Tuesday, January 25, 2022

TRUE FREEDOM: DECIDING TO EMBRACE INCONVENIENT TRUTHS


THE PATH TO HEALING OUR COUNTRY AND OUR CHURCH 

More and more people believe the lie that the path to healing our country is through electing a "superman" or "superwoman" who can "fix it all" for us. This is so deadly dangerous because it opens us up to following more and more narcissistic, self-focused and manipulative cult leaders and trusting them to "tell us what the truth is" and to "do our thinking for us!" 

More and more people in our Church seem to believe one of two lies.  (a) They believe the lie that the path to our healing is returning in fear to some irretrievable past where God can be controlled and preserved in a glass museum case and not be out there uncontrollably roaming the streets of today's world. (b) They believe the lie that because others have failed to live up to the Church's ideals and disciplines, they are thereby relieved of any personal responsibility to live up to them as well.   

NOW HEAR THIS!







Sunday, January 23, 2022

"TRADITION" MEANS "TO HAND ON"


GIVEN AT ST. MARY MAGDALEN AND ST. THERESA IN MEADE COUNTY
Sunday, January 23, 2022


"Tradition is about protecting the fire, not preserving the ashes."
Pope John XXIII

There is still a whole lot of good things going on in our world, our country, our churches and our families, but I am scared to death of a "disease" that in invading our world, our country, our churches and our families! No, it’s not COVID. It is much more deadly! It has left the big cities and is now affecting small rural communities like this one! It’s a personality disorder, a condition or an attitude called “narcissism!” “Narcissism” is a word we all need to become familiar with because it is infecting even more people than COVID and the only cure for it are in the words of Saint Paul in our second reading today.

“Narcissism” is the term used to describe excessive vanity and self-centeredness. The condition is named after a mythological Greek youth named Narcissus, a handsome young hunter, who became overly infatuated with his own reflection in a lake. He did not realize at first that it was his own reflection, but when he did, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with no one but himself.

Narcissistic personalities are characterized by unwarranted feelings of self-importance. All they are interested in is: me! me! me! My needs! My wants! My freedom! My rights! My time! My opinions! Narcissists expect to be recognized as superior and special, without necessarily being able to show any superior accomplishments. They exhibit a sense of entitlement, demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behaviors and display a strong need for admiration. Narcissists believe in their inflated self-importance and leads them to a hatred and disgust for those they feel are inferior. Narcissistic children like to bully other young children.

Some believe that our culture’s present narcissism epidemic, the fixation on indulging and exalting oneself, can be traced to the heyday of the self-esteem movement that baby boomer parents, teachers and media gurus promoted several years ago. Children were incessantly told things like: “Love yourself first” and “Believe that you are the best.” Rather than stoking healthy self-confidence, as was their intent, such messages may be responsible for a decline in the work ethic and a growth in feelings of entitlement and inflated egos. Cell phone “selfies” are one of the most obvious trademarks of a new selfish generation.

When narcissistic people talk about church attendance, they usually say things like “I don’t go because I don’t get anything out of it!” “I, I, I, me, me me!” When they say things like that, they put themselves in the center of the picture. It’s all about me! Church attendance is really about giving, not getting. We don’t go to Church to “get.” (1) We go to give - to give God worship and praise! (2) We go to learn - to learn how to give to and serve others, not just to “get” something for ourselves.

When narcissistic people talk about marriage, they talk about what it will do for them. They are like the woman in the Guinness Book of Records who had been married fifteen times. When she was asked about it, she said, “All I ever wanted was someone to love me!” No wonder she failed! The people who marry successfully get married to be love-givers, not love-getters! As Jesus said, “It is in giving that one receives!” Receiving is not a goal, but a by-product, of the marriage or ordination commitment. Narcissistic priests and marriage partners are always doomed to fail. For both priests and married partners, it is not about us, it is about those we are called to serve!

When narcissistic young people talk about what to do with their lives, they usually ask themselves “what do I want to do or what do I want to be” that will make me happy? The real question is not what do we want to do, but what is God calling us to do and be” that will lead us to happiness? Jesus was right, “Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, while those who seek to give their lives away, will save them.” Albert Schweitzer was right when he said, and narcissistic people will never get it, “The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found out how to serve.”

Pope Francis talks a lot about a “self-referential church,” in other words, a narcissistic church. He says that when the Church does not look beyond itself, when it is always focused on itself, it gets sick. The Church is the moon and Christ is the sun. The Church exists to reflect the light of Christ to the world, not absorb it for itself

What is the cure for all this rampant selfishness called “narcissism?’ We certainly don’t need to run off the other side of the road! The other extreme to narcissism is self-deprecation: putting oneself down or the minimization and devaluation of oneself. Humility is about accepting the truth about who we are, without exaggerating it or minimizing it. “Humility” comes from the Latin “humus,” meaning “earth.” “Humility” means “grounded.” A truly “humble” person, truly in touch with his strengths and weaknesses, neither inflates his worth nor devalues it. Humility is ultimately about truth. As Mary said in her Magnificat, “God lifts up the lowly from their manure heaps and pulls the powerful down from their thrones.”

