How Will You Let this Easter Change Your Life?

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Happy Easter to you!  I hope it was a day filled with joy.

Yesterday, we proclaimed, “Christ is risen!”  For the faithful it is the day that brings eternal hope to our lives.  It’s the day that reassures us there is a purpose to this life we live and all the struggles that accompany it so that one day we may be resurrected like Jesus and live with Him for eternity.  

But, how do you feel today?  Do you feel different than yesterday.? Or are you the same person you were a week, a month or a year ago?  For many, you’ve returned to work or, in some way, returned to your daily habits.  And, I’ll venture a guess, not all of those habits are completely virtuous.  I know, I’m there with you.

This morning I set my alarm and arose an hour earlier than I have been the last couple weeks.  A contractor was scheduled to show up early and begin remodeling the first floor of my house, and I wanted to make sure I had time for my morning prayer and meditation before they arrived.   As I read the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2: 14, 22-33) about Peter’s speech at Pentecost to the Jews of Jerusalem, my attention was brought to the contrast between the Peter of today and the Peter of last week, who, out of fear, denied Jesus three times.  

After the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter changed.  He found courage to proclaim the name of Jesus and His death, and profess His resurrection to all of Jerusalem, even to those who were responsible for His crucifixion.  I’m sure Peter was still the same in many ways – gruff and impetuous – but his timidity had been replaced with fortitude.  He spoke boldly and with authority.  He was no longer afraid to be associated with Jesus, rather, he rejoiced in the opportunity.

So I wondered how my life might change.  Do I have what it takes to “proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess Your resurrection” as I say every time I go to Mass?  And, then I realized I do have what it takes.  I was given the grace to be courageous in my faith when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation.  If you’re a confirmed Catholic, then you were given that grace, too.

Well, it’s one thing to say I’m going to be more courageous, but it’s a whole ‘nuther thing to do it.  Unsure exactly how I would do this today, I resolved to pray for the Lord to present me with an opportunity and, when He did, that I would rise to the occasion.  

In the meantime, I decided to read about the saints of the day.  Today is the feast day of St. Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican friar from the 14th Century.  St. Vincent was a  tremendous preacher who converted thousands throughout Europe.  His efforts so built up the Church that he became the patron saint of those in the building trades.

As I finished reading about this great saint, there came a knock on my door.  It was the contractor’s crew arriving to start work.  We had a walk-around to show everyone the scope of the project and, then, as they were fetching their tools from their truck, it hit me:  God had just presented me with the opportunity for which I had prayed.  It was no mere coincidence that a crew of building tradesmen were beginning to work in my house on the feast day of their patron saint.  And, so, as they all gathered back inside I asked them if they would mind if I prayed for their safety and to a successful project.  I explained the connection with St. Vincent Ferrer, and they bowed their heads with me.  I prayed, “Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunity to praise You and for the virtues of patience and perseverance that have brought us to begin this project.  I pray for the intercession of St. Vincent Ferrer, that he watch over these workers and keep them safe from harm, and that this project goes smoothly and successfully.  I pray in the name of Jesus Christ our risen Lord.  Amen.”  And, then, in my mind I also prayed, “And, please, let their be no cost overruns!”

I love how God works for us when we love and trust in Him.  Don’t let this Easter go to waste.  Through prayer, place your love and trust in Him, and accept, realize and act on the grace of fortitude given to you in your Confirmation to proclaim the name of His Son, Jesus, to the rest of the world.

“Lord Jesus, thank You for this blessing today.  I pray that, in our fallen society, this Easter season will bring a resurgence of hope to all Your faithful.  Through the intercession of St. Vincent Ferrer, may a  fortress of strength be built in our hearts such that we may all proudly and courageously proclaim Your death and resurrection.  Amen.”

(How Will You Let this Easter Change Your Life? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 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.

Where are you at Calvary?

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The following reflection was written by a friend and fellow Catholic Spiritual Mentor, Lisa Schartz, from Abilene, Kansas. In her daily prayer and meditation on the Scripture, Lisa asked herself from what vantage point would she have watched Christ’s crucifixion had she been there. The result was this beautiful and touching reflection which she shared with me and I feel obligated to share with you. I know Lisa would truly appreciate any thoughts or comments you might have. And, I know she shares my hope that each of you have a truly blessed Holy Week!

Where are you at Calvary?

by Lisa Schartz

Le Coup de Lance, Peter Paul Rubens, 1620

Imagine the scene at Calvary. Three men are crucified and suffering on their crosses. Blood drips slowly down from the holes in their hands and feet. In the center hangs a man covered in stripes of swollen and torn flesh from a recent scourging. At the foot of his cross stands a young man and several women weeping for the one hanging above them. Roman Centurions are there in force. A few are playing a game of dice off to the side. Others prowl about, keeping a watchful eye on the onlookers. 

In the crowd are some who call out, mocking the man on the center cross. Others seem to be trying to hide the sorrow they feel as they weep behind their cloaks. Some are there merely to see the spectacle. It is not every day that you witness a crucifixion, let alone three at once. Among the crowd are men who appear to be priests or rabbis. Some of these men seem rather smug about the sight before them, but not all. A few of their number appear anxious as if they are waiting for something terrible to occur.

