Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24, 2016
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity
(Just as a matter of note and because I feel we need to keep a vigil of prayer going for our nation especially, but also for the world. We had 218 shooting deaths this week in the United states. 3 of them law officers in Baton Rouge. And the multiple terrorist and war deaths that continues to escalate throughout the world which included Brussels. Let us keep our lost brothers and sisters in our thoughts and prayers and may their souls find rest eternal.)
How can we stay spiritually fresh and alive and plugged into the power of the Spirit?
We rely on being able to do some things automatically, without thinking our way through them. Some things -- like tying our shoelaces, walking or riding a bike -- are the result of skills we have learned so well that our bodies perform them without fail. Other things -- like brushing our teeth or putting on the seat belt -- are habits that many of us have developed so fully that we no longer realize we are doing them. 

But in other parts of our lives, we don't want to be on automatic pilot or to rely on programmed skills or habits to get us through. In some situations, we need to give our full attention and demand that same degree of attention from others. Spouses can quickly tell the difference between an automatic, "I love you," and a heartfelt expression of genuine love. Our kids can tell the difference between an automatic, "What did you do at school today?" and a parent's honest, authentic interest in the events in their lives. Friends can tell the difference between an automatic, "How are you?" and the compassionate reaching out of one soul to another.

It is amazing and amusing how we have convinced ourselves that God hasn't yet caught on to the difference between our expressions of genuine spirituality and our automatic, rote readings of the "Lord's Prayer." How many times have you recited the "Lord's Prayer" known in by Catholics as the “Our Father” in worship, at weddings, at funerals, with your mind and your spirit on full automatic? The words are so familiar that we can be on "cruise control" for the entire prayer. Kind of how I tease when we prayer the Rosary prior to Mass and we have gone too fast in my mind. Have we actually prayed it, or have we merely raced thru it to get it done? If we are honest with ourselves – myself included – we sometimes merely race thru it.

For too many people, in too many situations, the "Our Father" has become little more than a meaningless mantra, or even worse, a kind of "good luck" saying. One Christian recalls this tendency in an amusing story

The High School football team used to recite it every Friday night, right before we'd go out to play, the whole team would gather around in one moment of sanity, as together we said "The Lord's Prayer" and ended it with "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." Then two or three seconds later, we'd all scream, "Let's kill 'em!"
The tragedy of that story is that it demonstrates how the very prayer Jesus gave us to keep us spiritually alive and alert, and not tied to praying simply "vain repetitions," we have managed to turn into the biggest vain repetition of all.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen tells of a woman who expressed her disfavor of becoming a Catholic because, in prayer, we say the same words over and over, and she believed anyone who is so repetitive isn’t sincere.
She came to me and said, "I would never become a Catholic. You say the same words in the Rosary over and over again, and anyone who repeats the same words is never sincere. I would never believe anyone who repeated his words and neither would God."

I asked her who the man was with her. She said he was her fiancé. I asked: "Does he love you?" "Certainly, he does," "But how do you know?" "He told me." "What did he say?"

"He said 'I love you.'"

"When did he tell you last?"

"About an hour ago."

"Did he tell you before?"

"Yes, last night."

"What did he say?"

"I love you."

"But never before?"

"He tells me every night."

I said: "Do not believe him. He is repeating; he is not sincere."
Today's lectionary texts, Luke and Colossians, go well together. They both talk about staying in the fullness and freshness of the Spirit. Jesus promised us that we could stay fresh and alive and plugged into the power of the Spirit. "Ask," He insisted, "and you will receive" -- not just some of us, not just those with special gifts, but "everyone." 

In fact, Jesus gave his disciples their own prayer so that they might live a "wired" life -- being "wired in" to the Spirit. The "Our Father" was never intended to be a creed or a catechism, repeated exactly the same by all Christians at every stage of their lives. The "Lord's Prayer" is only a template, a blueprint, showing us how we can gain access to the power and love and grace God offers to us daily. Essentially, Jesus says, all we have to do is ask.

Admittedly, there is something compelling and comforting about a mantra. There are, and need to be, mantra prayers. Consider the quieting peace that comes from repeatedly reciting the "Kyrie", or in the English form -- "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." To stay vitally connected to the Spirit, however, we must expand our understanding of a "mantra" and view it as the repetition of certain practices, attitudes and relationships, instead of just the recitation of words alone.

