Sunday, August 31, 2014

"You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped." Pulled into a swimming pool.


"You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped."

Recently I was on vacation and I was visiting a priest friend in Washington DC and another family that I had met from my first assignment in North Carolina.

I had a great time with both, but my time with the priest was much more peaceful!

I did have a wonderful time with the family but there were some unexpected surprises.  One of the funniest was one morning when the kids were off at school I found myself at the community pool.  I was the only one there reading, enjoying the sun, resting, praying, and simply relaxing.

When I was just nodding off into one of those wonderful mid-afternoon naps I heard the pool gate open and the youngest two girls playfully yelling "Hi Fr. Michael!"  The mother, before I even realized what was going on said: "I have to go pick up my other daughter, you got this right?"  Even if I would have had time to think and tell her no, she was already on her way.

My silence was over and these two little girls who had been in school all day now wanted to entertain.  There would be no more reading or napping or relaxing; they demanded undivided attention.

The youngest of the girls, Mikaela, jumped into the pool first and shouted to her sister Lindsay: "Come in, the water isn't cold I promise."  And then had that smirk that siblings share when they are up to something and she said to her sister.  "Here, help pull me out."  Lindsay said "No, your going to pull me in."  And from the water Mikaela smiled and said "Trust me."

As Lindsay reached down to pull her sister up, Mikaela, instantly grabbed her with both hands and pulled her head over heels into the water.  I shook my head and laughed... "Trust me... right."

Lindsay had let herself be pulled in, she let her sister dupe her, and before long they were both laughing and playing in the pool.  In the meantime I realized I had been duped as well, my peaceful afternoon of solitude was now complete attention on the boundless energy of girls who had been in school all day.  I had been duped and I let myself be duped!

The Prophet Jeremiah is coming into the realization that God has duped him and he let himself be duped.  Only it isn't a playful situation for him.

Jeremiah had been called from a very young age by the Lord to be a prophet.  He once said: “Ah, Lord GOD!”  “I do not know how to speak. I am too young!"  But the Lord encouraged him and assured him: Do not say, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go;  whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."

God was basically saying "Trust me" and Jeremiah let himself be pulled in way over his head!

Jeremiah was very sincere, he saw the impending doom that was coming to the people and he greatly wanted to spare them from it.  He saw that they had turned their back on God and pleaded with them to return.  Jeremiah, would come to be known as the prophet of doom!

Over the years he would be imprisoned, exiled, persecuted, mocked, laughed at, ridiculed and nearly put to death.  Through it all he maintained this very real, loving relationship with the Lord.

I have a dear friend whose mother used to always say: "God never sends you anything you can't handle."  And his response would always be: "Yeah, but He sure can be testy."

The truth is we may find ourselves feeling like the Prophet Jeremiah at times.  There are times when we go into things thinking we are answering God's call and we end up feeling duped.  We feel like God has let us down or even tricked us.  We beat ourselves up because we knowingly on some level let ourselves be duped by God.  There's a tendency to never want to let it happen again.

I think there are a lot of situations where we can find ourselves lamenting our call in life.

It was once said to me by an older priest, I'm glad I didn't know everything I would face going into this because I might not have had the courage to do it.

I know of many married couples who come to the realization that the "Honeymoon is over!"  They realize that their spouses aren't perfect, marriage is hard, and now really choosing to love begins.  

Couples often say the same thing about children.  "We had no idea how hard it would be."

There's always "buyers remorse" after the purchase of a new home.

Sometimes it's a job or a career path that turns out to be "not what you thought it was going to be."

Maybe your life has not turned out to be the way you imagined it would be.

Through it all you may find yourself lamenting and saying "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped."

Sometimes when we feel this way, we have a tendency just to shut God out, to stop praying, stop communicating with Him and ultimately stop trusting.

Jeremiah even thinks about going back on his calling:

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

The reading ends abruptly in the lectionary today, but we don't get to see is what follows.  

