God Loves You In So Many Ways – Be Grateful!

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It’s been over a month since I’ve had a chance to share with you how I’ve seen God present in my life.  As always, when I look for His presence I find it.  Lately, I’ve found Him often.

In an earlier post I mentioned that we have been remodeling our kitchen.  Our contractor completed the project two Wednesdays ago and we scheduled to have our piano returned the following day.  But, on that Thursday morning my wife, Melinda, discovered several inclusions embedded in the finish of the new hardwood floor throughout the house.  It appeared the finishing crew had not vacuumed well enough after sanding the floor.  With difficulty I fought to control my anger and disappointment and accepted that we would not be able to move back in for at least a couple more weeks.  

Not willing to buy off on the finished product, we contacted our contractor and asked to have the flooring company come back and refinish the floor.  We also had to call the piano storage company and cancel delivery of the piano, which we felt sure was already on its way, and braced ourselves for the cost of a superfluous delivery.  When Melinda called she was told that our piano delivery had, for some reason, never been scheduled.  I couldn’t help but think that this could be God’s reward for taking baby steps in the virtues of meekness, patience and humility.  The delay was not what I would have willed but I gave thanks to God any way.

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Two Saturdays ago my wife and I travelled to my hometown of Dexter, Missouri to visit my folks and to see our oldest daughter and her family who were visiting from Seattle, Washington.  On Sunday morning Melinda and I attended mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  There aren’t many Catholics in my home town and the usual 40 to 50 faithful showed up.  As visitors, we didn’t know this was the first Sunday their new priest, Fr. David Coon, would preach.  As we waited for mass to begin we watched Fr. Coon, slight in stature, mid-fiftyish with thinning hair and thick glasses, meticulously prepare the altar for mass.  In the Liturgy of the Word, Fr. Coon read the Gospel and offered one of the best homilies I’ve ever heard!

Since this was his first mass to this congregation, Fr. Coon, after his homily, introduced himself to the parish with a brief auto-biography.  He explained the reason for his thick glasses:  he was blind and has been since he was a young child.  He then satisfied my curiosity about why his hands were constantly moving on the ambo while reading the Gospel:  he had typed the passage in braille.  He went on to tell us of how he was called to the priesthood as a youth, and how he managed to persevere through seminary with his disability by having a relative read and record onto cassette tapes everything he was expected to study, and then he would listen to the recording and type it into braille so he could “read” it again.  

Fr. Coon’s witness drove home how the power of faith and trust in the Lord can help one overcome any disability or setback one might encounter.  I felt blessed and was grateful to have been there that morning.  I prayed that the Sacred Heart parishioners would know how fortunate they are to have him as their shepherd.  

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Later that day my dad asked me if I would mind mowing his yard for him.  My dad will soon be 89 years old and is recovering from broken hip and hernia surgeries.  Of course, I said yes, not just because he needed my help but because I love him and I also love to mow grass.  Dad has always been very active and I know it about killed him to have to ask me to do “his” work.  

Unused to driving his mower I turned a little too sharply around the corner of his shed and I steered four inches too far into some tall grass which he had not previously mowed.  Unseen in the tall grass was a large piece of cast iron which I ran over.  The piece of metal broke in two, bent the blade 30 degrees, and the smaller broken piece flew into the right front tire cutting it and making it go flat.

I felt terrible about damaging his mower and I immediately worried that I would not find replacement blades and a new tire on Sunday, the 4th of July!  Fortunately, the local farm and home supply store was open and had what I needed.  I found a store to mount the new tire and within a couple hours I was reinstalling the blades and wheel.  With everything back in place I began mowing again only to discover that the left blade was cutting about a half inch lower in the center than the right blade was cutting.  I discovered that the hub that retains the blade shaft and fastens it to the mower deck was also broken.  I knew for sure this piece was not going to be replaced that day.

I looked at my dad and said, “Dad, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do this!”  With love he replied, “I know, son, I know.”  My dad is a man who can fix just about anything.  But, with his immobility, he was only able to watch and toss out ideas of how we might make a temporary repair.  So, with his creativity and knowledge of the materials he had available in his shed, and my hands, we found a way to fasten the hub to the deck such that the left side blade cut within an eighth of an inch of the right hand blade.  He was happy, I was happy, and I finished mowing his yard.

As I was mowing I thought about what a dreadful experience this had been.  But, then it occurred to me that dad and I had just spent an entire afternoon bonding in a way that we haven’t done in years.  We worked together as one on a project that had a satisfactory ending.  I thought, considering his age, how we may not have many more opportunities such as that.  Although I still regretted breaking his mower, I was suddenly grateful to God that it had happened and that we had been able to spend time working together.  I will remember that day.

