Crossing Over to a New Life

Tags

, , , , ,

Yesterday was the day. I turned in my cell phone, computer and keys and I retired. Officially retired. Or, as some say, I started my permanent vacation. Although I’ve actually been on vacation and have not worked for six weeks, Monday will be the first day I haven’t been on my employer’s payroll in almost 36 years. I didn’t look back as I drove out the gate. Instead, I was looking forward to my next stop which was to church for my regularly scheduled hour of Eucharistic Adoration.

As I knelt in prayer giving God thanks for the moment and for a long and prosperous career, I willingly laid to rest a life which I no longer enjoyed. I put to stern the stress of my professional responsibilities that had grown to more than I was willing to let my health absorb. I moved the memories of years of travel and separation from my family to my rearview mirror. As I waved goodbye to a life with which I could no longer identify, I programed my GPS with an address of a new life in which I will have time to devote to better health and building more intimate relationships with not just my family and friends, but with Jesus.

Pulling myself away from those thoughts and back to the purpose at hand, of contemplating the life of Christ, I remembered that since it is the Easter Season my intention for the hour was to meditate on Christ’s resurrection by going back and reading those accounts from the Gospels.

I started with Mark chapter 16 and I pondered the fear and wonder the women experienced when they found Jesus’ body missing but found a ‘young man’ instead who told them to not be amazed. I thought about the confusion and excitement they probably experienced when they were told to, “Go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’” (Mk 16:7) I wondered what I would have thought had I been in their shoes.

I moved to Matthew chapter 28 and read in verse 10 that Jesus, upon meeting the women on their way back to tell the disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty, told them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Then, I read in verse 20, after the disciples went to Galilee and met with Jesus, that He told them, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

I couldn’t imagine what might have been going through the minds of the Eleven. How could they process that Jesus had died but was living right before their eyes? I don’t know how they could fully understand but their strong faith at least allowed them to accept it and believe it. We have proof in the Acts of the Apostles that they did eventually connect the dots and make sense of everything that happened.

Thinking some more about Jesus meeting the Apostles in Galilee, I realized He had planned all along to meet with them upon His resurrection. In fact, it was absolutely essential that He meet them so that they would believe and continue to follow Him and carry out His will of spreading the Good News. The only way He could do that was by defeating death and crossing over into a new life in which He could, indeed, be with them always until the end of the age.

Then I remembered that Jesus didn’t just die for the Apostles, He died for you and me and all of humanity to save us from ourselves. It isn’t just the Apostles with whom He will be until the end of the age. It’s us, too. He crossed over into a new life so that He could have an intimate relationship with me.

I’m feeling pretty good right now about the reasons behind my decision to retire!

“Oh, loving and gracious God, as I move into this new life I give you thanks for the many blessings you have bestowed upon me, even the ones with which I struggled. You knew best. Lord Jesus, in my relationships with others, please help me to see You in them and let them see You in me. Holy Spirit, I pray for Your guidance on this exciting journey. Amen.”

(Crossing Over to a New Life was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 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.

Overflowing Love

Tags

, , , ,

This morning, as I held my newest grandson, four day old Myles, my heart was overflowing with love.  I looked upon his perfect face and beheld a miracle.

I glanced away for a moment and gazed upon Myles’ mother, the first of my four daughters, and remembered having the same feeling of overwhelming love almost 33 years ago.  I never knew I could love something so much.

I closed my eyes and counted my blessings:  five grand-children in two and a half years.  I prayed silently, “Thank you, God!  Your love, has bestowed so many blessings on my family!”

“Your love”, I repeated.  As I looked at my grandson again with tears in my eyes I realized God was looking at me in that moment, as He does in every moment, with unfathomable and eternal love in His eyes.

“Dear loving and gracious God, thank you for your many blessings, especially the blessing of children and grand-children.  I pray you will watch over them all and keep them healthy and safe.  Amen.”

(Overflowing Love was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2017 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.

Raising Our Eyes to Jesus

Tags

, , , , , ,

Transfig of Jesus - Raising our eyes

As Catholics, we come to church because we love the Lord. We come to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  We come to profess our faith in the saving Grace of Jesus and life everlasting.  But, I suspect, as in any religious congregation, there are those who come for other reasons:  because it’s what they’ve always done on Sunday mornings; because they feel they need to set the example for their children; or for fear of what might happen in their after-life if they don’t.  And, there are many more Catholics who simply no longer attend church either because they no longer believe or have justified and allowed worldly things to keep them away.

Today is a day we have been waiting for in our parish for several months: we begin our mission for conversion and renewal (for any Protestants reading this, think, “revival”).  Over the next four days, we will have a guest speaker, Deacon Ralph Poyo of New Evangelization Ministries, who will provide insights into what keeps us from becoming the disciples – followers of the Lord – that we are called to be; and how to improve our relationship with the Lord by recognizing those things that block our path.  The hope of the mission is to bring all parishioners, those strong in their faith, the luke warm and the fallen away, into a closer relationship with the Lord.

And, so, as I prepared for mass this morning by reviewing the scripture readings for the day, I couldn’t help but sense that they were cued up by God especially for our purpose.

