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God Never Stops Working

A reflection for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B. The readings are Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 and Mark 4:26-34.

I don’t know the first thing about gardening. If the plant needs more than watering once a day, forget it. Last year we had two tomato plants and that was amazing. Once we found the perfect sunny spot for them, all we had to do was water them once a day and before you know it, we had like 200 hundred tomatoes! It was a fruitful harvest! Plants are amazing, really. Even grass. Have you ever planted grass? Last year (and this year) we are fixing these dead patches in our lawn and it’s amazing: you throw some dirt; scatter some seed and then water it once a day. Seven days later there are these baby grasses growing – so cute! And keep watering for another week and the grass is already all grown up and that’s it. It will continue to grow and spread. There’s nothing you need to do. It’s a miracle.

This year I have become fascinated with dandelions. Those things are amazing! You know you have to dig them out from the root – so this year (because we’re fixing our lawn), we started digging dandelions. We spent all afternoon one Saturday and pulled maybe 100 or so. The next day I look at the lawn and there are like 100 little stems that have all of a sudden shot up. I’m like, “I can’t spend another two hours digging all these out before they flower” (because there aren’t 100 dandelions in our lawn, but like 100,000!). So I decided that if I just cut the stems off, at least they won’t go to seed (cause each flower has like 1000 seeds!). So I went and ripped off a whole ton of stems. The next day I look out and there are like 100 more stems and flowers! So I ripped them all again (even though the flowers look so pretty). The next day; 100 more stems and now they’re turning white! Those things are amazing. You can’t kill them. They’re really hard to uproot. You don’t have to plant them. You don’t have to water them. They grow anywhere; they’ll grow through the sidewalk; through the cracks in your driveway! So I did some research. Turns out that dandelions are also like a super food. You can eat the roots; you can eat the stems, the leaves, the petals… the whole thing! They have all these nutrients and they’re supposed to be good for your blood pressure, your cholesterol, they help fight inflammation, they lower your blood sugar; they’re good for your liver function…. They’re miracle plants. I swear they’re also probably the cure for COVID! They’re amazing. All plants are amazing. All animals are amazing.

And look at how amazing our human bodies are: there are four elements, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen and depending on how these molecules are assembled together, they form amino acids. Depending on how the amino acids are assembled together, that makes proteins. Proteins are then the engines that tell a cell what their function is. And our whole body is comprised of cells. We have skin cells, brain cells, blood cells – every organ is made up of cells that are told how to behave by these proteins. It’s amazing. And we, through science, can learn how they work and influence how all that works – mostly for the good – but in the end, who knows? Why do some people respond to chemotherapy or radiation and others don’t? Why does a virus like COVID make some people so sick and kills others – 4 million worldwide – and others get it and don’t even know they have it?

We don’t know.

I think that should give us some humility.

A farmer can do all the right things, but in the end, what makes one seed germinate and the other one not germinate? What makes that one tomato plant give lots of fruit and others none? The first reading tells us that God can make a high tree low and a low tree high; God can make a green tree dry and a dry tree green. God is in control. The Psalm says that even in old age they shall bear fruit. God is in control. Jesus says in the Gospel that the farmer sows the seed and then he waits.

God does the growing.

That is the Good News for today. That’s why the opening prayer today says that without God we can do nothing. That’s why St. Paul tells the Corinthians that we have to walk by faith, not by sight. We have to walk by sight because we live in this physical world, but we also have to walk by faith, knowing and trusting that God is in control.

And God is always at work.

 There’s a great Gospel song called “Way Maker”. It says that God is a “way-maker, miracle-worker, promise-keeper, light in the darkness…” That’s who God is. God is always making a way ; always working miracles; always keeping promises; always lighting the darkness. Later on in the song it says, “Even when I don’t see it, you’re working; even when I don’t feel it you’re working. You never stop, you never stop working.” We have to believe that. God never stops working. Even if you don’t see it, he’s working. He’s working right here, right now. He’s moving every heart. He’s moving in our midst. He’s healing every heart; He’s turning lives around. Even if you don’t see it, he’s working. You come to Mass and don’t feel anything. It doesn’t matter, God is working right here. God is working in our children, even if we don’t see it, even if we don’t feel it. God is working in our schools and our school boards, even if we don’t see it. God is working in our government, even if we don’t feel it. God is working in the United Nations, even if we don’t see it. God is working in our hospitals and in the pharmaceutical companies, even if we don’t see it, even if we don’t feel it. God is working; He never stops working.

This past year has been hard. Maybe some of you want to just pretend this past year never happened. Maybe you haven’t worked in a year. But God has been at work. You may not see it; you may not feel it. But God has been at work. We come back to Church and see how much smaller it is and see that some people have dropped off. It feels like that Church has shrunk over the last year – it hasn’t. The Church is growing. Quietly. God is at work. You may not see it, but he is.

