Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zacchaeus the Rube Goldberg Machine

Homily from the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

Click here to see the Rube Goldberg machine in Ok Go's
music video "This Too Shall Pass."
Do you know what a Rube Goldberg machine is?  A Rube Goldberg machine is a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion through a series of chain-reactions.  It usually starts with one single, toppled domino which sets off dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of actions. 

The movie Back to the Future begins with a shot of a Rube Goldberg machine built by the character Doc. It begins when Doc’s alarm clock goes off; and along the way, it cooks Doc’s breakfast and feeds his dog Einstein.  Maybe you played the game Mouse Hunt when you were a kid. In the game you build a Rube Goldberg machine to catch a mouse.  The popular band OkGo has an incredibly complex Rube Goldberg machine in the music video for their song “This Too Shall Pass.”

Zacchaeus is a sort of Rube Goldberg machine.  A very simple action on his part, sets off a series of chain reactions that change his life forever.  The very simple action that sets Zacchaeus the Rube Goldberg Machine in motion is this: Step One: he wanted to see Jesus.  And his desire to see Jesus triggers the next step.

Step Two: Unable to see Jesus because of the crowd and his short stature, Zacchaeus climbs a tree.  Zacchaeus will not allow any obstacle stand in the way. He will stand apart from the crowd and will scale whatever heights are necessary to see Jesus.  Climbing the tree triggers the next step.

Step three: Jesus notices Zacchaeus.  Jesus sees Zacchaeus’ desire to see him.  This triggers the next step.

Step four: Jesus calls out to Zaccaeus.  The Lord says, OK Zacchaeus, you want to see me? I’ll take you another step further. “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  This triggers the next step.

Step five: Zacchaeus comes down from the tree and receives the Lord with joy.  He responds to Jesus’ invitation to spend time with him. To be a disciple of the Lord, not merely an admirer, watching the Lord pass by at a safe distance.  He accepts the Lord’s invitation to have him enter under his roof.  This triggers the next step.

Step six: The crowd begins to grumble.  They cannot believe that the Lord will enter the house of one of Jericho’s biggest sinners.  For Zacchaeus is one of the city’s chief tax collectors. He’s made his whole living by cheating people on their taxes and taking far more than what was owed.  This triggers the next step.

Step seven: Zacchaeus gives back everything he has unfairly squandered.  He repays anyone he has extorted four times over.  And gives have his money to the poor.  He makes up for his sins.  And this leads to the final step.

Step eight: Zacchaeus finds his salvation.  Jesus gives it to him.

You and I can be Rube Goldberg machines… if we really want to be.  All we need to do is take the first step, to pull the trigger, to topple that first domino.  And a series of chain reactions will occur in us in which the distance between Jesus and us gets smaller and smaller and smaller.

Like Zacchaeus, it begins with our desire to see Jesus.  All of us desire to see Jesus.  We're “wired for it” so to speak.  And our desire to see Jesus, to really see him, will help us overcome any obstacle.  We will have the courage to step away from the crowd; to step away from the world which largely rejects Christian values.  We will have the courage to scale any heights.  To climb that tree, or that mountain; to overcome, by the grace of God, any obstacle, any sin that is preventing us from seeing Jesus.

If our desire to see Jesus is step one, and our willingness to overcome the obstacle of sin is step two, then certainly, the next logical step is to imitate Zacchaeus: to make up for our debts.  The third step is looking Jesus in the face in the Sacrament of Confession and saying, “Yep, this is how I’ve done wrong and I’m ready to make up for it.”  And once we’ve taken that step, to confess our sins, Jesus will see us,
and call out to us by name and say, “Guess what, I’m coming to your house tonight.”

Whenever we hear in the Bible that Jesus is entering into someone’s house, it means so much more than just Jesus coming over for a visit, or for dinner.  When Jesus enters someone’s house, that’s code for Jesus entering into that person’s very life.  Jesus is penetrating into that deepest part of your soul.  Jesus is entering into intimacy with you and inviting you into intimacy with him and deeper and deeper conversion through him.

You remember the story of the Centurion and his sick servant?  The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his sick servant.  Jesus says, “I will come and cure him.”  And the Centurion responds, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” 

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  It sounds like the words we pray right before receiving the Eucharist: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

As many of you know, in about a year, we here in the United States and the rest of the English speaking countries of the world will begin using a new translation of the Roman Missal.  It will be a much more accurate translation of the Latin it was originally written in and much more consistent with what the rest of the world is saying at Mass. 

