Category Archives: Prayer

Entries dealing with prayer.

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)

Need spiritual direction?

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I finally got a spiritual director.

What? You’ve never heard of such a thing? Well, you’ve heard of personal trainers, right? Coaches? Teachers? These days, if you’re looking to…

  • get in shape
  • lose weight
  • excel at a sport
  • become a virtuoso
  • get motivated
"Taking the Count" by Thomas Eakins (1898)

“Taking the Count” by Thomas Eakins (1898)

…you’ll likely seek out an expert who can help you. So, if we do this for our body and our mind, why not for our spirit?

St. John of the Cross once said, “The blind person who falls will not be able to get up alone; the blind person who does get up alone will go off on the wrong road.” In other words, we all have ‘blind spots’ in our spiritual life: personal weaknesses or things we don’t notice about ourselves. We need the guidance of another person to overcome those, and to help us choose the right path.

Spiritual direction is an ancient practice that continues today. However, most people don’t know that they can (or should) seek a spiritual director, unless they are a clergyman or a consecrated man or woman. The reality is, spiritual direction is for everyone!

The principal objective of spiritual direction…is to discern the signs of God’s will for our journey of vocation, prayer, perfection, for our daily life, and for our fraternal mission.*

In plain English, that means a spiritual director will help you understand God’s calling for you, how to improve your prayer life, get rid of sin, live your faith daily, and understand how you can best serve others.

So, why not seek a spiritual director? For many years, my answer was simple: I don’t like asking for help. Yup, I’m a prideful dame. (There’s spiritual problem #1!) In high school and university, I thought God might be calling me to religious life (‘become a nun’), and for people considering religious or clerical life, spiritual direction is very common. I heard about spiritual directors frequently from my peers, and I watched them grow in holiness before my eyes.

Frequently, I wondered whether I should get a spiritual director, but I’d always give excuses, such as:

  • I don’t know who to pick as my spiritual director.
  • I only want a priest to be my spiritual director, but priests are too busy. I don’t want to bother them.
  • I already know a lot about spiritual things. I’ll leave the spiritual directors for people who don’t.
  • I’m doing OK spiritually.
  • I can work things out myself.
  • I’m too busy.

These excuses built up over time, until finally, God knocked me over the head with a two-by-four (sent me a plethora of signs, and threw my all excuses out the window), making it abundantly clear that I should ask a priest-acquaintance if he would be my spiritual director.

Now, I meet with Father every month for an hour. It’s great! You’d think that it’d be very somber or serious, and while we do have serious discussions, it seems I laugh more during spiritual direction than I do on a typical day! Spiritual direction has brought so much joy and insight into my life.

When I have questions, or when I’m having trouble making a decision, I receive support from Father. Our conversations always contribute to my personal growth. As I enact his guidance in my daily life, I feel more assured that I’m going down the path that God wants for me. Overall, this one-on-one spiritual direction has helped me with something that I have struggled with: now I’m more clearly seeing myself as I truly am, through God’s eyes.

As someone who was long-opposed to seeking a spiritual director, I encourage and challenge you to consider it for yourself. Take this intention to prayer, and ask God to help you know whether someone should be your spiritual director. It does not have to be a priest; consecrated religious sisters or brothers, or trained lay people can also act as guide and companion on your pilgrimage of life.

As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord closely, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ. Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God. […] [Spiritual direction] is a matter of establishing that same personal relationship that the Lord had with his disciples, that special bond with which he led them, following him, to embrace the will of the Father (cf. Luke 22:42), that is, to embrace the cross.
– Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum, 2011

Ways to Learn More:

*Taken from The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy, by The Congregation for the Clergy. Vatican City: Vatican Press, 2011.

How to Escape Anxiety and Stress

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Everybody knows this time of year can be stressful; no need for me to prove that point!

Last night, I began crying while unloading the dishwasher. Looking to the living room, I saw my husband sitting on the couch, which made me cry even more… ‘Why is he sitting on the couch when there’s so much to do??’ I went to blow my nose, and when I returned he motioned for me. “Come sit down with me for a second,” he said.

“No! There’s too much to do!” I argued. But I sat down anyway.