A Christian mantra, empowered by the spirit of the "Our Father," has at least three components or possibilities that we might take up in our daily life

Daily Scripture reading. This does not mean books of scholarship about Scripture, or study guides and manuals for investigating Scripture, though these are key growth-agents in the life of faith. But prior to that is the ability simply to understand the Word through repeated readings of the Bible. There are a few good study bibles out there that can help you while reading. 

The men and women of the Old and New Testaments should not be strangers to us. They are our family. We are related to them in the faith. Daily readings soaked in the stories of our tradition will make for a stronger, fuller, richer faith. We can only remain spiritually "fresh" by conscientiously feeding and watering the roots of our faith. Scripture remains a miraculous gift of God because despite its antiquity, its misuse by the church, its abuse by its doubters and its overuse by literalists, it still speaks a fresh word from God to us every day. I don’t miss a day without it, and if I do, everything about the day seems off or wrong.

Then there is daily prayer. The "Our Father" was not intended as a "daily prayer." It only points to the fact that God the Father wants to hear from us every day. Jesus counseled his disciples to be persistent in prayer, to the point of peskiness. 

Four-year-old Thane likes to get up at 5 a.m. every day -- weekends, holidays, winter, and summer. He immediately climbs into bed with his parents and parlays a series of specific requests: a pop tart, orange juice and a video. Every morning, they groan sleepily and tell him to go back to bed because it is just too early. Every morning, he prevails -- not because they love him, not because he is a joyful child, not even because they want him to be happy. They give in because they want him to go away! His persistence pays off. Not that God will give in and give us what is not good for us necessarily, but you get the point. (Sometimes he will, however, merely so we can learn from it.)
Likewise, Jesus encourages his disciples to go continually into God's presence in prayer. But God, unlike human parents, delights in our clamoring’s in prayer all hours of the day and night. He doesn’t want us to go away; He wants us to keep coming to him!

We also should daily relationship with others. Reading the Word and praying to God are faith mantras we must exercise on our own, but we must also read and pray, praise and question, in small groups. We need that communal, cellular contact with faith every day of our lives. 

Part of our spiritual freshness depends on opening up our hearts and spirits to the sounds and sights of other Christians. We need to be involved in cell groups, where the members are spiritually connected to one another. In some areas of the country and various church groupsprayer meetings are coming back into popularity again -- and yes, prayer groups among the faithful on the "Internet" do count, at least they do for those of you who want to be a closeted prayer group person!

All Christians struggling to keep their faith fresh and vital develop favorite ways, personal mantras, which aid and sustain them in that task. They might employ techniques as ancient and honorable as fasting, or they might involve something as trendy as "Christian aerobics." 
We all need to stay spiritually fresh. If you do not believe me, I ask you to take a challenge. Set aside two days. One day get up as normal and go through your day without any actual formal prayer. No set ritual or anything. No biblical readings; nothing, squat, nada! Make a mental note of how your day turns out. Then on the second day, set aside time at the beginning of your day to read a passage of scripture, or use a formal prayer book or some written prayers of some sort. Or maybe simply sit quietly for about 10 minutes or so and talk to God. Mention what matters to you, your concerns, your joys and your hopes for the day. Watch how that day goes for you. Even if you hit a road bump during the second day, you will find the day still went far better than the previous day – far more bearable, peaceful even!
Like a car without an alternator, the battery will eventually give out. Living organisms without physical food eventually dieWhen we distance ourselves from the source of our creation; the source of our power, we eventually die in spirit and soul and simply take up space on the planet. We become nothing more than a callous human being living out his or her time. We cannot live without food, water or air. We cannot live without God either.
Take my challenge. Include the “Our Father” each day. Concentrate on the words and what they mean. Then watch your days get brighter!
Let us pray.
Father God, when we are honest about it, we do not pray to You as often as we should – some us only on Sundays. Help us to seek You out more each day. Little by little, until we see the impact it has on our lives and our spiritual wellbeing. 
Dear Lord, we ask You today to fill us with Your love and Spirit in ways that will touch each of us here. Help us to feel Your presence and grace in such a way that it will draw us too You more strongly than any recreational drug or habit. Let everyone feel You and the awesome peace, calm and happiness that comes from being in Your presence.
Impact our prayer lives today, Dear Lord, that we may walk henceforth in continual prayer and mantras in Your presence, now and each day of our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

July 10, 2016
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity

A farm boy accidentally overturned his wagonload of wheat on the road. The farmer who lived nearby came to investigate.

