From the Desk of Deacon Brian
One of my simple pleasures is my morning cup of coffee. We set up a pot to brew automatically at about 6:00 a.m. usually. The deep rich smell is our delightful “alarm”. The first sips accompany my waking thoughts about God’s goodness and my gratitude for his blessings. Sometimes I roll through my daily Examen in the darkness of this early morning time: Rolling through the prior day to review where God made himself clearly known at the time (joy!), where I now see his love in others or nature only upon deeper reflection (hidden treasure!), and where I moved away from him in sin (amend). My second cup accompanies Morning Prayer.
Did you know that the popularity of coffee in the West is largely due to Pope Clement VIII (1536-1605)? Coffee has been around since the 9th century, when Islamic shepherds first noticed coffee beans having a
stimulating effect on their sheep. After Islamic clerics learned how to cultivate the beans, coffee spread throughout the Muslim world, becoming wildly popular. When coffee was first brought to Christian Europe, it was greeted with a great deal of suspicion since it was the drink of the Muslim infidels with whom Christians had been at war for centuries. Some even went so far to call this exotic beverage “Satan’s drink.”
Coffee made its way to the Vatican, where it was introduced to Pope Clement VIII. While many of his advisors urged the Pope to ban the controversial drink, he refused to do so before trying it himself. The Pope was brought a steaming cup of java and he took a sip. He was immediately delighted, and according to legend, he declared, “This devil’s drink is delicious. We should cheat the devil by baptizing it.” And the rest is history. Due to the papal blessing, coffee quickly spread throughout Europe and eventually the world. There you have it. Next time you take up a mug of your favorite brew, give thanks to God – and Pope Clement VIII!
Resurrection Grief. You never see these two words together. The Resurrection evokes describers such as glory and eternal life. Grief evokes describers such as sadness and pain. No matter how much we study Scripture, receive the grace of the Eucharist, and draw close to Jesus in relationship, we hurt when someone close dies. Our souls are immortal, they last forever. We tend to forget this because we don’t hear it much. Our consumer society doesn’t want to mention it so it can sell us stuff. When you read newspaper accounts a century ago, it almost always read something like: Yesterday 110 souls were lost at sea.
When I am comforting someone who has lost someone, I never seem to be well prepared or at ease. I was told to get over it and just proceed! One way is to know (ahead of time) the classic stages of grief:
3. BARGAINING WITH GOD
The length of time a person spends in each stage is different and the sequence is not always linear meaning a person can bounce back and forth among stages. Comforting is not a single clinical event, there is much more art in the delivery over time. Here are 12 suggestions:
1. BE PRESENT – Just be there, you don’t need to always fill the silence!
2. LISTEN WITH THE HEART – Try not to think about what to say, truly listen.
3. AVOID CLICHES – Like “Time heals all things” Try empathy statements like “This must be so hard to accept” or “I am sure this is very painful for you”
4. TOUCH – Holding someone’s hand or a sincere hug is proven medicine.
5. STAY IN CONTACT – This is where I need to do a better job. My life gets busy, and I may pray for the person, but they continue to hurt over time, sometimes much more later on. A weekly call can be invaluable to a grieving person.
6. SEND A NOTE – Finding the right words are hard. Do it anyway.
7. GIVE A BOOK – Maybe one that helped you through the grieving process.
8. INVITE – Don’t be surprised if you are turned down a few times. Be thoughtfully persistent. Weekends can be the loneliest time when an invite can be needed.
9. BE PATIENT – Praying for your own patience helps.
10. ENCOURAGE ACTIVITY – Make suggestions, but don’t badger.
11. SHARE THE FAITH
12. RECOMMEND HELP – Especially if the person seems to be stuck in depression. The number of loving grief support groups is a true blessing!
We are blessed with the gift of everlasting life. Sometimes we need each other to cope with the pain of living on this side of eternity.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability,
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
Jesus speaks to us in simple words. He uses simple parables about things like wheat, coins, and a wayward son to make his points, to help us under- stand our human nature and his divine love.
Occasionally these simple words add up to a “big thought” or two. Thoughts about how awesome God’s love is, how magnificent his church is, how far- reaching our Catholic faith is. The Paschal Mystery, the ultimate expression of love that God shows us by dying for us and leaving himself to us at Easter is a time for big thoughts.
Big Thought #1: The World as Rising Host – When God became man, Christianity set itself way apart from any other world religion. When God died for all, Christianity again set itself apart from any other world religion. God became man and The Sacrifice for all. Unheard of. When God rose from the dead, he became The Hope of Glory for all of us. This man. This man, our God, left his entire self for us in every Eucharist. He knew I would be too weak and doubting, so he left his actual self for me to touch, taste, and be- come. Since he is the Alpha and Omega, since he is the Logos, The I AM, when Father Rafal stands in the person of Christ and raises the host at the consecration, I sometimes envision that he is lifting the world as a host, that the entire world is being sanctified and made holy because of Jesus’ eternal expression of love that always was and always will be.
Big Thought #2: Worldwide Rolling of Prayer – I used to work in Manhattan and I would attend daily Mass at some of the beautiful churches. I was sitting in St. Agnes Church just outside Grand Central for noon Mass and looked at a leaflet with the schedule for all New York City Masses and realized that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass had already been celebrated well over 100 times in the city before 9 a.m. I stopped counting! Then I started to think about how each church having 2-6 Masses that day, how The Lord’s Supper is being celebrated constantly throughout the day in this busy driven city. Then I thought about how the Mass and Daily Office, the prayer of the Church, is being prayed steadily each day throughout world. Faithful people praying prayers in unity, reading the same exact readings for that day, rolling from one time zone to the next, from one country to the next, from one hemisphere to the other. Jesus in the world, as the world, rising at each altar, rolling around the world, and us, as St. Paul urged, “praying without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:16-18) as a church.
Thank you Jesus for keeping it simple, and for the occasional big thoughts.
Palm Sunday has always been special. I remember vividly as a small boy the palms given out, their various green hues, their placement behind our home crucifixes to dry out during the year, and the beautiful palm sacred art created by those talented few. It marks the start of Holy Week. A time to hunker down and focus. A time to really fight off the outside world and be immersed in the life of Christ.
Because I cherish Palm Sunday, I have come to feel a bit cheated. This is going to sound silly. We have two Gospel readings on this Sunday. The one about Jesus’ palm- (and cloak-) lined entry into Jerusalem, then we fast-forward in about 10 minutes to His Passion. I wish we could just bask in Jesus’ triumphal entry for a while longer. Watch him and linger on the cheers longer. Really notice that he is riding a colt, a symbol of peace to all, not the war horse of oppressors. Enjoy the sunshine and not have the storm clouds of torture and killing gather so fast. The church does this Gospel “two-fer” so that all will hear the Passion account before Easter.
It’s important during Holy Week not to rush to the next event too fast to fully absorb each of the component parts. Absorb Palm Sunday with its common-man-king majesty without rushing to Holy Thursday. Witness Holy Thursday, the incredible sight of our God, the servant, as He washes dirty feet and then delivers to us His very Body as food, without rushing to Good Friday. Probe the depth of the brutal suffering and death of our God on Good Friday without rushing to the Resurrection. Experience the doubt, loneliness, and fear of Holy Satur- day like the disciples and Mary in the Upper Room without rushing to the Resurrection. Then, rejoice in the glory that HE IS ALIVE on Easter Sunday without rushing anywhere!
Maybe Palm Sunday is a two-fer because triumph and suffering are bound so closely together in our Catholic faith. The fact that joy and suffering can occupy the same place in our hearts is earth-shattering. Thank you Jesus!
GOD BLESS OUR
CHURCH MULTI-FUNCTIONAL BUILDING!
We were immediately captivated by the warm welcome and strong spirit of St. Francis when we first arrived! One of the things that bothered me, though, was that it was difficult to pray and prepare for Mass beforehand with so much going on. At times, I felt there was not the reverence I would expect when preparing for the Holy Sacrifice. Musicians were tuning up, choir was practicing, people greeting each other.
Then I realized I had to adjust. We only have one building with limited space and many things to do. We do not have a choir room, a large narthex, or a cavernous sanctuary with remote corners to retreat to in silent prayer. If you have this same difficulty at times, try this: Replace “meek” with “not rigid” in this Scripture: Blessed are the not rigid, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5. Flexibility is a form of meekness. I can get wrapped up in me very easily…my prayer time…my expectations on what is right behavior of others. After some time, I realized the spirit of St. Francis within our restricted space meant more happy noise than I was used to. It’s like getting used to not going to a black tie dinner, but instead, going to Thanksgiving dinner at your Mom’s cramped house in the old neighborhood…less hushed tones, self-consciousness, and controlled movements than a formal dinner and more happy chaos with casseroles coming in, kids running around, and squeezing by and hugging loved ones with joyful laughter and songs!
So I have learned to happily adjust. I make a point of spending time in sacred silence in our chapel during the week so I am not in such dire need of my alone time with Jesus by Sunday. On Sunday, I silently prepare for Mass at our home or close my eyes when parked in our lot and think how wonderful it is to be a part of the faith community I will soon experience. When I am seated before Mass, I now watch without resentment as people greet each other and chat and realize that’s just what Jesus wants, for us to love each other in community and not isolate. I listen to the practicing choir members beautifully “praying twice”. I watch and listen to the sounds of the families with young children and babies and am so grateful they are here to carry on our faith!
If you are trying to find the quietest pre-Mass times at St. Francis, maybe this will help:
Saturday Vigil 4:00pm – Most social and talkative, people just loving each other and getting ready to enjoy Saturday night.
Hispanic Mass 7:00pm – Special time for Hispanic community to come together and share time with la famillia.
Sunday 8:00 am – Quietest and most reverent pre-Mass time with recitation of the rosary and silent prayer most of the time.
Sunday Family Mass 9:30am – Lively time with the dismissal of the 8am and the coming in of 9:00 am with children’s or regular choir practicing.
God bless our noisy, lively, cramped, love-filled multifunctional building!