Stroking my hair, he asked what I was so stressed about. As I (blubberingly) listed everything, he asked me questions like, “Can we schedule a time for that?” and assured, “We’re in this together.” Slowly, the Enormous Problem Monster evaporated into thin air. My husband had helped me see the truth: I didn’t have to tackle everything at that very moment.

Sometimes, you’re so run-down because you feel like your entire world is set on your shoulders. That’s how I felt last night. So, imagine how I felt waking up this morning, sitting on that same couch, and reading the Gospel for today (the day I’m writing this)…

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Yoke

Jesus knew that sometimes we’d feel just like cattle, our shoulders carrying a heavy yoke tied to our entire world, plowing back and forth…back and forth…all day long…every day. That gospel, and my husband’s wisdom, reminded me of the key to escaping anxiety:

Just be with God. “Come to me,” Jesus beckons.

“No! There’s too much to do!” we argue. When we’re constantly go-go-go-ing, and doing, we get so tired. We start thinking, ‘What can I do, so I’ll feel less tired, so I can do more?‘ But we get burned out. We weren’t made to ‘do’ everything, all the time. We’re taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “human life has a rhythm of work and rest” (2184).

And what is rest?

“Come to me,” Jesus tells you, “and I will give you rest.”

After someone passes away, we pray the traditional — “Eternal Rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.” — which reveals Heaven as the place of eternal and peaceful rest! Why?

Heaven is a state of being in complete union with God, forever. That’s ‘Eternal Rest.’ Shouldn’t that remind us that, while we’re alive, the only time and space we’ll find rest is being with God? “Come to me,” Jesus says. He wants to offer you an exchange: He’ll carry the world. You just come, and learn from Him.

I’ll leave you with a song that I heard a few days ago. It reminds me of a dialogue between our weary souls and God.
Enjoy resting.

What Is the Reason For Your Joy?

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dancing_nun[1] “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French Jesuit theologian

The dictionary defines joy as an intense happiness. We usually don’t ask people “Do you have joy?” – we would rather ask, “Are you happy?”

And when you think about it, joy isn’t experienced in just a moment. It’s a state of being. Many people answer the question by stating concerns or problems they have, rather than thinking about what makes them happy.

Most Reverend Patrick Zurek, Bishop of Amarillo, Texas, recently delivered a wonderful presentation called the Joy of the Discipleship at the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Annual Prayer Brunch.  Bishop Zurek said that when we encounter Christ Jesus and accept Him into our lives as our Lord, we experience joy and hope. 

Ahh…did you catch the two words, encounter and accept? They are both important – to encounter is to meet and experience; while to accept is to acknowledge, to believe.

I remember a specific time in my life when I encountered Christ through prayer and I experienced healing of an incurable illness.  When I realized it was indeed Christ who ‘touched’ my life, I accepted Him and everything about Him.  That encounter gave me an incredible deep joy I had never experienced, and it hasn’t gone away!

Thanksgiving Day is soon here, a time when we celebrate with family and friends, enjoy a meal and, more importantly, thank God for each other! This can be a reason for our joy – taking time to see each other outside the usual busy schedules, recognize our blessings and raise our voice to God in prayer. God gave Himself to you. Give yourself to God and you will find true joy!

Today is a good time to ponder: what is the reason for your joy?

I want to share with you a great joy in my life – my wonderful husband, Tom.  On November 25th, we will celebrate our 35 years of Marriage!

Fox on Galilee

An Encounter With John Paul II

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JP II Relic
I often tell friends that I have had the honor to be blessed by four Popes! Pope Paul VI in 1963, John Paul II four times, Benedict XVI twice and now we are looking forward to our Year of Faith Pilgrimage beginning on Monday, October 14th to Assisi, San Giovanni Rotondo and Rome, most especially to seeing and hearing Pope Francis in person!

The Ministry of Pilgrimages offers pilgrimages to Rome and other shrine locations pertaining to the history of our Church. It’s an exciting Ministry in many ways.  Meeting people and making new friends is always a blessing, and traveling with that “new family” adds comfort and assurance.