In the first reading, from Genesis 12:1-4, we hear God telling Abram to 1Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” God goes on to tell Abram how he will be blessed, how from him a ‘great nation’ will be made, and how his name will be made great.  Unspoken is the reality that this would be a tough journey through desert with uncertainty of what lies ahead.  Abram didn’t say, “No, I don’t think so, Lord!  That doesn’t sound like fun.  What about all the things I will have to give up?  What about my other commitments?  No, Lord, I kind of like it right here where I am.”  Instead, without blinking or thinking twice, 4Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

Then, in the second reading, 2 Timothy 1:8-10, we hear St. Paul reminding his beloved Timothy:  8Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.  9He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.”  Here St. Paul is telling us that we are all called to live a holy life; and that it’s not always easy to follow the Lord.  We have to use the strength the Lord gives us to say “no” to our will (the things that keep us away), and “yes” to His will that will bring us closer to Him.

Finally, the Gospel reading was Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus, Matthew 17:1-9. After Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the mountain, 5a bright cloud cast a shadow over them” and, upon hearing God’s voice say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”, the Apostles fell prostrate to the ground.  Jesus came to them and told them to, 7Rise, and do not be afraid.” Then, 8when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.”  With this last line I thought how wonderful it would be if it was that easy – each time we are fearful, each time we start to let our will take control – to raise our eyes and fix them on “no one else but Jesus alone.”

Unfortunately, we tell ourselves it isn’t that easy. It’s in our fallen nature to do so.  But, through the Grace of God, we have been given the gift of faith which is all that we need to give us the courage to say no to the things that keep us from Him.  Sometimes we just need help being shown the way.

Deacon Poyo, I hope your talks this week enlighten and inspire me, and everyone else in our parish, to build a better relationship with Jesus, and to help our brothers and sisters do the same.

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle 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.”

(Raising Our Eyes to Jesus was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2017 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.

Seeking Signs

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Some days I simply don’t get a chance to read the daily scripture passages until the end of the day. Yesterday, like most Mondays, was this way.  I got my morning prayers in before I arrived at work, but then the routine of meetings and conference calls began and lasted the rest of the day.  Finally, at about ten o’clock, after a two hour drive and getting settled in my hotel room bed, I had time to read them.

Yesterday’s Gospel was from Mark 8:11-13“The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign?  Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’  Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore.”

The last thing I remember before falling asleep was thinking about how the Pharisees were hell-bent on finding some way to get rid of Jesus so He would stop rocking their boat; and about how He didn’t fall to their trickery. He simply admonished them and sailed away.  Shortly after four o’clock this morning, I awoke still thinking about this story, but, from a personal perspective.

In my state of half-sleep, I remembered a few years ago, before I became Catholic, or even Christian for that matter, how I would sometimes wonder about the presence of God and Jesus. I would ask, “God, if you’re really there, give me a sign so I will know for sure.”  Of course, nothing happened.  What I didn’t know then was that He doesn’t want us to depend on signs.  He wants us to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

I remembered that weekend in April 2012 when I finally accepted God as real and Jesus as my Savior. I told my friend that I didn’t know if I believed or not because I didn’t know how to have faith.  He told me to forget being so analytical and logical and just accept it.  He said faith is a gift God is trying to give me through the Holy Spirit, that it was free for the taking and all I had to do was accept it.  Later that night in the church, I prayed my first real heart-felt prayer, a prayer embedded with real hope.  I believe I accepted, in that moment, His gift of faith because I immediately felt a sense of peace; and, not only were my prayers answered, but I began to see signs of His presence everywhere I looked.

Then, I began to think about times recently when my spiritual life has been a bit dry, when I didn’t feel I could see or feel His presence no matter what I did. I remember praying, “Come on, God, I know you’re there.  Help me out here; I need to feel you with me right now.”  And, then, of course, I ended up disappointed.  I realized God’s not to blame; it’s me and my lack of faith.

Why does faith slip away from me? Why do I not have any trouble trusting my family and close friends but forget about God?  Perhaps it’s because I’m still learning to walk by faith and not by sight.  I can see and hear those people close to me; I have hard evidence that they come through for me; and they are connected to the worldly things which, unfortunately, occupy most of my time.  The shame is that I know God works in my life, too; I’ve experienced it so many times.  His generous blessings are tangible examples of His endless love.  But, I am often blinded by the urgent, less important aspects of life and forget that He is there to lead me through those times.  I am humbled that I am not nearly as faithful as I would like to believe.

Do you get preoccupied and fail to recognize the Lord’s presence in your life? How do you get your faith back on track?

“O, loving and gracious Lord, grant me the Grace to strengthen my faith in You. Help me to never forget that You are only ever one prayer of affirmation away, one whispered, ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’   And, help me, please, to always thirst for You as You do for me.  Amen.”

(Seeking Signs was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2017 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.

Finding Rest in the Desert

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’”                     – Mark 6:31 NAB

In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs His apostles to take a break from their travels and their mission of preaching repentance and healing of unclean spirits. Two by two, they have been separated and away from Jesus for quite some time.  They are tired and dirty.  They have healed many but have been rejected by many, also.  They’re ready for some downtime and time to re-energize.