Jeremiah, instead of shutting God out, Laments.  This is where we see the true wisdom and the depth of love that Jeremiah has for God.  He has such a deep and trusting relationship with God that he is even able to share his disappointment.  He communicates his feelings to God, he continues dialogue with God.  In fact his being willing to share his lamentations with God shows that he has a very real and deep relationship with God.
As he is lamenting to God, and venting his frustration, God must speak something to him because for a brief moment his tone changes.  Jeremiah has an epiphany: "But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion."

His prayer of lamentation turns to a prayer of praise.  In communicating his frustration with God he realizes that God is with him, that God is real and that God can be trusted once more.  Instead of shutting God out, he shares with God and moments later he is open again.

I have a friend who is returning to the seminary and when he first made the decision he was the most peaceful I have ever seen him and now that it is all starting he has been plagued by the enemy with doubts and questions and anxiety.  But I can see a hint of openness and a hint of light because he looked at me and asked... "Should I let myself be duped again?"  "You bet" I said, with a genuine smile at knowing the joys of priesthood I could assure him that God can be trusted.

I had the opportunity to share this story with the father of the the girls and he just laughed and said to me... now you know what it's like to be me, Fr. Michael!

So imagine the Lord reaching his hand out to you right now and asking you to trust him... Are you willing to let yourself be duped?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - Challenge ALS Association

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I cannot support the ALS Association but have accepted the "Ice Bucket Challenge" to challenge the ALS Association in their embryonic stem cell research, which destroys life days after conception.


“Adult stem cell research is important and should be done alongside embryonic stem cell research as both will provide valuable insights. Only through exploration of all types of stem cell research will scientists find the most efficient and effective ways to treat diseases.”


While I can’t donate to the ALS Association, I will certainly pray for those that suffer from this disease.

An ethical way to donate to the cure for ALS:

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute may be a more worthy group to donate to:

The John Paul II Medical Research Institute is a 501 (c) (3) organization that was founded in 2007 by Dr. Alan Moy. It is a secular organization that is grounded in a pro-life bioethic that respects the dignity of every human life. The Institute has chosen a name honoring the late pontiff, blessed John Paul II, that clearly demonstrates this unwavering commitment to the culture of life. More than 300 institutes and organizations engage in and support human embryonic stem cell research. The John Paul II Medical Research Institute advocates for medical research that recognizes the dignitiy of human life from the moment of conception to natural death. Also, the Institute advocates a new paradigm in research to address deficiencies in medical research and unmet medical needs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Want to Walk on Water... give it a try in this guided meditation.


I'm going to do something a little bit different from my homily today. I'm actually going to lead you through a guided meditation, which is kind of nice. It's a nice, beautiful summer day and a time for you just to rest. So that's what I want you to do. I want you to close your eyes and get in a real comfy position. Try not to fall asleep, but if you do it's okay. And whatever you do, the most important thing is to try to be still.

So close your eyes and try not to move a muscle. So, especially kids, try not to fidget. Be totally still and just lay there for a moment and close your eyes and use your imagination to enter into this scene, and all you have to do is listen and rest.

Imagine yourself on the mountain, and it just is the time right after the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus has just worked this miracle where he took the loaves and the fish, and he broke the loaves and he gave them to all of the people, and they were fed. And not only were they fed, but they were satisfied.

So imagine yourself just having this experience of being fed by Jesus and completely satisfied, completely content. You're at peace. You're at rest. And after this miracle, Jesus walks with you down to the sea of Galilee, down from the mountain. He asks you to get into the boat. He commands you to get into the boat, actually. And maybe you're not ready to get into the boat, and you start to realize that he's asking you to go without him to the other side. And so maybe part of you is a little bit anxious. Maybe a part of you is excited. Maybe you ask him, "Lord, can't you come with me," and maybe you try to grab him. And you notice he gently pushes the boat out to the sea. And you are alone in the water with other disciples, and it's calm as you start to drift out and the wind blows you. And you notice Jesus beginning to walk up the mountain by himself.

