29 November 2015

1st Advent, 2015

Readings Here

Today is the first Sunday in Advent.  Today, we begin a time of reflection and waiting.  We take the time to prepare to celebrate one of the major Feasts of the Christian life.  Very soon, (but not yet) Christmas will be upon us and the Church will rejoice at the great gift of God Among Us.  But in spite of what the Christmas lights may tell us, Christmas is not yet here.  Instead, today's Gospel takes us to a place that is dark and frightening.  Luke speaks of danger, and violence, of death and destruction, and I, well, I sit here in front of the TV and briefly entertain thoughts of the end of the world!  But as frightening as these thoughts may seem, and as scary as the new may be, there is one phrase in the Gospel that makes me stop and think:  "when these signs begin to happen, 
stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."  If you stop to think about it, this is a powerful message.  It reminds me that while there may be death and destruction happening all around the world, I am not to cower in the face of these, instead, I am to stand erect and with head held high.  I am to take the stance of someone who has been liberated from the oppression of fear.  And this is the key in today's Gospel, as people of faith, we are not to fear, instead, we are to recognize our dignity as beloved children of God and we are to stand in the light of God's love.  The problem with this, however, is that somehow, somewhere along  the way, we have taken this phrase to mean that we are to become some bad-ass, red, white and blue, gun toting Christian rebel who is ready to burst into a Planned Parenthood clinic and shootem up.  Or at least stand my ground as I let everyone else know how wrong their way of life is.  The reality is far from either or those scenarios, but the root of it is clear.  We are not to arm ourselves and be the militant church that busts doors down for Jesus, instead, we are to be the militant church that embraced the non-violent and non-aggressive love of Christ.  We are to truly take the example of Jesus and the mission of Christ, and love, after all, as Mother Teresa once said, the opposite of love isn't hate, it is fear.  We are not to be fearful people who need to get rid of the competition for the sake of making ourselves feel safe.  Instead, we are to be people of radical love, a love that is deeply rooted in Christ.  There can be no exceptions, because unfortunately, up until now, we've been pretty good at making excuses for our militarized faith.  We are not a faith based on hatred and judgement, and yet, we've managed to bottle Jesus up for our own convenience.  We have relegated God to the Home Goods aisles at our local retail stores and placed next to our fancy boots in our closets.  God is far beyond any material limitation we can place on him, and exactly when we start to believe that we know God's will, is when we should start prayer for guidance from the Holy Spirit and our faith communities.  God is not violent, and God's love does not compel us to violence, ever.  And so we prepare, we enter the journey toward the light recognizing that darkness will never win, because the light and love of God is far greater than fear itself.  I was once told by a priest professor of mine that I was too simplistic, if that is true, so be it.  I just can't believe that the love of God is as complex and convaluted as we so often make it out to be.  For now, blessed Advent.  Know that you are in my prayers.  You are beautiful.  You are loved. and I love you.  As always, Fr. Rick

24 November 2015

I was one of those nine...

Dustin Kensrue- Please Come Home

and so this is Thanksgiving...  yep.  Here we are.   Happy Thanksgiving.