As I heard the lector read this verse from the Gospel of Mark this morning at mass, I reflected on my own experience and realized that Jesus, as always, hit the nail on the head. For me, it has always been when I have retreated to a “deserted” place for rest and reflection that I have, afterwards, found myself refreshed and renewed in my faith and closer to Jesus.

My first experience was five years ago when I attended a Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat weekend at our parish church. My decision to go on the retreat was based not on getting closer to Jesus or to increase my faith, for I wasn’t Catholic nor remotely religious, but to hide from the daily struggles of work, and trying, unsuccessfully for the most part, to bring some balance to my life.  I also hoped to meet some men and make some new friends.  I did meet many men and made many new friends – not just acquaintances but lifelong brothers.  And, more importantly, I found God and the love of Christ.  My life was transformed and it hasn’t been the same since.  I became Catholic one year later.

Following that CRHP experience, I met regularly with some of those new friends on a regular basis in a quiet room at our church or at each other’s homes. They were special times, ones which would have required a natural disaster to keep me away.  We talked about how we had seen God working in our lives, and we opened up and shared the difficulties we were trying to overcome.  We chose scripture passages to read and discuss.  We learned from each other and we encouraged each other and we formed brotherly bonds.

With pressures from work seeming to increase, I wanted more of this type of respite. I began attending Bible studies and other opportunities to learn and deepen my faith, including weekly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Along with spending time with my wife, these encounters were the things which brought me peace.

In wanting to learn more about my faith, I jumped at the invitation to attend a Cursillo weekend where I could again spend a restful few days in reflection and fellowship with other men. Like CRHP, it was a life changing experience.  As a follow-up to Cursillo, monthly Ultreya meetings and weekly discussions of our prayer life, what we are doing to grow our faith, and what we are doing to bring others to Christ, keep me grounded and help direct my attention away from worldly strife.

Through these experiences, I have learned to take advantage of other opportunities for silence, solitude and time for prayer when I am away from my home field and friends. At those times, my “desert” becomes a rolling mountain stream, a peaceful perch overlooking a valley, holding a sleeping grandchild in my arms, or just about any place where I can marvel at His many miracles.

rock-creek

One of my favorite places to rest and listen to God – Rock Creek, west of Red Lodge, Montana.

I have probably read that verse from Mark several times but it never hit home until today. Before mass was over I took time to say a prayer of Thanksgiving for giving me the desire to want to find my own isolated “desert”, and to take time for rest and recharging by the best power source there is, Jesus Christ.

Where is your “desert”? Where do you go to find peace and quiet?  Do you make the time to go?  Do you go there with the intention of spending time with Jesus and letting him recharge you?  You should!  Go!  Look for the opportunities.  Attend a retreat such as Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo.  Schedule time to meet with faithful men and women from whom you can grow your faith and who will lift you up with encouragement.  If this is new to you, signing up for a Bible study at your church is a good place to start.  The important thing is to seek Him.  Seek Him in a place that offers a measure of solitude and silence where you can listen to God, perhaps through others, and speak to Him in prayer.  You will find Him and you’ll be glad you did.

“O, loving and gracious God, I give You thanks for arranging our first meeting where I learned of and felt Your immense love for me. Thank You for rewarding me with Your peace each and every time I have come back to You.  Your love increases my faith, and my faith brings me hope for a life of eternity with You.  Amen.”

(Finding Rest in the Desert was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2017 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.

Giving Your Heart

Tags

, , , , , ,

As we began singing the hymn during the presentation of the gifts this morning, the usher passed the collection bowl down our pew. As always, we passed it to the next person without putting anything in it.  Rather than write a check every week, we make our contribution once a month.  Let me rephrase that – my wife, who manages our money, makes the contribution for the both of us once a month through an electronic fund transfer.  I don’t have to do anything other than sing when it’s time (and, I’m sure, some folks wish I wouldn’t even do that!)

While I was singing, my mind drifted to that thought, “I don’t have to do anything.” Then, as the bread and wine were brought to the altar and the collection was placed at its base, I suddenly felt ashamed of myself.  Although our monthly gift surely helps the parish and those in need, it’s given remotely and matter-of-factly.  It’s just something we do every month.  Perhaps my wife says a prayer of gratitude for the ability to contribute and a prayer for whoever may benefit from it when she clicks the button to make the EFT happen, but I don’t do anything.

I realized that I was missing something. At a minimum, I thought, I ought to consciously acknowledge our offering and pray that it helps someone.  But, ideally, it’s more than that.  The presentation of the gifts at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is offering a gift to Jesus himself.  And, it doesn’t matter whether I make a monthly electronic contribution or drop an envelope in the bowl each week, the gift He wants more than anything else is the gift of my heart offered willingly with love – the acknowledgement that I am giving myself to Him.  A monetary contribution is nice, but hiding behind it without giving Him the gift He truly desires is like buying an expensive gift for your child’s birthday without showing up in person.

I realized that in giving myself to Him each time I attend mass, I am making a commitment to subordinate my will to His. Near the beginning of mass, during the Introductory Rites, I confess my venial sins and ask forgiveness in the Penitential Act.  There is always something I can think of about which I regret doing or not doing.  His forgiveness of these sins allows me to start anew.  Thus, recommitting myself to Him and praying, “I am Yours, Lord”, after I am forgiven, time after time, day after day, seems only fitting.

