Three days before my wedding…I went down to the restaurant where we were holding our reception to check on some items that I had brought down there for safe keeping just a few days ago. Some picture frames of family weddings that we were going to place around the room. A pair of bride and groom stuffed animals–elephants to be precise. And of course no wedding is complete without favors–and so Mike and Marion had M&M’s wrapped in tewel bags as our wedding favors.
All the plans were in place. Things were moving nicely…except when we got to the restaurant the manager asked to speak to Marion and I “in the back.” Anytime someone asks to speak to you “in the back” that’s never a good sign.
And this was no different. Somebody stole our stuffed animals and an expensive picture frame. And the piece-de-resistance the restaurant had stored our M&M’s n a cabinet and that cabinet had been infested by ANTS who found their way into our chocolate treats! And therefore now the restaurant was crawling with ants as well.
What a mess…
My wedding was a mess – Here’s another mess,
Isaiah has been saying that it’s going to be sunshine and rainbows in Jerusalem–but when the people return back from the exile–it’s a mess.
But Isaiah is not going to budge.. and he predicts now that it will be even better than they imagined. He even says that he won’t shut up until the day that Jerusalem will be the crown jewel of God’s kingdom. That God will rejoice over Jerusalem like a groom rejoices in a bride.
And if that isn’t enough we’ve got another mess…They run out of wine at a wedding. It may not be ants in the chocolate–but it’s still a mess. And we all know what kind of messes weddings can turn out to be. Your aunt says something stupid, your uncle gets drunk, your sister is jealous and can’t stand the bridesmaid dress you picked out and is snotty all day.
So in this case…the wine runs out and when the wine runs out…it’s a big problem because the whole wedding is now at risk. One of the families didn’t take care of things. So the whole thing just might be called off. Imagine a broken hearted bride and a family embarrassed. A fight could break out between the two families, an aunt might say something stupid, an uncle might get drunk and a sister might just get fed up because she’s been in that ugly dress for 3 days day and she’s the one who deserves to be getting married anyway. Ugh, what a mess, what a mess, what a mess.
So Mary sees all this and asks Jesus to intervene as she knows that he could. She looks to Jesus and interestingly asks him to perform his first sign not for her, but to help out someone else.
And Jesus’ response “My hour has not yet come” may very well mean “oh so you think you have problems?” Because let’s face it…Jesus knows that this little family squabble is the least of his problems and the least of this couple’s problems. Life is often a mess. Marriage is often a mess. Human experience indeed is messy.
But because Mary asks and more importantly, because Mary has faith in her son, Jesus changes the ordinary water into choice wine. In fact, there is more than enough–at least 120 gallons–the scripture tells us.
So what does this mean for us? Well… life is no less messy today and we need to turn to Jesus and have the faith that He can indeed turn it around. In fact, when you think about it we do this all the time, even unconsciously, because we’re so confident that our lives will be messy that we turn to this church each week and turn not only wine but bread into God’s body and blood so that we might become what it is that we receive. So that when we leave this building, we might experience Jesus working within us–giving us the strength to turn the mess into joy. When we believe that the turning power of Jesus can indeed change the world–well, that’s when the party can start.
Anyone who’s done a mission trip knows exactly what I’m talking about. Because when we are willing to sweat drops of water for others–we become drunk with passion for those we serve. We help others to turn it all around, to be in the mess of their lives, even if for a moment and then become enraptured with concern for those we serve.
And when we experience the “turning power” of God working in the world, we always have more than enough. And we all have more than enough gifts–St Paul tells today that all of our gifts are important–no matter how different they are from one another.
Our gifts are all good enough for God. But we often don’t believe that. And I’m here to tell you that even when you think that you are a mess…that you’re a sinner, or a bad Catholic, or not good enough–that God is telling you that you are choice wine–the overflowing gift of Jesus to the world. You are more than enough. You are more than gifted.
This semester I’d like you to not only believe that you are gifted but also to share that gift with the world–to heal the world of its own mess.
How? One easy way: Haiti.
