one year.

As the story goes, Stingy, one day, tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy made the Devil promise not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy removed the crosses and let the Devil down. 

When Stingy finally died many years later, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Stingy was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Stingy placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, one of his favorite foods he always carried around whenever he could steal one. From that day onward, Stingy (a.k.a. Stingy Jack) roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his “Jack O’Lantern.” 

On all Hallow’s eve, which would have been this past Monday, the Irish hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes, and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and to keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O’Lanterns. In the 1800s, Irish immigrants came to America and quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out.

This past week we celebrated All Saints’/Hallows Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Soul’s Day. In other words, we celebrated all the saints—capital “S” and lowercase “s”—who carried the bright light of the faith. The idea of caring for the soul is—as you know—one that has been ruminating in my mind for several months now. I suppose it comes with the territory, but this past week I wondered if our souls were happy, content, sad, angry, peaceful, or something else. And, of course, the answer depends on the person, but for all of us, we must consider: is our soul in such a condition to allow us into Heaven or, like Stingy Jack, whether will we be denied admittance? 

The Lord has constantly been providing the information we need to remain on the path that leads to Him, yet no matter how hard he tries, we, as his ultimate creation, have a difficult time staying on that path.

The first attempt was the Garden of Eden: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” One rule: don’t eat the apple. That didn’t work out, so God gave Moses The Law: “Thou shall have none other Gods but me… no graven images… keep the Sabbath Holy… don’t steal or murder or commit adultery.” You know them all. Right?

God provided these laws not to keep us under his thumb but to keep us safe. To protect our souls and to save us from sin, and by golly, we break them at every opportunity. So the condition of our soul comes into question once again. Are we headed to heaven or hell? Yet, out of his great love for us, God makes another way available: Jesus. Romans 10:13—“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We hear that and think, “That’s the ticket. Bought and paid for.” We respond, “Amen. I’ll take it!” 

No more of the “Thou shall not” business. Instead, we get “blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemaker, and so on.” We think, “It’s all good!” The beatitudes present the very heart of Jesus; however, the catch is that the beatitudes are not an abolishing of the “Thou shall not’s.” Jesus is not making things easier! He is intensifying the Ten Commandments and taking them to their most radical end. How?

“Thou shall not kill.” Fine. I haven’t killed anyone (yet).. but I haven’t! However, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” I thought I was golden with not killing, but as it turns out, I’m not even close.

“Thou shall not steal.” You don’t take from others but go back to what we talked about a few weeks back: things done and left undone. There are sins of commission and sins of omission. “Thou shall not steal.” You did not take when you were not supposed to, but “Thou shall not steal” also means, did you give when you were supposed to give? Not stealing is the bare minimum.

How far would we fall short if we began to analyze, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” in the same manner? I’ll let you do that alone because I’m not brave enough to do it for myself. Yet, even though I am not courageous enough and seem unable to fulfill the calling God places on my life… the calling is still the truth. It is the one path that Christ calls us to in order to be his disciples. Could we soften it? Make it less difficult?

Lee is the cook and housekeeper for the Trask family in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. In one scene, Lee is talking to Adam Trask and says, my father said, “There’s more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.” The Beatitudes are the path that Christ Jesus has set for us. They are the truth we must come to grips with so that our hearts and souls may soar. So how do we fulfill them?

Speaking on The Beatitudes in a 2015 sermon, Pope Francis said, “This is the way of holiness, and it is the very way of happiness. It is the way that Jesus traveled. Indeed, He himself is the Way: those who walk with Him and proceed through Him enter into life, into eternal life. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to be simple and humble people, the grace to be able to weep, the grace to be meek, the grace to work for justice and peace, and above all the grace to let ourselves be forgiven by God so as to become instruments of his mercy.

“This is what the Saints did, those who have preceded us to our heavenly home. They accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage, they encourage us to go forward. May their intercession help us to walk on Jesus’ path, and to obtain eternal happiness.” (Source)

The Beatitudes are beauty, but they are Steinbeck’s “dreadful beauty” in that they are the truth and path of our life with God, but the truth and path that we fall so dreadfully short of. However, failure does not mean we quit. As Francis encouraged us, we pray for the grace to follow the path and the grace of forgiveness when we fail. As my friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá, said, “You — be convinced of it — cannot fail. You haven’t failed; you have gained experience. On you go!” Guided by the Saints, get back to the path lit—not by some ember in a gourd, but by the very light of Christ, so… On you go! We have work to do.