I know that the next time I attend mass I will take to heart the meaning behind the presentation of the gifts. I will sing and I will watch the family who brings the gifts to the altar.  But, I will also offer a prayer to Jesus that he accepts my gift, the gift of my heart, and my commitment, again, to allow His will to be done.

I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling, that many who have gone to church day in and day out their entire lives probably do just like I have done – use this time during the presentation of the gifts to sing (or not) and let their minds wander. Won’t you join me, instead, to recommit and imagine that it is our hearts which are being laid at the base of the altar?

“Lord Jesus, I give You thanks for Your forgiveness as I offer You the gift You truly desire, the gift of my heart. I pray for the grace that one day I will not have any sins of commission or omission to confess, knowing that I have allowed Your will to be done.  Amen.”

(Giving Your Heart was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2016 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 Jubilee Year of Mercy: The Spiritual Works of Mercy

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

know-mercy-show-mercy

I squeezed in my post about The Corporal Works of Mercy two days prior to the close of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  I’m a few days late in following up with its sister post about the Spiritual Works of Mercy, but, just because the Year of Mercy came to an end, doesn’t mean we have to stop learning about mercy and being merciful.

Spiritual Works of Mercy:  Meeting the spiritual needs of others

“Fill your empty neighbor from your fullness, so that your emptiness may be filled from God’s fullness.” – St. Augustine, Sermon 56, 9.

Just as it was when St. Augustine wrote these words in the early fifth century, many men and women today are spiritually lost and barely surviving in today’s cultures of individualism, hedonism, minimalism and relativism. They are hurting inside and, although they may not admit it, they are searching for truth.  As Christians, we are called to lead others to the real truth and light of Jesus Christ.  We can do this by practicing the spiritual works of mercy:  instructing the ignorant; counseling the doubtful; admonishing the sinner; bearing wrongs patiently; forgiving offenses willingly; comforting the afflicted; and praying for the living and the dead.

Instruct the ignorant

“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7 (NAB)

Instructing the ignorant essentially means bringing knowledge of the love of God through Jesus Christ to those who have not had the opportunity to get to know God. We do this first and foremost by living the Gospel – being witnesses to Christ – in our daily lives.  We have to live our lives as examples by radiating love; being charitable and forgiving; living our lives with gratitude; and letting others see the peace and joy we experience of being “in Christ”.  We don’t even have to open our mouths – just let our actions speak for themselves.

Sometimes, however, we are called to speak. We don’t preach from street corners, rather, we gently evangelize – communicate the love of God to everyone we meet – by helping them find meaning and a sense of place in this world.  We can try to convince all day long but until others experience God’s love with their own senses, we can’t expect them to “get it”.  It means we may have to testify and let others know how it feels to us to live in faith and receive Christ’s love.  Ultimately, our job is to lead them to a rendezvous with the Holy Spirit.

Counsel the doubtful

“On those who waver, have mercy.” Jude 1:22 (NAB)

It can be difficult to give counsel to people whose faith is wavering, or to those who fear the transformation that will take place if they give their life to Christ. It takes study to deeply learn our faith and have the strength to be able to practice this work of mercy.  We can’t be half-baked Catholics and expect to effectively counsel the doubtful.  It takes conviction based on knowledge and a love for Christ that lets our counsel come straight from our hearts.

Many Catholics fall away from their faith because of doubt when they don’t feel the presence of God in their lives. When we counsel, we need to intimately understand their relationship with God.  We have to be patient and accepting.  And, they have to know our love for them.  The act of counseling means inspiring people to believe they can have a relationship with God.  Then, we let the Holy Spirit take over.

Admonish the sinner

“We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all.”1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NAB)

We would have to be hermits to not observe other people sinning. And, to everyone else, we are the other people.  So, as we think about how to apply this work of mercy, we ought to consider how we would like to be admonished for our own sins.

We should remember the adage, “Hate the sin, not the sinner”, and not judge a person for his or her sins. Our admonishment should be a result of our love for the person, a love that wants to make them aware of the hurt or damage that their sins created to themselves and to others.  Our admonishment has to be made with humility and an awareness of our own shortcomings, and a belief that none of us are perfect.  Our job is to gently and respectfully call the person to conversion, not beat them up.  But, there is a catch:  to not be hypocritical about the particular sin being admonished, we have to ourselves be virtuous with respect to that sin or we have to be a witness to the difficulty of conversion and ask for reciprocal help and prayers.

Bear wrongs patiently

“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28 (NAB)

We have all been wronged by another person in some way. Often, our response is anger and a desire for vengeance, to give what we received no matter how unkind or unfair.  But, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and most importantly, to forgive them.  Fair enough.  So, what does patience have to do with it?

This patience requires internal strength to wait and hope for improvement or a discontinuation of the wrong that is being done; or a conversion of the other person by giving them a chance to get it right. Then, there is a second form of patience – forbearance – which we have to practice when it comes to the wrongs we commit ourselves.  After repenting of our own sins, we have to make the effort to not sin again, and to avoid the near occasion of sin.  We are wise to be patient with ourselves knowing that we might not get it right the first time but, through forbearance and the grace of God, we eventually will.

