Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Discipline of the Lord — August 25

Honestly, I am very happy that I was able to preach on these readings today. Speaking personally, I have not been feeling very well for several weeks because of a Cdif bacterial infection among other things, and I woke up this morning sweating and tired–evidence my body is still trying to fight off the infection. A week ago, my body violently reacted to an antibiotic that the doctors gave me, so I had a rash for four days where I felt like I wanted to tear off my own skin so they pumped me full of steroids, and then I recently had a colonoscopy where they did not sedate me enough. Imagine my surprise. That was a laugh a minute as well. So the past few weeks have not been my favorite. I feel as if I have seen doctors more this year than the first forty years of my life combined.

And I’m not trying to complain, but because of a lot of this I was not able to look at the sunday readings until this morning, and I usually start writing my homily earlier than that.

And what do I hear in the second reading? I will read the section again if you were not paying close attention.

“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.

Greeeeeaaaat, right? “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain.” Ain’t that the truth? So is the suffering that I am going through a discipline? What about the suffering that you are going through? Maybe it’s just an accident? Maybe just chance or Fate? Maybe it’s just nature? Maybe I am just reaping the natural consequences of stress and a diet that has not been the greatest? I’m not really sure.

You know, I am perfectly willing to believe that some of the things that are happening to me are accidently, or even my fault. It may very well be true that God did not actually cause any of it. But what the reading reminded me of is this: that absolutely everything that happens can be a cause for growing in holiness. Absolutely everything that happens can be turned into something good, no matter how dark and ugly it might seem. Do you know how I know this? Take a look at the cross behind me–an innocent man was falsely accused, ridiculed, beaten and tortured to death. Not only that, but he lived an entire life where he was misunderstood and rejected by his own people– and he turned it into an instrument for the salvation of the entire human race. Did God cause that or did evil men cause that to happen? You know, on a certain level, the answer to that question doesn’t even really matter. What matters is that Jesus took the suffering, accepted it, and turned it into a training for holiness, and a gateway to salvation for those whom he loved.

I once heard a very simple but wise fellow say something about this problem. Many of us sit around wondering, “Why is this happening to me? What has caused it?” And we ponder and worry ourselves sick about the causes of what is burdening us and dragging us down. Let me tell you an image that this wise, simple fellow gave me. He said, “When your donkey falls into a ditch, some people scratch their heads and wonder all day, ‘how did the donkey fall into the ditch?’ And other people just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Who cares? What matters is that you just get the stupid donkey out of the ditch.'”

There were a lot of things that happened to me that were not caused by my parents. But that stop my father from saying, when I felt like I was down, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, son,” (or one of my personal favorites) “that builds character.” Those words are a little harder when what happens to be “building your character” at the time is causing you pain and making you cry. Those are the kind of things that make you want to say, “If this builds character, then I want to have absolutely no character whatsoever–I want to be the most boring human being on the face of this earth.”

That very short second reading mentions the word, “discipline” five times. It is no doubt the most important word in the reading.

The Greek word for discipline is paideia–the definition can mean “training” or “teaching” or “instruction.” But it usually has the connotation of correcting or disciplining someone. But there is a reason for that. The reason is because the root word for paideia actually comes from the Greek word paidarion, which means “a little child.” Discipline is what you do to a little child. And what is the purpose of disciplining a little child? You discipline a little child so that he will not be a little child anymore, but a mature man or woman. And let me ask you a question? Is disciplining a child really pleasant for either the parent or the child? No it is not. It is neither. But it is necessary for both. Because if you are a parent that does not discipline, then you do not truly love your child like a mature adult should, and if you are a child who is not disciplined, then you will remain a child forever.

And what is the opposite of a disciplined person? It is someone who is spoiled. Food that has spoiled has gone bad, and no longer can give nourishment to anyone. And the same goes for spoiled people. They can’t nourish anybody else. They go around making everybody sick. It is someone who does not understand what is happening to them and does not accept what happens with any amount of grace or humility or hope.

And unfortunately, the process of discipline almost always means that we have to do things we do not want to do, suffer things we do not want to suffer, and leave behind things we would rather not leave behind. Why? Because if you want to turn into to something different, then you have to do something different in order to transform yourself into something that you are not. That means that you have to reach outside of yourself–stretch yourself. And who enjoys stretching?

When Jesus was asked if only a few people would be saved, he did not say, “Yes.” He said instead, “Try to enter through the narrow gate.” The narrow gate is hard and winding and dark, and we only find it after climbing a mountain that is difficult to climb. This is the discipline of the Lord. No one can climb a mountain without first training for it, or it will simply be too much for us. And this is not pleasant, but it is necessary. This is being trained not to be spoiled, but mature–training to be nourishment for others and lights on a dark path. But unfortunately, in order to become lights, we must first have to learn how to make our light shine brighter in a darkness of our own.

St. Paul tells us that the Lord disciplines those whom he loves. I just told a friend of mine that sometimes I wish the Lord didn’t love me so much. But maybe he really does. Maybe he really does…

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Is Our Life in Vain? Homily, August 4, 2013

What does life mean, anyway?  As long as we are going to ask questions, let’s go for the big ones.  In our first reading, Ecclesiastes, at least at first glance we seem to see that life doesn’t mean all that much.  Vanity of Vanities, says quoheleth, all things are vanityQuoheleth might be translated as “teacher” or “preacher” in Hebrew, but it literally means “gatherer,” as in one who gathers knowledge.  And what is vanity?  In Latin, vanity is derived from vanus which means “empty.”  When we use the word “vain” we usually mean that somebody is stuck on themselves.  But the better understanding of the word is something that “vain” means something empty, worthless, or without meaning. 

 

The Book of Ecclesiastes is traditionally attributed to King Solomon, although some evidence disputes this.  For the sake of argument I will just call him Solomon.  First, Solomon talks about the toil it takes to search for knowledge, or to gain any real wisdom or skill whatsoever, and basically what is going to happen is that you are going to die, your property divided, and your deeds forgotten.  Yay, huh?  Just in case you weren’t listening, I’ll remind you of a few things he said.

 

For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun? 
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest. 
This also is vanity
.”

 

He identifies three forms of vanity:

 

First, basically that most of our efforts are without effect.  We waste time, our plans fall apart, the phone calls we make do little good, etc.

The second form of vanity that Solomon identifies is that even if we get results, they are fragile.  They will probably burn away soon like a dandelion is blown away by a child; or we won’t be satsified with our accomplishments or even if we make accomplishments they will be forgotten.  And the third and final form of vanity mentioned is the fact that even if our efforts have lasting effect, the world is full of weirdness and injustice.

 

****Great.  Thank you Solomon, and thank you Father Basil for giving me good solid ground for the clinical depression that I’m about to spiral into.

 

So what does life mean?  Some say success, some say money, some say sex or power or happiness–whatever that means–and some say that life has no meaning at all, and we make it up as we go along.  As a matter of fact, we are living in a culture where that view is very, very popular.  It is at least partially true that life has whatever meaning you give it.  If you think life is about winning the Olympics, you might train for years to do so.  Or if your life is about money, then you will spent most waking moments doing whatever is necessary to become wealthy.  And whatever meaning you choose for your life will be your master.  (SLOWLY)  So you had better choose a kind master.

 

But we in this church profess that we are Christians–specifically Catholic Christians.  That means that when we say the creed, and take communion, or say the Our Father, we are saying THAT is what life means.  You can’t possibly come up and take communion, or profess in the ressurection of the dead and life everlasting amen, or say the words “our father” while placing something in higher priority over following your faith. 

 

Let me make it even more simple.  Either God is real or he is not.  Either what Catholics say and do to worship him is true or it is not.  If true, then the meaning of your life better be to serve him in the best way possible; and if all this is not true, then why are you here? 

 

You know, just a little while ago I said that we all choose a meaning for our life.  But what if that weren’t even mostly true?  What if that meaning were chosen for us?  I didn’t choose my parents or family, although I got a darned good one.  I didn’t choose the time I would live, or my talents, or my social status.  If there was a meeting called to decide all these things, I was not invited, and I find that fabulously annoying.  And you know what?  I didn’t really choose whether or not I was going to be a priest.  I was chosen.  I felt as if I was asked to do this by a power that I will never understand.  Maybe that is a hint to the meaning of life.  Maybe it’s not something that we find.  Maybe it’s something that is given.  Maybe that meaning isn’t found in us figuring it out, but instead in us listening intently to the one who created that life in the first place.  Let me tell you a bit of wisdom that a little 8 year old named Andrew recently imparted to me:  “Fr. Basil, Life is like a test that God gives you–if you listen close enough, he gives you the answers.”

 

Let me give you one of those answers:  “I am the way, the truth and the Life.  No one goes to the father but through me.”

 

I think we can begin our search for the meaning of life right there.  The meaning of life is not in following a code or a certain set of laws.  It isn’t in saying more prayers than the person next to you.  It is in serving a person.  A God who became a person to show us what it truly means to be a person.  That person is Jesus Christ, and that is why we are called Christians.  That means that a primary consideration for every day, if not every hour, of our lives should be, “How can I follow him more closely?”  Because the one who follows him will look like him, and when that person enters heaven God will recognize those who look like his Son. 

 

St. Paul says in the second reading, “You have died, and you are hidden with Christ in God.”  As the poet William Butler Yeats once wrote, “Many of us lead lives of quiet desperation,” but unlike Solomon, those lives can never be in vain.  Our life itself is a riddle.  Many of us only have a vague clue about why we were placed here in the first place based on the talents we have and the experiences that we’ve had.  But maybe that’s the key.  The key is having the faith that WE WERE PLACED HERE, and that the one who created the whole game, the whole playground–whatever you want to call it–has a reason for your existance and will judge its worthiness when you die and stand before him. 

 

Why do you think that Pope Benedict declared this year a year of faith, and wrote an encyclical about it that was completed by Pope Francis?  They see that the light of faith is growing dim in this world.  Wherever there is faith, nothing can be meaningless.  Nothing can be in vain.  So whatever embers of faith still smoulder in your hearts, fan them until they become a flame.  Remember those times you truly felt touched by God and write them down, and let that letter to yourself take you through dark nights.

 

God says to the man in the parable: 

 

‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

 

Are your lives rich in what matters to God?  If you are not, maybe God is waiting for you to ask Him for those gifts that enrich our lives in his eyes?

 

I would like to share with you a quote by Saint John Neuman: 

 

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.  I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.  Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.”

If I bear Christ in my body, it seems that a truly Christian life can’t be vain after all….

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