With Incredible Love!

With Incredible Love!

I want all of us to totally clear our minds of the things we know about the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t think about anything but what we are experiencing today. Let’s put ourselves into the Passion personally. What role are you playing? Are you Jesus? Are you Judas? Are you Mary? Are you Simon Peter? One of the other apostles? Are you Pilate? Are you the centurion nailing the hands and feet of Jesus to the cross? Are you Joseph of Arimathea? Or are you simply in the crowd yelling, “Crucify Him”.

We all know that the cross is the symbol of our eternal salvation. I want to talk a little today about the difference in true repentance. All we really need to do is to look at the difference between the responses of Judas and Peter.

  • Judas has no difficulty initially turning Jesus over for monetary gain.
  • After he turns Jesus over to the Romans, he comes to realize his transgression.
  • What does he do? He returns the money and tells the chief priests, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
  • Judas then goes and hangs himself.
  • Then let’s look at Peter.
  • Peter is consistently telling Jesus he will always be there for him.
  • At the last supper he tries to find out Jesus’ betrayer.
  • He goes to the garden and cannot stay awake and is chastised by Jesus.
  • Peter pulls out his sword and cuts off the ear of Malchus, the slave. Again, trying to protect Jesus.
  • Peter then follows Jesus as He is led away by the soldiers. He follows at a distance to not be discovered. Imagine how Peter was feeling. The strong protector now afraid.
  • He gets through the gate and tries to be invisible but is recognized.
  • After three times denying Jesus, the cock crows.
  • Peter realizes what he has done and begins to sob.
  • Jesus catches Peter’s eye and with a simple glance, Peter knows he is still loved and forgiven by Jesus.
  • We do not really know what Peter did during the rest of the events of Jesus’ Passion.
  • Research shows though that he was probably not at the crucifixion.

What’s the difference between Judas and Peter? The difference was that Peter understood that the love of Jesus was unconditional and he was forgiven even after denying Him three times. Judas on the other hand, although he realized what he had done and he repents by returning the silver coins. He never understood the love and forgiveness of the Jesus.

How does that impact us today? Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins. All we need to do is come to Him at the foot of the cross and ask Him for His forgiveness.

We are often lost, confused, without purpose or meaning in life, without assurance of a future life. But from the cross Jesus reached out by His death and rescued us.

The forgiveness and the mercy of God are so far beyond our comprehension that we can hardly even talk about them.

Sometimes the things that make us the strongest come from our failures. We can leave all of our failures at the cross. Shortly we will have the chance to venerate the cross, take this opportunity to allow Jesus to take your cares and troubles away at the foot of the cross.

I leave you with these questions.

  • Do you know Jesus?
  • Do you know the forgiveness of the cross and the power of Jesus’s love?

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

Vaya Con Dios – “Go with God”

Years ago, a friend of mine stayed at the Beverly Wilshire for business, right off Rodeo Drive, steps away from some of the most exclusive and expensive stores in the world. The hotel is something of a legend. It may be most famous as the setting for the movie “Pretty Woman.”

I have to tell you, I know he didn’t really fit in. He’s usually a Holiday Inn Express kind of guy. But he didn’t make the reservations. And somehow, he managed to cope.

Anyway…The day he left, he was waiting at the entrance for the taxi to take him to the airport, and he noticed some writing etched into the pavement on the ground. It wasn’t graffiti; this was part of the design of the hotel, carved into the stones.

He thought it probably said, “Caution” or “Pedestrian Crossing.” But no. Instead, it carried a surprising, familiar message to those who were departing, words of farewell in Spanish:

“Vaya con dios.”  Literally: “Go with God.”

Probably the last three words you’d expect to see on a sidewalk outside a hotel in Beverly Hills. This is a classic Spanish goodbye—but also a kind of benediction. A blessing for all of us on life’s journey. Thinking back on it all these years later, it occurs to me that those words mean more than we may think. They are more than just a way of wishing someone a safe journey. They make us realize this beautiful truth: We go with God because God goes with us.

And we have a reminder of that in what we just heard, Jesus’s last words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Again, and again in scripture, Jesus tells us: do not be afraid. This is why. It is because God is with us. Always. 

This particular Sunday, when we honor the Most Holy Trinity, is the perfect opportunity to remember that, to take comfort from it, and to refocus our lives to live in that enduring hope. A famous poem tells us, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” And what grandeur it is! God the Father, who created us and everything around us. God the Son, who became us and redeemed us and taught us how to be what the Father intended us to be. And God the Spirit, our Advocate and our Comforter, who walks with us now and continues to “renew the face of the earth” with His abundant gifts.

The concept of the Trinity, this notion of God in three persons, is probably one of the most challenging mysteries of faith. Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with it for centuries. It has left even the most devout believers confounded. But we shouldn’t be confounded. We should be stunned. We should be stunned…that God the Father who created us loves us so much that He became one of us, sending His Son into the world to live with us, to struggle with us, to weep with us, to bleed with us.

We should be stunned…that God the Son who took on our flesh also took on everything—the hunger in the desert, the nails in His hands, the betrayal and denial of those He loved.

We should be stunned…that a God who endured all that revisits us in the Holy Spirit to dwell with us throughout our broken history—bringing His gifts to a frightened and uncertain world. Gifts of wisdom and understanding, of knowledge and fortitude.

It should bring us to our knees. This is how much we are loved.   