I used to watch late night television years ago. I would restlessly channel surf, rarely settling on any one program for a long time. I thought I was doing something energizing, multitasking, watching several shows at once. I was really searching, yearning for something. At that time of night, the evangelists would be scheduled and more than any, I would toggle between Billy Graham and Mother Angelica. Very different, but the very same. Graham would speak to throngs on his crusades. Mother would reach millions sitting in her kitschy studio parlor. Billy would quote scripture and explain it with his smooth southern lilt. Mother would capture me with her nasally northeastern punch. Both disarmed me. Both loved the Lord. Both brought many to Christ.
Most fundamental and mainstream Christians adhere to the principle of solo scriptura, or “Bible alone” which holds that the Bible, and only the bible, is the deposit, the source, of Christian faith doctrine. There is one wrinkle in this: Bible alone is not biblical. No where in the Bible can you find this exclusive doctrine articulated. I understand that the intent of Bible alone is to keep the faith pure and uncorrupted, but there is no evidence that this is the way God wished it to be done.
As Catholics, we believe in the three legged stool of faith that stands firmest: 1) Sacred Scripture (Amen!); 2) Sacred Tradition (with a capital “T”); and 3) Church Teaching (a/k/a the Magisterium). The Bible verses we as Catholics take our instruction from are the Timothy’s.
2 Timothy 3:16 – All scripture is inspired by God and is useful in teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for teaching in righteousness. Sacred Scripture holds a very high place in instruction, but it does not say it is the only one in that place.
1 Timothy 3:16 – Know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the foundation of the truth. It is the church that is the basis and upholder of the Truth that reverences and looks to both Sacred Scripture and the Sacred Traditions of the early church established before and while scripture was recorded.
2 Timothy 3:23-24 – Avoid foolish and ignorant quarrels, be gentle with everyone, be able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness. We should always be ready to give a defense for our faith, to say only what is necessary, kind, and true.
One of the more impressive developments in the past 20 years is the spread of Catholic bible studies and Catholics joining in ecumenical bible studies. Thank you Billy for delivering the Word! Thank you Mother for the Splendor of Truth and Beauty in the fullness of our faith!
We visited a larger church in the diocese one recent Saturday after- noon. We arrived 20 minutes early and sat about 12 pews back. The congregation seemed very kind and were also reverent in their quiet preparation for the Mass. A friendly parishioner came through the side door at the left of the altar happily walking in front of the front pew and then…THUD! She disappeared from view and hit the ground.
No one seemed to move to help her for what seemed liked forever. I (the so-called “deacon”) flinched as if to go assist, but didn’t help either. Why??
The Bystander Effect: A sociological phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses. Being part of a large crowd makes it so no single person has to take responsibility for an action (or inaction). Wow, it’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it?
It doesn’t always take an emergency for The Bystander Effect to kick in, just a lot of people gather together with something to do. It impacts us at Mass sometimes. “It’s a pretty big crowd, they won’t miss my voice” or outside of Mass. “It’s a nice church, friendly, they seem to have it under control, they don’t seem to need any help.”
Two factors lessen the Bystander Effect: 1) Smaller group, and 2) Knowing each other. These two factors are among the many that make St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Mission the perfect place to experience the Truth and Beauty of our faith in worship / fellowship, and through which to live out our lives as Christian witnesses in the world. We need to be vigilant to keep the Holy Spirit’s love alive in our blessed community.
By the way, the woman described above tripped on the rug runner coming into church and seemed to just laugh it off. Not assisting still made me uncomfortable.
Lenten Food for Thought: How can I become less of a bystander and more of a member in the Body of Christ right now?
With the first full week of Lent under your belt, maybe it’s not going as planned. Maybe you’ve been unable to sustain giving up the thing you wanted to. No doubt fasting is a discipline that can elevate your spiritual condition. But remember, Lent is about change, hopefully sustained change. Change that aims at one thing: Drawing you into a more intimate relationship with God. Fasting is a means to this change. But it is not the only means.
Here are some non-fasting ideas that may re-invigorate your Lenten journey towards Him:
• Take a Break from Social Media – Use that time for prayer or family.
• Quit Watching the News – Focus on things going on in your home or community.
• Stop Texting Friends – Call them.
• Pray the Rosary on the Way to Work
• Cut Off Toxic “Friendships”
• Compliment Someone Who is Unkind to You
• Pray for Someone You Don’t Like
• Start Your Day on Your Knees with a Quick Morning Prayer
• Take 15 Minutes a Day to Sit in Silence – Just be.
• Forgive Someone Whom You Resent – Now.
• Examine Your Current Struggle – What is God showing you?
• Don’t Complain – Catch yourself and quickly replace it with a positive.
• Do an Examination of Conscience Each Evening – Follow it with an Act of Contrition
• Live Like the Next Moment Could Be Your Last
Lent is a focused time to become the person God desires us to be. Sometimes this requires us to “get out of our own way” by removing the spiritual clutter that creeps into our lives. That’s when His glory becomes radiantly clear…
It wasn’t supposed to happen. I was getting myself into the best shape in years. I no longer had job stress. Mary Pat is a fantastic healthy cook, but it still happened. I had a heart attack.
I was not going to write about such a personal event, but it is too filled with the hand of God not to. The prophet Ezekiel describes what God does for us: “I will give to you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove from your stony heart and give you a natural heart”. He did this for me years ago when he placed people in my life who not only taught me about his Son but guided me how to walk with Him.
Mary Pat said it was a miracle that I recognized what was happening and got to the ER on time. I thought “miracle” was too strong a word. My son Brian set me straight: “Dad, maybe you don’t want to use that word, but God put together this sequence of events that saved you”… Amen to that. He also told me that he got up in the middle of the night to say a rosary to pray for my surgery success. My almost 3-year old granddaughter Evey voice texted me: “Feel better PeePaw!”
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Not when a Catholic priest stands in your hospital room doorway right at the last minute before being wheeled down to surgery. I received the beautiful sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. After reciting the ancient words and tracing my forehead and palms with crosses of sacred oil, Father turned to the nurses, aide, and transporter in the room and announced with paternal love: “This is our Deacon”. As they wheeled my stretcher through the halls, I looked up at the ceiling tiles.Tears rolled down my cheeks. I now have received all seven sacraments. The expected one hour surgery to assess my heart blockage turned into more than three hours. Why? Stony heart. My lovingly imposed healthy regimen had done its job, buto my health heritage loaded calcium in my artery. Doctor said it was like cement that had to be drilled through. This column is not long enough to tell you about the miracle of healing that happens to all of us if we are open to it.
It is 2:30am as I write this in my hospital room. I was just texted the above picture from a friend. He’s kneeling at his weekly Adoration time at his parish, lifting me up in recovery and texting under the live picture of Jesus: “Holy hour for Brian and MP”. My heart overflows.
Holy Scripture urges us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” and we know that much can be heard in Sacred Silence. But what about in be- tween? The priest or deacon whispers certain “inaudible words” during the Mass; simple, beautiful, profound, humble prayers mostly said on behalf of all of us gathered. Let’s listen.
BEFORE PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL –
When we stand, and the joyful Alleluia is sung, the Deacon comes out in front of the Priest, bows and requests: “Your blessing, Father”. The Priest instructs the Deacon: “May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim the Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. After signing himself, the Deacon says: “Amen”. This is a very special time. Thoughts of Jesus sending the disciples forth come to my mind. Having the awesome honor to proclaim Jesus’ words is just that, awesome and humbling. I always listen carefully to Father’s words and take the words in. It’s not about me, it’s about Him. When there is no Deacon, the Priest bows at the altar and says: “Cleanse my heart and my lips almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel”. After we proclaim the Gospel, the Priest or Deacon kisses the Book of Gospels and says quietly: “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away”. Talk about a powerful prayer offered for us all!
DURING AND AFTER THE EUCHARIST – When the Deacon or Priest puts a drop of water in the chalice of wine, it represents human nature joining with divine nature, he then says one of the most beautiful words in the Mass: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. Just…meditate…on…this! After the Priest presents the gifts and we say, “Blessed be God forever”, the Priest places the chalice on the altar and says quietly: “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God”. This reminds me of the Jewish priests under the Old Covenant going into the holy of holies to offer sacrifice for the people. Under the fulfilled New Covenant, it is the timeless sacrifice of Jesus, stretching backwards and forward forever, for us. When the Priest washes his hands, he says to himself: “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. Said for him for us. When the Priest breaks the host over the paten for all to see this is called the Fraction Rite. It says to us that Jesus was broken for us to be shared as our eternal food. Then the Priest breaks off and places a small piece of Jesus’ body in the chalice with his blood and says quietly: “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it”. This is Jesus coming back, in the Resurrection, glory to us all! An end to death! Before the Priest consumes Jesus, he says to himself: “May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life,” “May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”. This is when I cheer for Father to myself (inaudibly) asking the Lord to grant this! While purifying the vessels the Deacon or Priest prays to himself: “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity”. Again, such profound beautiful requests offered for us all bridging man-time with God-time. I really need the healing part.
On the Monday following the Feast of the Epiphany, we packed up the Christmas decorations. I then started grabbing the figurines out of the Nativity scene and shoving them into the little crinkly bags…wait a minute! Are you serious? This is not some job to bang out of the way! This is the Incarnation of Jesus. Salvation history! Eternal love! So, I paused and took my time.
I thought random thoughts as I picked up each player in this divine scene and the scene itself. We brought this Nativity scene back from our pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few years ago. It’s made of olivewood from Bethlehem similar to our Stations of the Cross at St. Francis. The wood is smooth and feels good, kind of therapeutic in my fingers. I see the flat palm tree on the front of the stable. It reminds me that Jesus was Middle Eastern, that Christmas did not occur in a cold place. I thought how Christians are in minority in the Holy Land and how we would hear the Muslim calls to prayer with extremely loud horns in the middle of the night. I thought about persecuted Christians and the many more martyrs we have today for our precious faith.
Then I started to pick up each figure, look at it closely, then close my eyes and think about his/her/it’s role in the scene. The three wise men just arrived yesterday. Gold (valuable/earthly king), frankincense (sweet perfume/deity), and myrrh (anointing oil/death). Was this the first ecumenical meeting?
The kings were not Christians. They were astrologers who looked to the stars for truth. They were pagans, but they knew something very special was happening.
