Specks, logs, planks,
whole trees.

“How can you say to another believer, ‘Friend, let me take the piece of sawdust out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the piece of sawdust from another believer’s eye.”

Today marks the last Sunday of the Pre-Lenten season. It confronts us with the hardest challenge we can face in life, the tendency to be judgmental toward others while simultaneously failing to perceive our sins and failings.

There are two keys here. First, how easy it is to perceive the failings in another, and to turn that perception into an accusation. How hurtful and damaging to the target. Beyond that, how often we fail to understand the reality behind another person’s perceived weaknesses. We never know the real reason, the hurt, the pain, the negative experience behind another’s minor failing.

Second, it really isn’t that we fail to see the plank – the hugeness of failings – in our lives. They are exactly huge because they are so close to us. My unbridled passions, lusts, desires, cruelties – huge!

Jesus really hits home in calling us hypocrites exactly because we already know our failings. We see them clearly every day – and yet we turn to hurt another. Wow!

In preparation for Lent we are called to attack the log, the plank, that huge dead tree in the middle of our lives. We are called into a holy season that is to be filled with action. We aren’t to go into a solitary cell, sit quietly, and ponder our dead tree. We are to take action, cutting it down and replacing it with the most life-giving tree of all – the Cross.

Jesus is calling us to go deep in removing that dead tree. The dead tree, the dead roots, all must go. Then we will come to conversion so that we “bear good fruit.” We are then that good man [who] out of the good treasure of his heart produces good. Then people will know who we are for out of the godly abundance of the heart will our mouths speak.

There are two kinds of trees we can focus on. We can live in a forest of death and accusation or come to the Tree of Life. Throughout Lent we are going to focus on getting back to the Life tree – to Eden, that paradise God has prepared for us. The place of joy, peace, and true life.

In Eden there are no dead trees, there are no planks, logs, or specks. We do not look at a another and pass judgment. We see in them Jesus and another self. If we perceive in them hurt, pain, or negative experience we do not accuse. Rather we actively heal them. We gather them under and into the life-giving tree. Jesus has opened the door to Eden for us. Let us go to the Life tree.

Back on the early newsletter streak.

February is here and we will quickly transition from Pre-Lent to Lent. As we begin this journey we naturally ask, why increase prayer, sacrifice more, be in church more, extend myself to others more? What will come out of this? Won’t I just end up grumpy? God has a game plan, an end game in mind for us. Lent helps us to reconnect to that plan, to wash ourselves clean of everything that clouds our vision of the Paradise He has promised us and has provided to us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Lent is about recapturing Eden.

February – we do Lentopoly and celebrate some really special events. There’s a Confirmation, the Bishop’s attendance at out annual parish meeting on February 14th (want to ask a question, here’s your chance). There is an invitation to a Polish Mardis Gras celebration. Lots of other great stuff too. Also, important news on CONVO 2016 and this Special Year Reverence Across our Holy Church.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2016 Newsletter right here.

A series of
principles.

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Many remember the old adage – how do you know the proper spelling of the word principal? It is based on the context. A school principal is your pal. Principles are sets of moral rules, values, or guiding beliefs. Today we hear Jesus’ call to live God’s principles.

Today’s gospel is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount (actually in the Gospel according to St. Luke, delivered on a Plain). Last week, Jesus talked about the beatitudes, the way life should be lived – a set of values that are in touch and consistent with God’s desires for our lives. Today, Jesus sets forth a group of principles – ways of conducting our life so that they exemplify and put the beatitudes into action.

The funny thing about principles is that anyone can develop them. There are all kinds of common sense sayings, adages, and aphorisms that people use every day. As the season of politics and elections drones on we will regularly hear “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We laugh, shake it off and move on. We don’t put a lot of this into action by making essential changes in our politics.

We cannot do so with Jesus’ principles. As we continue our Pre-Lenten journey we are called to renew our effort to take Jesus’ principles to heart and engrain them in our everyday lives. We need to make essential changes in our lives so that Jesus’ principles are dearer to us than anything. Do not judge others’ sins and speak good words to all. Pre-Lent will help us see where we fall short of the excellence Jesus calls us to so that in Lent we can work diligently to fix our life system. His call wasn’t just a few words of common wisdom proclaimed on the Mount or on a Plain. His principles are so much more than adages – more than nice or instructive words. They are a direct key to be used so we live in oneness with God and obtain His promises, His blessings. So we bear good fruit!

Jesus’ principles are not the way life “should” be lived, but the way His disciples (that’s us) must live. Fixing our inner system leads to finding true joy on Easter – real blessing. We will then be found standing with those who are blessed in the Father’s eyes forever.