Forgive offenses willingly

“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Ephesians 4:31-32 (NAB)

This is probably the most difficult act of mercy because it means turning loose of our hurt feelings caused by others. It means putting an emphasis on the word, “willingly”, and understanding that forgiveness can’t be forced.  We have to want to forgive for it to be true forgiveness.  It’s not easy.  We will probably have to pray for the grace and strength to forgive.

Forgiveness boils down to love. It means shedding the feeling of being a “victim” and looking beyond the hurt we have experienced.  We have to accept that we are worth loving, not only by others but by ourselves.  It means loving the person we are forgiving.  We don’t have to necessarily like or want to associate with them, but, Jesus commanded us to love them.  This means we wish them well and set them free from their guilt.  We must remember the words that we pray, “….Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….”

Comfort the Afflicted

“Do not let your heart be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” – John 14:1 (NAB)

Many people are overwhelmed with stress or a battle raging within; or full of emotional pain from bruised and broken relationships. It doesn’t matter if their pain is a result of hurt caused by someone else or from their own decisions in life.  It’s still pain.  Unfortunately, many have no one to whom they can turn to help relieve their suffering.

One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jason Gray, describes in a few compassionate words what comforting the afflicted is all about in his song, If You Want to Love Someone:

If you want to love someone/Search their heart for where it’s broken/Find the cracks and pour your heart in/If you want to love someone.”

Comforting the afflicted is about showing up. It’s being a shoulder on which a person in need can lean; it’s giving advice, if asked; it’s listening to their story and helping them feel they matter; and offering a needed hug.  It’s about our Christian Community being attentive and actively looking for our neighbors who need help.

Pray for the Living and the Dead

“In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison…” – 1 Peter 3:19 (NAB)

In our Mass, we reserve a special moment at the end of the Liturgy of the Word for prayer intentions. We have prayer chains in which we request prayers for, and offer prayers to, the living sick and afflicted. We believe that Jesus hears and answers our prayers, as well as the intercessory prayers we ask of the saints in heaven, especially those from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We sacrifice and offer up our own afflictions as a form of prayer for others. The power of prayer is not only phenomenal, but a miracle!

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to see the effectiveness of our prayers for those who have already departed this life. But, our faith tells us they are heard.  As Catholics, we believe the soul of a person receives purification in purgatory before passing on to heaven and that our prayers will help “cleanse” the souls (“Nothing unclean shall enter it [heaven]”-Revelations 21:27) of those awaiting entrance to heaven.  As we pray for the dead, we can imagine the day when we, too, find ourselves there and hear the gratitude from those whom our prayers assisted.  That will be our special reward for this work of mercy.

As we come to the end of this first week of Advent – the season in which we prepare to give our hearts to God not only for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of His Son, but also in anticipation of His second coming and, ultimately, our judgment day – I’d like to leave you with a quote I heard from Fr. Larry Richards at a Catholic Men’s Conference two Saturdays ago:

“Mercy is love incarnate. It is giving something good to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  We have to give mercy to receive mercy.  Thus, we need to become instruments of mercy.”

Be merciful!

“Holy Trinity, fill my heart with Your love and open my eyes to see opportunities to mercifully share Your love with those who need it most. Amen.”

(The Jubilee Year of Mercy – Spiritual Works of Mercy was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2016 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.

From the Archives: A Man of Mercy

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Nativity Scene

With the Jubilee Year of Mercy ending last Sunday and the season of Advent beginning today, I thought I would resurrect this post from December of 2013.  As we begin preparing ourselves for the birth of Jesus, the following perspective of what might have been going through Joseph’s mind and heart in the days before that blessed event serves perfectly to bridge the gap between the Year of Mercy and Advent.  In his song Forgiveness is a Miracle (A Song for Joseph), Jason Gray paints for us a profound example of the mercy that was offered by Joseph, and, in the last verse, gives us insight into the divine wisdom of God.

When I originally posted this I did not include a link to the lyric video of the song. I am including it here Forgiveness is a Miracle (A Song for Joseph) so you can actually hear the song and feel the meaning within. I hope you enjoy it and that it helps you prepare your heart to be offered as a gift to our Lord on His birthday. Let me know what you think.

God bless you and may this be your best Advent ever!

A Man of Mercy  (Reprinted from 5 December 2013)

About this time last year I was listening to a new CD I had purchased by my new favorite singer/songwriter, Jason Gray.  The CD is called Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.  One particular song on it, “Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)”, caught my attention because it was so different from any other Christmas song I had ever heard.  Plus, its subject was something which I had never considered:  what was going through Joseph’s mind and heart prior to, and during, his wife giving birth to not his son, but Jesus, the Son of God?

I discovered that Jason Gray had written an article for The Rabbit Room describing the story behind the song and he explores this difficult situation in which Joseph found himself.  I have re-posted his article below and included a link to The Rabbit Room’s website.  I hope you find it as thought provoking as I did.

http://www.rabbitroom.com/2012/10/the-story-behind-forgiveness-is-a-miracle/

Joseph manger stained glass

The Story Behind “Forgiveness Is a Miracle”

by Jason Gray on October 16, 2012

As I approached writing songs for each of the characters in the Christmas story, I felt particularly protective of Joseph, who I think sometimes doesn’t get the attention he’s due. At the very least I know that I’ve been guilty of not really “seeing” him for the remarkable man that he was, and I wanted to amend that. I enlisted my friend Andy Gullahorn, one of the most masterful storytellers I know, to explore a particular moment in Joseph’s story with me.