John Paul II is a person I admired and loved. He was one with the people, wasn’t afraid of traveling to various parts of the world to proclaim the Good News, and was concerned for all.

During one of our pilgrimages to Rome, a married couple and dear friends wanted to stay a couple of extra days in Rome to visit additional sites and simply enjoy the eternal city! It was a blessing for Tom and I also, since we would be ready to relax with friends and enjoy Rome. One morning, our friends decided they wanted to go up to the Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. Tom and I had already experienced this and didn’t want to climb the 320 steps! (Even though you can take an elevator part of the way.) We decided to wait for our friends in St. Peter’s Basilica, so we could have time for “spiritual rest” – we were quite exhausted after leading the pilgrimage.

Upon entering St. Peter’s Basilica, we stopped at the Tomb of John Paul II, which was surrounded by crowds: some taking photos, praying youth, Religious Sisters with their rosaries, some just staring at the entombed remains of a man that so many admired. I, too, took advantage of the moment – I asked John Paul to intercede for us and our Evangelization Ministry. After all, he coined the phrase “New Evangelization,” a phrase that became a proclamation to all the faithful to be renewed in the faith and share it with others. My prayer was one from the depth of my heart – Tom and I were seeking guidance for the ministry.

Our next stop was the Chapel. Upon entering, it was as if you were entering Heaven on earth; it was so peaceful, so quiet. We were all there for the same thing – to adore God, to take time to be silent in His Presence.

We realized that we still had time before we met up with our friends, and as we walked to one side of St. Peter’s, we noticed an area set aside for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Vatican guard welcomed us and asked in which language we would prefer. English!  As he walked around the individual wooden Confessionals, he returned stating English-speaking priests were not available. Then all of a sudden a priest at one of the  confessionals waved the guard and said he would take us, explaining, however, that his English was very poor. Fine!

After my confession, the priest asked me a couple of questions– was I married? Children?  In fact, I found his English to be very good, which was quite interesting since he said he didn’t speak English very well.  After his blessing, he gave me a card with the picture of John Paul II and what appeared to be a “relic” on one corner. I noticed the cloth was white and asked the priest –is this a piece of John Paul’s cassock? He replied that it was, and so it was a second-class relic (something that belonged to the saint). Remarkable!

I was so excited and happy to have received this gift and KNEW it was John Paul II acknowledging my prayers. I KNEW this was an encounter with him. You can imagine how I felt. Tom and I walked out of St. Peter’s exuberant and filled with much joy and hope.

That card is framed and sits on my desk as a reminder of my encounter with John Paul II and his prayers for our evangelization ministry.

The Vatican has set the date for his canonization – April 27, 2014.  He and Pope John XXIII will be canonized on that day.  Go ahead – ask John Paul II to pray for you and your intentions.  He is a member of the Communion of Saints.

A Mountaintop Experience

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Basilica of the Transfiguration, atop Mount Tabor in Galilee

Basilica of the Transfiguration, atop Mount Tabor in Galilee

My husband, Deacon Tom, and I have traveled to the Holy Land over 40 times in the last 25 years. The Holy Land is a very special place for us. It’s often called “Fifth Gospel” because it is the land of the Bible and the land of the “living stones”, the descendants of the early Christian Church.

There are many places in the Holy Land which are marked by specific times in our Lord’s life; because of this, they’re called holy sites. One of those holy sites is Mount Tabor, located in the Galilee area — about a 30 minute drive from the Sea of Galilee. It can be seen from miles away, along with the large Church on top of the mountain called the Basilica of Transfiguration, which is under the Custody of the Franciscans. The Franciscans first came to the site in the 1630s and built a church in the twentieth century. Today, the Franciscans continue to have custody of the Basilica. You often see Franciscan friars walking about, praying and available for visitors’ questions and prayer requests.

