The Bad and Good of Sinning on Monday

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The Return of the Prodigal Son - Bartolome' Murillo, 1670

The Return of the Prodigal Son – Bartolome’ Murillo, 1670

I’m a sinner. We all are in our own way and to our own degree. It’s our nature. It’s called concupiscence.

It seems no matter how hard I try I can’t not sin. Oh, I can go for three or four straight weeks and only commit a few minor venial sins (or so I think), but inevitably, through my own conscious free will, I cave in to temptation or an old habit that hasn’t yet been completely unlearned; or I act rashly in a disrespectful or uncharitable manner which I immediately regret. It tears me up – mostly because I know what I did was wrong and, also, partly because it injures the pride I’ve built up for having worked hard to improve and sin less as time has passed.

When I do this I know that waiting until Sunday morning mass and asking for forgiveness during the Penitential Act just isn’t going to cut it. No, there’s only one thing I can do to get right with God – make a trip to Reconciliation on Saturday afternoon and humbly lay it on the line to Him. The guilt and shame weighs heavily enough on my conscience that I know it’s pointless for me to try to talk my way out of it.

It seems to me that my most serious falls from grace occur early in the week, on Monday or Tuesday. When that happens I have the rest of the week until Saturday to contemplate and painfully stew on the thing(s) I wish I hadn’t done. Why can’t I commit all my more serious sins on Friday night or Saturday morning?

Sometimes during those several days between sin and forgiveness I find myself creating elaborate excuses for why I did the misdeed. But, eventually, I always get to, and spend sufficient time at, the appropriate level of contriteness needed for my confession. This, I think, is one of the beautiful things about the Catholic Church. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is such a great gift. Confessing my transgressions to God while I’m physically looking into the eyes of a real person, forces me to be honest with myself, the priest, and especially with Him. If I couldn’t do that I’m sure I would fall victim to my own inventions, justifying that the onus for my actions belongs elsewhere instead of solely with me.

When I do visit the priest and confess my sins to God with a truly contrite heart, and promise to not sin in that way again, I am often surprised at the lenient penance given to me. I usually feel as though I deserve less mercy and I’m always grateful for the mercy I do receive. But, then, sometimes I believe that those few days during which I agonized over my sin until I could get to confession may have served as partial penance. At least I hope so.

Last week as I waited for Saturday to roll around, I made my usual Holy Hour of Adoration on Friday afternoon. The convenience of this dawned on me: it is the perfect, last chance opportunity to thoroughly examine my conscience, shed the excuses and take full ownership for my actions. After all, it would be just a little difficult, if not foolish, to not get it right while I’m kneeling in front of the Tabernacle looking up at Jesus, and Him looking down upon me.

During that quiet hour last Friday I took time to read from my daily St. Augustine devotional. I was a couple weeks behind so I picked up where I left off with the passage from June 4th entitled, “Pride Can Destroy”. St. Augustine wrote:

“Paradoxically, it is good, in a way, for those who observe continence and are proud of it to fall, so that they may be humbled in that very thing on which they pride themselves. What benefit is continence for us if pride holds sway over our lives?”

What can I say? I can’t make this stuff up. He knows what I need to hear! This was just another one of those God-moments I’ve come to expect while I’m at Adoration. I looked at the Tabernacle and thought what a great and merciful Lord we have. All He wants us to do when we are tempted to sin is to look to Him and ask for His help. So simple, but our human nature makes it so difficult to accept His will. And I thought, if this is the way He reveals the truth to me, then, if I’m going to sin, maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all to do so early in the week!

I continued to read my devotional. Each daily passage is followed by a prayer from St. Augustine. The prayer for June 5th read:

“Lord, You truly gave me free will, but without You my effort is worthless. You give help since You are the One Who created, and You do not abandon Your creation.”

Amen.

(The Bad and Good of Sinning on Monday was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Be the Light

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A new wheelchair ramp built through efforts with Hand in Hand Ministries

A new wheelchair ramp built through efforts with Hand in Hand Ministries

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” – Matthew 5:14-16 (NAB)

This reading, from The Gospel of Matthew, on Tuesday of this week, was a timely reminder for me and seven friends as we prepare ourselves for an immersion mission trip next month to Appalachia Kentucky. We hope that our actions, through our investment of some sweat equity into improving the living conditions of a few residents of Auxier and the surrounding Floyd County, Kentucky area, will, in a way, be the “light of the world” to those families.

This mission trip is a return visit for my friend, Clay, and I. We led a youth group last year from St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Lebanon, Ohio to Auxier, where we spent four days working with Hand in Hand Ministries helping to bring necessary improvements to the homes of several families in the community. That trip, our first time to do anything like it, was truly an enlightening experience for us. (You can read about our experience in Opening the Door Between Heaven and Earth). Clay and I were so taken by the love and generosity we experienced during those four days that we decided to make another trip this year to the same place, again working through Hand in Hand Ministries.

