Keep Close to You

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It’s been an awkward and mopey evening. As my daughter, Grace, has been laboring to clean her room and decide what to pack and load in the car for our trip to Mississippi State University tomorrow to begin her college career, I found myself continuing to wrestle with the various emotions that have been plaguing me the last few days.

The singer, Suzy Bogguss, in one of her hits from the 90’s sang, “I’ve had 18 years to get ready for this day.” I’ve never liked that song because it has always made me cry.

This is my fourth time around and I’ve never been ready to turn loose of any one of my four daughters. You’d think that by the time I got to the fourth and last one I’d have this business down pat. Wrong.

There is one thing a little different this time than there was with her three sisters before her. It’s not concern about whether or not she knows how much I love her.   I know she knows.

It’s not fear about her safety and me not being there to protect her. I have faith that the university will provide the necessary safety.

It’s not doubts about whether or not I’ve done all I can do to prepare her for her new independence. She’s the most independent of all my daughters.

No, the thing that’s different this time around has nothing to do with Grace at all. It’s me. I’m Catholic, which is something I was not when my other three daughters went off to college. Her spiritual health has become very important to me.

And, so, with Grace, I’ve found myself worrying if she will stick with her faith or fall to the temptations of secularism? Will she slowly drift away from God and lose touch with Jesus or will she continue to receive the Holy Eucharist weekly? Will she turn to Him in times of need instead of turning to the negative influences so prevalent in college? Will she put her faith into action or will she let it get soft and unrecognizable?

This evening, as she’s been sorting through stacks of clothes and years of mementos trying to decide what to take, I’ve been fumbling with how to start a conversation, without appearing overbearing and pushy, from which I can gauge her intentions. So, on my umpteenth time to try and break through my anxiety, I found myself staring down at a pile of items she was choosing to leave behind. In that pile were two plastic, yellow Rosaries. My heart sank a little.

Trying to be nonchalant I asked, “Are you leaving these Rosaries here?” to which she responded affirmatively. My heart sank a little further.

Then, she followed up with, “I have like six Rosaries and I’m just taking the better and nicer ones with me.”

“Lord, I can hear you chuckling now over the fun you had with me – teaching me softly to trust in you, to admit that I’ve done about all I can do as a father, and accept that Grace will soon be fully in your care. But, Lord, I still pray that, with her new-found freedom, she will exercise her free will in such a way that she will Keep Close to You.”

(The post Keep Close to You was first published on Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

A Sedevacantist Catholic Church in Lebanon, OH

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The traditional Latin Mass or Tridentine Mass was the most widely celebrated Mass in the world until the introduction of the present ordinary form of the Roman Rite of the mass given us post Vatican II by Pope Paul VI in December 1969.

St. Therese the Little Flower, a new Sedevancantist Catholic Church located on West Mulberry Street In Lebanon, was dedicated by their Bishop Mark Pivarunason yesterday, August 6th.  The church is not affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati,

What is a Sedevancantist Church?

The web site for St. Therese the Little Flower states: “The clergy and parishioners of St. Therese adhere firmly to the unchangeable Catholic Faith as taught by all true Popes, from St. Peter to Pius XII. Because of our faithfulness to the Catholic Church of the ages, we reject the Modernist church of Vatican II with all its teachings, liturgical rites, and disciplines. We reject John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis as illegitimate usurpers of the papal office and believe that there is currently no Pope reigning in the Catholic Church (sede vacante).”

Typically, Sedevacantist churches reject the changes that occurred in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, particularly in the areas of liturgy. They celebrate the sacraments in the pre-Vatican II Tridentine manner. They argue that the Popes since John XXIII have espoused modernist doctrines over traditional Catholic teachings, hence are not really true popes. Stephen Heiner — founder of TrueRestoration.org a member of the sedevacantist movement argues there hasn’t been a true pope in Rome since Vatican II.

According to William Marshner, professor of theology at Christendom College in Virginia, sedevacantists base their argument on an obscure Papal bull issued in the 1550s by Pope Paul IV which pronounced excommunication against anyone who secretly held any sort of heresy. Anyone in the hierarchy who was even suspected of heresy was deprived of office.

“No reputable theologian today thinks that it (the Papal Bull) was anything but canonical legislation — a disciplinary thing,” Marshner said. But the sedevacantists today “try to inflate it to a doctrinal level so that it can’t be canceled by later pontiffs.” They go through statements of Pope John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis deciding what is heretical in their statements and using their findings to claim that this person should be deprived of all ecclesiastical office and therefore can’t be pope.

“They seem to be unaware,” he continued, “of an important canon from the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, which says that you can’t accuse your ecclesiastical superior of heresy or of a crime without a canonical process. You can’t set yourself up as judge and jury.”

Pope Francis seems to be getting special attention from the sedevacantists. Many view Pope Francis’s statements as too liberal and feel conservative Catholics will look to sedevacantists as an alternative. The Society of Saint Pius X, a slightly more moderate sedevacantist group, said in a statement that recent statements by Pope Francis had “provoked some new interest” in them and predicted membership would grow, “if the Holy Father confirms the direction he seems to be taking.”