We are back to the oldest sins in the world, the sin of Adam and Eve and the sin of Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve fell for the snake’s lie that they could be little gods. Cain and Able thought they could escape being responsible for each other.

What is the cure for these old sins that are back in spades and spreading like a disease through our country, churches and families? It’s the realization that we are interdependent. We are not little independent Gods out there on our own. We are dependent on each other and we are responsible for each other. We are one body with many parts. We have been given a variety of gifts, not just for our own good, but to share with others for the good of the community! God has entrusted gifts to us to be used! When we do not use our gifts, even deny we have them, we neither serve God nor the people we are called to serve. Jesus told us that we are the light of the world and our light is not to be hidden, but to be shared with the rest of the world.

Dear friends! This community has a long history of humble sharing and caring. There are stories that would make you cry about how people in this community have heroically cared and shared with each other. We need to remember those stories, retell those stories, collect those stories and teach those stories to your children. Most of all, we need to create more stories of heroic sharing and caring. We need to wake up and realize that we are beginning to lose that trait of caring and sharing. We are letting narcissism eat at the hearts and souls of our families, our parishes and our communities. We need to wake up to it, stand up to it and refuse to put up with it! We need to recognize narcissism when we see it and put a stop to it now - starting with ourselves first!

We have a proud history of caring, sharing and unity building in this community. Saint Paul even sounds like he is talking about our history in today’s second reading!

Now the body is not a single part, but many. We are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
I Corinthians 12:12

We can’t go back, but we can go forward. We can revive and resurrect the virtues of our forefathers and foremothers in a new way. They invested all they had in passing those old virtues on to us, now we need to do what we can to pass them on to the next generation. A new day requires new ways.

This is the driving idea behind the new St. Theresa Family Life Center that St. Mary’s and St. Theresa will share. It will be a place where the virtues and values of our ancestors will be taught and shared today in a new way. If I have anything to do with it, this will not be some half-baked, flash-in-the pan effort. It will be a first-class operation dedicated to strengthening our young families, empowering our singles and caring for our seniors. We are well on our way. We have some more to go to make sure we have enough funds to staff and operate it once it is done. The Family Life Center will soon be a place where your gifts and talents will be identified, nurtured, encouraged and used to strengthen the family life of this community.

If we don’t do this, with all that has been invested in us, we will have failed our ancestors and the priests and Sisters who came here in the 1800s and we will have squandered their investments in us. They are not coming back. Missionaries eventually move on after they have done their jobs. Waiting for an new infusion of priests and Sisters to return would be like leaving the runway lights on for Amelia Earhart! The priests and Sisters of the past came to Kentucky to start the first parishes, schools, orphanages, old age homes and hospitals. They were successful. Now there are many parishes, schools, childcare institutions, old age homes and hospitals. They have passed the baton to us. Let’s not stumble and drop it now. Our new Family Life Center will offer us a unique opportunity to recover the strong family virtues of the people who went before us! Let’s help each other do this! New and creative projects don’t always have to come out of Jefferson County! Let's show them what Meade County Catholics can do when they work together like they always have! Let's do all we can to make sure our families remain strong. It's really up to us and time is running out! There is no rescue party out looking for us! We simply have to help ourselves this time! 
















Monday, January 17, 2022

THE POWER OF WALKING AWAY




There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be silent and a time to speak.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1;7

One of the advantages of "social media" websites is that it gives everyone a platform for their opinions. One of the disadvantages of "social media" websites is some people's tendency to use them to demean, criticize, gossip about, show off and put down other people's opinions, looks, political or religious perspectives and standing in the community.  The reason I do not have a Face Book account is that I have come to believe that its downside far outweighs its upside.

Instead, I decided several years ago to start this BLOG called "An Encouraging Word." It is an extension of my preaching ministry where I try to look for goodness to affirm, rather than evils to condemn. It comes from a long-held belief that there is still a lot of "goodness" out there, but it often gets little attention in the swamp of "badness." There are plenty of condemners of "what's wrong with everybody and everything" already out there so I have decided to speak mainly about "what's right" out there. 

Recently, I was given an opening and opportunity to publicly "leap into the fray" of a brewing collision of opinions. Such invitations are now coming daily and sometimes hourly. Sometimes I have entered the ring. This time, I have decided not to take the bait! Oh, I do have strong opinions about that issue and they boil under the surface. Inside, I am outraged. This time, however, I decided to simply  remove myself from that battlefield, say nothing and let my absence speak for me. I am not one to give up easily, but I believe that this situation requires a different response. Silence can sometimes be an even more powerful response than "using one's voice." For me, in this particular situation, saying nothing implies "non-complicity" in an even more  powerful and effective way than "speaking out." If you want a tennis game to end, you don't have to negotiate with the other player, all you have to do is quit hitting the ball back over the net! 



