This weekend all of the Boy Scouts in the Kansas City area got together to have a campout celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts. It was wet and muddy and I had Mass in the middle of it. It was the kind of campout that brings out the true scouts amongst the mere wimps. You see, scouts aren’t afraid to get dirty. Any normal person would be happy to sleep inside on a nice soft bed and wake up to TV and a microwave for breakfast. Scouts are not such people. We like it hard. The harder the better. Scouts like a challenge because it brings out the best in us.
Our Gospel reading today speaks of a man who was afraid to get dirty. He sat around in purple garments eating off fine linen and probably never had a challenge in his life. Meanwhile a beggar named Lazarus was literally right at his door. To the rich man Lazarus was dirty and inconvenient.
Do we sometimes miss Lazarus right at our door because we don’t want to “get dirty?” Are we too stuck in our “comfort zone” to accept the challenge to go out of our way to help someone? Today’s Gospel is a warning to us. Let us listen to Moses and the prophets. Let’s not be afraid of the challenge of loving our brothers and sisters in need, and let’s not be afraid to get a little dirty if that’s what it takes.
The 2nd reading today gives us two very important statements. On the one hand, St. Paul tells us that God wishes “that all men be saved.” On the other hand, we are told that “there is one God and one mediator…Jesus Christ.” In a society filled with all kinds of religious beliefs, these statements might seem to be at odds. If there is no salvation apart from Jesus, how can “all men be saved” without Jesus?
First, we have to realize that not all will be saved. It is true that Jesus died for everyone, but not all will accept him. We can sometimes think of our Catholic faith as no more than “one road among many” all leading to the same place, namely heaven. This is actually a heresy known as “indifferentism.” This heresy teaches that it doesn’t really make a difference what religious faith you practice so long as you do it faithfully. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our Catholic faith is special. Jesus Christ died for our sins because we really needed to be saved that we might go to heaven. Jesus died that he might give us the Church, his bride. He wanted us to have the Eucharist, the Sacraments, and the fullness of the faith. To say that it doesn’t matter whether you’re Catholic or not is to say that Jesus died for us, but it wasn’t necessary and doesn’t really matter because everyone goes to heaven anyway. It’s easy to see why this is a heresy.
But what about all the non-Catholics? The Church teaches that everyone who goes to heaven only does so because of the death of Jesus. However, not everyone really knows Jesus. This is why we have to evangelize. Thus, the Church also teaches that those who “through no fault of their own” do not know Jesus or his Church can also be saved. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but it is possible.
We should in fact rejoice to be Catholic and want everyone to share in the fullness of the truth. However, the sad reality is that we as Catholics often take our faith for granted. Many Protestants do a whole lot better with what they’ve got. Many Catholics are going to be surprised to see how many good Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and others are in heaven. God does indeed will that all might be saved. Let us resolve to do our best to make sure that we’re in that number when the saints go marching in.
There is a classic scene in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in which King Arthur encounters “The Black Knight.” King Arthur duels with the Black Knight and cuts off his arm, and then his other arm, and then both legs, all the while the Black Knight is minimizing the extent of the damage and continuing to taunt King Arthur. The scene is comical precisely because the Black Knight refuses to admit how bad things really are. While this scene is fictional and funny, the tragic truth is that we see something similar in our own lives.
Think of all the ways in which we are wounded, particularly by sin. We have mortal wounds clinging to our souls. Yet, how often are we like the Black Knight, pretending that things really aren’t all that bad? We’re like the sheep that wanders away from the flock and then, even when the shepherd comes to rescue us, we refuse to go.
The prodigal son in the gospel is our great example. Unlike the Black Knight, the son realizes just how bad things are. He knows that he has sinned, that he is far away from home and that he needs help. This is the most important moment in his life. It is in this moment that he begins to head back home. When he nears his father’s house, the son encounters his father running out to meet him with great joy. This same welcome awaits all of us when we turn back to our Father. So let’s admit today that everything is not “OK.” Let’s get to confession and find our loving Father welcoming us home to the banquet, the banquet of the Eucharist.
Jesus gives us several hard sayings in today’s gospel that make it sound pretty tough to be a disciple. “Hate your father and mother…take up your cross…renounce all your possessions.” In the middle of these sayings he gives us two parables. If you build a tower, you need to make sure you have enough resources. If you go into battle you need to know if you have the strength. Jesus asks us today if we have what it takes to be a disciple.
The truth is that it’s not easy to be a disciple of Jesus. We like to think that everyone goes to heaven and that we can kind of just go with the flow and be alright. Jesus has something else in mind. Every athlete knows that if you want to win that you’ve got to work hard. There are no trophies given out just for showing up. Shouldn’t we expect that the prize of eternal salvation would require at least the amount of effort we put into an athletic competition?
The good news is that we don’t do this all by ourselves. We do have the resources to finish; we do have the strength to fight because Jesus fights with us. Let us resolve to do our part and not treat our faith as cheap. Let us fight hard to win the heavenly crown. It’s worth the cost.