Before I even started preparing for Mass on Thanksgiving, I heard this song.  Remarkably, I was introduced to this piece by a friend with whom I only recently reconnected, and one who surprised me by sharing about his own spiritual journey to God.  I was surprised but also happy.  I can even say that I was emotional to hear him speak of God and God's love, and maybe it was the emotion of his faith journey that made this song very poignant, but then I started to reflection the Gospel for this Thanksgiving.  (Gospel Here) What really struck me about the song and the Gospel passage, is how much my own journey was like that of the nine, or like that of the prodigal son.  More importantly, I was touched by so many people that I have ministered to who have welcomed me.  People who were turned away or made to feel less because of where they had been along their own journey, or people who had somehow come to believe the false expectations set upon them by society (church, family, god, or whatever)  More and more, I came to see the nine who never returned, not as thankless scoundrels, but as people like me, people who had come to believe that if the love of God was on me, maybe it was a fluke.  Or perhaps, they believed that somehow, they had cheated their way to health, by some miscalculation of our All-Knowing God, I had managed to received God's grace and love.  Kinda like when you get a dollar extra at the store.  But instead of returning it (like I know we all do), they decided to play it safe and take what they could get.  Maybe the inheritance of the prodigal was all he thought he could ever attain and that was satisfactory, even if it was only temporary.  Like those nine, I too came to a point in my faith journey where I wasn't sure how I had managed to be graced, especially when I heard the opposite, but with the grace I perceived to have, I tried to squirrel it away and do what I could.  And this brings me to Thanksgiving.  As I reflected on what it means to give thanks, I had to recognize that giving thanks is also recognizing the love of God that calls me from beyond my sin and confusion.  God's voice is loud and clear and instead of condemning me for trying to hoard what little grace I believe i posses, God continuously beckons me and gives to me even more.  Giving thanks is about recognizing that my thanks is about accepting a love that calls me to be my full self.  A love that invites me to spread the Good News, and a love that allows me to love and be as I have been created.  Not a cowering leper, but a person brought up from the ground, from the dirt of sin, into the joy of Love!  This Thanksgiving, I will celebrate with the Prodigal and the one who was healed and I will accept in humility, the voice of God which says to me (and you) "You are beautiful.  You are loved."  I am beautiful. I am loved.  And so are you.  Be blessed and I pray that you have a Happy Thanksgiving.  As always, I love you.  Fr Rick

16 November 2015

Faithful Witness.

This past Friday, there were a series of attacks that caused a lot of death, damage, pain and anger.  The official death toll, thus far, is 129 and many more are still reportedly in critical condition.  Around the world, countless people are struck by these events and by so many others that have taken place in recent memory.  In the midst of all this, we enter a season of reflection and preparation, a season during which we reflect on the coming of Our Savior.  Hopefully, we also take the time to reflect on what this preparation and Advent means to us in the profound ways.  This being said, I feel that I must address the recent attacks and violence in light of Christ the King.  First and foremost, it is import to remember one thing, in Jesus, God took on flesh.  The Almighty God, took on our condition.  He wasn't heralded by the powerful and mighty, but celebrated by the poor and humble.  That being said, (and I speak from a very profound part of my own journey), I believe that now, more than ever, we Christians are being called upon to love.  More than ever, we are called upon to become that whom we receive in the Eucharist.  We are called upon to take on the Christ-call that is shared with us in our Baptism and through the Sacraments and we are to be love in the world.  I once heard someone say that Christ was the human face of God, and that humans were the active presence of Christ.  (or something like that).  Either way, the message was simple, we can no longer stand around and profess our love for God and then leave church and go on living lives that are not deeply rooted and formed by the same love we just professed.  It is a challenge, and sin does a great job of distracting us, but what does it mean to look beyond some silly red cup or some false piety or patriotism?  Christ is the antithesis of all those things that today present themselves as Christian, and yet we cling to an idea of Jesus that is easily made into a blow-mold and lit up at our convenience.  It is a challenge to be Gospel people, or Sacramental people, but the call to holiness is not one that is easily answered, it takes true effort to be able to become Saints and to stand as witnesses of Him who Himself is THE Faithful Witness.  Yes, the violence may not cease immediately by our efforts in love, but to answer violence with more violence, or even worse, to answer violence with fear, will only continue the seemingly endless cycles of destruction that we have witnessed.  As challenging as this may be, perhaps our call as Christians is not to fight radical Islam, or even to convert more Christians, perhaps our call is to convert ourselves, to walk away from that which most distracts me from love and to refocus on Him who offered Himself for each one of us.  Perhaps our call is not to see how many points we gain by making "new Christians," but to see how much more I can develop my relationship with God.  And perhaps more importantly (and this is especially true for me), our call is to look right next to us and see those who stand with us even as they recognize the special brand of crazy that we may carry.  Perhaps that is the one thing we need to do most, to remind ourselves of the intense love of GOd as we look to our rights and to our lefts, not in fear, but in love, and recognize those friends and family that stand by us and love us, those who in their own way, are the loving presence of God.  Maybe then, as we look into each other's eyes, we can celebrate the coming of God who's love is witnessed not in the grand Christmas displays, but in the hugs and smiles that are shared among friends and family.  In the end, it's not difficult, because as annoying as our crazy uncles may be, the somehow manage to bring joy and love into our lives, even if we can only take it in doses of one day a year.  And so, know that you are beautiful and that you are loved and that together, we will make this world better, one smile at a time.  Peace to you.  Fr Rick

