Monthly Archives: January 2015

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“The Calling of Peter and Andrew”, Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255 – 1318)

 

Why are the first two readings relevant to Sunday’s Gospel? They speak of the need for conversion and the attachment to things of God instead of the things of this world, which will pass away. We all must make choices that not only affect our lives, but also the lives of others. If we only live for ourselves and what the world has to offer we are destined for sadness and we will have a negative impact on our families and on the Body of Christ.

In the Gospel we see Jesus call the first Apostles. What compelled Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to immediately leave everything and follow Jesus? They were already disciples of John the Baptist who was preparing the way for the Lord and they were prayerful men looking for the Messiah who was to come. They had set their hearts on something greater than what the world had to offer them. They were given the grace to see that in Jesus the longing of their hearts would satisfied.

The question to each one of us is; on what have we set our hearts? What is most important in our lives? Of course there are a lot of things that are very important, but what is most important for us as Christians? As the Lord commands us, we must love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. This is what is most fundamental and affects all our relationships, especially with family.

Because of our fallen nature, we have a tendency make our needs and wants our priority, which is destructive. Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:35-36). In other words, when our relationship with God is our priority we are not only destined for eternal life, we also have the possibility of reaching our potential for happiness in this life.

Of course this demands an effort on our part. “We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.” We can’t just do everything we want to do. We cannot allow our appetites and desires to control our lives. To be a Christian is not a casual thing. If we are truly Christian we cannot be attached to the things of this world. Certainly we must plan for our future and that of our loved ones, but only by being good stewards of what Our Lord has given us. We must remember that all good things come from God and He expects us to be generous with what we have received from Him as he is generous with us. Our resources are important, but they are not as important as our dependence on God, which is the fruit of our conversion and a desire to fulfill his will in our lives. Even those who have amassed great material wealth are not secure from the tribulations of this life. During our time on this earth, Our Lord expects things from us that we can only accomplish with the help of his grace which he makes available to us through the Sacraments of our Church. Our only true security is a complete trust in God which is a consequence of faithful discipleship.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John embraced the message of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord through a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So when Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel,” they immediately followed him. Because they put their total trust in Jesus, they became the first Apostles and the foundation of his Church.

We are not called to be Apostles, but we are called to be faithful disciples, which require us to make the Kingdom of God our priority. We received our call in baptism when we received the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is why a child at an early age may think that God has a special plan for them. I have heard priests say that even as early as age four they believed they were called to the priesthood. This is why parents and godparents should encourage children to think about their relationship with God and the possibility of the religious life.

At a pilgrimage reunion a few months ago one of the pilgrims said that when he was sharing his experience with his family he noticed that his grandson was showing a lot of interest. He felt the notion to ask him if he ever thought about being a priest. He said he had not, but now that it was mentioned to him he would. We just need to plant the seed and let God do the rest. There may be girls and boys among your family or friends for which God has a special vocation that will help them to find great happiness in this life and for all eternity as they respond to his call. Maybe they just need your invitation.

Our readings today are about conversion and discipleship, both of which are necessary for real happiness in this life and for all eternity. The path is the same for us as it has been through the ages; faithfulness to what God has revealed through the Church and the Scriptures, daily prayer, living the sacramental life, and continuing to grow in the Faith by being good stewards of our time, talent and treasure. Only in God can we find real and lasting happiness and peace.

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The Spiritual Battle

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StMichael

“St. Michael dedicating his weapons to the Virgin” by the Le Nain Brothers

Sometimes I wonder whether to turn on the news …it’s just so gloomy: terror strikes the heart of Paris, forces of Isis gathering strength, etc. It serves to remind me that this precious life we have been given is a gift to be cherished and lived well, but it is not all fun and games. There are lessons to be learned, souls to be saved, and battles to be won.

But still we cry, “Why Lord? Why do you allow these things to happen?” God does not fed-ex His grace ahead of time to alleviate the discomfort of what we ourselves must do.   In fact, we are called to action. Did you ever notice how our Lord never seems to show up too soon but “just in the nick of time”? That is, not until we are on the verge of moving forward in His will for us does He send His assistance.

We are called upon to make a better world better, to actually engage in spiritual combat with the forces of darkness; seeking to rescue, through the power of God, lost souls held captive by the enemy of our souls. Pray – and never underestimate the power of prayer.

We only have one opportunity for all eternity to attack the gates of hell: Right here…right now. But so many of us underestimate this high calling that is entrusted to all the people of God and not limited to the clergy and religious.