Picture yourself amid this scene. Listen to the taunts and jeers, the shouts of the soldiers, the cries of sorrow and lament. Where are you in this scene? Are you on the fringes of the crowd or are you watching from a distance? Are you among the group kneeling at the foot of the cross? Are you a soldier actively participating in the event? Where exactly do you fit into this scene?

I want to say that I would be kneeling with St. John and our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross. Then, I consider that St. John was the only Apostle who had stayed with Jesus to this point. If the twelve who lived with and learned from Jesus for three years had abandoned him, would I not likely have done the same? Perhaps I would have stood and watched from a safe distance. Would I have been at the back of the group wanting to be there but reluctant to witness the scene before me? Or maybe, would I have been somewhere near the front of the crowd, watching and perhaps weeping but secure in the anonymity of the public? 

What if I had been brave enough to kneel at the foot of the cross? Perhaps as I kneel there, I am close enough that a drop of Christ’s blood lands on my arm. I watch as the warm liquid seeps into my sleeve. I hear Jesus utter, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). I ponder how the fabric of my clothes seems to drink in the blood that landed upon it, quickly absorbing it and appearing ready for more. Do I thirst for unity with Jesus in the same way He thirsts for a relationship with me? Does this drop of Precious Blood change me in any way? What if I inched just a little bit closer so that more of the Precious Blood fell on me? If I receive a larger share, will it penetrate my heart? Will I turn from my sinful ways and unite myself fully with the Divine Life of the One Who hangs above me?

If I am brave enough to stay there at the foot of the cross and watch my Lord expire before me, does it change my heart? Am I a different person, having witnessed His death and my salvation? I cringe as I hear the bones crack in the legs of the other two crucified men. My stomach turns at the thought of the pain just inflicted upon them. Then I watch as the Centurion comes before Jesus. He does not break Jesus’ legs since Christ is already dead. Instead, the Centurion grabs a spear and pierces the side of my Lord.

Truly this man was the Son of God!

-Mark 15:39

As he does, blood and water spray forth from his body, drenching the Centurion who falls to his knees. I am also covered in the spray of blood and water. Like the Centurion, I have been bathed in the blood of the lamb. I hear the Centurion utter, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). I know in my heart this is true, and I lower my head to the ground and weep. These are not tears of sorrow, for I know what Jesus has done for me and that he will rise again. No, I weep for the realization of my sins, my failure to love God as he has loved me.

I invite you to spend time with this reflection. Imagine yourself as a witness to this event from different aspects at the scene, and as various people who would have been present at Calvary when Jesus was crucified. Then, I invite you to take it one step further because, as our Catechism teaches us, you have been present at this event many, many times in your life:

When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it [Jesus’ crucifixion] is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever-present. “As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.’”

(CCC 1364)

Our Catholic faith has it right. You are present at Calvary each time you attend the Sacrifice of the Mass. So, now, go back to that original question that I posed. Where are you in this scene? In my personal experience of Catholic Mass and the emptiness of the front pews, the reluctance of young men to answer the call to become priests, the hesitancy of men to act as altar servers, I doubt few of us can claim to be kneeling at the foot of the cross. Are you that person hanging out at the back of the crowd, sitting in the last pew, ready to bolt at the earliest convenience? Are you somewhere in the middle, perhaps wondering why you have bothered to come or when the event will be over? Maybe you could not be bothered to attend at all because of something in your life more important to you than your Lord.

Are you ready to hear God’s words and embrace His message for you? Are you prepared when the sacrifice is made fully present, and God’s grace is again poured forth? Where is your mind when Christ becomes present on the altar? Is your heart opened to receive God’s love for you? Are you changed when you are not only touched by the body and blood of Christ but allowed to consume your Lord? Or, are you perhaps distracted at the moment when Christ fully unites himself to you, more worried about what you will have for lunch or what time the game starts? 

From the moment that Adam and Eve turned away from God to this moment when I turn from God, not much has changed in Salvation History. God still seeks us and longs for a relationship with us, with you, and with me. And I always find some forbidden fruit which, to my sinful nature, has a greater appeal than God. Where are you in your relationship with your Lord and Savior? Where do you stand at Calvary?

(Where are you at Calvary? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 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.

Road Trip Reflections: I Remember the Time When…

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(In my first try to send this there was an error with the links. Let’s try this again.)

In my last post,  Road Trip Reflections: Battles are Won from Within, I mentioned that I’d driven to my folks in southeast Missouri on Sunday on my way to San Antonio, Texas.  By the time I returned home this last Sunday night I’d made stops to visit family in New Braunfels and San Antonio, Texas, Lake Charles and Thibodaux, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee for a total of about 56 hours of windshield time.