For authentic Catholics, is there a  problem with Sedevacantists Churches?

As the name of our web site suggests, I am a Lay Catholic–that means a member of the rank and file and not a member of the clergy. Therefore, some of the doctrinal differences between what I consider “authentic Catholics” and sedevacantists may escape me. Never-the-less I see the fundamental problem with sedevacantist groups as a failure of faith that the Holy Spirit is acting through the the Church to give us what we need when we need it. They fail to recognize the authority of the magesterium. Some view Vatican II as a misstep in Church history—I do not. I think too often people who shun Vatican II have not actually read its documents.

From my perspective, our last three Popes show that God is active in our Church. Saint John Paul II gave us hope when we needed it. He brought the Church to the people traveling more than any previous Pope; he reached out to the world’s youth at a time when most felt the Church was out of touch; he gave us theology of the body, for which I believe he will eventually be named a doctor of the Church; and he helped clarify what Vatican II meant. For anyone who is uncertain of his contributions, please read Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, by Jason Evert. It is a great read.

After John Paul II, the Holy Spirit gave us Pope Benedict who helped defend our Faith. Benedict helped us understand that Vatican II was not a radical break from the past but rather a continuation of the best traditions of our 2,000-year-old church. Benedict can be considered one of the greatest living theologians in recent Church history: he authored more than 65 books, stretching from the  “Introduction to Christianity” in 1968 to the final installment of his triptych on “Jesus of Nazareth.” In between, he lead the effort to produce the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” – which I personally believe to be the most important work since Vatican II.

Finally, the Holy Spirit has given us Pope Francis. I believe he is the Pope of Charity and Love. Pope Francis models what charity in action looks like and the joy on his face as he interacts with the faithful shows his love. Sedevacantists may believe that Francis is liberal and will drive conservatives from the Church, but I believe they are wrong. Francis has not changed Church doctrine and if the sedevacantists had issues with Pope Benedict, they will oppose anyone the authentic Church names as Pope. In my opinion, it is a tragedy to deny the blessings these great men have brought to the faithful and the world at large.

Is there hope for reconciliation? 

The Church has been actively seeking reconciliation. As recently as this past Sunday, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Guido Pozzo as secretary of Ecclesia Dei, the curial office charged with reconciling the Church with the Society of St. Pius X. The office is meant to facilitate “full ecclesial communion” of those associated with the Society “who may wish to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church.”

The Society was excommunicated by John Paul II in 1988, when their leader Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications in 2009 as a prelude to talks about reconciling the society with the Church. At the time he said that the society would have to show “true recognition of the magisterium and the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council” to restore full communion, “but we cannot negotiate on revealed faith; that is impossible.”

The concern these groups had about being able to perform the Tridentine mass has been largely removed by Pope Benedict. The Pope declared that the Tridentine mass is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of the Roman Missal. “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” -Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Bishops, 7 July 2007

My family and I recently attended a Tridentine mass at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Naperville, IL. It was a beautiful service, full of reverence for the Eucharist but, in truth, I enjoyed it more for its historical relevance then I did for what I got out of the mass spiritually. Our current mass is rich in meaning and it is more accessible–it is our highest form of prayer with Christ truly present in a way that nurtures us. I would not want to go back.

Personally I believe reunification with sedevacantists will happen once pride is overcome. Never-the-less, I am reminded of a debate between Scott Hann and Robert M. Bowman in which Mr. Bowman notes in his opening statement that most Christians today do not have a good understanding of their own faith. The subtleties of these kind of doctrinal arguments are lost on most people and only show division among Christians, but there is much we agree upon and we should look to those common grounds to build up the faithful, not confuse them with distractions.  

(The post A Sedevacantist Catholic Church in Lebanon, OH was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

 

You Keep My Attention

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I came to see You today. As I knelt in front of You during my weekly holy hour of Adoration I looked up to You in the monstrance atop the tabernacle and I felt You descend and put Your arm around me. You knew my heart was heavy.

You asked me what was weighing me down. My answer to You surprised even me. It wasn’t a request to have You take care of and hold close to You my two daughters and the grandbabies they are carrying in their wombs.  I didn’t ask You to heal another loved one who is experiencing some unexplained health problems. Nor did I ask You to watch after my youngest daughter as she prepares to leave home and go to college later this week. No, those prayers came later.

I didn’t know why but I felt compelled to pray for and ask for Your blessings on the thousands of Christians about whom I have read are being persecuted in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East because they believe in You.

You prophesied, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first….If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you….And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.” (John 15: 18, 20-21, NAB)

Lord Jesus, I pray for Your blessings on those men, women and children who are being “persecuted for righteousness sake” and that You open up “the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10) to them as they profess their faith in You even under the threat of death. Please protect them, Lord, and give them the strength and courage to do Your will.