Now, in baptism you were baptized into Christ. You are Christ in baptism. So I want you to imagine being Christ and walking up that mountain by yourself. Your best friend, John the Baptist, has just been killed and beheaded. You've just worked this wonderful miracle. You've been dying to spend some time with the Father alone, in solitude, to let him comfort you. You tried earlier that morning to go off by yourself on the boat, and the crowds gathered around you. And so you worked a miracle and you fed them, and now you just want to be alone with God. So you climb to the top of the mountain, and when you get there you look out. And if you've ever been on the top of a mountain and overlooking, you know that feeling. Try to picture the mountain, the hillside, the sea of Galilee off in the distance, and it's just you alone with the Father, and you're so glad to finally have this time just to be with the Father and to let him comfort you.

Maybe you experience when you go to solitude wonderful peace. Maybe you experience anxiety when you go to be alone. Maybe you are afraid to be alone. But you realize, as Christ, that the Father is the with you and you are with the Father, and so you spend all evening in solitude with God, the Father, in peace. He's comforting you. You notice the sun beginning to set, and the sky is covered with the beautiful colors of orange and reds, and it's evening, and you're there alone with God.

And after the sun sets and it gets dark, off in the distance you see lightning, and you hear the rumbling of the thunder coming across the shore, and you realize that the disciples are out in the boat alone and so your prayer is interrupted once more, and you go out to them walking on the sea.

Now, imagine for a moment you are one of the disciples in the boat. Maybe you're Peter. Maybe you're one of the other disciples. But you're in the boat, and the winds have picked up, the winds are against you, and the waves are beginning to crash and come over the boats, and you begin to panic because you're out of control. The boat's being tossed around mercilessly in the waves. And as you look around at the faces of the disciples around you, you realize that they are just as afraid as you are. You see the panic in their face, the fear in their eyes. And at the fourth watch of the night, when it's completely dark, the darkest point of night, you see something off in the distance. It looks like a ghost, and one of the disciples screams, "It is a ghost." They're terrified, in fear. And at once Jesus speaks out to you and you hear his voice, "Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid."

Now, I just want you to imagine all your anxieties, all of your fears, whatever it is in life right now that you can't control. Let those be the waves. Let those be the wind. And you hear Jesus's voice, "Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid." And immediately his voice cuts through all of that. His voice has the power to calm you and to bring you to peace despite all of the waves and despite all of the wind. And with great excitement and great joy, you look at him and say, "Lord, if it truly is you, let me come to you. Let me walk on the water." And you look at Jesus, and instead of saying no, he says, "Come. Come." And as you look at his eyes, you realize he is commanding you to walk on the water.

And so with a little bit of trepidation, you put one side out over the bow and you touch the water. Then you bring your other foot over, and you realize that instead of sinking you're walking. And you're filled with excitement, and you begin to take a step towards him and another step, and you realize you're walking on water. But the storm is still raging and the wind blowing against you, and all of a sudden you realize this, and you look down and you begin to sink fast. And before you can realize this, your mouth is under water. So you cry out, "Lord, save me." And immediately the Lord grabs you by the hand and pulls you up. And he looks at you with a smile and he says, "Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?"

It's not written in the scripture, but somehow or another you've got to get back to the boat. So Jesus carries you, walking on water, and he walks you back to the boat and he places you in the boat and joins you, and the moment he steps on into the boat, the storm subsides and in an instant the clouds vanish, the thunder stops, the winds cease, and you're at peace. The water is absolutely calm. It's like glass. And after he gets into the boat with you, the disciples look at him and one of them says, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

And at that moment you realize that Jesus does have the power to calm the storms in your life. He does have the power to allow you to work miracles. He does give you the ability to walk on water with your faith. And once more you're restored to peace. Once more you're taken out of that anxiety and out of that storm, and you experience his peace, and you too look at him and you say, "Truly, you are the Son of God." And Jesus looks at you with great love because you get it. You understand who he really is. You look at him and you say, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lean on Me (Guitar) - Bring them here to me


