Gospel

On the Inside; On the Outside


 

Perfectly Imperfect

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Today we remember Saints Peter and Paul: two men called by God to do great things. Two men who certainly were not born equipped to serve the Lord, but rather, two men who were equipped by the Lord to preach the Gospel and ultimately to give up their lives for its sake.

Peter was a young fisherman living on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was a man prone to outbursts and weak under pressure. He was unstable, impulsive, insecure, and cowardly. He often spoke or acted inappropriately, and was anything but a rock.

Paul was a highly educated Pharisee who persecuted Christians, even ordering the stoning of the first martyr of the Church, Saint Stephen. He was a bigot, self-righteous, manipulative, vindictive, cunning and opportunistic.

Peter and Paul were two unlikely characters for the Lord to call into his service and to establish as apostles of the Church. Yet the Lord chose them, transformed them, and entrusted to them to spread the Gospel.

God called Peter and Paul to use their personalities for the good: Peter to use his passionate love to look after the flock, and Paul to use his training as a Pharisee and his strength of character to ensure that the non-Jews would be welcomed into the church. It is a reminder to us that our strengths and our weaknesses can become God’s means of helping others, if we let it. We don’t have to be perfect for God to work through us. God can work through us, faults and all, just as he did with Peter and Paul.

Spiritual conversion requires the greatest miracle of all, but God’s Word is reassuring. If people like Peter and Paul could become deeply converted and change the world, then we know there is hope for the rest of us.

Off the Rails

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In 1980, Ozzy Osbourne released a song called “Crazy Train.” In this song, Ozzy asks when we can all learn to love in a world gone mad:

Crazy, but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes.
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love, and forget how to hate.

Mental wounds not healing,
Life’s a bitter shame;
I’m goin’ off the rails on a crazy train.
I’m goin’ off the rails on a crazy train.

What the apostles were doing in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:27-33) must have seemed a little crazy to much of the surrounding world. The Pharisees and leaders certainly seem to think this. Drawing attention to the public proclamation of Jesus as Lord was indeed crazy.

The apostles preach the gospel, encounter imprisonment, are miraculously released, and immediately get back to preaching the gospel – in the exact same place their message seemed to fail the first time! Crazy, right?

How often are we eager to shake the dust off our feet when opposition to our faithfulness arises? There is a time for counting our losses and moving on, but our scripture encourages us to return to those hard places, to keep at the work of faithfulness, and to proclaim the good news again regardless of the results we see. Twice the apostles preached in the temple. Twice they were arrested. Once they were flogged. And yet, Acts 5 concludes with the apostles rejoicing in their sufferings and preaching in the temple every single day.

Too often, discouragement and indifference creep in, and we cease to proclaim and live the gospel. When we find the strength to obey God’s commands and respond to the promptings of the Spirit, God becomes more present in our lives.

Let us get off of our crazy train and persevere in our faith. If we strive to become witnesses and partakers in God’s joy, we will never go off the rails.

The Cocoon of Self-Absorption

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One of the many wonders of nature is a cocoon. A caterpillar encloses itself in a type of tomb and then emerges transformed and flies through the air in the form of a beautiful butterfly. We view this as a type of death and resurrection.

An image for the Gospel today is that of a cocoon. Rather than a transformation into beauty, we witness a deformation into misery. The Gospel never says that this rich man committed any crime, but it seems that he is just so overly focused on himself that he cannot see beyond his clothes, his meals and his own doorstep. His wealth is something that he spends on himself and not something he shares with others. He is so tightly woven into his cocoon that he cannot seem to break out.

This disturbing parable tells us to not be absorbed with ourselves, to pay attention, and to wake up. We need to remember that our possessions are not owned by us, but loaned to us. They are entrusted to us; not only that we can meet our basic needs, but also so that we can help others. St. Augustine described sin as being caved in on oneself. Sin closes us in on ourselves and charity draws us out of ourselves and that is where we find joy.

We’re instructed to pay attention to Moses and the prophets; that is, to pay attention to God’s word given to us in the Scriptures and by Jesus.

And we need to wake up because most of us at times can be like the rich man. And the five brothers – they represent us too. We are not to expect some sort of personalized message, but should instinctively live out our faith by loving God and our neighbor. Actions have consequences, and so do our inactions. We can sin by what we do but we can also sin by what we fail to do.