I looked at the shepherd boy. He has a little staff you insert in his hand each year. I have to be careful to pack it well and not crack it each year. He is so young. What a job. Sleeping in the fields and across the gate of the sheepfold to protect these undisciplined creatures that will follow direction if you give it to them. The sheep know his voice. Then there are a couple of sheep and an ox or a ram? Is that the ram that got caught in the thicket that God told Abraham to offer in the holocaust so Isaac would be spared? Maybe.
Then I took Joseph in my hand and thought how he has no lines in Scripture. Silent, behind the scenes, sense of duty. Great model for dads. I don’t like the old Joseph in sacred art. If Mary was 14 or 15, I think of Joseph as 21 or 22, at least this figure looks that age. Then I picked up Mary and gratefully think how my love and devotion to her has deepened in recent years. All the Marian devotions escaped me growing up. I just couldn’t get it. I now have something special and it is growing and I cherish it. I held Mary and said a Hail Mary, in French, “Je vous salue Marie, pleine de grace, le Seigneur est avec vous.”
Before holding Jesus, I held his manger, thinking how Our King came to the world in a homeless place and was placed in a trough used for the slop that animals ate. Then I held Him and was thankful for this bit of Ordinary Time before I follow Him to Jerusalem to witness His brutal treatment and Ultimate Sacrifice. True love.
Yes, Mass attendance numbers continue to decline and more people mark “none” than ever before as their religious affiliation, but there is a distinct attraction bringing young adults to the Catholic faith.In France there has been a renaissance of church attendance, a sort of pushback on secularity. These young adults do not want a watered down version, they are yearning for full tilt faith. One that evokes other worldliness, one that can deeply change a person, one that is both refuge from a crazy world and a springboard into it with purpose. Lori Fusak from Arizona is one of these young adults in the US. She’s pictured here having her last In-N-Out burger (they are only out west and they are awesome!) before she enters the convent of the Missionaries of Charity. This is one young adult’s top 10 reasons to be Catholic:
• We teach about what is really good, true, and beautiful. All three matter. Most modern education questions if there really is goodness, truth, and beauty. We say: “Yes! And it’s all in one place”.
• Not afraid of culture, but not just a part of it either. Yes, we have to live in the world. But, we are called to change it, not let it change us. Hard to do, but awesome when we do it.
• We take the Devil seriously. Otherwise exorcism, confession, and crucifixes wouldn’t make cool movies. The devil is real and is our real enemy. He bites and we help him bite the dust.
• Natural Family Planning (NFP). We talk about sex as a natural and organic part of life and we work with our bodies to space births in marriage. The prevailing mentality is one that is pro-contraception.
But, organic sex in marriage is the truth, beauty, and goodness mentioned above!
• Civil disobedience. In refusing to obey laws that are unjust, we show the world that there are more important things in life than just getting along. When necessary we march, picket, and if it comes to it, we will even be thrown in jail or killed for our beliefs.
• Counter-cultural rebels. Who else can be found advocating outside an abortion clinic, praying in an adoration chapel, listening to a theology presentation in a bar, hanging a pic or a Saint’s card in a cubicle at work, confessing sins to a priest, and hanging out with nuns? Nobody. Catholics who are disciples of Jesus are the most counter-cultural rebels in today’s society.
• Monks brew beer. It might sound silly, but the point is that we don’t believe every good thing in the world which can be abused is bad. Monks brewing beer shows us just how good beer can be!
• We have a sense of humor. We can even laugh at ourselves. A sense of humor is a specific quality assessed for consideration to sainthood!
• We fight for the little guy, both literally and figuratively. We do more for the poor than any other non-governmental organization. Feed the poor, clothe the naked, etc. We also hold the right to life as a sacred duty. Babies ‘R Us. Poor ‘R Us.
• Leaders that lead by example. Think: Heart (JPII), Mind (Benedict), and Soul (Francis).
PONDERING PURGATORY… Whenever we think of our own Judgment before God, most of us agree on one thing: We want to avoid ending up in Hell. We want to end up in Heaven and realize that any sacrifice necessary to get there is worth it. However, there is another possibility: Purgatory. Who goes to Purgatory? People who haven’t reached the fullness of love necessary to reach Heaven. They love God, but not enough. They love other things too much to let go, so they go to Purgatory until they can let go of the things that are keeping them from fully embracing God.
What is Purgatory like? Pope Benedict XVI described it as a state of someone who, although they can clearly see the joy of having Christ’s friendship for all eternity (a/k/a the Beatific Vision), cannot yet fully experience that friendship. It’s like a starving man, who can see, smell and maybe even taste his favorite meal, but cannot eat it…as if it were behind a pane of glass. Imagine the agony of someone who is starving, but cannot eat food that is right in front of him. It might also be compared to seeing the person you love most in the world in front of you.You want to talk to him, but he can’t see or hear you.
The emptiness of this unfulfilled desire for God is so powerful, that it is described as burning like fire. Purgatory is not so much a punishment imposed by God as the condition of someone who cannot reach what they most desire. That person must let go of everything that holds them back from being with God.
Since it is necessary to be free of sin and even attachments to sin to enter Heaven, many Catholics believe they will go to Purgatory; as if that “consolation prize” is good enough. Instead of aiming to go to Heaven, they aim to go to Purgatory. Unfortunately, for those suffering the agony of unfulfilled desire for God in Purgatory, it will not feel like it is “good enough”. St. Therese of Lisieux teaches us to aim for Heaven. She says that if we do three things, God will help us avoid Purgatory:
Keep trying (“Try to please God in everything”).
Keep trusting God (“Have an unshakeable trust”).
Be humble (“Recognize your weaknesses”).
This last one is especially difficult. However, if we ask God frequently and humbly for help, he will help us. His loving attention is attracted to humble souls. Be convinced that Heaven isn’t something we earn, but something that we reach in spite of our uselessness. In the end, it is something we can only reach with God’s help. As we begin this New Year, we may wish to look for new ways to practice humility in the hope of avoiding Purgatory altogether. This reflection is an adaptation of an article by Fr. James Swanson, L.C.
This picture is the “thought” imprinted on an herbal tea bag.
I read it and re-read it several times. I was trying to give the author and tea seller the benefit of the doubt. I guess I failed. I could not see much, if any, wisdom in: “In the beginning is you, in the middle is you, and in the end is you.” I suppose it’s some kind of self-empowerment mantra or affirmation. It just seems like total self-absorption to me. The thing is, this is the sentiment of society. I decide what the truth is. The beauty and genius of the Catholic Church is that wisdom is based on universal truths, faith, and reason…not shifts in trend, or me. So maybe instead of making resolutions this year…my resolutions…I will pray deeply and ask Jesus what he wishes me to change or do…for Him. I will run my revelations by my trusted friends, ones who I called spiritual advisors, just so I know The Evil One is not creeping in to delude me as he can do… This may not be a one shot process, a “one and done visit” with Jesus.
It may take some uncovering and opening up…time. I don’t want to get swept up in the commercialism, the consumerism of resolution-making. I would like to get into the sacredness of repentance. The putting on of a new mind. The mind of Christ.
If this leads me to exercising more, eating better, and being purer to follow Him that’s what I’ll do. If I am at the center of it, it won’t last; if He’s at the center of it, it stands an excellent chance.
Here’s a good way to start the New Year resolution-making process, with the Suscipe prayer:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my understanding, and my entire will, and all that I have and possess. You have given it all to me. To you, I return it. Dispose of it entirely according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace, that’s enough for me.
This wisdom will not appear on a tea bag because it calls for pulling one’s self out of the center of the universe and placing God squarely there. Sounds like a good place to start my resolutions…
From 1558 until1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. The Twelve Days of Christmas was written as a catechism for Catholic children. Learn, teach, sing…
1. A Partridge in a Pear Tree—Jesus Christ. A partridge is a bird that is willing to sacrifice its life to protect its young by feigning injury to draw away predators.
2. Two Turtle Doves—Old Testament and New Testament
3. Three French Hens—Theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love
4. Four Calling Birds—Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
5. Five Golden Rings—First books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch) Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior
6. Six Geese A Laying – Six days of creation: 1. Light/Dark, Heaven/ Earth; 2. Sky/Waters; 3. Dry Land/Plants; 4. Sun/Moon/Stars; 5. Birds/Fish; 6. Animals/People
7. Seven Swans a Swimming—Gifts of The Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord
8. Eight Maids A Milking—Beatitudes: 1. Poor in spirit (Heaven); 2. Those who mourn (Comfort); 3. Meek (Inherit the Land);4. Hunger/Thirst for righteousness (Satisfied); 5. Merciful (Mercy); 6. Clean of heart (see God); 7. Peacemakers (Called Children of God); 8. Persecuted (Kingdom of Heaven)
9. Nine Ladies Dancing- Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity (Generosity), Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness (Kindness), Gentleness, Fidelity, Modesty, Self-Control (Chastity)
10. Ten Lords Leaping—Ten Commandments: 1. One God/No idols; Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain; 3. Keep Sabbath Day holy; 4. Honor Father and Mother; 5. Don’t kill; 6. Don’t commit adultery; 7. Don’t steal; 8. Don’t lie, 9. Don’t covet (lust) another’s wife/ husband; 10. Don’t covet (Envy) another’s goods
11. Eleven Pipers Piping—Eleven Faithful Apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James bar Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas bar James
12. Twelve Drummers Drumming—Twelve points of belief in The Apostles Creed
Test each other around the dinner table! Have a truly blessed Christmas.
ARE WE IN THE PINK TODAY?
The expression “in the pink” means to be in good physical condition. Where did this expression originally come from? We may think that it comes from the rosy cheeks of a thriving child or the color of our healthy internal organs. The expression actually dates back to 16th century England (like most of these sayings). When one was in top form of anything, health, prosperity, or athletics, they were said to be “in the pinnacle”. This was shortened to be “in the pink”.
Today is The Third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice” and it comes from the Entrance Antiphon of today’s Mass. Violet (so much more gravitas than purple!) is the liturgical color to remind us of the penitent nature of the season, like Lent. We (me included) really should be more introspective, watchful, and emptying during this season to prepare for the awesomeness of God about to join us on earth. It’s hard not to be distracted with the bombardment of media and social pressure and our consumer programmed minds. Now is the time to sweep out the stable, to clear the cave, and to Ad-vent our secular clutter in our brains.
