Sunday, August 24, 2014

Universal (Catholic) Hospitality

The readings for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time remind us about the universal opening of God's call to all peoples found in both the Old and New Testament. They reminded me of a story I wrote many years ago. I re post it below.




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A STORY OR PARABLE OF
WHAT PREPARING TO LIVE A CHRISTIAN LIFE IS LIKE



Years ago, in a more formal culture, than our own, a young woman married the youngest son of a very well to do family. The patriarch had died and his widow, the young woman’s mother-in-law, guided the family fortune with a tight grip on the reigns. She had made it clear that her children and their families would inherit a share of the families wealth only if they led a cultured and aristocratic life. The young couple moved to their own estate many miles from the mother-in-law’s home as had the husband’s brothers and sisters at the time each married.

Now the mother-in-law would travel around to visit her children’s homes but she would try to surprise them with her visit. She felt that in the surprise they would reveal if they were living the life she thought suitable for those of great wealth.

The fact was the that the young wife had come from a family of somewhat less means than her new family. Thus every visit of the mother-in-law Was pure hell. She would only have a few day or hours notice. She would run around and borrow good plates and buy her mother-in-law’s favorite tea. She would brief the butler and the cook on special measures to be taken during the visit and so on. After each visit she would feel great relief and things would return to normal. At first she thought that she would have to do this only a few times as her mother-in-law was quite old.

But after a few years it got to be quite a drag. She tried getting a cook in her mother-in-law’s house to spy for her in hope of getting a little more notice of a visit. Since communications systems were not what they are today this didn’t help much.

After a while she came up with another tactic. She began buying lots of the special tea so that she would always have it on hand. She instructed the butler to always announce "dinner is served" at exactly the right time each day. She had the cook and kitchen staff serve each meal with the all the right plates, utensils and in the right sequence every day. And she bought enough good dresses that every day she could be dressed as though an important visitor was coming. Now she began to relax, she was always ready and could not be surprised by her mother-in-law.

Her mother-in-law lived for many years. After a while the young woman grew older and became famous for her hospitality and manners. You see she welcomed and treated every person that came to her home as though they were the matriarch.

When the matriarch lay dying her financial advisor asked her how she would carry out her long planned decision on which of her children would inherit the family wealth. As they went down the list she already had enough data to drop some from the list. Others it was not clear and more data needed to be collected.

When they came to the youngest son the matriarch said, ""I already know the answer"". You see she had been hearing for years from friends and relatives of the younger woman’s great hospitality and style. Even strangers reported, ""she treated me just as though I were you!""

And so it came to pass that the youngest son and his wife inherited the bulk of the family wealth.

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My friends each of us is called to be a Universal Christian. I challenge each of you to get in shape for a Christian life worthy of the inheritance that our God has planned for you. So that at the end of your race the Lord will welcome you home, just you welcomed peoples of all nations as though they were Christ himself.


© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What has lain hidden from the foundation of the world?

Matthew tells us that:



"He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden
from the foundation of the world.’" (Psalm 78:2)



I don’t know about you, but this verse gets my attention. What is being announced in these parables that had lain hidden for all those centuries? Each parable seems to lights up some aspect of the wonderful mystery that is being revealed.
 



Our hearts certainly desire to know all we can about God and his gifts to us. Yet, Jesus did not come so that we might know more about God. He came so that we might know God himself!





Jesus did not come only to assure us that forgiveness and healing of our consciences was possible. He came so that we might receive forgiveness and healing directly from him in the sacrament of confession or reconciliation.


Jesus did not come so that we could think about and discuss and yearn for a personal and intimate relationship with God. He came and established a kingdom in which you and I can experience personal and physical intimacy with our God weekly and even daily in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.


Jesus did not come so that we might know that we are created as man and woman and that we can participate in creating new human life. He wants to join with us in this creative vocation not only through the reality of our physical bodies as men and women but in his grace, his help as co-creator in carrying out this procreative vocation through the Sacrament of Marriage.


What is the secret that was hidden for all those ages?


In a way the secret is so awesome that it cannot be explained in one parable or one sermon or one bible class. In a sense it is the secret that our Pastor preaches about every Sunday.