Unlike last year, however, we want to sow the seeds deeper within our home community and we are making this an adult mission trip. We have slots reserved for 15 adults and are encouraging others from the St. Francis de Sales and the Lebanon community to participate in the mission. We have eight adults signed up as I write this and we still need seven more to join us.

If you are interested in making a difference in the lives of others, in bringing the “light of the world” and hope to our brothers and sisters who really need it, please consider joining us. To sign up, or for more information, please respond by comment to this post.

If you are unable to join us for the trip but would like to participate by donating monetarily to the cause you can do so by visiting our fundraising page St. Francis de Sales Group to Build Hope in Appalachia. The cost to participate is $250.00 per person but, although there are many folks who would gladly give of their time and talent, they will struggle to afford the cost. Your donations will help ensure that we fill all our slots with men and women who are able and willing to provide an uplifting experience to many who are less fortunate.

Even if you choose not to participate, I ask that you please share this post with friends through your social media. I know there are many caring and generous people out there who will gladly help others help others. We just have to reach them.

Thank you for your help. God bless you.

Jerry Robinson

(Be the Light was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Receiving the Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi

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Our Lady of the Cove

Our Lady of the Cove

I love going to new churches when I’m on vacation and away from home. This morning my wife, daughter and I attended Our Lady of the Cove Catholic Church in Kimberling City, Missouri, while we are vacationing at a family reunion. Our Lady of the Cove is a relatively small but beautiful church and it was packed to the gills this morning, the Feast of Corpus Christi. It seemed that many in the congregation were visitors like us. Even the priest was visiting from St. Louis while the regular pastor was on vacation.

As I was staring at the image of Christ hanging on the cross behind the altar, I heard the lector read this passage:

“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal spirit, offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” (Hebrews 9:13-14)

To myself I prayed, “Lord Jesus, you gave Your life for me such that, through You, I have been redeemed and may have eternal life. Thank you!”

A few minutes later as I knelt after receiving Holy Communion, I also prayed, “Dear Jesus, You not only gave Your life for me, but now, through this Holy Eucharist, You give Your life to me so that I may be renewed in You.”

Then, in a moment of enlightenment, I realized, perhaps not for the first time but never more clearly, the connection between the two. The word, Eucharist, is Greek for Thanksgiving. By my acceptance of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, His gift of life to me, I am declaring my thanksgiving to Him for His sacrifice for me.

I love being Catholic! I hope you do, too! God bless you.

(Receiving the Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

A Double Dose of Grace

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Piano2It’s Saturday night and I’m finally sitting down to relax and enjoy a little quiet time. We just finished dinner an hour or so ago – our usual Saturday night fare of grilled hamburgers. My wife’s in the kitchen making a pie for tomorrow, and my daughter, Grace, is in the basement watching a movie on Netflix.

I’m thinking back over the day and how I seemed to have worked hard but really didn’t get much accomplished. Several thunderstorms rolled through today which kept me from getting my yard mowed. Grace, who’s been home from college for about three weeks, kindly helped pick up branches which the storms had blown out of the many trees in our yard.

I recall the phone conversation I had with my close friend, Jerry, earlier today. We’d been playing phone tag for a week and we finally connected. Jerry is one of the men who have been by my side the last three years as I’ve been on my spiritual journey. We try to talk frequently but our schedules over the last month have kept us from it. As usual, our conversation started off with asking each other how our “walk with Jesus” has been going. I shared how my spiritual life has been on the dry side lately and I’ve struggled to feel as close to Him as I would like. Jerry admitted the same. We talked about what we could do to stoke our fires and bounced some ideas off each other. I love having Catholic friends with whom I can have that kind of conversation. I care for their spiritual health and I know they care for mine, too.

I told Jerry I have missed recognizing the “God-moments”, those instances when I feel particularly close to Jesus or feel God working in my life. They have become so important to me but they seem to have been absent the last few weeks. I told him that deep down inside I know the problem is really me. I’ve been so busy with “things”, I haven’t taken the time to “smell the roses”, if you will. I haven’t paid attention to the subtle ways God reveals Himself. As I sit here and think about our conversation I tell myself I need to do better at recognizing His little blessings.

My quiet reflection is interrupted by a tune being gently played on our baby grand piano. It is Grace playing, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Avita. She’s playing it beautifully and flawlessly. She puts so much feeling in her music. I love to hear her play. I realize how much I’ve missed her piano playing since she’s been away at college.