Can you tell I like to drive?  There’s just something about being on the road and away from everything else.  It might seem like escapism but, if so, I’m escaping to a place of solitude.  And, most of the miles are driven in silence.  Author Henri J.M. Nouwen, writing on silence, solitude and prayer said something along the lines of, “Solitude is not being alone, but being alone with God.  Silence is not not speaking, but listening to God.  Together, they call us to prayer”.  My time behind the wheel is a welcome opportunity to reconnect, to converse with God, to look at my life, and analyze if I’m living the life He would have me live.

But, occasionally I do listen to music or podcasts while driving.  And, my music is often anything from Jerry Jeff Walker.  His last album, It’s About Time, is one of my favorites.  The second song on the album is California Song, a beautiful tune Walker wrote about wondering where life would have led him had he not met his wife.  I was listening to this and my thoughts began to go down that same road, except to wonder where I’d be if I had not let God into my life.  The more I thought about it the more I thought I could write my own song to that tune.  So, I did.  And, I thought I’d share it with you here.  (It’s okay, you can sing along, I won’t tell anyone).

I Remember the Time When – Lyrics by Jerry Robinson

I remember the time when 
I put work ahead of family 
I was running hard but, Lord, I wasn't free. 
I was chasing the pipeline, 
Living hotel to hotel, 
The pay was good but not so good for me.

One day I hit the bottom 
Stressed, confused and lonely
I knew I couldn't live my life that way.
I retreated to a church pew,
Kneeled down before You,
I bowed my head and there began to pray

Chorus:
And I fell in love with You, Lord,
You made my life so special,
You taught me how to love the way You do.
You gave my life new meaning,
With my wife, my friends, and children,
I'm grateful for the love I found in You.

I remember the time when
I wanted nothing to do with You, Lord
I was in control and knew what was best for me.
I never stopped to question,
Why I wasn't happy,
I was blinded by my pride and couldn't see.

And I fell in love with You, Lord,
You made my life so special,
You taught me how to love the way You do.
You gave my life new meaning,
With my wife, my friends, and children,
I'm grateful for the love I found in You.

Bridge
And, I know You had a plan, Lord,
But I was just too stubborn,
You were there when I had no place to go.
Now each night before I sleep
I hate to think where I might be
Had I passed the chance to open up that door.

I remember the time when
Promotions were what I worked for,
I thought they'd bring a better way to live.
But, now I trust in You, Lord,
You'll always be there for me,
'Cause there's more to life than what the world can give.

And I fell in love with You, Lord,
You made my life so special,
You taught me how to love the way You do.
You gave my life new meaning
With my wife, my friends, and children,
I'm grateful for the love I found in You.

“Good and gracious, God, thank You!  Just thank You!  Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections:  I Remember the Time When… was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 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.

Road Trip Reflections: Battles are Won From Within

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Icon of St. Michael the Archangel

Yesterday at the end of Mass we recited the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel before the final blessing.  As we prayed, “St. Michael, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil….”, I wondered how many of the faithful say this prayer with rote indifference, unaware that, in our world today, we truly are in a battle between good and evil.  The prayer implies that we are in the battle.  We are fighting for our souls and the souls of everyone we love.  We are the troops on the ground and when we call upon St. Michael it’s like we’re calling for close air support to assist us.  It doesn’t mean we sit back and let him do all the work.

At home after Mass, I packed my bags, loaded a U-Haul trailer and set out on a road trip to San Antonio, Texas.  The first leg was to my parent’s house in southeast Missouri for a quick visit.  On the way I saw a billboard with a photograph of a Marine running through a jungle with the caption, “Battles are won from within”, alluding to the interior fortitude required to be a Marine.  Reflecting on the morning’s Mass, I thought we could all benefit from some stronger moral interior fortitude to help resist the temptations of the world today. 

Shortly after seeing this billboard I turned on my stereo and Jerry Jeff Walker’s The Rain Song from his It’s About Time album began to play.  It contains the lyric, “The hardest thing a man can do is look inside and see the truth about himself.”  Still thinking about the spiritual warfare we are waging, it made sense that the place to start if we want to win this war is to look inside and see the truth about ourselves.

The hardest thing for a man to do is look inside and see the truth about himself.

A Marine discovers his or her weaknesses by repeatedly facing difficult challenges and, through sheer willpower, forcing themselves to overcome the obstacles that are inhibiting their confidence.  Similarly, we need to accept our challenges and suffer through our daily trials as training to resist the temptations that lead us to sin.  And, Lent is a perfect time to make this effort!

I include myself in that “we need to”.  With several hours of windshield time ahead of me I considered where to begin.  Unsure, I simply said out loud, “God, help me see the truth about myself, to uncover my faults and bad habits.”   I heard in reply, “Why not start with your roles in life and the responsibilities that go with them?  Are you being responsible and if not, why not?”

As though the Lord was sitting in the passenger seat I conversed out loud with Him.  I examined my roles as Self, Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Friend, and Disciple. I recognized both my good efforts and those with which I fall short and still had room for improvement. 

I was prompted to ask, “Why do I do the things I do?”, which forced me to look for root causes.  “That’s just the way I am” was not an acceptable answer. After making a pit-stop, I drew up a list of resolutions and made a note to break them down into concrete baby steps.

