I Chose the Mustang

Gospel of Luke 4:21-30

My first car was a 1981 Ford Mustang. It was blue, it had tinted windows and leather looking plastic bucket seats. I had worked and saved money and right before the start of my Junior year in high school my parents and I drove to Casper, Wyoming, wandered the lots of every used car dealer, searching for the “perfect” car. The perfect car that I could afford, that is.

My father had helped me narrow the list to 2 cars. The 1981 Ford Mustang, the car I wanted, and a blue 1984 Ford Escort, the car my father wanted for me. The Escort was newer, had less miles, got better gas mileage, and overall was in much better condition than the Mustang. I chose the Mustang.

I remember driving that car home listening to Van Halen on cassette thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I had worked hard, saved money, and now I was driving a car of my very own.

A car, for me meant freedom. I could now go where I wanted, when I wanted, and I would no longer ask permission to borrow my mother’s Buick. The Mustang was cool (though to be honest the 80’s were the worst period of design for the Ford Mustang) and I could play my music on the stereo as loud as I wanted. I didn’t so much buy a car that day, as much as an idea. An idea that fulfilled an expectation.

Expectations are funny. We all have them. We all believe in things, events, places, and most especially, people. The word expectation is defined as: “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” A simple enough definition indeed, but what isn’t contained in this definition is the power, influence, and control our expectations have over our behavior.

Our expectations oftentimes drive our relationships. They influence our interactions with one other. They dictate how we work, if we work, and how we save or spend our money. Expectations dictate where we go, why we go there, and what we want when we get there. They determine how we behave in different social settings and how we expect others to behave. Our expectations have an impact on who we are, what we do, and what we want from others.

In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts expectations.

Today’s Gospel picks up right where last week’s Gospel leaves off. Jesus, after traveling the region of Capernaum, had arrived in his home town. His friends, relatives, and acquaintances were eagerly looking forward to his arrival and the miracles and signs that he would do there.

Instead, Jesus challenges their expectations and chastises their lack of understanding. Instead of performing wonderous signs and miracles he reminds them of the Old Testament stories about the widow and Naaman, both Gentiles. He reminds them that these Gentiles received blessings from God and how the rest of Israel, God’s chosen people, continued in their suffering.

He confronted their expectations in regards to birth-right and who is deserving of God’s blessings and, in essence, told them that their expectations were wrong. Their response to being told that their expectations were wrong is very similar to ours today. They were disappointed, which then turned into resentment, and then into anger, and in their anger, they rejected Jesus.

We do that.

We too have expectations of Jesus. We expect that Jesus will fix all our problems, eliminate our struggles, and make others think and behave the way we want them too. And when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t make money magically appear, or miraculously fix our broken water heaters, or cause those who are in opposition to us to align with our thinking, we become disappointed, resentful, and angry.

Jesus came to save us and to be our friend. A friendship founded in and fostered in love. He loves us and he expects us to love him and one another. When we altar that expectation we then run the risk of responding to Jesus the way his friends, relatives, and acquaintances did. We run the risk of rejecting him and denying him the opportunity to treat us as a friend.

Though I thought that all my expectations were met by that 1981 Ford Mustang, in time I learned that I had made the wrong choice. The inherent problems of a well-used car began to become evident shortly after I had purchased it. Now, knowing hindsight is 20/20, it is okay to say, because it taught me a lesson. A lesson that I frequently have to re-learn, but nonetheless, a lesson that is essential to my Christian walk.

That lesson is this: to put needs ahead of wants and live in love with God and with my neighbor.

My father witnessed that love to me when 1) he recommended a car that would have met my needs, and 2) allowed me to make the wrong choice. Today, as you come before this altar, I challenge you to examine your expectations and to ask God to help you align them in love…his perfect and all-encompassing love.

All Souls Day

Historically, the custom of setting apart a special day for the intercession of the departed faithful on November 2, was first established by St. Odilo of Cluny in the late 10th century. From this monastery in France, the custom spread throughout Europe and was ultimately accepted by Rome in the fourteenth century.  Eventually, this tradition came to be known in the liturgy of the Roman Rite as “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed”, and is the reason why we have gathered here this evening; to pray for, and to come together as one, as the Body of Christ, with each other and those who have gone before.

The significance, relevance, and beauty of the reason why we are gathered here this day, for me, personally, became tangible on the day of my grandfather’s funeral.

On that day, sitting alone in the funeral home, with my grandfather’s body lying in the casket before me, I experienced the grace and beauty of the perpetual communion we share as believers in Christ.  A communion described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as, “All… who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.”