In just over a year from now, on the First Sunday of Advent in the year 2012, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…” will be translated into: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 

In this new translation, we will acknowledge that as Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist, we do not merely receive him; but that he comes to enter under our very roof. He comes to enter our home. He comes to enter our bodies. He comes to take up residence within us, in that deepest part of our being.

Jesus is coming. He’s passing through our Jericho.  In a few weeks we’ll prepare for his coming in the season of Advent.  He’s also coming to see us at the end of our days.  When he comes, will he find us sitting still, up in the tree, watching him pass by?  Or, will he find in us, a Rube Goldberg machine that is in motion; ignited by a desire to see Jesus, fueled by the grace of God that helps us overcome the obstacle of sin, with the door to our hearts opened, ready to welcome Jesus under our roof.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lectio Divina

Homily from the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

New priests are often asked to share their vocation stories. People want to know how one hears the call to the priesthood. A few times, some people have actually asked me if I ever heard the voice of God telling me to become a priest.

I can honestly say that I’ve never heard the voice of God. But I hear Him speak to me everyday.

When I first arrived at the seminary, my spiritual director told me he wanted me to do something called Lectio Divina everyday. “OK," I said. "What’s Lectio Divina?”

He explained… Lectio Divina is Latin for “sacred reading” and it’s a method of prayer with Sacred Scripture. It was begun by Benedictine monks centuries ago. The monks would spend hours in prayer with the bible. However, books like the bible were extremely expensive. So, in order to pray with the Scriptures effectively, they would meditate on a very brief passage of Scripture, then pass the Bible on to the next monk, while they continued to meditate on what they had just read.

In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us that it is necessary “to pray always without becoming weary.” And in our second reading, St. Paul tells us that Scripture is good for “wisdom for salvation” and that it “is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Well, if we put these two together: to pray always and that Scripture is good for our Christian life; we quickly realize that we should pray with Scripture. We should do Lectio Divina like the monks.

Most of the time when we pray, we tend to just start telling God what we want, what we need, what we’re suffering or what we’re thankful for. Most of the time, we do most, if not all, of the talking and wait for God to respond. And those are all perfectly legitimate ways of praying.

However, Lectio Divina, is prayer where God starts off the conversation and we listen; then, we respond to what God is asking of us.  How does God speak to us? Through Sacred Scripture, the Bible. So in Lectio Divina, we listen to the Word of God very slowly and deliberately; and then we respond.

The Benedictine monks said there are basically four stages of Lectio Divina: lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio; Latin for reading, meditation, praying and contemplating. Or as the Catholic Youth Prayer Book calls them: The Four R’s of Lectio Divina: reading, reflecting, responding and remaining.

The first stage: reading.
First you choose a short passage of scripture and read it very slowly. You listen carefully to every word. There are no wasted words in Scripture. So you read the passage very carefully, listening for a word or a phrase that you may want to pray about. You may want to slowly read the passage 2, or 3, or 4 times until that word or phrase jumps out at you.

The second stage: reflecting.
You read the passage again, slowly. And now that you have that word or phrase in mind, you reflect and meditate on it listening to what God is saying to you through it. In this stage, you are ruminating on your word or phrase. There are animals classified as “ruminate” animals. These are animals like cows that chew on a cud. They chew and chew and chew and chew. That’s what you’re doing, you’re chewing on the Word of God, considering what God is saying to you.

The third stage: responding.
You read the passage again, slowly. And now, after you’ve spent time listening to the Word of God and chewing on it, you respond back to God. You pray to God in such a way that you say, “OK God, I’ve heard you say this to me” or “I’ve heard you ask this of me, here’s how I’m going to respond.”

The fourth stage: remaining.
You read the passage again, slowly. And now, after you’ve had this conversation with God in which He has spoken to you through His Word and you have responded, you remain there with him in silence. At this stage, you don’t even really say anything to God. You just enjoy sitting silently in his presence. This is, for many people, the hardest stage to get through, because we’re so uncomfortable in silence. But think about it: when you’ve had a good, deep, meaningful conversation with someone, you really shouldn’t just immediately hang up the phone or run out of the room as soon as the last sentence is uttered. You remain there with the person. You remain there with your friend. In Lectio, you remain there with your Father.

Another way I like to think about the four stages of Lectio Divina, is to think of them like four stages of a meal.

The first stage, reading, is like when you’re looking out at your Thanksgiving table. You’re checking everything out, looking over everything carefully, and deciding what’s going to be your first bite. Is it going to be the turkey or the stuffing? Green bean casserole or mashed potatoes?

The second stage, reflecting, is when you’re chewing on all that delicious food. You’re just taking it all in, enjoying every bite.

