Is it God Testing Your Faith or Satan Tempting You?

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Test of faithLately I’ve racked up a lot of windshield time and, although I’ve missed being at home with my wife, one of the benefits of long drives is the time I have to pray and think deeply.

Over the last week I have had trips of several hours. I have filled some of that drive time with reciting a Rosary as part of a 54 day Novena I started two weeks ago. This is my first time to pray a Novena and I’m happy with myself for not yet missing a day, and pleased that I am feeling much closer to the Lord than I have in recent weeks.

However, I have had several frustrating and critical issues arise recently in my business causing me grief. Experience tells me that these new challenges are not mere coincidence. I believe as we work harder to get closer to God, Satan works harder to derail us.

On one rather long drive this week, I plugged in a CD from a lecture by Fr. Rob Jack, a priest who regularly visits our parish and who is an instructor at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati. In his lecture on Living Faith, he mentions how God likes to test our faith from time to time. The vision that came to my mind is of God throwing us curveballs, forcing us to take a strike or two, and be humbled in the process.

But, my next thought presented me with a conundrum: how do we tell whether a challenge is God testing our faith or Satan trying to sabotage us as we try to get closer to God? Over the next several miles, a couple examples came to mind. Since I’ve already used a baseball example above, I’ll stick with sports analogies.

In one case, let’s suppose your hometown basketball team is in the deciding game of the NBA finals. There are 52 seconds to play and your opponent just went up by six points after scoring one three-pointer and then, after a mistake that resulted in a turnover, scored a second three-pointer.

In a second instance, say your favorite hockey team is in the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The score is tied with three minutes left in the game, and your best player gets sent to the penalty box for two minutes after committing a flagrant intentional foul against an opposing player. Because of his action, his team is forced to play one person short which gives the opponent a power play advantage.

Both instances are tense and critical with their entire seasons resting in the balance.

Let’s consider the basketball scenario. The players’ confidence has been shaken and they have been humbled in front of the hometown fans. Calling a time-out, the coach will present to his players a plan to close the gap which, he hopes, will eventually win the game. He will also try to calm his team down and, most importantly, try to keep them focused on the fundamentals and on executing with the skill they have shown all season, that is, to fall back on and trust in each other and in what they know.

This feels like God testing our faith. The response is exactly what He wants us to do! He wants us to stop, collect ourselves, and recognize and do what is right and just. Although the strategy to win the game will likely include intentionally fouling an opposing player, the aim is not to hurt the player nor is it borne out of anger or personal pride.

Now, let’s consider the hockey analogy. The player, in his desperation to win, decided to be “uncharitable”, if you will, towards another player either through anger or to gain an unfair advantage. As a result, he caused his team to be penalized and put the likelihood of a win in jeopardy. As he sits in the penalty box waiting for his chance to get back in the game and play the final minute, he plots his revenge and envisions the crowd cheering him as he scores the go-ahead goal with only seconds remaining.

This situation feels like an example of Satan’s handiwork. The reaction is exactly what Satan is hoping for! He doesn’t give a hoot about who wins the game. He doesn’t care who gets hurt. All he cares about is the player’s pride becoming inflated, that he sees himself as superior to everyone else, and that his selfishness blinds him to the greater good. He wants him to cross that line because then it will be easier for him to do it again and again. He has followed Satan’s game plan to a tee.

On the other hand, the hockey player doesn’t have to choose that path. He has another option. As he sits in the penalty box he could replay in his mind the wrong that landed him there in the first place, and vow not to make that mistake again. He could block out all negative thoughts and focus on playing the best game he’s ever played. He could trust in his years of training to come through for him in a moment of glory. He could opt for doing the best he can do and let the outcome be what it may.

This is exactly what Satan doesn’t want us to do! Do you know why? Because it’s what God expects of us! If we do this, God has won and Satan has lost his grip.

Having thought through this, I have to admit I still don’t know how to tell if a challenge is simply God testing us or if Satan is tempting us. But, I don’t think it really matters whether we know up front or not. What matters is our response to the stimulus. When we are faced with challenges that move us to cheat, lie, shirk responsibility, and blame or plot the demise of others, we let Satan become our coach. When we lose sight of what is right and just, we lose sight of God, and high-five with the devil. But, when we choose the right path we are one step closer to holiness. And, maybe, only during the post-game review can we tell the difference.

I would love to hear if you can tell the difference between God testing your faith and Satan leading you astray.

God Bless You.