Today, this most unique and significant day, we are reminded of the promises of Christ; “that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life,” and, as, “(we) remain in (him), … (he) remain(s) in (us),” and, as the Church so beautifully reminds us in her doctrine, that “Christ mystically constitutes as his body those (persons) of his who are called together from every nation.”  In these promises we find the assurance and the hope that, “Believers who respond to God’s word and become members of Christ’s Body, become intimately united with him…and with one another.” CCC 790

This unity, with Christ, and with one another, and with those who have passed on before, form the Mystical Body of Christ, which we as Catholics, celebrate in our Sacrament and most specifically in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.  This unity, which bind us together in one body with Christ as its head, allows us to find comfort, peace, and most importantly, hope.  Hope that one day we shall ALL be gathered together in perfect harmony and joy.  This unity, which allows us to triumph over all human division, produces and stimulates a perfect charity allowing us all to “suffer when one member suffers” and rejoice when “one member is honored.”  This unity, which we publicly recognize today, in “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed”, enables our tears and sorrows associated with loss to be tempered by the joy and hope of our promised resurrection.

Today, we share our lists.  Our own personal list of names.  The names of our grandfathers, our grandmothers, our parents, and, sometimes, most regrettably, our children.  These names, the names of our family members, our friends, neighbors, and, sometimes, of people who we did not even know, are for us, precious mementos of those whom we cherished, and loved, and whose passing caused a inexpressible emptiness and void.

These names that make up our lists represent the best and worst parts of us.  They have become for us who yet live, our own personal ritual as we speak them in prayer and recall their faces in our thoughts and in our dreams.  These names, of those who have preceded us in our journey, and the hope in the promises of Jesus Christ which they represent, are for us both the cause of our anguish and the inspiration for our hope.

So, today, share your list.  Share you list with one another knowing and trusting that we are united, together in both sorrow and hope, as one in the Body of Christ.  Share your list in prayer, and together we will work, one with another, in lifting your sorrowful burden to the healer of all our wounds, Jesus Christ.  Share your list here in front of this altar as we celebrate the unity provided to us through the Body and Blood our Lord.  Share your list knowing in the confidence of the resurrection, that one day we shall ALL be gathered to him, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

What does it meant to be sheep without a shepherd?

16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34

What does it meant to be “sheep without a shepherd?” Does it mean to be lost? Does it mean to be at risk, or in danger? At the mercy of the environment, in want, or in need? Does it mean to be without purpose or direction?

I presume that we all have had moments in our life when we have felt void of purpose or lacked direction. Times or periods when we go through the motions, act out of habit or routine. We, and again I presume, have all had time in our lives when we felt threatened; the wolves of life were circling, snapping their jaws and filling our ears with their growly threats. Moments in our life when fear gripped us, controlled us, and caused us to do and say things that we later regretted and wished we could have taken back.

Maybe you will disagree with me, however, I would suggest that might just be what it feels like to be a sheep without a shepherd; to be lost, fearful, discouraged, and in persistent doubt. To be a sheep without a shepherd is to live a life at risk, constantly on alert, always on the lookout for the next threat.

Jesus, after his disciples returned from their missionary journeys, instructed them to get into a boat so that they may get some rest. They headed to a desolate place, something that Jesus did himself, in order that they may refresh, restore, and prepare themselves. Yet, that isn’t what happened.

Imagine if you will the scene. Jesus and his disciples traveling in a boat and thousands of people walking along the hillside and shoreline tracking their progress. People who, maybe only hours before, were at their homes, doing their chores, engaged in their work, going about their day just as they did the previous days before, and were now traveling to a desolate place so that they may have an opportunity to see and hear Jesus. What caused them to leave their daily routine and go out into the wilderness? They did so, because they were people in need.

Some in need of physical healing, yes. There were those suffering from illness, disease, and deformities hoping for relief and a cure. But not all were suffering from illness or disease. What about those who were physically fit, lacking a deformity, or physical limitation? Why were they leaving their routine and seeking Jesus?

They came because they needed what we all need from Jesus: complete healing. Men and women who needed their sins to be forgiven and to be restored. Men and women who had been living their lives, going about the motions, yet, lacking in security, care, direction, and purpose. They were sheep without a shepherd.

This event in the Gospel of Mark signals a change in Jesus’s ministry. He never again enters into a synagogue to teach. His ministry goes public, so to speak. People surrounded him in the marketplaces and searched him out. His popularity grew, as did the crowds, but so did the resentment and scorn of the Pharisees and other religious rulers of his time.

Something happened to Jesus that day on a boat, as he saw the large crowd of people awaiting his arrival. As he looked upon these people, these sheep without a shepherd, his heart was moved with pity. He saw a group of people with their needs, their wounds, their despair, and lack of direction and he loved them.