Three years ago, Pope Francis marked this feast by proclaiming that we are called to live out this love in the world. It is our missionary mandate. He said, “We are called, to live not without each other, over or against each other, but with each other.” He continued saying that we should use the Trinity as our model, the model of a family— “to live in love mutually and towards all, sharing in joy and sufferings, learning to ask and to grant forgiveness,” bearing witness to the Gospel.

It is a call that is holy and beautiful— and challenging. But it’s a challenge we don’t have to face alone. “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Our God is with us. He is with us when we feel lost. He is with us when we feel frightened. He is with us when our hearts are broken, when our strength is sapped, when the ground in our hearts is dry and it feels like nothing will grow.

Call on Him. Wait for Him. Listen for Him. He is there. And this morning, in a particular way, he is here. As we receive Him in the Holy Eucharist, we carry that sure knowledge and hope in our hearts — and receiving Him, we leave this place ready to carry his grace into the world.

It is the grace and mystery of one God in three persons —a love so vast, it leaves us humbled. It should also leave us profoundly grateful. If you don’t believe me, just visit the Beverly Wilshire Hotel—an unlikely evangelizer in an unlikely place, but one that preaches to all who pass by something we need to hear.

We go with God. Yesterday. Today. And forever. Vaya con dios.

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

Mass for the Brokenhearted

As we come here tonight, our hearts are broken. They have been broken by what we have heard and what we have experienced. Some of you may have come because you have suffered a deep wound to your innocence. You are the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests. You have experienced a deep hurt from those whom you thought you could trust and whom you should have be able to trust. You have gone through the pain of fear that your story would not be believed. You so needed to hear those important words, “It was not your fault.” Yet, all too often what you needed to say was ignored or even silenced by the Church leaders who covered it up when they should have been the first to come to your aid and uphold your cause. A further inexcusable wound has been dealt you by Bishops in the Church who failed in their promise to protect. Your presence here is itself a great act of courage. Thank you for that gift. We are here for you, and we pray that tonight you may experience a measure of the healing you need and for which you so yearn.

Some of you may have come because you have experienced other sources of hurt from the representatives of the Church. You may be family members of those abused. There may have been no one to listen to you when you turned to the Church in your need. You may have experienced harsh words or broken promises. It may be that a sacrament was denied you or denied to someone you love. In one way or another, you may have felt that you were misunderstood, ignored or treated with disrespect. We also are here for you.

Some of you are here because you have been faithful Catholics for many years, and you need something from the Church that has been part of your life for so long.

(Pause) Shock, betrayal, hurt, confusion, anger are all words that I have heard you voice as you respond to the news that has been anything but the Good News of Jesus Christ. This has happened because of the failures of those who should have proclaimed it not only through their words but also through their deeds.

Some of you have come to pray for those who have been hurt. Your hearts are broken for them. May God bless you for your goodness, and may your prayers be a powerful source of consolation for those for whom you pray.
As sad and tragic as this occasion is, we are still people of faith. We believe that healing is possible. We believe it because Jesus said it was. He invited people to receive it from him when he said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.”

There is a pathway to that healing. Jesus is the only one who can give it, and he will give it according to his promise, but the pathway cannot be short-circuited. The first step along that path is to call the evil of sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable persons by name. It is an unspeakable crime. It is a grievous wound inflicted on the body, mind, heart and soul of the innocent. It is a mortal sin. It is a cancer inflicted on the people of God.
The second step is to bring the truth to light, no matter what that truth will reveal, no matter how many times we need to hear it. Jesus himself said, “There is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” The days of cover-up should never have taken place. They must at last be over and be over forever.
The next step is the confession of sins committed. Those sins are many. They are the sins of abuse themselves and the sins of cover-up—the attempt to circumvent the will of Jesus, expressed in his words which I have just quoted. They are sins of inexcusable, unconscionable poor decisions, which allowed the abuse to continue and to be inflicted on new victims. They are the sins of the injury caused to those who have suffered so much and continue to suffer too long.

I know that for you who have experienced any kind of hurt from the Church what I represent as a priest is itself a source of that pain. With that knowledge, I humbly confess the sins that have been committed and ask for your forgiveness for what you have suffered. This is in keeping with the Old Testament tradition of the scapegoat. The people of Israel placed the sins committed by individuals in the community on the animal who would carry them off into the desert. I cannot take away the effects of the sins committed in the Church so easily, but I receive them in the name of Jesus, who said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

The fourth step is the action that must be taken to correct the situation in which we now find ourselves. Fine words, including the words I speak tonight, are not enough. They never were. From the Bishops and the Holy Father, we expect action that will lead to change. We need to voice that expectation, and we need to hold them accountable for fulfilling it.
It is a sobering task, to be sure, but one that must be undertaken if the healing for which we pray is to take place. In our faith, we look to Jesus. In the proclamation of his public ministry, he said that his purpose as God’s anointed was to heal the brokenhearted. We take him at his word. Therefore, we believe that, through the power and mercy of our God, healing is possible, for indeed nothing is impossible with God.