Let us pray: Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


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Sermon: Josemaría Escrivá


Mark Twain writes, “I do not like work even when someone else is doing it.”  That probably sums up how many people feel about work.  There are those who are completely content not working, even if it means someone else will have to pay their way, but for the Christian person, work is not something that should be shunned, because, through our work, we are participating in the work of God.  

Cardinal Stephan Wyszynski (the head of the Catholic Church in Poland for thirty-two years) wrote Sanctify Your Daily Life, with the subtitle, How to Transform Work Into a Source of Strength, Holiness, and Joy.  He says, “Everything in the universe acts by God’s power. If God were to deny His power to the world, even for an instant, it would all be plunged into lifelessness and the shadow of death.

“Everything that lives is bound up with this work [of God]; everything is dependent on it for existence. It is worthwhile keeping this picture before one’s eyes so as not to overestimate the fruits of one’s own work. Man creates nothing; he merely transforms God’s ready-made gifts…. Yet [God] entrusts the details of His design to man, to a rational being who, with the help of prudence, must play his part in bringing all creation to the fulfillment of the whole plan intended by God.

“Christianity… brought about the elevation of work [but now]…work is often regarded as a sad necessity to be gotten through for the sake of earning a living, Christianity continues to link it with God. From this linkage flows the whole blessing of work. ‘For thou shalt eat the labors of thy hands: blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee’ (Ps. 127:2).” (p.14, 17, 21)

The Spirit of Human Labor, also by Cardinal Wyszynski, was first published in 1948 and became widely known in the 50s and 60s through multiple translations primarily because of the work of our Saint for the day, Josemaría Escrivá.  Escrivá would give copies of it to those he led in spiritual direction.  Given that, although I don’t have proof of it, I would say it is safe to say that Wyszynski contributed to Escrivá’s understanding of work, which is one of the main focuses of Escrivá’s teachings and the organization he founded, Opus Dei (The Work of God).

Escrivá writes, “Work is man’s original vocation. It is a blessing from God, and those who consider it a punishment are sadly mistaken.  The Lord, who is the best of fathers, placed the first man in Paradise ut operaretur, so that he would work.” (The Furrow #482)

Today, in our Gospel, Peter and the others have been fishing all night and caught nothing, but when the Lord told them to try again, they caught more than they could haul in.  Work for work’s sake can be fruitless, but work done in cooperation with God can produce great fruit, sometimes materially, but always spiritually.

Understand your work as being in cooperation with the work of God so that no matter what, the work you do is sanctified.  In doing so, even when it is mundane and repetitive, you will experience the love and joy of God.

Sermon: Eve of the Epiphany RCL C

Edward Burne-Jones – The Adoration of the Magi

My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá, in his book, Christ is Passing By, writes about his contemplation of the baby Jesus lying in a manger. He begins by asking, “Lord, where is your kingship, your crown, your sword, your sceptre?” Escrivá says, “They are his by right, but he does not want them. He reigns wrapped in swaddling clothes. Our king is unadorned. He comes to us as a defenceless little child. Can we help but recall the words of the Apostle: ‘He emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave’?

“Our Lord became man to teach us the Father’s will. And this he is already doing as he lies there in the manger. Jesus Christ is seeking us—with a call which is a vocation to sanctity—so that we may carry out the redemption with him. Let us reflect on this first lesson of his. We are to co-redeem, by striving to triumph not over our neighbour, but over ourselves. Like Christ we need to empty ourselves, to consider ourselves as the servants of others, and so to bring them to God.

Therefore, Escrivá continues, “As you kneel at the feet of the child Jesus on the day of his Epiphany and see him a king bearing none of the outward signs of royalty, you can tell him: ‘Lord, take away my pride; crush my self-love, my desire to affirm myself and impose myself on others. Make the foundation of my personality my identification with you.’” (#31)

I won’t speak for anyone but myself, but when I consider how many times I want to put myself first, how many times I see myself as better than someone, how many times I think I deserve more or the best—this could be a long list—and then I come alongside the Magi and kneel before this child and consider all that Jesus gave up to be born in a manger and all he endured because he gave it up… I would like to think that I’m a humble person, but I know the truth of myself… I’m a spoiled brat. I am a redeemed spoiled brat, but spoiled brat all the same.