That’s why we have Gaudete Sunday to let us know we are getting close to proclaiming what no other religion can: That our God became one of us! Just pause and really think about this…We are blessed in the church to use either violet or rose (so much more gravitas than pink!) as our liturgical color for this Sunday. It tells us we are getting close to him, the Pinnacle. If you have been too busy or time has just slipped by this Advent, push the reset button now. Suggestions for the week: Spend ten solid minutes each day with an online Advent meditation, attend daily Mass at least one extra day, and/or lead family prayer each evening before or after dinner.
There’s time to prepare and finish “in the pink”!
PRAYER FOR THE WORKING
Lord Jesus, as I enter this workplace, I bring your presence with me. I ask your peace, your grace, and your perfect order to penetrate the atmosphere here.
I acknowledge Your Lordship over all that will be spoken, thought, decided, and accomplished within these walls.
Lord Jesus, I thank you for the gifts you have deposited in me. I do not take them lightly, but commit to using them responsibly and well. Give me a fresh supply of truth and beauty on which to draw as I do my job.
Anoint my creativity, my ideas, my energy, so that even the smallest task may bring you honor.
Lord, when I am confused, guide me. When I am weary, energize me. Lord, when I am burned out, infuse me with the light of the Holy Spirit. May the work that I do and the way I do it, bring hope, life, and courage to all I come in contact with today.
And, Oh Lord, even in this day’s most stressful moments, may I rest in you. In the mighty name that is above all names, in the matchless name of my Lord and Savior Jesus, I pray, Amen.
REMEMBER THAT…YOU ARE IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD!
Mary Pat and I visited our son Brian and his family in New Orleans. We enjoyed the food, culture, music, and faith while were there. The Catholic faith is deeply engrained in the people. Their neighborhood streets spoke of the hub of the parish church and school. Church is at the center of life, literally. Brian embarked on a new teaching career this year and it is a challenge. He teaches ninth grade English at the all boys Archbishop Rummel High School. I have never seen him work so hard preparing his day, during school hours, and after.
The strong faith environment at Rummel is a real support for him. The saying goes that “Other New Orleans schools produces the lawyers, doctors, and politicians, but Rummel produces the priests!” They start every class with prayer.
It is a real “call and response” regimen that really lifts me up…it goes like this:
Teacher: Remember that…
Class: We are in the presence of God!
Teacher: St. John Baptist de la Salle…
Class: Pray for us!
Teacher: Live Jesus in our hearts…
Teacher: Thank God Almighty…
Class: I’m a Raider!
All: Our Father…
Unity. Focus. Awareness. Six times a day. Hearing those young men with their deepening voices in unison with singleness of purpose is a sight and sound to behold! The first lines, REMEMBER THAT WE ARE IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD, is emblazoned in huge letters on the wall of the main student gathering area. It made me think how much I forget this during the day. Wish I had a community to chant this back and forth during the day. To remember the gifts, graces, duties, and love of Our Father in Heaven.
If you don’t already, you may wish to place reminders of God’s Presence in your home…sacred art, a statue, a holy water dish on the wall to bless yourself as you enter and leave. You may wish also to develop your own family call and response tradition to focus your group prayer. Brian’s school is a holy place that could be tangibly felt. Our homes are “domestic churches” where some of the deepest faith learning can occur…places where it is good to be reminded that we are is God’s presence
FROM THE DESK OF DEACON BRIAN – THE FATHER
Did you notice that Jesus uses exaggerated speech at times to get his message across because the people of the day were so misguided that they needed a jolt to get it right. This messaging technique is called hyperbole, and we see it elsewhere in the Gospel (e.g., “pluck out eye, cut off hand” Mt 5:29-30). In addition to using this strong messaging technique, using for example the title “father” for others is actually supported elsewhere in the Bible. See below. We should be ready to calmly and lovingly correct others that misread or unfairly isolate Scripture text to question our Catholic faith. The practice of this defense is called apologetics. Remember: The best response when you cannot answer a Catholic faith question is: “I don’t know, but I will find out and get right back to you.” And do it!
- Mt 19:19 – Jesus confirms commandment “Honor mother and father”
- Mt 3:9 – Jesus calls Abraham “father”
- Acts 7:2 – St. Stephen calls Jewish leaders “fathers”
- Acts 21:40, 22:1 – St. Paul calls Jerusalem Jews “fathers”
- Rom 4:16-17 – Abraham called “father of all”
- 1 Cor 4:14-15 – “I became your father in Christ through the gospel”
- 1 Tim 1:2 – “My true child in faith”
- Heb 12:7-9 – “We have earthly fathers to discipline us”
- Lk 14:26 – “If anyone comes to me without hating his father”
- 1 Thess 2:11 – “We treated you as a father treats his children”
The scribes and the Pharisees are always looking to trip up the faithful by distorting and perverting the Truth. They are still around. The Truth of the Gospel is One. One God. One Father in Heaven. One Teacher above. Strong fathers make strong families. Holy priests that we lovingly call Father make strong communities. We are blessed with both.
Our gratitude may be expressed at our yearly gatherings, but in an increasingly secular society,
“It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.”
Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.
SOME OUTFITS NEVER GO OUT OF STYLE…
Some asked me to review what holiness has to do with fashion. Here it is: How do we respond to God’s universal invitation to be holy? We change our clothes, of course! Let’s consider three styles for us to change into: “Protective Wear”, “Relaxed Fit”, and “Total Makeover”.
First, “Protective Wear” was originally designed by St. Paul who advises us to “put on the armor of Christ” and was popularized by St. Patrick by his famous Breastplate prayer, designed for those who are very aware that Evil will certainly seek to attack us each day.
Second, the “Relaxed Fit” was also designed by St. Paul and is best shown in his reading last week when he claims that he can live equally well in abundance or need only through God’s strength. Our beloved patron St. Francis of Assisi later embraced this style when he said: “Wear the world as a loose garment, which touches you in a few places and there, lightly.”
Third, the “Total Makeover” is the only style that well known speaker and author Matthew Kelly urges us to consider for our wardrobe change. He says it incorporates the benefits of Protective Wear and Relaxed Fit, and MUCH more…by living the Christian life through the beauty and genius of the Catholic Church. Here’s how:
- Bathe your soul in forgiveness and love through the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation found only here,
- Be fed by Jesus Himself in the Eucharist found only here,
- Bond with Jesus the real person by meditating on Bible passages compiled by this Church.
- Give and get active here, part of the largest charitable organization on the planet,
- Search and find the Truth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church where all faith questions are answered in easy to read English, and
- Be transformed by Sacred Liturgy that has guided us for over 2000 years. Result: Become the Best Version of Yourself.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE INTERRUPTIONS?
A co-worker bursts in and asks “Did ya get my email?” that he just sent 20 seconds ago. Your three year old wants you to draw several pictures with them as you are working on a deadline for a huge project. You realize you must evacuate (indefinitely) as a hurricane approaches. You lose your job. You are unexpectedly diagnosed with a severe illness requiring prolonged treatments.
These are various life interruptions that many of you are familiar with. How we handle interruptions in life, small or large, is a measure of our spiritual condition. How close we are to Jesus. What was the first interruption recorded in Holy Scripture? God had Paradise created as man’s home. That was the First Plan. Man disobeyed God. That was the First Interruption. How did God handle interruption? He was incredibly magnanimous, loving, and giving: He sent His only Son to die for us, to die for the result of the First Interruption.
There will be interruptions in our lives, no doubt about it. We need to be prepared for them physically and pre-prayered for them spiritually. When life’s interruptions occur, we may ask “Why me?” or “Now? I can’t believe this!” or we may lash out at the interrupter when we are not pre-prayered. Think of the love of the Father, the love of the Son, and how that love is expressed by the Holy Spirit. Embrace and welcome interruptions? Not sure if I can go that far yet, but I now know where to look and how to act when they come.
A deacon brother of mine and I have passed this prayer back and forth to each other over the years. It seems to always apply…sometimes more than others…
A PRAYER for my FUTURE
Lord, help me to know what the next step is in my life. I cannot stay put where I am, but I am not sure what comes next. Show me the path for my life, or at least the next portion of it. Help me to focus more on finding a way to serve you than satisfy myself, for I know you will always give me the strength and satisfaction I need to keep going. Guide me in the ways of truth.
“GOSSIP IS THE DEVIL’S RADIO…ARE YOU HIS DJ?”
This question is posed on a church marquee right here in town. It made me think how acceptable gossip has become through reality TV shows, social media, and daily life. I once worked for a private company whose corporate Mission Statement was “To Glorify God and Care for People” and it was a dismissible offense to gossip at work. Wow! It was amazing how this policy fostered an incredibly positive culture. Whenever a discussion was getting close to gossip, someone would usually simply say: “MT18”. This is not the human resource handbook section, it is Matthew’s Gospel chapter 18, verses 15-19. Apply this 4-step process and you will have a healthy family, ministry, business, or parish.
This is the key step. If someone has done or is doing something wrong, speak to them directly. Usually not easy, but sooooo important. Pray first for the Holy Spirit to give you the right words and heart. This is the mandatory step that short-circuits the poison and dysfunction of gossip.
Bring One or Two
If #1 above works, great! If not, go to another person or two in your family, ministry, business, or parish so that “every fact may be established” and present it to the wrong-doer. In families sometimes, we express our difficulties about a family member only to the others and it decays the love that God wishes us to have in this sacred community.
Go to the Group Leader
If #1 and #2 don’t work, then go to the group leader. In our church, sometimes we don’t follow this sequence. A person may feel something is not right so they “discuss” it with other parishioners and then may write a letter to the pastor or bishop, and leave the errant person out of the loop. When we resolve any concerns together, we all grow in the love of Christ.
Pray for Them
If #1, #2, and #3 don’t work, Jesus says “treat them as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”. At first this seems to say, outcast them. Not with Jesus, he mixed with them and had compassion for them. We should sincerely pray for them.
In a form of examination of conscience based on the 10 Commandments I sometimes use, it lists the sin of gossip under “Thou Shall Not Kill”. Seems harsh, but it is really what I recklessly do by not applying Steps 1-4 in order.