This week’s memory verse: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.1 Corinthians 2:14

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, grant me Your graces in this season of preparation so that I might perceive Your reality clearly.

Time for a gut
check, really.

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Gut check: an evaluation or test of a person’s resolve, commitment, or priorities, typically with respect to a particular course of action.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. This is prime time to do a gut check. What do we believe and why do we believe it?

St. Paul confronted this with the people of Corinth.

Some people in the Church at Corinth claimed there was no resurrection from the dead. They could not reason or see how dead people could possibly come back.

They were seeing with worldly eyes and were thinking with worldly reasoning.

Paul pointed out the fact that the faith they accepted was in the Jesus that was preached to them. Eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus preached to them. They were lucky enough to get a first-hand account from those who witnessed the resurrection; the resurrection of the One who also raised Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Logically, if Christ rose from the dead, so shall we. If resurrection was impossible then Christ did not rise from the dead. If He did not rise, what’s the point of our belief? We are not saved, Jesus was nothing more than a common man, and dead is dead.

The very foundation of Christianity – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – is make believe and we are wasting our time believing in Him, worshipping Him, and following His good news.

St. Paul emphatically states: in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. What we believe is true as seen and reported and worthy of belief. Not just that, but what we believe is also our destiny. It is the promise we hold onto.

As we begin the Pre-Lenten season let us also do a ‘gut check.’ When we kneel, what is that about? When we receive, Who do we receive? Who gave us the promises we hold onto? Our gut should tell us God made real in our lives.

We have this chance to check in, to reflect, and to see with heavenly eyes. Getting back to basics will make our Lenten journey more fruitful. Our ‘gut check’ brings us back to the most basic message of all. Jesus is real and all He said and did is real. His reality, His victory, His joy, like the resurrection is ours too – really!

wineskin

Time to get a new
shirt.

And Jesus said to them, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.”

At the marriage in Cana the old wine ran out. The old wine was made with human effort, over a period of many years – but it could not meet the need – it ran out. This is a parable of life under the old way of doing things. The old wine runs out; no longer satisfies or is sufficient. The Lord has come to give us new wine, new life. He stands ready to fill us with His new wine.

Jesus came bringing a very powerful message. He promised us spiritual gifts that go beyond everyday life experience. He offers us freedom from sin and a law that drew heavy penalties for sin – chiefly the penalty of death. Instead He tells us that He has paid the price once and for all. He promises us immortality, a future life liberated from death, sickness, disease, poverty, and isolation. He lets us know that no matter, there is a future for each of us. He gave more than a bunch of promises; instead He made co-heirs and true children of God, His brothers and sisters. We have power that goes beyond this world. This is His new wine.

This powerful message does not work on those beholden to the old ways. In fact it causes them to burst in anger and retribution (old wineskins). Old wineskins are hard and unyielding.

We must be those new wineskins, ready to receive the Lord’s new wine. We must be people of His new way.

In the same way, Jesus draws the parallel to patching a garment. You cannot sew unshrunken cloth to a torn old garment; it will only make the tear worse. Jesus wants to clothe us with an entirely new garment of salvation, our baptismal robes. People beholden to old ways don’t want to change their old shrunken and torn ways for new ones. We, on the other hand, have to be ready to receive Jesus’ new ways – His garment.

As we come to the close of our Pre-Lenten season we have to ask ourselves whether we are ready to enter into the Great Lent ahead. It is not just being ready to give up chocolate, or meat, or acting angry toward a rude driver, but ready to be new wineskins – flexible and open to receiving Jesus’ new wine – His message. Will we allow ourselves to be filled, changed, and molded by Him? Are we ready to put on new clothes? With commitment to following Jesus and living His way we will hold Him and wear Him into life everlasting.

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Thankfully, God is
forgetful.

“Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! But you have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

In today’s reading from Isaiah we hear God complaining a bit. After all of the history between Him and His people, they still forgot to call upon Him in their need. In fact they had forgotten all He had done. In forgetting, they turned away from Him and decided to rely on themselves. They basically said – I can figure it out for myself, I can save myself. Every time God blessed them with good things, they returned evil things:

God gave them the Temple – they gave Him idol worship. God gave them truth – they lived and proclaimed a lie. God gave them His commands – they lived like they were suggestions. God gave them wealth – they used it to abuse the poor. God gave them Himself – they gave Him nothing except rejection.

We can see ourselves doing similar things can’t we? We sometimes forget all the good God has done for us.
Like the children of Israel we might hear God complaining a bit about us. At the same time we may be filled with regret for having hurt Him, thinking that we really do not deserve to receive anything from God. Not true!