Well, these are wonderful summer readings because they are so easy. Reading after reading, the first reading, it's just God inviting us to come to him, and he will bless us with an abundance. He will pour out his milk upon us. He will feed us with finest grain. If we're hungry, he will feed us and there is going to be satisfaction. We will be filled and we will be satisfied. And, yet, sometimes there's demands on us in life, and it seems like life can be too demanding or God can be too demanding or people in our lives can be too demanding or people in our leaves can be too demanding or our parents can be too demanding, or our spouses can be too demanding, or our kids can be too demanding. And sometimes we find that all we can do is go to God.

So one of my favorite summer songs I'm going to sing to you is "Lean on Me." I need a few volunteers for this one. So I need actually pairs. So if I can have three or four pairs of you come forward and help me volunteer. I'm just going to give you some motions to do, and it's going to help everybody else kind of get more out of the song. So, volunteers, come up.

Thank you. It's not going to be too bad. I'll walk you through it all. We've got one, two, three. I need one more group. How about if you guys stand right at the corners. Can you stand right up here at the corner? That's good. One more group. One more pair of two. Come on up. That would be so much better.

All right, good. Thank you.

So all you got to do is for the chorus. The rest of the part you can watch me or dance, or whatever you want to do. But here is the chorus: Lean on me. So how do you do that? Lean on your partner. I need a partner, actually. Somebody come up here and lean on me. Lean on me like that. Good.

When you're not strong. Show us your biggest muscle arms, which way to the beach.

I'll be your friend. Turn to your partner and high five them. Got it?

I'll help you carry on. And then this is kind of like the pun part. For, five. So for, five. So just for, five. Got it?

It won't be long. And then you go too short and get short.

'Til I'm going to need -- elbow. Like a little pun there. Elbow.

Somebody to lean on. Okay, got it?

We will try it once. Ready?

Lean on me when you're not strong. I'll be your friend -- high five -- I'll help you carry on. Raise that roof. For -- five -- it won't be long -- too short -- 'til I'm going to need -- elbow -- somebody to lean on.

All right, that's good. I think we need a little bit of clapping, though. Hey, Carl, can you hit up some clapping for everybody? Follow Carl's lead, okay.


Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise, we will know that there's always tomorrow. Lean on me when you're not strong. I'll be your friend -- high five -- I'll help you carry on. Raise that roof. For it won't be long -- too short -- until I'm going to need somebody to lean on. Please, swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow. For no one can fill all of our needs that you don't let show. Here we go.

Lean on me when you're not strong. I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. Raise that roof. For -- five -- it won't be long -- too short -- 'til I'm going to need -- elbow -- somebody to lean on. Just call on me, brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you'll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.

Lean on me when you're not strong. I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long -- too short -- 'til I'm going to need -- elbow -- somebody to lean on.

Yeah. Give them a round of applause. I love that the people in the cry room were doing that. That was an awesome. Thank you.

So, you know, that's all we've got to do is come to God and lean on him. What I love about the Gospel is it's one of my favorites, you know, the multiplication of the loaves. This miracle where Jesus feeds the five thousand people. I actually got to be on that mountain in the Holy land when we did our pilgrimage, to be where they fed this five thousand people and to work that miracle. What I love about it, he has this interaction with the disciples, okay.

So Jesus, first of all, he's in a tough place himself. He's going through a pretty tough time. So the Gospel begins with the beheading of John the Baptist. His best friend, John the Baptist, who he grew up with, has been beheaded at another celebration, another party. He's been beheaded, and Jesus finds out about this news. And so he goes off on the boat by himself to a deserted place. He just wants to be alone. But guess what? The crowds are upset too, and the crowds are needy, and the people are anxious because of John the Baptist. So they go and find Jesus in his deserted place. They won't leave him.

