Sunday, December 18, 2011

Listen and then surrender

When she was visited by the angel Gabriel, Mary was a young teenager.  She was betrothed to Joseph, a much older man, but was not yet living with him.  Imagine how she might have felt when the angel told her that she would conceive and bear a son, Jesus, the son of God.  Mary questioned how she could bear a son since she had no relations with a man.  Then, the angel gave her a real shocker.  He told her that the Holy Spirit would come on her and that nothing was impossible for God. 

Mary surely realized that her life would never be the same.  She, a simple Jewish girl, had been chosen by God to conceive and raise Jesus, the son of God.  What an awesome responsibility!  And yet, God was not commanding her to become the Mother of Jesus.  He was asking for her consent to participate in the most important event in human history.  How would she respond to this incredible call?

I have friend named Chris.  When I first met him, Chris hadn’t been baptized and didn’t attend Church.   Then, a few years’ ago, one of Chris’s friends asked him to participate on a Christ Renews His Parish, or CFHP, weekend at St Francis.  This religious retreat was well outside of Chris’s comfort zone, but he decided to go anyway because he was looking for direction in his life. 

The CRHP weekend was very emotional for Chris.  It filled a void and was a life-changing experience.  Chris found Jesus in a group of guys who showed their love for him on the weekend.  Chris was determined to learn more.  He wondered if the Lord was calling him to a closer relationship. 

Mary quickly responded to the Lord’s call with her fiat, her acceptance.  She said: “May it be done to me according to your word.”  Mary placed her complete trust in the Lord.  She surrendered to his will.  In faith, she accepted his word that nothing is impossible for God.  With her simple “yes”, the son of God became man in the womb of Mary.  The world would never be the same.  This young Jewish girl had accepted the role that she was created for. 

The angel Gabriel spoke and Mary listened.  The angel told Mary of her role in salvation history and Mary accepted it.  She surrendered to the will of God for her.

Chris decided to attend RCIA classes to learn about the Catholic faith.  Then, several years ago, at the Easter vigil, he accepted the Catholic faith as he received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  Chris was home.  Chris still had a lot to learn about his Catholic faith, but he was confident that he was following God’s will for him. 

I talked to Chris about his conversion to the Catholic faith several months ago.  I asked him if he struggled with any of the Church’s teachings.  I thought that I might be able to strengthen Chris’s faith.  Chris taught me what faith was all about.  Chris told me that while he didn’t fully understand all the teachings of the Catholic faith, he didn’t question them.  He didn’t have the time or the background to challenge these teachings.  He chose, in faith, to accept the Church’s teachings, lock, stock and barrel.    He didn’t need me to prove any of these teachings to him.  Just like Mary, Chris was given the grace, in faith, to accept what he didn’t fully understand.  He surrendered, in faith, to the will of the Father for him when he became a Catholic and accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ.

These two stories have a simple message for us.  The message is to listen so that we can discern God’s will and then to surrender to His will.  Of course, most of us won’t be visited by an angel who will tell us God’s will for us.  But, God is constantly trying to get through the noise and clutter of our lives to give us the direction to follow which leads to Him.  He may be whispering to us or maybe even shouting his will for us.  We should slow down our lives, take regular quiet time to pray, and spend time listening.  It may take a week, a month, or even a year before we get the message, but eventually God will speak to us.  And, when we get a message which we think may be from God, we should test that message to make sure that it isn’t from the great deceiver.  God’s will for us always bears good fruit and never contradicts the teachings of His Church. 

Once we discern that the message is from God, our task is straightforward.  We surrender to God’s will for us.  As Jesus tells us in the prayer he gave us, the Our Father: My kingdom come, my will be done.  If we want the peace and joy of building his kingdom, we follow his will.

When I reflect upon Mary’s willingness to become the mother of Jesus and Chris’s acceptance of the Catholic faith and its teachings, I hear two clear messages for all of us.   These are our call to action.  Listen.  Then, surrender to God’s will.  Do not be afraid.  For nothing is impossible for God.    

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Will we get a two minute warning from God?

Quite a few years ago, my older sister and I used to chase each other around the house.  We especially did this when our parents were out.  There was a circular route thru my bedroom, the kitchen, the living and dining room, and the hallway.  When our parents left, we often chased each other around this circle.  We would mess up the rugs, move some furniture, and generally scatter things.  When we saw our parents pulling in the driveway, we had to run around the house and get things in order before they came in.  We were very good at this and usually managed to cover up our horseplay.

One time, when my sister was running through my bedroom, I threw a pillow at her.  But I hit the glass shade on the ceiling light which began spinning around and around.  We watched it spin until the nut which held the shade in place came off.  The shade crashed into the bedpost and broke.  Then, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to fix this before our parents returned.  I can still remember how afraid I was waiting for them to return.  I was relieved when my parents just made us pay for the new shade.  And I resolved that I wouldn’t throw a pillow at my sister again.  

My sister and I didn’t know when our parents would return.  But, we did our best when we saw them coming to make sure that the house was in order.   We got a two minute warning, if you will, to get the house in order.  But, life isn’t a football game; so we cannot rely on a warning that it is about to end.   Jesus says that we don’t know the day or the time for his return. 

When we broke the shade, the anticipation of punishment was very hard for me to bear.  This is familiar to some of us who wait for the coming of the Lord in a state of serious sin.  If we aren’t following his commandments, we will dread his coming and the anticipated judgment for our sins.   If any of us think that we might be in a state of serious sin today, we should go to confession and unburden our mind and our soul.  And after we confess our sins and receive absolution from a priest, we return to a state of grace and are ready for the end time, whenever it may occur.