I confess to You I didn’t want to, but I did summon up the will to pray for the enemy, ISIS, as You commanded, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NAB). That’s a tough one. I don’t feel loving towards them for even a second but I do wish them love and peace in their hearts. I think that’s what You mean.

Tonight at home, I read something in a Catholic publication and I suddenly understood why You made this prayer first and foremost in my heart and on my mind. Today, 1 August 2014, was declared by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to be a worldwide day of Adoration and prayer for the persecuted Christians of Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. I didn’t know this when I was with You.

Lord, You play these tricks on me quite frequently. I’m so glad You do. You keep me guessing, and I know God-Moments like these are how

You keep my attention.

(The post You Keep My Attention was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

Live Forever or Die in the Attempt

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Photo credit: Karen Jekel

Photo credit: Karen Jekel

Earlier this month I was having a discussion with my sister about my fear of heights. She had little sympathy for me because she’s done crazy stuff like sky dive and told me I ought to “live” a little and try it. I replied that jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft was counterintuitive to living a long life and that I intended to “live forever or die in the attempt”.

That quote, “live forever or die in the attempt”, has lain dormant in my subconscious for over thirty years and it somehow bubbled to the surface at just the right moment. As some of you may know, it is from the classic satirical novel, Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. It is one of my all-time favorites.

The line is the sentiment of the story’s main protagonist, Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier flying missions over Italy during World War II. His motivation to “live forever or die in the attempt” came from his obsessive fear that everyone was trying to kill him: the enemy, by trying to shoot him down, and his own superiors, by sending him on more and more missions. The quote itself is representative of the self-defeating logic, the conundrum called Catch 22 which permeates the story, or as Webster’s Dictionary defines it, “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem”.

After I rebutted my sister with that quote the thought occurred to me that Mr. Heller probably had every intention of writing it the way he did, as a logic defying statement. But, I wondered if he knew that, to us Christians, it was perfectly logical and precisely on the mark?

In the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is a verse that is nearly identical in all three gospels. The version from Matthew 16:25 (NAB) goes:

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

As Christians, we often refer to this as, “Dying to Self”.

It means that we take up our Cross and we follow Christ who died so that we may live.

It means that we do it first through our baptism, when our old self dies and our new self takes life, and then we continue to die to ourselves every day for the rest of our lives as a process of sanctification.

We do this by following Jesus’ example of loving and caring for others before ourselves. A husband dies to himself by making the needs of his wife paramount to his own (Eph 5:25). A mother sacrifices for her children.

We give up many luxuries by tithing and giving back to the Church. We sacrifice our time and talents to seek out and offer charity to the poor and needy in our society.

We forgive others when it is the last thing in the world we want to do. We subordinate our pride and replace it with humility even when it would feel so good to do otherwise.

And, we let go of our will and accept God’s will in all that we do.

It is exactly this drive to “die in the attempt” which we believe will ensure that, once we die in this life, we will “live forever” in the next.

Do you plan to live forever or die in the attempt?

“Lord Jesus, I pray for Your help as I try to follow Your example and do Your will. Please help me remember to: place the needs of my family, friends and neighbors ahead of my own; increase my generosity; forgive when it is difficult to do so; and, for both friends and enemies, to always ‘wish them well’. Amen.”

(The post Live Forever or Die in the Attempt was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

Opening the Door between Heaven and Earth

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I have spent most of the last six days decompressing from one of the most emotionally rewarding experiences of my life, and processing it so I can put it down on paper and relate it to you. Last Wednesday through Saturday I participated in our church’s bi-annual high school youth group Appalachian mission trip where we worked with Hand In Hand Ministries in Auxier, Kentucky.

During those four days I witnessed immense love and compassion for our fellow human beings. It wasn’t just one-way from our group to those whom we went to help. No, it also came from them to us, between the individuals within our own group, and between our group and other groups who were also there to volunteer. Having never been on a mission trip before, I will say my expectation was more along the lines of us giving “alms” to those in need with the exception that we would be giving of our talent and not just our treasure. How wrong I was! The kids and the Hand In Hand staff showed me that the love in true Christian charity, like C.S. Lewis describes in Mere Christianity, is more than just alms and more than an emotion. It is a demonstration of love for another, “A state not of the feelings but of the will.”

I am grateful to God for the experience. And I feel fortunate because the trip almost didn’t happen.

Two weeks before the group planned to depart, Mike, the group leader and parish Religious Director, experienced a personal injury that prevented him from going. As such, the entire trip was in jeopardy unless someone could be found to take his place. Since my daughter, Grace, was going, I was asked if I would go in Mike’s place. After praying about it, I agreed to go. I was excited about volunteering and participating in a new experience, about helping others, and working with our youth to provide them with a valuable life experience.

That optimism came to a screeching halt the next morning when Mike advised that two of the other adult chaperones, a married couple, had let him know they could not go. With only two chaperones left, Kelsea and I, the trip was once again in jeopardy. I saw two options: find two more people, a man and a woman, or cancel the trip. As I spoke to others about our seeming misfortune I heard warnings from them such as: “Well, there’s your sign!”, “You’re not meant to go on this trip”, and, “The good Lord’s sending you a message to not go”. As I listened to them, I began to believe they just might be right.