Since I got my pilot’s license a little over a year ago I have been flying down to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS about once a month. On the third Thursday of every month they have a special morning program called Coffee at the Cosmo that includes a lecture and sometimes an exhibition of rarely seen artifacts. This past week the Hutchinson News came out to interview me and did a very nice story as well as a video. The Associated Press picked up the article and it ran in newspapers across the country. Now when I go out in Topeka people stop me and say “Hey, you’re that flying priest!” The original article is here and the video is embedded below or linked here. Thanks to Kristen for a great article and a chance to make a little “commercial” for God.
We tend not to like discipline. It brings up unhappy memories of being punished for breaking the rules. Yet, our 2nd reading today tells us not to begrudge the discipline of God. Rather we should be thankful that we have a loving father that corrects our mistakes. God knows that the only way we can grow in holiness is for him to discipline us when we do things that are harmful to ourselves and others.
However, in addition to this discipline that is imposed for doing wrong, there is another kind of discipline. There is the discipline that we might choose to impose on ourselves…self-discipline. Athletes do this all the time in order to get better and grow stronger. The same is true for the spiritual life. If we expect to become spiritually strong then we’ve got to do more than we’re doing.
Jesus tells us plainly in the gospel that we should strive to enter by the narrow gate. Many, he says, are not strong enough. I’m starting a weightlifting program right now in order to make my body stronger. I’ve learned that if all we ever do is lift our own bodies then our muscles get used to this. It’s no big deal. We have to try to lift something that is almost too heavy for us so that our muscles can wake up and realize that they need to get stronger. In the spiritual life we also have to stretch ourselves. Let’s resolve this weekend to add some new exercises for our souls, to stretch ourselves spiritually to lift more than we think we can. Only this way can we hope to have the strength to enter the narrow gate.
The dogma of the Assumption teaches that, at the end or her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken body and soul to heaven. Just as no corruption of sin touched her body in life, so no corruption was allowed to touch her body in death. Christians have always believed this, but it is interesting to note that the dogma was not formally proclaimed by the Church until 1950. Why?
The Marian year of 1950 followed shortly after the end of World War II. Throughout the world we were being confronted with the tragic and shocking pictures coming from those who liberated Hitler’s concentration camps. The newspapers featured picture after picture of dead bodies piled on top of each other. Everywhere you looked there were images of human bodies treated as if they were just trash to be thrown out. The sight, as well as the knowledge of what caused this, left many demoralized and questioning, “Is this all we’re worth?”
In the face of this, Pope Pius XII inquired if perhaps it would be an opportune time to proclaim the dogma of the Assumption and the request was met with overwhelming approval. The fact that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven was set forth as a great affirmation of the goodness of the body. We’re not trash. We are body and soul and both are sacred. Our bodies are holy, temples of the Holy Spirit. The fact that Mary is in heaven, both body and soul, points to what awaits all of us. At the end of our earthly life, our bodies too are meant to be in heaven. Let us find strength and hope from this truth today. Let us treat our bodies as sacred knowing that that we too, body and soul, are meant for eternal glory in heaven.
The 2nd reading this weekend holds up our father Abraham as the great model of faith. Yet what is faith really? We tend to equate faith today with some irrational belief in things that otherwise just don’t make sense. This is not faith at all. The Church has always maintained that faith and reason go together. The things we believe can and should make sense to us. Yet, faith is much more than accepting a bunch of “things.” Fundamentally, faith is the belief in a person.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Abraham had faith because he knew “the one who made the promise was trustworthy.” Ultimately, our faith is a trust in Jesus Christ, a belief in the person of Jesus Christ and his plan for our lives. This is not always easy, but we follow because we trust. In time, things may all make sense and we may come to believe a set of teachings, but at the core of the Christian life is a trust in Jesus. Let us strive to know him and to follow him with our whole hearts.
As a Boy Scout, I like to go camping and particularly I like backpacking. Backpacking provides an interesting challenge in that you simply can’t take all the “stuff” you might want to. You have to leave a lot of stuff behind that might be useful, but ultimately too heavy or just not necessary. Jesus is saying something similar in the Gospel today. Martha seems to get criticized for being “anxious and worried about many things.” It’s not that the things she’s doing aren’t good. It’s just that she’s doing all these “good” things while missing what Jesus calls “the one thing necessary.”
How often do we do this same thing in our lives. We are busy doing “many things” all the while loosing sight of the “one thing” we need most, namely God. Think of how much time we spend on sports, especially our kids. It’s always sad to hear that someone missed Mass because of sports. It’s not that sports are bad, but choosing sports over Mass is missing out on the “one thing” in favor of the “many.” The same is true of all the work that we adults do. Supposedly we work to provide for our families. Yet, how often today do we work so much that we don’t have time for our families. We’ve become busy with many things and lost sight of the one thing that was the point in the first place.
Let us look carefully at our lives and, like good Scouts, do what we like to call a “shakedown.” Let’s take a good look at all the stuff we’re carrying around in our pack and see if maybe we’ve got too much of a good thing in some areas. Doing as many activites as possible is like carrying everything we can in our pack. It just causes you to fall over and lie on the ground unable to move. What are some things in our life that, while good, are getting in the way of the greatest good?
St. Augustine reminds us that, “Our hearts are restless until the rest in you, O lord.” Let’s take some time to put things in balance in our life and find peace for our restless hearts. If we know that God is the “one thing necessary” then we can follow Augustine’s other great advice, “Love God and do what you will.”