Did you celebrate the Epiphany? We think of Epiphany as being the three kings, or astrologers, or wise-men. And actually it is the last of the epiphanies in the childhood stories of Christ. First was the epiphany to Mary, and boy was she surprised: 'how can this be since I have no relations with a man?' Then we have the epiphany to Joseph who questioned what to do about it. Next we had the epiphany to John the Baptist 'he jumped, or danced, in his mother's womb at the presence of the unborn Jesus. And then Elizabeth who says: 'who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me.” and then, the shepherds. Why shepherds? Notice that the scribes, priests, pharisees, the ones who had the knowledge, who were with Herod did not see the star or have contact with the Christ child. The shepherds are at Bethlehem reminding us that David was the least of his brothers, the least likely to be chosen as leader, yet God anointed him to be king. Jesus comes as the shepherd. Then we hear of the three wise-men we celebrate today. We don't know how many but there were three gifts; gold for a king, incense for a god, and myrrh, myrrh for death. Actually this first chapter of the gospel gives us insight of the rest of the gospel to come. Did you notice the other epiphany the three wise-men got. It's kind of like the star led them close to Bethlehem and, seeing Jerusalem, they thought they knew where they were going so the obvious conclusion to their quest would be that , if there is a king, then his son would be the new born king. And, so they ask: 'where is the new born king?” kind of expecting that he would be right there near Herod. What a surprise when they are directed to Bethlehem and again pay attention to the star but discover their quest ends in a stable, a stable. It never seems to be what we expect. And, finally we discover the natural result from these encounters. Like the three kings, like Joseph, we are called to go a different direction. We are called to make changes in our lives. Like the shepherds we are called to let others know what we have seen and heard. Christmas is not just about finding Jesus, it is about allowing Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit bring about changes in our lives. Only then is Christmas fulfilled. May each day bring about an on-going change in your life as you continue to open up to Jesus.
2020 is over; 2021 is yet to come; today is God's gift to you. Yes, 2020 may have seemed really bad in so many ways. Yes, 2021 with new threats may or may not be worse. What you and I know is St. Paul calls us to be thankful for all things. God is in charge. If we are truly thankful and believe God is in charge then we might look at the gift today is and embrace it, doing the best we can with it and know it will make a difference tomorrow. This week we also think of the Three Kings, astrologers who brought the Christ child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
On one hand that really sounds so good. Gold is for a king. Frankincense is for God, but myrrh. That is for burial. Even in their coming, even in the meeting with the prophet in the temple telling Mary that a sword shall pierce her heart, we are reminded that Jesus came to die. We are all going to die. This life is only a blip of our entire existence. So, yes, today is a gift to us. It is a gift to be unwrapped slowly, consciously, and fully. We don't know what all of its consequences will be, but we do know that if it is a gift then what we make of it will be our gift back to God. Several times Jesus used parables of servants receiving with the expectations that they would increase their value. God gives us this day with the expectation that in some way we will add to it. Just think, if we look at the whole year like that we have 365 days to make better and be able to present a truly precious treasure to our Lord at the end of the year. The three astrologers gave up family, positions, everything, to bring their gifts to a Lord they did not yet know. They followed a light for two years not knowing if it would really pan out. They were ready to offer gifts they neither knew would be appreciated nor used in a way they might want. Still they were ready to offer what they had. Each of them did not offer the same thing, but it was what they had. God does not expect us to be somebody else, offering what somebody else is able to offer. He just asks us to be in a relationship with Him and doing the best we can to increase what He has given us so that with great joy we can give that to Him. I pray that this year, with its ups and downs; with its sicknesses, accidents, troubles, increase in family and well-being will all be something you can give thanks to God for, for He has your back and only wants the best for you as we approach eternity.
What do I do with the gifts others have given me? With the ones God has given me?
“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” How easily we forget, or ignore that basic knowledge we all have within us: No Pain, No Gain. We all know that if we get laid up for a few days our muscles begin to atrophy. If we allow ourselves to become couch potatoes we become unable to productively do much of anything. Whether we are looking at our ability to walk, play music—I mean personally like on a real instrument, do gardening, speak a second language. If one does not use it, one loses it. In the above scripture the one given the least just didn't seem to think it was worth trying. Really! God knows what gifts he is giving. For example: if you had a child who was born without arms, a thalidomide baby, how much encouragement would you give him to do anything? Would his mother be too demanding if she began expecting him to dress himself? If that child wanted to play guitar would you encourage it? If he wanted to have his own show in Branson and go on the road giving witness performances would he have a chance? Such is Tony Melendez who had a show in Branson for years and has now traveled all 50 states and many foreign countries performing and giving witness. He even drives a car. How many testimonies of disabled Vets have you heard doing things many would say: “no way” to? We are all called to work with what we have to be as fully a functioning human being as possible. How much more so when it comes to relationships, and especially our relationship with God. If we ignore it, it cannot grow. So, when Jesus says that what little bit one has will be taken away He is speaking of the automatic consequences for the decisions we make in life. Now, we all know, as I have said many times before: each one of us is a unique, one of a kind, unrepeatable, manifestation of God's love. Each one of us have been created with a gift, an ability, which no one else can specifically fill. God knew what He was doing when He gave you the gifts you have. Let us not be afraid to take inventory of the gifts we have and be willing to stretch in developing them. Again, let this apply all the more to our relationships; with family, friends, and especially with God.