“You are most powerful when you are most silent. People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging leaping from their mouths.
Alison McGhee

 



 "When your horse dies, get off! 
Cowboy Wisdom 





 



 


 


Sunday, January 16, 2022

TABLE OF PLENTY

It was at Cana in Galilee that Jesus

 began the signs that revealed his glory.

John 2:11

 

Jesus came to this world to teach us, by performing a series of "signs" or delivering "messages" about what heaven is going to be like!  There will be many as we follow his life this liturgical year, but today we read about the first of those "signs" or "messages."    

 

Now, you would think the first "sign" or "message" that he would want to deliver, right out of the gate, would be something more practical, like healing the physically, emotionally or spiritually sick. There were certainly plenty of them to go around! You would think that his first "sign" would be something practical like feeding those who were hungry. There were certainly plenty of them to go around!  Instead of multiplying loaves of bread to feed the hungry first or curing a few hundred lepers first or even healing a bunch of mentally disturbed people first, he went to a wedding reception and delivered a truck load of wine - somewhere between 120-180 gallons, in fact! What kind of "sign" or "message" is that?

 

If you line up the details of this reading, surely Jesus wanted to male a statement about abundance.  His first "sign" or "message" seems to say that, in the kingdom of heaven, there will be plenty.  In a culture where people routinely lived on the edge of starvation and want, for Jesus to make this wedding reception event his first "sign" or "message" was quite powerful.  A wedding is about fertility, new life, continuation, happiness and possibility.

 

Every detail symbolizes plenty and abundance.  Not only were the bride and groom's family there, along with their relatives and neighbors, but also Jesus, his disciples and even his mother!  Not only were the water jars now full of wine, we are told they were full to the brim!  This wedding was not a single day affair. Jewish weddings went on for a week, so this 120 -180 gallon infusion of extra wine toward the end of the week, didn't even count what the family had purchased in the first place and had already been consumed!  Not only was this new wine added to what was already supplied, this new wine was actually much better than what was served first, unlike most weddings when they pulled out the cheap stuff after people were pretty well two-sheets to the wind and wouldn't know any better!

 

This multiplication of wine was the first "sign" or "message" that Jesus performed to teach us about the kingdom that God has in store for us. The rabbis at the time of Jesus had a saying, "Without wine, there is no joy." So this "sign" or "message" wasn't as much about a wedding or wine as it was a "sign" or "message" about the joy that awaits us in the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, "I have come to bring you life - life to the full - life to the brim - a joy that is not stingily divvied out in thimbles, but "pressed down. shaken together and poured into our laps."  Saint Paul talked about it this way, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even dawned on human beings the great things God has in store for those who love him." 

 

Jesus did not teach, as some assume, that this kingdom only awaits us in the afterlife. Jesus taught us that we are already in his kingdom. He wants us to start tasting it now, even though it will not come to its fullness until we enter heaven.  Think about it! We are partially in heaven already! All we have to do is have the eyes to see it!  Jesus said as much before he performed this first "sign" or "message."  In fact, these were the first words out of his mouth when he began his public ministry! "Metanoiete! Change the way you see so that you see that the kingdom of God is at  hand, right there in front of you!


 

The kingdom is already here? To that Jesus said, "Yes, it is! If you have the right eyes you can see it has begun! It is subtle, like yeast working in a batch of dough, but it is here! The "signs" that I perform - healing the sick, feeding the hungry and releasing those who are bound up - are "signs" that the kingdom is building. The "signs" that my followers, as they spread around the world in the years to come, will perform will be "even greater" because there will be millions of my followers "healing the sick, feeding the hungry and releasing those bound up."  Then someday, in the great by-and-by, there will be no sickness, no hunger and no imprisonment of any kind!”

 

 

One of the "signs" of the kingdom today is the work of Catholic Relief Services, carrying on the ministry of Jesus, delivering medicine, food and aid to desperate places. It should make us all proud that one of the most respected, most efficient and most trusted relief agency is Catholic Relief Services.  Another “sign” is the daily feeding of street people downstairs, at the Cathedral, something that has been going on for over 150 years! Through the donations and volunteering of disciples like us, the kingdom of God is shown forth, and will be shown forth, until there is no need for it when the kingdom comes to perfection in the world to come!  Then on that day, there will be no tornados, no earthquakes, no disease, no hunger, no thirst and no crying! On that day, when our lives will be "filled to the brim," there will be plenty for everybody! Until then, let's do what we can to help the suffering experience a little taste of heaven, right now!