Getting back on the road it seemed like I was still missing something.  So, I turned to my “passenger” again and asked what other interior obstacles needed examining.  It was like the Lord knew I would need to keep my mind occupied on this long trip so He gave me a list:

“Consider your vices and how you can replace them with virtue.  How can you be more humble?  Maybe replace gluttony with a little temperance?  What about focusing on charity to others instead of being so selfish?  You know, don’t you, that strengthening one virtue improves the others?

“Take a look at any disordered attachments in your life.  What do you treasure that doesn’t bring you closer to Me?  Ask yourself why you want it.

“Examine the relationships in your life.  How can you improve them?  Hint:  Remember the two great commandments – how can you love more dearly?  

“Is your life balanced?  If it feels lop-sided, find out why?  What brings stress and anxiety into your life?  Is it something that you can change?  If so, change it.  If not, join your cross to mine and I’ll help you carry it.

And finally, “When you get around to it, come back and ask Me to help you with these.  I’ll be glad to.  I’ll be here.”

I pulled into my parent’s driveway and remembered reconciliation from Saturday during which I confessed I’d not done well at making a daily examination of conscience and needed to do better.  He took me for my word!

I know some sincere resolutions during Lent will help me through the desert of Satan’s temptations.  Could it help you, too?  Talk to God about it and don’t refuse to accept His help.  You can win the battle from within.  God bless you!

“Merciful Father, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit into my life and strengthening my soul so that I may do my part at resisting temptations to sin.  Lord, I know that You and my guardian angel are there if I just place my trust in You and call on You for Your assistance.  Thank you for being my co-pilot yesterday.  Amen.”

Be Like Peter

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Peter receiving the keys to the Kingdom

In today’s first reading (1 Pt 5:1-4) Peter exhorts the early Church leaders to be examples for their flocks, and Jesus will recognize their efforts.  A few years early, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah (Mt 16:13-19) and set the example for the other disciples.  Jesus recognized him and established him as the rock upon which He would build His Church.

We don’t have to be bishops, priests or theologians to be good examples to our parish communities.  By living our faith with virtue we, too, can set an example and help others grow closer to Christ.  As with Peter, Jesus will reward us.  

Be like Peter.

Lord Jesus, I desire to live my life as an example for others.  Today I offer up my work, prayer, joy and suffering in union with Your sacrifice in the Holy Mass, and cheerfully accept the things I don’t like, did not choose and cannot change for the conversion of souls.  Amen.”

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

©2013-2021 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.

If You’re Going to Believe in Everything You Read, then Start with Your Bible

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Last week I drove by the United Methodist Church in our town of Lebanon, Ohio and saw on their marquee this thought provoking quip, “If you’re going to believe in everything you read, then start with your Bible.”  I thought at the time how it has become almost impossible to believe anything one reads or hears.  The mainstream media distorts the truth to fit their agenda, and social media is filled with half-truths and opinions making it difficult to know what is reality.  And, I agreed that the safest place one can go to read the truth and preserve one’s intellect is the Bible.

I thought about this again when I read today’s Gospel passage, Mark 8:14-21, where Jesus tells his disciples, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” I know I’ve read this passage many times before but I was always like the disciples, not understanding Jesus’ intent.  Today, I think I grasped His meaning.

Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.

Mark 8:15

Leaven, or yeast, is added to flour and water to make bread rise.  Without it, you get flatbread.  But, flatbread is still bread, unadulterated bread.  The leaven is a change agent that adds air to the dough without adding any nutritional value, yet makes the bread look more attractive, and imparts a pleasing and desirable flavor.  

The Pharisees, who were the religious component of authority in Jesus’ time, added their “leaven” of man-made laws which camouflaged God’s commandments, making them secondary.  Herod, the Roman political component of authority, demanded that the Roman laws, his “leaven”, also supersede God’s laws so that he and his government would remain in power.  Although the Jews were oppressed by the Romans, they also depended on them for their security.

We have a similar set up in our culture today.    The modern day pharisees preach love of self over love of God (individualism), love of things before love of God (materialism), love of disordered pleasure over morality (hedonism), and that we can make up our own truth and disregard the truths of human nature given to us by God (relativism).  Our society seems to have accustomed itself to depending on our government, our own Herod, for all its needs, placing our political leaders on a pedestal higher than God, which is right where they want to be.  Together, the two are like the right and left hands of a marionette in a puppet show being orchestrated by Satan himself, the puppet master.

And, our mainstream media is narrating the entire production, telling us what to believe, who to believe, and how we should and should not act.  It’s not just the news sources but also television shows billed as family entertainment, movies whose producers are coerced to present non-Christian content in hopes of receiving industry recognition, music that promotes every sort of immoral decadency, literature that entices us to believe that fantasy is preferential over reality, and declares pornography to be an art form.

And we wonder why our world is a mess.  We have dug our hole deep and it’s caving in on us.  The only way to dig ourselves out is to turn back to God and live by His commandments instead of the perverted norms of our society.  We must adore God more than we do our political leaders and more than we do those who promote immorality.