The road may be long and hard, but we have his promise and we are here because we are counting on that promise. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution? We are the ones who dare to believe that neither death, nor life, nor past things, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers or those who wield them, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let’s face it. There have been some incredibly strong forces of pain, disillusionment, betrayal, confusion, doubt, fear and much more that we have already seen, and somehow we are still here. On a number of occasions now, we have been encouraged to place our faith and trust not in weak, fallible human beings, whether they be bishops, priests or anyone else, but rather on Jesus Christ who was faithful to his promises to the very end, when no one else was. If God is for us, who can be against us? He reassured his apostles, and reassures us once again, “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” “Master, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

By: Fr. Larry Seidl

Do Not Be Confused

In our Gospel reading today we get further revelation of Jesus’ identity. He uses the title “Son of Man.” There can be no doubt by now that Jesus is no ordinary Rabbi. Still the disciples are confused. It is helpful to remember that this entire section in Mark’s gospel is framed at the beginning and end by accounts of blind people who are given sight. This stark image of going from blindness to sight is a great clue for us. As the blind man is given sight, however gradually, so the disciples, who are blind to Jesus’ mission and identity, are given sight, though slowly. Knowing and not knowing, understanding and not understanding are woven throughout the Gospel of Mark. From Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”, to the transfiguration, to Jesus explaining yet again what lies ahead for the Son of Man. And still the disciples do not understand. This is not a new role for disciples. Throughout Mark, they are the knuckleheads who just don’t get it.

Well, let’s not be too hard on the disciples. We are often in this confused state of mind as to what God has planned for our lives. I’d like to share a time when I was seriously questioning the Lord and His plans for me. In early 2001, I was contacted by an FBI agent who told me they were now investigating me in regards to the illegal conduct of my former boss. He told me that he wanted to speak with me to determine if I was involved in the illegal behavior as well. Not the call you want to get at 8:30 in the morning.

I knew I had done nothing wrong, but the process played out publicly for over two years. There were people who were saying I was “guilty as hell” and belonged in prison with my boss. I did not understand why I was being put through these trials. I wanted to blame God and was questioning His love for me. It was a two-years of anxiety and confusion. Finally, both the FBI and the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice cleared me. Of course, that did not make the front page of the newspaper like the other stuff did.

Why do I tell you this story? I was like the disciples in today’s Gospel. I didn’t understand what Jesus was doing to me.  The disciples were slow learners. But so was I.  Unlike the disciples, I had the advantage of the entire life story of Jesus. We have to get out of this mindset that our God is a punishing God. He loves us. He died for us. Now, that doesn’t mean we will not have some trials and tribulations in our lives. After all, if our Lord went through His passion for our sins, can’t we take on some battles along with Him?

Nevertheless, be assured, He will always be there to help us through these difficult times. Although I cannot explain why, I know that this experience made me a stronger person and even a stronger and more faith filled Catholic. During this time, my Catholic friends and family were incredible and always there for me. They did not judge. They only loved me and were great servants of the Lord to me.

If you’re like me, you have also been watching the turmoil going on in the Catholic Church right now. Thursday we were told that our beloved Bishop Morneau requested to be removed from his public ministry for failing to report to authorities an incident of priest sexual abuse in 1979. Bishop Ricken has granted the request.

As a Catholic, I am asking myself why the church is going through this strife? I think it is like the confusion the disciples were going through in the Gospel today. We have many people judging the whole Catholic Church and the clergy. Again, as a member of the clergy, I feel like I am being judged for something I am innocent of. Just like those who were judging me as guilty of something I never did in the early 2000’s. We have to remember, we are not the judge. There is only one Eternal Judge, Jesus Christ.

I think it is important to remember, the church is only an organization made up of sinners. We come here every weekend as sinners to worship our Savior Jesus Christ, not the organization. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” So, let’s not spend our time trying to convince ourselves that we are the greatest among all of us, but let’s spend our time being servant leaders spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

You may be asking yourself, how do I become a servant leader spreading the Good News? I submit to you we cannot be those people who are continually judging others and the way others live their lives. To spread the Gospel we must:

  • Live our lives imitating Jesus.
  • Love those who hate us.
  • Help those who can’t help themselves.
  • Forgive those who trespass against us.

It does not matter the sin, we need to be forgiving merciful people to those who are sincerely asking for our forgiveness. Jesus’ entire ministry was about relationships, not just when it was easy, but especially in those difficult times. It was a ministry of mercy towards all sinners. Is this easy, no. Nobody said being a Catholic Christian would be easy. So, when people ask why you continue to go the Catholic Church, I suggest to you the answer is easy. Tell them:

  • I love Jesus Christ, and I need Jesus in my life.
  • Tell them how important it is to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
  • Tell them no one else has ever given up their life for my sins.

Let’s not be confused. This is a time to be strong and resolute, but also to be merciful and loving. It’s a time for us to join together as the Christian family we are and live as children of God.

God Bless You.

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

We’re Called to Struggle

Two toddlers are playing in a room filled with toys. Things are going well until each of them decides that one toy out of all the toys in the room is their favorite. Before you know it, both are screaming, “No! Mine!” Finally, one child’s mother comes in and tells her child to give the toy to the other child. The look on the child’s face says it all: “Mom, you betrayed me! How could you do this to me? Don’t you know this is my favorite toy? Why would you tell me to give it up? Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?”

It’s easy for us to laugh at this situation. It’s kind of funny to see a young child have such fierce feelings for a toy. But you know, we’re really no different no matter how old we are. In one way or another, there are times when we are just as possessive of something God gave us in the first place and that we can’t take with us in the end. For me, it’s probably my Harley!

Today we’re reminded that We’re Called To Strugglestruggle against the temptation to not put God first in our lives.

Before us today we have one of the most dramatic accounts in all of Scripture. From the first time this story is taught to us, we remember it the rest of our lives. Every time we hear it, we are simply amazed—a father is told to give up his son, his only son!