The next day I had an opportunity to spend an hour in prayer at Adoration. I prayed for help in discerning what to do – scuttle our plans or try to find two other chaperones to join us. As I prayed I became convinced that the setbacks were simply Satan throwing up obstacles testing our resolve to do God’s work. Deciding to move forward, I asked a friend to help me find two more people who were both qualified and willing to go. Fortunately, within a couple days we found two such people, Clay, a good friend of mine, and Becky, a veteran of several similar mission trips.

We met at the church for mass on Wednesday morning. The four of us sat with our five charges: Grace, Kathryn, Seth, Hannah and Tayla, and we received a blessing from our priest. The normal gospel reading for the day was replaced by the Judgment of the Nations passage from Matthew 25: 31-46 (NAB):

“(35) For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, (36) naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me….(40) And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

The deacon’s homily referred to Mother Theresa’s work with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and was a fitting inspiration for us.

After mass, the kids hugged parents and we loaded up into two cars and set off on our four hour drive to Auxier. Along the way we stopped for lunch and took a goofy group picture, and detoured to Natural Bridge State Park for a hike up to its unique rock formation. Both were opportunities to have some fun and begin bonding as a group.

We arrived at the Hand In Hand Ministries Auxier Center on time and were greeted by their friendly staff: Gail, Kevin, and Andrew, and by three summer interns: Aniela, Freddie and Jeremy. We learned we would be sharing our volunteering experience with a dozen or so other adults and youths from the Louisville area and as far away as Arkansas. Gail explained to us the Center’s mission, and introduced us to the projects on which we would work over the next three days. She gave us some background on the people we would be helping. As Gail described the hardships faced by their clients, I began to see the wheels turning in the minds of our kids. They were trying to discern which cause they felt most passionate about and how they could help improve the lives of these people they had never met. Our group split between two projects and we were joined on them by some of the other volunteers.

 The whole group

The whole crew at Hand In Hand Auxier Center

Thursday morning found some of the kids being rousted from bed earlier than they had risen all summer, and we mustered for breakfast, packed lunches, said prayers, and loaded trucks with the tools and supplies we would need for the day. As we loaded up to drive to the clients’ homes, I could see the excitement in the kids’ eyes.

I joined Clay, Kelsea, Tayla, Seth, and others at a home where we would be removing walls and ceilings in a house and reinforcing deteriorated rafters for eventual roof replacement. Becky went with Grace, Kathryn and Hannah, and five others to a house to repair a porch and build a wheelchair ramp to the house. The third home, which we would not go to until Saturday, needed new exterior doors installed as the existing ones would not close. This old house, we learned, had, in the last couple weeks, just received its first electricity and water.

I don’t think anything could have prepared our kids for what they would find as they walked into each of these homes. The obvious poverty and poor living conditions were undeniably foreign to anything they had ever experienced. And, I was almost there with them. We had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with the home owners and learned they wanted nothing more than to have safe and healthy homes for their families. In those first few minutes after arriving, I began to sense a transformation taking place within all of us.

In observing the kids, and looking inward myself, I was reminded of the lyrics from a Jason Gray song, With Every Act Of Love1, wherein he sings of a man who can’t be bothered by a woman’s “heart-cry” written on a cardboard sign she is holding:

“….But when she looks him in the eye / His heart is broken open wide / And he feels the hand of God reach out through him / As heaven touches earth // Oh, we bring the Kingdom come / Oh, with every act of love / Jesus, help us carry You / Alive in us Your light shines through.”

There’s no doubt our hearts were broken open wide during those first few moments. And, over the course of the next two and a half days, I saw and felt the hand of God reach out through me and the other volunteers, bringing heaven to earth, and His Kingdom come with every act of love.

I saw high-schoolers who probably haven’t cleaned their rooms in months jump in and move the homeowner’s personal belongings out of the house so that demolition could begin and do it with care and respect. These same kids, who more than likely complain about washing dishes or mowing the yard, donned Tyvek suits, dust masks, and safety glasses, grabbed crow bars and commenced busting out ceiling drywall with enthusiasm.

 Seiler, Kelsea, & TaylaSuited up for demolition work

I saw compassion by volunteers who took the time to visit with and get to know the homeowners, and who honored the homeowner’s desire to participate in the renovation of their own residence.

Kids took pride in their work, from cutting a straight line in drywall to hammering tacks perfectly straight and spaced to fasten anti-slip treads on a wheelchair ramp.

There were some kids who were less outgoing than others but were invited into the extra-curricular activities in the evenings by the other kids. It was like there was some unwritten and unspoken morality which everyone knew and honored by ensuring nobody was left out.