In fiscal year 2019, ICE initiated 1,024 human trafficking and forced labor related cases which led to 2,197 criminal arrests. These effective actions resulted in nearly 700 convictions and the rescue of more than 400 victims. And now, even as I write this there is news of another rescue of many young people. During this time of Covid reports of online child exploitation are up 75%, according to the Asbury Park Press daily newspaper. “(This) can lead to human trafficking and other abuses,” Rep. Chris Smith said. Rep. Smith got passed a number of anti-trafficking laws 20 years ago that led to conviction of guys like Jeff Epstein and Keith Raniere. But that was before we had the high internet social use we have now. Sometimes the numbers seem so high that we just turn it off as if it were simply another non-event, something we don't seriously want to believe. This past week I was listening to the scripture of how we are not to oppress the orphan and the widow. It's nothing new, and those are the most vulnerable. Are the numbers growing or are we just being made more and more aware of it? I think it is both. Why are they growing? I would have to conjecture that the primary reason is that we as a society have gotten further and further from God. We don't believe there is really a right and wrong. We don't believe there is an eternal accountability as we have been fed a steady diet of: “if there is a God, He couldn't send anyone to hell, if there is such a thing.” do we really have to have the threat of hell to do the right thing? To truly love our neighbor and want what is best for them? The second thing I think that is driving this sex-trafficking epidemic is our wallowing in pornography. Hugh Hefner opened up the world to over-the-counter soft-porn some fifty years ago. He was onto something, knowing that sex is good, beauty is good, but it became extremely marketable, no longer just sleazy tabloids under the counter. As a culture we have bought more and more into thinking this was alright. I remember a number of men justifying the magazine because it seemed to have some socially relevant articles in it. As we became accustomed to that our society was fed a diet of porn which was more and more revealing; more and more provocative; more and more, if you will, violent. One of the things we know today is that scientifically porn addiction is just like drug addiction. It makes greater and greater demands for serotonin and in the process does destroy the brain. While its users are looking for more and more violent, more and more kinky, more and more forbidden sex, sex with youth and we know that it only gets worse. In this whole process one has long forgotten that this other person, this woman, this child, is someone else's loved one. This is a person and not a thing. By the time this other person is seen as a thing there is no regard for the fact that they are being used, coerced, trafficked. How often people my age sit around reflecting on how we were totally free as children to roam the streets. Women could easily walk through downtown to shop or get to work. Now, parents feel they must have their eyes on their children 24/7. In that sense, we have all become prisoners. We have all lost a tremendous freedom and sense of innocence. As Christians we must be willing to do everything we can to eradicate pornography. It is not a victimless crime. We must be willing to help get those so involved off the streets and into treatment. It is not an easy journey to get free of pornography any more than it is to get off any other drugs. As a society I believe, I pray, we can do it. Monitor your children's internet. Get Bark.us it will monitor all your child's activities on the phone and give you warning messages so you can talk about it.
Fratelli tutti Recently Pope Francis came out with this new encyclical addressing a number of social problems and needs and how we as Christians are called to expand our notion of who we are to help. At first, because I know it reaffirms his requirement to put in our catechism the reality that capitol punishment can never be justified, I kind of retreated. Not because I'm for Capitol Punishment, as I mentioned some time ago about the sermon I gave at my niece's and family's funeral. I had called on the Prosecuting Attorney not to seek the death penalty. I had difficulty with that teaching because it has always been part of our teaching that the state has a right to take a life when the person has done something very egregious. We said that that person was actually forfeiting their life by choosing certain actions. But, then I had to stop and think. Are there some moral laws which are developing to demand more of us? The Pope couched everything in his encyclical in terms of love of neighbor. Everyone is aware of the story Jesus told of the GOOD SAMARITAN, a Samaritan who went out of his way to help a half dead Jew who had been robbed. ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”(Lk 10:25-37). until then the Jew might have thought of his neighbor as only those who lived closest. While there are a number of Old Testament sayings which called for the care of the foreigner that was not necessarily the practice. Jesus constantly called for his followers to go beyond.