Some years before this, Abraham already said goodbye to another son, Ishmael. He was the son he had with Sarah’s maid-servant, Hagar. Abraham had to send them away because Ishmael was persecuting Isaac in order to protect the promise made in Isaac. Now God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

The silence from Abraham is startling! There is no complaint, “Lord, how could you tell me to kill my son? Aren’t I supposed to do everything in my power to protect him?” There was no arguing, “Lord, what’s wrong with you?

Abraham’s obedience and love for God is so great, he gets up early the next morning to get ready and leave. Abraham, Isaac and two servants set out for the 50 mile, 3 day journey through the hill country. Just imagine all that time he had to think about what he was doing! Every step was a step of faith! Then Abraham sees the mountains of Moriah in the distance, and Moses relays every gut-wrenching detail. “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.” Isaac carries the fuel that would consume him, and his father carries the fire and knife that would bring an end to Isaac’s earthly life and destroy his physical body!

They reach the summit, Abraham builds the altar, distributes the wood on the altar, and then turns to his son. Isaac doesn’t fight or resist as his father binds his hands and feet and lays him on top of the wood. Isaac doesn’t plead with his father to stop as he reaches for the knife. When suddenly from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Why would God put Abraham through such an experience? At the beginning of our text, Moses tells us that God was testing Abraham. Every test the LORD brings, he brings to strengthen us in our faith. But perhaps the LORD had a second purpose. Perhaps Abraham’s love for his son would have grown beyond what it was now and crowd out his love for God. Abraham was called to struggle against that temptation.

As Abraham and Isaac travel up the mountain, Isaac breaks the silence with a question that must have stabbed like a knife straight into Abraham’s heart! “Father, the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Where we would have crumpled from grief, Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Friends, We’re Called To Struggle against sin and temptation too. You probably think you have plenty to of things to struggle with, but sometimes you might not think you have much to repent of. Well, then think about the First Commandment, because that’s really what Abraham’s test was all about. “You shall have no other gods.”

What do you love so much that it would be impossible to willingly and gladly give up if the Lord required it of you? Would you give up your parents? Your spouse? Your child? Your Harley? Abraham got up right away early in the morning and obeyed. Would you? Jesus tells us in Matthew,  “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

How much less than that are you unwilling to give up? How much less a thing do we greedily cling to like the toddlers I spoke about earlier? Can we say that whenever God required that we give something up, some time, a friend, some money, some popularity out of love and loyalty to his Word, we did it? And if we did, was it done gladly and willingly?

What if God asked you right now to give up our home, our wealth, our position, all that we are and have like so many Christians in other parts of the world are, would we get up early in the morning and go straight to it? If God took these things away, would we complain about it? Would we be like the toddler and say, “God, you betrayed me! How could you do this to me? Don’t you know I love this person, my home, my job, my health? Why would you tell me to give it up? Why would you take that away from me? Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?”

The question must be asked: If we do not love God enough to give up anything for him, even our child, why should he give up his Son for us?

Friends, We’re Called To Struggle against the temptation of loving anything more than our God. And that struggle is fierce. Sometimes the Lord needs to increase our struggle by taking things away so that we would love him most of all.

In no way do we deserve the Father to give his Son for us, but that is exactly what he promised to do at the end of our text. “…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed…” That offspring is Christ our Savior. In fact, he was the very one speaking to Abraham! And friends, look at how Christ struggled on our behalf! His struggle against temptation in the wilderness was so great, angels came and attended him! And yet, he was victorious in his struggle. And then one day, Jesus would willingly obey his Father’s will and carry the wood of his altar on his own back to that same mountain where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac. There the Father did not spare his own Son one bit of suffering. There Jesus endured the ultimate struggle against sin. It killed him, but he rose again, just as he promised!

Friends, that’s why Abraham could struggle as he did. He knew and believed in the promise. You see it in his complete obedience. You see it when you hear him tell the servants, “We will worship and then we will come back to you.” And when he tells his son, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burn offering…” Not only did God provide the ram for their sacrifice that day. God provided The Lamb of sacrifice, His Son, His Only Son, who would give his life on that very mountain!

Friends, our struggle is to be willing to surrender everything to God, and not be like those toddlers. It’s not ours to ask why, but to trust God to give what is good. Because that is exactly what he does give. The Apostle Paul makes that point crystal clear. As we repentantly turn to God and trust in him above all things, we have absolute assurances from him. Paul writes in the second reading today: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  And again, there is nothing in all creation that is “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

Friends, this is why we can struggle. This is why we want to struggle faithfully against Satan’s attacks that would have us love someone or something more that our God. This is why, like Abraham, we can quietly and confidently follow our Father’s plan. And friends, when we fail in the struggle, and we will, even daily if only for a moment, repent and receive from your Father the forgiveness and the strength to continue the struggle until the day our struggle is over.  Lent is the perfect time for us to repent through reconciliation.

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

Produce Great Fruit

“The best and the brightest.” It was a phrase used by some journalist to describe the administration of President John F. Kennedy. The same phrase could have been used to describe Saul of Tarsus who we hear about in the first reading today; a child of the best upbringing; a Roman citizen; trained in the best Jewish schools; groomed, perhaps, to even become chief priest.

Saul was hell bent on the destruction of the believers of Jesus. In order to understand Saul of Tarsus it is important that we put him into historical context. Only a few short years had passed from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus when a self-righteous religious zealot assisted in the murder of one of Christianity’s earliest messengers, a godly man named Stephen.  Luke punctuates Saul’s involvement in this murder with the chilling comment:

“Now Saul was consenting to his death.”

