Thursday, September 20, 2018

When Luck Isn't Luck

A little boy wanted a taste of molasses from the large barrel by the door of an old-fashioned country store. He slid a box beside the barrel, stepped up on it and leaned over the rim as far as possible, stretching out his finger toward the sweet goo below. He stretched and strained and toppled headfirst into the barrel.

Dripping with molasses, he stood up, lifted his eyes heavenward and was heard to utter, “Lord, help me to make the most of this fantastic opportunity!”
Most of us will never fall into a barrel of opportunity. We won't be awarded a great sum of money (though I am never sure that is in our best interest), we won't be offered a “dream job,” we won't have all of our needs suddenly provided for. We can spend years waiting for opportunity to knock only to find that we wasted precious time wishing for something to happen that never was to be.
Yet some people seem to luck into these things, don't they?  It's as if they were in the right place at the right time and they just fell into it.
But that is not the way it happens. Those people who seize opportunities others seem to miss, find them for one specific reason: they have trained themselves. People who seem more fortunate than the rest of us are those who have taught themselves to look for possibilities in every circumstance and every obstacle.
I think David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, is such a man. Years ago, Boren learned from professional pollsters that he would most likely lose his state gubernatorial race, and lose it big. The professional polling agency he hired reported his strength to be only about two percent of the population.
Many people would quit the moment they receive such news. And in truth, that was his first reaction. Could anything good come out of such a bleak situation?  But he had trained himself to look for opportunities, even when confronting great obstacles. He stayed in the race and approached his campaign in a different way. He told his listeners, “I had a professional poll taken and it shows I’ve got great potential for increasing my support!”
That may sound a good deal better than it is. But he didn't give up and people began to listen to what he had to say. Boren eventually won the election and served as governor of the US state of Oklahoma.
People who spot opportunities may simply be people who have trained themselves to look for the best possible outcome in every situation and act on it. It takes a different way of thinking.
To everyone else it may just look like you're lucky. But you will know better.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Those of us who were born in most “Western” countries have never experienced suffering, rejection, persecution or the threat of death for our faith. And most of us have never experienced exile or occupation, repressive governments and despotic leaders.  So it might be difficult for us to grasp the full impact that Jesus’ announcement in today’s gospel from Mark 8:27-35 had on his disciples.  In this reading Peter makes his astounding profession of faith.  He declares his belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  This is the apex of Mark’s gospel.  But then Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone.  Why?

Although Peter initially got it right, within about five minutes he got it wrong.  Peter, the other disciples and the Jewish people of that time believed that the Messiah was to be a superhero.  He would gather a great army to destroy the wicked gentiles, restore Jerusalem to its glory, make Palestine the center of the world and then establish a time of peace and prosperity.  There was no room for suffering, rejection and death in the Messianic Kingdom.   For Peter and the other disciples this concept was incomprehensible.  The way of the Cross could not be the way of the Messiah.  But as we know now it was and it is.  The disciples were not ready to accept the reality of following Jesus the Christ.  And if they weren’t, neither was the rest of the world.   It was only after the Crucifixion and Resurrection that they could grasp the truth.

What about us? We live in the safety and security of Peachtree City.  We are not persecuted. We can believe whatever we want.  We can disagree with politicians.  We are free to come and go as we please.  Can we comprehend the message of Jesus in Mark’s gospel?  Are we prepared to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus?   Let’s pray that we are not put to the test.

 Many Christians in our world are persecuted.  They are exiled.  They suffer rejection and are killed for their faith.   Christians in China, India, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam are persecuted every day.  They are confronted with the hard reality of the Way of the Cross and yet they continue to follow Jesus knowing and accepting that they will suffer as a result.  These heroic Christians are an inspiration to me.  They are our contemporary martyrs.  If you want to know more about our persecuted brothers and sisters I recommend that you subscribe to an independent Catholic newsletter that covers Asia especially and other parts of the world.  And, as you freely drive around Peachtree City, please say a prayer for people who are persecuted for their faith, no matter where they live.

Lord God, our hope and trust,
you have made us for happiness. 
When we seek it in glorious dreams
of prosperity, success, and freedom from pain
help us to face the truth of real life.
Help us accept the uncertain darkness
of suffering and self-effacement
as the price to pay for light and joy.
Teach us the way of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died of his own free will,
so that we might live and be happy.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Sunday, September 9, 2018

There’s a story about a little fish swimming around the ocean and asks a wise old fish, “Where’s the ocean?” 