(Is It God Testing Your Faith or Satan Tempting You? 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 Better Way to Live

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SFDS Volunteers

SFDS Volunteers

Sometimes my work prevents me from writing as timely as I would like and still be able to keep the topic relevant. Such has been the case the last three weeks but, I feel, this post is relevant regardless of the delay. 

Three weeks ago I accompanied nine others from our parish on a three-day mission trip to Appalachia Kentucky where we worked with Hand in Hand Ministries – Auxier Center to improve the living conditions of three homes in Floyd and Johnson Counties. We joined nine men and women from Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, and the Hand in Hand staff, and together we made a difference. In the words of one of the homeowners, our work was “The Miracle” for which she had prayed. And, to quote one of our volunteers, “they were three of the most rewarding days I’ve ever experienced!”

Hand in Hand Ministries identified and staged the projects on which we would work. Shortly after we arrived in Auxier the staff described the work to be done and we signed up for the project of our choice.

Ms. Doris' work team

Ms. Doris’ work team

I joined with Bill from our group and, along with Vicki, Ben, Maureen, Joe and Sam from the Louisville contingent, we worked at Ms. Doris’ house. The old metal roof on her house leaked and caused the ceiling in a bedroom to deteriorate and sag; and the floors in that bedroom and in the bathroom had decayed and needed replacement.

I am always amazed at how the Lord puts the right people in the right place. Without any evaluation of skills, the seven of us fell into the part of the project that suited us best: three of us worked in the bedroom, a couple in the bathroom, and two more on the roof. It was a real-life application of Paul’s letter in 1 Corinthians 12:1-30, “18 But, as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended”. Directed as necessary by our crew leader, Joe, we worked “hand-in-hand” completing the work as three teams within a team. We helped each other, looked out for each other’s safety, and learned from and laughed with each other as we worked.

The work wasn’t easy. There was a lot of kneeling and a lot of overhead work. It was hot. The roof was steep. It was close quarters. But, it was fun and rewarding.

Perhaps the most rewarding part was building a relationship with Ms. Doris and her son, Matt, and hearing their story and their love for the Lord. I doubt they knew that their heart-warming smiles and humble gratitude inspired us to do our best.

When we finished on Saturday, my sore knees and tired shoulders didn’t feel so bad when Ms. Doris wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug in appreciation for the work we had done.

Ms. Bertha's work team

Ms. Bertha’s work team

My wife, Melinda, joined friends Clay, Monica and Wyiona, as well as Lee and Dorothy from Louisville, and crew leaders, Alan and Jim, at Ms. Bertha’s house to remove and replace her roof, ceilings and insulation, and make other interior repairs.

I didn’t visit Ms. Bertha’s house but when we gathered at the end of the day back at the Center it was fun to listen to the memories created that day at her house. On Friday evening, Ms. Bertha joined us for dinner and left no doubt that she was the character I had envisioned her to be. She is one of the most humble, pleasant, and grateful people I have ever met. With respect to material things, and in comparison to us volunteers, she didn’t have much. But, she had a love for the Lord, she had food, would soon have a roof over her head that didn’t leak, and she had some new friends. In her mind she was rich. She stole our hearts and her attitude and gratefulness taught us all a thing or two.

Roofiing at Ms. Elveeta's

Roofiing at Ms. Elveeta’s

My friends Carl, Tom, Gary and Brian teamed up with Kevin and Tristan from Louisville, and crew leader, Jackie, and replaced the leaking roof on Ms. Elveeta’s house. Completing their work on Friday, they moved to Ms. Bertha’s house on Saturday to help continue the roof replacement there. I didn’t visit their project, either, but I knew from their conversation and their smiles at the end of each day that their efforts were also rewarding.

Everyone

We built relationships with those we served, and also with our fellow volunteers. Whether it was on the job, or back at the Center during downtime, or dancing at the U.S. 23 Music Highway Museum on Thursday night, we took the time to listen, encourage, have fun, and get to know each other.

By Saturday afternoon we had completed the work to be done on two homes and the next crew to come would complete Ms. Bertha’s house. We had made new friends, some with whom we will keep in touch. We had taught others a few things and we learned a few things from them. We all left with more than that with which we arrived.

And, by Saturday afternoon, the ten of us from St. Francis de Sales were looking towards next year’s trip and thinking of other men and women we could invite to volunteer and experience with us the joy of serving and bringing Christ to others.