In the verse, the Greek word translated as “heart” is not meant in the sense of an actual biological beating heart. His biological heart wasn’t moved. Rather, this word could more accurately lead to mean in English as “gut”; or the seat of our emotions. When we use the phrase, “I feel it in my gut” we typically are describing a feeling that is found in our very most inner self. That place down deep inside each and every one of us in which resides the very core of our humanity; the very essence of who we are. When Jesus’s heart was moved with pity, it was his very most inner self, the very core of all that he was, and is even to this day, which caused him to respond and to desire to shepherd his sheep.

Jesus’s love for you today is in no way diminished or lessened. Just as he looked upon those tired, misguided, and desperately lost people, and was so moved to responded to their needs, so too does he look and respond to you, here this day, in front of this altar.

We too, at times, act like sheep without a shepherd. We too have gotten lost in our sin and misguided intentions. We too have been surrounded by wolves, subsequently threatened to scatter, and have felt abandoned and forgotten. Yet, do not let us forget that Jesus loves us and his love for us is at the very center of who he is, for it is that love which calls us…calls us to him, who is our shepherd.

“What, then, will this child be?”

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

“What, then, will this child be?”  Mark records the very question that every parent has asked since the dawn of time.  The question, “How will my kid turn out?” has the ability to cause feelings of wonder and hope or shock and dismay.  If it were possible to add up the total number of hours of sleep lost as a result of pondering this question, we as parents, would be both impressed and frightened.  As we read the recorded words of John the Baptist’s relatives we may take some small comfort in knowing that the mystery, wonder, and worry associated with parenting transcends race, culture, and time.

There is no such thing as “winning” at parenting.  You cannot win at being a parent.  There are no prizes.  There are no trophies.  There are no ribbons.  There are no participation medals.  In spite of what you may think, read, or have been told your children’s successes, or failures, are completely and entirely their sole responsibility.

I recognize that may sound a little harsh.  In fact, when I shared this viewpoint with a group of dads earlier this week most of them, initially balked at its bluntness.  As parents we like to think that we what we do matters…and though it does, it does so in a way that has more to do with our ability to parent rather than our children’s ability to be successful.

Many years ago, as I was eagerly anticipating the birth of my first child, a co-worker pulled me aside and told me in a very crude and direct manner what to expect at the birth. He said, “Of all the things you get when your baby is born there are two things they don’t give you; 1) an owner’s manual, and 2) a receipt.”  In his unique and brusque manner he gave me the best parenting advice ever; a reminder that children don’t come with instructions and they can’t be returned.

Proverbs 22:6 states, “train the young in the way they should go; even when old they will not swerve from it.”  As a parent I hold tightly to that proverb.  It brings me comfort and hope and I pass that proverb on to you in the hope that you too will find comfort and hope in the promise of God.  However, even in this proverb we find the reality that as parents we do our best in the hope that our best is good enough.

Believe it or not my hope today is to encourage you.  I wish to encourage you as parents, both current and future, by reminding you of your sacred duty to raise your children in love and with hope.  As today’s Gospel reminds us, the birth of a child is a wellspring of hope.  As the relatives and neighbors of John the Baptist exclaimed, “What, then, will this child be?” so too we find hope and promise in our children, not only in their birth but also as they grow and develop.

The supreme example of parenting is, of course, God the Father.  As reveled to us in his Word, in his creation, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, we know that God the Father is love and his mercy is the source of our hope.  As parents we should strive in all that we do and say to emulate God’s love for our children.  Through and with love, we communicate hope, and through that hope we provide encouragement as we inspire, motivate, and disciple our children.

Parenting out of love requires us too consciously, and with effort, to remove fear from our words and actions.  Fear seeks validation through success and when success is not achieved the fruits produced are feelings of rejection and unworthiness.  Fear communicates to our children that their worthiness is conditional, based on outcomes and performance, and denies our children the opportunity to experience the joy and stability produced from love without conditions.

Parents are charged with communicating God’s love to their children, for, ultimately, they are his.  We communicate love in everything we do; when we hold and squeeze our babies, when we establish and enforce boundaries for our teenagers, when we allow natural consequences, both positive and negative, to run their course, and when we provide instruction, advice, and encouragement.  In all these things, and many more, we must communicate love.

God, in his infinite wisdom and by his immeasurable love, created us, humankind, with the ability to choose. The ability to choose to accept or reject him.  It is with that example of God’s love, through which we have been called, by which we must parent.  Exposing our children to choice, exposes them to risk.  As parents we manage risk, the best we can, by managing choice.  We communicate love to our children when we allow and provide opportunities for appropriate risk, and when combined with our acceptance that failure and success are equally viable outcomes, we allow hope, an unfathomable wellspring, to encourage, inspire, and heal our children.