 And that’s the hard part. Because when we know that God is always at work and we trust that He always it at work, we have to trust that. We may never see the fruitful harvest, but the harvest will come. We have to do the planting and God will see to the harvest. We have to trust that God is a work and that means we have to also do our work. He never stops working and we can’t stop working either. And we can’t stop praying. You may never see the results but you can’t stop working or praying. Think of all the people in Scripture who never saw the fruit of their labours: Abraham, Moses, Joseph… We may never see the fruit of our labours – not until we get to Heaven.

We work as if everything depended on us, but we pray as if everything depended on God.

You may never see the results, but God is always working. You may not see it; you may not feel it, but he is. So you keep working too. And keep praying. And God will bring everything to a fruitful harvest!

Look Up to the Sky

Grandpa Bunny (Disney Classic) (Little Golden Book) by RH Disney (Author, Illustrator).

A reflection for the Solemnity of the Ascension, year B. The readings are Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23 and     Mark 16:15-20.

 When I was 4 years old my grandfather died. The whole experience was kept fairly hidden from me – except I was told that he was going to Heaven. I remember that even though I was not taken to the funeral Mass, (for some reason) I was outside the Church, in the parking lot, just after the funeral was over and I kept looking up at the sky. I wanted to see if I could see the coffin flying off to heaven – with wings! I must’ve been listening to the song, “Spirit in the Sky“: “♪♪ going on up to the Spirit in the sky…” Hey, it was the 70’s!

I guess someone asked what I was doing and then explained that this is not how people get to Heaven. It’s funny the way kids think about things. I was looking up to the sky because I wanted to see someone awesome; something amazing.

And I think that’s a bit of what’s happening to the disciples in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

The disciples have just experienced something amazing; something tremendous; something wonderful: Jesus rose from the dead and just spent 40 days with them. Everything he had promised now made sense. Can you imagine that? It was amazing. And then they see him ascend to Heaven just as he said he would. They must’ve been in such awe. How amazing to have been there to witness it! And then these angels show up and spoil it all: “Why are you guys staring up at the sky? Move along.”

-What do you mean? Of course we’re looking at the sky! We just experienced something amazing!

I think those angels were wrong.

Let me briefly explain, that it depends on which translation of Acts you have. The one I like makes it clear that the disciples are staring at the sky, not at heaven; so there’s a clear distinction between the sky and heaven. That distinction is important, because, it’s true that, even though we have to keep our eyes on Heaven, we can’t live our whole lives staring up at the sky; we have to have our feet planted right here on earth so we can do the work that we have to do. But I think that sometimes, it’s OK to spend a little more time than usual looking to the skies: when we’re going through sorrow and despair; when we’re suffering; when we go through loss; when we experience pain; when things are difficult… When you don’t know how to pray, look up at the sky; when we go through a pandemic…

Today, it’s ok to look at the sky.

Because looking at the sky reminds us of Heaven – and we have to keep our eyes on Heaven.

That’s why St. Paul in the second reading from his letter to the Ephesians says that he “prays the eyes of our hearts be enlightened that we may know the hope to which we are called.” (Ephesians 1:18)  I love that! What is the hope to which we are called? Heaven!  That’s where we’re all supposed to go: to be one with God.

That’s what’s difficult about our lives. We are stuck between two realities; between two worlds. We have this existence here on earth, attached to this physical reality that, despite the struggles, brings us so much beauty, joy and pleasure, but deep down inside we have a restlessness because we know we don’t’ belong here. We belong in Heaven. We are created for Heaven. Heaven is the promise. That’s where we’re headed and it’s hard to get to where you’re going if you don’t keep your eyes on the prize.

But in the meantime, we have to live stuck between the two.

Around the same time that my grandfather died, I had a children’s book – a Disney Classic – about a Grandpa Bunny who was a painter. He painted things. He was a great painter and he taught his bunny grandchildren all about painting: they would paint all the flowers red, blue, yellow, pink, purple and orange in the Spring and the leaves red and orange in the Fall and they would spend moonlit nights in the winter painting those beautiful long shadows in the snow. And of course, at Easter they would paint Easter eggs….  Then one day, Grandpa bunny told his bunny grandchildren that he had to go on a long journey. The bunnies didn’t know where he went or whether he was coming back. Until a few days later they saw a beautiful sky – the most beautiful sunset with reds, oranges, yellows and deep purples: an amazing, wonderful sunset. That’s when we realize where Grandpa Bunny had gone.