Two weeks ago as I was driving someplace on business, I began assembling this post in my head. I was listening to music and a familiar song came on the stereo, Better Way to Live1, by Christian artist, Jason Gray. It’s a good song and for the first time the lyrics really resounded with me and I realized they applied perfectly to our experience:

“… When I saw the world out my window
With a broken heart I came alive
I was made for something more

“When we step aside from the center of our lives
When we learn to love mercy more than being right
Pursuing peace and honesty
Starting down the road of selflessness
And seeing where it leads

“All I know is there’s a better way to live
We were made for so much more than this
It’s not the love you have but the love you have to give
All I know is there’s a better way, a better way to live”

Helping others is, indeed, a better way to live!


Postscript: Thanks to our benevolent friends, family and fellow parishioners who donated generously to help offset the cost of the trip.

1 Better Way To Live, words and music by Jason Gray & Chad Cates, ©2009 Centricity Music Publishing/ Newspring Publishing/Upper Cates Music (ASCAP)

(A Better Way to Live 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 Monk’s Chronicle: 10 August MMXV — Peserverance Until Death

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richbrewers:

What an increadible undertaking this project has been–it is something right out of the monastic tradition that brought us The Book of Kells. Thank you, your monsastic brothers, Donald Jackson and his team, SJU and all who contributed for this piece of history that brings us the Word.

Originally posted on A Monk's Chronicle:

imagePerseverance Until Death

On November 27, 1995, I sat down to lunch with Donald Jackson, whose day job at the time was scribe to the Queen of England.  He and I had just spoken at The Newberry Library in Chicago, and we were dining at a restaurant called The Italian Village — which still exists, I believe.

Normally lunch should not count as a big deal, and there’s no reason anyone should remember a particular lunch nearly twenty years later.  To my credit, I can’t recall what I ate that day, save that it was probably Italian.  But I do recall the substance of our conversation.  That day Donald Jackson proposed what eventually would become The Saint John’s Bible.

That lunch no longer matters that much, save for the fact that last week I put a little bit of closure on a venture that began at that meal.  That…

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The Greatness and Mercy of God

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In a recent post, “Come to Me….and I Will Give You Rest”, I admitted I was embarrassed about not being very spiritual, or taking the time to pray, study and live Jesus before others while on vacation; and how I realized, by reading Matthew’s Gospel, that the Lord is more concerned about my return to him than He is about my spiritual absence for a brief period.

When I broke it down I understood why I felt the way I did – our two weeks were chocker-block full of activity. We drove almost 4,300 miles. When we weren’t driving we were spending time with family. When I was doing neither of those I was intent on catching as many trout as possible. In essence, I got away from my daily routine of taking time to pray and read scripture.

I had nearly written off posting anything else about my trip until a fortunate occurrence last Friday morning. I was on our mission trip to Appalachian Kentucky and I arose early to meet my friend Clay in the dining hall for morning prayers at 5:40 a.m. After we prayed a rosary together, Clay handed me a book, pointed to a page, and said, “Here, read this”.

The book was The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography of the Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton. The page contained a passage that particularly caught Clay’s attention:

“There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and mercy of God to the whole world.”

When I read that paragraph I couldn’t help but look upwards and say, “Thank you, Lord”. In that moment I understood. Even though I felt I had, for the most part, neglected God those two weeks while on vacation, he had still been present to me. But, I was too busy then to see it.

Above treeline on Beartooth Pass, Montana

Above treeline on Beartooth Pass, Montana

God was present in the spectacular geology of the Beartooth Range of the Rocky Mountains between Red Lodge and Yellowstone National Park.

 

 

 

East Rosebud Creek, Absarokee Wilderness, Montana

East Rosebud Creek, Absarokee Wilderness, Montana

He was present in the clear mountain streams which provide an abundance of rainbow and brown trout; and in the fish themselves, unique creatures that cause us anglers to dream of that heavenly moment when, through practiced skill, we entice one to rise and dine on a #14 Pale Morning Dun.

 

 

Rock Creek near Red Lodge

Rock Creek near Red Lodge

 

14" Brown Trout

14″ Brown Trout

 

Unknown species, Custer State Park, South Dakota

Unknown species, Custer State Park, South Dakota

God was there in the spectacular and varied flora to be seen in every view: columbines, indian paint brushes, and small alpine wild flowers growing out of the cracks in the igneous rock of the mountains. He was there in the fauna we saw during hikes and drives through the mountains: bison, elk, deer, black bear, eagles, and marmots.

 

 

 

 

 

Elsa, 9 months

Elsa, 9 months

And, of course, He was there in our children and beautiful grandchildren with whom we spent a few precious days.