“Hey, Willis,” he called out, “forget your troubles for a while and come and have dinner with us. Then I’ll help you overturn the wagon.”

“That’s very nice of you,” Willis answered, “but I don't think Dad would like me to.”

“Aw, come on, son!” the farmer insisted.

“Well, okay,” the boy finally agreed, “but Dad won’t like it.”

After a hearty dinner, Willis thanked the host. “I feel a lot better now, but I know Dad’s going to be real upset.”

“Don’t be silly!” said the neighbor. “By the way, where is he?”

“Under the wagon,” replied Willis.

Willis and the Good Samaritan farmer lived in a different era than we do today. While we all want to be good neighbors, the meaning of “neighborliness” has changed as the culture has changed from community to cocooning, from country to city, from slow food to fast food, from the dining room to the game room.

People don’t drop by or drop in like they used to — and, what’s more, we don’t want them to!

That’s not true everywhere. Take Deer Isle, off the rural coast in Downeast Maine, for example. It’s still expected that neighbors give the time necessary whenever an unexpected visitor drops by a home, or stops to talk at the post office, or visits in the aisles of The Galley grocer.

It’s part of the island charm, but it’s also necessary to survival there. Social visiting is how island news travels. It’s faster by mouth than it is by the island’s weekly newspaper. Visiting is how islanders find out “right quick” whose house burned down, or whose boat sunk in the last blow; and it’s how islanders always find out a way to help. In places like that — where it’s hard to get to and tougher to get off — neighbors must help neighbors.

Even the non-church-goers believe it’s their Christian duty to give help unto others, as you would have them give help unto you. They say, “What goes around, comes around.” And “It don’t mattah if it’s your enemy in trouble. You help, anyways.” So, there’s often a fund-raiser potluck for the child with cancer, or a church “chowdah suppah” for the mission project in Belize, or an island-wide house-raising party for the family without enough insurance who got burned out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a native islander of 13 generations, or a newcomer or a stranger. Everybody pitches in; everybody visits.

It’s said that a good tide raises everybody’s boats together. All this good neighborliness starts with social calls, and makes for a much stronger sense of community and connectedness.

“Bad manners,” our great-grandparents would have said if we ignored such social conventions. You weren’t supposed to ignore a neighbor. In pre-phone America, dropping by for an unannounced visit was customary. It was how community folks and families stayed in touch. It was the social glue. Visits were expected, and patterns for visitation were formalized: Never arrive before the lunch hour for a “morning visit,” for example; half an hour for a formal visit was sufficient. Formal visitors never removed their coats ... and so forth. Homes had public space for social matters, and private space for family matters.

All that’s changed. Despite the fact that face time on Facebook or Skype actually makes us happy — an ongoing series of studies has discovered that people with many personal contacts tend to be happier than people with a small number of personal contacts — we consider folks who drop by to be just interruptions in our daily schedule. Most of us don’t like to be interrupted when we are going about our Very Important Tasks. We’ve got things to do, and places to be.

Studies show that in rural towns and in city minority neighborhoods there are places where “stopping by” still exists, and it may even be on the rise. Social calling might be increasing in these places because they’re still working as tight-knit communities toward survival, improvement and change. It takes teamwork, which takes meeting with neighbors face to face. They know that they have to put in face time.

Outside of such time-warped locations, most post moderns don’t bother with actual social calls. Instead, we use technology — IM, TM, cell phones, e-mail.

But, by using our communication devices, we can’t shake a hand, we can’t see into each other’s eyes, we can’t lean on a shovel in the garden, talking over the peas, or in a home kitchen, smelling the coffee brewing, and we can’t hear the conviviality of pleasantly shared silence.

We can’t do that unless we visit ... in person. There’s just something about being with each other, about taking the time to talk, eye to eye, that makes such a God-graced difference in community unity.

That’s exactly what didn’t happen when the temple priest and the Levite traveled on that road to Jericho from Jerusalem when given the chance to help face to face. Instead of taking the time to trouble themselves about the other fellow’s troubles, they gave him a quick glance and a wide berth, and walked on.

Granted, the temple priests were ritually pure and were not permitted to touch a dead body, which is what the priest might be thinking about the man lying in the road. Touching the close-to-dead man would have ruined his day by making him ritually impure, thereby preventing him from going about his Very Important Business for God.

The Levite, on the same journey as the priest, goes in close, viewing the wounded man almost face to face, but he, too, walks on.