The focus of the Gospel is the end times, either our end time after our short time on earth when we will each be judged, or the end time when Jesus returns for the final judgment and the elect are taken body and soul into heaven.  This is a scary topic for most of us and we deal with this in different ways.  Some strive to stay in a state of grace so that they will be prepared when he returns.  Some ignore the time of judgment and assume that in his mercy, Jesus wouldn’t condemn anyone, especially them, to hell.  Others despair that they aren’t worth saving so they ignore his return.  And some try to predict exactly when Jesus will return so that they can prepare just before it happens.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to be watchful and to be alert for we don’t know the time when He will return.  So, it would be foolish to either ignore his return or to try to predict it.

The Gospel parable is about a man who leaves home to travel abroad.  This traveler is Jesus who was here short time, was crucified, resurrected from the dead, and ascended into heaven with his Father.  The home in the parable is the Church, Christ’s house.  Its servants are all of us, who he places in charge.  This parable reminds us that the present situation, building Christ’s kingdom, his Church on earth, won’t last forever.  When the master, Christ returns, he expects all of us to be working hard at whatever task we have been assigned.

This world is not our home; it’s just our temporary residence.  That should be evident to all of us as we witness the passing of those close to us.  So, while we don’t know when Jesus will return at the end of time, we do know that our time on earth will be a short stay of at most eighty or ninety years.  We need to be watchful and vigilant during our short time as the gatekeeper of our souls.

Arturo Nogueira, a twenty one year old rugby player who didn’t believe in God, was a passenger on a plane which crashed in the Andes in 1972.  After over one month in cold, cramped quarters with little food, he died from injuries sustained in the crash.   Arturo wrote a letter to his parents and his girlfriend just one day before he died.   He wrote:

“In situations such as this, even reason cannot understand the infinite and absolute power of God over men.  I have never suffered such as I do now- physically and morally- though I have never believed in him so much.  Strength.  Life is hard but is worth living.  Even suffering.  Courage.”    

Arturo got a warning before his end time and found a new relationship with God.  Some of us will get this warning and some will not.  Some who do have an opportunity to set things right with God will squander their last opportunity.  Today, Jesus urges us to watch and to be alert for we don’t know if he will be coming in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.  May he not find any of us asleep.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is there oil in my lamp?

Several years’ ago, when I owned a software company, I had a salesman working for me who often told the same joke when he was giving a demo of our software to a prospect. 

His joke went as follows: A salesman named Bob died and found himself at the pearly gates.  He was greeted by St Pater who told him that there was a special offer today.  Bob could watch a video of heaven and hell and then decide where he wanted to go.  So, Bob watched the video.  He saw a view of heaven where there were angels floating around and everyone seemed happy.  Then, he saw hell where they seemed to be having a big party and everyone was having a good time. And, Peter asked him if he wanted to go to heaven or to hell.  Bob responded that it seemed like hell would be more to his liking because he liked to party and have a good time.  Immediately, Bob found himself in hell where it was very hot and he was getting stuck with pitchforks by an evil looking devil.  Then, Bob told the devil that it wasn’t anything like the video of hell that he saw.  The devil responded: “You must have seen our demo.”

As with most jokes, there is some truth in this joke and there are some lessons in it.  Shortly after we die, we are judged based upon our life.  We probably won’t be shown a video of heaven and hell and we won’t have an opportunity at that time to choose where we want to go.   However, we do get an opportunity to choose whether we want to go to heaven or to hell.  We make this choice while we are living, by choosing good or evil each day of our lives.  And, the devil, the great deceiver, makes this decision difficult for us by making evil seem like it’s not so bad so that it becomes very attractive to us.  If the devil presented evil as it really is, no one would ever choose it.  So he must continually lie to us. 

The Gospel on November 6th is a warning to alert us that the end is near for us and we should always be ready for it.  The five wise virgins with their lamps full of oil represent those who are prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.  Although they don’t know when the bridegroom is coming they make sure that they’re always ready for him.  The bridegroom represents Christ who will be there to judge us when our time on earth is over and will also be there on the day of judgment at the end of time.  Oil in the lamps symbolize our good works which have been done under the influence of God’s grace.  The five foolish virgins represent those who aren’t prepared for the bridegroom and won’t enter the kingdom of heaven with Christ.

What is clear in today’s parable is that when the critical moment of Jesus' entry into our lives arrives, it will be decisive. Preparation time is over. If we have lived vigilant lives we will enter the wedding feast with Christ our bridegroom. The foolish maidens arrived after the door was locked and when they knocked the door was not opened. It was too late. Poor choices were made, the time for preparation was over.

The Scriptures frequently use light as a symbol for goodness, God’s love, or following Jesus.  For example, Matthew’s Gospel tells us not to hide our light under a bushel basket.  Darkness is used to represent the devil, sin, or turning away from God.  John’s Gospel tells us: “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

At the end of mass, I’ll dismiss everyone with the words: “The mass is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  Then, we are all sent into the darkness of the cold, sometimes cruel world.  This world is confused and is searching for the Lord, even though, many don’t realize that is what they are looking for.  All of us are called to take the light of the Gospel, the light of Christ’s love, the light of our lamps which have been filled by good works and the sacraments into this darkness.  When we shine our lights in this darkness, it lights up the darkness.  And some will be drawn to the light while others will turn away from the light and will prefer the darkness.  When we shine our lights in the darkness, we will find that instead of using up the oil, the oil, the source of our light, will be refilled by our efforts.

This morning we have the men’s Christ Renews His Parish team with us for mass.  The giving team has been preparing for this weekend for the past six months.  They have been attending weekly formation sessions where they learned more about each other and about the love of the Lord.  Gradually, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they have filled their lamps with oil during these weekly formation meetings, so that this weekend their lamps are shining brightly for all to see.  We also have seven men on the receiving team.  These seven men came here yesterday morning to participate in this weekend.  Many weren’t sure why they were here.  But all were called here by the Holy Spirit.  And all have come to experience Christ’s love through the witnesses and the sacrificial love of those on the giving team.  When the weekend is over, the members of the giving team will leave with their hearts full of love and their lamps burning brightly.  They will be filled with the Spirit and will feel the call of the Lord to a closer relationship with Him.   Over the weekend, the receiving team saw the light, that is, the power of the Holy Spirit working through those on the giving team.  This light will draw some, hopefully most, to a closer relationship with the Lord. 

