??From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

I have long believed that every person at some level expects to see the end of the world. I don’t suppose that is really so surprising when you come right down to it. There’s just something about fallen human nature that gives us the hubris to think — even if it is unconsciously — that the world just couldn’t possibly go on without us. And though everyone might believe it at some level, it also bears pointing out that the graveyards are full of people who also thought it and were wrong.

As we approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year, it is little wonder that we hear readings at Mass about tribulations… about prophecies of end times… about the return of the Son of Man.

Will Christ return? Yes; absolutely. Will it be tomorrow? Probably not. Will it be soon? Probably not. Will it be in our lifetime?

Probably not.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be ready. The wise man knows that the world can and probably will go on without him. The prudent man lives every day as if he will be judged tomorrow. It is best to be both wise and prudent.

Whether or not we see the end of the world and the return of Christ the King, one thing remains sure: each one of us will one day be judged by Christ: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These are the Four Last Things; we are all guaranteed three of them. Let us pray for the grace to live our lives in preparation for that which is certain: our own judgment. If each of us focuses on that, I doubt any of us will have much time left over to worry about the end of the world.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

You may have heard the thoroughly modern saying, forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.

While there is a certain humor to that, there is also an undeniable theological weakness. Far better advice is this: Forgive, and have no enemies, for your eternal salvation depends on it.

Consider that the Lord’s Prayer — the prayer Jesus gives us directly and the prayer that is considered to be one of the most complete and most perfect prayers that a person can pray — asks God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we refuse to forgive others, why should God forgive us? Shouldn’t we, as a matter of justice, be held to the same standard to which we desire to hold others? Shouldn’t we be judged by the same measure by which we ourselves judge?

A refusal to forgive is a refusal to love our neighbor as ourself. Any fool can stay angry; it takes true wisdom to see that we need to forgive others and to be forgiven ourselves. It takes real humility to see that forgiving and being forgiven is vital for our own salvation and for that of our brothers and sisters. God is love; to cling to hate is to drive God away.

True forgiveness comes from reconciliation. We are not built for bitterness and anger; we are built for love and happiness. Letting go of anger allows us to move closer to God.

When we forgive, we let go of old hurts and move toward peace. When we realize that we need to seek forgiveness ourselves, we reconcile with our brothers and sisters who we may have wronged and we grow in wisdom and understanding. We move closer to God, and that should be the goal of each and every one of us.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

Please note: in no place in the Gospel does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who refrain from shooting some jerk in the face with a bazooka when he really deserves it, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” He does, however, say “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Christ also doesn’t say that being a peacemaker is easy; however, for those of us who desire to see God, it is vital. Being a true follower of Christ means desiring to act like Christ. We are called to something higher than merely refraining from violence; we are called to truly embrace peace.

Our world and our community are filled with violence. We turn on the news and hear about real-life people killing each other over petty squabbles; we watch a movie and see so-called heroes perpetrating death and destruction on a huge scale presented under the guise of entertainment. Video games seem mainly to involve looking down the sights of a gun at another player.

It’s easy to say that’s not us; that there is a different between entertainment and reality. And, sure — there is a difference… there is a blurry, blurry line between the two. And what do I suggest doing about it? What do we do to fix the world?

Absolutely nothing, I suppose. I’m not looking to fix the world from the top down. I’d rather fix myself and trust the world to tend to its own problems. I’d rather start at the ground floor and work up. And, for me, the fix involves unblurring the line a little bit… it involves rejecting the violence and embracing the role of peacemaker, for there is no higher calling than to be counted among the Children of God.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Homily for Sunday, October 25, 2015

10/25/2015

Never despair of God’s mercy! God’s love knows no bounds. He does not seek to punish us; He does not desire our destruction. He does not cast us away from Him or curse us.