Mount Tabor is 1,920 feet high. To reach the top, you have to take a narrow, winding road by car (or for the brave ones – by foot) where you find the Basilica of the Transfiguration (also called Basilica of Mt. Tabor) marking the site where our Lord was transfigured as we read in the three Gospel accounts:
Matthew 17:1-8
Mark 9:2-8
Luke 9:28-36

The Catholic Church marks August 6th to celebrate what happened on that mountain. It is called the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

The Transfiguration Scripture story is very interesting – Jesus takes three Apostles up to the mountain with Him to pray. He is transfigured before them. The Apostles hear God’s voice say, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

I have been on Mount Tabor several times with pilgrim groups. The Basilica and the surrounding area, far from noise and traffic, invites one to take time for silence and prayer. The main message for me is that we need to take time to be alone with the Lord as Peter, James and John were invited to do.

These times of silence and prayer for me have been very rewarding. Though Jesus isn’t transfigured before me, I am aware that He is truly present and He desires to have an intimate relationship with me and give me insights and peace.

I invite you to take time out for a ‘mountaintop experience’ — whether it be in the quietness of your home or especially, if possible, in a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament. God is there, waiting for you.

Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

The Lord’s Prayer – What It Really Means

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The place where Jesus taught the disciples to pray

Pilgrims at the place where Jesus taught the disciples to pray

Even before the Apostles asked the Lord to teach them to pray, He had revealed to them something important about prayer; to go off to a certain place. We can pray anywhere, and we should pray everywhere and always, however it is important to have a special place and a special time dedicated to being in communion with God. This is how we enter into a personal relationship with God so that we can discover more about who He is and who we are in relationship with Him.

The very first thing we should pray for is Fear of the Lord, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 111 we are told, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is not a cowering fear, but a realization that God who is Almighty has created each one of us personally out of love and it is possible for us to offend Him deeply by choosing to sin.

OUR FATHER

This brings us to the prayer that Jesus himself teaches us to pray. We all pray the Lord’s Prayer everyday, but do we really think about what we are saying? We are to say, “Our Father,” which implies the relationship He wants us to develop with Him as a community. He wants us to approach Him with every need and concern, even as a young child would approach its parent. Jesus wants us to approach his Father even as he himself approaches his Father.

HALLOWED BE THY NAME

And when we do, we say, “…hallowed be thy name.” In this first petition we are praying that all humanity will come to recognize the goodness and the greatness of Almighty God and we should remember the Greatest Commandment, “We must love the Lord Our God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength.” When God is first in our lives we will have a desire to do His will and we will want to give Him praise and glory.

THY KINGDOM COME

It is the will of God that His Kingdom come now. When Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs, he told them to proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Lk 10:9). Jesus also said, “whereever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” Jesus promises that he will be present whereever people believe in him and whereever he is, the kingdom of God is present. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we are praying for our own conversion and the conversion of the whole world because the Kingdom of God is nothing less than that. It is not only about eternal happiness in heaven, but about experiencing the presence of God in our lives right now.

GIVE US THIS DAY…

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are asking for God’s providence. We realize we have many needs that only God can satisfy. In another place in Scripture Jesus says, “Do not worry about life, what you will eat or drink or use for clothing” (Mt 6:25). All these things are necessary, but they are secondary to placing our total trust in God. He is the only one who can free us from our worries. Another reality is, he provides for us our daily bread in the Holy Eucharist. He loves us so much that he gives us himself in this Holy Sacrament. The most important thing we can do is to develop a deep faith in the true and real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. If we truly believe in his presence, he will give us the help and strength we need when we receive him, sometimes in a miraculous way. If we truly believe in the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Mass will be the center of our lives because it is a profound encounter with Christ in Word and Sacrament. And we will want to spend time with Him in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

FORGIVE US OUR SINS

When we pray, “Forgive us our sins,” we admit we have offended God and offended others. Immediately after, we say “…as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We will be forgiven by God as we forgive others. This is not a casual statement. Forgiveness is essential for our own freedom; for our psychological and spiritual development. Unforgiveness is destructive and it is so natural for us. We enjoy holding grudges, which lead to bitterness, resentment and eventually hatred. Unforgiveness ruins lives and causes chaos. Even Peter didn’t grasp the importance of forgiveness when he asked the Lord how often he must forgive. He thought he was being generous when he was willing to forgive seven times. The Lord said seventy times seven as the number of times we should forgive, meaning always. Yes, we should pursue justice — especially if there was a crime committed — but somewhere along the way we must forgive every hurt we experience, even if we have not received justice.  If you can’t forgive someone, say, “Lord you know I can’t forgive this person, and I know that you want me to for my own good. Please give me the grace to do this for you and for me and for the good of the Church.”