13 November 2015

A Christian at thought

Greetings to you once again, and peace to you.  This entry is coming to you from the recesses of my mind, and as a product of my thought and prayer.  As you may, or may not know, I recently moved back to Midland, Texas.  Thus far, I have been here 12 days, and may I  say, they have certainly been interesting.  On my very first day, as I was waiting to register my car, I was approached by someone who immediately asked me whether or not I should be called Fr. Rick anymore.  To be honest, I was caught off guard, but I responded the best that I could and shared as much of my story as that person was willing to listen.  (Don't worry, I won't bore you with that again.)  That same day, I encountered another person who immediately told me that she thought I had "left."  After assuring her that I was really here, she made awkward small talk and (much to my relief) eventually scurried off.  Yes, she scurried.  I have had other encounters of the sort since my arrival in Midland, and while some people are more political about my situation, others are outright rude or even mean, especially those who are the holiest.  They seem to carry about them a particular kind of bitterness that is more reminiscent of the bitter wine that Jesus drank than the joyful gifts He gives us in the Eucharist.  That train of thought well under way, it then made a stop at a new station that has recently popped up.  The "Starbucks War on Christmas (SWC)" Station.  Or as I like to call it, the "I Don't Like Starbucks but Went There Anyway To See The Famous Red Cups" Station.  The name is a little longer, but well worth the visit.  Either way, I saw the original video (rant) that was put out about the SWC and more than anything, it riled me up, and not for the reasons I expected.  (and here... another caveat)  Since my whole ordeal with the Oblates and their treatment of my priesthood, I have aligned myself with the Old Catholic Confederation of the United States.  It is a part of the Old Catholic Church  and is a ministerial entity in its own rite.  I have chosen to do this because of all things, my call to ministry was never and has never been in question.  This aside, as I was sharing with a friend, my dream of starting some type of ministry here in Midland, I was quickly put down and told to conform to the One True Church.  To the old me, (before the trouble with the Oblates) I would have completely agreed, but I more than anything bear witness to the cruelty that we humans can inflict on each other in the name of God.  If this happened to me, a priest who (I believe) was pretty darn good, what else have the people of God had to endure?
Finally, this brings me back to my original thought, why are we as Christians, so ready to mask our bigotry with Christ?  How is it that Christ has become a marketable creation that can so easily be erased from a corporate holiday gimmick? and Why do we so easily believe that a war is being set against Christians, when it is we who so readily attack and destroy those things that we don't believe fit the context of Christ and His Church? and finally, How is it that we make ourselves out to be martyrs when in reality all we are doing is speaking out about things that we believe we are entitled to or demanding our own comfort?  These questions have all crossed my mind, and while there are only answers that I can provide and accept for myself, I believe they are questions that we must ask.  Why not be open to the will of God as it is made real in my life, as opposed to limiting God by placing God in a box of my own creation?  Why not expand my call to love so that it fits that of Christ? and most importantly, Why not allow myself to love me as God loves me?  This last one is perhaps the most important limitation that we so easily place on ourselves, and as I have come to believe, we are so ready to hate and make things difficult for others, because we have no love for ourselves.  If there is anything I learned this past year, it was to love myself.  To accept myself as I am and to recognize that God's love is out poured upon me not matter what, and as for those extra pounds, more room for God's love!   So it all comes to this, perhaps instead of worrying about a War on Christmas, maybe we should worry about the wars we wage upon ourselves.  Instead of making noise about whether or not Starbucks places snowflakes on their cups (not a Christian symbol) we should make noise about the love of God as it is gifted to me, and to you, and to every single person.  Instead of complaining about "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas," maybe we should recognize the inherent beauty that is bestowed on us by God and say "You are beautiful." and "You are loved."  Maybe, (and yes, this is very idealistic) then we can begin to shift the negative feelings around this time to feelings of true joy and peace as we recognize that each of us, whether Christian or not, straight or gay, fat or skinny, is truly BEAUTIFUL and truly LOVED by God who sees not our weight, but our hearts.  Thank you for allowing me this reflection.  Be at peace and be happy, because you are beautiful, and you are loved.  Fr. Rick