This week we have heard a lot about Haiti and the earthquake that destroyed an already poor country–in fact, the poorest in the Western hemisphere where 80% of the people live on less than $1/day.
We don’t take up a collection at this mass, but I want to ask if we can be enough for the people of Haiti. Just $1/day, $365/year is often what people live on in this poor country. We usually have more than that to spare. People lived in the garbage dump before the quake hit their country and I shudder to think what a mess their country is in today. Our leaders both political and religious have asked that we take up a special collection for the needs of Haiti tonight. If you have your cell phone and perhaps you’ve already done this –take them out right now and text HAITI to 90999 that will send $10 to the Red Cross disaster relief fund or if you’d prefer, drop some money in the basket. And if you really can’t afford a $1 or $10–pray for the people of Haiti tonight because that’s a gift too–and it is no less important than giving your dollars.
Secondly. I’d like to ask you to do one more thing: Ask yourself what is your gift? What do you have to offer this church and this campus ministry? We need your gifts and talents and while we’re all busy and tied up with our own studies and activities–can we think of just one thing that we can be involved in here? It might be reading or being a eucharistic minister. It might be going on our retreat or our alternative spring break. It might be working on one of our service initiatives or simply taking an interest in learning more about your faith. We’re not just running a Newman Center but we are thinking about what ways can you turn an ordinary semester of water into a party-filled semester of wine.
Whatever it is–pick at least one thing to get involved in this year and I promise to help you use your gifts for the good of this community and for your own spiritual enrichment. Because that’s my gift–ministering to the needs of students. You’ll get a listing of events tonight that our student leaders who have recognized their gifts have put together for you to get involved in as well.
For when we turn water into wine–we experience God in our life just as he experiences us. It is our gifts that we share with the world that allow us to be a sign to the world that we believe that with God’s help we can indeed change the world. That while disasters strike all around us on many different levels. Ants in the chocolate, a crazy aunt, no wine at the wedding, an earthquake…our God can turn it all around.
And when we let ourselves be turned–when our water of our sweat makes us drunk with passion…we can rebuild the city that will be a crown jewel once again–be it Haiti, Jerusalem or Buffalo. When we are turned, we realize our gifts are more important than our sins. When we are turned we are like a groom and a bride who realize that their wedding day is not the stuff of ant ridden chocolate candy but is only about an overflowing commitment to one another.
When we are turned …We become Jesus…and that is more than enough for all of us.
Today’s Gospel gives me much to reflect on
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”
We’ve been talking a lot here about children being a bit of a handful for parents at mass and indeed we all have had experiences of that being true. We’ve seen soccer moms who have all they can do to get their children to simply sit still at mass. We often talk a good game about passing on the faith to our children but don’t really know the best way to teach them about Jesus.
It is Catechetical Sunday and we owe a great deal of gratitude to those who formally teach our children the Catholic faith, prepare them for their first sacraments and in general, provide them with spiritual guidance. But ask any teacher and they will most likely agree that it’s these children who often teach us more about Jesus than we teach them.
A quick story…OK maybe not so quick…but I will do my best to condense each…
I was a camp counselor for 6 years and there is one story that I always remember.
Mark Kissell was a soft-spoken, introverted 5 year old who wasn’t very athletic. A bit of a hothouse flower, he was afraid of playing anything with a ball. I even rolled the ball to him once and he ran away from it. He wasn’t enjoying camp in fact, he was afraid of getting out of the car some days.
But Marc was such a sweet kid. He would always share toys and was polite to his counselors. In fact, his favorite words seemed to “excuse me.” His brother, Andrew, a bit more outgoing, would try to get him to play more but Marc was just afraid.
So I decided that Marc was going to be my project for the year. A small victory would be to get him to play catch with me. Everyday I’d start to throw the dodgeball to him a little harder and he’d become more comfortable catching and throwing and even missing the ball wasn’t such a big deal anymore.
He graduated to a heaver basketball. And began to learn to dribble and shoot. For days he got nowhere close to the basket. But a little practice got him to hit the rim of the basket on one afternoon. I knelt down to him and said “Marc, you are so close to getting that ball in the basket…just a little more ooompf this time and you’ll do it!”
