Right Where We Want ‘Em!

Image result for themistocles battle of salamisBack in the day, there were many times when my dad and I would be watching some game and the good guys would be down without much chance of coming back and he would say, “We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em.”  As in, the bad guys are overconfident and we are in perfect position for the comeback of the century.  Perhaps this was never more true than in the case of Themistocles.  Themistocles lived about 500 years before Christ.  He was a famous admiral and leader of Athens and he knew the threat of the Persian Empire and their desire to seize his country.  So Themistocles Image result for themistoclesinspired his people to construct a fleet of 200 ships.  They were built, put to sea, and manned from bow to stern with sailors and warriors.  Sure enough the Persians came to invade and Themistocles guided the fleet into position to fight in the close quarters around the multi-pronged land of Salamis, but when the Persians swept in with something like 1000 ships – the Greeks did not want to fight and were planning to head home.  Themistocles knew that they could never challenge the Persian fleet on open water and that if they did not fight when they could in the narrow seas and the straits to which he had guided their course, they would lose any advantage against such a huge number of ships and all hope for their homeland would most certainly be lost.  What he did next was gutsy.  Themistocles sent his servant to the Persian King, stating that he, Themistocles, now sought a victory for the Persians and hoped to be rewarded for his change of heart.  He said that the Greeks were ready to try and escape (which was true) and that the Persians could hinder their flight, and destroy all their sea forces if they acted quickly.  Related imageThe Persians therefore surrounded the whole area with their ships and advanced – tightening the noose – and Themistocles had ‘em just where he wanted!  In other words, so long as there was any opportunity to escape for a time the Greeks had wanted to flee and Themistocles could not rouse them.  However, now that there were surrounded and would have no choice but to fight – fight they would.  With their backs against the wall, they battled like lions and in the close quarters of the straits of Salamis – the numerical advantage of the Persians was lost.  As the Persian ships began to sink, the invaders melted away.

Now, in every good ship there are three types of leaders.  You need a navigator – someone who can see what’s coming ahead and help direct the course.  You need a first mate.  That is somebody who can be a mediator between the captain and the crew and help relay information both ways – up the chain of command and down.  And you need a captain – somebody who is the king, the boss, the 800 pound gorilla, king of the Jungle to ultimately be the decision maker.  Themistocles played the role of the navigator/seer Image result for helmsmanover the whole battle – and also the Captain and decision-maker.  But, Christ has all three of these leadership traits and so in the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, we have prophets (scholars and mystics) – who are like our navigators, priests who fulfil the role of first mate – right there in the trenches, and bishops who wield the authority of Christ the Head in their diocese – ultimately looking to the pope, our Holy Father in Rome for leadership in faith and morals.  But even the pope has to listen to an authority beyond Himself.  He has to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines that have been handed down in the Church.  So, with respect to the Church militant, he is the head.  In respect to God, he is part of the body.

We are constantly called to conversion – to understanding our role about when to lead and when to follow.  The key to conversion is humility.  Jesus Christ Himself “did regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather He emptied Himself taking the form of a slave.”  If Christ humbles Himself, it is so that we can follow His lead.

But, we often fail and we have a word to describe a group of people that loses Image result for mobtheir sense of humility and forgets how they best operate harmoniously to the point that they seize power – we call it a mob.  That Greek Admiral Themistocles was essentially facing the beginnings of a mutiny by a mob.  He not only saw the great conversion they required, but had the humility to realize he could not change their hearts on his own.  He had to reach out and influence even his enemies to hem them in on all sides so that they sensed again their need for leadership – they were a body that needed a head.

Christ certainly knows the tactics of the devil and He knows the will of the people.  Time and again they wanted to make Him a king, but only a king of their stomachs – to give them a little more comfort on this earth.  They wanted to carry Him off in mob fashion after the multiplication of the bread and fish, but He slipped away.  So, He casts aside earthly power and He even allows evil to encircle Him and seemingly take every avenue of escape away.  His very life is lost, but never His soul – and His soul returning to lift up His Body has given us all a means of escape.

Christ does the same with us.  He does not try and force His will upon us and allows us to sin.  It is our ways that are shortsighted when we sin.  He established a Church that is a permanent prophet to the world who always proposes the truth and yet Image result for Christ Sufferedis perpetually mocked and ridiculed, even as it teaches the same singular truth capable of liberating mankind from isolation and darkness.  Our Lord has our enemies right where He wants them, and He even allows us to be encircled that we might realize our need to make our stand with Him.  He is the true leader in every facet.  His truth does not change.