And just how Grandpa Bunny had to leave so that he could share his painting with the whole world and not just his grandchildren, Jesus had to leave – so that he would not just be physically present to a few, but spiritually present to all. And that’s the promise. Because of the Holy Spirit, after the Ascension, Jesus is not farther away from us; Because he ascends to the Father, because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is closer to us than ever!

And because he ascended, we know that we too will ascend; we too will get to Heaven, for, as our opening prayer today says, “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.” Jesus is the Head and we are the Body and so where Jesus, the Head goes in glory, we the Body of Christ, are called to follow in hope.

Keep your eyes on Heaven; that’s where we’re headed. But especially today it’s ok to spend a little more time than usual looking up at the sky.

Who knows? You may see something amazing.

You may catch a glimpse of Heaven.

♪ Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best ♪

Jesus Wants You To Know Him

A reflection for the 3rd Sunday, Easter, year B. The readings are Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:1-5a; and Luke 24:35-48.

Jesus appears to the disciples, by Paula Gitner Nash. Free Bible Images, http://www.freebibleimages.org, in partnership with Good News Productions, International and College Press Publishing Co. http://www.theglobalgospel.org

Jesus is alive!

That’s all I want to say today, but It’s hard to read or listen to today’s readings and not realize that there is one word that is found in all of them: “sins”. Peter exhorts the crowds to “repent and be converted that your sins will be wiped away.” John writes in his letter that Jesus “is the expiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world” and in the Gospel Jesus tells the apostles that “repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all the nations.” I don’t like to talk about sin; I don’t like to think of myself a sinner or bout my sinfulness. But if you’re like me, and you avoid thinking about your sins and sinfulness you’re missing out on something greater. And that’s what I think is one of the messages for us today.

Six years ago, on the third Sunday of Easter I told you this story:  

There was once an explorer who, after many years in the Amazon, returned home to England, where he proceeded to share with everyone he met about his wonderful adventures. But he really struggled with really sharing the reality of the Amazon. He could draw pictures and maps, he could write stories and descriptions but, how could he describe the smells of the tropical flowers and fruits that he had discovered. How could he describe the sounds of the birds and the animals at sun down? So he did what was natural: he shared as much and encouraged people to go to the Amazon themselves. He gave them clear descriptions as to how to get there and how to prepare for such a trip. He told them how to avoid dangers and gave them all the information they need. His adventures were well received. In fact, an organization was founded and a museum was opened so people could read his writings and look at his pictures and maps. Everyone was very excited to learn about the Amazon, but no one went. Years later, the museum still stands and many have studied the writings and descriptions of his journey. There are many experts on his journey – many people who now know about the Amazon because of him – but no one really knows the Amazon, because no one ever went after he did. [It’s funny because when I’ve told this story to kids they don’t even know what they Amazon is – they just think about the Amazon that’s delivering their package next Wednesday!] So, it’s possible to know about the Amazon, but if you want to really know the Amazon, you have to go there.

Read more…

It is Good for Us to Be Here

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B. The readings are Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-34 and Mark 9:2-10.

Transfiguration by Feofan Grek from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Pereslavl-Zalessky (15th c, Tretyakov gallery) Created: early-15th century.

“Rabbi, it is good for us to be here!” (Mark 9:5)

It is so good that we are here at Church. So many have not been able to be here and starting tomorrow, where we live, we will not be here again for a few more weeks. And so, it is so good that we are able to be here. But I can’t help but think that a year ago, maybe we would not have felt the same way. In fact, I also preached a year ago – second Sunday in Lent, Gospel about the Transfiguration; March 8, 2020. That was the last Sunday we had Mass before that first lockdown. Remember going into “self isolation” that first time?

After the year we’ve had, “it’s good that we are here” has a completely different meaning.

And that’s so often how it goes. We get used to things. We take things for granted. When things are good and we have what we need, we don’t feel we have to work at it. We have Mass. We’ve always had Mass. But I guess we never really thought about what that means, until we don’t have Mass anymore.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but I kind of think that it was the same for the apostles. They knew Jesus. They had been with Jesus about three years. I don’t know what they thought about him – they’d seen the miracles and heard his preaching; they’d seen the crowds. But what did they really think of Jesus? Peter had just told Jesus that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That’s exactly what happens right before this story, in the previous chapter (Mark 8:29). But I am not sure they knew what that meant. They definitely did not understand the cross, nor did they understand the Resurrection. How could they? And in order to help them understand and to help them prepare for what was to come, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain and he gives them a little glimpse of what it’s going to be after the Resurrection; He gives them a little taste of what it will be in Heaven. But they still don’t understand. (At least they thought that it was good to be there.) But clearly they didn’t think of Jesus as God or as divine – because when they saw him transfigured, Scripture tells us that they were terrified.

Read more…