“In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12). This command is universal in scope, embracing everyone on the basis of our shared humanity, since the heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Hence the summons to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). Does the same thing apply to how we think of the taking of other's lives? Think of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Early civilizations beginning with Cain would take you out just because I want what you have. Then, if you hurt me I will hurt you worse. If you hurt my family I will kill you or maybe your whole family. Finally Jewish law would call for equality in retribution. You cost me an eye, you loose an eye and so on. You could exact nothing more that what it cost you. With Jesus we discover a new level of development. Now we are called to love as the Father has loved us. Jesus reminds us that it rains on the just and unjust alike. Finally, we are told to love our enemies. In looking at and trying to understand the death penalty we have to ask ourselves if it is love that would end their life? Are we the ones who should determine when they should be ready to meet their maker? In the past we justified the death penalty as a deterrent, as the only way to keep society safe. Do either of those rationales even begin to apply today? There might be some primitive societies which don't see any option. Then, on the other hand we do have to ask ourselves if it is always applied equally to everyone no matter their social status. Are there ever any who are unjustly condemned. Certainly, as the pope points out every society we are aware of is able to confine someone who forfeits their ability to live in society in peace. What feelings come up in you when you think of abolishing the death penalty? Why?
Lighthouse September 29, 2020
How do you make decisions? Unfortunately the means I want to share today is too often the default many use, from the time we are children. “I want to wear my red dress to school.” “no, that is for special occasions.” “everyone else is wearing red, wah!” and so it goes. “so and so's mother lets them do it.” When we get a little older we might think we are a little more sophisticated. There is a famous question: “What would you do if you knew there would be no ramifications?” That is what will tell what kind of person you are. Look at the riots. How many are committing what they know to be an evil but if you can sack and loot under the guise of a peaceful protest, why not? Others look to how they can use the law. If it's legal, it must be okay. When Roe vs. Wade was passed it supposedly allowed abortion under rape, incest, or, or, the life of the mother was threatened. How many doctors told me first hand how that worked out. Once someone discovered that all they had to do was say they were considering suicide if they had to carry the child to term that was grounds enough for killing the child. So much for those limited and rare occasions. Then, there is the reversion to the child's argument “so and so's mother lets them do it.” So, if I can find a minister, or confessor who will tell me what I want to hear that will make it okay. Today, there are so called ministers of almost every persuasion who will help you justify almost anything you want. Even Catholics might say “well, such and such bishop says one can vote for that person in good conscience.” But, if they take time to examine exactly what is said they might discover that it is often nuanced in such a way to sound like it is agreeing with them.” for example: knowing that the killing of the unborn is the pre-eminent issue, equal to none, they are told that if, if the candidate who claims to be pro-life in regards to the unborn is a scoundrel who is not able or will not make good on his word to protect the unborn and the other candidate considers himself pro-life because he would like to see more money going to help immigrants then one in conscience might support that other candidate. In such a case, one must examine the records. Is it just a lot of hot air or, is the candidate who claims to help the unborn really doing anything about it? Just before the Civil War there were certain bishops in the South who supported the existence of slavery. The official church teaching had been consistent in condemning modern day slavery as opposed to the slavery which existed in the days of Christ which was more of an indentured servant of any race. Modern slavery targeted blacks, as being somehow, less than human. So, bishops caught in the culture of the south might rationalize that they were better off with good masters than being freed where they would be subject to the abuse of anyone. In such a way they were able to misuse scripture's support of a different understanding of slavery. And so it goes, we can justify anything we want.
Lighthouse September 22, 2020
How do you make decisions? We have
been looking at a couple different mental filters one might operate
out of in making decisions: majority opinion, polls, lesser of two
evils, natural law (how was something created to function). Today I
would like to get down to making a decision, well thought out on
one's own. This can work for any decision making although I always
suggest one begins with prayer that one is not fooling oneself. A
common way is to just list the pros and cons in different columns.
The problem there is one might think the greater number wins. Not
only are we capable of stacking the deck, we also know that every
reason does not have equal value, just as every issue does not. So,
what I like to suggest, if one were looking at political parties for
example, is, take the known issues. What does the candidate, or party
say it stands for and what does the record show. So, list the issues.
Immigration, environment, gun control, medical reform,
infra-structure, economy, abortion, religious rights and education,
family life and equal rights and so on. Now, looking at the
Constitution how does the issue affirm: life, liberty, pursuit of
happiness (religious freedom). Is there any issue that must pre-exist
all the others? Is there any issue without which none of the others
would matter? If so, you might say that is a non-negotiable value.
Look at the other issues and ask yourself if there is room for
debate, room for give and take. Then, use the Olympic model: on a
scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, how earth-shattering is this
particular issue right now for the country? For example you might
say the economy is reasonably well so you give it a 5. You might see
immigration is in serious need of reform to bring greater justice and
give it a 7. Then as you look down your list and you see several
issues are a 7 or 8 you might ask if one party addresses all those
in the way you want. If one party is really strong on one of them
and the other party strong on your other issue, you again ask if they
are of equal value. You might recognize your heart pulling for one
or the other and acknowledge that. Then finally one has to ask, are
any of these issues non-negotiable values without which your other
strong inclination could not exist. In staying focused on the more
important there will always be another day to address the other
concerns. Are you on your knees yet? It sometimes takes a lot of