Jack, 6 months

Jack, 6 months

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord, please help us to not get caught up in the busy-ness of life but to always remember Your presence: in our loving families, in the caring people we meet, in the beautiful landscapes artistically brushed with color, and in the unique creatures with whom we share this earth. Please help us to always recognize Your greatness and the work of Your hands, and to always be grateful for Your abundant Grace and Mercy.  Amen.

(The Greatness and Mercy of God 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.

 

#Flat Francis Takes a Road Trip

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It’s been a hair over two years since I made a four-day, solo, cross country road trip from my home in Ohio to Seattle, Washington for my oldest daughter’s wedding. It was a wonderful trip full of natural beauty, solitude, revelations and spiritual opportunities.

Perhaps the most exciting part of that trip for me as a new Catholic, or, to be more precise, a new Christian, was seeing the world from an entirely different point of view than I ever had previously. I had driven across the country many times prior to this but had never thought of its beauty as a creation and gift from God. Likewise, my faith not only opened my eyes to the scenery, but opened my mind and heart to the people and events that crossed my path.

My experiences on the trip urged me to blog about them. Each day I would stop at a McDonald’s and use their free Wi-Fi to publish my thoughts and events from the last twenty-four hours. During those four days I published: Miles, God Moments and Mosaics; Corn, Confession, Cathedrals and Car Trouble; Bolo Ties, Rosaries and Rainbows; and Miracles and Memories. It was fun and worth the extra hour or so each day.

Last week I got home from a similar two week road trip. For this year’s vacation I drove to Red Lodge, Montana to meet my daughter, son-in-law and nine month old granddaughter, for five days of relaxation, fly fishing and enjoying each other’s company. This trip, though, was a little different in that I had two passengers – my wife, Melinda, and Flat Francis.

#Flat Francis

#Flat Francis

Flat Francis is a caricature of Pope Francis and is a spinoff of the Flat Stanley project practiced at many grade schools around the country for a summer assignment. (School children take Flat Stanley on vacation with them and take photos with him at points of interest around the country.) The organization Catholic Extension came up with the idea for Flat Francis to help show Pope Francis the enthusiasm of American Catholics before his visit to Philadelphia in September.

On Saturday, 27 June we drove to our daughter’s house in Olathe, Kansas as our first way point. Then, Sunday morning we (my family and Flat Francis) attended 9:00 a.m. mass at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe. The second reading this Sunday was from 2 Corinthians 8:9-15:

9“For you know the gracious acts of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.  13Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality 14your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.  15As it is written: ‘Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less.’”

In contemplating St. Paul’s message, I couldn’t help but think about the mission trip several of us would take later in July with Hand in Hand Ministries to Appalachian Kentucky. In comparison to many, I know I have been graced with a surplus of talent and treasure. But, I know from my experience on last year’s mission trip that the surplus of gratitude I received from those whom we helped equaled or exceeded that which I brought to the table.

I said a short prayer asking the Lord to help bring more adults to our ministry and to let those who can’t find it within themselves to offer a donation. Then, as I read from the Gospel, Mark 5:36, when Jesus told Jairus with regard to his dying daughter, “Do not be afraid, just have faith”, I knew the Lord would provide all we would need for this mission trip. (At the time we had seven people signed up and very few donations. As of this writing, one day before our trip, we have 12 adult volunteers and donations to Hand in Hand Ministries equal to almost 150 percent of the cost of the trip! Thank you, everyone!)

 #Flat Francis at Prince of Peace, Olathe, KS

#Flat Francis at Prince of Peace, Olathe, KS

The priest at Prince of Peace, Fr. Wiesmann, was visiting from the Diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica. He was on his own mission to raise money to help improve the living conditions of the Jamaican people in his Diocese. The living conditions he described in his homily were clearly visible in my mind’s eye and I couldn’t help but feel compassion for them. And, I couldn’t help but open my wallet and make a generous donation.

After a couple days at Lisa’s we drove on to Rapid City, South Dakota to spend a day with more family, and then on to Red Lodge, Montana (with a short stop for a photo-op with Flat Francis at Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota) where we met up with my daughter, Sara, Andy, her husband and Elsa, our granddaughter.

#Flat Francis at Wall Drug

#Flat Francis at Wall Drug

We enjoyed a fun four days there (more on that in another post) and on Saturday evening we found ourselves at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Red Lodge.

St. Agnes is an old parish in a small but relatively new church building. There were about 40 of us in attendance. Most were regulars but it looked like there were a few visitors like us. We learned that the priest was visiting from nearby Bridger and, unfortunately, we learned it was because the pastor at St. Agnes had passed away the week before.