Hours before Hurricane Irma hit our area, I walked along the beach and prayed the rosary. It was the Nativity of Mary. I prayed for the intercession of Our Lady of Lepanto, one of Mary’s titles many are not familiar with.
In 1571, there was a huge sea battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League. The Christians were severely outnumbered, so Pope Pius V opened all churches to pray the rosary day and night to request Mary’s intercession with Jesus. The result was a dramatic unanticipated shift in the Mediterranean winds that led to Christian victory. Irma shifted path too. The power of prayer.
While our power in Fernandina Beach was out during the storm, I thought of living life without electrical power, like the old days. While it has an attraction to a simpler life, I like cranking the AC too much to fully embrace life without 110 volts. I found myself for almost two days “assuming power” by constantly hitting light switches and pressing garage door openers that provided no juice.
I shed my Breviary app for my old worn Liturgy of the Hours volumes to pray morning and evening prayer, waiting for daylight and being sure of its completion before sunset to read those printed pages. There was a peace to it.
“Power is not given, it’s taken” say some in political and financial power. Jesus’ power on earth and heaven was given to Him, by the Father. He was clear about this, especially throughout John’s gospel. As the destruction of Irma came through, I thought of Jesus’ power of destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days. I thought of his crown of piercing thorns puncturing His temples instead of the bejeweled crown of earthly reigns. I thought of the ridicule He suffered instead of adulations the brutal beating instead of pampering. Even before The Passion: The modest upbringing instead of the opulent palace; the itinerant life on the road instead of the comforts of home; the embracing of sinners instead of the exclusion of the club.
Jesus shows us how to assume power in our lives in a way that is still radical today. We follow Him. We do it in silence in our private prayer and we do it together, in community, at St. Francis of Assisi. “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and glory forever and ever. Amen!”
EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LIFE I LEARNED FROM NOAH’S ARK….…
Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned From Noah’s Ark No one seems to know where this originally came from, but it’s useful in today’s world and it will make you smile, too. So when life seems too hard, too stressful, or too fast, just think of Noah’s Ark because everything you need to know about life is right there.
- Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
- Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something Really big.
- Don’t listen to critics. Do what has to be done.
- Build your future on the high ground.
- For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
- Two heads are better than one.
- Speed isn’t always an advantage. The cheetahs were on board, but so were the snails.
- When you’re stressed, float for a while.
- Don’t forget that we’re all in the same boat.
- When the doo-doo gets really deep, don’t sit there and complain- shovel!
- Stay below deck during the storm.
- Remember that the ark was built by amateurs & the Titanic was built by professionals.
- Remember that the woodpeckers INSIDE are often a bigger threat than the storm outside.
- No matter how bleak it looks, there’s always a rainbow on the other side.
- DON’T MISS THE BOAT !!!!
OH, NOW I REMEMBER…
A couple of weeks ago, Father Rafal challenged us whether we may suffer from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” when it comes to knowing who Jesus is. He did not casually offer this reference for our consideration; he was very thoughtful about it. He told the story about how he saw his friend fade away over the years as the result of this devastating disease. I identified strongly with this reference since my dad suffered from this slow debilitating affliction. The once respected lawyer and judge, father of eight, and Catholic Layman of the Year was no longer with us. Father’s point was dramatic for a reason: We all tend to forget who Jesus really is…
Bishop Robert Barron helped me to appreciate where our power to remember (and not forget) comes from: Jesus asks his disciples that devastating question: “But who do you say that I am?” But the disciples don’t speak. Are they afraid? Perhaps. Finally Simon Peter speaks: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” You are the Meshiach, the anointed one, the long-awaited savior, but more to it, you are the Son of God, not just a human hero. This is the mystical faith that stands at the heart of Christianity.
To hold this Petrine faith is to be a Christian; to deny it is to deny Christianity. “But who do you say that I am?” But the disciples don’t speak. Are they afraid? And then those amazing words of Jesus: “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” This insight did not come from Simon’s own intelligent speculation. It came from above, through grace, from God. And this is why Peter is a rock.
The Church is built, not on a worldly foundation of any kind, but on a mystical foundation, born of Peter’s faith in the revealing God. The Church is neither democratic nor aristocratic—it is charismatic. And this is where its power comes from.
WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE…?
“The Church is a house of a hundred gates, and no two people enter at exactly the same angle” once stated the witty Catholic convert and apologist G.K. Chesterton. Cradle Catholic, Conversion Catholic, CEO Catholic (Christmas and Easter only), Fallen Away Catholic, and Reversion Catholic…So many labels! That’s because each of us are on our own unique faith journey.
Some of us were raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools, raised in the local parish with the sacraments not only providing God’s grace but being life milestones. For many, this is what provided the foundation for our faith fifty years later. For some of us, the same experience provided us the reason not to be an active Catholic. Many times it was not a doctrine that turned us off, but a person, place or thing that rubbed us the wrong way. A priest that was judgmental. A parish receptionist that wasn’t nice. A school that was stifling. Mass that is boring.
Some say converts make the best Catholics. This is because they have usually done their homework, searching, and commitment as adults. They intelligently research and discover the Scriptural basis for the Church; they see how Church Tradition complements Scripture and why the Church is hierarchical with the Pope as leader (Jesus set it up that way). Those who are spiritual and not religious discover a primal truth too.
Question – Why can’t I just be a good person and go to heaven?
Answer – Because Jesus says clearly (particularly in Johns Gospel) that “no one goes to the Father except through me.” We have to get to know Jesus intimately.
Question – But how do I get to know Jesus? Answer – Hang out with Him. So if you haven’t been around in a while and have this small flicker of faith that seems to be pulling you back, what angle back do you take?
Answer – Whatever angle you believe is best to start hanging out with Jesus. This can be through your kids’ school, it can be through bible study groups, it can be through young family, men’s, or women’s social group, it can be your raw need for healing and forgiveness.
The Holy Mass is the source and summit of our faith. It is prayer par excellence and beauty beyond words, but it is not an angle…it is a destination. Find your new angle, hang out with Jesus, enter your gate. Welcome home.
“I DID IT MYYYY WAYYYY!”
The songs of Frank Sinatra New York, New York (“if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere”) and My Way are quintessentially American, inspiring our personal drives to conquer the world alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love belting out Frank’s lines and feeling the empowerment, the rise and success of the little guy, winning against the odds. Americans love the underdog. We naturally root for them. It’s part of our national psyche. The thing is these anthems of individualism and self-determination leave zero room for God. We see this even more today as younger people (due to their higher education indoctrination) define the world with themselves at the center. Things are true or false as they relate to me. This is also known as relativism. It recognizes no objective truth, only subjective truth…truth if I think it’s true for me.
The Bible is filled with stories of underdog success: David slays Goliath, Job sustains hardship, Moses leads a nation with a speech impediment, and a construction worker’s son from a backwater town declares victory over death for all of us. All these feats were possible because of a character trait that repulses many today: Obedience. Obedience to the truth starts with the simple Truth: “I am your God, and you are my people”. Just focus on this one and the rest takes care of itself. It starts to deflate the #1 root sin: Pride. It leads us to something other than “my way”…His Way. The Way.
The picture inset is a message painted on a building in the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where Gen X, Y, and Millennials thrive. It seems to be another anthem of individualism, one that might give credence to the latest “my way”: personal gender selection. It is a statement by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the legendary fashion designer. Her mother died and her father left home. At an early age, Chanel was dropped off at Aubazure Abbey in France and raised by Catholic nuns. It is here that Chanel first saw a recurring “CC” adorning the beautiful stained glass windows of the Abbey church, inspiration for what would later become her iconic logo. It is here that Gabrielle learned to sew, to create.
She was captivated by the simple lifestyle of the sisters that would later become the foundation for her simple luxury philosophy.
It revolutionized fashion forever. Even the nuns habits with odd, elegant angles of black and white, free of corsets and frou-frou, would inspire her designs. Thank you Frank and Coco
This coming Monday, August 21st at 2:47 p.m., we can witness here in Yulee a 91.7% eclipse of the sun. The last time there was a total eclipse visible in the US was 38 years ago. So what? It’s out of the ordinary. It’s rare. It’s odd. We look up (with protective glasses from Walmart) and see something we don’t usually see.
St. Francis was known as Brother Sun and St. Clare was known as Sister Moon. Francis led the way in challenging the church structure in Assisi to follow Jesus’ way more closely by shunning the material trappings that had encrusted it over the generations. Clare followed Francis and, like the Moon, she reflected Francis’ bright sunlight of the Word found in the ordinary life and the beauty of nature.
The model these saints follow is Jesus the Sun (Light of Christ) and Mary the Moon (reflecting the Light of Christ). Christ is the source and Mary receives her radiance from Him and only Him.
We may witness the darkening of the day this coming Monday, but Mary could never eclipse Jesus and Clare would never eclipse Francis. They saw, felt, and were filled with the Light and desired only to reflect, magnify, and show it to others.
Brandon Vogt’s book RETURN, How to Draw Your Child Back to Church is the best I’ve ever read on the subject. Brandon is Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and he delivers new insight and guidance on one of the most frustrating situations for parents. This is a superb book whether your child is a millennial, Gen-X, Gen Y, or Baby-boomer. It is also an excellent book to read if your child is in middle school or high school and attending Mass with you now. Believe me, their wheels are turning and they will be derailed at most colleges.
After an excellent real-time analysis of why young adults raised Catholic are now marking “None” as their religious affiliation in alarming numbers, Vogt walks the reader through how they can prepare themselves spiritually for a process that may take years to bring their child back to the church. Knowing that you are moving forward helps you have a patience you never thought possible. He walks you through how to equip yourself with effective information and best approaches. He skillfully walks the reader through the expected stages of this ministry and how to calmly overcome personal, moral, and theological objections from your child.
Go to www.brandonvogt.com for four excellent videos on this subject and a way to receive a free copy of this book! For so long parents have felt powerless and saddened in this fight. Vogt shows the reader it is not a fight, but a journey for parent and child at God’s pace…a journey unlike any attempted by a parent in the past. Deep down your child yearns to come home. You can open the door wide for them. I highly recommend this book for a parent with a child of any age who wishes to become empowered with new insight, a fresh plan, and a proven path for doing what all Christians are called to do: Bring others to Christ.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was an English writer, poet, and philosopher known for his poignant wit and his conversion to Catholicism…sometimes they come together! Enjoy…
“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
“Christmas is built on the beautiful and intentional paradox that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”
“Religious liberty might supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice, it means that hardly anyone is allowed to mention it.”