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As I began my daily prayer and meditation yesterday morning I realized that it was July 13th, the 40th anniversary of when I first met Melinda.  I don’t remember when we had our first date but I remember the date we first met.  I remember her beautiful smile and the sparkle in her eyes that day.  She remembers nothing about our first meeting so I must not have impressed her!  So, I began my prayer time giving extra thanks to God for placing her in my life and for giving me someone to love all these years and for having someone to love me.  I don’t know where I’d be without her.  Probably dead or in jail.

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“Heavenly Father, thank You for the love You bring through all of life’s experiences, through friends and family, and in the time I spend with You in prayer.  Lord, I know You are always with me and I pray for the grace to get better at intentionally spending time in Your presence.  Amen.”

(God Loves You in So Many Ways – Be Grateful!, 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.

Christian Persecution: Then and Now

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Icon of St. Justin, Martyr

Yesterday, June 1st, was the memorial of St. Justin, martyr, a philosopher and orator of the second century A.D.  St. Justin converted to Christianity after witnessing the heroism of many Christians who were martyred by the Romans.  Inspired by their faith, St. Justin employed his oratorical skills to philosophically debate his new faith with pagans.  He’s considered one of the first great Christian apologists.  He was beheaded in 165 A.D. in Rome for refusing to believe in pagan gods and give up his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As one reads about the lives of the saints – from the Apostles, to hundreds of popes, bishops and priests, to consecrated women, and to regular folks who were persecuted and martyred for having a strong and unwavering faith – several thoughts and images usually cross our minds.  It’s easy to visualize and cringe at the torture they endured for their faith.  We ask ourselves if we would have had the same courage, strength and faith that they had if we had been in their sandals.  Struggling to imagine the persecution and savagery directed at those who followed the Way of Jesus and chose to die rather than reject Him and kowtow to other beliefs, we say to ourselves, “Thank God I don’t live in those times!”

But, we do live in those times.  Christian persecution, especially Catholic persecution, is very much alive and well here in the 21st century.  For the most part, we Americans aren’t exposed to it domestically.  But, if we tune in to the not-so-mainstream media, or take a moment to search on the internet, we can have our eyes opened to atrocities committed to Christians around the globe.

According to opendoorusa.org, 340 million Christians (that’s 1 of every 8 in the world) live in hostile cultures that experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.  Many readers of this blog are from those countries.  In third place behind the U.S. and (depending on the year) the United Kingdom or the Philippines, is India in number of hits this blog receives.  China ranks sixth, and Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan are all in the top 20.  I have to assume those are Christians rather than Christian-haters who are looking for inspiration.

It’s interesting to look at the basis for the persecution of Christians in those countries.  Christianity in India is in trouble.  India is predominantly Hindu, and has a national religion and culture that asserts that one must be Hindu to be Indian.  All others are openly persecuted.

China’s authoritarian government has mandated that every form of religion must be subordinate and submissive to the philosophies of the state.  Churches have been razed, and those which have not have had all crosses and other religious symbols removed.  The Church has gone underground and state authorities have been arresting and imprisoning bishops, priests and seminarians.  

In countries like Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, extremist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State seek out, rape and murder innocent believers, and burn villages that have Christian populations.  

And in many predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, a multitude of laws are designed to discourage the practice of the Christian faith for fear of death.

For those of us who live in countries where freedom of religion is a protected individual right it is easy to be myopic and overlook or discount what is happening in other parts of the world.  We might easily feel their problems don’t affect us and admit that there is nothing we can do to help them.  But, we’re wrong.  The least we can and should do, but, yet, the most effective, is pray for those millions of souls who are keeping the faith under such horrific and unimaginable conditions.  Pray that they never lose their faith.  Pray that they find the courage to continue to be disciples and evangelize in small ways.  Pray that the day will come when they are free to practice their faith without any fear of persecution.  Pray that they will one day be able to openly give praise and glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit without fearing for their lives.  

When you take time each day to offer petitions for the usual cast of characters for whom you normally pray, won’t you take another couple seconds and offer up a prayer for those who will be persecuted that day? 

“Heavenly Father, I offer this post today for all those around the world who are persecuted for their faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  As readers check in from those countries, please let them know that we are praying for them; praying for their strength, patience and perseverance, and praying for their deliverance.  As with all the martyred saints, may their examples of keeping the faith inspire the rest of us.  Amen.”

(Christian Persecution: Then and Now 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.

Service, Sacrifice, and Suffering

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Yesterday’s Gospel was from Mark 10:32-45.  The verse that caught my attention was, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)

I think this verse grabbed my attention because I had just posted on Tuesday, An Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering, relating how I have found joy in and have been thankful for the pain I’ve endured from my injured back by offering up that pain for the sake of others.  But, this morning I went in for an epidural – basically a shot of steroids between my L4 and L5 vertebrae – and have not had any pain today, been walking upright and for longer distances.  Upon returning home from the hospital I asked myself, “What am I going to offer up in place of my aching back?”  I certainly don’t want any more back pain, or broken bones, or cuts and bruises.  I prefer having no pain whatsoever!  