In today’s first reading, we hear the great prophet Jeremiah calling out to the people of Israel, who are exiled from their land and are captive in Babylon. At first glance, it might seem that God has indeed cast away the Israelites. We hear Jeremiah telling them that the Lord will gather the remnant and bring them back to the Promised Land.

Many think that the Babylonian Exile was punishment for Israel’s disobedience and idolatry. I disagree with this view. It seems much more a case of an event – even a tragic event – being allowed to happen not because it was a punitive action but because it was a medicinal correction. God sought not to punish, but to cure.

Idolatry and disobedience had, indeed, taken hold of much of Israel. It was a sickness that had to be removed for the good of the whole body, less the entire body of Israel die from it. Is a doctor who removes a diseased organ cruel?

Of course not! He is very merciful in the way that God is merciful. If one were in the business of second-guessing God – a business I do not recommend – one might ask why the disease wasn’t removed sooner. The answer – both in terms of salvation history as seen in the people of Israel during their exile and in terms of our own personal salvation – is very much the same.

God desires our salvation, and He gives us what we need to respond to His grace so that our salvation may be realized. However, He does not force that upon us. We are still free and we should act responsibly. The perfect love of God presupposes that we will use our capacity for wisdom and reflection to make good choices and that we will exercise our free will to select that which is best for our own good. This is true for us as individuals and it is true for us as a parish community, as a civil community, and as a national community… just as it was true for ancient Israel as a people.

For us today, in a very real and concrete way, this means we have both God-given rights and God-given responsibilities. We have the right to exercise our free will and we have the responsibility to do so in a manner that follows from a wise and careful understanding of what our authentic good is, both personally and within a community. In other words, since God lets us make choices we are obligated to make the best choices possible. We must do the good and reject the evil. What’s more, we must do that for ourselves and to the maximum degree that is possible within our individual circumstance, we must do it for the communities in which we find ourselves.

The first and most important community in which we find ourselves is the family. Some families are healthy; some less so. The healthiest families are those in which every member is doing his or her best to advance the family… to make being a part of that family a pleasure and not a burden.

In the family, everyone has a choice: they can be satisfied with the status quo. They can keep doing what they’ve always done and they can keep getting what they’ve always gotten. This might be a good thing if the family is healthy and ideal. If not, then it might not be a good thing.

Of course, a person also has the ability to choose to do nothing to make the family better. A person could even actively choose to try to make someone else in the family miserable. In these cases, the health of the family is likely to suffer and everyone will be worse off, including and especially the person who chooses to not seek the best way.

Ideally, a person chooses to seek ways to improve the family for everyone. None of us, I expect, live in a perfect family. There is always room for improvement, and so we should all be working to the best of our individual abilities to improve our families. Yes; the father of the family has more responsibilities for this than the youngest baby, but everyone has rights and responsibilities to the family community – even the youngest members. Even if they are an infant capable of doing nothing other than being taken care of, that in itself is an action proper to their state. It gives other family members the opportunity to demonstrate their love and their own maturity when they care for that infant. Besides, in time that infant will likely grow to maturity and have a family of his or her own; their time will come.

God’s love for us is such that we are equipped with the tools we need to make our communities – our worlds – a better place. God doesn’t send us out poorly prepared and ill equipped to do what we need to do. He sends us out with His grace and His love; He gives us a perfect model in Christ. He sets us on the path and calls us to walk it, and He gives us the grace we need to do so. We are blessed abundantly.

Just as we are called to work for the good of our family community, so are we called to work for the good of the other communities in which we find ourselves: our parish community, our city community, our state and our national communities. Even the world is, in its own way, a community in which we find ourselves. Are each of us called to change the world, to make it a better place? Yes, though the way in which we do that varies widely depending on our state in life. Not all of us can be the President of the United States or the Secretary General of the United Nations. But all of us can carry the Gospel to all of the places we go, and in so doing help fulfill the commandment to spread the Good News to all peoples and lands.

