Nineteen 3-Pointers in a Row

(Gospel) Seeing is not the same as believing. 

On the dinning room table in front of my nose I saw the halfway decent drawing of the Blessed Virgin I had just finished, but I couldn't accept it - "I can't draw" was my conclusion.

"Coach, let me take this shot!" He replied "Let me see. How many can you make in a row?" The player then made 19 in a row, but coach wasn't convinced; he didn't allow him to shoot 3-pointers during a game.

The first is about faith in ourselves, the second about faith in others.

Today's readings are on another level, because they are about faith in God. Nicodemus in the Gospel, and the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel in the first reading, both SEE the signs that God works through Jesus and the apostles. But some believe and some don't.

We ALL experience signs all the time. But belief remains a free choice.

What "Happy Easter" Means

CHRIST IS RISEN - not he "HAS" risen. 

Even the Sadducees - faithful Jews - were not convinced that there is a life after death. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he was therefore pulling him back from the darkness of nothingness into the light of life. However, they decided, after seeing Jesus' awesome miracle, to kill, not only Jesus, but Lazarus too!!!

Thus Jesus' Resurrection from the dead, the most awesome of miracles, still does not force us to believe. But for those of us who DO believe, his Resurrection is a promise of what we most long for - eternal life, everlasting happiness with the Risen Lord.

And this is what we mean when we say: "Happy Easter!"

Can I Shock Jesus?

By Nathan Miller 

(Gospel) It is one of those shocks that I too yearn for, but seldom experience. 

As a priest I celebrate Mass daily and spend an hour in prayer before doing anything else in the morning. Not infrequently do I post these prayer times asking folks if they've got any special intentions. Praying for others is a beautiful thing to do. But sometimes I still do yearn for that shock...

Jesus wasn't much different - He spent entire nights alone wrapped in his Father's arms alone. The people flocked to him with their diseases so they could touch him and be cured.

Often I wonder if anyone ever came to Jesus and put an arm around him; asked him how he was doing; was worried about whether he had enough to eat; looked him in the eye and said a heartfelt "thank you, Lord".

Kind, but that's not exactly shocking.

I wonder if any husband ever asked Jesus to help him to be more patient with his wife.
I wonder if any young woman ever asked Jesus to help her think well of her neighbor.
I wonder if any pharisee ever asked Jesus to teach him to grow in humility.

Generous, but these aren't exactly shocking either.

It seems we are so quick to ask in prayer for easier lives. We want to be cured. We beg for God to take away everything that makes us cry.

And although so many times Jesus is willing to do this for others, he offered his own life in pain.

Jesus' goal for our lives cannot be found in this life alone. He wants us to be happy eternally. Suffering is often a very necessary path, and yet we beg him to take it away.

I wonder if anyone ever asked Jesus, instead of taking away their illness, to give them the strength to accept their disease. Now that would be shocking. But do you think Jesus would have been pleased?

(Blessings - a song)

Lamb among Wolves

(Gospel) John and Jesus, what a pair!

John spent his entire life preparing for one moment - today's moment - with fasting, prayer, and a rough desert life. But when the moment does come, he shines: "Behold the Lamb of God!" A phrase which reechoes in every Mass that is celebrated around the globe.

I grew up on a farm. Sheep are stupid enough as it is. Now imagine taking a little lamb and sending her out in the midst of a flock of ravenous wolves.

"Go, go! Nice little lamb! You tell 'em about about your good master. They might listen to you." Luke 10:3 "I am sending you out like lambs among wolves."

John got beheaded! Jesus was crucified after being being beaten to bloody shreds. Lambs - among wolves.

When you see that host being raised during Mass, think LAMB AMONG WOLVES.

And that's also you and me - because that is our role as Christians; to be sent out and devoured ... for love of the Lamb who gave his life for us.

When Baby Jesus gives me a Pumpkin for Christmas

Akron, Ohio. Urban neighborhood.
As a family, we were what you might call "city-slickers", but we did have a fairly large backyard garden, after dad burned down the garage. He mixed the ashes with the soil; he said it was good for the crops. That year our pumpkin patch made enough noise that we had to fend off the neighbor kids. We caught one boy with knife in hand searching for the largest orange carvable vegetable shortly before Thanksgiving.

But the harvest season, thank God, didn't last very long. The great majority of time spent in the garden under the hot sun with shovel and hoe was dirty, sweaty and fruitless. So defense season - defending our veggies - was short.

Jerusalem, Palestine. Palace of the King.
Today's Gospel talks about a man in pain. While Jesus is out and about on the loose working miracles, John the Baptist finds himself in a dark dungeon cell. He spent his life preparing for the Messiah. He even sent his own disciples to follow Jesus. He had called him the "Lamb of God." He gave it all, and now he's in need of help, under the lock and key of Herod's prison. Perhaps Jesus has forgotten him? The possibility lurked in the back of John's mind. Maybe he should ask Jesus what the story is...

Avila, Spain. Carmelite monestery.
St. Teresa of Jesus when speaking on prayer, never claimed that we normally experience God through visions or locutions. In fact, the ordinary path for God to make himself present to us involves nothing extraordinary. God reveals his indwelling presence to us by prompting virtuous actions within us. 