We know that the robbed and wounded man was Jewish. So was the priest; likewise, the Levite. This means they were of the same community. It’s like when an American travels in exotic Kazakhstan and meets another American in trouble. It doesn’t matter if he’s a Republican from Montana and you’re a Democrat from Missouri, or that you’ve never met before. What matters is you’re both Americans and he desperately needs help.

But you refuse aid, later to learn that a Shiite Muslim, discovering his plight, opens his heart and his wallet to take care of his emergency.

The priest and the Levite both have the chance to do what needs to be done — but they don’t.

Their misunderstanding of what’s important, of what matters, actually gets in the way of their compassion, their humanity and their faith.

They fail to act. They fail to see. They fail to feel.

They turn their faces away. They don’t just turn the other cheek; they turn their backs to suffering.

The Samaritan stops to assist. He puts in face time. He stops by for a helpful visit. He shows Samaritan behavior that we know should really be “Christian behavior.”

The Samaritan stopped, got off his donkey, and used his own olive oil to pour on the man’s wounds. He used a type of oil that wasn’t cheap, an oil that fueled the Roman Empire. It lit oil lamps and soothed cracked, sore feet. It was the prime commodity, the petroleum of its day.

On top of this, the Samaritan used his own wine as an antiseptic. He lifts his human burden, risking his own back. He pays two days’ wages and offers more, whatever the cost, on his return. All this for a man he doesn’t know; for a man who was, until that moment, not his neighbor.

The question for us is: What do we pour on the wounds of the oppressed, the hungry, the at-risk and the marginalized of our community. Do we offer our time, the kindness of words, the thoughtfulness of right actions, the warmth of an embrace, the generosity of our resources — or do we offer indifference, ignorance, scorn, judgment? Do we pout salt in the wounds, or anoint them with the oil of compassion? Do we add injury to insult? Do we add assault rifle to a Beretta M9?

A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, describing how he was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. She retold the situation in vivid detail so her students could visualize the drama.

Then she asked the class, “If you saw a person lying on the roadside all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?”

A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, “I think I’d throw up!”

We wouldn’t throw up, but we might give up. Being a neighbor in a postmodern culture that stresses anonymity over community, reserve over compassion, me-ism over other-ism, challenges our commitment. It might mean crossing social lines, or cultural divides. It might mean figuring out who is our neighbor by simply sharing 15 minutes across the hedge, or lending a hand to a stranger, or talking at the bus stop to the face you see every day and never acknowledge, or making eye contact on the sidewalk, or in the hallway, or even stopping to save a life.

Imagine what can happen in our church and community if we learn to know our neighbors’ faces and lives, and begin to connect like Samaritans who take the time to help. Imagine what can happen in our world if we start to re-enact this classic story about somebody from outside the neighborhood, from the wrong neighborhood, who willingly drops by and lends assistance.

Imagine that we begin to behave like neighbors. That’s what Jesus is talking about, really. That’s what he is telling us to do.
My neighbor across the street never ever shies from waving to me. He never ever shies from jogging over to tell me if someone stopped by while I was gone. He never ever shies from jogging over to tell me if he saw something he felt suspicious about at the church or my home.

What about us? Although we often say we are willing to help, like good Christians should, we rarely drop by and do anything. Although we often see the need, far too often we don’t make the effort to get off our donkeys, lift up fallen persons, and escort them to safety.

The victims of our world — and there are many — would like us to drop by and stop by.

Anything less is to fail at our mission.
Let us pray.
Father God, in a world with ever increasing violence, You can be the answer we need. You taught us that “While You were still speaking to the people, behold, Your mother and Your brothers stood outside, asking to speak to You. But You replied to the man who told You, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out Your hand toward Your disciples, You said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.
Dear merciful Father, we ask that You fill us with Your mercy; fill us with Your compassion; fill us with Your wisdom; and fill us with Your love such as that of the Good Samaritan. Help us to know violence is not the answer to our difficult world. Hate is not an answer to different faiths, races or lifestyles. Help us to be patient as injustice is resolved in civilized ways and not with the taking of other lives. One wrong does not make another right. One death does not bring back to life another.
Help each of us this day, to take some time quietly in Your presence. Help us to be open to Your Omnipotence and Omnipresence. Help us to open our “sixth” sense to feel Your awesome spiritual presence that we so need to feel that we may calm our troubled hearts and remember that we are all neighbors; we are all Your brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.