We must learn humility from this child, the One True God, who lies in the manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. We must learn to submit to and humble ourselves before God and submit ourselves to one another, so that in the end, we may be raised up with him.

It is as St. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) “Though [Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

On this Eve of the Epiphany, as we kneel alongside the Magi, may we be reminded of our Savior’s great humility and learn to follow in the way he leads.

In the words of Escrivá, let us pray: ‘Lord, take away our pride; crush our self-love, our desire to affirm ourselves and impose ourselves on others. Make the foundation of our personalities our identification with you.’ This we pray in the Name of your Incarnate Son, Jesus. Amen.

Sermon: Johann Sebastian Bach

Photo by Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash

In 1722 a composer applied for a music director job in Leipzig. There were five other candidates. The city council seemed to be looking for a college education, which this composer lacked. They offered the job to two other candidates, who both declined.  One councilman commented when they were calling the third candidate, “Since we cannot get the best, we will have to be satisfied with a mediocre one.”  That mediocre candidate turned out to be Johann Sebastian Bach.

The great composer Johannes Brahms wrote to a friend about a composition by Bach, “The man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I could picture myself writing, or even conceiving, such a piece I am sure that the extreme excitement and emotional tension would have driven me mad.”

It would seem that a driving factor for Bach and the music he composed was God.  He says, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub.”  Bach’s works are so explicitly biblical that the famous missionary doctor Albert Schweitzer, who was also an expert on Bach, called him “the Fifth Evangelist.” 

As part of his duties in one position, Bach was to provide an original composition for each Sunday’s church service, as well as various feast days. Bach thus set about composing a five-year cycle of cantatas, amounting to 60 cantatas a year, for a total of 300 works of an average duration of 25 minutes, so on average he produced more than one cantata a week during that five year period. 

He lived until age 65 and died in 1750 and neither he nor his contemporaries had any idea that his music would last throughout the ages.  In fact he was obscure for a century after his death until he was rediscovered by Felix Mendelssohn.  It is likely that many of those hundreds of compositions were simply lost, but on those that do survive there is an interesting notation on some: in Bach’s own handwriting, the letters J.J. at the beginning of each and S.D.G. at the end.  They are abbreviations for the Latin, Jesu Juva (Jesus Help Me!) at the beginning and Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone!) at the end.

We often say that things are done to the glory of God, but it was my friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá who helped me to understand the meaning of the phrase: “Dei omnis gloria—All glory to God.  It is an emphatic confession of our nothingness.  He, Jesus, is everything.  We, without him, are worth nothing: Nothing.  Our vainglory would be just that: vain glory; it would be sacrilegious theft; the ‘I’ should not appear anywhere.” (The Way #780)  Like Bach, that is definitely something to consider the next time we say, “to the Glory of God.”  However, there is a consolation: we may be ‘nothing,’ but we are God’s nothing and in the end… that is really something!

I can’t sing it, but I’ll share the words of one of Bach’s most famous hymns (surprisingly, it is not in our hymnal!)

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

Sermon: Easter V RCL A – “I Will Proclaim”

pointDo you remember the name Harold Camping? He died this past December, but for many years was the leader of Family Radio Worldwide. His claim to fame was that through complex mathematical formulas he predicted that on May 21, 2011 the rapture, that is God calling his people home, would occur and the world would end as we know it. Now, if it had occurred and all of you were still here after the rapture, I wouldn’t be surprised, but since I’m still here, I figure he was wrong. For the record, Camping also predicted that the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994 and that didn’t happen either. He wrote that off as errors in his computations. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” My logic says, if the angels don’t know the hour or day, then someone with a calculator and a Bible won’t be able to figure it out either.

However, leading up to May 21, 2011, atheist across the country were having all sorts of fun by having “end of the world parties. Although Mr. Camping was wrong, I still don’t know that it is a good idea to mock him and I’ll tell you why: people have been looking for Jesus return for 2,000+ years. They have been praying for his return for 2,000+ years and for good reason. The author Anne Lamott summed it up, she wrote, “We are Easter People, living in a Good Friday World.” We are an Easter people believing in the resurrection, old things passing away, new life, the promises of the Good News, but the world around is in shambles. Some see the world around us and they interpret its condition as the end, “How could we go on anymore?” So in the midst of the shambles, folks want to see the Lord’s return so badly, that they begin to look for it even more closely and want it so much that they even make the mistake of trying to predict it. In a way, it is an act of desperation.