This goes totally contrary to our expectations, but supports entirely everything we've ever experienced in the real nitty-gritty of life and prayer. We know God is active within us when we are, for example, prompted to grow in faith, to love others more generously, to be more patient, or to sacrifice more of our leisure for a friend.

No one expects gardening, by the fact of working long and hard with dirty hands and breaking back to get easier. The point of gardening are the vegetables! And even while carrying heavy loads of cucumbers and beans, after a hot and sweaty hour of harvest labor, we do not come to that strange conclusion that our muscles should ache less. Rather we rejoice that we reap the "fruit of the vine" which the Lord, in his kindness, has made grow, surrounded by the "work of our hands."

And when John's disciples arrive, Jesus sends them back to John with a message of fruits; a message of what he is doing: Blind see, lame walk, lepers are cleansed.

Do we not often feel exactly like John? We don't care about Jesus' miracles in the lives of others, as much as we care about being freed from prison. We aren't interested in the fruits of prayer, about virtuous actions being prompted within us, rather we would prefer that our difficulties be taken away, or that our feelings be rewarded with some nice cozy consolation.

If this Christmas you are awaiting freedom or sore-free labor, or fuzzy feelings, then Christmas will leave you sitting sad in your dungeon cell. If you focus rather on the fruits, then you will find your heart filled with joy, when baby Jesus chooses to give you a pumpkin for Christmas.

Search and Rescue Op

(Gospel) The thing about God is, there is enough of him to go around.

Unlike most other things we humans fight over on this planet - territory, gold, money, oil, honor, fame in the music charts, the main roles in the movies, high positions in business and politics - God doesn't need to be broken up in order to be shared by all.

Every other concrete thing, when sought after for its own sake, will cause strife. God alone brings order to this world; he alone is worth being sought after for his own sake.

So there is no reason for you to be jealous that some other lost sheep out there is getting all the attention of the heavenly search and rescue operation. Because God, every time you mess up, does send out the Search and Rescue.

And he does this for every single sheep.

Every single time.

ADVENT: Chocolate Tickets and Traffic Jams

Advent is like a traffic jam.

Do you have rosary beads dangling in your car? Or are those Mardi Gras beads? Can anyone tell the difference when you bang the steering wheel in traffic ... just like everyone else?

Now let's not forget that:

And of course, that the opposite is also true: "You live how you pray." But the good news - or bad news, depends how you look at it - is that our lives and our prayer are also like traffic jams.

Two meanings of Advent:

Old Testament: First of all, Advent reminds us of the entire Old Testament: that long period of waiting for the Messiah to come. But just like it was for Abraham, who was promised a child by God, waiting can be very hard. In fact, Abraham lost faith in God. He decided that Sarah was too old to conceive and he had relations with her slave girl instead. For this he was punished by God, and the covenant bond had to be renewed.

God's plan was that mankind had to wait literally thousands of years before the "fullness of time" arrived. During this time of waiting, the people of Israel went through many stages of losing and regaining faith in God's promise; of ups and downs, exiles and returns, of prosperity and depression before baby Jesus was finally laid in the manger.

Christmas seen in this historical context of waiting, is not unlike the day my family arrived to our farmhouse in Wisconsin. We had dreamed and planned for years of moving to the country. As we neared our new home on that last dusty mile, our joy, precisely because of the long years of waiting, was greater, and we were also much better prepared.

Second Coming: Advent also reminds us of that moment when Christ will come again at the end of time. But whereas the first meaning invites us to wait, and while we patiently light our Advent wreaths, week after week, actually already knowing exactly when Christmas will come, the second meaning of Advent points to another certainty in our lives.: that we don't know when Christ will come the next time around. And we are invited to be ready at all times.

None of us like to sit in traffic waiting, but now, whenever I do, I think back to that day I got a chocolate ticket: The officer was dressed elegantly, complete with hat, vest, badge and whistle. He stepped up to the driver's window with an official looking notepad and seriously asked us if we had any chocolate on board.
"Say what?"
He replied: "Yes, if you have any chocolate on board your vehicle, sir?"
We just looked bewildered. Then he proceeded to write us up a "ticket" for the crime of "not having sufficient chocolate aboard."
Then he reached into a pouch, and to our great joy proceeded to supply each passenger with a Ritter Sport bar of chocolate.

When you can't find a job; when your sickness doesn't go away; or when you wait for years, it seems, for an experience of God's presence; when these things happen, when you are forced to wait, think of Abraham, and remind yourself that God is faithful in his time. 

And don't forget the second lesson, to be prepared always for the gifts God does choose to give you, even when it shocks you as much as getting free chocolate while sitting in traffic.

So yes, life and prayer are like traffic jams, because they both have moments of long waiting and moments of spontaneous rejoicing.

And the next time you are in traffic, instead of banging on the steering wheel, pull down those rosary beads and remind yourself of what it means to be Catholic:  that whether God lets you wait for years, or suddenly surprises you with his gifts, that it should all serve one purpose - to prepare your heart to rejoice in full when you meet him definitively in heaven.