Marc closed his eyes, visualizing that ball going in as I had taught him. He took the ball and launched it towards the basket…and as the ball floated into the basket…swish!…his eyes grew so wide and his smile so bright that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look that happy again. I hoisted him on my shoulders and we ran around the gym. He hugged me so tightly and his mom was so proud at the end of the day. For me, it was a moment when I realized what joy really consisted of and what I had experienced was an opportunity not to experience accomplishment but to experience the joy of newness…of seeing things through the eyes of a child. The amazement of a child–the sheer pleasure of simplicity was a moment where Jesus was clearly present in a very vivid way. That moment for Marc and I was over 23 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The world seemed to slow down and God was indeed fully present…I just knew I was there because I needed to understand this gospel passage:
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”
When we are with children we have a great responsibility to see the awe that they see, to recapture our own amazement for the mundane, to see world embued with God’s grandeur. We often miss that. We miss the giggling exuberance of children in favor of our own jaded adulthood. We look for God’s grace and often find it hard to find.
Until we see God all over again through a child’s eyes.
Jesus destroyed death and includes us in his life…but do we ever have a child’s enthusiasm for something so grand? When we get on line for communion do we have a childlike anticipation of receiving Jesus into our bodies, or is it just another “thing to do”?
Perhaps each time we hear a baby cry at mass, or a rambunctious child in church we might want to think that they cannot help their wailing because they can’t understand why we too are not stirring in our souls!
Psalm 139 is one of my favorite and it is the responsorial psalm today at mass. I used to love the Dan Schutte song “Yahweh, I Know You Are Near” which is based on the psalm. Soon (if not already) in honor of our Jewish breathren we will probably not be allowed to sing it since the term Yahweh is really not supposed to be said.
Actually, the term centers around the second commandment of not taking God’s name in vain. We often think this refers to uttering God’s name as a curse, but the commandment itself centers on vanity, meaning thinking too much of ourselves. Ancient Judaism took the idea of vanity very seriously. We can almost hear the stereotype of the Jewish mother saying, “Who do you think you are?” (Cultural note: My Irish mother has the same tendencies–we are united in guilt). And that indeed was exactly their point about the name of God. Jews don’t even write out the letters. Instead, they write G-D. God’s name is so revered that they wouldn’t dare say it or write in. How did the term Yahweh come into being? Try this.
Take a deep breath…all together now…. YAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH
And exhale together…..WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHH.
It is our very breath, our being that is centered in God, the sound of life. We don’t dare say the name of the one who is Lord who is as mysterious as the wind. For anything more would be our own vanity.
I still love the song and will share it here and hope that it’s still on the books as an OK hymn for at least a while longer. Here is a funky version by the Jericho Youth Choir:
I also have a fondness for the song because a priest friend who will remain nameless here used to sing a parody version:
Yahweh, I know you drink beer
Standing always at the keg
You guard me from the foam
And You lead me to bars that are cheesy.
I hope that I haven’t alerted anyone’s heresies. And if I have…well, it’s probably not the first time.
OK, it’s my wife’s family, the family I married into but they are also a family that has always treated me as one of their own.
They are a large Italian family and they “Let Irish people in the family once in awhile,” according to my wife’s Uncle Louis (Pictured here with Dominic, the newest member of the clan and Uncle Louis’ grandson).
It’s nice that we can all get together even in the midst of the hot and busy summer. We get to learn about each other’s summer trips, the usual family happenings and more serious matters like illnesses or job troubles.
This Sunday’s Scripture Readings talk much about family. Joshua gathered together his family and stated to all the tribes of the region that they were choosing as a family to serve the God of Israel over the many other Gods that were being worshipped by the tribes of the region.
“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” – Joshua 24:15
But the reading that will capture everyone’s attention this weekend is the famed passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he says “Wives be subordinate (or submissive in some translations) to your husband.”
I usually nudge my wife at that juncture to make sure she’s paying attention.