In Holy Spirit’s perfect timing, as I was writing this blog, I received an email from the office of Alan Ames (Catholic mystic, writer and healer) with a similar message:

“It is in this spiritual battle where we persevere with our prayers for peace and for the conversion of others that he (the evil one) is losing and this he hates. So his hatred is poured out on the world through those he can get to do his will. Let us not be cowered by evils actions in the world. Let us all stand firm in our love of God and of others as warriors of faith who fight for the eternal souls of our brothers and sisters around the world. Our weapons are love of God and of others; the Sacraments, Holy Scripture, prayer, forgiveness and obedience to God’s will no matter what the cost.” – Alan Ames

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

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culvers

A few Friday nights ago saw me with a couple of friends at Culver’s a sort of cross between Dairy Queen and Carl’s Jr. and the new Heaven and new Earth, specifically the new Wisconsin. The menu features “ButterBurgers”, frozen custards and concretes, and fried cheese curds. They offer a freebee “daily flavor” of frozen desserts, which is really a combination of syrups and mix-ins rather than a single flavor, in addition to your choice of candies or cookies or whatever you may want to add. Yes, it was my idea to go.

In some of the circles I travel in, the conversation always turns to spirituality at some point. So I wasn’t surprised when we rounded the corner from Niagara Falls to a light chat about spiritual growth. My friend to the left, I’ll call him Ray, had been to the falls as a seminarian in New York, before deciding to return to his native Texas. He said he had been too young to make that decision for life; he wanted to stay open for a while. Now he is in love and taking a second glance at college.

To my right, our mutual friend, I’ll call him John, talked about his life with addiction. He no longer felt gripped by the physiological craving and mental obsession that had plagued him and plunged him into chaos. He thanked God for helping him through his ongoing recovery. We nodded and laughed, and continued making small talk of the more ridiculous decisions we’d all made.

But the longer we stayed, the more I noticed a nervous, restless affect sprouting in John’s appearance. He was more eager to share from his own experience, strength and hope than Ray and I. His insistence on telling his story and wisdom-won was more than we invited by our own relaxed demeanors.

He reminded me of my younger self, all gung-ho passion and opinion and roiling impatience. Back then, I was much worse than being a little emphatic. Sometimes I’m still this way, but life has worn many of the harder edges of my prematurity into good ol’ nubular immaturity.

John said that now that he has some recovery under his belt, he notices the difference between someone who’s “egoistical” and someone who’s “spiritual” by the way they talk. Which set off a small alarm in me.

Early convert’s mistake, I thought. And isn’t it? As Catholic author and speaker Simcha Fisher has said:

“The human heart is a strange and tangled jungle of motivations and desires. We keep things hidden even from ourselves, and only God knows who is guilty and who is only wounded.”

Initial conversion, whether explicitly religious or to a better way in general, often makes temporary zealots of people. It’s like taking off sunglasses after wearing them for so long you’d forgotten how vivid the world really is. Do you see this tree? Look at it! Oh my gosh, the leaves are so green, not yellowish brown at all! PEOPLE, STOP STARING AT YOUR PHONES!

Which is good. Never begrudge the enthusiasm of a convert. But people tend to make the mistake of embracing a sublime new life by tamping their perspectives with fresh, wonderful, incomplete knowledge. We resist the mellowing and chock-full gradualness of life, which always requires responsibility for keener discernment and deeper relationships.

This is rooted in both ignorance and fear. Ignorance of some aspect(s) of the Gospel. Fear, for example, of “backsliding” into the bad old ways, or of not doing our conversion right and therefore being a failure. Old insecurities and selfish desires have yet to be worked through. We’ve only begun to take up our cross, but now we have something to help us feel better.

Leticia Adams, Round Rock blogger at Ramblings of a Crazy Face, host of a Real Life Radio show bearing the same name, and self-described “hot mess convert who loves Jesus”, said of her neophyte blunders:

I was just walking around as if life was great and acting so “high and mighty” as I’ve been told, as I arrogantly proclaimed how my life was so wonderful because I knew all the rules and was following them while other people suffered because they weren’t following them. When the hard times started coming I had the nerve to look at Jesus on the Cross and accuse Him of abandoning me when I was “doing everything right”. No I wasn’t. I was doing it all to impress everyone around me. Maybe even to impress myself. I wrapped myself in every single political cause that I could and made it my life’s mission to be outspoken about them all even if it meant losing close friends, because if they left then I could add that to my persecuted complex while patting myself on the back for being such a good Catholic.