She changes up the tempo and begins to play a real oldie, “Mary’s a Grand Old Name” by George M. Cohan. She makes it look effortless. Her lithe fingers caress the keys and magic makes its way to my ears.

I start to cry. It dawns on me that it’s not the music causing my eyes to leak. No. Instead, I truly feel how blessed I am as a father. As I watch her play, I realize the beauty of the music she is making pales in comparison to the beauty she has within her. I love her, as I do all my children, with all my heart. I think about how God must feel the same way about them, and me, too. Now, sotto voce, I say a prayer giving thanks to Him for His grace and for allowing me to have my Grace in my life.

I finish my prayer by offering God an extra thank you for knowing just what I needed to end my dry spell and bring me back to Him. Amen.

(A Double Dose of Grace was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Why Do Catholics Vote for Pro-Abortion Political Candidates?

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catholicprochoiceTwo weeks ago I read that presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton, in her keynote speech at the Women in the World Summit in New York City, claimed that women are being denied the opportunity to have abortions because of the religious stalwarts in our country. Well, she didn’t exactly use those words. What she said was:

“Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth, and laws don’t count for much if they’re not enforced.”

“Rights have to exist in practice – not just on paper.”

“Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will, and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” (Emphasis added)

Her point was that if religious folks like us would only change our paradigm of what is moral and immoral, all would be right in the world….at least in the context of the so called, “War on Women”.

My knee-jerk rebuttal to Mrs. Clinton is that until God decides to give us a new set of commandments, the old ones will remain the underlying moral principles which guide us. It feels good to say that, but it doesn’t actually get us anywhere because it won’t change her or any pro-abortion liberal. As such, I don’t let those folks upset me.

Instead, what really confounds me about this mess is something I noticed three years ago when I became Catholic. That is, why do so many pro-life Catholics vote for liberal candidates who support abortion? It baffled me then when I heard staunch and committed Catholics say they planned to vote for our current president even though he made his pro-choice stance known, and it still baffles me today.

I know there are many less-than-fully-committed Catholics who take a pro-choice stance. I don’t understand them and it would be foolish of me to think I could change them with what I have to say in this blog. I am more interested in the Catholics who say they are pro-life but who still vote for pro-choice candidates, and whether I can change their perspectives.

The Catholic Church stands contrary to the cultural flow of the secular world on many moral issues (e.g., same-sex marriage, the death penalty, euthanasia, etc.), but none of them are more important, I feel, than the right to life of an unborn human being.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Paragraph 2271, states:

“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”

Thus, in my struggle to understand how anyone can call themselves Catholic and still support a pro-abortion candidate, I decided a serious answer would require some research.

I first thought I ought to find out how Catholics actually voted in the last election. The Pew Research Center, in How the Faithful Voted: 2012 Preliminary Analysis, analyzed exit poll data after the last four presidential elections. It not only shows how Catholics voted but how all major religious affiliations voted.

The data shows that Catholics were fairly evenly divided between the two parties depending on the election year. Catholics also voted nearly identical to the general electorate. This means that about half of the voting Catholics voted for a pro-abortion candidate.

The data further shows that 78 percent of the total electorate claims to be Christian, (25 percent Catholics and 53 percent Protestants), with the other 22 percent claiming other faiths or having no religious affiliation.   ABC News, in another poll from July 2014, Most Americans say they’re Christian, concluded that 83 percent of Americans claim to be Christian (22 percent Catholic and 61 percent Protestant).

There is a huge message in this data! If Catholics would all vote the same, their 22 to 25 percent of the electorate would be enough to influence an election. And, if all Christians pulled together and voted the same way, they would guarantee who gets elected!

This data tells us how they voted. But, it still doesn’t tell us why Catholics vote the way they do.

After more research I found the article, Why Do Many Pro-Life Catholics Vote Democrat?, in the September 4, 2014 edition of the Christian Post. It suggests there are two main reasons: First, committed Catholics may indicate they are pro-life but they tend to be more concerned about social welfare issues and they vote for the candidate who leans pro-welfare; and second, nearly half of voting committed Catholics incorrectly assume that the pro-welfare Democratic candidate is also pro-life.

The article asserts that these voters are generally less than fully informed about a candidate’s posture on abortion and, in fact, tend to overlook a candidate’s view on abortion as long as the candidate’s stance on social welfare agrees with their own. To quote the article, “It’s actually the social welfare part that is inhibiting the committed Catholics to vote for the Republican Party [in numbers that] we would expect … based upon abortion positions.”

There is no doubt that welfare in our society requires serious consideration. To Catholics, it is a fundamental issue deeply rooted in our beliefs. We donate a lot of money to, and invest a lot of sweat-equity in charity and charitable institutions. We take the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” seriously. Most Catholics would agree that charity is at the foundation of our faith. And, most Catholics would also say that pro-life beliefs are foundational to our faith. The question, then, is how do you get those Catholics to view right to life as equal to or more important than welfare?