But we need to put the reading into proper context for us to really understand it. For to be subordinate to someone else means to put their needs ahead of your own. At the time of Paul’s writing, the Jewish people were oppressed by the Romans. The Romans enslaved the Jews and treated them as sub-human. It was a tough time for the men of a Jewish household to get up and go to work each day and be treated like dirt. To come home with the embarrassment of being treated that way, averting their eyes in shame at being essentially a slave.
And it was tougher for their wives to watch them. And the big temptation for the wives was to pile on the abuse with self deprecating remarks.
“Look at this canker sore of a man that I married. Oh woe is me to be married to a man who can’t even stand up for himself. If these men would just be men and revolt against the Romans we’d all be better off. But there’s a better chance of pigs (well maybe not pigs, Kosher and all! Let’s say dogs maybe!) flying!”
And Paul states simply that wives should avoid this temptation, to be subordinate to this man who they can’t seem to respect. That when it’s hard to respect your husband and you think that he is a slug, that you need to subordinate those feelings to care for a guy who has just been beaten down by life.
In turn, Paul also cautions husbands to love these wives as well. After all, they are traveling a tough road together. And that the most important thing is to stay together being subordinate to each other. Forgiving one another of their faults, of their own pre-conceived notions of each other, of their expectations of the way life should be in favor of accepting to live their lives together, come what may.
Jesus in today’s Gospel is looking for the Disciples to accept him fully and completely even though his “sayings are difficult.” For some the life Jesus was describing was strange and weird and maybe a bit too counter-cultural.
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
But the message running throughout all the readings is really about having faith. The faith that keeps us together as one unit. Just as families stick together in tough times, just as husbands and wives stay together even though they know each other’s faults, just as Catholics and members of other faith traditons stick together even when the world tells us we are foolish to believe in God and in one another.
It is not easy to stay together, not every day is like my family’s day at the beach. We all will face hardships in life. Job loss, sickness, disagreements and even death. But the example that my wife’s family gives to us, is that we need to stick together. That’s something that I’ve really come to value in this new family and have not always seen in my own family at times.
But the lesson goes further.
Jesus tells His disciples that family has to expand beyond blood ties to all of humanity. Jesus calls us to stick together despite all the world’s hatred. There are may people who we forget about and who fall by the wayside. We must stick together with the homeless, with the elderly, with the children in and out of the womb who need our protection and with all of those who need our assistance.
Jesus’ “hard sayings” tell us that we even have to stick it out with those that hate us. We need to love our enemies; those don’t do their part in trying to stick it out with us. That indeed is one of the hardest things to do–to stay in relationship with someone who thinks that you’re not worth it. To pray for those who persecute us.
It’s a call to family. And when we realize that we are all family, and start treating all people as if they were brother and sister and cousin and aunt, we’ll call that the day The Kingdom of God is a reality.
And as great as my weekend with the family was, this will be a lot better than a great day at the beach!
Reflection on Today’s Gospel
There are some people in my life that I would just do anything for:
My wife is one of them. I’ve really learned a lot about love from Marion. She loves me when I’m sure frankly, that I don’t always make it easy for her to love me. When I’m cranky or depressed or upset or just simply mean…Marion finds it within herself to love me beyond measure. And because of that I realize that I too, need to love her in the same way. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for that wife of mine.
We have a dog named Haze who I am–to put it mildly–obsessed with. He is clearly a pet who gives new meaning to Man’s Best Friend and he loves me beyond measure. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for that dog.
And while I try not to play favorites with my nieces and nephew–Katie often makes that very challenging for me. She runs down the driveway when she sees me coming and never wants me to head back home. We laugh, we play, we enjoy each other’s company. I teach, she learns from me–but often she teaches me much more about simple pleasures: a nice cold drink of lemonade, a ride on the zip line, a good storybook, watching a child grow up. That’s Katie–and for that matter her brother and her sisters are not far behind her. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for those kids.