On her radio show, she’s commented that she initially pushed (and pushed and pushed) her newfound faith on her family. Her husband eventually complained that he felt he couldn’t be himself around her. Her oldest son recently told her that he’s an atheist, which she sees in part due to her using religion to control him (at the time wanting her family to measure up to other Catholics’ perceived expectations).

At Culver’s, I was reminded of this quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Eventually, we learn that our cross only partially consists of everyone else’s failures to do things right, to love us enough. Mostly it’s bearing our own sinfulness, being brought to our knees again and again, becoming dependent upon God rather than being self-sufficient, and yielding to a narrow road for ourselves. There are times for teaching and correcting others, sure. Parents have the responsibility to raise children in the truth. Spouses and singles have the responsibility to love in the truth. With children, sometimes a little nagging is required.

But the truth should not be used to effect submission. When the latter is habitually done out of fear or laziness or the desire for us to be loved, it injects the poisonous aspect of domination into relationships. Because so many people are codependent, seeking unhealthy relief from past wounds, it may take a long time to realize that trying to control others is a sort of spiritual and psychological violence.

We need grace! We need the Holy Spirit. And we need the help of others who can teach us to live from a place of greater wholeness and love.

Leticia (I’ve talked to her a few times on Facebook and via email) is learning to love, support, and appreciate her family with the grace of God. The Catholic faith has taught her not to use them to satisfy her own needs, just as it teaches all of us to love humbly, and helps us to find healing. That’s the fruit of the Good News right there.

Which reminds me of last Sunday’s readings:

not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
(Isaiah 42:2-4)

For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Adi_Holzer_Werksverzeichnis_849_Die_Taufe

“Die Taufe”, Adi Holzer.

A Journey To Love

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Jerusalem

“Jerusalem”, John Singer Sargent

Jesus says of His Father, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the One He sent.” (Jn 6:29)

This statement is extraordinary! God is the perfect communion of Love. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity do not need anything. They are complete in Themselves. We add nothing to their Love. So, to hear that God sends His only Son for us to believe speaks of a Love so generous, so pro-active, so self-giving, so inclusive, it is quite frankly, hard to believe.

All my life I had hoped this Love was real, but it was not until my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope, that I came to believe in this Love and to what lengths God works for us.

Catholic teaching professes that Perfect Love, which is God Himself, is offered to us through the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I saw for myself, how the Holy Land is covered in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

We pilgrims journeyed from Galilee in the North “up to Jerusalem,” (Mat 20:18) in the South. Looking out the window from the comfort of our air-conditioned bus, I marveled at the many, many, many . . . many miles our Lord walked. I thought about all the places He slept, He ate and, because even to a South Texan like me it was so incredibly hot, I thought about how much His sweat must have poured out onto this vast terrain He covered by foot.

What kind of a God, I wondered, walks hundreds of miles to reach His people instead of commanding they come to Him?

One who is sent.

The work of God was displayed in the Garden Of Gethsemane, filled with olive trees. We learned that in the time of Jesus, oil of the olive was released by crushing the olive between two enormous stones, just as the Lord, “crushed for our iniquity,” (Is 53:5) released sweat “like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44).

In traveling from the Garden to Calvary, we walked the road that was covered in tears when “He drew near, saw the city and wept over it” (Lk 19:41).

Again I wondered . . . . what kind of a God creates an olive that must be crushed to release oil and then allows Himself to be crushed between past and future sins of humanity in the same way?

What kind of a God cries for the very people who will do the crushing?

Seeing for myself the work of God, my hope transformed into belief in Love so generous, so pro-active, so self-giving, so inclusive, it must also include a sinner like me.

The intensity of God’s toil is most clearly revealed at Calvary, covered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inside the old walls of Jerusalem. Here, Christ was stripped, nailed to a cross, hung until dead and was “pierced for our sins” (Is 53:5). The Blood and Water that gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us poured out onto the very ground we pilgrims walked, knelt and touched.

I invite you to wonder . . . . what kind of a God sends His only Son to incur the punishment due us? Why does the One sent obey?

So that you would believe in a Love so generous, so pro-active, so self-giving, so inclusive, it must also include a sinner like you.

I encourage you to make your own journey to Love! The Pilgrim Center of Hope is organizing two pilgrimages to the Holy Land this Spring 2015. Visit www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org or call 210-521-3377 for more information.