How might you do this?  For starters, turn off your television.  Ask yourself if the information you glean from a news broadcast makes a positive difference in your life or does it simply cause anxiety, fear, and mistrust.  Decide if watching that sitcom you’re addicted to is making you a better person.  Do you really want to support Netflix or HBO or any of the other media sources by watching a not-so-bad movie yet knowing that their real appeal is in their “racier” offerings?  Consider whether watching a televised sporting event is going to make a difference in your life, or could you be spending that couple hours building relationships with your spouse or children.  The media knows we are weak.  They know we will gravitate to what feels good over what is good.  You can be stronger than they are.

Impossible you ask?  It’s not.  This month marks the thirty-fourth year my wife and I have not watched television.  We have a television but it is only used to watch a handful of movies in a year.  Spending time together in conversation, playing games, praying together, taking walks together and other mutual activities are much more rewarding.  Our children grew up without television.  Instead of parking them in front of the television as children we played with them, read books to them, helped them with homework, provided opportunities for creativity.  In other words, we were present in their lives.  It made a difference.  I’m not pridefully patting myself on the back, just hoping to be an inspiration to you by giving an example that it can be done.  Think about it.

The same goes for every other type of entertainment including books and music.  Ask yourself if that which you are reading or listening to feeds your intellect with the truth of reality.  Ask whether it is good or not.  By good I mean that it not only brings you satisfaction but makes you a better person, whether it fulfills the purpose for which you were designed by God.  We are only truly happy when both conditions are met.  You can find that happiness in the Bible.

As I write this it is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the eve of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  If you’re looking for something to “give up” for Lent, or wondering how you might grow closer to Christ in this season, consider fasting from television and replace it with reading Scripture, building relationships with God through prayer and with your family, friends and neighbors.  I guarantee you will reap more rewards than by giving up chocolate.  

Since television is not an issue for me, my lenten resolution is to fast from FaceBook completely.  I venture there mostly to see pictures my daughters might have posted of my grandchildren.  But, while looking for those, I easily become distracted by all the other addicting content that steals my time, and which may or may not be believable.  I would much prefer reading the One Book that is believable because I know it is truth, letting it make me a better person, and then going out and practicing what I’ve learned.

I pray that each and every one of you grows closer to our Lord this Lenten season.

“Heavenly Father, You made us for more than we have become.  Help me and all Your faithful during this Lenten season love You more and grow closer to You through prayer, as well as building loving relationships with our family, friends and neighbors.  Amen.”

(If You’re Going to Believe Everything You Read, then Start with Your Bible was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

An Inconvenient Pandemic

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Christ Healing the Leper

About a month ago, on a Tuesday, I had cataract surgery on my right eye.  I went in on Wednesday for a follow-up visit and all looked fine.  But, by Thursday, my vision in that eye was a little cloudier than it was the day before so I made an appointment to go back in on Friday.  However, also on Wednesday, I was having some chest congestion, some shortness of breath and a minor headache, so I made an appointment to get a Covid-19 rapid test at a clinic.  A quick swab up the nose and bingo!, I had Covid.

Well, I had to do the right thing and let the ophthalmologist’s office know I had Covid. After some hemming and hawing, they decided I could still keep my appointment with some conditions:  I had to wait outside until they were ready for me, they had to prepare a room just for me, I had to double mask with my mask taped to my face, and I couldn’t speak while I was in the office.  On top of that, the doctor came in attired in full operating garb from head to toe.  

It was an inconvenience for me but I didn’t take it personally.  I knew the doctor couldn’t afford to catch the virus and risk giving it to other patients.  But, when I got home I told my wife that I now knew how the lepers of biblical times must have felt!

This morning’s Scripture passages brought this recollection to mind.  We heard in the first reading, Leviticus 13:1-2 & 44-46, how the Lord told Moses and Aaron that those with a “scaly infection” (leprosy) shall be declared unclean, be required to cry out “unclean, unclean!” whenever near another person, and shall dwell apart from other people. It always seemed cruel to me that they should be outcast from society, and I always felt sorry for them because there was no known cure which would allow their re-entry.

Today, as I meditated on that passage, I saw that there was perhaps a purpose behind God’s instructions to Moses and Aaron.  An uncontrolled outbreak of the contagious disease could wipe out a significant portion of a civilization.  I can see how God, in His wisdom, saw the necessity to sacrifice a few for the benefit of many.

This theme carried over into today’s second reading, 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, in which St. Paul says, “…do everything for the glory of God.  Avoid giving offense…just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.  Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

And then, in the Gospel, Mark 1:40-45, we read about how Jesus, moved with pity, cleansed the leper.  My first thought was that Jesus, as I would expect, was more concerned about that one leper than he was for Himself and His disciples.  But, then I considered that Jesus, seeing the bigger picture, obeyed the Father’s instructions to a tee, with one significant twist:  He sacrificed Himself on a cross for the benefit of many, including you and me, and for the salvation of our souls.

Ever since the onset of the Corona virus pandemic, people’s opinions have been all across the spectrum on how we should live with it.  Some are extremely cautious while others throw caution to the wind.  There is much debate about whether masks are effective and if they are safe for the wearer or if they make matters worse.  We are a mobile society which makes isolation painful, if not impossible, for some folks.  Throw in the politicized aspects of the pandemic and one doesn’t know whom or what to believe.