I believe there are two things necessary to change their voting behavior. The first is to encourage voters to learn more about where candidates stand on issues, and the second is for Catholic voters to understand the relative importance between the issues and why the Church stands the way it does.

With respect to the first, I know there are people who vote along party lines regardless of the candidates or issues because that’s how they’ve always voted. They do very little to learn where candidates stand on all the issues. For these uninformed voters one thing is for certain: a vote for a pro-welfare candidate who is also a pro-abortion candidate, whether the voter knows it or not, is a vote for abortion and against life.

As for the second, with so many important issues on the table during elections, even informed voters have difficulty choosing a candidate who aligns with their moral values. Voters need a sort of internal moral compass to assist them with sorting it all out. For Catholics, there is help to be found when setting those priorities – in The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Paragraph 2055 of the Catechism says:

“When someone asks him [Jesus], ‘Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?’ Jesus replies: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.’ The Decalogue must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law:

The commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Emphasis added).

In essence, this guidance says there is more to loving your neighbor than giving alms and voting for government provided social welfare. Loving your neighbor includes not killing them and, by extension, means not killing unborn children. It’s plain and simple.

If that’s not convincing enough to vote against a pro-abortion candidate, perhaps this logic will help:   with social welfare there is never a candidate or a party who promises to ignore or do away with social programs – they all promise programs of various degrees across a social welfare spectrum. But, with abortion, there is no range or spectrum. The consequences are absolute. The aborted child doesn’t almost die. It dies, period.

Thus, ideally, if abortion and social welfare were the two most important factors to be considered when choosing a candidate, Catholics, or any Christian for that matter, ought to first side with pro-life candidates and then, second, determine which offers the best stance on social welfare. In other words, any amount of social welfare is better than none. But, even one abortion is unacceptable.

We have about a year and a half before the 2016 presidential election to convince our fellow Catholics of this undeniable logic. You can help by taking advantage of opportunities to engage in political discussions with Catholic voters and encourage them to examine where candidates stand on all the issues. Help them to question the priority they place on their moral values of social welfare verses abortion. Feel free to share this post on social media or email it to friends to help spread the word to those who need to hear it and to those who can spread it further. Wouldn’t it be great if Catholics came together in force as one faith and voted pro-life! By the grace of God, I know we can do it.

Thank you and God bless.

 

(Why Do Catholics Vote for Pro-Abortion Political Candidates? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

How Will You Evangelize?

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St. Peter Cures the Lame Beggar - Bernardo Strozzi

St. Peter Cures the Lame Beggar – Bernardo Strozzi

This past weekend I helped lead a men’s spiritual retreat and I was slated to give a reflection for meditation early Saturday afternoon. I’d known I had to do this for some time but I was yet unprepared with any subject matter upon which to talk. I often procrastinate but that wasn’t the case in this instance. I simply didn’t know what I wanted to say. Contrary to ordinary, I wasn’t worried. I knew the Holy Spirit would guide me.

We attended Mass in the morning before the retreat began and I prayed for inspiration. As I concentrated on the first reading, Acts 4:13-21, I had a glimmer of hope. This passage spoke of Apostles Peter and John, after they had cured the lame beggar and converted five thousand, being ordered by the Sanhedrin to cease speaking and teaching about Jesus. Then, as I heard the Gospel, Mark 16:9-15, about Jesus’ resurrection, appearing to Mary Magdalene and the Disciples, and His commissioning of the Eleven Apostles, I knew the Holy Spirit had come through for me again! After a few minutes alone, and by the Grace of God, I had my reflection in hand:

In this morning’s reading from The Acts of the Apostles, I heard Peter and John tell the Sanhedrin, 19 ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges.  20 It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.’”

And from the Gospel of Mark, I heard Jesus say to His Apostles, 15 ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”’

“These two passages speak to me of evangelization. They speak to me of the spirit of the Christ Renews His Parish program, which is itself an instrument of evangelization.”

“When I think of evangelization I usually think of two things: evangelization within the Church, and evangelization outside the Church. Pope Paul wrote, ‘The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized Herself….She has a constant need of being evangelized if She wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel’.”

“Ever since I became Catholic I’ve known the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel and to bring others to Christ. Pope Paul told us that before we can do that successfully we must evangelize within; that is, we have to be healthy to be believable to those without.”

“That’s what Christ Renews His Parish does, it evangelizes within the Church. It lights a fire inside those who have let their fire go out as well as stoke the fires of those who already burn brightly. It allows the ‘Holy Spirit to kindle in them the fire of His love’.” Imagine trying to spread the Gospel without this!”