The third stage, responding, is like when you’re telling the cook how good the food is. “Mom, this turkey is amazing! You didn’t dry it out this year! Thank you so much. This makes me want to eat more.”

The fourth stage, remaining, is digestion. You don’t just get up and run from the table. You sit there for a while and let your food digest. Or, at the very least, you retreat to your cathedra: your favorite Lazy Boy recliner and you take yoru crozier in hand: the remote control, and you enter into a very deep, tryptophan-induced food coma in which you contemplate the deep mysteries of the Thanksgiving meal and it’s sublime, symbolic power as a sign of the Eucharistic feast!

So, how should you pick out your passage of Scripture? I suggest two strategies:

First, you could pray with the readings from the Mass of the day or the upcoming Sunday. You can find these by subscribing to Magnificat, or buying a Weekday Missal or Sunday Missal from a Catholic bookstore, or you can access them on the US Bishop’s website.

The second strategy is that you could pray an entire Gospel, from beginning to end, one small passage at a time. I like the New American Bible, because it’s the translation we use in the Mass and also because it divides the passages up into sections, each with a boldface header; which is a good way to divide up your prayer each day.

For how long should you pray Lectio? When I was in the seminary, I was asked to do an hour a day. This is still what I try to do, I pray with the Sunday readings for about an hour each day in preparation for the homily. I suggest, as you begin, to try to pray Lectio for 20 mins each day. If you can’t do 20 mins do 10. If you can’t do 10, do 5. Just start somewhere. Praying with the Scriptures for 5 minutes each day is far better than not praying with them at all.

Where should you pray?  Just as we need to carve out some sacred time for prayer, we also need to carve out a sacred space.  I have a chair in my bedroom that is for prayer and prayer only.  I try not to pray in the same chair I do my business work in or watch the TV from. 

I also suggest journaling: writing down your thoughts after Lectio.  When my spiritual director suggested I journal, I rolled my eyes.  "I don't keep a diary!" I thought.  But, he stayed on my case about it and eventually, I gave in and started journaling.  I quickly discovered how valuable a channel of prayer it is.  Today, my journaling becomes my homilies.

Interruptions: you'll need to eliminate distractions as much as possible.  Turn of the TV.  Turn off the cell phone.  If the doorbell rings, ignore it.  If you weren't home, you wouldn't be able to answer it anyway.  Now obviously there will be some interruptions that cannot be ignored.  One of your children might fall and skin their knee or the baby might need to be fed or rocked.  When important interruptions happen, do the charitable thing and help those in need.

And lastly, the four stages of Lectio Divina are more like guidelines than they are rules.  If you do 20 minutes of Lectio, that doesn't mean you have to stick with an orderly, regimented pace of 5 mins per stage.  Nor does it mean you have to follow the stages in the order given above.  A conversation is an organic thing.  Let your conversation with God happen naturally.

Click on this image and print it out to use as a Lectio bookmark for your Bible!

You and I come here every Sunday, to have a conversation with God. Isn’t it amazing that this conversation begins by listening to the Word of God and ends by entering into communion with Him by feasting on the flesh of His Son? We shouldn’t wait to have a deep conversation with God like this every seven days; it should happen everyday. God wants you to know Him. And to truly know someone means having intimacy with someone. And to truly have intimacy with someone requires regular conversation with them. God invites you to real intimacy with him by following the commandment of his Son, Jesus: it is necessary “to pray always without becoming weary.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

A New Pro-Life Language

Homily from the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C
"Respect Life Sunday"

This past Thursday, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Jerome.  Next to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and St. Paul, St. Jerome may be the most important Saint with regards to Sacred Scripture.  He dedicated his entire life to the study of the scriptures.  He wrote numerous commentaries on them.  But he is most well known for translating the New Testament from its original Greek into Latin, the more common language of his day in 4th & 5th century Rome.  He gave the world the Gospel in a new language.

This past Thursday marked another significant event.  About one hundred of our eighth graders joined hundreds of other eighth graders from St. Jude’s and St. Charles and they marched from St. Charles Borromeo parish to the abortion clinic on Inwood Drive.  We prayed the Stations of the Cross along the way and prayed a rosary in front of the clinic upon our arrival.

It is significant that our eighth graders did this on the Feast of St. Jerome because in this action: the march from St. Charles to the clinic, like St. Jerome, our eighth graders took the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the streets of Fort Wayne.  And they made the decision to speak the pro-life message in a new language.

I’ve been to the clinic before on other Thursdays which is the day on which abortions are performed there.  And I’ve been to the March For Life in Washington D.C.  And in front of these clinics and on the March For Life, you will frequently see some good people with good intentions who are trying to put an end to the tragedy that goes on there.