In my travels I visit a lot of churches and I usually remember something unique about each of them. The thing I will remember most about St. Agnes was the music and the cantor. The cantor was an elderly, grizzled gentleman who looked as though he had pushed a few dogies in his time. He played his guitar and he sang. Each hymn, the Gloria, and the responsorial Psalm were all played with the same four chords and the same 4/4 rhythm. He played in a Western style that was pure cowboy music. It made me think I was at a Riders in the Sky concert. He wasn’t the best singer but it was the most unique music I’ve ever heard at a Catholic mass.

#Flat Francis at St. Agnes, Red Lodge, MT

#Flat Francis at St. Agnes, Red Lodge, MT

The other thing I will remember about St. Agnes was my concern for the well-being of their parish. I noticed in their bulletin that the weekly collections were less than half their budget. This, combined with the loss of their priest, appeared to me to be casting a gloomy pall over their parish. I said a special prayer for them and hope you will, too.

After tent camping a couple nights in Custer State Park, S.D., and another visit at my daughter’s in Olathe, we returned home safely two weeks after we left. Tomorrow, it’s back on the road again to Auxier, Kentucky for our mission trip. And, yes, Flat Francis will be accompanying us.

God bless you all.

(#Flat Francis Takes a Road Trip 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.

 

“Come to Me….and I Will Give You Rest”

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Photo credit: St. Jude Youth Ministry

Photo credit: St. Jude Youth Ministry

It is four days shy of a month since my last post and I’ve been itching to fill you in on what’s been going on. Much of what’s been going on is a lot of travelling the last five weeks – a mix between business and pleasure. 

On 27 June, my wife and I left on a two week vacation to Red Lodge, Montana with stops in Olathe, Kansas and Rapid City, South Dakota. By the time we returned home on 11 July, we had logged almost 4,300 miles. (In the next few days I hope to post about our trip.)

On Monday the 13th I packed up and hit the road again for business in southern Indiana. After staying three nights in different hotels, I returned home on Thursday evening, the 16th.

By the time I got home I was whipped, mentally exhausted. I would have liked to sit down and veg out but I had two things tugging at me. The first was a yard which hadn’t been mowed in a month, during which time we had had record amounts of rainfall. With nearly knee-high grass, it was starting to appear like no one lived at my home.

The second was a regularly scheduled monthly Ultreya meeting at church that evening with men and women who have lived a Cursillo retreat. At this meeting we share with each other how our prayer life has been, what we’ve been studying to increase or deepen our knowledge of our faith, and how we’ve lived our faith to set an example for others.

As much as I enjoy these meetings, I just couldn’t make myself go that night. I let the yard work win and I told my friend Clay that I wouldn’t make it to the meeting. Although I had a legitimate excuse, I started hearing that little voice in my conscience tell me otherwise and I knew I was hiding from the truth.

Yes, the truth was that I was exhausted. But, even more so, the truth was that I didn’t want to be embarrassed. The truth was that I had gone three weeks with the only spiritual-ness on my part being attending mass each of the Sundays I was away. The truth was that I hadn’t prayed, I hadn’t studied and I hadn’t been much of an example of Christian living in close to a month. At least it didn’t feel like it to me. And, I didn’t want to admit it to my friends.

I retired from the yard work around dusk, came in, cleaned up, and ate a bite. The guilt I’d been feeling for the hour or two before, after I realized the real reason I stayed home, was working on me. Knowing I needed desperately to get back in the groove, I decided to put off going to bed until after I had at least read that day’s scripture passages.

I read from Exodus 3 about Moses and the burning bush and God’s message to the Children of Israel. I read from Psalm 105 about the Lord’s Covenant. And then I read the Gospel passage for the day, Matthew 11:28-30 (NAB):

Jesus said: 28 Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves.  30For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Jesus was talking to me and He knew what I needed to hear! He was telling me to not worry about the yard – it will get taken care of. He was telling me to not worry about having been spiritually absent the last three weeks. What mattered was that I was coming back to Him. He told me that I should learn humility from Him and to not worry about embarrassment from others. He let me know that I am not the first person to experience this and I won’t be the last. And, He told me to focus on Him so He can replace my tiredness with His peace.

A few minutes later, before I lay my head on my pillow, I said a special prayer of Thanksgiving for His love and for His protection for my family and me during those three weeks when I didn’t make time for Him.

That night I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in quite a while.

Amen.

(“Come to Me….and I Will Give You Rest” 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 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.

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