Taking my cue from Frederick Buechner’s book, “Peculiar Treasures,” in which he breathes new life into biblical characters who have grown so familiar to us that we no longer experience them as real human beings, I hoped to recapture some of the humanity of the people in the Christmas narrative. It was also important to me to try and write songs that were relevant beyond the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas day. I wanted to tell timeless human stories, and with Joseph we have the makings of just that with a love triangle, a question of revenge or forgiveness, and the age old drama of fathers and sons.

As I read his part in the narrative, I found that more than just a foster parent without much to do (as he was often relegated to in my mind), Joseph is revealed as a man after God’s own heart. Faced not only with the news that his fiancée is pregnant, but also with her incredulous story of how it was God’s doing, Joseph’s character is tested and laid out for all of us to see. What will he do? Will he hurt the one who has hurt him? Will he forgive? This is his moment, and all of history waits and watches in wonder.

There are few things more painful than the betrayal and rejection by the one you love most, so we know it must have deeply wounded him—shattering the dreams he may have had of a future with the girl he loved. Pain is like a lightning bolt striking with a violent energy that can’t be held in the human heart for long. It looks for a way out. The way it usually passes through us is in the all too common progression of hurt turning into anger and then into vengeance. Unless the miracle of forgiveness takes place in a person’s heart to absorb it, the pain we experience will pass through us and be visited upon others.

There is debate as to whether it was within Joseph’s power to have her stoned—while Jewish custom might have allowed it, Roman rule did not. However, if not to her body, we know he still could have done violence to her reputation and her heart. But I believe that Joseph did the hard work of bringing his pain to God rather than letting it pass through him, and that God graced him with the miracle of forgiveness. The narrative tells us he was a “godly man” and that instead of doing her harm, “he decided to dismiss her quietly” so that she wouldn’t be publicly shamed. He took the full force of the blow and–acting as the husband he might have been–became a covering over her supposed sin.

It’s hard for us to experience the tension in Joseph’s story since, as the reader, we know from the start that she isn’t guilty of what he naturally supposes and that God is up to something beautiful that the world has never seen before. But to see Joseph for who he is, I have to remember that he couldn’t know these things in real time. It was only after he had given himself to the work of forgiveness that the angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him that what Mary had said was true after all, and that he should marry her.

It occurred to me that perhaps this is where Joseph’s heart was proven—if not to God who already knew his heart, then perhaps to himself. (I haven’t met a man yet who isn’t daunted by the responsibility of being a father, let alone a father to the Son of God. Maybe this was a test to reveal to Joseph what kind of man he could be.) In this moment he is found to be a man of mercy, which I imagine to be just the kind of man that God was looking for to be the earthly father of his son Jesus. In a way, we see that Joseph carries in his heart the same world changing power of forgiveness that Mary carried in her womb.

It’s also meaningful to me to think of how Joseph forgiving Mary is part of the story that leads to the birth of the savior in whom Joseph would find forgiveness for his own sins. Perhaps it’s the narrative form of Jesus’ teaching that as we forgive we find ourselves forgiven.

As we wrote the song, it was good to be reminded that forgiveness is a kind of miracle. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that we can muster up forgiveness on our own. It seems to me to be a supernatural force of renewal that we participate in as we point our hearts toward it, pray for it, and make room for it in our lives, but that ultimately we receive it as a gift from God, in his due time.

Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)
Jason Gray / Andy Gullahorn
from Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy

Love can make a soul come alive
Love can draw a dream out of the darkness
And blow every door open wide
But love can leave you broken hearted

Did she dare to look you in the eye
Did her betrayal leave you raging?
Did you let her see you cry
When she said the child was not your baby?

Pain can turn to anger then to vengeance
It happens time and again
Even in the best of men
It takes a miracle to save us

When love is like an open wound
There’s no way to stop the bleeding
Did you lose sleep over what to do?
Between what’s just and what brings healing

Pain can be a road to find compassion
When we don’t understand, and bring a better end
It takes a miracle to show us

Forgiveness is a miracle
A miracle
And a miracle can change your world
Forgiveness is a miracle

An angel in a dream spoke into your darkest night
So you trusted in the Lord and you took her as your wife
But the forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you
Because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb

Love was in a crowded barn
There you were beside her kneeling
You held it in your arms
As the miracle started breathing

Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
And a miracle will change your world
Forgiveness is the miracle
Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
A miracle will save the world
Forgiveness is the miracle
Forgiveness is the miracle
Forgiveness is the miracle

Blessed Joseph
Your heart is proven
And through you the Kingdom has come
For God delights in a man of mercy
And has found an earthly father for his son

(From the Archives: A Man of Mercy was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2016 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 Jubilee Year of Mercy: The Corporal Works of Mercy

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

know-mercy-show-mercy

When I posted The Jubilee Year of Mercy – The Basics in March, I promised to post more about mercy, what it is and how we can apply it in our lives.  With the Year of Mercy ending this Sunday, November 20th, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, I’m running out of time.  Yes, I procrastinated, but it took a while to understand the concept of mercy well enough to feel comfortable relating it to you.