I dislike wearing a mask as much as the next person.  But, our society, our culture, our entire civilization for that matter, is mobile and cannot isolate completely.  Thus, measures were implemented to protect the general population, the many, until science could catch-up.   And, so, I had to ask myself if it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.  I decided last year to wear my mask, including wearing it to church.  Not because I wanted to, or because the Governor told us to, but because my pastor asked me to for the well-being of the many.  Today, understanding that God advised the Levite priests to do much the same, brought me some consolation.  

I found even more consolation in knowing that Christ sought not His own benefit but that of the many when he offered Himself as a sacrifice for all souls, including mine, that we may be saved.  If He did that for me, then I can live with a little inconvenience.

“All loving and merciful God, I pray for the souls of those who have succumbed to this virus and for those who have suffered and survived, and I pray for a speedy end to the pandemic.  Until then, I pray that, in our inconvenience, we may imitate Jesus and make just a small sacrifice for the benefit of the many.  Amen.”

(An Inconvenient Pandemic was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 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.

Groundhog Day

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It’s been two days since the world’s most renowned groundhog, Punxsutawny Phil, popped out of his burrow and saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. (For my international readers who are unfamiliar with Groundhog Day, go here to learn more).  Personally, I can’t make it through the second day of February each year without thinking about the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, one of my all-time favorites, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

In it, actor/comedian Murray, plays the part of Phil Connors, an abrasive and self-centered television weatherman who is sent on assignment along with his producer and cameraman to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania.  During the festivities, Phil records his news report on the celebrated groundhog’s prediction with all the contempt for the “rat” (and the people of the town) that fits his egotistical personality.

In a kind of karma, Phil and team are forced to spend the night in the small town because of a severe winter storm which he failed to predict.  The following morning, Phil awakes in his hotel room bed and discovers it is February 2nd all over again, a deja vu which only he experiences.    Then, every morning afterwards, for what seems like a lifetime, he wakes at 6:00 a.m. to the same song on the radio only to find it is still February 2nd.

As the film progresses, Phil’s life progresses from denial to rebellion to despair and then finally to acceptance of his situation.  With acceptance, he learns to replace his pride with humility, his lust with love, and greed with generosity.  He learns the importance of beauty in life and placing others before himself.  In a sense, he is being refined each and every day that he is stuck in the seemingly endless time loop which only he experiences.  In the end, when he finally experiences the true meaning of selfless love, he wakes up one morning and it is February 3rd.

On Tuesday as I was reading the daily Scripture during my daily meditation I thought of this movie again.  For the last four years I have hi-lighted in yellow pencil the passages I have read each day, and underlined in red those phrases which the Holy Spirit put on my heart that day.  And, next to each, in pencil, I have written the date I meditated on that passage.  I’ve now been doing this long enough to see that I’ve read that same passage on or about the same date in a previous year.  

Many Catholics don’t know that the Church repeats the daily readings on a two-year cycle for weekdays, and a three-year cycle for Sundays.  I knew this and always thought it was simply an effective way to read almost the entire Bible over a three year period.  But, on Tuesday, I saw it differently.

In the first reading from Scripture that day, I read in Malachi 3:1-4, “For He will be like a refiner’s fire…” so that their offerings, “will please the Lord.”  It struck me that the only way we can grow in holiness is to continually be refined; that our purpose on earth is to be refined to the point where our final offering will, indeed, please the Lord and we will be united with Him in heaven.  

As Catholics, we don’t wake up to the same song every morning like Phil did, but our two or three year cycle does give us the opportunity to grow in holiness and virtue every day.  

For one who does not spend time in daily meditation listening to the Word of God and asking what His will is for them every day, it can be a difficult journey.  Without prayer and trusting in God to help, you can easily do like Phil, that is deny, rebel and despair when life doesn’t seem to get any better.  But when you spend time daily in conversation with Jesus and you’re docile to the Holy Spirit, and you accept and take responsibility for your faults and weaknesses, it becomes much easier to resolve to grow in virtue knowing you can trust in Him for help.  One day He may show you where your pride is strong and how to replace it with humility.  The next day the Word of God may lead you to growing in love and charity and away from lust or selfishness.  Still another day you may decide that you need to be more generous, or less envious, less angry, more grateful, or stronger in your faith.  Some days it will seem like you’re stuck in your own Groundhog Day (movie) time loop because you didn’t get it the first time…or the second.  But, with each conviction, you can resolve to become better in a particular aspect of your life every single day until your vices have been refined into sustainable virtues that “will please the Lord”.

My goal in life is to become a saint.  I want you to become one, too.  I would much prefer our refinement take place day by day here during our time on earth than when we have no control of it in Purgatory.  Ask the Lord to show you each day how you can grow in holiness, and pray for the grace to resolve to take action daily.  Even if they’re just baby steps, they’re still steps forward towards your goal.  A lifetime of baby steps will get us there.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for this day and every day that I have to grow closer to You.  I pray for the grace to make the most of them by living my life as You would have me live it, with humility, prudence, fortitude, justice, temperance, faith, hope and love.  Amen.”