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION

We are asking for the grace to deal with temptation in a right way.  A Scripture commentary mentions there are three levels of temptation. The first level is similar to Christ’s temptation in the desert: we recognize the temptation and immediately dismiss it and avoid sin. The second level is when we begin to entertain the temptation, or when we voluntarily put ourselves in a place or situation that we know may lead to sin. Even though we have not yet given consent, we have compromised our conscience and there is some sinfulness. The third level is when we give consent and this is always sinful. This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important: not only are our sins forgiven, but we receive grace to help us to recognize and overcome sin. The more often we go to confession, the more aware we are of our weaknesses.

The Lord’s prayer is so important that the Church uses it in every liturgical gathering; every time we come to together to pray. If we pray this prayer from our heart, embracing every aspect it presents, it will help us to deepen our spiritual life.

The only prayer that isn’t answered is the one we give up on. If we persevere, the prayer will either be answered as we hoped, or we will understand it is being answered in a different way. The Lord wants us to persevere in prayer, praying everyday throughout the day for our needs and the needs of others because this prayer helps us to develop a relationship with Him – He who is our Heavenly Father.

If we continue to ask, seek and knock He promises to send the Holy Spirit to us, so that we may have what we need, moment by moment.

Whom do we follow? – A reflection for U.S. Catholics

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"Christ Leading the Apostles to Mt. Tabor" by Lorenzo Lotto (1512)

“Christ Leading the Apostles to Mt. Tabor” by Lorenzo Lotto (1512)

When Elisha decided to follow Elija he went back and killed the oxen and burned the plowing equipment that supported his previous occupation. He burned his bridges, so to speak, that he would not be distracted from his new calling.
We are all called to follow Christ without reservation. What is it that we need to burn? What keeps us from being focused on the vocation that Our Lord has called us to through our Baptism?

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he says: “For the flesh has desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. These are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.”

Jesus Christ came into the world to show us how to live in relationship with our Heavenly Father. He came not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him. Our vocation, our happiness is also realized in our faithfulness to God’s will as He has revealed it through the Church and the Scriptures. We cannot just do what we want; we must be faithful to His plan.

So what is His plan? We must love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. There can be nothing more important in our life than our relationship with God, and this relationship depends upon our daily commitment to prayer and faithfulness to the Gospel. If we love God above everything else then we will be able to love our selves and our neighbors, which demands self-denial on our part and a generous use of the gifts God has given us. Because this life of self-denial and generosity does not come natural for us, Our Lord has given us the Church and the Sacraments as the source of grace we need to live a supernatural life – beyond our human tendencies. We can only be faithful to His plan with His help.

If we would have the humility to learn from Biblical history, human history and our personal history, it should be obvious that when we insist on doing things our own way with no regard for the will of God, we end up experiencing personal and social unhappiness, confusion and hopelessness.

Let’s take a look at the world we now live in. Atheism is growing faster than ever before and we have allowed that influence to remove prayer from our public schools and public assemblies and any reference to God or use of Christian symbols is often treated as a criminal act. The most dangerous place on this earth is the mother’s womb because that is where most life is intentionally and legally terminated and there is little mention of the suffering of those who have made the choice to abort a baby.
NYStockExchangeThe entertainment industry, the media, our secular educational system and our government have made an all-out effort to push an agenda to re-define marriage, rejecting God’s own definition of marriage in Holy Scripture.

This country was founded on Christian principles which are now being threatened by our government. We are in the middle of a prayer crusade organized by our Bishops to reverse the dangerous direction in which our nation is headed. We must pray for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, for the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman as defined by God, and for religious freedom from government intervention that violates our rights to fulfill our God-given mission to serve Him and His people.