We may think we would love a God who would adapt to our way of thinking, but then we could not find communion with everyone else.  If God was always changing what was true to satisfy each individual – we would never all share the same truth.  His truth is Love, the Love of a Father for His children, the love of a Brother for His little brothers and sisters, and in the Eucharist – the love of a Father offering Christ His Son and our Brother for us all.  The truth of Christ’s teachings do not change, and we can see the more clearly if we band together in the humble need for conversion.

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Hosanna to the Slave-King


The most significant question we face in life is mentioned in the Gospel at the start of this Mass: “When he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?‘” Who is Jesus Christ and who are we?  This Gospel is a mural of swirling identities and everyone is caught up in it somewhere.  The first character identified in our Passion is described with great esteem: he is one of the Twelve…who was called Judas Iscariot.  And just like some realistic Middle Eastern thriller our first scene exposes us to a secret meeting and a betrayal.  Judas, one of Jesus’ closest friends, does not even demand a specific sum of money to hand over Jesus.  Judas simply asks what they might be willing to give him in return, as if he was dispensing of a worthless slave.  They’ll pay him $48. 60 or whatever they have lying around….thirty pieces of silver….nothing much either way.  And in throwing Christ away for nothing they give evidence of the Second Reading that “though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave…” 


            Each of us is a sinner and so we all have a connection to Judas, and we quickly find ourselves in the Last Supper – saying “surely it is not I, Rabbi.”  Wickedness is formless and therefore it is all the same, and we are all guilty and yet we all act so surprised.  Later in the garden, perhaps like Peter we have followed Christ for a while and we say, “I will not deny you.”  But then we are not able to keep our eyes open to watch and stay awake, because we are depending only on ourselves.  Judas demonstrates that we can always sin more, and even disguise ourselves as pretending to love.  “The man I shall kiss is the one.”  Jesus replies, “Friend, do what you have come for” and reveals to us that even in the full scope of our betrayal – He loves us and is ready to serve.


            His accusers: This man said, “I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.”  He’s a blasphemer.  An entire Roman battalion considers Him someone to be mocked, spat on, robed in scorn, and crowned with blood.  A notorious prisoner guilty of murder is preferable.  On the Cross, those passing by saw Him as one to be reviled as they shook their heads.  He is the King of Israel, let Him come down off the Cross now – that’ll be a real miracle.  They and we like them, show why He came in the form of a slave – to be like us…for we were born slaves to sin….only if He had listened and come off the Cross to win our applause – He would only have kept us as slaves for Himself – for He would have stopped short of uniting Himself to our weakest point.  


            Christ remains fixed upon the Cross through the power of love.  While sin disfigures our identity, Jesus is revealed more and more by His mercy.  Are you the Son of God?  You have said so.  How does that work?  Well, the high priest states this in question form, but it is the presence of the Evil Spirit, the spirit of the world that has put Christ on trial.  Judas and Pilate ask similar statements and get similar answers from Christ.  Think back to the temptation of Christ in the desert.  It is insinuated by the devil that if Jesus is the Son of God He should make stones become bread or throw Himself off the parapet.  At this point, Jesus has given ample evidence of who is His Father.  When He addresses these three characters, He seems not to address them so much at all.  Rather, He takes on the evil spirit, and He asserts that Satan himself has declared Christ as the Son of God in merely asking the question.  For if Jesus was not the Son of God, He would merely be one more slavish child of the devil – and the devil would know Him as his own.  


The crowd crying out to Jesus, Hosanna to the Son of David, had a good idea of who Jesus is.  Hosanna is a word that can mean, “Save us.”  We glorify God the Father by letting Him save us and humbling ourselves in imitation. 


One of the strangest characters is mentioned only briefly.  Before they end up having the Last Supper, Christ tells the disciples to “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”  It’s not clear why Christ does not give this man a name.  In Mark, he is at least described as carrying some water.  But, due to the fact that that he receives no significant description – he can represent all of us – that is, if we believe in Christ and allow His Last Supper and His Eucharist to be celebrated within the Temples of our bodies.


In this prayer of the Mass we are caught up with Jesus and all of these figures around the Christ as He tells us that He is food for us.  He has transformed His death into a prayer for He loves us and wants us to share in His death so that He might share in ours and come through it.  The one time Jesus is ever recorded singing anything in Scripture occurs as leaves the Upper Room and enters into this Passion – He sings a song of liberation.  He sings with the joy, because He has come as a slave to lead us to freedom.  Let us go welcome the Eucharist into ourselves and go out with Him to the Father:  singing with Him always.