After the death of Stephen, Saul was fanatical about destroying this new sect. Saul launched a holy war against the Church, scattering the believers. He created havoc, entering homes, sending many to prison – even putting some to death.

Today, we know Saul of Tarsus as the Apostle Paul. He was renamed Paul after his conversion.

Saul obviously was not producing good fruit in his early life. But look what happens after his conversion to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He becomes one of the most powerful preachers of Jesus in all of history. I feel like I still have a shot!

Some branches produce fruit and are pruned, cared for and nurtured. Some branches do not produce fruit and are removed, thrown away and burned. We need to prune those things in our lives that get in the way of living our lives with Jesus.

We are a people of productivity. It is, for the most part, the standard by how we live and measure our success. Those who produce are rewarded and get more. Those who do not produce are thrown out. Careers and promotions are based on productivity. Productivity at some level is at the core in all areas of life including sports, poverty, healthcare, and the elderly.

Some of you may know that for many years I was an assistant coach for girls’ softball at Neenah High School. Throughout the years there were many talented players that came through the program. Unlike some sports, softball has some very strict substitution rules which can make it difficult to get all the girls into the game. It seemed like every year there would be those players who were just a step away from being able to get on the field regularly. These girls were the ones on the team that could make or break the season. Why you ask? Because it is very difficult to be that person that feels like you are not contributing to the team. Many people think that if I am not on the field, I am not a contributor.

I am here to tell you that is the furthest thing from the truth. These girls in most seasons ended up being the determining factor about how our season would go. If these girls complained and created a negative under current they would literally suffocate the team. If they came with a positive attitude they would lift the team up and often times were the young women who controlled the teams’ emotions throughout good and bad times. They were truly being leaders, producing good fruit. You see, we have to be careful about how we put value on those things we do in life. With the sports analogy, it takes the whole team to be successful. One piece of poisonous fruit can bring the whole team down. We need to be careful how we categorize good fruit.

We have been convinced that productivity is the goal and only the fittest survive. I wonder if that isn’t how many of us live our spiritual lives. How many of us have been told, in some form or fashion, or come to believe that branches that produce abundant fruit go to heaven, and branches that produce less fruit go to hell?

Productivity does not usually create deep abiding and intimate relationships. It creates business transactions. Jesus is not talking about or demanding productivity. He wants a relationship with us and an intimacy with God.

Fruit or the lack of fruit, is a manifestation of our interior life and health. It describes and reveals whether we are living connected or disconnected lives from Jesus Christ. Are we really a good teammate? Fruit production is the natural consequence of staying connected. You see that in long-term friendships and marriages.

We have all had the experience where we lose touch with a particular person. We no longer know where they are, what they are doing, or what is happening in their life. One day we run into them. It’s a bit awkward. No one is sure what to say. There’s not much to talk about. There was no deep relationship and the connection is lost.

Other people we run into after five or ten years and the conversation immediately picks up where we left off those many years ago. Even though we were apart, we never left each other. There remains a connection that time, distance, and the circumstances of life cannot sever.

I think it is important for us to consider some questions.

“What fruit am I producing?”

“Is it quality fruit?”

These are questions not about the quantity of fruit we are producing, but the quality of that fruit. I am talking about the fruits of the Holy Spirit such as charity, generosity, joy, and patience. That is the deeper question Jesus is asking us. It is the invitation to join the conversation, jump into the game, to participate, and to live fully alive with Jesus Christ. That only happens when the life, love, and holiness of Christ flows in and through us. We then become an extension of his life, love, and holiness.

It is a relationship of union just as the branch is united to the vine. We live our lives as one. This is not just about relationship with Jesus; it affects and is the basis for our relationships with one another. If the love we have for Jesus, one another, and ourselves becomes one love, we soon discover we are living one life, and the fruit of that life and love is abundant, overflowing, and glorifies the Father. Don’t be that rotten apple, be the team player with Jesus and your fruit will always be of the highest quality.

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

Me or We

Me or We? It’s a question each of us faces and answers every day as we make decisions, establish priorities, and live our lives. Do we live as insulated and isolated individuals or as a person connected to others?  Me or We is a choice we must all make every day.

It’s a question Solomon faced when the Lord came to him in a dream and said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” It sounds like a great deal. It sounds like God has signed and given Solomon a blank check. All he needs to do is fill in the amount. Who hasn’t at one time or another wished for that? We’ve probably all played the if-you-could-have-anything-in-the-world game. But it’s not that simple. It’s not a game. It’s real life and real death. God’s question comes with a dilemma and Solomon’s answer will carry profound consequences. Solomon must decide between asking for himself or asking for the larger we, of which he is also a part. We do the same thing every day in our lives.

The question comes to Solomon in the night, in a dream, and it suggests that it comes from a deep interior place and that his answer will also come from that deep interior place. We are often blind to and unaware of the choice between me and we as we face the circumstances of our lives. We tend to focus on what is happening around us rather than what is happening within us.

When disruptions occur, something that throws our life off balance, something that challenges us, troubles us, or frightens us, we almost immediately begin thinking about a response. What will we do? How will we do it? In some way those are really secondary questions. The primary question is the awareness of others, and the interior condition from which we will respond. That’s certainly how Jesus lived and what he taught. His was not a me me me life. So, what about us? Is our awareness and response limited to me or is it a we awareness and response?