I saw kids with more skill and experience watching out for those with less ability and helping them to learn and perform. Never did I see anyone suggest that “this is my job and that is yours”. I witnessed volunteers relieving sweaty and dirty workers so they could grab a bottle of water and cool off without the work stopping. I saw eager teamwork in action by people who had only known each other for a few hours.

Grace w circ saw

Learning to use a circular saw

I saw kids cleaning up their messes, shoveling sheetrock and sweeping up dust before they left at night because it was the right thing to do.

Even in the midst of living conditions to which most people would turn up their noses, our kids were always positive and encouraging, always trying to build up instead of belittling. They made me proud to be associated with them.

We went to the Thursday evening Front Porch Pickin’ at the US23 Music Highway Museum to listen and dance to some of the best Bluegrass music to be found. While there, I saw kids honor the dance requests of the elderly locals who come to this event every Thursday night to clog and two-step the night away and have fun, kids from the different volunteer groups ask each other to dance, and I saw the experienced college-student interns request the pleasure of a dance from the wallflowers in the group to ensure that nobody was left out. Even I danced!

Clogging at FPP2Grace and Andrew dancing at FPP2

Clogging and two-stepping at Front Porch Pickin’

I saw pure love in action when a young woman donated her personal spending money to purchase an electric table lamp and present it in person to the couple who had just had electricity installed in their house.

I saw “kids” from 14 to 74, most of whom were strangers when we arrived on Wednesday, engage in work and play like they were life-long family. By the time the week was over, “family” was the best way to describe us.

I saw humility that would make Jesus proud when we went around the room on Saturday morning reflecting on the highs and lows of the week. I witnessed strong men break down and cry and younger kids comfortably and perfectly articulate their emotions in front of a large group.

And, I heard our kids discussing and dreaming about returning next year and possibly being summer interns themselves.

By mid-day Saturday, when it was time to leave, nobody wanted to go. But, after tearful hugs and long goodbyes, we packed up and headed home. I know many lasting friendships were made during those four days, and each of us left transformed, fulfilled, and richer than when we arrived.

Goodbye 1

Final goodbyes

On the way home I reflected on how we almost cancelled the trip and how our group of nine almost missed these life changing experiences. I couldn’t help but think that in spite of Satan’s attempt to thwart our desire to do as Jesus would have us do, we won this game. Walking Hand In Hand with God, we shut out the Devil nine to nothing.

As I was writing this I was listening to the song, With Every Act Of Love, again. Between the second verse and the refrain there is a bridge that sums up the main take-away for me from this trip. It goes:

“God put a million, million doors in this world for His love to walk through / One of those doors is you.”

I hope this experience helped all of us see ourselves as beautifully painted and architecturally perfect portals through which the hand of God can bring heaven to earth.

(Note: Out of respect for Hand In Hand’s clients at whose homes we worked, I chose not to include any photographs of the worksites.)

1With Every Act Of Love, words and music by Jason Gray and Jason Ingram, © 2013 Centricity Music Publishing, Nothing Is Wasted Music (ASCAP) / Sony-ATV Timber Publishing, Open Hands Music (SESAC).

(The post, Opening the Door between Heaven and Earth, was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

My Time Is Not God’s Time

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It was one year ago today that I began a 2,600 mile, four day solo drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to Seattle, Washington during which I posted daily how God had shown Himself to me in one form or another. Last Saturday I set out again for another long drive for this year’s summer vacation. This trip was a 1,286 mile drive to Ingram, Texas, which is a little over an hour northwest of San Antonio, for a family reunion.

Unlike last year’s trek, I was joined this time by my daughter, Grace. My wife had gone on ahead by flying to Louisiana and then driving to Texas with another daughter. I always look forward to road trips and one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip was being captive for twenty hours in the same space as Grace. I’m sure, at age 17, she wasn’t quite as enamored with the idea as I was. She will be leaving for college in a few short weeks and this would probably be our last chance to spend any real quality time together.

The level of conversation in the car often depends upon who has control of the stereo. Wanting to make this a pleasurable trip for both of us I relinquished control even though I was driving. This meant I had to listen to a few hours of Bruno Mars, John Mayer and Josh Groban. Pretending to like most of the songs was a small price to pay for this bonding opportunity.

Our plan upon leaving home on Saturday morning was to drive as far as Dallas via Louisville, Nashville, Memphis, and Little Rock. But, before we even arrived in Nashville, I could tell from watching my car’s GPS that our ETA in Dallas was steadily getting later and later because of the delays due to highway construction and heavy rains. By the time we were leaving Nashville I decided to make a hotel reservation in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, about two hours east of Dallas. My GPS said we could arrive at 11:30 p.m. I had already lost two hours during a six hour trip.

We came to another full stop on I-40 east of Jackson, Tennessee for more construction. We crawled along for about ten minutes when we came upon an accident. A Jeep Wrangler had collided with the rear end of a semi-trailer, and a PT Cruiser was bent in half leaning against a highway sign at the bottom of the embankment off the shoulder of the road. The driver of the Jeep was still in his vehicle and a young woman was sitting on the edge of the shoulder in front of the semi tractor. I saw one other person standing around talking on his cell phone.

