24 March 2016

He is Risen!

Readings Here.

Last Wednesday, before the hustle and bustle of the Holy Week ceremonies and liturgies, some of us here at work experienced a chilling reality.  One of the guys who has been with the company for many years, and who has been a faithful, responsible and always on-time worker, didn't show up.  He didn't call in, he wasn't answering his phone and there seemed to be no signs of his presence at his trailer, which is on the property of our company.  After a little while, the director of employees began to be worried, and eventually, the decision was made to break into this employee's trailer home.  First, an outside window was removed, then another employee was helped in.  The main door to the trailer was unlocked and then three men approached the only room in the house that hadn't been checked.  After having to break the door down, sure enough, our employee was found in his bed, cold and still, but not dead.  He was unresponsive but clearly gasping for air or at least making some noise that resembled a gasp.  Within a few minutes, I called 911 and after what seemed like an eternity (less than 5 minutes), the ambulance and fire truck arrived.  Almost without having to go into the trailer, the fire team recognized a distinct smell of some type of gas.  As it turned out, the house was full of carbon monoxide, 363 parts per million (an evacuation is often ordered after 35 parts per million.)  Needless to say, the situation was serious and within a few minutes of arriving, our employee was rushed to the hospital where he would later be flown to Oklahoma City for more intense treatment.  To everyone who had seen him, and even to the emergency response team, this person was either close to death, or the future victim of sever brain damage.  Needless to say, we were all shaken up and saddened by this event, but life must go on, and we continued with our day.  We spoke in whispers of the fate that must surely await this person and sadly prepared for funerals and difficult moments ahead.  My brother saw the helicopter that was used to take this employee to OK City and all sorts of people tried to find out information on him, but more than anything, we all sat in the awkward knowledge that death was close at hand.  This was on Wednesday.

On Friday afternoon, after a full week of work and everything else, as I was driving home, I got a phone call.  Because of the caller, I was almost certain as to what the call would be about.  Our employee was dead.  With an ignorant resignation as to what I was about to hear, the voice on the other end was high pitched and surprised: "Guess who's coming back to work on Monday?"  Awestruck, I thought of mentioning anyone else's name but our employee, but it was clear that he was the subject of the call.  Sure enough, beyond everyone's understanding, he had made a full recovery, and while he still had some recuperation to go through, he was back as if nothing had ever happened.  He came to our office and thanked us for saving his life, and life as we know it went on.

Needless to say, this was an experience unlike anything I have ever lived, sure, I have seen miracles happen, and yes, I have seen the wonders of God at work, but this struck particularly close.  I had seen him, we all had seen him close to death, farther gone from this world than anyone of us cared to recognize, even the emergency response team.  We had all written him off as another casualty of life, and believed him to be nothing more now than a memory, but that was not to be, he is back and working as if nothing had ever happened.

Now I know this is not a resurrection moment, but there is something to be said about the miraculous event that took place.  Just when the tomb seemed a certain reality for this worker, he proved to be more resilient than anyone expected.  Just as we believed that he had become another part of our history, he made an impact by his return.  But what most impacted me, was the possibility that this man's recuperation was no coincidence.  First of all, he is a man of faith.  I first discovered this when I celebrated mass at his parish.  I remember being surprised by his devotion, but also pleasantly encouraged.  He had shown that his relationship with God was strong and while he himself was not perfect, he knew Christ and communed regularly with God.  Secondly, the fact that everyone had believed him to be beyond hope, and that he proved everyone wrong, has become a sign to me of God's love which surpasses all understanding.

And this all brings me to the Resurrection.  I wasn't there, but throughout my own life, I have witnessed glimpses of the Resurrection, primarily in those moments when God's love became obvious through the unexpected.  Just when I though I had it all figured out, or when I had thought that something was beyond hope, I realized the power of God's love as it is manifested in CHrist.  Almost as if to say "Nope, let me handle this,"  God has taken control of things where I was limited.  And that is what God does, just where we think we know the outcome of a situation, God is waiting to surprise us.  Just when we think that the tomb is sealed forever, we come to realize that in the love of God, there is life and that Life calls us from beyond the grave.  That is the most powerful thing for me, the fact that God's love reaches beyond our limits and inspires us to love!  I cannot say that I am perfect or perfectly attuned to what God is doing in my life, but that isn't necssary.  What is important is that we remain open to the movements of God's Spirit in our lives so that when we are faced with the grave, or a critically sick person, we too may know that life is just beyond, in Christ.  He is truly the Resurrection and the Life, and I will choose to follow Him and love Him!
As always, remember that you are beautiful and that you are loved.  Blessed Easter and Alleluia to you!  Fr. Rick

09 March 2016

Has no one else condemned you?