The answer to that question will likely determine the quality of our relationships and the extent to which we live our lives in conflict. Look at the world today, read the news, reflect on your own relationships. If there is conflict there is probably a me attitude present. This past week I saw a video of four young men laughing at a handicapped man who had fallen into a retention pond and was having difficulty keeping his head above water. They continued to yell at him and laugh at him and made no attempts to save him. They didn’t even call 911. They sat laughing and watched the man drowned. Clearly, those four young men chose the me attitude.  The choice between me and we exists in all areas of our lives. Look for conflict and chances are you will see a me life to the exclusion of a we life.

I’m not suggesting that a we attitude fixes every conflict, ends every war, or settles every debate. It won’t. It’s not that simple. However, it may change the way we approach each other in the midst of those conflicts, wars, and debates. It opens our minds, hearts, and wills to consider more than just ourselves. It offers new possibilities and creates new options. It brings about an awareness of and concern for all, including ourselves.

That shift from me to we is not easy. It means we must let go of past patterns that no longer work, suspend judgments, and redirect our attention to a future that will emerge in and through us. That emerging future is the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talks about in our Gospel today. The shift from me to we takes place within us, before it ever happens outside and around us.  Just like Solomon’s dream.

What does a we life look like? In a person, it looks like Jesus Christ.

  • A me life is one of power, domination, and control.
  • A we life is one of vulnerability, intimacy, and self-giving.
  • A me life is filled with doubt, distrust, and fear.
  • A we life is filled with faith, hope, and love.
  • A me life clings tightly to the past.
  • A we life embodies what might be.
  • A me life draws lines that divide.
  • A we life draws circles that encompass.

So many of the circumstances in today’s world continue to remind us that a me attitude just doesn’t work. It never did. So why then do we continue living that way? People are being killed, homes destroyed, and relationships broken. The world is bleeding out and tears are flowing. Today’s me approach continues to crucify the we life Jesus lived and offered us. However, not even that can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ love is what enables, encourages, and teaches us to choose we over me. But each of us must choose between me and we every day, in every situation, and in every relationship.

Solomon chose a we attitude. He asked for a listening heart, a heart with ears, a heart that would hear the pain of the world, the needs of his people, and the voice of God. He did not ask for himself to live a long life, to have riches, or even the defeat of his enemy. And this pleased the Lord.

The fact that it was a dream does not mean it was not real. It does not mean Solomon’s waking was the end of the dream. To the contrary, his awaking was the beginning of a new reality. He awoke to new possibilities for himself and his people. Those realities and possibilities would be realized every time Solomon chose we over me, every time he lived the dream.

Our world desperately needs new realities and new possibilities. God has entrusted each of us with Solomon’s dream. So, what will it be? Each of us must decide. Me or We?

When you leave church today, pick up one of these blank checks from GOD. How will you fill it out? Fill it out and put it somewhere to remind yourself of your wish. Remember, each of us must decide, Me or We?

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

Making the Impossible Possible Through God

Imagine getting through your busy day without arms or legs. Impossible? Picture your life without the ability to walk, care for your basic needs, or even embrace those you love. I would like to introduce you to Nicholas Vujicic (pronounced VOO-yee-cheech). Without any medical explanation or warning, Nick was born in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, without arms and legs. Nick’s family was destined to cope with both the challenge and blessing of raising a son who refused to allow his physical condition to limit his lifestyle. He eventually married and has his own children now.

The early days were difficult. Throughout his childhood, Nick not only dealt with the typical challenges of school and adolescence, but he also struggled with depression and loneliness. Nick constantly wondered why he was different than all the other kids. He questioned the purpose of life, or if he even had a purpose.

According to Nick, the victory over his struggles, as well as his strength and passion for life today, can be credited to his faith in God. His family, friends and the many people he has encountered along the journey have inspired him to carry on, as well.

Since his first speaking engagement at age 19, Nick has traveled around the world, sharing his story with millions, sometimes in stadiums filled to capacity, speaking to a range of diverse groups such as students, teachers, young people, business professionals and church congregations of all sizes. He’s an author, musician, actor, and his hobbies include fishing, painting and swimming. Nick is the president of the international non-profit ministry, Life Without Limbs.

Nick says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart!” Nick believes that nothing is impossible with God.

Gabriel’s announcement to Mary in today’s Gospel is also surrounded by the impossible. The angel’s revelation that “nothing is impossible for God” finds its deepest meaning in that impossibility overflows that a young teenage girl from a nothing town is favored.

Mary herself acknowledges the impossible possibility of God with her first response to Gabriel. She is perplexed and troubled. She deliberates about the angel’s greeting when the only thing Gabriel has said so far is, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary’s initial response to this encounter is worth significant pause. The angel has barely said a thing.
Why is Mary confused? To call attention to Mary’s response to the angel’s first words is to emphasize to what extent Mary cannot even believe this impossible possibility. Me? Who am I? Why am I favored? How can the Lord be with me? She recognizes her place. She knows who she is. And this should not be happening to her. She was a teenager, probably only 13 or 14 years old, and from the wrong side of the tracks. Gabriel then tells her the big news that she’s going to be pregnant with a son, but not just any son, the Son of the Most High. “How can this be?” Surely, we can understand Mary’s disbelief and amazement. We also have to understand in the time of Mary and Joseph, to be pregnant and not married was a disgrace. Mary also would have known that there was a good likelihood Joseph would not go through with their marriage. And yet she said yes.