It was still early so I sat down for my morning prayer and meditation.  When I read this verse from Mark, I thought of Jesus giving His life as a ransom to save souls.  I reflected that redemptive suffering like I’d mentioned on Tuesday is uniting our suffering with that of Christ on the cross also for the salvation of souls and for the remission of suffering of others.  In other words, our suffering, if offered up with love and trust, is also a ransoming of others.  But, what will I do if I have no suffering due to pain.

That brought me to the part about serving rather than being served, and I reflected on how I serve others.  I volunteer in various ways which is a form of service.  However, I don’t always look forward to some of those volunteer activities.  That brought me to the idea of sacrifice.  Our service ought to be such that it is independent of whether we like it or not.  If we like it, great.  But, if we don’t like it, we should still serve and give it our best effort and we can look at it as a sacrifice.  Even better, if we have a significant dislike for it, it can, indeed, be a suffering.

It occurred to me that the services I perform as a volunteer are not as numerous or significant as I might tell myself.  They probably amount to three or four hours a week.  What about the rest of the week?  Well, I help people occasionally when they need help.  Then I realized that these kinds of service are reactionary, they are meeting the opportunity when it comes up.  They are chance opportunities that land in my lap from time to time. 

If I really wanted to serve others in a Christ-like way, I would do so with intention.  I would plan it into my day.  My morning prayer would include, “Lord, help me to see during this moment who I can be of service to today.”  In this way, I wouldn’t be waiting for an opportunity to present itself, I’d create the opportunity and then go out and make it happen.

I am retired and don’t have a paying job any longer.  But, I thought about all those days when I went to the office, to the same old grind, and how different they would have been if I’d made it my objective to serve someone, to do something good unexpectedly, because they deserved it for no reason other than they have dignity as a person, a child of God. What difference that would have made in finding joy each and every day!

Thinking more about sacrifice, I came to the realization, for the umpteenth time, that I stink at sacrificing.  I know my faults, I am a creature of comfort.  If it doesn’t feel good I usually don’t want to do it.  Fasting and abstinence are, in their own way, painful, and, I guess, they’re supposed to be.  Going on a diet, laying off of ice cream, and strenuous exercise are not magnets that draw me in.  My intellect tells me they may be the right things to do, but my feelings direct my will to dismiss them as being too difficult and uncomfortable.  I’m fooling myself and missing out on an opportunity to grow in holiness by practicing the virtues of Prudence and Temperance.  And, even if I can muster up the virtue of Fortitude, and prudently do the right thing in the right measure and for the right reasons, it could still be a form of unpleasant and painful suffering for me.  

Continuing this thought process (you’re getting a glimpse of how my brain works), I’ve just spent three weeks suffering very unpleasantly and, through prayer, found intense joy and happiness in knowing that I’ve joined my suffering to Christ’s passion and helped others.  I realized then that this act of Love and Charity is also a virtue which, when I look at it truthfully, overrides the feeling that keeps me from doing the difficult and uncomfortable.  So, why shouldn’t I adopt this same attitude, or better yet, modify my “feelings” regarding every form of suffering, whether it be service, sacrifice, or the pain of enduring those things I don’t like, do not choose, cannot change, and don’t understand, and offer it up in union with Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass for the salvation of souls?  

I can’t think of one good reason.  How about you?

(Lord Jesus, thank You for the time we spend together talking.  Thank You for showing me the Way and for sending the Holy Spirit into my heart and helping me see the truth the way You see it and not as the world would have me see it.  Mother Mary, I pray for the grace to fully utilize my intellect to direct my will, and to live virtuously instead of by my feelings.  Amen.)

(Service, Sacrifice, and Suffering 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.

An Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering

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Icon of the Crucifixion

On Sunday evening my wife and I gathered together socially with some friends.  One of them said to me, “I haven’t seen any new blog posts from you in a while.  We’ve missed that!”  I responded that our kitchen remodeling project and a new part-time job had combined to capture much of my attention.  But, for the last two weeks, my main distraction has been living with the pain of a bulging disk in my lower back.  I have had several inspirations but between the pain and the delirium from a lack of sleep, it’s been difficult to assemble a blog-worthy, sensible and continuous train of thought. 

Several of our friends there that night are active in the Life in the Spirit charismatic movement and they gathered together around me, laid hands on me and prayed over me for healing of my back.  There was no instant miracle and, unlike the cripples that Jesus healed, I didn’t automatically jump up and begin dancing.  But, I did feel a relaxing sensation in my back, perhaps a tiny bit of relief.