Harold Camping and the others who have predicted Jesus return through this desperation are not alone. Consider the apostles in our Gospel reading today: Jesus has already shared the Last Supper with his disciples, he has predicted his death, he has told Peter and the others that they will deny him.. essentially he is giving final instructions and saying, “Goodbye.” For the apostles, their world is spinning out of control, their world is turning into shambles, so Thomas says to Jesus, “Give us directions on how we can follow you.” Philip wants Jesus to show them the Father. In both cases, instead of breaking out a map or showing a photo, Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “If you have seen me then you have seen the Father.” For the apostles that still sounds a bit cryptic, because they did not fully understand Jesus’ purpose, what his mission was all about. That understanding would not come until later, but the events surrounding Stephen that we read about today are key to this understanding.

You will recall that after Jesus’ death the apostles went about preaching and teaching; however, as more folks came to belief in Christ it became more difficult for these few followers to care for them all, so they elected seven others – the first deacons – to assist in the ministry. One of those seven was Stephen and he was very passionate about his work. Not only did he do the work of a deacon, but he also proclaimed the Gospel message. Just as the religious leadership did not want to hear it from Jesus, they didn’t want to hear it from this young upstart either. So it came to pass that on one particular day Stephen gave them a great tongue lashing. He said to them, you have always been disobedient to God, you have always limited God, and you have persecuted the prophets that God sent. The crowning jewel of this tongue lashing comes when Stephen tells them, you murdered the Son of God.

It is hear that scripture records an amazing scene, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” For his perceived “blasphemy” they stoned him to death.

In believing and proclaiming the Gospel Stephen, the first martyr of the church, saw the place that Thomas had asked Jesus for directions to and he saw the glory of the Father that Phillip had wanted to see. What Stephen was witness to was the Good News. Jesus’ Kingdom was not bound to an earthly realm. You don’t need directions on how to get there or a photograph to know the Father, you only need one thing. Care to take a guess? Jesus – and that is the Good News.

What kind of person do you think of when you consider a person like Stephen? He knew that because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God it got him crucified, but here Stephen is making the same claims. Don’t you think he had to know that it would incite the religious leaders once again? Was he like one of those street preachers you imagine in Time Square, standing on a milk crate, flailing a Bible around shouting at those passing by, but in the case of Stephen knowing what he said could get him killed? Was he on a suicide mission, simply begging for death? Or was he being the light of the world. That city on a hill that can’t be hidden? Was Stephen a hero? Was he someone whose character and behavior we should model and follow?

Now please don’t think I’m picking on anyone in particular this morning. I’m not. Instead, I’m being very equitable and picking on us all, because we are all guilty of something specific in our Christian walk. Folks like Thomas and Philip ask to see God, others like Harold Camping and his followers want to see God so badly that they predict dates when they actually will, but they are not the only ones? The world is in shambles all around us and folks, whether directly or indirectly, ask us those same questions: “Can you show me the way?” “Can you help me to understand and see God?” Indirectly they may pour out to you the turmoil within their souls, their anxious thoughts, and personal concerns; but when they do, what we are all guilty of is being too polite. How many of you have heard this, “Faith or someone’s relationship with God is a personal matter.” “I don’t want to force my religious views on anyone.” “I might make them angry if I talk about God.”

I asked you if you thought Stephen was some sort of madman or a hero and the correct answer is that he is a hero. We should emulate his behavior, which means we shouldn’t always be so polite and say or do what is considered socially proper when it comes to our faith – It is THE Good News and that Good News is not there just so we can have some comforting words to say at someone’s deathbed or worse, their funeral! The Good News is for today. It is for the living and is for sharing. If someone happens to get angry and throws a few rocks then so be it. I love what St. Josemaria Escriva said on this, “If they break our skulls, we shall not take it too seriously. We shall just have to put up with having them broken.” You are living testimonies to the Good News and it is worth sharing.

Scripture says that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and we too are filled with that same Spirit, which will allows us share the Good News of Jesus Christ as boldly and as unapologetically as Stephen did. The world did not end on May 21, 2011 or today – at least not yet! – so there are many who still want and need to know the way to Jesus. They want to see the Father. You, each and everyone of you, can provide them with directions.

The Psalmist declares, “My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”

Don’ let that simply be something you read or hear. Let it be something you live. A way of life. Be aware of the many opportunities that the Lord provides you to share your faith and then grasp those opportunities and proclaim the Good News that is within you.