Car 1

Car 2

Grace was driving so I asked her to pull over. I retrieved my first aid and blood borne pathogens kit from my car (I had just received Medic First Aid/BBP refresher training the Tuesday before and thought it would be a good idea to carry a kit on this trip) and donned the latex gloves. I walked to the girl sitting on the ground and asked about her condition. She was holding a towel to her chin in an effort to stem the bleeding from a cut she had received when her PT Cruiser had rolled down the embankment. She said she had movement of her limbs, head and torso and, other than the cut, was just shaken up. Telling her I would be back in a moment I went to see about the man in the Jeep.

On my way to check on the driver of the Jeep I met the other man who had stopped. He said he had activated EMS but otherwise didn’t know what to do. I then discovered another man who had stopped but who also didn’t know any first aid procedures. I went to the Jeep and found the young man coherent. He also said he could move his torso, neck and head but that he thought he had a broken leg because he was trapped in the vehicle. Upon inspection, he was indeed trapped and would have to be cut out of the vehicle.

As I was talking to the young man another man stopped and came up to me and asked if I was a medical professional. I replied I was not and he said he was a nurse. I asked him to take over here and I would go back to the driver of the other car.

When I walked back to the young woman, another woman walked up and said she was a nurse and, after relaying what I could tell of the injuries, I asked her to take over with this patient. I asked the young woman what had happened. She said she was stopped behind the semi and she saw that the vehicle behind her didn’t appear as if it was going to stop so she tried to move over onto the shoulder.   The Jeep slammed into the rear of her car and forced her down the embankment and caused her car to roll over. The Jeep then slammed into the rear of the semi-trailer.

It was obvious that her defensive driving tactic of looking in her rear view mirror had saved her life. Had she not made an attempt to move to the right onto the shoulder the Jeep would have pushed her car under the trailer and she could have easily been crushed and decapitated.

As she related the incident she began to cry. With medical professionals on-site and the EMS on its way, I decided there wasn’t much else for me to do. But, then I thought there might be one more thing I could do. I asked the young woman what her name was and she said it was Julia. I said to Julia that I didn’t know if she was a religious person but I would be happy to pray with her if she would like. She looked me in the eye and said, “Please do!”

As I knelt, I took her hand and I prayed for God to hold her close to Him, to heal her wounds, both physical and emotional, as well as those of the other driver, and l gave thanks for saving her from injuries worse than she actually received. When I finished praying she had stopped crying, smiled and thanked me. As I walked back to my car I heard the sirens of the emergency vehicles approaching.

Grace and I resumed our trip. We stopped in Jackson, Tennessee for reconciliation and mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. We got stuck in more severe weather and more construction delays. She conceded and we listened to some ‘70s music from Jimmy Buffet, Jerry Jeff Walker and Marshall Tucker Band. We arrived at our hotel at 2:30 a.m., three hours later than expected. What should have been a 13.5 hour drive turned into 18.5 hours.

As my head hit the pillow I remembered my prayers. I thanked God for delivering us safely but I wished we had not had so many delays. I prayed for the two injured young people from earlier in the day and I gave thanks for the opportunity to spend quality time with Grace. And then, the God-moment came to me. I believe now that the delays we had both prior to and after coming upon that accident were two-fold and were meant to be. Even though I may not have been able to do anything to help with their injuries, maybe, just maybe, I was able to be of help spiritually to Julia. Perhaps it was God’s plan for me to be there at that moment in time not to attend to injuries of the body but to strengthen a spirit. And, perhaps God knew that Grace and I needed an extra five hours of togetherness.

“Heavenly Father, I give you thanks for allowing me to be an instrument of your love and to spread your love through charity to others. Thank you for the opportunities you give me to build loving relationships with my family and friends and new acquaintances. Amen.”

(The post My Time Is Not God’s Time was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

The Rotten Tree

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This week finds me on the road for business again, specifically in Nashville, Tennessee, for two days and nights. After a long day of meetings I chose not to join my co-workers this evening at the restaurant where we usually go because I didn’t want to overindulge on their generous portions and delicious food. I am trying to minimize the opportunities for temptation to seize me. So, instead, I decided to make a trip to Kroger and purchase a healthier and more appropriately sized meal.

On the way to Kroger I happened to pass by the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. This in itself was sort of a serendipitous event because, for a city the size of Nashville, there really aren’t very many Catholic churches. The sign out front announced there was a Wednesday evening mass at 6:00 p.m., which was only 20 minutes away. My first thought was how attending mass would be a wonderful way to de-stress and refresh from a day of learning we would have to do more with already stretched resources. My second thought was how once again, through a “God-moment”, He shows up just when I need Him.

I parked, found my way to the front door, and entered the church. I was the first one in the church other than the lector, who was practicing his reading, so I knelt and got some good prayer time in. When mass started I was one of nine people in the congregation.