You see, God has used both Nick and Mary in very profound ways to build His Kingdom. I hope we all understand that we too are asked to help build God’s kingdom. We are all called to say yes just like Nick and Mary. Clearly, neither of them understood why these things were happening to them. They did not make excuses but responded with a yes.

What excuses do we make in our lives to evade our yes to God? I’m too busy at work. I’m not smart enough. I’m not this, that or the other thing. All excuses.

God also calls those who are privileged in society as well. In our first reading God uses King David for His glory.

Let’s think about those that Jesus hand-picked as His disciples. They were simple men who were fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots. The Apostles were Jesus’ first round draft picks. By the way, in the NFL last year, the first-round picks got four year contracts totaling $30 million for the 1st pick and $8 million for the 32nd.

I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself, Deacon Tom, what’s your point? Let’s look at those people we have heard about today. It didn’t matter whether they were simple fishermen, a teenage girl from the wrong side of the tracks, a man born without arms or legs, or a king. They all said yes even though they had doubts, insecurities or were troubled. When I think about these people I know that I can be used by God for the purposes he has for my life. Obviously, I will not be asked to bear the child of God, but I can use the gifts God has given me to further His kingdom.

We see at every Mass the impossible becomes possible. This impossible becoming possible is bread and wine becoming the very body and blood of Christ at the altar. We know nothing is impossible with God because we live it as part of our daily faith journey.

Bottom line, every one of us has been blessed by God with the capacity to do something beautiful with our lives. Sing in the choir, be an altar server, be a home visitor to shut-ins, inspire our children to be faith filled people. The list goes on and on. I ask you this week to discern for yourself what you are being called to do. Spend some time in prayer this week and make a plan for yourself and your future going forward about how you can better serve the Lord. For those of you thinking about the diaconate, give me a call. No seriously, if any of you wish to discuss your discernment, please contact me and we can talk.

I want you to remember, we are all God’s first round draft choices. We may not make $30 million like that NFL player, but we have something greater, Eternal Salvation!!

Remember, nothing is impossible with God!!!!

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

Look and Listen for the Holy Spirit!

For many today, Pentecost has been reduced to an end – the end of the Easter season. Pentecost remains as mysterious as the Holy Spirit Himself. When we, as individuals, are emblazoned with the Holy Spirit, we bring an enthusiasm into the Church and into our community. Just take a look at the Apostles. After they received the Holy Spirit, they went from being frightened and locked in the upper room, to going into the world teaching about Jesus everywhere. Clearly, the Holy Spirit had created a new beginning for the Apostles. Pentecost should be a beginning for us to – a beginning for the Church born in the Spirit of God. It should be a beginning of a passion, strength, and tremendous trust in the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit must never be reduced to a thing, He is a person, a Divine Person, who loves us and wants a relationship with us. He is neither fire, nor wind, nor anything other force, He is the 3rd Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, who we can talk to, share with, listen to, and learn from.

So why do we struggle with the Holy Spirit? I think it is because we believe we must have a miraculous revelation to think the Holy Spirit is within us. This is a grave misunderstanding. These experiences are only one way to experience the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I’d like to share a Holy Spirit experience in my life. Lori and I built a house in 2001 and shortly after moving in, there was a storm that dumped almost 5 inches of rain. As the storm was finishing, I could hear what sounded like a river running into my basement. When I went downstairs I saw water pouring into my sump pump pit. I was immediately filled with an anxiety I had never experienced before. We discovered the builder had not put in a dam for the sewer lateral that lead from the street to the house. We were able to get the problem corrected and I thought the issue was resolved. Well, it was not. The next spring between the thaw and lots of rain it was doing it again. The anxiety immediately returned. Over the next 6 – 9 months the anxiety I had whenever it was going to rain increased. I became a part-time weather man.

So, by now I’m sure your saying, Deacon Tom what does this have to do with the Holy Spirit? I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I now truly believe this was the Holy Spirit showing me that I cannot control everything in my life and I needed to turn it over to God. Shortly after this realization, I attended Cursillo and was on my journey to the diaconate.

We do not have to have the experience the Apostles had to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We just need to look in our everyday lives.  You see, if we are looking, we will discover the Holy Spirit in the simple things in life. He is there, every day for us, 24/7. Today, the problem with my sump pump still exists, but by leaning on the Holy Spirit, those feelings of anxiety have been conquered.

Each of us is called to holiness and we all have gifts of the Holy Spirit to buildup of the Kingdom of God. In our second reading today, St. Paul makes a very important statement: No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” This means that it is God himself that enables us through the Holy Spirit to recognize the Lordship of Christ. Paul goes on to say, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Find your gifts and use them to the best of your ability.

Today we celebrate a great feast, when Christ filled and equipped His church with the power of His Spirit and sent us out into the world to bring peace, unity, joy, forgiveness, and love.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples when the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide them to all truth. Clearly Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. This is what we need most in our world today, guidance to the truth.

What then will the Holy Spirit we have received help us accomplish? Will the Holy Spirit lead us into the kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy? Will the Holy Spirit lead us away from all that is evil and bring us to the fullness of life?

Reflecting over these questions is critical especially now that our world has become so challenging that one can hardly understand what is happening. Like shootings in high schools. It is sad to note that individuals, families, and communities are drifting apart. In a world filled with many difficulties and troubles, only the Holy Spirit can restore order and calm our fears. He alone can empower us to face the challenges of our lives, families, and communities. He alone can give us the insight needed to navigate through the complex seas of our daily lives.