Sermon: Matthew 5:21-37

telemachus1

Foxes’ Book of Martyrs tells us the story of Telemachus, a Christian monk who, in 391 AD, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there he noticed crowds flocking to the Coliseum to see gladiators do battle. He followed them in, only to witness a sight that repulsed him.

Emperor Honorius was celebrating his triumph over the Goths. Gladiators armed with spears and swords reenacted the battle.  After their reenactment the bodies of the dead were dragged from the arena and its bloodied surface covered with a fresh layer of sand.

In came a new series of gladiators. Some were armed with swords and spears, others with nets. The crowd watched with excitement as they sought to outdo each other. When a gladiator was wounded, his opponent would loom over him, waiting for the crowds verdict on whether to slay him or let him live. So great was the bloodlust that at times wealthier spectators would climb down to get a better view of the execution.

Telemachus watched with horror as people died, battles raged and the crowds cheered. Prompted into action this bald headed, robed figure found his way onto the arena floor. He ran toward two gladiators locked in battle, grabbed one of them and pulled him away. He exhorted the two gladiators to abandon their murderous sport. He appealed to the crowd to not break God’s law by murdering.

The response was anything but favorable. Angry voices drowned out Telemachus’, demanding that the spectacle continue. The gladiators prepared to do battle again, but Telemachus stood between them, holding them apart, urging them to reconsider. Driven by the anger of the crowd and their rage at Telemachus’ interference, the gladiators cut Telemachus to the ground, as the crowd threw missiles at him. Telemachus was killed.

Legend holds that when the crowd saw the little monk lying dead in a pool of blood, they fell silent and then began leaving the stadium, one by one.  Because of Telemachus’ death, three days later, the Emperor by decree ended the Games.

In this brief history we can see the work of a saint, but what struck me today was the crowd.  Most, I would hope, were opposed to the violence of war and murder.  However, having entered into the arena they were swept up in the event.  They cheered on the violence and encouraged the murder of the innocent monk.  They voluntarily subjected themselves to witness these horrors, they engaged a temptation, and in the process became complicit in then sin.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus makes several statements where he ups the standard, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, `You shall not murder’… But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”  He speaks in a similar manner with regard to adultery, lust, swearing and more.  Like the crowd in the arena, these are offenses that we voluntarily subject ourselves to.  We walk into them knowing full well what we are doing.  Someone might anger us, but they don’t cause that anger to swell into a rage.  I may see a pretty girl walking down the street, but she is not the cause of lust rising up in me.  However, like those in the crowd, when we engage with a temptation instead of immediately walking away, then we may fall into sin.

St. Josemaria Escriva put it this way, “Do not enter into dialogue with temptation.  Allow me to repeat: have the courage to run away and the moral strength not to dally with your weakness or wonder how far you can go.  Break off, with no concession!”

When temptations arise in your life, do not entertain them.  Do not consider the “what ifs.”  Immediately set the temptation aside, not giving it the slightest edge.  In this way we can all live holier lives.

Choosing Barabbas

GiveUsBarabbas

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.  The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” – Matthew 27:20-21

There they are, side by side.  I can have either and the choice is mine.  Sure, I know good from evil (Genesis 3:22).  I know the “right” choice, but today I think I will choose Barabbas.  That’s who everyone else keeps shouting for.  Even the preacher said it!

“Barabbas!”

Why does that feel so wrong?  Why does it feel as though a piece of my soul just died?   Who is this man?

“Barabbas.”

This can’t be right.  I don’t even know this Barabbas.  What did this Jesus do?  Someone said that if he didn’t die that they would kill us all.  Don’t they know, we’re already dead.

“….”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

Each day is a choice between Jesus and Barabbas.  Today you chose Barabbas.  There is tomorrow.

Never despair. Lazarus was dead and decaying: “iam foetet, quatriduanus set enim“–“by now he will smell; this is the fourth day,” Martha told Jesus.

If you hear the inspiration of God and follow it–“Lazare, vein foras!“–“Lazarus, come forth!”–you will return to life.

St. Josemaria Escriva – The Way #719 

Sermon: Presentation of Our Lord RCL A – “Killing Hornets”

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In nature there are some epic battles that take place every day.  One such battle goes on between the Japanese honeybee and the Giant Japanese Hornet.  The Japanese Hornet is five times larger than the bee and is the world’s strongest predatory hornet.