Throughout history, there has always been a battle between the light, goodness, and the darkness, evil.  And due to original sin each of us must participate in this struggle during our short time here on earth.  St Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans:  “For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  When we are honest with ourselves, we all must admit to this struggle.  So, today we need to reflect upon the message of the Gospel.  We must turn away from sin and darkness and towards the light and must let our light shine and be an example of goodness for others to see, especially our families.  Once we do this, we will find peace and joy in our lives and will be ready on  the day when the bridegroom will say to us “Well done my good and faithful servant, welcome into the joy of my heavenly kingdom.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saint Januarius and the persecution of Christians

Saint Januarius was bishop of Benevento during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian in 305 AD. When Januarius visited two deacons and two priests in prison, he also was imprisoned.  Then, they were all thrown to the beasts. When the beasts wouldn't attack them, they were beheaded.

This occurred during a most difficult time for Christians, when many were killed.  But, only a few years later in 312 AD, Emperor Constantine had a religious experience following his victory at the battle of Melvian Bridge.  In 313 AD, Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire and it shortly became the preferred religion of the empire.  In the short period of eight years, Christians went from being aggressively persecuted to being the favorite of the emperor.

Today, Christians are being persecuted in many countries, especially Muslim countries.  In these countries, Christians aren't free to practice their faith.  In our country, Christians are sometimes excluded from the public square.  In the recent memorial to 911 in New York, there were no Christian clerics included in the celebration.  This was amazing when you consider the heroic role that many Christian clerics played during on September 11th, 2001.  At the 911 memorial in Washington, the only Christian clerics who were invited were Episcopal ministers.  Catholic and other Christian denominations were not included.  This exclusion is not an accident.  Often, we hear of various political and media figures speaking out against the Catholic Church.  Recently, during a CNN interview of Rick Santorum, a Catholic candidate for President, the moderator severely criticized Mr. Santorum for his support of traditional marriage.  In other countries, such as Canada, there are warning signs that soon proclaiming Catholic teaching in areas which aren't politically correct, such as opposing gay marriage, may soon be considered hate speech and cause for imprisonment.

For me, the message of today’s feast is that times do change. They can change for the better, as was the case going from Emperor Diocletion to Emperor Constantine.  Or they can change for the worse we see occurring in the US, Canada and Europe.  As Christians, we must always fight for our religious freedom including our freedom to follow our conscience in matters of faith.

We must never give up hope in God no matter what our spiritual circumstance may be. For, no circumstance is beyond God's power to turn to good and no person is too confused for God to use as His anointed.   In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul tells us of our hoped-for eternal destiny: "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him".

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are we tolerant or truthful?

The Church celebrated the birthday of St. John the Baptist on June 24th and on August 29th it honors the anniversary of his martyrdom.  Besides our Lord and our Lady, St. John the Baptist is the only one whose birth and death are celebrated.   Mark chapter 6, verses 17 to 29, relates the circumstances of his execution.  John had the courage to blame Herod to his face for the scandal of his illegal union with his sister-in-law Herodias, whose husband was still alive.  Herodias contrived to make Herod imprison John and took advantage of an unexpected opportunity through her daughter Salome to have the saint beheaded.

August 29th marks "the second finding of his most venerable head." The body of the saint was buried in Samaria.  In the year 362, pagans desecrated the grave and burned his remains.  Only a small portion of his relics were able to be saved by monks and sent to St. Athanasius at Alexandria.

Blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth.  Nevertheless, he died for Christ.  Does Christ not say: "I am the truth"?  So, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.  Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

John was a strong man who accepted the end of his life by being beheaded after a long imprisonment.  He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men. He was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by Christ.

St John the Baptist died because he told Herod that his union with his sister-in-law Herodias was illegal.  John was asked to ignore this illegal union of King Herod with his sister-in –law.  Herod even liked John and considered him to be a righteous and holy man.  But Herod could not accept it when John condemned his sin. 

Today, sometimes we witness behavior which we know to be sinful.  If we condemn the behavior, we are likely to lose a friend or to be criticized for our lack of tolerance.  If we keep quiet, we may keep the friend but will lose the opportunity to possibly save their soul and maybe even ours.  

As we celebrate the martyrdom of St John the Baptist, let us resolve to proclaim the truth whether convenient or inconvenient.  I doubt that any of us will have to die for the truth but we may have to die to ourselves and to accept humiliation and possibly even the anger of a friend.  Whatever this burden for us may be, it is truly a light one compared to the glory of eternal life in heaven.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are you wise or foolish?

Today’s Gospel reminds me of our dependence upon propane to heat our house during the winter.  Several times in the last few years we have been very low on propane during the middle of winter.  Of course, we called our supplier and asked them to deliver propane.  But, they are always very busy at that time of the year.  So, we turned the temperature down in the house and prayed that they would come before we ran out. 

Now, my concern about being low on propane and maybe having to live in a cold house isn’t nearly as much of a problem as being a virgin at the wedding feast without any oil.  These virgins are locked out of the wedding feast for all eternity.   And, as Jesus says at the end of the parable, we don’t know either the day or the hour.  So we must be ever vigilant with our lamps always full. 