“Someone on the outside looking in might be under the impression that all Catholics, or all Christians for that matter, are holy, and are always holy. They would be wrong, of course. Just in this group of 42 men, we are all at different levels of holiness. But, as our Deacon said this morning, our job as Christians is to get to heaven. And, some of us need help from each other to get there. It might be a family member who helps us, or a priest, or the person sitting next to you right now.”

“We can each evangelize this weekend by getting to know each other, by supporting one another, and by sharing, even in small ways, how Christ has worked in our lives. And, we can do the same thing after this weekend to people we know and meet.”

“Yesterday in my Holy hour of Adoration, I read a sermon from St. Augustine: ‘Scattered about the entire earth, your mother the Church is tormented by the assaults of error. She is also afflicted by the laziness and indifference of so many of the children she carries around in her bosom as well as by the sight of so many of her members growing cold, while she becomes less able to help her little ones. Who then will give her the necessary help she cries for if not other children and other members to whose number you belong?’”

“St. Augustine wrote that in the 5th century. Not much has changed in the last 1,600 years. We are still called to answer those cries for help.”

“As I was writing this I realized there is actually a third level of evangelization: self-evangelization. Going back to what Pope Paul wrote, before the Church can proclaim the Gospel without, it has to get healthy within. And, like the Church, for us to perform our role successfully, we have to be spiritually healthy. Individually, we need to be evangelized within. How do we take ownership and make that happen?”

“To kick off our retreat, our opening scripture reading this morning was John 1:1 –  ’In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Personally, I believe therein lies the key. We can evangelize ourselves by reading the Word of God, by picking up His Book, the Bible, and reading the scriptures and listening to His Word. In doing so, we let it change us and we let it direct us.”

“As you go forward on this weekend and beyond, I’d like to leave you with this question upon which to meditate: With the renewal you will experience this weekend, how will you evangelize yourself, evangelize to others, and profess your faith in ways that will strengthen the whole Church, the Body of Christ?”

And, so that I “practice what I preach”, I offer this reflection to you, the reader, and ask you the same question: How will you evangelize within and without?

God bless you all.

 

(How Will You Evangelize? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic

Father Don Talafous, OSB

When I was a freshman student at Saint John’s many years ago, I was walking across campus one day and I was stopped by one of the monks. He looked at me, called me by name and asked if I was from Ghent. I had never met him before, but that was Father Don. He would memorize the pictures of all the incoming freshmen and call us by name when he met us. During my time at SJU, he never forgot my name, and I never forgot his.

I believe Father Don found Christ in each of us, and in some small way, his act of taking the time to know us, meant a lot. Fr. Don Talafous is being honored with the SJU President’s Medal and Citation. Fr. Don has been a part of the Saint John’s community for more than 70 years. As a monk, professor, university chaplain and faculty resident, he has touched the lives of thousands of students, alumni, parents and friends. He shows us how being fully present and attentive to those around us, makes a difference in their lives. Below is a short video about Father Don.

–Rich

Laetare (Joyful) Sunday

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Laetare SundayYesterday morning found me at my daughter’s house in Kansas City. We were having a celebration brunch for my grandson, Jack, who would be baptized after the 12:30 p.m. Mass. As I was looking around the room at my family gathered there – my daughter holding Jack, her husband, my wife, and my youngest daughter – I couldn’t help but feel immense joy and overwhelming love for them all. If only my two older daughters, their husbands and my granddaughter were there, my joy would be complete. I thought, “How could I possibly love anything more than I love them?”

At Mass, the priest read today’s Gospel, which included John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

During his homily, the priest talked about an evil which Satan particularly likes to use against us, the Sin of Familiarity. This condition in which we often find ourselves leads to complacency and taking our Graces for granted. We forget from Whom they come. Everything we have has been provided, in one way or another, by God: our food, water, clothing, shelter, everything. We are so used to them, we take them for granted. I thought, “That’s me, I give thanks for many things but I usually forget those basics.”

Of course, he was leading up to his main message. We see “John 3:16” on signs at sporting events, on street corners, and in social media so frequently that we forget what it is telling us – that GOD LOVES US SO MUCH THAT HE SACRIFICED HIS ONLY SON SO WE MAY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE! It has become so familiar that we forget its importance. Like the shirt on our back and the shoes on our feet, we take it for granted. Yep, that’s me.

Thinking more about God’s love for me I remembered a quote from St. Augustine, “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” I remember this quote because I often pray telling God that I wish I could love Him as much as He loves me.