We must stop and listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say to us and what direction He leads us. We must ask the Holy Spirit this Pentecost, to show us a new direction. Let us give the Holy Spirit more of a chance to support us in what happens in our lives, families and communities.

As we celebrate Pentecost this weekend, let’s consider these two questions: 

  1. What do you want me to do, Holy Spirit?
  2. Where are you leading me, Holy Spirit? 

Listen and look for the Holy Spirit in your everyday lives. He is there to help each and every one of us! Recognize your sump pump experience each and every day.

By: Deacon Tom Gritton

Sour Grapes in the Vineyard

When someone expresses negativity about a situation after the fact, only after they’ve been disappointed about the outcome–we call that kind of a reaction “sour grapes.” A candidate loses an election, and then afterward he says some nasty stuff about those dumb voters who chose the other guy. That’s “sour grapes.” A person loses out on a job promotion, and then he speaks behind the back of the employer he was just flattering. Again, sour grapes. It’s not a very noble characteristic, this sour-grapes attitude. But it is a very common reaction among us self-centered sinners. We all do it from time to time, in one form or another. Sometimes we even vent our negativity on God, blaming him for letting this disappointing situation happen to us: “I’m not getting what is due me, and it is God’s fault.” When you and I have this attitude, when we entertain these thoughts, when we express such words, we are engaging in sour grapes. 

In the Gospel today, Jesus addresses this grumbling sour-grapes attitude. You just heard the Gospel, but I would briefly like to recap it : A man hires some laborers to go work in his vineyard. They agree on a wage. More workers come along a little later. “Whatever is right I will give you,” the master tells them. Same thing a couple hours later. Then even as the end of the workday is approaching, the master sends out still more workers. The whistle blows, the workers assemble, they get their paychecks. The first group of workers get the pay they had agreed upon. But when they find out the master has paid the late coming workers the same amount he’s paid them, these first workers get upset. They begin to grumble: “How come we don’t get more? This isn’t fair! We worked longer and harder than those other guys. You owe us more, master!” Sour grapes in the vineyard. 

Now in Jesus’ story, the master, of course, is God. The vineyard is the kingdom of God. And the laborers are those who work in God’s kingdom. You see, this sour-grapes attitude is a real temptation especially for the most dedicated members of the church. We think because we’ve been slaving away diligently for years, in the service of the church that nothing could be more praise worthy.  We think we deserve all the appreciation and the applause we can get. And when we don’t get it, we feel slighted, unappreciated. To make matters worse, if someone comes along who hasn’t worked as long or as hard as we have, and that person now gets as much as or even more recognition than we are getting–well, now we get a little angry! Our “grump-ometer” begins to grumble. We are steamed and we stew. We resent that other person. We get mad at the people who are applauding them instead of us. And of course, we grumble and get mad at God for letting this happen. Sour grapes in the vineyard. 

We might have never thought that the workers later in the day were probably those who were disabled, elderly or unable to do the same amount of work as those earlier workers who were more than likely young and strong. The workers hired at the end of the day probably needed the money more than those hired earlier.

This sour grapes syndrome is a real disease isn’t it? We may be outwardly respectable people in most all features of our lives, very moral, hard-working and dedicated. In fact, these are many times the people who are most susceptible to getting “Sour Grapes Syndrome.” It’s people like you and me.

But when I participate in this sour grapes attitude, my priorities are really out of whack. No, let’s call it something stronger: I am committing sin, for I have just put myself above the work of the vineyard. The truth is, it ain’t about me. I just work here. The vineyard is all about Jesus. 

Has there ever been anyone more underappreciated than Jesus? Has anyone ever been treated more unfairly? No, not by a long shot. Here was our Lord, God’s own Son, coming into the vineyard and outworking anyone who’s ever set foot there. He only spent a few years in His public ministry, but, oh, the results! So many sick people healed from their diseases. Multitudes fed and taught. The preaching of repentance and forgiveness. What a worker for God’s kingdom! And what reward did He receive?  Rejection, humiliation, abandonment, persecution and unjust suffering. A death sentence, cruel death on a cross, hung out to die. What kind of a reward is that for the best worker ever in the vineyard? 

But this is precisely how Christ won the great reward that each one of us will receive in the end. And that reward will be based, not on our works, but His. It won’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian or how many years of dedicated service you put in along the way.

Any reward that we receive at all comes to us only by the Grace of God. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, these are ours solely because of Christ’s death and resurrection, not because of our labors. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

As I say, it won’t matter how long we have been in the vineyard or how much dedicated service we put in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing, a tremendous blessing to be working in the vineyard our whole life. Consider yourself fortunate if that describes you. I’m all in favor of us putting in many years of dedicated service in the cause of the Gospel. This is great. But that is not the basis of our salvation. And it doesn’t mean that we won’t be underappreciated along the way. To the contrary, count on it. This is part of bearing our cross, this underappreciation. 

But even if people don’t appreciate our efforts, know that our heavenly Father, who sees what is done in secret does. In fact, he’s planned out our good works ahead of us, and he gives us the strength to do them, even when we are not getting a whole lot of positive reinforcement. 

And so, my fellow workers in the vineyard, our loving God does not care whether we arrived in the vineyard at sunrise, noon or sunset, one day our master will welcome us home greeting us with these beautiful words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

By: Deacon Tom Gritton