Because God’s love for us is so boundless we never tire of learning more about it and in truth we never tire of experiencing it in our lives.
 

We Catholics call it a mystery. A mystery because God’s love for us keeps surprising us, we keep leaning about and experiencing it in new ways.  Paul attempts to explain God’s unconditional love for us in his letter to the Romans.


"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."



Yes God loves us when we are feeling good, when we feel close to God. But He also loves us when we are deep in sin, when we are angry with Him, when we are ignoring him. He loves us when we misunderstand Him or try to put Him in a box way too small for his God Size Love.


So how do we loose God’s love? The Catholic answer is that we cannot, its impossible to,’ loose his love’.


AH - But we can refuse it, walk away from it, turn our backs on it. Yes we can and many of us do wallow in our guilt rather than accept his loving forgiveness and healing in the sacrament of reconciliation. Yes you and I have gone weeks, months and sometimes years without accepting his invitation to dine with him in the Eucharist.


Through it all His love is constant. Many of us discover that because in our darkest moments of spiritual or physical suffering we found him there offering help to endure the pain or disappointment, help to make a hard decision, or help to run into his loving arms.


Should we be surprised that we humans can turn our backs on God? In a sense it’s the way God made us. Scripture and our faith teach that we are created in the ‘image’ of God. In what way are we an image of God?


We probably don’t know the full answer but we do know some of the answer.
One dimension in which we image God is in our freedom. As Catholics we believe that God created humans to love Him and each other. A necessary prerequisite for love is freedom.To put it another way, no one can be forced to love. Love must be chosen freely or it is not love!
 

The proof of freedom’s reality is that we humans can say yes or no. We can say yes or no to our boyfriend’s proposal, we can say yes or no to a job offer, and we can say yes or no to God’s love, and God wants it that way!
 

When we say yes to God He wants it to be true love, that is, freely chosen. He has chosen to love us for eternity but we are not God and we have to work hard to image his faithfulness.


This should not surprise us. If we are married we, or at least I, mess up almost every week. I’m so numb, I don’t listen, I’m surprised by the slammed door. We do get back on track, not so much by our own wisdom but by the pledge we make every time we pray as Jesus taught:


"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."


At that moment when our squabble resolves to an embrace we know that our faithful God, our partner, has given us the additional gift of imaging Him in an additional way in that moment. And it is not just in marriage but also at work or in the neighborhood.


The secret hidden for ages?
A God who will not stop loving us!


As a Catholic I know that at the very moment of my anger with my wife or a hurtful comment to a neighbor that Gods loves him or her without reservation even if I haven’t and yes, He even loves me in this moment of failure.

God is seeking you and me now, today. May we have the wisdom to turn back to Him and accept his faithful love and healing embrace.


 
© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jesus' Shocking Secret

Suppose you had a secret the was so fantastic that no-one would believe it.
Would you start doubting it yourself?

Suppose you had a secret that would make your life better if you implemented it?
Would you take action to implement it?

Suppose you had a secret that would help a lot of people.
 Would you tell them about it?

Suppose you had a secret that was so valuable that revealing it would put your life in danger.
Would you reveal that secret anyway?

Today, in our Gospel reading from Chapter six of John’s Gospel we hear the shocking revelation of Jesus’s secret,
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven: whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

And Jesus went on saying,
“Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.”

Following the verses we read this morning John goes on to explain that many of his followers turned to each other and said, “this is hard to believe” or “I can’t take this seriously.” Hearing the murmuring he challenges them, and us, “does this shake your faith?” 

John tells us that many of Jesus’ followers turned away from him at this point. You and I know many friends and relatives that have don’t believe Jesus’ secret either. For example:

“I think that Jesus was a great ethical teacher but I don’t think he was God.”

Another part of the secret was revealed when Jesus says, “My flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Those that feed on my body and drink my blood remain in me and I in them” 

Again many are skeptic here, “I can’t accept that God would interact with mere humans in such a personal way.”

Do you suppose that life would be better if God himself was walking with me, or as Jesus said, dwelling within me? Today we hear Jesus’ instructions of how to implement this offer!

By now, in this discussion, most of us can see that Jesus’ secret revealed in John Chapter Six is also the great Catholic secret.