It’s interesting to me that there are five foolish virgins and five wise virgins.  So, five of these virgins, the wise ones, are taken into heaven and the other five, the foolish ones, are thrown into hell.  Does this mean that about half of the believers will make the cut and eventually reach heaven, while the other half will be condemned to hell?  I cannot answer this question.  All of us can only pray and work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

And then we look at the first reading from the letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians which tells us: “This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality”.  Then St Paul continues: “for the Lord is an avenger in all these things as we told you before and solemnly affirmed.”  

The Navarre bible commentary for this reading tells us that in St Paul’s time the word immorality had come to refer to any kind of sexual practice outside marriage or not in accordance with the aims of marriage.  Using this definition for immorality, there seems to be an excess of immorality in our culture today and a shortage of holiness. 

If you were to ask Catholics, how many people would reach heaven and how many would be condemned to hell, I expect that most would say that only a very few people would be condemned to hell.  They would cite God’s mercy and suggest that a merciful God wouldn’t condemn lots of people to an eternity in hell.  For me, it is interesting that Jesus had five wise and five foolish virgins in this parable.  It makes me think that this may be a toss-up for many of us.  I know it sure makes me want to work harder when I think that the odds may be 50/50 or less.  And by the time we know where our eternal future lies, we cannot do anything about it and we cannot come back here to warn our family and friends.  As Jesus says, we must “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Lord, you tell us this parable because you love us.  You want us to know how to enter into your grace now and for all eternity.  Please pour that same love into our hearts, so each of us will be creative and courageous in spreading your good news.  With the love of your heart, Lord, inflame our hearts. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Queenship of Mary celebrates life

Pius XII established the feast of the Queenship of Mary in 1954. The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.

Mary brought life, the Son of God, into the world at great cost to her.  Maryprovides a great witness to all mothers today.  Her witness is urgently needed to counteract the confusion about motherhood and families.   
I recently watched a video from the US council of Catholic Bishops titled Made for Life.  The introduction to the viewers’ guide says the following:  “The vocation of marriage is a unique call to an adventure of love and life, where love is life-giving in a matchless way.  Marriage, in its inmost essence as the union of husband and wife, is open to the child.  The love between husband and wife – what we call authentic spousal love – is never self-enclosed but remains open to life.  Married love is different than any other kind of love or bond between two persons.  In an utterly unique way, the bond between a man and a woman as husband and wife is made of life, made for fruitful love, especially for the possibility of receiving the gift of life and becoming stewards of it.”

Marriage is meant to be an adventure of love and life with married love being life-giving.  For Mary, her openness to life resulted in birth of the Messiah, our salvation, and the establishment of the Church.  Imagine what our world might be like if Mary were not open to life.  So, today we celebrate her queenship as the mother of the Messiah.

As married couples, our openness to life is part of our marriage covenant.  During the marriage rite, the priest or deacon asks the couple the question:  “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”  The couple’s answer to this question is important not only for their future family, but also for the Church, the nation, and the world.  If we are going to answer that question with a resounding “Yes”, we must believe that children are a gift and are not a burden to the married couple and to society. 

So today, let us reflect upon Mary’s openness to life and the sacrifices which she made for us.  And let us commit to supporting life from conception to natural death by our words and our actions.  And, if we aren’t sure about our position on this most critical issue, let us resolve to study and to embrace the teachings of the Church, especially the writings of Pope John Paul II, on this issue. 

The battle lines have been drawn on the issue of life and we cannot stand on the sidelines.  Let us pray that all Catholics will follow Mary and the inspired teachings of the Church.  It is truly a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Holy Family as a dysfuncional family

Last week I attended a conference on Marriage and Family.  This conference gave me hope because those attending were proclaiming the truth about God’s plan for marriage and family.  One of the speakers talked about the Holy Family.  He commented that the story of the Holy Family is our story.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would be considered a dysfunctional family today.  Mary was fourteen or fifteen when she married Joseph who was a much older man.  Then, she got pregnant, even before they started living together.  It was common in those times for a couple to get married and then to return to the homes of their parents so that the man could prepare a place where he could live with his bride.  That’s why Mary and Joseph were married but not yet living together.  Imagine Joseph’s surprise when he realized that Mary was pregnant.  But he didn’t rant about it but planned, as was the custom at the time, to divorce her quietly.   Then an angel came to Joseph to tell him that Mary was to give birth to the Messiah.  Joseph accepted this shocking news and lived a chaste life with Mary.

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census and gave birth to Jesus in a cave.  In today’s terms, they were homeless.  After Jesus’ birth, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod who was killing the young boys.  So, they were forced to go to a foreign land as immigrants until Herod died and this threat passed.

When Jesus was twelve, they took him to the temple as was the custom at the time.  But, Mary and Joseph both left without Jesus.  Jesus was lost for three days in the temple of the big city of Jerusalem.  Imagine how Mary and Joseph felt in losing not only their son, but the Son of God.

Joseph died sometime after this before Jesus began his public ministry.  So, Mary was a single mother.  She watched as Jesus was tortured and died a brutal death on the cross.  As a mother, she kept all these things in her heart.

August 15th is the feast of the Assumption, when Mary is raised body and soul into heaven.  She is now in heaven as our model, our mother, our inspiration, and our hope.  All of us hope to be in heaven one day with God the Father, as she is.  All of us have experienced some difficulties in our life, especially in our marriages and our families.  But, I’m sure none of us have experienced the same level of difficulties that Mary experienced.  She carried her cross every day as she kept all these things in her heart.  She was obedient and constantly followed God’s will, even when it brought her times of suffering.

So, today, as we celebrate the feast of the Assumption, let us give thanks for the trials in our lives.  Let us take up the cross that God has given us and follow Him as Mary did along the road of Golgotha.  Let us not measure our success based upon dollars, or upon power, or recognition.  Instead, let us measure our successes based upon our willingness to follow God’s plan for our lives.  Let us celebrate our gifts of marriage and family, even the gifts which bring us pain and suffering.  And let us carry and even rejoice in our cross knowing that each step along the path of life with our cross brings us closer to our heavenly destiny when we will be in heaven, body and soul with Mary and our heavenly Father.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A reflection on divorce and Jesus' teachings

In today’s Gospel, some Pharisees ask Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.  Jesus replied that what God has joined together man must not separate.  He also commented that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. 