You can see where my analytical mind is going with this, can’t you? Things make sense to me when I can go from point A to B to C in logical progression. If God loves me with an infinite love which I can’t hope to equal, and I love my family with more love than I can describe, and it is only because of God’s Grace to me that I have a family to love, then my question of, “How could I possibly love anything more than I love them (my family)?”, is answered: that which I love more than anything else is God.

Or, more simply put, if the only way possible for me to not only love but have something to love is because of His love through His grace, then I must love the source of this love, God, most of all.

As the communion hymn began, I understood clearly that Jesus’ words written similarly in Matthew, Mark and Luke, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”, wasn’t just a commandment to “do as I say”. It is a Commandment based on a logical truth, one which is so familiar to us that we take its meaning for granted.

And, I thought, if God can love me like I’m the only one He has to love and still have an infinite amount of love for everyone else, then my love for Him doesn’t take away from the amount of love I have for my family and others who I love so deeply.  It simply makes it stronger.

As I returned to my pew after receiving Holy Communion I sang these words from the hymn We Have Been Told,….as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” It’s a familiar hymn….so familiar, in fact, I had lost its meaning.

During the priest’s closing remarks before the final blessing, he announced that today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is called “Laetare Sunday” which, translated from Latin to English, means “Joy Sunday”. As I stood there with my family, waiting for the congregation to leave after the recessional hymn so that the priest could begin Jack’s Sacrament of Baptism, I prayed silently, “Thank you, Lord, it certainly has been ‘Joy Sunday’ for me. You have opened my mind and my heart today to understanding Your Word. I’m not going to let the meaning of this God-moment get lost to familiarity!”

 

(Laetare (Joyful) Sunday was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic).

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic

The Snow Plow Angel

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100_0121This is my driveway after a beautiful snow fall. This is what it looked like last Saturday afternoon when my wife and I left home in a blinding snowstorm to drive to Lexington, Kentucky to see comedian Jim Gaffigan perform. You might think it foolish to drive two hours in bad weather for an evening of entertainment. I would have to agree. But, this was a special trip – a birthday surprise for Melinda which I had planned for weeks. And, just in case the roads were bad, I gave myself two extra hours to get there.

Jim Gaffigan was a hoot! He came on stage in jeans and a shirt that were at least a size too small and started his routine talking about fat people. Being the self-deprecating sort, he made fun of himself. Even though I laughed at his humor, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own portliness. I thought to myself, “Maybe this is my sign to get busy and do something about it.”

On Sunday morning we left Lexington and drove back to Lebanon, Ohio and went straight to church for 11 o’clock Mass without going home. We got there a little earlier than normal so I had a few extra minutes to reflect before mass started. I usually follow Matthew Kelly’s advice and pray for inspiration from the Mass: “Lord, please help me to see in this Mass one way in which I can become a better man, disciple, husband, father, son, brother and friend. Amen.” That morning was no different.

It was the first Sunday of Lent and our priest talked in his homily about making sacrifices. Among other things, he specifically mentioned how he’s added a few pounds over the winter and that a sacrifice he needs to make is to eat healthier as well as eat less through fasting during this Lenten season. He pointed out that it takes more than good intentions to make a change in behavior, it takes action.

They say be careful what you pray for. There it was, another sign, plain as day, the one way in which I could become a better person, disciple, husband, father, etc. Of course, I’ve always known this; I just resist taking action to change my behavior.

On the way home from Mass I suggested to Melinda how nice it would be if, while we were away, someone had plowed the eight inches of snow from our driveway. As we approached our house we discovered someone had, indeed, plowed our driveway. But, as I drove down it towards the garage and parking area, I found they had plowed all three hundred feet of it towards the garage and left the snow in piles behind my other car and in front of the garage. I knew whoever did the plowing meant well, but I also knew what I would be doing the rest of the afternoon – digging my car out.

I normally shovel my sidewalks and the parking area in front of my garage after a significant snowfall. If I shovel it when there is only two or three inches of snow, I can easily “plow” it by pushing it to the edges. Not so this afternoon. Nope, I lifted and pitched one shovel full of snow after another for two continuous hours until I could back my car out and have room to turn it around.

During those two hours I had time to think about a lot of things. First, there was, “I probably ought to go to confession after all the bad things I’m thinking about whoever did this to me.” That was followed by, “This is work! I’m not as young as I used to be!” Then, “Young or old, face it buster, you’re just not in as good of shape as you ought to be!” And, then, my mind drifted back to Gaffigan’s jokes about being fat and they suddenly weren’t as funny as they were the night before. And, Father’s comment that it takes more than thinking about losing weight, it means taking action, hit me in the head like a slushy snowball.