We should look for ways to make all of our worlds — all of our communities —better than they have been before, because this is the response God’s love demands. When we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we should not let these be empty words. We should be actively working to bring about that reality in all of the places we find ourselves, because that is an honest reflection of God’s love and a wise response in love to what God gives us.

Let us always pray for wisdom and discernment so that we can see the many, many ways in which we are called to make our communities a better place where the love of God and the fellowship of man is apparent to all. Let us always remember that the world is not transformed so much by the action of a few who are mighty, but by the vast multitude seeking the good of all in their individual lives and circumstances.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

Dear Parish Family,

Something that you may or may not realize about me is that I am terribly shy and introverted. It is very difficult for me to do things that draw attention to myself. I think it is for that reason that I have a special love for Bartimaeus, the blind man.

I probably would have been sitting by the side of the road thinking, “There goes Jesus. He could help me… if only I could ask Him. But – really – is being blind so bad? Maybe I should just keep my mouth closed.”

Not Bartimaeus. Nope. He shouts right out, and when people try to shush him, he won’t have any of it. I can just picture him telling them, “No! You shut up!” and going right on calling out to Our Lord.

I think about Bartimaeus when I have to say something difficult or uncomfortable. It might be far easier to keep my mouth shut – to not speak out against a wrong or an injustice… but that’s not always the right thing to do.

Bartimaeus was saved by his faith, and he demonstrated his faith by calling out on the Lord – a very real action – and by trusting that Jesus had the power to help him.

Let us always pray for the faith of Bartimaeus… to pray for the wisdom to know that Christ can help us and for the spiritual eyes to see that nothing should prevent us from calling out to Our Lord and begging Him for His aid. Even when it is easier to be quiet, we should never hesitate to demonstrate our faith and our trust in God, who can do amazing things for us.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

From the Desk of Deacon Richard… October 18, 2015

Dear Parish Family,

I come from the rural South, and in Tennessee we have a saying that someone “went and got the big head.” In today’s Gospel, the sons of Zebedee done went and got the big head. (Please note, gentle reader, that the act of “done went” compounds the fact of “got” so that “done went and got” is magnitudes worse than simply having “got the big head.”)

But haven’t we all been there at one time or another? Haven’t we all at some point been a little full of ourselves? And haven’t we seen others who are full of themselves? It’s fairly normal to react with indignation at others when they go and (as the saying goes) get the big head; the other ten apostles, Mark tells us, reacted in that way.

Christ, though, seems to react with somewhat more patience and understanding. He warns James and John that they really do not understand what they are asking for and tells them outright it is not His to give.

Let us all pray for the grace to respond a Our Lord responds, not with indignation but with patience. We are called to suffer wrongs with understanding and humility in the manner of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is easy to be indignant; it is the mark of one on the road to sainthood to respond with patience and understanding to affronts, both real and imagined.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Homily for Wednesday, October 14, 2015

“You, O man, are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself.” These words come from Paul’s letter to the Romans, and they very closely echo Our Savior’s own words in the beginning of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

These are, I do not doubt, some of the most favorite passages in the Bible among those who need to seriously rethink their life choices but are stubbornly refusing to do so. Am I judging? No; I’m stating a fact.

“Don’t judge me, man. It’s not very Christian.” Sounds both whiney and judgmental, doesn’t it?

Does Our Lord really command us not to use prudence? Does Our Lord really command that we look the other way when we see bad behavior? Christ in fact said that He did not come to judge the world, this is true. He also said immediately following that statement that there is one who will judge.

The simple fact is, we are all judged. The Four Last Things are these: death, judgment, heaven and hell. You will see three of them. Whether the third one is heaven or it is hell depends on the grace of God and on the judgments you make.

Our Lord commands that we condemn no one, and indeed we should not. We lack the perfect wisdom and perfect justice of God; we are in no way equipped to condemn a person. However, we are blessed with sufficient wisdom and justice to judge actions… to make prudential decisions as to whether a given action is right or it is wrong. And we certainly have the ability to set a standard to which those who want to be a part of society must adhere or risk being rejected by that society.