This teaching is difficult for many to accept because of the many divorces which we see in our society today.  Clearly, marriage is under attack with many young couples living together before they get married and others deciding not to marry at all.  Sometimes it seems like marriage is becoming obsolete.  And some are even trying to redefine marriage to include same sex relationships.  So, Jesus words to us today are very timely as he says:  “From the beginning, the Creator made them male and female.  For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 

Today, those of us who are married must witness by our words and our actions to our marriage covenant.  Our young people need to know that a marriage which lasts forever is not only possible, but is part of God’s plan for most of us.  If we follow that plan and abide by the teachings of his Church, our  marriages will be an image of Jesus’ love for each one of us.

Last week I attended the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers conference.  There were about 400 people at the conference including 4 bishops, 10 priests, and about 30 deacons.  It was an inspiring and an informative conference for me.  There were speakers and vendors at the conference who focused on every aspect of marriage including marriage preparation, making good marriages better, saving troubled marriages, dealing with divorce, and meeting the needs of widows and widowers.  In these times when marriages are under attack, it was great to meet so many talented and holy people who are focusing their efforts in this area.  Everyone that I met reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.  At times, in our confused world, it can seem like all is lost and that the devil has won the war for the hearts and minds of our young families.  But, attending a conference like this one and finding so many people who are proclaiming the truth regarding marriage and family in their parish or their diocese, gives me hope that there are many hearts and minds yet to be won in this battle.

After attending this conference, I have access to lots of resources concerning marriage and family life.  If you or someone you know is struggling in this area, come see me and I’ll try to point you towards someone or something which might be of assistance.

Pope John Paul II tells us that "The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do."   Our mission, as husbands and wives, is, first and foremost, to build our domestic Church, to build the kingdom of God on earth.  As our families go, so goes our nation, our Church, and our world.  Please join me in praying for families and marriages during these confusing times.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Rule of St Benedict for families

The following post includes excerpts from Listen My Son - St Benedict for Fathers, by Dwight Longenecker.

On this feast day of St Benedict, it is good for us to reflect on his Rule.  The sixth-century Rule of St Benedict is a code written for the foundation and maintenance of a Christian monastery.  It has been in use for the last fifteen hundred years as the basis for every Benedictine monastery and convent and for many other religious orders.  Benedict’s Rule is full of practical wisdom and principles of human relationship which can be applied to almost any situation where people work together. 

Benedict calls us to make an act of the will – to make a decision to follow the path of God’s commandments.   Throughout the Rule, the three Benedictine vows of Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life provide a driving force.  Benedict sees spiritual maturity as something which is the product of a certain type of life.  It can be accomplished only through a lifetime of wholeness.  This wholeness consists of finding our proper place in the world and giving glory to God by finding our peace in His will.  Once of the ways to find this place of simplicity and wholeness is by pursuing stability of life.

The emphasis on stability is vital in our personal lives and in our Christian homes.  In a fast-changing world where mobility is taken for granted, it is all too easy to move house, church, or job simply because we are bored or restless and think things will be better somewhere else.    

Christian husbands and wives are forced into stability by their marriage vows and by the need to provide this stability for their family.  We can either rebel against these enforced enclosures or we can see them as the crucible of our own spiritual refinement.  The constraints of family life can either be the chains that bind us or the force of stability which gives us true freedom.  Stability reminds us that we may run away from others, but we cannot run away from ourselves.

Obedience is the second of the Benedictine vows.  If we take our marriage vows seriously, then we have the basis for a life of obedience.  Obedience is being in a constant attitude of self-sacrificial love towards our spouse and our children.  The family life demands a regular sacrifice of our will and our desire to the good of others.  Benedict never pretends that obedience is easy.  Of the three vows, this is perhaps the most difficult one to attain on our own. 

The last Benedictine vow is a vow of conversion of life.  One of the ways to prepare for and co-operate with this conversion is to develop a constant awareness of God’s presence.  Throughout the Rule, Benedict reminds the monks to be awake, to be alert, and watchful for the Lord’s presence.  This watchful awareness of God is a humble state of dependence on the heavenly Father.  To nurture this awareness of God is to nurture our humility because an awareness of God reveals our own frail condition.  We are called by our baptism to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.  We are called to cooperate with God’s grace and to prepare the ground for that work which he is pleased to do within us.  The demands of our marriage and family life are more than enough to lead us to that total conversion which God provides through Jesus Christ.

Today, on the feast of St Benedict, let us give thanks for this great saint and for his Rule.  And let us pray for stability, for obedience, and for conversion of life especially in our marriages and in our families.      

Monday, July 11, 2011

Homily from Jeff and Heather's wedding

Last Saturday, I presided at the wedding of Jeff LIndsey and Heather Sanders.  It was the first wedding for me as a deacon.  It was a scary but blessed time for me.  This was the homily that I gave at the wedding.
I find it very rewarding, as a fairly new deacon, is to be on the altar during mass.  As I look out into the congregation on a Sunday, I see so many couples, especially young couples, like Jeff and Heather.  Often, I know their stories, since I have been a member of this parish for many years.  I marvel that we at St Francis De Sales, have so many good young families.  It may create a lot of noise at the 11 o’clock mass on Sunday, but this noise is very joyful.  I am very happy to have been part of Jeff and Heather’s life.  I look forward to looking seeing them at 11 o’clock mass on Sunday for many, many years.  Also, I am excited to be baptizing Dimitri at 12:30 tomorrow.