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The Fruit of Obedience = Fruit of Life


Image result for garden of eden

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I am tremendously grateful to all of you, my family – the parishioners of Holy Infant.  Thank you for welcoming me, for sharing your lives and your faith and your food with me, thank you for embracing me as an associate pastor in a parish that has had one after another great associates before me – and yet you have not ever made me feel like I was failing to live up to these great brothers of mine.  Speaking of brothers, I am thankful to both our deacons – Deacon Dan Henke and Deacon Jim Powers for all of their support, assistance, and fellowship.  Thank you to Deacon Jacob for his inspiring fraternity – and I especially have to say thank you to you, Father Stanger and you, Father Vordtriede.  Father Stanger and Father Vordtriede, living with you and working and laughing with you is an experienced unparalleled in my life in terms of camaraderie and fraternity and I know in my gut that I will never see the likes of it again.  Fr. Vordtriede I will miss you laughing so riotously that you have to leave the room.  And Father Stanger I will miss your indefatigably high spirits and boundless desire to serve everyone in the parish starting with Tom and I.  Between all of you, my parish family – I have learned so much.  You have taught me more of how to be a priest and a father than I expected and shown me so many places to grow.  Thank you.  If there is anyone whom I have left out, or overlooked in any way for any gift or card or simple glance on the way out the door – thank you.  And if there is anyone during any of my time here that I have rubbed the wrong way, of anyone that I said the wrong thing to or repeated myself to, repeated myself to, repeated myself to — in any way offended in the biggest or the seemingly pettiest way – I am sorry.  If you are a part of this parish, you mean the world to me. 

Let us pause a moment and consider the big picture between our God who loves us unconditionally and us.  Fr. Eugene Boylan once wrote that that love either finds an equality between lover and beloved or makes equality.  “For the proper friendship between two beings, some equality of nature is necessary.”  Think about that.  God has made us out of nothing and longs to raise us to Himself so that we, His children, can be His friends – so that He can share everything He has with us in His love. 

            Now there are distinctions in God – He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and while they are united, the Persons are not blended together.  So when God formed Adam and Eve, He put them in the garden and began to teach them that they were loved, they were special among all creation – and yet the forbidden tree of Image result for adam and eveknowledge of good and evil was a way in which He was distinct from them.  They were not God – not able to simply blend into His identity.  As long as they were obedient and did not try to make up good and evil on their own by claiming to have this knowledge apart from God they would grow ever closer to Him. 

            You could almost think of the fruit that they stole as having given them great spiritual indigestion.  A little while ago there was this awesome indigestion commercial with this huge blob rolling through a park and over a picnic bench as all of this food and ketchup and mustard and whatnot gets stuck in it and it even tries to go down the slide with the kids.  It was glorious.  Well, in a way we’ve all been swallowed up but by our own wayward wills – led by our disordered desires. 

            Image result for metamucil blob

              But in the effort to heal us of our condition, strangely the Lord does not simply free us of our pain and suffering.  He does not want to change who we are from the outside — or simply completely alter our human nature completely into something else.  Into a world gone amuck, God first gave the Ten Commandments which can reveal to the Israelites and to us where we are failing.  And then He sent His Son, Jesus who enters into our pain and suffering freely – not to eliminate it outright – but to join Himself to our suffering – to give our suffering and even death meaning – the meaning of the Cross that opens into life.  He joins our lowly condition and shows that faithfulness and obedience to God does lead us to peace and happiness. 

            All of today’s Scriptures reflect unity with God’s will through obedience.  Christ is the one whom Isaiah the prophet speaks of who is a servant from the womb.  Because of his obedience, Christ will not remain a servant but will made a light to the nations to spread His salvation.  In the Psalm we sing of the servant who refers to God as His delight for the law has been established in his heart.  Paul describes himself as doing the will of God, himself and in the Gospel we have John the Baptist recount how Christ is the Lamb of God.  In other words, all of the Old Testament – yearning for the promised Land and for a true king and for freedom from death – and there greatest sign – the Paschal Lamb – that is Jesus who will give Himself up for us, but His Body will be eaten.  Jesus has come to be fruit of the Tree of Life. 