As God still loved Israel, God still loves us. As God desired to help Israel, He earnestly wants to help us change. Listen to God’s words: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

God desires to do amazing and wonderful things for us. Things we ourselves could never imagine doing. Our God is not a god of condemnation; He is the God of salvation.

God continues to hold out the hand of hope – even today. If we have forgotten Him, we can come back. If we have fallen into bad habits, addiction, anger, any failing whatsoever, we can come back.

The greatest hope of all is that once we come back God has pledged to forget it all. God will not look back. I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

To blot out means that our past wrongs have been wiped out, destroyed, and are forgotten. God will not meet us with a book filled with our sins, because there is no such book. By His power and abundant mercy He gives us new life, rebirth, and a clean slate. Let us approach the coming season of repentance knowing that in our return to Him we are made new once again.

quarantine

Picking at
scabs.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants. If the man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head. The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

We don’t often hear of quarantines anymore. Quarantines are used to separate and restrict the movement of people; it is enforced isolation. Quarantines were used quite a bit in the past in connection to disease and illness, especially communicable disease. Quarantines were used during the plague, to prevent the spread of leprosy, yellow fever, cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, and smallpox. More recently for Ebola and influenza.

The text we read from Leviticus serves two purposes.

The Law was meant to protect the people of Israel against the disease of leprosy at its most practical level. People who were sick had specific rules to follow so others wouldn’t get sick.

The text symbolically points out that the things that are unclean and sinful, including sinful people, should be kept apart from God’s people. God’s people were set apart as pure and holy and as such needed to avoid the infection of sin.

This symbolic meaning is quite depressing, not because its fun to hang out with those who would lead us down the wrong road, but because they were left alone. They could sit there and pick at their scabs-sins, sin again, contemplate their sin, but never get clean. They would dwell apart forever – apart from the community, apart from God. Their fate was painful and hopeless. With that sort of hopelessness there was not reason to repent, to turn away from sin, and no possibility of being welcomed back.

This is our hope, the abundance that we have been given. A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

Jesus came to call us to repentance. He tells us to stop picking at our scabs in isolation, quarantined away, and reaches out to heal us. He makes us clean and new. As we enter the season of Pre-Lent we are given the opportunity to reflect on the scabs we have been picking, and to begin the walk back to Jesus who will heal and free us.

February tends to remind us of our loves and our obligation to love. It presents an opportunity to renew our love toward God and to give thanks for the abundant unconditional love we receive from Him. This February we enter into the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima, hold our Outrageous Valentine’s Raffle, and begin the season of Lent. Remember too that we now have an expand Holy Mass schedule and find tons of great information in our Newsletter. Come be lavished with abundant love in your church – right here in Schenectady.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2015 Newsletter right here.

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Reflection for Quinquagesima Sunday 2014

Matthew-6-26

Lord, can I trust
in You, even if?

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

There are two key things to consider when we reflect on God’s care for us. How far God’s love surpasses any human love and how far our commitment must go in response to His love.

Even the worst of prisoners, people who have done horrible things, still get visits from their mothers even after long years in prison. When other friends and family have given up and dropped away mom is still there.

As a child and even a young man, when I heard “Can a mother forget her infant,” I couldn’t imagine a mother ever forgetting her child or acting without love toward him or her. I felt that even if I did the worst of things my mom would still be there for me. She was, through many of my indiscretions. Looking back though I know I was immature, for look at the evils we have seen mothers commit. Most aren’t new, some are. Yet we still stand aghast at the evils some mothers do.

This makes God’s reassurance even more powerful. His love and care for us surpasses all human love, even the love of a mother for her child. Mom loved me and forgave me, yet even if she didn’t, God does.

God’s love is perfect and He wishes only to give that love to us, to care for us, to keep us in His care not just today – but forever. That is our true hope – an eternity of perfect, all encompassing, love in God’s presence.

The past three Sundays we have heard readings from Matthew 5. Now we are in chapter 6; still part of the Sermon on the Mount and still addressing similar issues: the life style of a disciple who, belonging to Christ, must live in the present while anticipating the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Over these weeks we learned about relying on Jesus as well as our family in faith. We learned to live maturely in the mystery of love. We learned that our every action, thought, and response, every routine, must be one with God’s way – making God’s perfection apparent in every part of our lives. Now we focus on how a disciple is to trust in the Lord. We learn to look forward with trust, beyond the needs of today, with full faith and trust in God.

This is a time of high worry about jobs, financial security, and how we might fulfill our ordinary needs. We still must work to provide for what is needed for our families and ourselves. This is normal. But Jesus is warning about a preoccupying or consuming worry that makes us less concerned about our eternal salvation and the promise of unending life just so we can have a better today. Our total commitment must be for Him and His perfect love.