Jesus is God.
Jesus/God came
To free us from sin and
To share with us the divine life
through the physical intimacy of the Eucharist.

What fantastic news, what Good News! 

I think this news is worth sharing! Have you been sharing this news?

I suspect there are a lots of folks you know that could benefit from a closer walk with God?  Yet there are even some, who consider themselves Christian, who do not know this secret! What is the worst that can happen if you share this secret? That the person rejects the idea. Don’t feel bad. Even Jesus had long term followers turned away when he shared this secret. If this Good News is as valuable as we Catholics believe, it truly is worth sharing and inviting others to share in God’s Sacramental gifts.

Now it is true that in many countries political regimes prohibit persons of one faith or another from the sharing of their faith in public or in print or even electronically. In these places the virtue of the Christian’s lives may remain the only way to share the Good News. In thousands of cases over the last century Christians have indeed paid for their faith with their lives. Are we prepared to do the same?

In our country we currently can speak and write  publicly about our faith and the Good News but challenges to that are arising every day. Earlier in my life I was deeply involved in politics. I was appointed to several government boards and ran for political office three times. I won two elections and lost one.

As a politician and as a citizen involved in the public debate I have heard opponents on certain issues claim that my opinion should be ignored because I was Catholic or Christian. In many cases this was a tactic to avoid discussing the clearly political, scientific or other non-religious reasons for my political position. This devaluing of Christian Citizens opinions appears to be growing and has alarmed many religious leaders who have called for prayer in support of freedom of speech.

If Jesus is God (sh! Its our secret) then his teachings are God’s instructions for our lives. If Jesus is God  (sh! Its our secret) we should do our best to follow his teachings!

Yet we face a new challenge that is called “moral nullification.”  This involves tricking or forcing an opponent (usually a political or business opponent) to perform or pay for something he or she is known to consider immoral. Their opinion on related issues or their products can then be ridiculed.

For example a manufacturer (A)  may suggest that its competitor(B) uses child or slave labor in its factories. If this is true the public might have a justified negative view of the competitor or his products.

If however company A can control or bribe the government where company B is located to require company B to use child or slave labor then company A has used forced moral nullification to make their opponent vulnerable to ridicule.

In our country this is currently being attempted by requiring most businesses including religious non-profits to pay for employee insurance that will pay for abortions and other procedure that are considered immoral by many religious groups or face fines of millions of dollars each month.

This week EWTN, the Catholic TV, Radio, newspaper and media non-profit was told by a Federal Judge that they must pay for this insurance for their employees.

This forced moral nullification then interferes with Christian efforts to implement Jesus’s teaching.

Our Bishops have designated the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July as a “fortnight for Freedom”, a time of prayer for religious freedom and freedom of speech. More than anything, it is a call to all Catholics to respond more deeply to the freedom we have been given in the Spirit as the children of God.

Why is this important to us? Remember how we began this talk about Jesus’ secret, now our secret, a secret we have told the whole world :

Jesus is God
come to live with us
and to teach us his ways.

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* Bible quotations from  New American Bible, revised edition, click here for link to permissions.

© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

Joseph E. Hilber
P.O. Box 501
Pelican Rapids, Mn 56572-0501

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Transfiguration - Lenten Invitation

Today's gospel reading tells us of the experience that Peter, James and John had with Jesus called the   "Transfiguration". Our Gospel reading tells us that,

'He was transfigured before their eyes. His face became dazzling as the sun, His clothes as radiant as light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared . . conversing with (Jesus)"

I would guess that most of us do not understand what this is all about. Why Was Peter So Glad to See This when he burst out with,

"Lord, How Good it Is for Us to Be Here!"

Now, Moses was the prophet chosen by God to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt to freedom and take them back to the Promised Land. He was the one that received the Ten Commandments, God’s Law, on Mt Sinai in the dessert and his meeting with Jesus, here, is a sign that Jesus’ coming is the fulfillment of the Law.

Then we have Elijah, the Prophet and Priest, whom God  sent to warn Israel and Judah that their turning away from God’s Law and Friendship would have dire consequences.