(Groundhog Day was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 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 Holy Spirit

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As I read today’s Scripture for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul during my morning prayer I recalled having posted a reflection on this passage sometime in the past.  Looking back, I found I had written Conversions on this date in 2019.  Immersing myself in that memory, I relived my own conversion experience and, once again, recalled the immense love I felt when I let myself hear God calling my name.

I also recalled this morning I had a similar recollection two weeks ago on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord about which I wanted to write but didn’t have the time.  This happens frequently – I get an inspiration but then don’t have the time to put it down in coherent form.  It can be a little frustrating but then I’m sure it’s all part of God’s plan.  But, over the last few days I’ve been confined to an upstairs bedroom/office with that little thing called Covid so I have some extra time to reflect and write. (Don’t be concerned, it seems to be a very mild case.)

That Sunday, two weeks ago, I was at the Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas attending Catholic Spiritual Mentorship Week.  As Deacon Tom Schumer read from the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:7-11) at Mass, I was drawn back to that day eight years and ten months ago when I knew and felt in my heart for the first time that I was also a beloved son of God.  As it always is when I slip back to that life changing moment, I felt an intense warmth and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having received His love and being called to this life.

As Fr. Steve Sotiroff delivered his homily on the Gospel and related it to the Holy Spirit filling our hearts at our own baptisms, I naturally recounted my baptism almost a year after my conversion experience.  It seemed as though my heart had, over the previous year, already become enflamed to the point of being on fire for the Lord, such that my actual baptism was more an experience of intense gratitude (and a sigh of relief) for my sins having been forgiven.  

It crossed my mind how truly blessed I was to have had my conversion experience at the age of fifty-five.  I was able to not only remember it but to wrap it around me like a warm and comfortable blanket!  Although I truly believe it is essential for Catholics to baptize their children as infants, I thought what a difference there would be if every Catholic could have a “re-conversion” experience like mine, how we could, collectively, light the world on fire.  But, then, it occurred to me that they can have one, and many do, when men and women like you and me invite them to simply crack open the door to let the Holy Spirit come sweeping in, rekindling the fire that has been allowed to die down since their baptism.

A familiar prayer that I’ve recited hundreds of times came to mind:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful.  Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.  Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.”

The Communion hymn at Mass that Sunday was a favorite, but one that, unless you’ve been in the Mentoring program would not know.  It is an original composition entitled Your Spirit, written and composed by Sr. Ruth Kuefler, AVI.  It is a truly beautiful song, especially when she graces it with an excellent in-person performance on her violin, which she did that day.  Ever since I first heard it four years ago it has pierced me like a sword and brought me to tears, so powerful are the lyrics.  The chorus particularly hit home that day:

“Send us Your Spirit we’ll hear the Father say: ‘My son, you are beloved, daughter you are my delight, I will care for you, and you will live in my love.’”

After Mass I caught Sr. Ruth’s attention and told her for the umpteenth time how beautiful her song is, how it strikes me, and suggested that she ought to copyright it and publish it.  To my surprise, she told me she had finally done that just the day before and published it as a YouTube video.  I feel honored to be able to share Your Spirit with you here (if you like it, please give it a thumbs up and share with others).

“Lord Jesus, thank You for Your love.  Thank You for sending the Holy Spirit, the love between You and the Father, into my heart.  Thank You for showing me through the people You’ve placed in my life, and the beauty of this world, like this song, that I am Your beloved son.  I pray for the grace to help others come to know the same.  Amen.”

(Come Holy Spirit was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 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.

Bring a Friend to Christ

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Jesus Sends the Apostles – Duccio di Buoninsegna, c.1300

Yesterday, as I read the Gospel from Mark 3:13-19, I zeroed in on Jesus’ summoning of the twelve whom he appointed as His Apostles.  I tried to imagine what they felt when they realized they were being chosen to stand out from the hundreds of other disciples who were following Jesus at the time.  Were they overcome with joy?  Probably.  Did their chests swell with pride for being chosen?  I’m sure they did.  Later, in Mark 10:35-45, we discover James’ and John’s ambition to be placed above the others.  

And what about the hundreds of other people who had flocked to Him, followed Him, and became His disciples?  How did they feel?  Did they feel left out?  Or did the joy they had discovered from following Jesus infuse new life into their vocations as spouses and parents, and into their occupations?

Two thousand years later, not much has changed.  The Holy Spirit is still calling men to be apostles by calling them into the priesthood, and women into religious life.  Their love for Jesus prompts them to embrace lives of poverty, chastity and obedience and live by divine providence as the first Apostles learned to do.  I am grateful for their sacrifices that, through them, the rest of us are brought closer to Jesus.

The rest of us.  What about the rest of us?  Because we have not been summoned, does it mean that we can’t or shouldn’t help bring others to Jesus as well?  Absolutely not.  Those disciples not chosen for the Twelve didn’t just throw up their hands and say, “Okay, that’s it, I’m not on the A-team so I can go home now.”  No, they remained faithful followers.  And, so should we.  