“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”
“The difference between the poet and the scientist is that the poet tries to get his head into the heavens, while the scientist tries to get the heavens into his head.”
“Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.”
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”
“These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”
“Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it has a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
“Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all.”
“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”
“It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”
“The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons, all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
“When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship everything.
The Spirituality section of this Mission Bulletin is a rich deposit of inspiration. In addition to Holy Scripture and Holy Eucharist, we are blessed to have articles on devotions, sacramentals, saints’ lives, church calendar seasons, and Suggested spiritual readings to help deepen our faith. Thank you Pat Ruebush! This month’s devotion is The Most Precious Blood of Jesus. I think about how Jesus’ blood courses through our veins upon receiving His blood at Mass. Awesome (truly). I also think of the scene in the movie The Passion where Pilate’s wife Claudia gives our mother Mary spotless linens with which to wipe up Jesus’ precious blood. Very moving. While this scene does not appear in Scripture, it depicts the sympathy (yearning?) of a pagan woman to connect with Truth. The careful treatment of any sacrificial blood was standard for the Jews. It is also Jewish custom to this day to treat the blood of anyone as sacredly as the body itself in burial preparation.
Last month’s devotion to The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was a good preparation for this month. In my mediations I sometimes envision myself embracing the Lord: My heart touching His Sacred Heart. I used to think the flames depicted
coming from the top of Jesus’s Sacred Heart were “over the top”. I don’t think this anymore. It makes sense now and does not seem cartoonish to me anymore. Jesus’ heart burns for us. This burning is all the time. The lamp is always lit and offering us light in the dark, heat in the cold, and a way to burn off our impurities.
My home office desk has a large family picture from our Ireland trip last summer that faces me. It is flanked by a statue of Our Lady offering Her comfort to me on the right desk corner and a picture of Jesus revealing His Sacred Heart to me of the left wall. It’s a good space!
I went to take a photo of Jesus on the wall. Phone cameras usually show a yellow square that locks the focus on the face of the subject. It did this initially on Jesus’ face, but then kept pulling the photo focal point to His Heart. It kept alternating from His face to His heart, as if He was saying:
“If you wish to know me better, enter My heart”.
I am a real list person. I like writing out my “To-Do” list nearly every day, starring the priority items that have to be done, then crossing off the items when done. A friend of mine years ago would call me “The Maximizer” or “Max” for short. This nickname was part admiration, since he was a real doer, too, and part loving poke to slow down and not be so activity driven all the time. He was also my spiritual advisor!
A list I don’t seem to make until I am too restless, irritable, and discontent is a gratitude list. A list to remind me of God’s many blessings to take me out of my funk, out of the mud, and raise me up to my benevolent Father. Catholic writer GK Chesterton once said “There is nothing as poetic as a list”. Think of our beautiful lists: Fruits of the Holy Spirit, Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal Virtues, Corporeal Acts of Mercy. Lists that can serve as a meditation piece or an action plan for anyone seeking a life closer to God.
Not sure why I don’t do my periodic gratitude list until I get too uncomfortable. Must be my fallen nature. Or my self-centered desire to figure out life by myself. Pride. What I do know is that this list must be a written list, no causal mental notes here. Something profound happens when pen goes to paper and I see the showering of God’s blessings in my life in black and white. Incredible! Try it!
Date nights, they ought to be almost as obligatory as weekly Mass, and they don’t have to be expensive or complicated! It’s easy to forget once children come into the picture, but time with your spouse and only your spouse is as necessary to your marriage as Sunday Mass.
Marking the Sabbath is a way of refreshing and renewing our commitment to loving God and neighbor, to growing deeper in faith. Failing to meet our weekly minimal obligation to listen to the Word of God and participate with the Body of Christ at the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, weakens our capacity to be a living witness all the other hours of the week. Missing Mass erodes our capacity to hear God’s Word. It dims our willingness to see God in others. It allows the coarse business of the world to seem more pressing than seeking the Kingdom of God. Everything about us that is wrong is given priority when we fail to put the Sabbath first.
Likewise, setting and keeping a date night with your husband or wife, is a necessary means of making sure we don’t fall into bad habits with respect to each other; relating as roommates or as merely Mom and Dad, or worse, as adversaries battling for turf on the home front with respect to parenting, finances, and even the most minute of details.
God knows we need time to reconnect with Him despite all the evidence of His gifts around us, and that time is no less necessary for husband and wife, with all of reality pressing down around us. The tendency in this culture is to put career first, me first, kids first, community first, but notably not us (husband and wife) first.
But marriage, as anyone in a marriage knows, requires a willful putting of the relationship first. We sacrifice with and for each other. We sublimate to each other. Date night is a way of reminding each other of the joy of marriage, and it is most necessary when everything else is not running smoothly. Many couples tend to skip scheduling date nights when things are running smoothly, and when things begin to not run smoothly, they use the fact that things aren’t good as a reason to not schedule a date night — such that date nights almost never happen unless it’s a birthday or anniversary. That’s like only going to Mass at Easter and Christmas. Yes, it’s good to go at Easter and Christmas, but all the weeks in between matter as well.
The internet is filled with “Five Steps to a More Satisfying Marriage”, “Seven Tips for a Better Love Life”, “Three Quick Ways to Increase Your Happiness” and “Buzzfeed quizzes”. But, if you want to deepen your marriage, if you want to grow in intimacy, then make your marriage the focal point of your prayer life and a willful part of your weekly life. Schedule a weekly date night. Take turns planning it. Don’t skip, even if it’s just to take a walk around the neighborhood or split a milk shake at the drive thru at McDonald’s. Make it an obligation to each other. It will be a reminder of the joy promised as part of marriage, bringing you and your spouse closer together, and as a result, closer to God. Adapted from Aleteia article by Sherry Antonetti dated July 5, 2016
GOD’S AFFIRMATIVE ACTION PROGRAM
Known as “Affirmative Action” in the US, “Positive Discrimination” in the UK, “Employment Equity” in Canada, and “Reservation” in India, it is the policy of favoring a disadvantaged group, usually in job hiring or school admission, who suffer or have suffered from discrimination within a culture. While the proper implementation of these policies has been debated for over 50 years, there is a different Affirmative Action Program that has been perfectly implemented since man first uttered a prayer to our Heavenly Father.
God always answers our prayers in the affirmative. When we ask for something in prayer, God responds with one of these three affirmative responses:
“I have something better planned for you”
“Yes” – This is the answer we usually want. Of course, why else ask? And it’s OK. But we run into problems (feelings of rejection, not being heard and not being loved) when this is the only answer we want. This is us trying to play God in a way. The other problem is when God answers our pray, we get what we want, and then forget to thank our Benefactor for His loving generosity. I do this fairly frequently. I will be deep in sincere prayer and even say “but your will, not mine be done” and mean it (I think). Then I receive what I requested and don’t remember to thank God until many hours later. For the period that I forget from whom all good things flow, I seem to move myself into the center of the universe and shove God aside. When I do eventually thank Him, it is so sweet
“Not yet” – This affirmative response is often taken as “No”. As humans in a consumer society, a customer-centric culture, with on-demand expectations, “Not yet” is not easy for us to recognize. We are always right on time in God’s world, never late or early. He knows when the timing is right. He knows when we can better handle something like health, wealth, honor, or relationships. And get this: I’m not talking about a day or month delay on your request. It may be years until God deems the timing right, if at all. It’s not God’s will that gives us inner turmoil, it’s our non-alignment with it that does.
“I have something better planned for you” – This is a close cousin to “Not yet”. The same challenges to recognize God’s will , and for us to align, apply here too. How many times did something turn out far better than you fretted about or requested? That was God. Thank Him. Be expectant without expectations. Expect God to have the best plan for you in motion, but don’t burden yourself with your expectations of how the plan is to play out. Be still and know that He is God. Be still… Listen… Align.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” Ernest Hemingway’s classic, A Movable Feast, captured a sentiment that has been used to name catering companies and travel firms for decades. Hemingway used a religious reference to coin a secular experience, and it stuck.
The Catholic Church was the first to describe movable feasts. For example in 325, the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. Whew! Oh, so that’s why it’s not on the same date each year… Is that why Ascension Thursday was on Sunday this year and the deacon was somewhat baffled? That’s another story. So glad that there are also fixed feasts on the church calendar, like St. Patrick’s Day on May 17th. Now, there’s a date you can rely on! It’s interesting when we come across things that are meant to be fixed in one spot and they become portable. We recently took a beautiful, lazy bike ride through Fort Clinch. We were determined not to rush, to read every Department of Parks placard along the way, and discuss the history, not blow through the experience like we (I) usually do. We were intent on savoring our experience, and it meant a huge difference long after we were gone.
We learned that the Amelia Island Lighthouse was moved to Egan’s Creek in Fernandina Beach from Cumberland Island GA in 1838 because the shore and river beds shifted so much the old GA spot didn’t light the right way anymore. That’s “a thing that shouldn’t move being moved” #1. To light the way along the windy creek at night to the new Amelia Island lighthouse location, four beacons (smaller towers with fires) were built. Three were fixed beacons, and the fourth was, yup you guessed it, movable. Not kidding. That’s “a thing that shouldn’t move being moved” #2. It was made movable because the river bed to the lighthouse and safe harbor dangerously moved from week to week.
The lighthouse is Christ. The beacons are us when we are on fire for the Lord. We are so filled and inspired that we want to light the way for others to Him. Christ is the fixed One. We are invited to be movable beacons to assist the searching ships. Movable beacons assess the drift of society, community, and each other in the parish and move themselves into better positions to serve God’s people.
The most profound piece of ministry advice I ever received is:
“Meet people where they are (be movable) and just be yourself (be fixed)”.
A couple of weeks ago, Jesus enlisted us in The Great Commission (“Go make disciples”). St. John Paul II drafted us all into “The New Evangelization”. Here’s Pope Francis’ guide for us:
1. Everyone is Meant to Evangelize – Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
2. Want Authentic Personal Fulfillment? Evangelize – When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. For here, we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.