A few months ago, I met with them to select the readings for today.  After they selected the first reading, which is from the book of Tobit, I told them the story of Tobiah and Sarah prior to their wedding night.  In this reading, we hear the prayer that Sarah and Tobiah said on their wedding night which is a fitting prayer to read during a marriage.  But, it can have much more meaning for us, if we understand the circumstances under which Sarah and Tobiah were praying that night.  So, I will briefly summarize the events which led up to this prayer. 

Tobiah’s father Tobit was blinded and had cataracts on his eyes.  Tobit had deposited a great sum of money in Media and he asked his son Tobiah to travel to Media and collect this money.  Tobiah didn’t know the way there so he looked for someone who could travel with him.  He found Raphael to go with him.  Raphael was an angel but Tobiah wasn’t aware of this.

Along the way, Tobiah and Raphael made camp beside a river and a large fish leaped out of the water and tried to swallow Tobiah’s foot.  Raphael told Tobiah to take hold of the fish, to cut it up and take out the gall, heart, and liver since these were useful medicines.  Then, they broiled and ate the rest of the fish.

When they arrived at Media, Raphael told Tobiah that they must stay with Raguel, a relative.  Raguel had a daughter named Sarah who Tobiah was entitled to marry and who was sensible, courageous, and very beautiful.  But, Tobiah objected because he had heard that Sarah had been married seven times and that each time her husband had died on the wedding night in the bridal chambers.  Raphael told him to burn the fish’s liver and heart in the bridal chamber.  Then, the demon would smell the odor and leave.

So, Tobiah, went to Raguel’s house and claimed Sarah as his bride.  Sarah’s father Raguel and his wife  gave Sarah in marriage to Tobiah.  After eating and drinking, Tobiah and Sarah retired into the wedding chamber.  Once there, Tobiah burned the fish’s liver and heart as Raphael had instructed.  This repelled the demon.  Then, Tobiah and Sarah began to pray the wedding prayer in our first reading.  Clearly, they had reason to praise God as they prayed that God would allow them to live together to a happy old age.

During the night, Sarah’s father, summoned some servants to dig a grave for Tobiah.  He didn’t want to be subject to ridicule if Tobiah should die during the night.  In the morning, he sent one of the maids into the wedding chamber to see if Tobiah was alive or dead.  When she told him that Tobiah was alive, Raguel prayed: “Blessed are you who have made me glad, what I feared did not happen.”  Then he told the servants to fill in the grave.

What lessons can this story teach us about marriage?  First, it teaches us about the importance of prayer.  It is very important for all married couples to pray and especially to pray together as a couple.  Marriages and families today are under attack.  It is very difficult for couples to stay married and to live their marriage as God intended them to.   Almost all of the messages that married couples get from our society tend to divide them instead of encouraging and helping them as a couple.  Without God’s grace and without regular prayer, a successful, life-long marriage can seem almost impossible.

Secondly, this story tells us the importance of following God’s will and his Church’s direction for our lives and for our marriage, even when we don’t fully understand why we need to do what the Church is telling us.  As He told us in the Our Father, it’s all about building His Kingdom and doing His will.  If we try to follow our will, in the end, we will often be disappointed with the results.  Imagine if Tobiah had decided that the smell of the burning fish would be too much for the wedding chamber and decided to skip burning it.  Clearly, he would have been buried in the grave that Raguel had dug. 

Finally, this story tells us how important it is to bring God into our marriage.  Marriage is much more than a legal contract between two persons.  Marriage is a covenant between husband, wife, and God.  In a few minutes, Jeff and Heather will declare their love for each other before all of us and before God.  They will declare that their love will be forever, that it will be fruitful, that they will be faithful to each other, and that it will be total and exclusive.  This covenant mirrors the love that Jesus has for all of us.  And, through his grace and through the grace of his sacraments, he will help Jeff and Heather along the difficult but rewarding journey of married life.

In our marriages, God asks us to pray, to follow his will, to bring him into our life and even into our bedroom and to sacrifice.  When we do this, we become members of his kingdom on earth as we build this kingdom and join others who are also following his will.  This brings peace, joy and happiness to our marriages, to our families and to society. 

Earlier I mentioned about the many young families that I see each week at mass.  These mothers and fathers are an inspiration to me as I see the joy, peace and happiness in their families. Clearly, they are living God’s will and are building his kingdom on earth through the everyday struggles in their families.  Today, Jeff and Heather are a inspiration for all of us here.  By their love and their commitment to their marriage covenant, they renew our faith in marriage and in family. 

So today, let us give thanks for the gift of marriage and for Jeff and Heather.  And let us pray that they like Sara and Tobiah will follow God’s will and will be rewarded with a long and fruitful marriage.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Our faith is built on the solid foundation of truth