But, our job is not just to follow Jesus.  It’s to tell others about Him, to introduce them to Him.  In, Thursday’s Gospel we read in Mark 3:8, “Hearing what He was doing, a large number of people came to him….”.  How did they “hear” what Jesus was doing?  They heard because those following Jesus told them about His saving grace.  And, then, they not only heard, but they saw with their own eyes the joy and excitement  displayed by those who had seen the Messiah.

I know what you’re thinking:  “The point Jerry’s trying to get across is that we need to evangelize, that we need to go out and tell others about Jesus.”  You’re right.  And, I know what you’re feeling:  “That’s not easy to do.  Anyhow, most of the people I know already go to church and those who don’t don’t care.  What if people push back and don’t want to hear about Jesus?  What if they ask me questions to which I don’t know the answers?  It makes me uncomfortable!”  I get it.  Been there.

You might be thinking, too, “You know, I lead a good Christian life, I’ll let my example speak for itself.”  Well, that’s all fine and good, but it’s too passive.  That’s like seeing the guy or girl of your dreams and thinking you don’t need to speak to him or her because your good looks or your fancy clothes are enough of an attraction when, instead, it’s a vivacious, outgoing and charming personality that’s needed.  No, you have to take action, you have to do something.  But, where do you start?

I will assume you have friends.  And, every one of those friends is in love with Christ, they look forward to going to Mass every Sunday (and during the week, if possible), and they consider receiving Communion the high point of their day, right?  What, no?  They aren’t all that way?  You mean you have some friends who are perhaps a little lukewarm?  Oh, and even a few who don’t profess any faith?  Okay, good, you’re not alone, then.

The operative phrase in the above is that you have friends.  We all have friends and family whom we love but whose faith is all across the board.  And, since we are all sinners, every single one of us has room to grow in virtue that only Christ can bring through a close relationship with Him. Our mission is to help that happen.

What makes for good friendship?  Usually, it begins with getting to know each other through good conversation.  Good conversation brings with it a certain intimacy which, in turn, brings a level of trust.  A deep and trusting friendship turns into a loving relationship that desires the best for each other.  And, how can we love someone more than to wish for them a relationship with God that will bring them joy for all eternity?

I know, it sounds good, but how do you make it happen?  Well, it usually won’t happen by itself, meaning you have to set it in motion.  There are various ways to begin.  And, it’s not by following a “friend” on social media.

An easy way is to sit in a different pew than you’re used to sitting in, or attend a different Mass, and meet someone new.  Strike up a conversation after Mass.  If that’s the Mass they usually attend, make it a point to go back and meet them again.

It may help to have a plan.  I have a friend who, at the beginning of the year, spends time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to put on his heart three men whom he should try to bring closer to Christ.  Then, he makes it his mission for the year to help them get there.

You might think of a friend who is struggling in some way.  Perhaps someone who hasn’t been to Mass in a while due to the pandemic.  Give them a call to check up on them and see how they’re doing.  See if you can stop by and chat with them for a while.  If you can, follow up later and do it again.

Invite someone you’d like to know better out to dinner or for a drink at the local pub.  Sit around a campfire and share stories about your lives. Get together at your house for dinner and an evening of playing cards.  Then invite them to pray the Rosary with you.  Make plans to do it again soon.

Once you’ve come to know the person better, and they you, interject more of your faith into the conversation.  It can be done gently and unobtrusively.  Let them see your love for Christ.  Don’t worry if they don’t jump on board right away or reject your invitation, give it time.  You’ve planted the seed.  Keep watering and fertilizing that seed by following up.  It will grow.

If you meet with other men or women in a small faith sharing group or attend a Bible study, invite that friend, after a while, to come join you.  Perhaps invite someone to a Welcome, or Christ Renews His Parish weekend, or a Cursillo weekend.  Talk to them about how uplifted you are when you attend your Adoration hour and suggest they consider taking on an hour themselves.  

Above all else, PRAY.  You must pray for your friends.  Pray that they open their hearts fully to the Holy Spirit.  And, pray for your own docility to the Holy Spirit so that you will follow His lead.

You might think this sounds like manipulation.  It’s not.  It’s love.  Manipulation would be for the purpose of what you get out of it.  Through your love, you are helping someone find the love of Christ, for their own good, not yours.

Does it work?  Absolutely!  It’s what brought me to Christ and the Catholic faith almost nine years ago.  I was Agnostic, had no faith and didn’t care one way or the other.  But, two men, both strong in their faith, befriended me and slowly and gently led me to Jesus through friendship and good conversation.  They spent and invested time in me, invited me into their world, and in that world I found more love than I’d ever known.  Out of gratitude, I want to do the same.  Won’t you join me?

“Lord Jesus, thank You for placing friends in my life who, through their love of neighbor, took the time to patiently invest in me so that I would come to know You.  Lord, please help me bring those who do not know Your love, and those who have let their relationship with You become stagnant, to a full and eternal loving relationship with You.  Amen.”

(Bring a Friend to Christ was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 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.