Some scripture scholars say that Jesus really was trying to say that he was the “insane” Shepherd. That no shepherd in his right mind would go off to find one or two sheep at the risk of scattering the ones who stayed with the flock. In fact Jesus plainly states that: “A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.” This guy cares more about his own hide than the job he has at hand. The sheep after all are not his. If he loses one or two or 12 nobody is going to make him pay for them–he just might not get paid that day’s wage. But if a wolf comes, he is just as afraid of the saber toothed wolf so he runs away not caring if the sheep are sacrificed. If it were the owner he’d do his best to bring all the sheep in and to scare off the wolf somehow.
But then Jesus says
“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
Whoa. The good shepherd. The one who gives all he has for his sheep. This one will even let that wolf tear him limb from limb so that the sheep might survive.
That’s crazy–who wouldn’t give up one or two of his sheep to a wolf to save the flock from being scattered and moreover save himself to work another day.
Well…Jesus tells us–that depends. It’s all a matter of how close you are to the sheep.
Does the shepherd love his sheep? Does he give the sheep a name? Will it be hard for this shepherd to make lamb chops out of this sheep and can he even bring himself to do it? My father had the opportunity to go and work on a sheep farm in Australia when he was young and they sent him to a small farm in Ireland to see if he would enjoy working on the farm. He simply adored seeing all these sheep, all these fluffy, cuddly sheep—baaaaaahing all the day. He’s feed them and sheer them and gather them together. All seemed well with the world on the sheep farm until someone handed him the knife. When he looked into the sheep’ eyes, Baaaaaaaaah. He realized then that he just didn’t have the stomach for this. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen him eat lamb in the 40 years I’ve known him.
He loved the sheep. And that’s how God loves us. And that is the point of Jesus’ story. Shepherds really don’t care if they lose a sheep or two. The flock is going to all eventually be destroyed anyway when they sell the sheep to the local marketeers who make a nice profit from someone looking to have a lamb dinner. If you have 100 sheep and only 98 make it in–that’s a good day. You only lost two.
But does God think that way about his creation. If there are 200 people in church today and 198 of them walk out of here and two of them don’t we all begin to talk about the two people who didn’t make it–don’t we? If we took a group of school children on a trip, we take special care to make sure they all make it back safely.
If God creates us and places us in this world with all of our gifts and talents and our only task is to make it back home to him in heaven–then if we go astray, isn’t that a crushing defeat for God? God doesn’t think that any of his creations are disposable. They are all important. You, me, our children, those in the hospitals or being ravaged by war, those on the streets going hungry, those who suffer from addiction or mental illness who seem lost, those unborn yet in their mother’s womb.
They are all cared for by the Good Shepherd.
We often make the Shepherd’s life hard by going on our own path and not that path that brings us all back to where we will be most loved by our creator. We choose the dangerous path where the wolf lurks and where the woods are dark. The Shepherd will look for us, again and again, hoping beyond hope to find us–and that he will not lose more sheep like us.
There is nothing that the Good Shepherd wouldn’t do to bring us home.
Jesus is that Good Shepherd and if he is gathering sheep than so must we. Who is it that we have given up on–or said is a lost cause? Who do we let go and forget about in order to take care of the needs of the many over the particular needs of the few? Do we ignore our homeless so as not to deprive our own families of luxuries? Do we avoid marriage or children or our families so that we might more selfishly enjoy a life without obligation to someone else? Do we give up on people at work when they fail to show the promise that we know is hidden deep within them?
Jesus tells us: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” That each time we become the good Shepherd and each time we realize that God is this good Shepherd for us–we give all that we are so that someone else might become what they can be. And we gain renewal in that effort. We get more than we give when we teach a child how to walk for the first time, knowing that they are going to fall astray until we help them up and try again. We get more than we give when he fortify the homeless with a nourishing meal. We get more than we give when we help a young mother get back on her feet so that she can bring life into the world free from her fear.
The world needs us to be Good Shepherds and to be Good Shepherds each day of our lives because God has gathered us back gently with his shepherd’s crook again and again–gently, firmly, but always seeking us to come back into the flock–no matter where we have been.
Who have we forgotten who needs us to find their way back home?