3. Evangelization Starts with Our Own Relationship with Jesus -The spreading of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of per-sons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.
4. We Must Witness the Faith with Our Lives – If you happen to be with an atheist who tells you that he does not believe in God, you can read him the whole library, where it says that God exists, and where it is proven that God exists, and he will not believe. [However] if in the pres-ence of this same atheist you witness to a consistent, Christian life, something will begin to work in his heart…. It will be your witness that brings him the restlessness on which the Holy Spirit works.
5. An Evangelizer Must Be Joyful – An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the
6. We Must Encounter People to Evangelize – Be servants of communion and of the culture of encounter! I would like you to be almost obsessed about this. Be so without being presumptuous, imposing “our truths”, but rather be guided by the humble yet joyful certainty of those who have been found, touched and transformed by the Truth who is Christ, ever to be proclaimed.
7. We Must Know How to Give an Initial Proclamation of Jesus – On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; He gave His life to save you; and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” Nothing is more solid, profound, se-cure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation.
8. Get Out of Our Comfort Zone – I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.
9. Evangelizers Love People – Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance.
10. Everyone Needs to Be Evangelized – Jesus teaches us that the Good News, which He brings, is not reserved to one part of humanity, it is to be communicated to everyone.
We are blessed to have our community named after St. Francis. It’s almost hard to believe that another diocesan church didn’t snag the name. We always see our patron saint in neighbors’ backyards…in the garden section at Home Depot and Lowe’s. And the Pope was the first to take his name! It was very deliberate. It is a renewed message to the world: Avoid the trappings, rebuild My church, be bold, and love My creation…all of it.
Pope Francis combines his Ignatian spirituality (Jesuit or-der/formation) that seeks God in all things throughout the world and Franciscan spirituality that urges the disciple to live very simply to find happiness and to seek Jesus in the poor. On a recent visit to NYC for the joyful occasion of our beautiful grandson Rocco’s birth, we visited The Church of St. Francis on 31st Street near Penn Station. I used to frequent this church years ago when I worked in Manhattan. It always impressed me as an active working city parish serving the needy in the community. I was not disappointed and very pleased at the continued mission of the parish…at the things that remain…and the improvements made.
First, as we walked up the block at 7:30am, we noticed a long line of 50+ men and women lined up for morning breakfast at the church. Something was different about this soup kitchen line. People we not downcast at all. They were talking and laughing, enjoying each other’s company. Here’s partly why: There was a St Francis parishioner standing beside the line every five persons or so greeting and talking to the homeless members of the community. These volunteers seemed to be men and women, younger and older, who were joyfully making time before going to work to feed and encounter God’s children.
Next, we climbed the stone steps to the church. We were greeted by a striking bronze sculpture, not of a great saint or an important benefactor…this sculpture was of a begging man seated on the second step with his weathered humble hand out to me for food. What a message. The parish did not limit the homeless to the side door…they honored them at the front door! We exited on the other side of the church (after passing through the garden…what an oasis in the city!) where a statue of St. Francis greets visitors also with a humble reaching hand…his hand is not darkly tarnished like the rest of him…his bronze hand gleams brightly from all the pilgrim hands that grasp it on the way in.
There are 3 morning Masses, 3 midday Masses, and 3 evening Masses celebrated at St. Francis. In the lower church, half the space has been renovated as a perpetual Adoration Chapel where the weary can escape the noise and heat of the city to be silent with Jesus 24/7. The other half has been renovated into multiple confessionals where one can release their burden and receive the grace of great Reconciliation 7:30am-7:30pm every day. We did it all. Heaven in the city!
In the Disney story, Belle finds beauty in the Beast. In our Christian faith life, the beast is clearly…the Beast (Evil). Our secular society succeeds many times at beautifying (or at least neutralizing) the Beast in the hearts of people.
The beauty and genius of our Catholic faith is firmly supported by a 3-legged stool: Holy Scripture, Church Traditions and Church Teachings. Some believe these three legs have been whittled down in recent years, weakening our understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Three legs of Holy Matrimony strength are Scripture: Christ elevated weddings to prime position by performing his first miracle and starting his public ministry at a religious wedding. Tradition: Weddings were always the exclusive purview of the Church through the centuries; civil marriages are a relatively recent function of government. Teachings: Holy Matrimony keeps the married Catholic in communion with the Catholic Church, enabling him, her or them to continue to receive the graces of the sacraments.
When a Catholic gets married outside the Church, he or she is to refrain from receiving Communion until their marriage is convalidated by the Church. Why? Beauty: Holy Matrimony is a sacred heavenly covenant between man and woman, and God…“Beast”: Civil marriage is an earthy contract; no different, on one level, than two people entering into a contract to buy/sell widgets or provide / receive landscaping services, where your remedies for breach are dictated by the government. Life in the Church is above earth; it is otherworldly; it does not respond to clock-time, it responds to God-time; it does not recognize contracts of fidelity, only covenants of fidelity. Receiving Communion when not married in the church damages the soul. Beauty cannot nourish the Beast. Thinking it doesn’t matter or it is OK to receive, is the Beast, not Beauty, talking to you. You are highly encouraged to come forward to receive a blessing during Communion.
Getting married outside the Church is a detour from the never changing beauty of our “grace delivery system” set up by Jesus called the Sacra-ments. The beast of secularity can redefine the definition of marriage when-ever fashionable. Sometimes we get married outside the church due to practicality at the time or because we were simply at a different part of our faith journeys. Marriage convalidation is an onramp back to Communion via the sacred road of Holy Matrimony and a powerful faith witness to your family and our St. Francis community.
It is not simply “getting your marriage blessed in the church”. Convalidation is the beauty of God’s graces being restored to you. It transports your break-able courthouse marriage or your destination wedding from the earth to its heavenly destination: The throne of God the Father, through Jesus our Sav-ior, by the breath of the Holy Spirit.
Please contact our parish office to restore beauty in your lives.
Someone very close to me recently lost his job in a corporate downsizing. After the initial shock and blaming his superiors for mismanaging the company, he took a deep breath and…prayed.
During his prayer time, he remembered what was suggested he do when in times of stress or downturn: Change 2 (“to”) to 4 (“for”). What? In other words, don’t ask yourself, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead ask, “Why is this happening for me?” Not so easy to do when you are facing a very difficult situation. So, is it that my friend is not a victim, but the recipient of some sort of gift by being let go? C’mon! Actually, yes, according to Holy Scripture: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”.
Maybe the company is in worse shape than anyone thinks, and by getting out now before severance packages disappear later will be a good thing. Maybe my friend’s hard travelling schedule was taking a toll on his home life or much worse, his soul, without him realizing it. Maybe God wants him to shift his career to serve Him more fully. Maybe my friend should be using his underutilized creativity to glorify God in a different career. God is all good; He does not do bad things to us. Things happen to us in life and when we put on the mind of Christ, we can see how they are happening for us. The unpleasant can draw us closer to Him.
Changing “to” to “for” in a time of job loss, marital difficulty, terminal illness of self or close ones, death of a family member, or any jolt in our lives takes prayer and spiritual guidance. It is best to be “prayed up” before the trauma occurs, but many times is not the case. With trusted spiritual guidance my friend adopted a new patient attitude. He is expectant without expectations, meaning that he is ex-pectant that God will provide if he puts in the job search and networking footwork. But he is careful not have expectations of getting a specific job that he “deserves”. He has asked that he be God’s instrument in this challenging time. What a relief!
Changing “to” to “for” requires all key elements of Paul’s letter verse above to be working:
“All things..” – I need to have faith that even the bad stuff we go through is a pathway to the really good stuff in our life as God’s child;
“…for those who love God…” – I have to love God, really love him, for this to work. I may need to spend (much) more quiet time with Him; and
it works for those “called to his purpose” – Those that follow Jesus’ commands: “Take this…, Go…, Make…, Teach…, Sell…, Give…, Wash…, Feed…Love…”
Our secular world programs us to keep our eyes downcast and believe that bad things happen to us. Our heavenly world can transform us to train our eyes up-ward to believe that all things happen for us for the good. As always, in God’s time.
I recently set some stepping stones on my front lawn (actually, I paid strong young men to do it!) to connect my front walk to the path on the side of the house. Tina and her mom, Miss Ruth, were kind enough to let us place a stone partly on their lawn to make the connection. Good neighbors. There were a lot of bare spots where the work was done and my Type A need for immediate gratification started to kick in. I thought about running out and getting sod to fill in the bare spots. But after a few days, I noticed the lawn had already started to creep in to fill the spots. Miss Ruth told me the grass was “St. Augustine” one evening when we were watering. I thought how Augustine’s mom, Monica, was patient in her prayers for her son’s conversion. Then, I thought of this prayer:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
So now, I water and…trust.
Nothing soothes me more during a restless night than meditating on the mysteries of the rosary in bed during the dark still of the night. My rosary sits on my night stand ready to go. The rhythmic peace of the olivewood beads slipping through my fingers is my physical therapy. The cadence of my prayers is my lullaby. The contemplation of the mysteries and their gifts are my sedative. I urge every-one to consider a prescription in this medicinal sacramental.
I have recently had a lot on my mind that has caused me to pop up around 3am with my mind racing. I can usually go back to sleep, but not lately. So, I usually reach for my comfort of choice: My Rosary. Last night, I could not find my rosary on the night stand. The low glow of the clock radio showed that it was not there. Maybe I left it somewhere. I decided to get up and sit in the dark of our sunroom and pray. I swung my legs out of the bed to put my feet on the floor and stepped right on my rosary! I jumped a bit as I initially felt that I was being irreverent to this sacred object. Then, almost immediately, I thought of Mary’s foot crushing the head of the Serpent. I always look for this feature on a statue of Mary. I look for the tenderness and femininity of her holy foot. I look to see how evil the Serpent is depicted. I seem to revel that this sweet foot crushes this insidious Evil. I pray for Her to do this in my life. My brief feeling of irreverence switched quickly to connection to faithful empowerment, as if Mary was letting me borrow some of her strength to perform the crushing act.