The first reading came from 2 Kings but, between my hard-hearing and the lector’s soft voice, I failed to grasp most of the reading. Then, the pastor of Holy Rosary, Rev. Mark Hunt, delivered the gospel for the day, loudly and clearly such that I could hear each word:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. So by the fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20

Well, I don’t know about you but it always takes some dedicated effort on my part, or stooping to ask someone else, to get straight in my mind what Jesus meant in some of his parables. Just after I had resigned myself to stew on this later this evening, Fr. Mark delivered his homily with a message that helped explain it for me. I feel obligated to share with you the salient part of his homily in the best rendition I can muster:

“One day a man invited his boss to his home for dinner with him and his family. The boss was the type who had worked hard for his position but held himself in very high esteem and often let his employees know just how highly he regarded himself. After a fine dinner with the man, his wife and his son, during which the boss repeatedly expounded on his many accomplishments, the boss became aware of the boy staring at him. Not used to receiving this kind of treatment, the boss asked, ‘Excuse me lad, why are you staring at me?’ The son answered, ‘My dad says you are a self-made man.’ The boss, puffing up his chest, responded, ‘Yes, I am, but what is it about my success that is causing you to stare?’ ‘Well’, the son answered again, ‘I was just wondering why you made yourself such a jerk!’”

Thank you, Fr. Mark, for the lesson on the importance of humility, for explaining the difference between the good and bad trees, and the fruit that both bear. And, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you knew the boss I had back in ’95 and ’96!

“Heavenly Father, please forgive me for those times I have been a ‘rotten tree’ and have surely put on airs to impress myself and others. I beseech You to grace me with humility and a desire to serve others that allows me to be a ‘good tree’ from which may be harvested ‘good fruit’. Amen.”

  

(The post, The Rotten Tree, was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

Beginning Again

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“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” – Romans 8:26

Photo credit: U Turn for Christ

Photo credit: U Turn for Christ

As I sit down to write I know it has been a while since my last post – a full six weeks. It feels good to be back and even better to have the craziness of the last month and a half behind me.

As much as I like to write there are many other priorities in my life, whether I like it or not, that are either more important or more urgent than sharing my thoughts with you. On the up-side, over this six week period I have attended my daughter’s high school graduation, prepared for and hosted a graduation party, had the pleasure of family from out of town stay with us for several days, and hosted a party for some dear friends who are relocating out of state. On the down-side, I’ve fought the Ohio spring weather in trying to complete the spring clean-up of my property, and made many more business trips out of town than I normally do.

About a week and a half ago, after most of these things were behind me and the pressure was off, I “woke up” one morning on my way to the office and realized I had not prayed or had my daily conversations with Jesus in too many days. Then, I looked back and I realized those days had grown into weeks.

I spent the rest of the drive to work contemplating what had happened. I realized I had simply been caught up in the urgencies of so many things pulling me in different directions that I had let Him fall off my radar screen. Once I got past the sense of shame I felt a little bit of consolation in that I still had faithfully attended mass every Sunday (even though it was at four different churches), and spent an hour with the Lord during Adoration every Friday evening. As I parked my car I thought, “I’ll take some time later this morning and pray”.

Later that morning didn’t happen. I didn’t think again about praying until the next morning as I began my drive into work. Again, I decided I had let too many other things get in the way of my daily prayer. But, this particular morning, after deciding I needed to spend some time in prayer, I thought, “Where do I start? How do I come back?” And, then, before I answered those questions for myself, I was parking my car again.

Another 24 hours passed and I resumed the conversation with myself the next morning. But, the only answer I came up with was, “I don’t know where to start”. Frustrated, I vowed to think about it later, and I opted to listen to some music the rest of the way in to work.

I had the new CD from Jason Gray, Love Will Have The Final Word, in the stereo so I turned it on. One song was just ending and the next song, Begin Again1, began playing. About two-thirds of the way into the song the following lines caught my attention:

“It’s never too late for a new start / If you give God the pieces of your broken heart / When you come to the end, you can begin again.”

“Begin Again”. That was the answer. With those words, I knew it didn’t matter where I started or how I began “coming back”, just that I do start and I do come back. God doesn’t care how I do it, just that I do it!

Shortly thereafter I pulled into my parking lot and went to my office. Being a half hour early to work, I had time to pray, to “Begin Again”. I just started praying like I was having a conversation with an old friend I hadn’t seen in, well, six weeks or so. It felt good. It felt welcoming. I felt His Grace come over me and I thanked Him for taking me back. And, before I said, “Amen”, I thanked Him again for coming to my rescue in the way I’ve come to expect – through some mysterious and unexpected sign such as a timely song lyric or other phenomenon which most people would call coincidence. I know otherwise.

Later that morning as I was basking in the comfort of His love I wondered about all the people who drift away from God. How many of them start the same way I did, slowly, surely, and freely letting the busy-ness of life get in the way of maintaining their relationship with Him? How many drift too far away before realizing it, convince themselves they are too far out to sea to turn back, or forget their faith is their life raft that will keep them afloat? Too many, I’m afraid, forget the first step to beginning again is to whisper His name.

