Saturday, June 16, 2018

Some people just can't tell a joke


A young man considering a vocation with the Franciscans was invited to dinner at the local friary one evening. As dinner went on, from time-to-time, one of the friars would stand up and say a number and the rest of the friars would laugh hysterically. One stood up and said, “72,” and everyone laughed. Another said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked what was going on. “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time,” one friar said, “By now, we know each other jokes by heart, so we numbered them all to save time. Someone says a number and we remember the joke and laugh,” then he said, “Why don’t you give it a try. We have 300 jokes, just stand and say any number you like.” The young man stood tentatively and said, “107,” and there was nothing but silence. The man sat down and asked what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people just can’t tell a joke.”

I was thinking of this today because I think there’s something like this going on in our Gospel. I think Jesus is telling us a bit of a joke, but I didn’t notice anyone laughing as I read it today. It was a classic case of the flop.

So, what’s the joke? Well, as we heard in the Gospel, Jesus asks the familiar question, “To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?” Now if you think about how you might answer that question, most of us would probably choose something amazing to compare the Kingdom of God to. We might choose, for example, the image we heard in our First Reading from Ezekiel – the great and mighty cedar tree. This is an image that is used over and over again in the Old Testament and cedars are mighty trees. They were large and strong, they soar into the sky as high as 200 feet. Standing at their base it might feel you could climb them all the way to Heaven. Certainly a worthy comparison to the Kingdom of God.

But, instead of something so majestic, Jesus said, “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” And, I think this is his joke. Instead of a mighty cedar, Jesus is essentially comparing God’s kingdom to something like a weed; that’s what the mustard bush was after all. We might understand better if it were told like this: the Kingdom of God is like dandelion seed, which, when sown into your lawn will drive you crazy all summer long!”

As always, though, Jesus is telling His little joke to make a much bigger point. The point is that we may want the Kingdom of God to be like the beautiful, majestic cedar tree shooting all the way to Heaven itself, but the reality is that God’s Kingdom needs to be a little closer to earth; a little closer to our reality. How many of us have seen a 200 foot cedar tree? Not many. And how about those dandelions? Just about everyone. The Kingdom of God needs to be persistent – as persistent as we must be to rid of our lawns of dandelions. The Kingdom of God will not simply arrive and remain forever. It will pop up over here, and then over there, and again over there. And, we need to be the ones continually planting those tiny little seeds of the Kingdom so it becomes present in our world. We are the dandelions of the Kingdom that God wants popping up here and there and everywhere.

We help to bring forth that Kingdom when we commit ourselves to Kingdom values – peacemaking in the face of conflict, offering forgiveness instead of vengeance and retribution, justice in the face of corruption, generosity instead of the overwhelming greed in our world. We are called to be sowers of that little seed of the Kingdom, that seed of faith; to make our own personal contribution to the presence and the growth of God’s Kingdom.

Kingdoms don’t grow by themselves. Each one of us counts. The seeds we sow in God’s name have enormous potential. They are the principles we hold dear, the loving witness that we give, the faithful promises we make and keep, the needy people we help to raise out of poverty, injustice or despair. They are the prayers we say, the children we welcome into relationship with Christ, the Holy Masses we celebrate, the hurts we forgive, the kindness we show, the family members, neighbors and even enemies we love and forgive. The seed can be all sorts of things – a listening ear, an encouraging word, a happy memory shared. And it is our job to plant those seeds here, there, and everywhere; over and over and over again.