One of the methods some of them will sometimes use is the display of graphic images showing the horrific results of what goes on inside those clinic walls.  We’ve seen the pictures before and we know them well.

Another method sometimes used is that a person, oftentimes a man, will shout out to the women and men who are going into the clinic.  Often, the man will cry out, “Don’t do this to your baby.  The baby didn’t do anything wrong!  You’ll regret this for the rest of your life!  Why are you doing this?”

Now, in reality, none of these statements are incorrect in themselves.  However, I doubt their effectiveness at changing the heart of a person.

I don’t understand how a man, yelling at a woman, thrusting guilt and shame onto her, will convince her not to have an abortion.  One of the reasons why so many women choose to have an abortion is because they have been abandoned, yelled at and rejected by the men in their lives.

Anyone who is in the business of vilifying women because of an abortion, needs to stop. Rejection, abandonment and the shunning of women who are pregnant, or who are contemplating an abortion, or who have had an abortion is an antiquated, ineffective, offensive and foreign language that is indiscernible to tortured ears.

You and I need to speak a new, authentic, Catholic pro-life language that is a language of love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness.

Our eighth graders and many others spoke that new language this past Thursday.  Several people carried signs that said, “We pray because we love you.”  There were two large tents across the street from the clinic with banners that read, “We are here to help.”

And the new pro-life language of love that our eighth graders spoke had a definite, transforming effect; because once we turned the corner, the graphic images that were being held up by others who were not part of our Catholic group were put away.

Women, and men, who go into these clinics already feel that no one is on their side and that no one cares for them.  You and I need to speak a new language that lets them know we care.

A few years ago, while I was in the seminary in Columbus, Ohio, I had the pleasure of working with an amazing organization called Bethesda Healing MinistryBethesda Healing Ministry is a Catholic group of lay women, men, priests and seminarians who meet twice a month to minister to women and men who are suffering the wound of an abortion.  We spent time talking with these women and men, helping them through not only the wounds of their abortion, but all the many wounds which affect them.  We spent time in conversation, in prayer, in meals and at Mass.  And a priest was always available for private confession.

One day, Bethesda Healing Ministry offered a one-day training day for any seminarians who wished to come.  And I asked a man, who years before helped a girlfriend get an abortion, “What should be the first thing I say to someone who says, ‘I’ve had an abortion?’”  He said, “Tell them God still loves them.”  Because many of them feel that, because of what they’ve done, they are no longer loved by God and that their sin is unforgiveable.

And so I say to anyone who is suffering from the wound of an abortion: God loves you… and He wants to show you his mercy.  There is no sin that God’s love and mercy cannot overcome.  Forgiveness and healing are available to you.  And they are found here in this Church, in the confessional.  And they are found in ministries such as Project Rachel here in Fort Wayne, a healing ministry for those who have had abortions and the Women's Care Center of Fort Wayne which provides free ultrasounds, pregnancy tests and helps women with food and clothing for their children.

This is our new, authentic, Catholic pro-life language.  And in that new language we also need to say that, should any of our sisters in Christ find themselves unexpectedly with a child, we will do everything within our power to help them give their child life in the world.

Furthermore, we also need to speak the entire vocabulary of the new pro-life language.  Every election year, we Catholics are accused of being “single issue voters” because of our non-negotiable position against abortion.  However, the pro-life message must articulate every aspect of our mission.

To truly be pro-life means not only opposition to abortion, but also opposition to the destruction of human beings which happens in embryonic stem cell research.  It means opposition to euthanasia, the deliberate termination of the life of our aged brothers and sisters.  It means opposition to capital punishment.  It means care for the aged, the mentally and physically challenged, the poor.  And it means embracing Natural Family Planning.

Being pro-life is not being a single issue voter; it's being a multi-issue voter.

When we see crimes against life, we must feel like the prophet Habakkuk who cries out to God in our first reading, “Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me.”  So we look for inspiration in our second reading: Paul’s letter to Timothy which states,  “Stir into flame, the gift of God that you have… God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

In my last week at Bethesda Healing Ministry, the women who come there for healing asked to give me a gift.  They asked if they could pray over me.  And so I was surrounded by over a dozen women who had had abortions who put their hands on my shoulders and they prayed for me. 

Months earlier, before they had walked through the doors of Bethesda; they were filled with fear, shame and guilt; and thought they could not say a word to a priest.  Months later, as they prayed over me, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke not to me, but to God Himself on behalf of me, and they prayed for me and my priesthood and they prayed for you too.

They learned, and spoke with conviction and eloquence, a new pro-life language because they received God’s forgiveness and love.  Let us do the same.