When a Giant Japanese Hornet finds a honeybee nest it will kill a few honeybees and take them back to its nest to feed on it’s larvae. But then it returns, this time marking the honeybee hive with a scent. The scent attracts other hornets, and when two or three have arrived they begin to slaughter the honeybees at an extraordinary rate.  One such event records that 30,000 honeybees were killed by just 30 hornets in about three hours.

But the honeybees have developed a defense, and a defense that puzzled scientists for quite some time. You see, the honeybees can kill the hornets, but not in the way you might think – they don’t sting them to death. Instead, they do the opposite of what might be expected. They begin by doing all they can to annoy the hornet trying to mark its scent on their nest. Over 100 worker honeybees gather near the entrance to the nest, and then, when the hornet comes near, they lift and shake their abdomens in a peculiar dance. And the hornet finds this really aggravating. The bees then dive into their nest, and the steamed up hornet follows, intent to do some damage!

Unbeknown to the hornet 1000 worker bees are waiting for him just inside the entrance. When he gets close enough, around 500 of the honeybees jump on him, enclosing him in a ball of honeybees about the size of a clenched fist. They gather as close as they can to the hornet and start vibrating their muscles.  What happens? The vibrations cause the temperature to rise and rise and rise. In ten minutes or so the temperature’s up to 117 degrees.  Guess what temperature is too hot for a hornet to survive – 113 degrees; whereas the honeybees can function up to 120 degrees.  When the temperature of the ball of vibrating honeybees goes above 113 degrees the hornet dies and the honeybees survive.

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That is a rather remarkable act of God’s creation, and it is a rather profound lesson for the church.  We as individual members of a church can go it alone, doing things our own way and in all likelihood, not only will we fail as individuals, but we may also fail corporately.  St. Josemaria Escriva put it a bit more bluntly, “Convince yourself, my child, that lack of unity within the Church is death.” (The Forge, #631)  However, if we choose to work as a body – recognizing that we are in fact “in this thing together” – then, although there may be difficult times, we will manage to overcome.  Please note, I’m not eluding to a Giant Japanese Hornet buzzing around at our front door.  I’m not referring to some observed problem existing within the church, but it is good for us all to remember that we are called to stand together in the mission of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Consider the words of the Psalmist today:

For one day in your courts 

     is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God 

     than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

“… to stand at the threshold of the house” – that passage can take several meanings: it can mean to be the doorman, or one of the masses just hoping to get a peek inside, or even a beggar, but each implies the same message, “I would rather be a nobody in the house of God, than a somebody outside of it.”  For us: “I would rather be a small and insignificant part of the Body of Christ, than not to be a part at all.”  And not only are we all a part of the Body of Christ, we need one another.

Paul teaches us in his first letter to the Corinthians, “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”  He goes on to say, “If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”  We are the Body and we need one another.  To say, “I have no need of you,” to separate yourself from the body, from the church, is in a very real way excommunication, not as in an action that has been imposed on you, but as an action you have imposed on yourself.  In the end, not only does the individual suffer, but the body suffers as well.  We are the body of Christ, the church, and he is the head of the body.  “Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior,” says Paul to the Ephesians; and the loss of any of its members brings harm to the church.

I’ll remind you again of those wonderful words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, “The Church is not the society of those labeled virtuous.  It is the mixed community of sinners called to be saints.”  The church is anything but perfect; but it is far better within its embrace than it is outside.  Outside, the hornets can take us one by one, but together, within the spiritual walls of this place, we can defend one another and conquer our greatest enemies.

Today, following the Confession of Sin we will offer the Sacrament of Unction – of healing.  If you need healing in body, mind or soul, then I invite you to come forward to receive an anointing and the laying on of hands.  I also invite you to come forward to receive the same for the healing of any infirmity within the church, so that we might not only bring healing to our individual bodies, but to this Body of Christ as well.

Furrow #115

esc115: Sometimes I think that a few enemies of God and his Church live off the fear of many good people, and I am filled with shame.  “Furrow” – St. Josemaria Escriva.

A few take Christ out of Merry Christmas.  A few take words out of context.  A few make laws for the many.  A few sow hate.  A few beat their plastic swords against their garbage can lid shields and we think that great armies have massed against us.  They are nothing.  They are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.  Stand your ground.  There is nothing to fear.  “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

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