My friends, the seeds we plant will take root and grow and the presence of the Kingdom of God will be more and more in our midst if we remain persistent in spreading them. And, that’s no joke. Bring forth the Kingdom of God!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

First Communion, Last Communion, and all the ones in between


Earlier this week, I was called to the ICU at the hospital for an urgent call for someone who was near death. The person in question had been away from the Church, away from the Mass, away from the Eucharist for more than 50 years. They wanted nothing more on that day to be reconciled. I spent some time in conversation, and then brought the grace that comes from the Anointing of the Sick, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then I said, “Would you like to receive Holy Communion?” Their eyes widened incredulous, “Is that possible?” “Absolutely,” I said. “Your sins have been forgiven and God wants to be close to you.” We prayed again and then I gave communion to someone with the most beaming face I’ve ever seen. As I left that hospital room, all I could hear repeating over and over was, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

Today we the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called simply Corpus Christi. Too often we don’t really think about the Eucharist that much; we receive the Eucharist often out of habit more than an action of faith. For me, this feast calls to mind different powerful experiences of the Eucharist; those First Communions as we experienced a few weeks ago in the parish; the Last Communions like I experienced this week, and the many others in between.

Think of the little girl or boy, dressed in white, approaching the altar for their First Holy Communion. There have already been big events in their lives – birthdays, Christmas celebrations, the first day of school. But, this First Holy Communion is in many ways the climax of their young lives. We all witness that as the children move expectantly towards the altar; their eyes transfixed on the Host. With practiced hands they receive the Host and pass it reverently to their lips. God is with these children now, in a temple innocent and pure.

We also think of the woman or man waiting on their deathbed for the last Holy Communion. There have been big events in their lives too – wedding days, the birth of children, the first time they were called “Mom” or “Grampa.” And now with their last Holy Communion comes the climax of their final years. The priest moves near. They open their eyes as they did in their childhood, raise their white-haired head from the pillow and welcome the Savior with all of the fervor their body will allow. God is with them now, and will be with them for all eternity.

The First Holy Communion is always a fervent one. So is the Last Holy Communion. We bring to the first one the freshness of youth; we bring to the last one the clarity that age brings to life. But, how about today – we find ourselves at one of those countless Holy Communions in between. How can we renew that fervor for Jesus in the Eucharist today and come to understand its value in our lives?

In Holy Communion, Jesus nourishes us. He gives us food for our souls. In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “If you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” What soil does for a plant, what milk does for a baby, Holy Communion does for our soul. By receiving regularly and with fervor, we will thrive spiritually on the body and blood of Christ.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with Himself. We know in life that people can be close to each other in many ways – as fellow workers, as friends. The most intimate human relationship we know is that of two united through marriage. But, the closest intimacy possible for us is the intimacy found in the Eucharist. Again Jesus says in John, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” It isn’t a question of living with another person, like in marriage, but of living in one another, sharing the same life. In Holy Communion we share the life of Jesus. This union began in our Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, but reaches its peak in Holy Communion. We return to that peak of intimacy and union every time we receive Holy Communion.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with each other. This sacrament is not only an intimacy between ourselves and Jesus. It is also a love affair that embraces the whole community. It is not just my personal communion with Christ; it is our shared communion with each other in Christ. As St. Paul said, “As there is one bread, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one bread.” This is not a personal sacrament; it is not a straight line of contact between you and Jesus alone. It is a social sacrament, a circle that includes Christ, yourself and all of your brothers and sisters – the one on your left and right, in front and behind. As members of this community, we are not like stones scattered around a field; instead we are likes stones built up into a wall, keeping each other in place and being kept in place by others. When we stand before this altar, it is a sign of our love for each other, a pledge of kindness and compassion towards each other – a love that finds its source in the Eucharist; in this Eucharist.

Finally, reception of Holy Communion is an assurance of our Heavenly destiny. Jesus said, “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person on the last day.” Our individual resurrection may seem remote to us now at this point in our lives, so remote that our mind can’t focus on it. But, as remote as it may seem, the Resurrection is the one event on which we base all our hope. Death never wins the day; Heaven does. Every time. We are not born for death; we are born for eternity; for Heaven. And we have it on the word of our Savior that, if we are faithful to the Eucharist, we too will rise on the Last Day. It is a mighty thought, a happy thought, a hopeful thought.

And so we pray today that through the great gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus, that we may all be nourished, that we may be united with our Lord, united with one another and assured of our eternal home in Heaven. May God increase in us our love and devotion for the Body and Blood of His Son.

And may we leave this place repeating in the depths of our hearts, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

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