The Readings

There is an old joke that I have often heard, and maybe, you have too.  In the joke, Jesus tells the crowd: "Whoever has no sin, cast the first stone."  All of a sudden, from the back of the crowd, a stone flies and hits the woman caught in adultery.  Then, Jesus turns to the crowd and says: "Mom, I told you not to come to these things!"  One can only assume what happens next, and I don't believe it went very well for the woman caught in adultery.  
I've always had a problem with this joke for two main reasons.  First, it attributes murderous qualities to Mary, the Mother of God.  I can't imagine her having picked up a stone for those reasons, let alone having thrown it at the poor woman caught in adultery.  My second reason for disliking this joke is that in some ways, it speaks to our own disbelief in God's mercy.  I think that in some ways, it speaks to a profound incredulity for being forgiven for being pardoned, for being made into a new creation.  It is far easier that the woman caught in adultery was made to pay than to believe that she was given a free pass to go and live her life.  I believe that the joke speaks to a fear that we may have, primarily, that if God only knew me or my sins, I would be WAAAAAAAY beyond God's mercy.  We become captives to sin and the results of sin and believe ourselves to be placed outside of God's mercy, we believe that Mary does indeed throw that rock at us, because God will throw us out too!  NOT TRUE!  Instead of throwing us out, or getting rid of us, God's love reaches out, and even then we find it difficult to believe.  We find excuses and reasons to seemingly limit God's mercy, but God's mercy is not limited by our weak ability.  Instead, God's mercy reaches to us and changes us, it calls us from beyond our graves and fills us with the grace to be authentic.  As we come to recognize this, we then start to have some compassion for the woman caught in adultery, not because we save her, but because we too walk away, because we too are not condemned, because we too discover the love of God at work in our lives.  As this happens in our lives, we then start to realize what St. Paul meant by his words, "I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"  We become people who are changed by God's grace and who are enriched by the ever present call to be ourselves and the joke we once told, becomes a poor distraction from those things that really matter, God's love, God's mercy, and God's joy! So we turn to God and humbly implore God's mercy be out-poured upon us.  And as we do so, we celebrate the joy of God's love, a love that took on flesh and has redeemed you and me!  As always, know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  Blessed Lent.  Fr. Rick

03 March 2016

A New Creation

The Readings Here

In all the time that I have served as a priest, I have had the unique privilege of ministering to a great variety of people in many situations and places.  Of all the prayer and rites that I have ever celebrated, there is one that is seemingly simple, and yet as profound as the words of consecration.  That is the prayer that is offered up at the absolution of a penitent.  God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
These words were always so sacred to me and meant to be said with the greatest of respect and dignity.  I often uttered them with a sense of humility and awe as I considered the impact of these words in the lives of the penitent and my own.
As I reflected on the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, or Laetare Sunday, (Rose Sunday, not pink,) and as I sat with the Prodigal family, I thought of the second reading from the Second letter to the Corinthians.  In this brief reading, we see the entirety of the Gospel parable and its meaning, and to a certain extent, we see the absolution prayer come alive!  In this beautiful reading, we are reminded of the great gift we have each individually received and continue to receive in Christ.  We are reminded of God's constant and abundant love and how it is perpetually transforming us into a new creation even when we're pretty good at doing those things that can so easily lead us away from love.
In the second letter to the Corinthians, we are reminded that everything is made new by Christ who is blameless and yet took on our sin.  We are looked upon as God's beloved children and we are dressed in the finest robes, with rings upon our fingers and sandals on our feet.  We are made a new creation in God's love and we are transformed.  This does not mean that we become perfect and without blemish, by no means, rather, it presents to us the invitation to an ever growing relationship with God.  This invite though, is contrasted by the seeming hostility of the older brother, and quite frankly, it is an emotion that can become too easy to take on as my own.  As St. Paul warns in another letter of his, it can become too easy to allow sin to cloud our vision.  It is too easy to become cynical or skeptical of God's authentic and true intentions.  We can too easily fool ourselves into believing that we are too far gone, or not worthy and we can believe ourselves to leave God behind since we are beyond hope.  The truth is, however, that God's mercy and love are extended to each of us not matter where we are, who we are, or where we have been.  Even when we believe that we are too far away from God's love, God is right there, ready to transform us.  It's really up to us at that point to recognize that love.  It is especially when we become distant that God's love comes closer, not because God wants to impose the divine upon us, but because the divine is always only ever a prayer away.  To me, this is the most amazing thing about God's love, that I am made new every time I turn toward God.  I am made whole, as I come to Christ, and I am made a part of the body of Christ, every time I partake of the Sacraments.  I am changed and made more into the person God sees in me.  I, yes me, am made new in God's love, and so are you, and it is very good.  Because just as God smiled at seeing Adam and Eve take their first breath, God rejoices in seeing you and me come alive in Christ, and we are joyful, because we are redeemed!
As always, be blessed and know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  I love you.  Fr. Rick

P.S.  It is ROSE, not pink!