I purchased this rosary at a gift shop at Montepulciano Italy, near Assisi, where St. Francis received the wounds of his stigmata (his hands, feet, and side bled for the rest of his life). Right at the rock where Francis received these wounds, a priest was leading a tour out. I asked, “Could you bless my rosary?” He replied, “Auf Deutche, OK?” I replied, “Ja, sehr gute!” (Yes, very good!) I was working for a German bank at the time and my minimal language skill came in handy.
A few years ago my rosary made the trip through the washing machine. The twine broke, but the holy women of our Rosary Society restrung them better than ever for me! The olivewood beads became dry so no longer slipped through my fingers. I thought they were ruined forever, but with a year of recitations, the smoothness, like Mary’s foot, was restored…the evil crushing power never left.
Saint Patrick brought the Christian faith to a heathen Ireland at a very dangerous time long ago. He was threatened bodily and spiritually all the time. Kind of like us today. Patrick would say a prayer and envision him-self putting on a shield of protection, the Armor of Christ, to keep him from evil so that the world could witness Our Savior’s power in their lives.
A month ago, we may have been distracted by the commercialization of this great saint’s feast day. Look at his life of evangelization afresh for inspiration as you meet people today. As part of our continued Easter renewal in Christ’s glorious Resurrection, you are invited soon after you awaken to pray Patrick’s Prayer and seize the day!
I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to see before me,
God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me against snares of devils, against temptations and vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd…
Christ, be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie,
Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
When God wants something great done in this world, He doesn’t dispatch a legion of avenging angels;Neither does He call forth a whirlwind nor ignite the fuse of volcanic fireworks.
No commandeering troops into battle nor discharging zealous crusaders to holy causes;
He does not orchestrate the burst and boom of thunder nor display His fiery arrows majesty across the sky to bring His purpose to pass.
When God wants something great done in this world…. He sends a baby and then….He waits.
Our Advent Season Reflection series on The Universal Prayer of the Church continues…
I worship You as my first beginning,
long for You as my last end,
I praise You as my constant helper,
and call on You as my loving protector.
Guide me by Your constant wisdom,
correct me with Your justice,
comfort me with Your mercy,
protect me with Your power.
Have you ever been RAPT in prayer? That’s when you express yourself in four ways when raising your heart and mind to God:You:
It’s a handy formula that can help jumpstart the prayer life of a beginner or refocus the prayer warrior. I find myself usually asking for things (petition) way too much. Being truly sorry (repenting) only after I am hurting too much. Thanking Him way too late because I first think I am the gift giver. And simply adoring Him way too rarely.
On the rare occasions that I can keep my mind from wandering or boomeranging back to me, what I want, I can enter a beautiful space of praise and only praise. Only praise. Only the A part; no RPT for now. Our Adoration Chapel or a retreat is the ideal setting for this special time to occur. Free from distraction and silent. Getting into “Adoration Shape” now during these coming weeks will help us sing “O Come Let us Adore Him” with a renewed heart when He arrives!
We await the coming of an infant that will grow into a man and teach us the way to Heaven. He will protect us. He will guide us. He will show us his Father’s mercy. He will correct us with His justice if our hearts are open to His ways in our lives. Let us get ready for the arrival of this infant, our God, this Emmanuel who protects us with his mighty power.
This is the second of a four-week Advent series of reflections based on The Universal Prayer of the Church attributed to Pope Clement XI in the 18th century. You are invited to read the entire prayer softly out loud each morning as a daily meditation this Advent season.
Lord, I believe in You: Increase my faith.
Lord, I trust in You: Strengthen my trust.
I love You: Let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: Deepen my sorrow.
This is the opening paragraph of The Universal Prayer of The Church, a prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI in the 18th century. I first heard the entire prayer recited by an Atlanta priest after Communion. The power of the words, the cadence of the lines, and the building of the message blew me away. The prayer is a guide to salvation and I had never heard it before. As part of your Advent preparation, I invite you to find the prayer online, print it out, and softly recite it each day. Like any sacred reading, be sure to make your words audible; you too will experience the power of their rhythm and message.
Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. Not the waiting like for a food order, but a holy waiting. It is a sanctified waiting where we are not inconvenienced, but enriched. Time is different in Advent, it nearly stands still with anticipated joy. Preparation during Advent is penitential, somewhat like Lent. We get our house in order to receive the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior, Emmanuel. We usually examine our lives and see where sinful behavior may have crept back in and blocked us from loving God as much as we can. Some counter the consumer- ism of the season by cutting things back, less food, or less entertainment as a way to prepare.
In his prayer, Pope Clement starts out with more, more, more! St. Ignatius of Loyola called this spiritual approach magis. The Christian should always be striving to increase or take it to the next level when seeking God in all things. I believe in God, but I don’t really ask to believe Him more. I should. I trust in God, but I know this trust should be increased because I often exert my will and it either gets me into trouble or makes me feel uncomfortable. My love for Jesus has deepened greatly in recent years, but I know from reading the great mystics and saints of the Church, that this love can deepen beyond my wildest imagination if I ask Him. Why would I want to deepen my sorrow for my sins? I already feel bad enough. Because if God deepens my sorrow, it can become a “treasured sorrow” where sorrow and joy occupy the same space in my heart and press me next to His Sacred Heart.
Sisters and brothers, prepare the way with more!
Our gratitude may be expressed at our yearly gatherings, but in an increasingly secular society, we may sometimes fail to really mention God. The purpose of establishing Thanksgiving as a national US holiday was clear. You may wish to have someone read the following to your gathering this year to tee up your Prayer Before the Meal…
It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.
Next Sunday, November 20th, marks the end of our beautiful Jubilee Year of Mercy. This year has been a time of special graces. Many have returned to the church and many have deepened their faith lives. With one week to go, you are invited to do two things: Get mercy and Give mercy. In both getting and giving mercy, we see the Holy Trinity in full operation: Mercy flows from our loving Father through a very real Jesus Christ in an ever present Holy Spirit.
Here are two quick stories that may guide you during this closing week….
Tom struggles with sin. No matter how hard he tries, temptation at his fingertips overwhelms him every week or so. He knows he is loved and forgiven after Reconciliation, but he can’t seem to change his behavior. Tom then slowly meditated on the final words of the Act of Contrition. “I firmly resolve with the help of Your Grace to confess all sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.” Amend my life? With Your Grace? Tom now realized that God’s grace and mercy are leading him to take regular continuous action after he leaves the confessional. He now talks with other men about the same struggles; he prays the rosary every evening, and attends Mass twice during the week at lunchtime. God’s powerful loving mercy is leading Tom to do what he could not do himself. Tears run down Tom’s cheeks as he is able to love more deeply those in his life.
Reflection: How can I get Mercy this week?
Patty just couldn’t forgive her father. While her mother was dying of cancer two years ago, Dad said some mean things to Patty’s husband and actually shoved him in the kitchen one night after Mom had died. Dad never took back the hurtful words or apologized for the shoving. He felt he was right and did not ask to be forgiven by Patty or her husband.
Mom’s ashes have been reserved in a sacred space while the parish built a beautiful columbarium. Now, two years late, Mom’s cremains will be inurned during a Committal Rite. Patty vowed not to attend the Rite as a continued protest to her father. Their parish was also blessed to have an Adoration Chapel where one can sit quietly with Jesus at any time day or night. Patty was drawn to Adoration later one evening. Tears ran down Patty’s cheeks during Adoration. Her iciness melted as Jesus embraced her with Mercy and heard Jesus say “Don’t wait for an apology, forgive him.” She reconciled with Dad as they together honored Mom. Patty was spared many years of misery by being a channel of God’s mercy.
Reflection: How can I give mercy this week?
“For Christ’s Sake Do Something With Your Life!” read the poster at the base of my parish church stairwell. It was aimed at recruiting young men to the priesthood, but that upward gazing face of Jesus, with cross weighted on shoulder and crown of thorns, was talking to me.
Later that year, I was raking leaves in my backyard in a rhythmic circular fashion so that I could pray the rosary at that same time…I still have the rake with the notched handle to track a decade!
On that late fall afternoon, I asked God out loud whether He was calling me to the diaconate. I heard “Not yet.” I took that as a definite maybe.
During the following year, my faith deepened as the result of daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, Ignatian meditation, and through connecting with other men and women in ministry and community at my home parish. A faith life with others striving to love and serve Christ no longer seemed like something for someone else, but the way of life.
I finally picked up the phone to call my deacon friend and said I thought maybe, sort of, possibly, I may be interested in knowing more about the diaconate program, maybe. There, I went public with it…but he didn’t seem surprised…almost like he was expecting my call. That night, I did not sleep a wink, but for some unexplainable reason, woke up early unusually refreshed and energetic.
I finally asked God to take it all. All.Years of chasing careers, houses, cars, and prestige left me empty. I found the only way I could love God the way He wanted me to love Him was through a committed relationship.
The biggest treasure of my journey was the Spirit-led process called formation. There were classes, tests, and papers to complete on the five year preparation road, but the incredible part is how God reaches into you and takes that tepid piece of clay and fashions it into a warm beating heart. God can take a man who does not have a natural inclination to serve like me and remake him. Transformation, reconfiguration, call it what you want…God can move your pieces around in ways that are beyond your imagination if you let Him.
My wife Mary Pat is an angel from God and companion on this most beautiful journey. Our adult children, Brian (married to Lauren with our grandson Warren) in New Orleans and Maggie (married to Hugo with our granddaughter Evey) in New York, have witnessed from afar the changes in both of us that only Christ can make.
A big misnomer is that deacons just assist the priest on the altar. On the contrary, deacons are blessed to be Christ’s hands and feet in their work place, as well as ministries in hospitals, hospice, airport, and prisons. The joy of serving through the mission work of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Atlanta Men’s Shelter was a gift to me.The definition of diakonia is service: I can see that St. Francis and the Diocese of St. Augustine is already blessed with a vibrant diakonia!
The greatest gift for me has been witnessing in others how Jesus Christ can heal personal brokenness and change your life. Watching a slow spark of interest in someone…turn into change…turn into passion…turn into them bringing Christ to another is truly awesome.
If you have the slightest thought that God may be whispering to you…get quiet and listen…it may be your time to get more involved and Do Some- thing with Your Life for Christ’s Sake!