His warnings were ignored by the leadership and freedom was lost again. Slavery in Babylon, domination by the Greeks and then occupation by Rome follow. His message continues however, calling God’s people back, his message is that God never tires of searching for you, yearning for your return. He is considered the Greatest Prophet because he point to God’s absolute faithfulness and mercy.

One Way of understanding the meaning of the Transfiguration is this:

 We see on the mountaintop these three:

The prophet of God’s gifts of Law and Freedom and the journey back to the promised land. -  MOSES

The prophet of God’s faithfulness and mercy and His call to return again to the promised land of the love and  embrace of God. - ELIJAH

And JESUS, God himself, come to announce  the Good News as Prophet, Priest and King.

No wonder the Apostles are overwhelmed!

Lets try to personalize our response to this scene. To do this I will share with you a meditation by Father Joe Veneroso (*)  [editor of Maryknoll Magazine for many years].

When I went to school to learn how to preach we were always told to never ask the congregation to close their eyes since many will take the chance to get a quick nap. On the other hand,  our classes on prayer used the closing of ones eyes as a tool to blocking out distractions during any meditative prayer. Today I’m going to ignore the preaching rule and go with the prayer recommendation.

[Please close your eyes. Imagine one day you have some time to relax and you are going through your mom's attic and you find some of your stuff from years ago:]

Exploring attic mysteries, dust covered memories (of) faded feelings cry out to be un-forgotten.

Behind a trunk of granny's fashions that furnished many a Halloween or let's dress up (costume),
an old album beckons me to open my mind and make peace with the past.

God, we were the best of friends. Mutt and Jeff. Two (peas in a pod).
Nothing would separate us, we vowed. But nothing finally did.

One day I teased and taunted a bit too long.
I wanted to punish you for loving me so much.
Or punish myself for loving you at all.
I wanted to test the limits of your loyalty.

I know this now.
Back then -
Who could stare the longest without blinking
Became -
Who could stand the longest being apart.

A day turned into a decade.
How could I know -
Time has such a nasty habit
Of turning a moment's silence into eternity?

Rather than swallow my pride and giving in,
I chose to wallow.
Other friends filled my self inflicted void.
(I'll show you!)

After a while, half a life went by
Without so much as a -
Whatever became of old what's his name?

And then one day out of the blue,
Someone mentioned you.
I pretended not to know. I was too embarrassed
to admit we were once childhood friends.

My little charade did not work.
You had asked for me, I learned.
Not a day had passed without
Your thinking about me.

Impatient to make peace and knowing how
stubborn I can be, you could not wait another minute,
so you sent your only begotten son to find and forgive me
and say "lets be friends again."

Now that we're together once more,
I feel whole and healed and happier
Than I've been in years.
We have a lot of catching up to do, you and I.

But until then I can't help but go tell the world
How much you love them too much
And how there are no limits to your loyalty
And not a day goes by without your thinking of them.

And if you, who are so good and holy and true,
Could come to make peace with me  in my sinfulness,
who am I to carry a grudge instead of a cross? (*)

My friend, if you are here today only as an observer.
 Consider responding to his call, his invitation to you to become one of his people. Just as he had Moses lead the Jews to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus will bring you into his friendship through the water of baptism. Lent is a good time to consider this invitation. Not a day passes without him thinking about you.

My friend, have you come here today and now recall that your brother or your sister has something against you? 
That a moment of silence or anger became a decade, that your pride built  a wall between you?

I urge you to go forth from here today, turn back the clock, tear down that wall and be reconciled. Lent is a good time to undertake such an effort. Not a day passes without Jesus wanting you to be at peace with them and with him.

My friend, are you one who has been away from the table of your God?
Perhaps you just wandered away. Or you ran away in anger. Maybe something else seemed more appealing at the time.

Today, in this place, we your brothers and sisters remind you of Him. He asks about you every day. He waits with longing for your return. Like Elijah, we  your brothers and sisters, are calling you back to the table of your God.

The sacrament of reconciliation is celebrated here in this place often in Lent. Come, He waits with open arms to be reconciled with you.

