Okay, He’s Risen. Now what?

I look around our home and see that the Easter decorations have been stored away. Gone are the pink bunnies, the baskets with green plastic grass and the Lenten reminders to do this, abstain from that, and pray thus. God is risen and we’re moving on. Moving on to do what?

This in some ways is my favorite time of year, because the daily scripture readings come from the early chapters of The Acts of the Apostles. If you want to be inspired by early Christians, read that book! Immediately following Pentecost, Peter, James, John and the rest of the 12 started preaching and healing. Unlike during Christ’s passion, the Apostles were fearless. They knew that Jesus had risen, and that knowledge, coupled with a double dose of the Holy Spirit, put them beyond fear of anything the authorities could do to them. The apostles were repeatedly threatened, arrested, beaten and jailed. Through it all they laughed, prayed, and told everyone the Good News. More than their words, their courage and spirit built the Church that has thrived for two thousand, one hundred seventeen years and counting.

I got to thinking about that yesterday when I came across something Pope Francis had said. In a homily from a couple years ago, the Pope was talking about St. James comment that “Faith without works is dead.” The Pope said a person can have a great knowledge of scripture and theology, but if that knowledge wasn’t put into practice, it was worthless. “A faith that doesn’t get you involved isn’t faith,” he said. “It’s words and nothing more than words.” Faith, according to Francis, always leads to action. It can’t help itself.

That’s how I see the actions of the Apostles in the early days of Christianity. Peter stood up to the Jewish authorities not because he had somehow found the courage to do so. Rather, Peter couldn’t have done anything else. He could not have stopped talking about the tremendous news of Christ. Have you ever known something that was so awesome that you couldn’t wait to tell your spouse or your  friends? It’s like that, times ten. Peter was so filled with the Holy Spirit that his teeth would have burst if he tried not to speak.

For many, many years I tried to get my Christianity out of books. I love to read and study, and there have been lots of authors who inspired me. But what really lit my fuse was a men’s retreat. Spending time with a small group of men in prayer, study and sharing lifted me up in ways that can’t be described. The Holy Spirit blew through that church basement, lighting fires in hearts right and left, including mine. This, I thought, is what the earliest Christians must have experienced. Living in small clusters, sharing ideas, experiences and insights. Holding one another up and building one another up.

The Catholic Church is many, many things. It is God’s visible place on Earth. It has thousands of years of wisdom of saints and saintly people. It has a rich and long history.  But the true “catholic” Church is you and I. It’s the network of human beings, all connected to each other and to Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The life of the church lies in our interactions with one another, not with the books and the history. Those are important guides, but they are only guides. Guides to our real work, which is to love God and one another.

Easter is over. Christ is risen. The Holy Spirit has come. Let’s get to work.

Want world peace? Try this.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told us that, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the second-greatest commandment, second only to “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Everything Jesus taught and (according to Jesus himself) everything in the scriptures are based on these commandments. Everything.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “a society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow individuals to obtain what is their due.” Furthermore, the Church recognizes that the rights of the individual come before those of society and must be respected by society in order for that society to maintain any moral legitimacy. A government that is not built upon the foundation of this golden rule is a government doomed to failure.

And what is our individual role beneath the umbrella of social justice? We are each called to look upon our neighbor (with NO exception) as “another self,” entitled to the means of living life with dignity. It is our obligation to live our lives in community with our neighbors; we are obligated to see to one another’s needs. The Church refers to this as “Solidarity,” and points out that social, economic, political and even international problems cannot be resolved in any way except by practicing the principles of solidarity.

I had known all of this, in one form or another, for my whole life. Being told that God wants us to love our neighbor is hardly a revelation. But what strikes me for its simplicity and depth is the Church’s contention that all of the world’s problems could be resolved by these words alone. And furthermore, none of the world’s problems will be resolved without them.

There’s a tendency in the world today to separate faith from society. To live out our religion within the four walls of our churches and our homes. To leave our Catholicism at home when we head off to work. But when we do that we are leaving our most important tools behind. The principles of Christian charity are just as essential in our work lives as they are in our home lives. And right now, couldn’t our world use a lot more “love your neighbor”?