Then, because I am so attuned to seeing God work in my life in mysterious ways, what I call “God-moments”, I realized that the dastardly no-good so-and-so who did this was really my “Snow-Plow Angel”. He was the exclamation point at the end of the story. By forcing me to take action, He made it clear that I needed to do more of this, in the form of exercise, to get back to being the better person I wanted to be.

It was nice to be welcomed back to the gym on Monday by some of the guys I haven’t seen in far too long.

“Lord, this year You have been teaching me to trust in You. You know when I need Your help and I thank You for providing it when it’s obvious my ways are not working. Help me to speak Your name, to call on You, when I am tempted to backslide into old, unhealthy behavior. Amen.”

(The Snow Plow Angel was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Put Your Faith Where Your Prayer Is

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Photo: Catholicexchange.com

Photo: Catholicexchange.com

On January 5th I became a grandfather for the second time. My grandson, Jack, and his parents came home from the hospital on the 7th. On the evening of the 8th Jack stopped breathing. 

My wife, Melinda, was holding him when the event occurred. Her sister, Barbara, who is an RN, and her husband, Dave, a physician, had stopped by to visit and see the new arrival as they were driving from South Dakota to St. Louis. They helped revive him. The EMTs arrived and whisked Jack to the hospital where he spent the next 17 days undergoing a plethora of tests. Jack is home now and doing well.

But, this story really isn’t about Jack. I needed to set the stage with his life-threatening event in order to relate the life-changing experience I had because of it.

In my life I have had no major tragedies, and only one significant infirmity, within my immediate family. Thus, after Melinda phoned me the next morning, I wasn’t as cool and collected as I had been trained to be in emergency situations. Panicked would be a better adjective. I prepared to go home, pack a bag, and start the ten hour drive from Ohio to Kansas City. But first, I sent an email to friends from church and to the coordinator of our parish prayer chain describing the situation and asking for prayers.

I’ve never driven so far with something so heavy weighing on my heart and mind. Before I reached Indianapolis I found myself crying, fraught with fear for Jack’s health and grief for Lisa and Joe. I felt helpless. I’m a man and an engineer. One of my jobs is to fix problems. Not knowing how to fix little Jack nor how to comfort my daughter was eating me up.

At a rest stop just past Indy I checked my phone for emails. Angie, a dear friend back home, emailed saying she believed that Jack’s guardian angel was with him the night before. Had he been lying down instead of being held, he could have stopped breathing with no one the wiser. Then, she stressed that Barb and Dave were there by no mere coincidence. She believed they were sent there by God at just the moment Jack needed them. Her message was so positive and encouraging, and she lifted my spirits.

But, by the time I reached Illinois I was again in a state of despair. Searching the console between the seats for a napkin to wipe my tears, I found, instead, one of my rosaries. I don’t know how it got there; I don’t remember putting it there. I am not accomplished at praying the Rosary but I sensed I was meant to find that rosary at that moment, and, if there was ever a time to ask Our Lady to intercede and help me in my prayers to Jesus, I felt this was it.

It was Friday and the Sorrowful Mysteries were to be prayed. I contemplated the first Mystery, The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, and read, “In praying to the Father, Jesus found strength, trust, and an angel was sent to comfort Him. So, Jesus will be your comforting angel. It’s as He said to us, ‘Why do you worry in your difficulties? Be strong in Me; look to your God in your most troubled hour, and you will be triumphant.’”

The second Mystery, The Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar, reminded me to bear my pain for the love of our Lord. The third Mystery, The Crowning with Thorns, suggested, “He seems to say to us, ‘Why do you despair when you suffer? Is that the way you love me? Meditate about my passions.’ Let us ask for the gift of patience in our suffering.”

In the fourth Mystery, The Carrying of the Cross, I contemplated how Jesus accepted His suffering out of His love for us. I thought about how His Mother, Mary, must have felt as they met on the road to Calvary. “Oh, how Her Heart must have ached.” I felt we had something in common.

And, finally, as I prayed the fifth Mystery, The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus, I was reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciple just before He died, “Behold your Mother”, and how He wishes that we depend on Her Immaculate Heart for a refuge.

Over the next couple hours I thought much about these messages. I didn’t know how to “give it up”, so I prayed fervently for the Lord to help me help Jack and his parents.

West of St. Louis I took my rosary in hand and prayed again. This time I asked the Lord to take away my pain and suffering or, at least, let me bear it so that Jack and his parents would not have to.

I arrived at the hospital in time to see Jack for a few minutes before visiting hours were over. Seeing him connected to all those wires and tubes was difficult. But, seeing the fear in Lisa’s and Joe’s eyes was even more so.

That night, before bed, I prayed for God to help them and to help me know what to do.

On Saturday morning I saw an article on social media about self-pity and how we need to look to God instead of to ourselves. This drifted in and out of my conscious thoughts the rest of the morning.