Now Jesus, instead of getting upset and going further away on his boat, or whatever, he actually comes back to the people, climbs up the mountain, gathers all of these five thousand around him, and he begins to teach them. And it's getting late. It's getting dark. So the disciples realize this, okay, and they say, "Lord, it's getting late and this is a deserted place. We better send these people home to their villages and let them go get something to eat themselves." And Jesus said to his disciples, "Why don't you feed them?" And he puts them in this place of, you know, he's saying why don't you feed them. Then the disciples react much like we would. "But, Lord, I can't feed them. All I have are these five loaves and two fish." And so what does Jesus say to them then? Does anybody know in the Gospel. The disciples say, "We can't do it. All we've got are these five loaves and two fish." And Jesus says what? "Bring them to me." Very good. "Bring them to me."
And so the disciples bring these five loaves and two fish to Jesus. He performs this miracle with these small gifts that he's given to them. Then they go out and they share with an abundance. They have an abundance of food to feed the people. As a matter of fact, they feed the five thousand, and afterwards there are 12 wicker baskets full of bread. Bring them to me. That's all we have to do.

You know, sometimes life can be demanding of us. Sometimes our work can be demanding of us. Sometimes our families can be demanding of us. Sometimes we can be demanding of ourselves. And sometimes we just feel like we don't have enough to do. We don't have enough energy or enough time or enough resources. And yet Jesus is saying, "You can do it. Feed them. Take care of your family. Take your of your loved ones. Take care of your parents who are old. Feed them." But if we find ourselves getting frustrated, if we find ourselves getting tired, if we find ourselves getting spiritually burnt out, we're missing something. And what is that something? We've got to bring it to Jesus. We've got to bring whatever that situation is, whoever those people are, whatever the demands are, whatever our inadequacies are, whatever we think we can't do with the resources that we have, bring it to Jesus. It's that simple.

If you're frustrated, if you're tired, if you're upset, it's probably because you are doing it alone. It's probably because you haven't brought it to Jesus. Because when we do bring whatever it is to Jesus, our littleness or our weakness or our smallness, we bring it to him, he does bless it and transform it. And before you know it, not only do we have enough to do whatever we're doing, but he gives us an abundance.

And that's why we come to the Eucharist.

You know, every mass the gifts are brought forward, the gifts of bread and wine. That's our presentation. So just like the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus said to the disciples, "All you have are five loaves and two fish? I don't care. We're going to work with that. Bring it to me." And right now he says to you, whatever you have, if you feel like it's not enough, if you feel like you can't meet the demands of life, if you feel like you don't have everything that you need, bring it to me. Let me transform it and change it and multiple it. And before you know it, you are going to have far more than you could have ever imagined.

And so that's what I want you to do in a few moments, when the gifts and bread and wine are brought forward, I want you to try to imagine whatever your loaves and fish are, whatever the smallness that you have to work with -- maybe it's money, maybe you feel like you don't have enough money right now in your life, maybe it's energy, maybe you are so tired, maybe it's time, maybe you feel look you don't have enough time or resources or friendship or emotional support -- whatever it is that you don't feel that you have enough of, I just want you to imagine placing it with the bread and wine and letting it be brought to the Lord. And as the priest places it on the altar and transforms it, God's going to work a miracle in your life. He's going to change all of that into a great abundance. But you have to bring it to him. You know, just like the song "Lean on Me," when there are times in life that we can't carry on, that we can't do it alone, we do have to lean on God and on each other.

So you're invited to do that in just a few moments. The offertory is not just about those two or three people that bring forward the gifts. All of us lay our gifts at the offertory. Our five loaves, the two fish, whatever it is that we need transformed into abundance, place those with the gifts. Let them be brought to the altar. Bring them to Jesus and watch as he works a miracle in your life. Whatever you thought you didn't have enough of, all of a sudden there is going to be an abundance. And not only will you be satisfied, but all of those that you are trying to take care of will be satisfied. That's the miracle of today's Gospel and that's the miracle that we receive in the Eucharist.