The Lord’s command not to judge is not a pass for bad behavior. Those who would make it such are the very people warned that by their stubbornness and impenitent hearts are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment. Do not condemn your brothers and sisters, for we all are sinners. But do not allow their souls to be lost, either, by looking the other way and pretending not to see bad behavior.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard… October 11, 2015

I would like to say a very special thank you to everyone who came out last Sunday to support Life Chain 2015. It was a bit chilly out, but the support of so many passers by made it seem a little less cold. It is always good to be a witness for those who cannot speak for themselves and to support the sanctity of life.

In today’s Gospel reading, Our Lord tells a rich young man to sell what he has, give it to the poor, and to follow Him. The young man goes away sad, unwilling to take that radical step in discipleship.

Christ then goes on to exclaim to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

This statement worries me, and it seems to have worried his disciples as well, as the Scriptures report that they were amazed at Jesus’ words… so much so that when they questioned Our Lord, He seems to have doubled down on His statement and told them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now, I’ve heard the stories about camel caravans and a narrow gate in Jerusalem that it was somewhat difficult but far from impossible for a camel to pass through. Those stories are utter bunk, made up by tour guides to reassure wealthy visitors to Jerusalem. Let’s set those stories aside (along with their semi-pelagianistic leanings) and assume that Our Lord meant what He said: that just as a camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle, a rich man cannot enter heaven.

That idea is very frightening, indeed. Compared to the American standard of wealth, I’m not what might be considered overly wealthy. Like many of the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes, I’m comfortable, not complaining, but not rich, either. However, compared to a standard that encompasses all of the world’s people, I am exceptionally wealthy.

Can I be saved? Can you? Or does our wealth doom us? The answer is simple: left to our own devices, our wealth dooms us. But Christ does not leave us to our own devices; He makes possible our salvation. Still, to those who are given much, much is expected. We have been given great gifts, many of which we receive by simple virtue of when and where we were born. It is incumbent upon us to use some of what we are given in service to Christ and His Church. After all, it was given freely to us and we in turn should give freely to those less fortunate.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

From the Desk of Deacon Richard… Oct 4, 2015

A Note on Mass Intentions: There is a new mail box near the parish office in which Mass Intentions can be left. This box, like the chapel, is available 24-hours-a-day. You can leave your Mass request and $10 stipend in the box at any time.

N.B.: when I schedule Masses, I try to put them on the requested date when possible. When the requested date is not available, I place the intention on the next available open Mass time. If you want to find out if a particular date is open, you are welcome to call or text me at 816.679-8974 or email me at richard@richardgross.net. (I am in school right now and will be through December 11, so I am unavailable by phone for part of the day. If you are unable to reach me by phone, please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as I am able. It is my hope that Mass Intention scheduling will be available online via the OLL website in the not-too-distant future.)

The OLL Website: Our parish’s website, www.ollraytown.com, was recently updated; there will be more changes to it in the coming weeks. I am in the process of migrating it to an entirely new format that will better enable me to provide information on upcoming events in the parish.

You can still find all of the information that was on the old site on the new; as always, you can find an expanded edition of this Bulletin on the website. The digital edition of the Bulletin is posted to the website on Friday afternoon.

Life Chain 2015: This year’s Life Chain is today! I hope to see everyone this afternoon praying for the sanctity of life and for the protection of the unborn.

All human life is precious because all people are made in the likeness and image of God. There is nothing more valuable than a human soul and no person’s life should ever be ended prematurely for any reason.

Not everyone who is in mortal danger is capable of speaking for him- or herself. It is the responsibility of those who love justice to act as witnesses for those who are incapable of representing themselves.

Please join me this afternoon in silent witness for those whose lives are in danger through the evil of abortion. See the interior of this Bulletin for more information about Life Chain 2015.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard