Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Here is my homily from this past weekend

Have you ever stayed up late with a friend talking about what to do with your life, what to major in, or, for the seniors present, what you are going to do after college? If so you’ve struggled with your calling, and tonight’s readings are for you.

To better understand what is happening in our readings tonight we can use the resource of the Latin language. Our understandings of the words ‘call’ and also of ‘vocation’ derive from the same Latin word, which is “vocare.” Unfortunately something has been lost in translation, because when we look at “vocare” we learn that it means both ‘to call’ and ‘to challenge.’ This is important to us, because so often we want a calling but not a challenge.

I’m here to tell you the truth tonight, and that is you can’t have one without the other. I believe we each are called, so we each are challenged as well. So tonight we need to answer three questions: What’s our call, what’s our challenge, and what do we do about it?

One: What is our call? In our reading God heard the cry of the suffering Hebrew people, and called Moses to lead them from slavery and oppression into a land of milk and honey- a land of true liberty. Though we each have a specific call share a collective call is to justice.

I first realized this call my senior year of college. Like many here tonight I had served the poor before, but it was the nine months I spent in Milwaukee that changed my life. And like Moses I was attracted to something without knowing fully what I was getting myself into – for him it was a burning bush, for me it was the Central-City.

I went to work for two parishes in Milwaukee because I cared about the concept of justice, but in the lives of people named Ray, Carma, and Loraina I found out that justice is not about a concept but about changing the lives of real people.

It seems to me it is fashionable today to care about the concept justice – to say that people deserve a fair wage; that immigrants are being treated wrongly; and the situation in Darfur is horrible. It is far less fashionable, I believe, to enter into the lives of the oppressed and help bring justice to their situations. Moses wasn’t called to simply preach a concept, but to take action that would change the peoples’ situation and so are we.

Two: What is the challenge? Left out of our reading tonight, but a part of the story is Moses’ first response to God’s call. He said, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” Moses’ challenge and ours is, in one word, individualism. Sometimes individualism is brought on by plain selfish choice, but more often by circumstances. One such circumstance which will face you as a student is debt. In 2004 the average college student graduated with nearly $20,000 in debt, one quarter will graduated with $25,000, and ten percent with graduated with $34,000. When my wife, Andrea, and I were married we had a combined $40,000 in debt, so I can speak to this challenge from personal experience.

The temptation that comes with debt is to put off justice for another day. We say to ourselves that we can’t go to work in a needy area because the job doesn’t pay enough, and we can’t donate to a church or charity because we need to send that money for bills. In the end the education you have earned at Lewis will out weigh the debt, but this cannot be an excuse to put off justice for another day.

Three: What do we do about it? We need to take action in all aspects of our lives. Few of us will have jobs working with the poor full time, but we can take small, meaningful and consistent actions on behalf of suffering people.

God’s name is our witness to this. God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” God’s name implies unceasing action – in a sense God is saying ‘I WAS, I AM, AND I ALWAYS WILL BE.’ In all situations God will be God, and, likewise, in all situations we need to be people of justice.

You might ask, what does this mean practically? Well I’ll give you one example from personal experience. When Andrea and I went looking for a small yet meaningful action to take we decided that one dinner a week we would only eat rice and water, this is the standard daily meal for the majority of the world’s population, and we donate the money we would have spent to a local food. It’s not much, and hopefully someday it’ll be more than just one meal, but it is meaningful and in conjunction with other actions it will make a difference.

Finally: The gospel reading tonight offers us all hope. Not everyone, and no offense but probably not anyone, in this room is the perfect example of living a life of justice. Like the fig tree we have not bared fruit, but by grace we are given a second chance to become people of justice.

Listen, I understand figuring out our calling and how to respond is difficult. We don’t have a burning bush and God’s great voice coming forth, but we do have these readings of good news… And we have that cross, the purest example of justice lived out for the lives of real people – it is calling us to face the challenge and rise a

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Meal Blessing. . . and a Blessing for Those without a Meal

At the corner of Ashland and 45th there resides Davis Square Park, the neighborhood is Hispanic. Fairly nice park actually – there’s a merry-go-round, a soccer field (however the goals are missing their nets), and a city pool. Every summer day at one-thirty Port Ministries’ “bread truck” rolls up. There’s a fat, jolly friar painted on its side, and out the back come four Young Neighbors and their adult leader. Before the rumbling of this beat up ol’ truck stops the neighborhood kids are already running over and lining up.

The Port, as it is known, carries out a number of services, and this traveling soup kitchen is the most well known. The “bread truck” serves lunch to any child age twelve and under, and they vary with whatever donations they can muster. This day it’s a simple ham & cheese sandwich with a paper cup of water. Later this week YNIA will donate left over Jimmy John’s subs as a slight improvement, and Friday they’ll serve hotdogs which I’ll hear are a hit.

To be honest I can’t remember any of the kids names (fortunately the Young Neighbors got to know them well), but I do know they were pretty standard like José and Maria. So picture this: little J. & M. come racing up, our kids greet them and ask if they want lunch, and of course they do. With their plastic sandwich bag in one hand and water in the other they walk back to the park. Concentrating oh so hard Jose tries to drink and walk back to the park at the same time, but his shaking hand just spills the water every which way. Maria, the big sis’, gives him a look, they turn around to get a refill, and they’ll be back again for the same reason. Eventually, they’ll enjoy a lunch that otherwise would not have come.

* * *

The first two prayers I learned were grace at dinner, and bedtime prayer. Grace went like this, “Bless us O’Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen.” In college these words started sounding incomplete, so I began saying impromptu prayers at meals. These however had little to do with giving thanks, and said more about what was going on in the day. Both prayers began feeling incomplete.

This continued until one dinner with a friend when he added a sentence to the same blessing, they were, “And bless those who go without food this evening.” Today, for me, its that simple – I’m praying a meal blessing, and a blessing for those without a meal. Not only are the words a blessing, but a reminder that I need to do something about the world's problems. So bless the Port, bless José as he spills cup after cup of water, bless Maria for not losing patience, bless all those without food this evening, and please bless me, God, with a conviction to bring them food more often.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

2 Weeks in the City - YNIA - Digital Monuments

First, here's the basics. For the last couple of weeks I worked with this organization called Young Neighbors in Action (YNIA). Normally, I don't go into much detail about the groups I'm involved with, but I'm really proud of this one. It's a national catholic service learning experience for high school students, and it rocks. Basically parish/school groups come to Chicago (or some other city), work with an existing social service agency from 9-3 each day, and then learn, pray & play together at night. We consider it one of a kind among all the service experiences out there, because the kids aren't just doing a lot of grunt work but really learn about the problems and people they are serving. We do this by introducing them to Catholic Social Teaching. The principles of CST are: Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation. This is not a political agenda, but it does have to do with politics. It is a set of beliefs about how the real world should work, and how christians, especially, should be helping the world work this way.

This year my enthusiasm was low regarding YNIA - it seemed more of a headache than anything. Yet, the experience ended up grabing my attention once again.

You know how in the Old Testament some thing would happen between the Hebrew people and God, so the people would set up a stone pillar as a reminder of the event well that's what these next few weeks will be for me. The following entries are my digtal monuments about the people I met, the experiences I had, and the God I met in them.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Because I don't have anything else to post right now I thought I would throw up something for school. I wrote this for one of their ministries, Catholics on Call. It's not very good but it served its purpose.

I’ve always had a certain affinity for Simon Peter, and really identified with his call in scriptures. Not just the specific call when Jesus asks him and Andrew to “follow me and I’ll make you fish for people,” but his lifelong calling as depicted in the gospels and the book of Acts.

When I read about Peter I am getting a look at a person who followed Jesus with passion, rarely got it right on the first try, but was still being called by Jesus through the mishaps. That’s me: I’m passionate about God, I make a lot of mistakes, and, yet, every morning I find myself waking up to a God who still loves me. So for a couple of paragraphs here I would like to share my sense of calling – passion, mistakes, and all – through the lens of Peter’s life.

[Jesus] said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt? When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." –Mt. 14:29-33

In the morning of August 30th 1997 I was a typical junior in high school, but come the afternoon my life changed. My dad was in the kitchen when I got home from school, and he typically never got home before me so I thought right away that something was odd. He was there to tell me that my friend Chris, then 21, had been murdered the night before by Angel Maturino Resendez who would later be known as “The Railroad Killer.” My faith, confirmed by the Church, had found no real challenge up to that point, but before I knew it a strong wind had come, I was frightened and drowning in the confusion that comes with such things. We went out to eastern Ohio (from Indianapolis where we lived) for the funeral where my brothers and I were asked to give one of three eulogies. I really was still in shock all through the funeral and back home in Indiana. Then, one night when the sense of drowning was near I started to read the gospels, and felt overwhelmed by the presence of Christ. After that night I felt called to follow Jesus in whatever way I could, and to live out whatever it meant to say he was “the Son of God.”

“Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.” – John 20:3-7

The fall of my senior year I decided that I would look for colleges with ministry programs. The only school I sent an application to and visited was Huntington University (Huntington, IN), and I enrolled as soon as I could. This decision made little sense to most people around me for one reason or another, but primarily because H.U. is an Evangelical Christian school and I wanted to be a Catholic minister. My youth ministers pleaded with me to go to Stuebenville, my mom said I would not graduate a Catholic, and most of my friends just could not picture me as a minister. Why did I go? I was full of passion, knew there was something good there (via the materials and visit), truly did not see a distinction between Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, etc., and ran on in. I think when you feel called to something it is better just to keep on running, and not bend down and look in because if you do that you may see something you don’t like and turn away. Going to H.U. was illogical, but I met God there in the most amazing and challenging ways. I was forced to articulate my Catholic beliefs to people who knew the Bible so much better than I did; I began running the youth ministry at the local parish; and I learned a lot about being a disciple of Christ from my Evangelical brothers and sisters.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him "Feed my lambs."… - John 21:15-19

During the senior year at H.U. as a Youth Ministry major the students are asked to locate and conduct a nine-month internship away from school. For whatever reason I wanted to work in an urban environment (I say ‘for whatever reason’ because social justice was not a large part of the curriculum), and ended up working with the Central City Catholic Youth Ministry in Milwaukee, WI. Due to a series of unfortunate events my mentor took a new position early in the internship, and I was left to direct the ministry. Coming from suburban Indiana I did not have much contact with African Americans, so Milwaukee let me learn and experience a new culture. There I learned about slavery, ongoing racism, and the call of Catholic Social Teaching to change the aforementioned problem. Catholic Social Teaching was something I always saw in Jesus’ acts and heard in his words, but had never been able to articulate before Milwaukee, and now that I could I wanted to tell this good news to others. Today, I understand in an even deeper way that to feed Jesus’ lambs means more than spiritual food, even more than a charitable meal, but truly means to change the social systems which cause God’s children to be hungry in the first place.

Today, I still find myself a passionate Catholic, making mistakes, and relying on God's love. I’m in studying for a M.A. and M.Div. now, because I want knowledge and wisdom to go with the passion. And, I imagine the same will be able to be said even when I graduate from CTU, and my call continues to unfold.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Here we go again… again… and again.

Well, here we go again. I tried to change the look of this blog for the occasion of starting it over, but when I checked nothing was different. I'll keep trying.

In the mean time, here is the new blog that looks like the old blog and the old, old blog, but it is really just the new blog. I'm sticking with the same title though, because I still love Counting Crows and it is one of their greatest lines. Though the title is still quite melancholy hopefully my new entries won't be. I mean, why be melancholy when you can just as easily be merry. That is if we lived back in the day and stilled used the word merry outside of Christmas. In the mean time I’ll stick to happy, maybe joyful, and at the very least content. When the time comes I’ll also skip out on melancholy, and settle for simply just being depressed or having an off day.