Also that morning, I discovered a headlight out on my car. I didn’t need that, but I knew it would need repairing before heading home the next day. I spent a few precious minutes with Jack back at the hospital before I left for the dealership. Standing there, unable to hold him, I still felt helpless. I knew Lisa felt the same way.

On my way to the dealership, I recalled Angie’s note, the messages I received from praying the Rosary, the message about self-pity, and my despair of not knowing what to do. Then, with the images of Jack wired to the monitors, and the concern on my daughter’s face, my emotions reached a climax. I’m not sure how to explain what happened next. I think I realized it was all beyond me, that only God could help. I think, in my heart, I finally gave it up to Him. I say “I think” because, in the nanosecond in which I made that leap of faith, I went from bewilderment to immediate, unprecedented, and intense joy. I instantly began praying, “Thank you, Jesus, thank you!” In that moment when I had unconsciously placed my trust in Him, He told me Jack was going to be okay. I also knew that my faith had finally become more than words.

Over the next couple hours, He reinforced my faith with more God-moments. Afraid I was likely to have a wreck, I got control of my emotions. I turned on the stereo and the first song I heard was one from Jason Gray, A Way to See in the Dark1:

“Here I am begging for certainty again / But simple trust is what You’re asking me to give…

“The question mark hung at the end of every fear / Is answered by the promise that You are with me here / And that’s all I’ve got when the lights go out and I lose my way / So, I’ll close my eyes, I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid.

“And, I’ll reach for your hand in the night / When the shadows swallow the light / ‘Cause I’m giving up, giving in / Once again a childlike faith is my only way to see in the dark….”

I have listened to this song hundreds of times but this was the first time I actually heard its message. It was like Jesus telling me, “Son, how many times do I have to tell you to trust in Me?”

At the moment I pulled into the dealership I received a text from Eric, a friend back home, saying he was praying for Jack and the rest of us. This text was special because Eric is the one person I know who routinely says, “Let go and let God.” It was as if he intuitively knew I had just done so for the first time in my life.

Preparing for a long wait, I grabbed my rosary and a devotional from my back pack. Since it was Saturday, the Joyful Mysteries were the prayers of the day (Coincidence? I don’t think so!). My take-away message from this Rosary was, “In the difficulties of life, the only safety is finding Jesus and never again leaving his great love.”

I had not taken time that morning to read Saturday’s scriptures. The first reading for January 10th included 1 John 5:14-15, and said, “Beloved: We have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.” God was telling me again, “Trust me!”

The Gospel for that day, included John 3:30: “He must increase; I must decrease.” It was a reminder to look constantly to Jesus instead of inwardly with self-pity like I had the last day and a half.

From my devotional for January 10th I read: “Practice trusting Me during quiet days, when nothing much seems to be happening. Then when storms come, your trust balance will be sufficient to see you through. Store up for yourself treasure in heaven, through placing your trust in Me. This practice will keep you in My Peace.”2

I thought, “Okay, Lord, I get it now. In one hour, You have, in several ways, affirmed there is no such thing as despair if I will only put my faith and hope in You.”

Finally, I read the daily reflection from Presentation Ministries. It referenced 1 John 5:16 saying, “Many have not had Christmas because they have not repented of sin in their lives. Through the Lord’s forgiveness, they will be given Christmas just before the season ends. On this second to last day of the Christmas season, go to Confession. For so many, Confession is the key to Christmas.”

At 2:10 p.m. my car was repaired. I wanted to get back to the hospital to see more of Jack, but, I now felt pulled to go to Reconciliation. I found the Queen of the Holy Rosary Church was on my route back to the hospital and they had Confession at 2:30 p.m. I arrived there at 2:27 p.m. After relating my story to the priest and confessing my sin of not trusting God, he assigned me a penance to say a prayer of Thanksgiving.

When I returned to the hospital and saw the little man again I knew in my heart he was going to be okay. I didn’t know when but I knew, in God’s time, he would be. I felt the positive power of hundreds of prayers being said for him. I was at peace.

It is in these God-moments, when the Lord reveals Himself to me, that I feel closest to Him. I now know what Eric means by, “Let go and let God.” I know what trusting in Him means. And, I now know how to put my faith where my prayer is.

(Put Your Faith Where Your Prayer Is was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

1 A Way To See In the Dark, ©2011 Centricity Music Publishing, (ASCAP)/Nothing is Wasted Music (ASCAP)/Simply Complex Songs (SESAC)/Countermechanical Music (SESAC)/Centric Songs (SESAC), words and music by Jason Gray, Doug McKelvey, and Seth Mosley.

2Jesus Calling, ©2014 Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson Publishing

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

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