The big fish replies, “Well look around you, Little One; you’re in the ocean.” 

“No. No!” says the little fish. “This is just the water. I want to find the ocean.”

Of course the wise old fish goes on to explain that the water is the ocean – everything around the little fish is the ocean. “Little One, the water is the ocean. It brings us life carries us through life; and brings us the oxygen we breathe through our gills; it brings us the nourishment to live. Everything is the ocean!”

The same is true for our faith in God. Everything is the ocean - or in our case, everything is spiritual. We don’t have to go look for it. It’s already here. We don’t have to ask about or talk about the “spiritual part” of our faith. It’s all spiritual. Everything is spiritual

Thursday, September 6, 2018

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today's first reading from Isaiah 35:4-7a, God, speaking though Isaiah, proclaims that He is coming to save us.  And, Isaiah tells us, when God does come extraordinary things will happen, "then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing" (Isaiah 35:5-6).  This is fantastic news.  The event will be so phenomenal that "the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom" (Isaiah 35:1).

So it is ironic that when Jesus arrives in our world and when he performs healing miracles, he often tells people not to talk about it.  In today's gospel, Mark 7: 31 - 37, Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.  He touches the man's ears and tongue and says "’Ephphatha!'  — that is, 'Be opened!'  — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly" (Mark 7:34-35).  Jesus ordered everyone present "not to tell anyone.  But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it" (Mark 7:36).

It seems to me that it would be impossible for the healed man and his friends not to talk about what happened.  Not only did Jesus give the man the gifts of hearing and speech, he gave him the gift of community, he freed the man from isolation, he gave him a new life and he gave him the opportunity to be an active participant in the Kingdom of God.  This is staggering.  If I was that man, I would be shouting from the rooftops, "Look at what Jesus has done for me!"   

God our Father,
you wait for us to be open to you, to people,
and to all that is true, beautiful and good.
Let your Spirit open our ears
to the liberating Word of your Son.
Let him open our hearts and hands
to everyone who needs us.
Let him open our lips,
that we may proclaim everywhere
the marvels you do for us.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The story is told of Morris, a Russian man, who saved his rubles for twenty years to buy a new car. After choosing the model and options he wants, he's not the least bit surprised or even concerned to learn that it will take two years for the new car to be delivered. He thanks the salesman and starts to leave, but as he reaches the door he pauses and turns back to the salesman. "Do you know which week two years from now the new car will arrive?"

The salesman checks his notes and tells the man that it will be two years to the exact week. The man thanks the salesman and starts out again, but upon reaching the door, he turns back again.

"Could you possibly tell me what day of the week two years from now the car will arrive?"

The salesman, mildly annoyed, checks his notes again and says that it will be exactly two years from this week, on Thursday.

Morris thanks the salesman and once again starts to leave. Halfway though the door, he hesitates, turns back, and walks up to the salesman.

"I'm sorry to be so much trouble, but do you know if that will be two years from now on Thursday in the morning, or in the afternoon?"

Visibly irritated, the salesman flips through his papers yet another time and says sharply that it will be in the afternoon, two years from now on Thursday.

"That's a relief!" says Morris. "The plumber is coming that morning!"

We often have to make plans far in advance so as to avoid any conflicts. Before making any commitments -- you know the routine -- we have to pull out the date book (or the iPhone). "The kids have got a soccer game that night at 7pm, but the next night is free." Planning ahead isn't wrong; in fact, it's a scriptural principle. What makes it wrong, though, is planning ahead without any thought of God.

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.' " (James 4:13-15)

Go ahead! Make your plans! Fill in that date book!
Just make sure that God hasn't been left out.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

During the 19th century, Ireland was stricken by a potato famine. During this time, many of the Irish people emigrated to America. A young Irish boy stowed away on an America-bound ship. At seas, the ship struck an iceberg and began to sink. As people scrambled frantically for the lifeboats, the captain supervised the activity and was the last to leave the sinking vessel.

When he looked back at the ship, he saw the young stowaway coming out of hiding.  The brave captain ordered his lifeboat back to the sinking ship. He climbed aboard and rescued the boy, putting him in the seat the captain had vacated - the only available place in the lifeboat. As the lifeboat slowly pulled away from the sinking ship, the captain yelled out to the boy, "Son, never forget what has been done for you today!"

And don’t forget what Jesus did for us: Matthew 27:45-54