This Lent, let us pray that we receive the grace to not be imprisoned in the cocoon of self-absorption. Rather, let us strive to live generous and joyful lives not selfishly but selflessly.

We Need to be Poked!

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I was looking through some old photos of our past family camping vacations not too long ago. It was fun looking back on all of those vacations that we took, many to some incredible places with some amazing campsites. As I was looking at the pictures of all of us sitting around the campfire at night, I fondly remember lighting all of those fires – and keeping them going well into the night.

If you’ve ever been around a campfire, you know that once the wood catches fire, there is a need to poke the wood every so often in order to keep it burning. Sometimes you even need to adjust the position of the logs so that the entire log has a chance to burn. And that is a great analogy for our spiritual life as well.

As St. Paul wrote, each of us must “stir into flame the gift of God.” (Timothy 1:1-8) Sometimes, we become stuck right where we are. We become comfortable in our faith, almost to the point of non-action. We go through the motions and do what we’ve always done, but we don’t go any farther. We become stagnant, complacent, and our fire doesn’t burn completely – and we need to be poked. We need to get re-energized, renewed and redirected so that we can continue to follow our baptismal calling and mission to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world.

Let’s not hide our lamp under a bushel basket, but spread our light for all to see. Let us use our gifts to serve our Lord and our neighbor. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you.

Consider yourself poked!

St. Leo the Great

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Today, November 10th, is the Roman Catholic Church’s memorial of the fifth-century Pope Saint Leo I, known as “St. Leo the Great.” Reigning for over two decades, he sought to preserve the unity of the Church and to ensure the safety of his people against frequent barbarian invasions. Read More

Is It Soup Yet?

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corn soupOn Wednesday, I whipped up a batch of homemade Sweet Corn and Crab Soup for dinner. There’s nothing like a good pot of soup on a cold, winter evening. So I went grocery shopping last weekend to make sure that I had all of the needed ingredients to prepare the feast. I’m always amazed at the number of ingredients needed to make a pot of homemade soup. And it can be anything from meat, fish, various vegetables, and usually several spices. Then you have to do all of the necessary chopping and mixing. So the question to ask: is it soup yet? Well, not quite. You need to have the soup simmer for a period of time. Once these steps have been completed, you can finally partake in your creation (and hopefully it turned out well). Read More

We Need to Go to the Outhouse!

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We took our eldest son out to dinner last night for his birthday. The restaurant that he chose had a Texas/western-style atmosphere, so you can probably imagine what the feel of the place was like. As we were being escorted to our table, I noticed a sign over the area where the restrooms were located that read “Outhouse.” I smiled to myself about this and instantly had a flashback to my mother’s side of the family who lived on a farm that had an outhouse in their yard, since they did not have indoor plumbing when I was young. And then, my mind took off in a completely different direction.

outhouseOn Sunday, we typically spend some quality time with the Lord at Mass. We gather around the Lord’s table to praise and thank God for the many blessings in our lives. We bring our sin-fullness that we accumulated during the week and ask for God’s forgiveness and ask that we are strengthened for the week to come. We sing and pray with our fellow parishioners as we gather to hear God’s word spoken to us and to move us. Basically, we are worshiping “inhouse” – or in God’s house. Then, we are sent out after Mass to go out into the world; to take what we had just heard and to spread the news to those whom we meet on a daily basis. We are to live the Gospel and to be Eucharist to others. We are to strive to imitate Jesus by loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to treat others with the respect and dignity that they deserve. We are to live “outhouse” and not keep Jesus to ourselves.

As this week begins, I challenge all of us to leave the comforts of the “inhouse” and take the good news of Jesus Christ to the “outhouse” so that all can experience the love that God has for each one of us.

Are You Living the Gospel?

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When you think of religion in Asia, one automatically thinks of Buddhism and Confucianism. You can imagine how surprised I was when I found out that in South Korea today, a tiny fraction of the population is Confucian, 26% is Buddhist, and 26% is Christian – 10% of whom are Catholic. The means that Christianity is tied, numerically speaking, as the largest religion in that Asian nation. This is truly remarkable considering that Christianity was introduced there just over 200 years ago, and the first native-born priest was ordained only in 1846.

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