Specifically, I want to delve into what we call the Corporal and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. To keep the post short enough, I will break them into two posts.

Corporal Works of Mercy: Meeting the physical needs of others

“The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities….Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.” (CCC 2447) The corporal works of mercy include:  feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; harboring the homeless; visiting the sick; ransoming the captive; and burying the dead.

Feeding the Hungry

“The generous shall be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9 (NAB)

This corporal work of mercy is nearly self-explanatory. We all know that most communities have a food pantry or soup kitchen that provides meals to those who do not have the means to buy their own food.  Many people volunteer to serve food.  Some organize food drives.  And others who can’t find the time to volunteer donate food to those who do.

But, there are other ways to feed the hungry which often go overlooked. Do you know a person who is unable to cook a meal for themselves or their family?  Perhaps you could prepare a meal and deliver it to them.  Parents and spouses, in a sense, are offering a work of mercy by working and sacrificing to earn money to provide and prepare healthy meals for their families.  It’s not about the kind or amount of food, but the love that goes into providing it.  Give your heart.  Offer your works of mercy out of love for others.

Give Drink to the Thirsty

“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14 (NAB)

Fortunately, most of us don’t have to worry about having enough clean water to drink. That’s not true in most of the rest of the world.  Even in our own country the urban homeless and those in poverty stricken areas often have too little fresh drinking water.

With this corporal work of mercy, however, we need to think beyond the literal into the figurative aspect of spiritual thirst. How many of us thirst for affirmation, for compassion, to be welcomed and understood?  How many children thirst for attention and closeness from their working parents who barely have the time to devote to them?  How many elderly are lonely for someone with whom they can talk?  Sometimes the merciful “drink” we give to others is simply respect, dignity and kindness.

Clothe the Naked

“He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none.’” Luke 3:11 (NAB)

If we look around we can see that many people in our communities struggle to adequately clothe themselves and their families. This is especially true during the harshness of winter.  Clothing the naked is perhaps the easiest of the works of mercy to apply in our lives.  There are many outlets, such as St. Vincent de Paul and The Salvation Army, where we can deposit our no longer wanted clothing for distribution to those who do need it.  Similar to Feeding the Hungry, we should not be afraid to give the good stuff.

We can clothe the naked in a figurative sense as well. Consider those who have wronged us in some way and are seeking forgiveness – they are laying their souls bare to receive our forgiveness.  We need to clothe their “nakedness” by listening to their heart-felt pleas and restoring their dignity with compassion.  When we do this we are clothing Jesus.  Our actions transform us by opening us up to receive the grace of God.

Harbor the Homeless

“Jesus answered him, ‘Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’”  Luke 9:58 (NAB)

This is a tough one. In today’s society, most of us would be foolish and rightfully afraid to open our homes to strangers.  So, how do we harbor the homeless?  Perhaps the easiest way is to support, through monetary contributions and volunteering our time, those organizations which specialize in providing shelter to the homeless.  Another way is to volunteer with an organization that improves people’s living conditions by repairing their homes.  By helping to shelter the homeless we are being Christ to those whom we “harbor”.  And, because we are Christian, we are obligated to see Christ in them.  We are helping “The Son of Man” find a place to “rest His head.”  By being merciful we are introducing them to Jesus.

Visit the Sick

“I was sick and you visited me.” Matthew 25:36 (NAB)

This corporal work of mercy is often misunderstood. Comforting the sick is more the intent.  It’s more than visiting the infirmed just to say you did.  Instead, it’s about reaching out and bringing relief to those who need help.  Whether the person is physically ill or spiritually ailing from isolation or loneliness, a visit borne out of love can be healing.  For many, being present and praying with them can heal their soul.  Unlike children who can be comforted with a “get-well” toy, the best remedy for adult illness is the gift of a loving personal encounter.  A visit to the sick is more than sharing their personal space, it’s sharing their emotional space and bringing love and dignity into it.

Ransom the Captive

“Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28 (NAB)

In the early Church, Christians frequently ransomed fellow Christians being held captive in prisons or in slavery by taking their place. They volunteered their own captivity so that another may have freedom.  We don’t see this anymore and I don’t think we could do it if we wanted to.  So, we have to view this work of mercy in a figurative sense.  In doing so, it is easy to see that we are all held captive in one way or another:  to addictions and self-defeating habits; to the stranglehold of money and possessions; to guilt, fear, and failure; to abusive relationships; to poverty; and to the stigma of past sins.  Many things control us.  How do we help others to be liberated from their captivity?

The starting place is to have a loving desire to help another get out of their pit, to break their chains. Some “prisoners” may need expert help, but, for many, the simple effort of helping one get back on their feet by being loving and encouraging is all it takes to initiate their liberty.  Examples include:  befriending someone who is alone in the world; and rescuing children who are captive in their environments by offering them a way out through mentoring programs.  Ransoming the captive is using our time, talent and treasure to redeem those who are being held in their individual prisons.  We need to remember that Jesus’ death on the cross ransomed us from eternal isolation from God.