Then, yesterday morning I was able to stand up a little straighter and walk a little farther than I have been able for over two weeks.  And, last evening as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed that, although sudden movement still caused some pain, it was the first night since I injured my back that the continuous pain seemed to have subsided.  This morning it seems I’m walking a little taller even than yesterday.  I don’t know exactly what brought about the relief but I want to believe it was the efficaciousness of the prayers from those friends and many others around the country.

But, enough about my back, except to say that the lessening of pain has brought enough clarity to my thoughts that I feel able to jot down one of those inspirations.

I’m sure many of you reading have experienced back issues and the pain associated with it.  I never have.  In fact, I’ve experienced very little physical pain in the course of my life, nor can I say I’ve had any significant emotional pain save for some of life’s inconveniences.  So, when this came about, you could say my situation was one of groaning and writhing in unaccustomed misery.  

A morning or two into this I prayed my normal morning offering: “Heavenly Father, thank You for this day, thank You for the many ways You show Your love for me.  Lord Jesus, this morning I offer up my prayer, work, joy and suffering, in union with Your sacrifice of the Mass, for the conversion and salvation of souls, and for reparation of sins committed against You.  Amen.”

It struck me that the suffering I was offering up that day was unlike any I had previously offered up.  I wasn’t frustrated over petty inconveniences, dislikes, or things I didn’t understand.  It was bigger stuff that couldn’t be ignored simply by turning my thoughts to more favorable circumstances.  No, my back was giving me a constant reminder that life wasn’t as it should be.

It occurred to me then that I have often suggested to men whom I mentor spiritually, without having a complete understanding of the physical or emotional pain they might happen to be in, that they should offer up those things they do not choose, do not like, and cannot change with a morning prayer similar to that which I repeat every morning.  And, although it is one of those situations where “I didn’t know what I didn’t know”, I suddenly felt somewhat hypocritical by having asked of others that which I was now finding so difficult.

I decided then and there that I needed to practice what I preach.  So, I continued my prayer by specifically mentioning the pain in my back and asked Jesus to not let me waste the opportunity to offer my suffering in union with His for the relief of the suffering of others.  I prayed for my 89 years young dad who had just a couple weeks earlier broken his hip and was recovering, for the peaceful repose of the souls of several members of our parish who had recently passed away, for the conversion of mine and other’s children and their return to the faith, for friends who are struggling through difficult marriages and divorce, and a plethora of others who are hurting in one way or another.  

I felt an acute awareness that these prayers were more effective than my normal petitions on behalf of others.  They were specific and heart felt, but more importantly I felt I was making an investment in their healing by offering a sincere desire that my suffering take away that which they were experiencing.  I felt an intense trust in the salvific love and power of Jesus that would bring others into a closer and loving relationship with Him.  It was a totally new and unbelievable experience!  I felt peace.  I felt loved because I was loving.  I was happy to suffer.  I was grateful for my faith which emphasizes the value of participating in the suffering of our Lord Jesus on His cross for the redemption of others.  And, somehow, I wasn’t surprised when I actually thanked God for the pain in my back.  Nevertheless, I ended my prayer of thanksgiving by adding words that He’d heard before, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”  (Mt 26:39)

Since that morning two weeks ago, I’ve had more people to include in my petitions:  the deaths of friends’ parents, an aunt who suffered a stroke, a friend who is in the hospital with a serious condition, for the success of the current class of men and women who are being formed in Spiritual Mentorship, and many others.  I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t limit my petitions to only those people I know about, but to everyone who is suffering or far from God and, thus, I’ve now begun asking our Blessed Mother Mary to use my aching back as She sees fit.  With each successive day’s offering, I’ve continued to find more and more peace and comfort in my affliction.  Although the pain is still present, I am grateful for the transformation from what was selfish misery to grace-filled purposeful acceptance and desire to not waste the opportunity to participate with Jesus in His mission of redemption.

So, thank you, my friend, for asking what has inspired me since I’ve been laying low and moving slow over the last couple of weeks.  Thank you, everyone, for your prayers for healing – I have felt every one of them.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for this experience!  Thank You for the extra time You’ve given me to spend in silence and solitude with You these last two weeks.  It’s been an unplanned silent retreat…well, at least from my end.  Thank You for showing me how and allowing me to help You draw others closer to You through my suffering.  I know and trust that someone, somewhere, is reaping the benefit.  And, Father, rain down special blessings on that someone out there who offered up their suffering for me.  Amen.”

Postscript:  On May 21st, after participating for several days with Jesus in His mission to save souls, I read Offer It Up, that day’s Rosary meditation from John Leyendecker and the Holy Family School of Faith explaining the Church’s teaching about redemptive suffering.  Check it out!

(An Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering 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.

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)