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(*) Fr. Joseph Veneroso’s meditations from Maryknoll Magazine can be found in :
God in Unexpected Places , Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2007, available at Amazon.com or from Orbis Books. 
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© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

Monday, March 03, 2014

You Get What You Choose

Consider, today, the book of Sirach [1]. This book was written in Hebrew by Jesus Ben Sira, a wise Jewish teacher, almost two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Savior. It was later translated into Greek by his grandson. It is in the group of Bible books called Wisdom books. Chapter 15 verses 11 to 20 are his lecture notes on “free will”.

First he paints a picture that we are all familiar with from our childhood. Imagine that you are standing  before two pots. One contains a roaring fire and the other filled water. Now you are told to choose which pot to plunge your hand into. Even as children you knew that you get what you choose. One choice gives me a burned hand while the other choice gives me a clean hand.

Ben Sira then moves to a more adult choosing:
You have before you life and death, good and evil.
Whichever you choose, God will give to you.

As adults we realize that life is more complex than just hot or cold choices and we understand the examples like Jesus uses. If we plant weed seeds we are going to harvest weeds whereas if we plant  grain seeds we are going to harvest grain.

Grain or Weeds, Good Seed or Bad Seed you choose!
Life or Death, Good or Evil, You choose!

Ben Sira tells us that God never forces anyone to choose weeds, bad seed, death or evil. You see, God made us free. Free to choose good or evil. He honors our freedom and gives us many ways to discern what is good and what is evil. Jesus talked about this when he came among us.

Ben Sira makes his point in another way when he says that God grants no one a license to choose evil.

A few years ago I ran into an example of secular thinking that contradicts this. It has to do with a virtue and its opposite vice. That pair is the virtue Love and the vice Lust [2]. A virtue desires good and a vice desires evil.

I had been asked to speak at a non-Catholic wedding and in my talk I made the point that a successful marriage required that it be based on love and not on lust because lust was in fact the opposite of love. Now I knew that some of the guests present, unlike the bride and groom, had never thought this through. So I made sure to define the terms.

Love, the love required for a successful marriage, is self sacrificing love. You value the other for who she or he is, not what he or she can give you and you would even give your life for her or him.

Lust, is seeking self gratification in the form of pleasure, status, power or money and the other is viewed as an object from which these can taken.

At the reception the Justice of the Peace who had officiated approached me and objected to my talk on this very point. His view was that marriage was a license (by the state) to make lust between these two persons legal.

You most likely have heard this view even in your own community. Perhaps some of you have even thought this might be the way it is. Ben Sira and Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, however, make it clear that no one and no license will ever make evil into a virtue. 

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  1. Also Known as Ecclesiasticus. It was excluded from the Protestant Old Testament because it was thought to not have been written in Hebrew. Later research has established that it had been written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek as part of the Septuagint Old Testament which was used as scripture by the Apostles and early Christian writers. The NABRE translation of this book can be read here.

  2. Pope John Paul, in his September 10, 1980 audience, spoke of the contradiction between lustful desire and self giving love. See: Translation by Micheal Waldstein: Man and Woman: He Created Them, 2006, Daughter of St Paul , Boston Ma.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

PET MINISTRY

Since my wife is a part time RN in one of our local nursing homes I have been told many times of the positive effects of visiting pet at these facilities. Today I spent an hour with our young pup, Sparky, at a nursing home and can report this same finding personally. Some welcomed the chance to tell pet stories from their own past while they visit with the young newcomer. We heard the story of how a faithful family pet had saved the life of one man several years ago.
 
At one point we passes a lounge area and the attendant indicated the first lady "loves dogs but is in a bad mood today" and the gentleman next to her is non-communicative. When just I and Sparky returned to lounge later several ladies were happy to pet the newcomer and welcome him. As we passed the non-communicative man he began motioning the pup to come onto his lap. Sparky quickly complied and the man came alive with a singing like mumble that seemed to please the dog's ears. This became the longest one-on-one of our visit as the man also knew that young dogs often love being petted and rubbed. Perhaps the man was replaying the '"dog language" he knew as a child.
 
The "bad mood" lady brightened immediately upon seeing Sparky and also invited him for a lap visit. Since another pet was due to visit soon we headed to the lobby so that if their first encounter was noisy or rambunctious we would not be in a crowd. A wonderful visit on a very cold day.