Have you hugged a Samaritan today?

Sunday’s Gospel is the story of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The story, like all good Bible stories, makes a number of really good points about the sort of world God wants from us. The point that struck me this time is how bold Jesus was, talking to a woman who belonged to a tribe the Jews hated. The Jews wouldn’t take anything from Samaritans, and here Jesus was, asking for a cup of water. Jesus even accepts their invitation to..ewww…stay with the Samaritans for a couple of days.

Samaritans were among the early Israelites, but split from the Jews hundreds of years before Jesus arrived on the scene. Along the way there were religious disputes; political and territorial disputes, battles, etc. Once we decide to dislike a group of our brothers and sisters, it doesn’t take long for us humans to come up with all sorts of ways to make the rift permanent. Sound familiar?

The lesson is clear. Jesus has no use for the worldly things that separate God’s children. He wants us to reach across human-created barriers, whether religious, ethnic, political (yes, political) or economic. And that’s the point. Who is your Samaritan? Is it the people who voted for Trump? Or Hillary? Is it the well-meaning 7th Day Adventist who dropped off a seven page anti-Catholic screed in an attempt to save your soul? Immigrants? The rich? The poor? We all have Samaritans in our life; a family or group of people who look different or espouse something that we disagree with and so we avoid them. That’s not Jesus’ way.

Our Father created each and every person on the planet, including you and your Uncle Ralphie who talks too loudly about politics. God loves you and Uncle Ralphie equally, and His desire is that we love one another so we can help one another reach the Kingdom of Heaven. Let’s think about that in our hyper-politically-divided America. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be so hard to share a cup of water with a Democrat. Or a Republican. Or a Lutheran. Jesus did.

Be God’s Greeter

There’s a very large chain store that for many years hired people to do nothing more than say good morning as you walked in. Their mission was to start the shopping part of your day on a positive note. I am told that the position of “greeter” is no longer being offered. That’s too bad. I don’t begrudge any store their business decisions, and undoubtedly, paying someone to offer up nothing of substance other than a cheery face and a few words of welcome is hardly the most efficient use of human capital. But, from a human perspective, I think Greeter should be the essential job in any corporation.

We all need greeting. We all need to be recognized and made to feel welcome just because we are human. Just because we are here in this place right now. Just because God said we are supposed to love one another, and with most people, smiling and saying hello is about all the loving you’re going to be able to give them.
Greeting isn’t a marriage proposal or a challenge to Repent, for the end is near! Greeting is a sidewalk form of love. It’s one basic way humans can reassure one another that the world is not quite controlled by evil. Like a gang sign or the password of a secret society, greeting is our way of giving our co-conspirators a wink and a nod that says, “Yes, Jesus is still here, and he still loves you…and I’m here for you too.” Greeting is our daily dose of anti-aloneness medicine.

God has long-recognized the vital role that greeting plays in life. Saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta told the women of her religious order, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness.” In a book for recovering alcoholics published by the Hazelden Corporation, the thought for February 24 says, “Take all who come to you as sent by God and give them a royal welcome.”

So, I greet you. Good morning! I hope you have a wonderful day. I really do.

King David and the first parish festival

After much study and research, I have discovered the historic roots of the first parish festival. It was King David’s idea!

This morning’s first reading is from Chapter 6 of the Second Book of Samuel. King David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city, and that was a cause for a huge party. First, David was so overcome with joy that he “danced with abandon.” There was lots of music and noise, which I am sure seems very familiar to the people who live near our church. Sorry, but apparently we children of God have a long history of partying. We’ll try to keep the noise respectable.

After the Ark had been put in its new home, David, wearing an apron, served up roast meat, a loaf of bread and a raisin cake (sounds like a scone…mmmmm) to “the entire multitude of Israel.” No word about the parish raffle or the dunk tank. I’m sure the scripture writers just forgot those parts of the story, or maybe they only had one sheet of parchment left.

All in all, it was a party for the history books. And the reason for it? Oh, yes, they were celebrating the presence of God in their community.

Amen, people of Israel.