Our Christian Baseline

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

What is our baseline? 

A couple of years ago, I had an internship at St. Mary’s hospital.  I was able to participate in rounds on the floor that I was seeing patients on.  One of the phrases I learned right away was patient is at baseline, or patient’s numbers are returning to baseline.  Basically, this means there numbers are returning to the norm, and to where they should be at.

Moses wants to return the Israelites to their baseline in our first reading.  They received the Law years ago, but now it has become familiar.  It no longer means much to them anymore, so Moses is calling them back to the Law and to God. Return to the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.  Return to your baseline. 

Our readings this weekend give us the baseline for a Christians.  They tell us what needs to be present at minimum in every Christian.  The baseline for all Christians is this: 1) confess there is a God and that we are not him, 2) to be known and loved by God and to know and love God in return, and 3) to love our neighbor as God loves us.  This is baseline Christianity. 

Everything starts with confessing that there is a God and we are not him.  This is what Moses is reminding the Israelites.  This is so important for us today. If we recognize that there is a God who created us and this world, then we also will recognize that God created this world with order and purpose.  If we do not, then we think we are our own masters or our own gods… this is fundamental to know that we are not god.

After confessing that there is a God and we are not Him, we are called to experience a loving relationship with God.  This is the greatest gift.  All of us have a desire to know and to be known by someone.  What greater gift is there in this life than to be known and to know our God? We do this through prayer, Mass, the Scriptures and the Sacraments; where we experience the love of God in our lives.

Finally, as we heard in our Gospel this morning, love of neighbor is a non-negotiable in the Christian life.

After WWII, Stanley Milgram wanted to understand why so many nazi soldiers claimed, “we were just following orders.” Could this really be the case?

So he developed an experiment that remains controversial to this day.  He found volunteers help with what they called a science experiment.  The volunteers came in and played the teacher.  They were instructed to deliver an electric shock to the student when the student answered a question wrongly. There were different levels of shock, mild, somewhat severe, to severe.  The greater the severity the greater the chance for health risks.

There were variations to the experiment.  In one variation of the experiment, the teacher was in the room, but merely pressed the button that delivered the shock. In the other variation of the experiment the teacher was in a different room where he could neither see/hear the student.  He was merely told when the student got a question wrong, and to press the button to give the shock.

What Milgram found out was that the proximity to the student mattered.  For the teacher that was in the same room with the student sixty five-percent of the teacher-volunteers refused to continue delivering shocks once they were asked to deliver more severe shocks.  Here’s the terrifying part, for the volunteers that were in a different room, and could not hear the or see the pain of the student, only 35% refused to continue. 

What Milgram really found out is separation or abstraction, when we cannot see the person we are inflicting pain on, we are more likely to consent in negative behaviors.

For example, why is it so easy for us to gossip?  To bring it home, how often do we gossip with the person right in front of us?  Rarely, because if that person was around us, we would see the pain we are causing.  But when we talk about a person with others while that person is not with us, it is so much easier to gossip about that person. Because in that moment, that person remains an idea, and we cannot see the pain we are inflicting…

Jesus gives us a non-negotiable to Christian life.  He confirms for us that love of neighbor is a part of baseline Christianity.  One-hundred percent of the time, he says, we are called to meet the needs of the person who is right in front of us. Not just when they are in front of us but even when they are not in front of us.  Whether people are there in our midst concretely or in the abstract, we are always called to love our neighbor.

Moses encouraged the Israelites to return to the Lord with all their heart and soul.  May we too return to the Lord by returning to our baseline as Christians; as a people who believe in God, love him and love our neighbor.

In Christ’s love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

Do we bring peace and joy?

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. How appropriate are these words for us today?  In the past, associates would have had 6-10 years as an associate before leading a parish.  Here, at Saint Robert’s, you had to say goodbye to Fr. Mulhall after only three years…  The Lord needed Fr. Mulhall and sent him to Holy Redeemer to minister to the people of Jenison.  Goodbyes are hard, but I think I am not alone in my belief that Fr. Colin is going to thrive as a shepherd of God’s people.  Some of you know that Fr. Colin and I are childhood friends.  It is a humbling and a great joy to follow him here at Saint Robert’s.  I can assure all of you, that Fr. Colin has had the same experience as the 72 disciples who in our Gospel returned rejoicing.  Fr. Colin experienced many blessings here at St. Roberts.

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves… We are reminded by these words, that Christ is sending all of us here out on mission.  Notice, this mission was not just the 12, it was to 72.  The fact that he sent out 72 shows us that Christ intends to send many out on mission.  The mission is not just for the 72 in our Gospel.  This mission is for each of us now.  Each of us has been chosen and has also been sent.  We too are disciples who are sent by Christ to bring the peace and joy that comes from God into the world.  That is the purpose of our mission.  

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves…  This statement from Christ explains how we are to act on our mission.  When we go, we are to go not as warriors, or wolves, who bring violence, death, and division.  No, we are to go as lambs in order to have the personality of a lamb where we will bring peace, joy, and life.  

But we are sent like lambs among wolves partly because we are not guaranteed that it will be easy or free from anxiety.  Sometimes, the mission will be hard.  But Jesus asks us to go anyway. Why? Because just like Fr. Colin, Christ needs us to help Him carry out his mission.  And sometimes, it might be hard to leave where we are comfortable to go and serve the Lord.  And sometimes, it might be hard because the people do not want to hear the Good News. But we are called to go anyway…  The reason we go is this:  we are so convinced by Christ’s love, joy, and peace in our lives, that we want to give that same love, joy, and peace to others.

Here’s the best part, Jesus tells us how to do it.  He equips us with everything that we need for this mission. So, your mission, our mission, should you choose to accept it, (see what I did there?), is to be like these 72. In the movie, Mission Impossible, there were times when Ethan Hunt, went ill-equipped for a mission and his safety was far from a guarantee. Hence the name, Mission Impossible. This mission that Christ gives us may not seem possible, easy, or appealing. But, listen to these words from our savior again, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals. In other word, don’t bring what you think you need, Jesus says, instead have a radical trust in me.  Christ promises us that all we need for this mission is our friendship with him. With His help, the help that comes from the Holy Spirit, do we have the hope to carry out this mission.  And we do have it!  We have been equipped by Christ by our baptism and confirmation!  Our mission is not impossible, but it requires relying on God’s help and grace!

This is “[our] mission … to announce his coming, to present him to the [others], to open their hearts to faith, and to arouse in them a desire for his coming.” (TLY, 316)

The words of our Gospel this morning I find very moving.  They are a great encouragement for me also as I begin my time here at Saint Robert’s. I have been sent here by Bishop Walkowiak, to live in residence.  I have received lots of questions about what that means. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know.  But we will learn together. The main thing that it means is that my full-time job is with the diocese.  Bishop’s mission for me right now, is to help Christ find laborers for the harvest as the Vocations Director for the diocese.  With that said, I do not intend for this role to preclude me from loving and ministering to all of you.  My hope is that, I, along with Fr. Len and the pastoral staff here at St. Robert’s, are all able to bring each of you into a deeper relationship with God.  It is a hope, most likely, shared by each of you.  And so, these words for me have been an encouragement and a challenge: How will I enable God to bring his peace and joy to each of you? And that same encouragement and challenge is for each of us this weekend: How are we allowing God to bring his peace and joy to others through our ministry.  We have been chosen and sent.  My we too experience the great joy of bringing peace and joy to others as the 72 did in our Gospel. We’ll pray for one another as we begin our time together at Saint Robert’s.  I’m excited to be here, and God bless you all.

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen