Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Man Born Blind

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When they saw a man who was blind from birth, Jesus` disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”

The Kingdom of God and life itself is a mystery. Some people are born handicapped, some live their entire lives in poverty, while others seem to experience the best that this world has to offer. How do these extremes and everything in between, manifest the works of God?

For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted, the grace of God can bring transformation and sometimes healing to the most extreme circumstances. No matter who we are, or what our life experiences have been, there will always be someone who has had it more difficult than us, and were yet able to be witnesses of the transforming power of God’s grace.

In a certain way we can say that we were all born blind. We all need the cleansing waters of baptism to wash over us so that we can receive the light of Christ and to become a member of his body, which is the Church. In baptism we all receive the theological gifts of faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we must personally choose to believe, and then to act on what we believe.

Christ is present in his Church; in his Word, in the sacraments, in his teachings, and in his witnesses. Through the Church, Jesus gives us what we need for the circumstances of our lives.

At the beginning of Lent, when ashes were placed on our foreheads, we heard the words, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” The ashes are an outward sign that we know we need to make some changes; that we need to repent of our sins so that we can enter more deeply into a personal relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for us. We need the season of Lent to remind us that once again we must make an effort to break free from the things that distract us from God’s plan for us.

It is natural for us to want to hold on to unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, envy, hatred, etc., but all these cause spiritual blindness and destroy relationships, and can even lead to poor health.

When we refuse to give in to all of these things which cause spiritual blindness and we seek Christ’s help through the sacraments; then the works of God are made manifest.

At first it may seem that living this life close to God is too difficult, but what are the other options? I guess most of us have tried the other options and experienced their emptiness.

Many of the saints that we are familiar with, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis and St. Augustin went down this path as well in the beginning. Some had everything that the world has to offer, but were only able to find their fulfillment in their relationship with Christ. Their example has been an inspiration for countless others to turn to Christ.

It is amazing how many people wait until they reach the point of desperation before they call out to God for help. It would be better for us and the people we love and for the whole Body of Christ if we would call out to Him now instead of waiting because He wants to make a difference in our lives right now. There is no convenient time to surrender our lives to the Lord. We all must at some time say, “Jesus, I want you to be the Lord of my life, please give me the grace to be faithful to you.” We are not going to be able to enter into heaven until we surrender our lives to the Lord, and the sooner we make that decision, the sooner we begin experiencing the peace and joy that is the fruit of an intimate relationship with the Lord.

It was St. Augustine who once said, “Our hearts are restless O`Lord, until they rest in you.”

Truly, Jesus longs to transform our lives with his healing presence, but we must have eyes that are willing to see; ears that are willing to hear; and hearts that are willing to be converted. It is the only way we can reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity.

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In Praise of the Honey Bee

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In the August 19, 2013 issue of TIME Magazine, author Bryan Walsh wrote, “When you sit down to dinner tonight, offer a prayer of thanks for the honeybee. Because one of out of every three mouthfuls of food you eat are because of the hard work of the bee.”

Walsh goes on to explain how essential the honey bee is the United States’ agriculture, noting that “they pollinate the seeds that ripen into our apples, cucumbers, cranberries, and many other fruits and vegetables in our diet.”

He continues,

A single hardworking honeybee can visit up to 100 flowers in a single trip and carry more than half its weight in pollen – yet a single honey bee will produce only a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey its short life time. In order to produce one pound of honey, a colony of bees will fly more than 55,000 miles and tap more than two million flowers. it’s amazing what such a small insect can do to affect our entire food chain and the world we live in!

This amazing story of bees can also remind us of Jesus’ message of the “mustard seed”. Jesus makes it clear that even a little faith can have a huge impact on not only our lives, but on the lives of those around us. What seems small and insignificant can produce wonderful and good things in the plan of God.

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“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31)

The work of the honeybee can help us see the value of the small, ordinary and unseen acts of faith, love and hope. So consider the bees, think about the size of a mustard seed and ask yourself, Am I building up the kingdom of God through my life as a Christian?

Facing Difficulties – Lessons from St. Patrick and the Irish

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StPatrickIreland’s greatest saint is remembered March 17, which falls during Lent, and while most Americans might shrug at this and chug their green beers, Paddy is actually more closely connected to fasting and penance than to feasting and beer.

St. Patrick, determined to evangelize the Irish, was at first unsuccessful at preaching. Legend tells us that when he preached about Hell and Purgatory, no one would believe him — UNLESS! — a man could go there, live, and come back to tell them. (Sounds outrageous until you consider that these were Irish folk, and if I know anything about my Irish family members, it’s that we live for a good story.)

St. Patrick became furious at their lack of faith. It’s said Christ led Patrick to a cave, where he saw visions of Hell and Purgatory. One story leads to another, and it’s said a man was lowered into the cave, experienced Purgatory, and ‘lived to tell’.

Owain’s World

We learn more from the story of Sir Owain, or Knight Owain, whose journey through the famous cave is re-told in Tractatus de Purga-torio Sancti Patricii (Treatise on St. Patrick’s Purgatory). This Treatise is clearly the product of Irish didactic storytelling. From it, we can glean a few gems to help us with our trials here on earth:

What We Should Think

As Owain enters the cave, monks advise him that although the road ahead is treacherous, he can survive by thinking about one thing: “Hold God in your heart, and think upon the Passion that he suffered on the cross for you.”