Image result for cross is the tree of life

            Behold the Lamb of God.  He has taken away the Sin of the world – that is every sin if we simply stop eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge by which we try to do our own will, Christ has taught us the way of charity.  Christ has shown us that the elevation of our humanity into God comes from lowering ourselves to serving our brothers and sisters.  You have taught me a great deal about service and obedience and joy even here at Mass.  In the liturgy you recognize God’s Lordship over you and receive His Blessing through this unworthy man before you.  Please continue to learn from God’s Word and continue to conform your will to the will of God, for this is love and eventually love is all that matters.

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If Orginal Sin Brought Death, How did Dinosaurs Go Extinct?

This fascinating question is considered by Jimmy Akin in his blog today.  I highly recommend you check it out:


Clue: it deals with the tree of life!

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Homily for the Eighth Sunday in OT

In his classic novel, Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis depicts Screwtape, a master devil writing a series of notes to an apprentice.  Here’s a frightening bit about how the devil tries to keep us busy fretting.  Screwtape writes:


     I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

 In our world today, there is no shortage of anxiety.  Unfortunately, the anxiety about potential problems often becomes a problem itself.  For example, my body occasionally informs me that I am stressed out and worried with a shooting pain from a canker sore.  But there are more serious ailments linked to anxiety from ulcers to sleepwalking to eating disorders, panic attacks, and some forms of depression.    

 At the national level, we also witness self-inflicted injuries such as the decline of marriage and the shrinking of families to a point so low that only immigration is keeping our population from declining.  The country’s gnawing and coinciding decline in morality have bled off considerable manpower.  Yet this decline in the family will only create more problems…and these will not lighten the nation’s mood or lessen her interest in distractions. 

 The devil, as Screwtape describes wants to distract us in conflicting images so that we clutch at them  – images that turn us inward towards material things, or angrily towards conflicts that seem to be frothing up all over.  These all tend ultimately to that soul-drowning drink of despair offered by Screwtape’s boss, Satan himself.  However, even should a mother forget her child, the LORD will never forget us.  We find clear reason to hope and trust in the words of Jesus today.  Our Heavenly Father knows each of us better than we know ourselves – and He knows our needs and cares for each of us.  If we seek the Kingdom of God, He will clothe us not with the surpassing splendor of the Lilies, but with the garb of eternal glory.

 Recognizing that Christ wants us to loosen our grip on the things of the world, we cannot serve God and mammon (or earthly wealth).  When we focus on earthly wealth or even earthly necessities by themselves, we do damage to ourselves.  But, Screwtape’s apprentice might whisper in our ear: anxiety can be such a strong motivator towards getting things done.  I find this a tempting thought.   I procrastinate like the Dickens, until the worrying finally gets me in motion.  But this is not how Christ envisions us to live our lives.  “Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Christ’s wisdom should be the turning point.  Sufficient for the day is its own evil.

 Let us cast our anxiety out and fear nothing but the Lord.  Whoa there.  Why fear Him?  Because, fear of the Lord is not what it sounds like.  It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as in a gift from the Father and it does not impel us to cower in doubt of our goodness, but rather it moves us to recognize that we belong to Him as His children.  Out of this relationship of love, we only fear offending Him – that we might sin and leave His side – as we have so often before.  Realizing that Our Father is the Rock and foundation of all the universe, of all reality, and yet knows the number of the hairs on your head – should leave us speechless in awe – and loving reverence.

 Jesus is not telling us we have a license for laziness – nor does He want us to forget our own necessities for food and clothing, as if that were possible for most of us.  But the tail should not wag the dog.  We are should think of food in other terms.  St. Augustine exhorts us: therefore eat that we may preach the Gospel.  The world is starving for this news — the news that we believe is a Gospel of hope, hope that is nailed to the Cross and yet lives.  We been entrusted with the hope for what the world cannot offer – despite all its glimmer and gimmick, but what our souls thirst for — unending communion with Love, with the Father, and the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

 Christ desires us to be released from the snares of stress and bother over the ever-changing, and always fleeting – from all the trappings of Satan, the fixation with death…. that He might fill us with grace, that He might cast out our emptiness and become our True longing.  As we approach the Eucharist, we pray:

 Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin, and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.

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Pray for the Christians in Laos

CatholicCulture.org is reporting the following:

 Over five dozen Christians have been driven from their village at gunpoint and face starvation, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The agency reports that a local government official says that he refuses to permit Christianity in his district.

0.7% of the Communist nation’s six million people are Catholic, according to Vatican statistics; 67% are Buddhist.

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Great Video for This Week’s Gospel

Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-78, 33-34a, 37(short version)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

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