In the Gospel, Jesus is approached by those who want to follow him, but they have excuses why they cannot follow him “now”. There is no convenient time to follow Jesus; the time for all of us to follow him is “now.” He says: “No one who sets his hands to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” We cannot be Jesus’ followers and look back to living our life according to our own will, by just doing what we want. We must either choose God’s plan or the plan of the world. We cannot have both.

Sunday, June 29th, happened to be the feast of Saints Peter and Paul who both gave their lives to serve God and His Church. Countless men and women through the ages have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives not only for their own salvation, but for the continuation of the Church. What sacrifices are you willing to make to live in the light of God’s grace and to preserve the integrity of Christianity?

July 4th Independence Day. What we celebrate is more than fireworks and barbeque. We celebrate freedom, a freedom that was built on the expression, “In God We Trust!” If we want to participate in an effort to maintain that freedom in the Christian spirit with which it was established, then we must be willing to pray with great fervor, make personal sacrifices (not to just do what we want, but to do what is right) and we must decide to follow Christ now without any excuses. As Christians we must believe that our happiness can only reach its potential in a faithful relationship with Jesus Christ. Anything else is not freedom, but slavery.

In my life, how do I ‘see the fruits’ as Jesus says?

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FigTree

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), together let’s reflect on today’s Gospel reading. Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep´s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

Today, we reflect:

What do grapes, thorns, figs, and thistles have to teach us about the kingdom of God? The imagery used by Jesus would have been very familiar to his audience. A certain thornbush had berries which resembled grapes. And a certain thistle had a flower, which at least from a distance, resembled the fig. Isn’t it the same today? What we “hear” might have a resemblance of the truth, but, in fact, when you inspect it closely, it’s actually false. False prophets or teachers abound today as much as they did in biblical times.

What’s the test of a true or false teacher? Jesus connects soundness with good fruit. Something is sound when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living – living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20). The fruits of falsehood produce an easy religion which takes the iron out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin.

How do we avoid falsehood in our personal lives? By being true – true to God, his word, and his grace. And that takes character! Those who are true to God know that their strength lies not in themselves but in God who supplies what we need. The fruit of a disciple is marked by faith, hope and love, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance. Do you seek to cultivate good fruit in your life and reject whatever produces bad fruit?

May this be our prayer: “Lord Jesus, may I bear good fruit for your sake and reject whatever will produce evil fruit. Help me grow in faith, hope, love, sound judgment, justice, courage, and self control.”

Want to beat boredom? Become a Catholic.

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When Jesus called me back to the Catholic Church over a decade ago, I came back with my pre-conversion prejudices intact. Were they true? If so, why would Jesus want me there? I had to find out for myself everything the Catholic Church proclaimed.

"Jim and the Treasure" by N.C. Wyeth, from Robert Luis Stevenson's Treasure Island (Scribner's Sons, 1911)

“Jim and the Treasure” by N.C. Wyeth, from Robert Luis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (Scribner’s Sons, 1911)

Looking back, I realize how laughable that last statement is. There is no way in this life we can learn everything the Catholic Church teaches and proclaims even if we devoted 24/7 to the effort.

The Catholic faith reminds me of that scene in the movie National Treasure when the group of explorers finally discover the secret treasure room. They step into the dark cavernous room and see several priceless artifacts and jewels. Each picks up a different one and is mesmerized by its value and its history. One Catholic priceless jewel would be reading the teaching of a saint. You can spend hours, for example, fascinated by the teachings of St. Catherine of Siena.

But what happens next in the movie is what reminds me most of how the Catholic faith piques our interest the more we are enlightened in the Truth. The Nicolas Cage character puts his lighted torch to an oil-filled bowl and the fire zooms through canals, revealing that the room is much more massive than it at first appeared — every inch of it is filled with treasure.

That’s the Catholic Church.

Each teaching will lead you to a discovery which will lead you to a revelation which will lead you to another teaching and on and on and on. For instance, the teachings of St. Catherine of Siena reveal the beauty of Carmelite Spirituality. The beauty of Carmelite Spirituality can lead you to the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and then on to St. Therese of Lisieux and her ‘Little Way.’ Each jewel presents — in a different way — the love of God; fascinating in and of itself but revealing there is yet even more to delight, to inspire and to transform — and never ever to bore.