“Dear God, I thank you for Your gift of faith, for a heart to love You and a mind to know You, and for the courage and will to come back to You when I have drifted away from You. Lord, hear my prayer for everyone who finds themselves alone, that they may accept Your gift of faith, hear Your voice or see Your signs that are calling them home to You. Let me be a disciple who leads the way. Amen”

1 Begin Again, words and music by Jason Gray and Jason Ingram. ©2014 Centricity Songs, Jason Gray Designee (BMI)/Sony ATV Timber Publishing, Open Hands Music (SESAC)

(The post, Beginning Again, was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

The Reward I Receive Now

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This morning I realized I was a full week behind with my reading from this Easter season’s Little White Book so I took some time before work to catch up. When I got to today’s reading for 16 May 2014, Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter, I couldn’t help but look upwards, smile and give thanks. Unbeknownst to me, today’s reading is based on John 6:55-56, the very passage about which I wrote and posted as The Bread of Life just last night. Believe me, folks, I had no idea I would be reading more about this today.

I think it is His way of reinforcing what He just taught me.

Because today’s entry from The Little White Book perfectly complements my reflections on receiving the Eucharist, I feel obligated to reprint the passage here.

(The following is reprinted from The Little White Book, Little Books of the Diocese of Saginaw, Inc., ®2013 Diocese of Saginaw)

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn 6:55-56)

This week Jesus leaves no room for hedging or metaphor. He speaks flat out, straight: “This is my flesh…This is my blood.”

He doesn’t say, “My body, my presence.” He says, “This is my flesh.” And he doesn’t just say those who “take in” his body. He says those who feed on his flesh and drink his blood.

It’s real, literal, graphic.

It seems like there are two ways of receiving Communion. One is as a child who tends to see Communion as almost a spiritual dessert.

Another way is to become part of Jesus and the way he lived. The moment of sharing Eucharist is meant to be a moment of conversion. When I receive the Lord, I’m consciously saying, “Yes, I want to live Jesus’ way. I want his way to be part of who I am.”

The Eucharist isn’t a reward I receive after I have put my life entirely in order. It is in itself a conversion experience, part of the ongoing change and reform that is involved in following the Lord.

It’s the reward I receive now.

(The post The Reward I Receive Now was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

The Bread of Life

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There is truly something special about a holy hour of Adoration! There are simply too many of my prayers answered and mysteries explained to me for the Holy Spirit not to be working during that precious hour of genuflection when it’s just me and Jesus. I’ve written about many instances where I have been graced with understanding during that weekly event, and I now have one more “God moment” to add to the list.

In my last post, Never Stop Learning, I recounted how I would pray for God to fill my heart with the Holy Spirit when I started to feel a little empty and I needed to be jazzed up. Then, through a serendipitous reading of Romans 5:5 during my holy hour of Adoration, I came to understand that the gift of God’s love had already been poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit at my baptism and that His love for me is constant and never-ending.

Also, through that discovery, I began to make sense of why I sometimes feel exhilarated in my spiritual life and why sometimes I feel less so. But, even though I know I can’t sustain the spiritual rush that goes along with “being in love with the ‘feeling’”, I still pondered how to find a more consistent, day-in/day-out feeling of “being in love with Jesus”. I needed to figure out how to level the bumps in the road.

So, last Friday afternoon during my holy hour, I prayed for understanding of how to maintain that closeness with Him from one day to the next. Then, as I often do to round out the hour after my prayers, I opened the bible to read.   That afternoon I chose to read the daily scripture instead of randomly picking a passage from the bible. The gospel for the day was John 6 : 55-58. I read it and, just like the week before when I read Romans 5 : 5, I had to immediately re-read it because I couldn’t believe what I had just read:

“(55)For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. (56)Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (57)Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (58)This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Jesus the Bread of life

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” There it was – the answer for which I had prayed just two minutes before. My mind jumped back a year to the night I became Catholic and I remembered my baptism, my first Communion and Confirmation. I remembered how the best part was feeling the presence of Christ upon receiving His precious body and blood during first Communion. And, I knew that all I needed to do to level those bumps in the road was to be renewed in Him each week through taking of the Eucharist, and to remember that He is in me and I in him – that His love is constant and never ending.

I get it. And, I won’t forget it. This week, as I’ve approached those bumps in the road, I have had to stop several times, whisper His name, and remember that He is in me. Each time I have been graced with instant peace.

My next holy hour of Adoration is tomorrow afternoon. I can’t wait to discover what new insights I will receive through listening to His comforting words. If you haven’t experienced this grace that comes from spending an hour in His presence, I encourage you to give it a try.

Lord Jesus, Your presence, through receiving Your precious body and blood in the Eucharist, nourishes and sustains me daily and brings me everlasting life. May I always allow you to satisfy my spiritual appetite. You are the Bread of Life.

Amen

(The post The Bread of Life first appeared in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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