This advice has been passed down to us from the apostles and saints through the centuries, but we seem to meditate on Jesus’ Passion only during Lent. Why? Perhaps we’re too caught up in our search for comfort and pleasure, as if these would solve our problems. But only through meditation on God’s ultimate sacrifice, on Christ’s love-above-all-love for us, can we rise above our trials.

What We Should Speak

Depiction of Christ's Temptation, from the Celtic "Book of Kells" (ca. 800 AD)

Depiction of Christ’s Temptation, from the Celtic “Book of Kells” (ca. 800 AD)

Owain is also advised: “Use God’s exalted name and the fiends can do you no harm.” Scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”

Owain learns the power of Jesus’ name as fiends tie him up to be burned, but he “called out to Our Lord and at once the fire disappeared and not so much as a coal or a spark remained.” Soon, he realizes that whenever he speaks Jesus’ name, or thinks about His love, the fiends are rendered powerless. This holds true for us, too. Demons may seem frightening, but what is actually frightful is that they are so weak(!), and we can only be damaged when we give in to their weakness. Rather, strength comes from humility; when we rely on God. So in our trials, we should pray in Jesus’ name for protection.

What We Should Ignore

As Owain walks along, he sees people undergoing unthinkable sufferings, which correspond to their sinful attachments on earth. Each time he observes one of these horrors, Owain hears demons cry out to him, variations of this message: ‘You are such a terrible sinner! Look at what penance you’ll have to endure! But you don’t have to endure suffering! We’ll take you to be our friend, and where there are comforts!’

Owain simply ignores the demons and continues forward. What a simple, yet profound, lesson! Jesus teaches us this lesson; during his temptations, he rebukes Satan with the words of Scripture. We ought never to believe our tempters, because they serve the Father of Lies. Rather, we should ignore them and continue on our journey, trusting in God.

St. Patrick and Almighty God

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit o’ Irish lore; filled with timeless truths. As we remember St. Patrick, let’s remember this great saint — great because he knew these truths, and thus knew the power of God’s mighty love. Here’s a link to the prayer St. Paddy is said to have prayed daily: Lorica (Chainmail Armor) of Saint Patrick.

“So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. […] He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties.” – St. Patrick of Ireland (from his Confession)

The Gift of Our Mistakes

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A funny thing happened a couple of weeks ago at the first class I attended for a new Catholic women’s study at my parish.

I walked in and introduced myself to the two women facilitators. “I know who you are,” one of them said, “You spoke at last year’s Catholic Women’s Conference.”  Her eyes got really wide and she stumbled a bit on her words. I could tell that she was a bit ‘star-struck.’ I read her mind, “My first time facilitating and she is going to be in my class!”  I chuckled quietly to myself, “Oh Honey, you have absolutely nothing to be intimidated about.”

It reminded me of the very first faith study I took when I returned to the Catholic Church. In this study were many of the women who represented to me the “perfect Catholic woman.” These were the women I saw dutifully at weekly Mass every Sunday with their children and husbands by their side.  I assumed as a re-vert to Catholicism after twenty years away and married to a non-Catholic, I was far removed from their obvious holiness and faithfulness.

I was so wrong!

It didn’t take long once we began sharing that I witnessed women who had a past like I did, who struggled to be holy as I did and who daily sought to be faithful but many times failed as I did. What a gift I received in that room hearing about their mistakes and their deep love for God and gratitude for his Mercy. As St. Paul says in Romans 3:23, “We all fall short of the grace of God,” yet by sharing our failures and our experiences of God’s mercy, we grow together in holiness and faithfulness.

Before long, these women came down from pedestals I had put them on and into my heart as life-long friends.

By the end of that class a few weeks ago, my facilitator experienced the same. As she spoke of an example of God’s mercy in her life to help me with a struggle I was going through, I noticed her shoulders relax and her fear disappear.  I smiled with the thought, “She just took me off that pedestal.”

I am so glad. Now we can journey as two sisters in Christ growing in holiness together and hopefully becoming life-long friends. What a great gift!

Dogma Guarantees Adventure

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“La conversión de San Pablo” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

I used to be one of those people who claim that church is not for them – “too much dogma.”  Now I affirm that the exact opposite is true: the Catholic faith is rooted in the most exciting drama ever to stagger the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama.

Have you seen the latest film, Son of God?  The first attempt made in 49 years to cover the full arc of Jesus’s life. It is real and it is moving.  The editing, expansive cinematography, acting, and musical score from Hans Zimmer – weaves a tale of a time when God submitted to the conditions He had laid down, became a man like the men He had made, and the men He had made broke Him and killed Him.  You can’t make stuff like this up!  If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting?

Everything boils down to the primary question which dominated St. Paul’s life, “Who are You, Lord?”  It was the answer to this question that sustained him in his last hours.

“…nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know Whom I have believed…” II Tim. 1:12

I doubt you could convince Paul that theology was dry, dull or impractical.  Easier to convince an adolescent male that sports are boring or a young maiden that she will yawn at her wedding. 

The God Who spoke the universe into existence, Who always was and always will be; and the fact that you and I even exist – have you wrapped your mind around about THAT lately!  Perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift.  Theology, properly pursued, is the greatest adventure entrusted to man.  Is there an earthly drama that can compare to it?