Last week, we were getting a deck installed at our vacation home near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  This deck is about six inches off of the ground.  The fellow installing the deck, Matthew Brown, used 45 bags of concrete as footers of this deck.   Matthew is convinced that the foundation of the deck is the most important part of the deck since it supports the rest of the structure.   So, our new deck is solid.  It doesn’t bounce, even if you jump on it.  In fact, I think the house will collapse before the deck ever does.
Yesterday, the feast of Pentecost, is the birthday of our Church.  When you consider our Church, its foundation is also critical.  The foundation of our Church is Peter, and his successors.  Jesus himself said: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” 
The saint whose feast is tonight, Saint Anthony of Padua, a doctor of the Church, was born in 1195 and died in 1231.  St Anthony provided simple and resounding teaching on the Catholic faith, so that the most unlettered and innocent might understand it.  He is called the “hammer of the heretics.”  When St Anthony of Padua found he was preaching the true Gospel of the Church to heretics who would not listen to him, he then went out and preached it to the fishes. This was not for the instruction of the fishes, but rather for the glory of God, the delight of the angels, and the easing of his own heart. St. Anthony wanted to profess the Catholic faith with his mind and his heart, at every moment.
Today, there are some in our Church who could merit the title of the hammer of the heretics.  One would certainly be our current pope, Benedict XVI, who preaches the truth continuously, sometimes to audiences who reject it.    This unchanging truth, this solid foundation is required in our times of moral relativism.  Many would tell us that their truth isn’t the same as our truth.  When we hear this, we might be tempted to be silent and to let them go their way.  But out of Christian charity, we must continue to hammer away at the truth.  We must continue to hate the sin and to love the sinner.  If we continue to preach the simple and resounding teaching of the Catholic faith, we can be confident that we are following in the footsteps of Saint Anthony of Padua.
Like my deck in Gatlinburg, our faith is built on the solid foundation of the truth.  It would not stand for long if it were built on the sand of moral relativism.  Certainly, our faith requires time and study since we cannot rely on our own inclinations and whims to find this truth.  We must study the teachings of our church as handed down through the centuries from doctors of the church, like the hammer of the heretics, St. Anthony of Padua.   Only after we do this can we confidently proclaim this truth as it has been passed down to us by others who are far wiser than we are.
So tonight, let us give thanks for the unchanging truth of our faith and for the doctors of our Church, such as St Anthony of Padua who have proclaimed and clarified this truth for us and for future generations.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

God's love and our conscience

This reflection is based upon John chapter 21 verses 15 to 19.  In this Gospel reading, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him.  Each time Peter replies that he does.  Jesus might be asking this question three times to counteract Peter’s denying him three times.  Or it could be that Jesus is just emphasizing the point that Peter must love him.  Then, Jesus tells Peter a parable about old age.  He tells Peter that when he grows old someone else will dress him and will lead him where he doesn’t want to go.  This could be a reference to Peter’s eventual death on a cross.  Finally, Jesus tells Peter to follow him.  This sequence emphasizes Peter’s role in the Church.  As the head of the Church, as its rock, it is critical that Peter love Jesus and that he follow him. We see in Acts of the Apostles, that Peter does follow the footsteps of Jesus; that he works miracles and proclaims the message of Jesus.  Eventually, he dies on the cross as Jesus did.  It is said that Peter requested that he be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die the same type of death that Jesus did. 
Today, Jesus is telling us the same things that he told Peter.  He is constantly asking us if we love him and then telling us to feed his sheep.  Of course, our role isn’t nearly as important as Peter’s role was.  But, each of us is important in spreading the faith to those that we meet.  Imagine what our lives would be like if we didn’t have the gift of faith.  And for most of us, this wasn’t a conscious choice that we made but a free gift from our parents.  And we won’t have to suffer the death of a martyr in order to spread the faith to those we meet.  We just have to be a good example to others and to be able and willing to proclaim the faith when the opportunity presents itself.
The question, do you love Jesus, is an appropriate response from our conscience, after we sin.  And it is good for us to hear that question deep within ourselves.  When we hear this, it tells us that we aren’t so accustomed to sin that it doesn’t bother us.  Like Peter, we must quickly tell the Lord that we love him and, then, once again, follow him.
Paragraph 1783 of the Catechism tells us: “Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened.  A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful.  If formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.  The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teaching.”
Pope Benedict recently said that Europe is doomed if conscience isn’t rediscovered when he said: 
“If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself.  If, on the other hand, conscience is rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings – in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny – then there is hope for the future.”
Is there hope for the future here in Lebanon, Ohio?  Or have we also reduced conscience to a subjective thing?  The stakes are high.  The survival of society here is also dependent upon us, individually and as a society, listening to that voice within us which tells us to do good and to avoid evil.   Are we listening and are we following him or are we doing our own thing?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Passing on our faith through baptism

Last Sunday I baptized two infants, Konnor and Ramsey.  Baptizing a child is always a joy for me.  It brings back memories of the baptisms of my children and my grandchildren.  There was only one small glitch in the baptism, when I realized that I hadn't placed any towels by the font.  Fortunately, my wife was able to quickly get two towels from the sacristy.

In baptism, Konnor and Ramsey became become adopted sons of God.  They join all of us who have been baptized and are now God’s chosen disciples.  The first letter of John expresses our relationship to God as his adopted children as follows: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are.  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  This is powerful stuff, that by our baptism we become God’s children.  If we choose to follow him into eternal life, we shall be like God and shall see him as he is.  This is the great promise of our faith that we pass onto our children. 

For most of us, this faith has been passed onto us by our parents.  And for many, this gift of faith has been part of the family for many generations.  One of my cousins has traced the Rettig family tree back several hundred years.  I expect that my family has been Catholic for many generations and has seen good times and bad in the Church and in the world during that time.  I give thanks to these ancestors for my gift of life.  If it weren't for them and their willingness to sacrifice, I wouldn't be here today.  Also, I thank them for my gift of faith.  They nurtured their faith and passed this faith on to their children.  If it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't be Catholic today.  As Catholic parents, they took the responsibility of raising their children in the faith of Jesus Christ, very seriously.  Konnor and Ramsey's parents also take this responsibility seriously as they bring their children to us today so that they can receive the gift of new life in baptism. 

Jesus told his disciples that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church.  He has given us a guarantee that his Church will be glorified with Jesus when he returns.  But, as we look around at all of the evil in the world today, and as we see the difficulties that often face his Church, at times it can seem hopeless.  In short, it can seem like the devil is winning.  It requires faith today to bring children into this world and to give them the gift of our faith.  Fortunately, these parents and many other parents today and through the ages have had faith and hope which they lovingly passed on to the next generation.

Today, let us celebrate that we all, as Christians, as God’s kids, have received the gift of faith and are his disciples.  Let us resolve to tell everyone, and especially our children about our merciful and powerful God and about his holy Church.  And finally, let us commit to doing our part to establish the kingdom of God on earth so that together we can defeat the evil one and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Impact of Council of Jerusalem on Christianity

The first reading from Acts of the Apostles describes the period in time just after the council of Jerusalem in the first century.  At this council, the Church leaders, under the direction of Peter, decided that the Gentiles didn’t have to observe Mosaic law and be circumcised.  Then, they chose representatives to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to tell the people the good news.  They told the people of Antioch: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond the necessity.”   The people of Antioch were delighted with this news.
It is significant that they said that it was the decision of the Holy Spirit and of them.  This is one of many instances of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church during periods of difficulty.  I wonder what our Church would look like today if the Council of Jerusalem hadn’t made this decision and had required that all Christians must be circumcised.  I think it is safe to assume that our Church would be much smaller, and that the missionary effort to the gentiles wouldn’t have been as successful as it was.  In fact, most and maybe even all of us can thank this decision, and many other spirit-led decisions through the ages for our gift of faith.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so at whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.”   This again tells us that we aren’t in charge, but are meant to do the will of the father so that he may give us what we need to do what we are called to do. 
With our intellect and our free will, it is difficult for us to discern and to follow the Father’s will for us.  I found it difficult to discern the Father’s will regarding my vocation as a deacon and now, it is difficult for me to discern what I am meant to do as a deacon.  Sometimes I seem to be called to do things that I’m not well suited for.  But, I try to listen to the Holy Spirit so that I am doing what I am being called to do. 
At times, some are critical of decisions made by Church leaders.  These decisions may involve disciplinary or liturgical matters, such as the changes on the Roman missal which will take effect when Advent begins.  Or they may involve matters of faith and morals, such as the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.  Some resist these changes because they dislike any change and they are comfortable with the status quo.  Others resist change because they tend to reject authority, especially the authority of Church leaders. 
It is important for us to realize what our role is and how critical it is for us to perform that role well.  Most of us are not in a position to influence or even debate these changes.  We are like the gentiles in the early Church who waited patiently for their leaders to return from Jerusalem and then accepted and rejoiced in these decisions.  I’m sure that there were some in Jerusalem and even in Antioch who didn’t agree with the decision of the council.   For the sake of their souls and for the sake of their mission in the early Church, I hope that they accepted the decision and obediently followed it.
As Jesus says in the Gospel, he doesn’t call us slaves, instead he calls us friends.  We aren’t forced, as slaves would be, to accept the decisions of our Church.  Instead, like friends, he constantly calls us lovingly to follow him and to follow his Church.  We are called to respond to this invite with love, even if we don’t currently understand or even like what is being done.  Then, we become true disciples who, like the apostles and many others thru the ages, will bear good fruit.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jesus' love is everlasting

Tonight’s reading tells us that: “Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”  Christ’s priesthood is an expression of his love, from which it cannot be separated. Since his love is everlasting, so too is his priesthood. In the first place, his priesthood is everlasting because it is linked to the Incarnation, which is permanent.  And it is everlasting because Christ’s mission is that of saving all men in all periods of history. And it is everlasting because Christ continues to be present in the prayers of the Church, particularly in the sacrifice of the cross constantly renewed in the Mass and in the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, as we are tonight. Finally, it is everlasting because Christ’s sacrifice is perpetuated until the end of time in the ministerial priesthood, the bishops and priests consecrated to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful and celebrate divine worship.

If Jesus love is everlasting, how long is everlasting? When will our world end? When will Jesus return for the final judgment?  Harold Camping—president of the Protestant radio outreach known as Family Radio—has been predicting for some time that the long-awaited Rapture will occur on May 21st of this year. I realize that it’s now May 25th and this date is passed, but I am writing this on May 17th, so I’m waiting to see if I will be able to give this reflection. 

Camping’s argument has a form something like this:
1) Noah’s Flood occurred in 4990 B.C.
2) Noah was warned seven days before the Flood that it would occur, per Genesis 7.
3) A day with the Lord is like a thousand years, per 2 Peter 3.
4) Therefore, 7,000 years after Noah’s Flood some great, Flood-like judgment will occur.
5) 4990 B.C. + 7000 -1 = A.D. 2011.
6) Therefore, the end of the world will occur in 2011.
Of course, Mr. Camping made similar predictions before. He famously got his followers worked up back in 1994 about that being the year the world would end. But this time is different!

You have to admire the courage of people like this gentleman who spent his life savings promoting these speculations, but not their wisdom. God help everyone on Sunday morning who had bought into this. Of course, that’s not to say Christ couldn’t come back on Saturday. I don’t see the signs being right for that, but who am I to say it couldn’t happen?

Most people in the early Church thought that Christ would come again very soon. In fact, this is one reason why the Gospels weren’t written for a generation or more after Jesus died. They thought that there wouldn’t be any need.  Eventually, when more and more of those who lived when Jesus walked the earth began to die, they realized that they must get his words written down and the Gospels were the result. 
Now, two thousand years later, we are still trying to figure out when Jesus will return. Some, like Mr. Camping, try to use the dates and times in the bible literally to come up with these predictions. For Catholics, it is reassuring to know that he does come again, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist, at every mass. As Catholics, we don’t believe in the rapture, that is, Christ coming to take his followers to heaven and leaving others for a period of tribulation. We also don’t interpret dates in the bible literally, as Mr. Camping does. So, in faith, we are very confident that this date and any other prediction about the end of the world need not be seriously considered. 

Although we don’t know the date or the time when the world will end, we do know that our world, our life, will be a short 70, 80, 90, or even 100 years. We must be vigilant and be prepared. If these predictions remind us that our time on this life is short, it might help us be better prepared.