Today’s Gospel is a message of hope.  Hope in God and his promise to save all of humankind through the salvation made available to us through his son, Jesus Christ.  I ask you this day, as you come to the altar of God, to ask for his mercy and grace, through which all fear is vanquished, so that we, the family of God, may parent, in all its facets and forms, with the unconditional love of God.  A love that in turn brings hope…hope to all, each and every one of us.

Following my senior year of high school

10th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 3:20-35

Following my senior year of high school, at the conclusion of that summer, I set out upon the first real adventure of my young life. I stuffed my car full with clothes and stereo components (because in the 80’s stereos didn’t fit in pockets) and left the tiny town of Buffalo, Wyoming. I left that day with the goal of accomplishing 2 things; 1) to eventually arrive in the city of Bartlesville, Oklahoma where I was enrolled for college, and 2) get away from Buffalo, Wyoming as quickly as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate my home town, nor was I trying to escape or leave my family, but at that moment in my life I felt like I had to get out of there. It was almost a need. As if I needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else, other than there.

And so, on that hot summer August day in 1988, while Yellowstone burned, I left Buffalo, Wyoming in my stuffed to the roof, 1981, Midnight Blue, Ford Mustang and set upon an adventure.

As I look back on that time in my life I have come to the conclusion that what I lacked in wisdom, prudence, patience, and common sense I made up for in sheer stupidity. However, and I sincerely mean this, there is not one moment, not one minute, that I would exchange or trade. Now, that doesn’t mean I sometimes think about what could have happened if I had done some things differently, but I wouldn’t exchange a one of them.

Today’s Gospel reading in Mark caused me to recall a moment that occurred early on in my young adult life. To be honest it is a rather benign moment, neither good nor bad, and frankly I am surprised I recall it all, yet, I find a truth in that moment that I believe has some relevance to today’s Gospel.

After having been gone from my childhood home for a while I returned for a visit. As is the norm my mother prepared the meal, set the table, and called us to dinner. I entered the dining room only to discover that my brother was sitting in my usual spot. I will admit that for a moment, and not too brief of a moment mind you, I experienced a feeling of annoyance, combined with a touch of irritation, and I seriously considered saying something about my brother’s apparent lack of respect for the unwritten rules of the house. I chose to keep my mouth shut and, instead, took the next available seat.

The unwritten rules of a family. All families have them. In today’s Gospel, Mark, in his succinct and direct manner, provides us with an insight to one of the unwritten rules of Jesus’s family.

Marks tells us this, “Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered making it impossible for them to even eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” First of all, tell me that isn’t funny. Second, and to my point, even Jesus’s family had unwritten rules.

Imagine with me, if you will, just for a moment, what that day must have been like for Jesus’s family. Their 30-some year old family member returns home after having been away. He brings a “gang” he calls disciples. He has no job. He has no home, and apparently, no aspiration to obtain either. He keeps saying absolutely crazy stuff like; “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “pray for your enemies”, and “be like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.” And, I believe this is the one that really put them over the top, “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he does the will of my Father.”

Jesus’s family were so frustrated that, according to Mark, they set out to seize him. They fully intended to lay hands on him, restrict him, and prevent him from continuing on in this absolutely crazy adventure. They were so desperate to stop Jesus they even invented theories about him being possessed by the devil. They wanted Jesus to stop. They had had enough.

Yet, we know that Jesus didn’t stop. He continued to preach, teach, and draw people to him. He continued to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and call people to repentance. Jesus was so revolutionary that even his own family did not understand him, and yet it was because of him, and his revolutionary love, that the world found its salvation.

There are times, I propose, that we forget, or diminish, the humanity of Jesus. How he grew up in a family, in a home, in a community and how hurt he must have been by their confusion and lack of understanding. We forget that he too experienced the hurt caused by family and friends who doubted his claims and ignored his love. Do not doubt for a minute that Jesus Christ, the Savior of you, me, and the entire world, did not know the hurt of living this life.

It has been a tough week for us, our church family, and I believe that the difficulties and struggles have not yet subsided. However, my brother’s and sister’s in Christ, do not lose hope for the wondrous grace and mercy of God is present in his Church, in his Body and Blood, and in each other. We boldly and confidently accept the opportunity presented to us to serve one another in the revolutionary love of Jesus, and, through the unfathomable well of his mercy, which is being poured out for us, we take confidence in the power of the Holy Spirt, knowing what Christ accomplishes in us and through us will change our lives and the lives of the people around us.

I challenge you this week and in the weeks to come to answer the call…the call to love revolutionary. Take initiative and visit the sick, the homebound, and the imprisoned. Schedule time for prayer, especially prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and allow God to call you to and prepare you for his service. Reach out to your neighbor in love and in charity. Live in peace with one another. Make right a wrong, correct an error, and repair what is broken. Live your life revolutionary…through the revolutionary love of Jesus.