Bury the Dead

“Give your gift to all the living, and do not withhold your kindness from the dead.” Sirach 7:33 (NAB)

As Catholics, we confirm our beliefs about the dead every time we profess in our Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. This belief drives our funeral rites which, even in death, are outward signs of honoring the dignity of a person.  Our Catechism explains this work of mercy beautifully:  “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection….it honors the children of God who are temples of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC2300)

Before I became Catholic I dreaded funerals. They were uncomfortable events to say the least.  But, now, attending a funeral with the understanding that it is an opportunity to offer mercy, I am not only able, but have a desire to pay my respects to the memory of the deceased and to offer consolation to the mourning family.  And, putting everything in the context of mercy helps me to deal with my own sorrow.

The beauty about this act of mercy is not having to wait for someone you know to die. In the last couple years, I have attended three funeral masses for people whom I didn’t even know.  They were members of my parish community and, in a sense, family.  My prayers joined the prayers of so many others in an expression of faith in the Resurrection and the hope that the faithful departed were on their way to eternal life.

There are other ways to live this act of mercy. Sadly, the cost of a funeral is beyond the means of many in our society today.  Helping the family cover the cost of a funeral is something communities or parishes can do by setting up fund collections.  Another is to provide food for the post-funeral gathering to enable family and friends to continue their consolation and sharing of memories.

One final thought: our Lord was given a decent burial.  The least we can do is honor Him by doing the same for others.

Just because the Year of Mercy is coming to an end doesn’t mean we stop being merciful. The need for mercy is constant and more critical than we can imagine.  And, though we look outward towards those who need our mercy, we can never lose sight that we all need mercy in our own lives.  The mercy we give comes from God the Father.  Likewise, the mercy we receive from our neighbors, loved ones, and even strangers, also comes from God the Father.  I challenge you to consider how you can be more merciful in your life.  Begin today.

Stay tuned for my next post on the Spiritual Works of Mercy!

“Lord God, help me to always recognize and be grateful for the mercy you shower upon me. To show my gratitude, please allow me to be your hands, feet and heart by being merciful to others.  Amen.”

(The Jubilee Year of Mercy – Corporal Works of Mercy was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2016 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 Big Stuff

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

holy-eucharistI don’t know if it’s just the time of year, or the change in the weather, or some straggling ragweed still in the air, but I felt puny all last week. I decided to take Friday off and I made a 9:15 a.m. appointment to see my doctor.  On Thursday night before bed I told my wife that I was looking forward to sleeping in an extra hour or two.  Then she asked me if I would like to go to 7:30 a.m. mass with her, something I never get to do because of my work hours.  I replied I would be glad to, but then thought to myself I need to change that “hour or two” of extra sleep to just one hour.

Melinda woke before me on Friday morning and was already down stairs when I rolled out of bed. We met up after I showered and dressed and, unlike every normal work day, I had a chance to give her a big hug and good morning kiss.  I growled, “I love you”, in my broken voice that was about two octaves lower than normal.  Melinda replied, “You don’t sound too good!”, to which I said, “I feel great, I got an extra hour of sleep and I’m getting to hug you this morning.  My day is starting off fabulously!”  She responded, “Boy, it just takes little stuff to get you feeling good.”  I didn’t tell her but I thought, “No, darling, this isn’t little stuff.  This is big stuff.  This is why I decided I’m going to retire.  These little moments of intimacy are the big reward.  They’re what makes life worth living.”

We went to mass and got there a couple minutes late. I seldom get to go to weekday masses and always get a little confused with the slightly abbreviated version as compared to the usual Sunday mass.  In one way I miss the hymns (the people around me probably didn’t miss my singing!) but then without them it gets me to the Celebration of the Eucharist that much quicker.  Receiving Holy Communion is always the high point of my day.  As I accepted the Blessed Sacrament I marveled at how that one little round disk, which just a few moments earlier was simply a wafer of bread, can, with its transformation, transform one’s whole life.  And, then, with a glance towards the crucifix which hung above the altar, I thought, “That’s not just a little round wafer of bread, no, that’s BIG stuff!  Bigger than BIG!  It is truly the body of Christ!”  Upon kneeling back at my pew I gave thanks to Jesus for the unity with Him, for His nourishing my spirit, for His forgiveness of my sins and for the grace to avoid sinning, and for giving me the grace to listen to the Holy Spirit and let it fill my heart with love.  Yeah, that’s real big stuff.  It’s what makes life worth living.

Later that afternoon, I had the opportunity to join a friend to talk about our faith. We meet weekly to share with each other how our prayer life has been going over the last week, what we’ve been doing to study and grow our faith, and what actions we have taken to spread the word of God or bring Christ to others.  We’ve found that this weekly exercise helps us hold each other accountable so that we don’t get lazy in our faith.  It only takes an hour.  To some it may seem like small talk, but to me it’s that man to man time when we can be honest with each other and we know that we can trust the other to help keep us on the right path.  More big stuff.  And, more of what makes life worth living.

I love the big stuff.  How about you?  What’s your big stuff?

“Heavenly Father, thank you for opening my eyes to the big stuff in life and helping me decide to turn away from the things that have kept me from the big stuff. As I move into retirement I pray that I can always keep the big stuff the big stuff.  But, Lord, I know I will lose focus from time to time and I pray you will gently bring me back.  Amen.”

(The Big Stuff was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic.)

©2016 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.