Go to Galilee

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Painting by Hans Memling – 1480

(A reflection on Mt 28:8-10)

As the two Marys rushed fearfully and joyfully to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard, they met Jesus on the way. Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”

After the intensity of Holy Week – the exhausting emotion of reflecting on Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection – I need to meet Jesus again. And soon. I need to go to Galilee. My Galilee is that place of solitude and silence, where I can spend time with Him in meditative prayer.

Where’s your Galilee?

GO THERE.

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Are You Hall of Fame Bound?

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Yesterday was the opening day of the 2019 baseball season. Our local home team is the Cincinnati Reds, the oldest professional baseball team in the country. They celebrate their sesquicentennial this year – 150 years of operation. This city loves baseball, their Reds, and, especially, the opening day festivities: a parade, music, food, and appearances of Reds Hall of Famers. The fans, as always, expect to have a winning season.

Checking the Reds team roster, I realized there were many new names. Doing some quick math, I calculated the average age of the 40-man roster was 28.6 years, not especially young or especially old. If I were to guess at the average years of major league experience they have, I’d say it’s between four to five years. I’m sure everyone of those players is as fired up about the season starting as the fans are. And everyone of them expects to have a winning season.

I’m not a ball player, but I suspect that most professional ball players begin with the end in mind. They want to win. They want to go to the playoffs, win the league pennant, and ultimately win the World Series.

But, I wonder how many of them started their season yesterday with their goal of making it into the Hall of Fame? And, if so, have they considered what they need to do to get there?

Hall of Famers are considered the best of the best. That doesn’t mean they didn’t strike out often, make fielding errors, hit only a few home runs, or have less than stellar RBI averages. Many, in fact, had some poor seasons and were on teams that never won a World Series. You might wonder, then, how did they ever make it to the Hall of Fame?

I believe there are three reasons. First, they had a love for the game. It was their passion.

Second, their on-field performance was better than that of most other players of their time. Generally, they had higher batting averages, made fewer errors, lower ERAs (for pitchers), and were generally all-around better ball players. They were consistent. They made good plays when it counted. And, game after game, they strung together above average performances.

And, lastly, I believe they were good teammates. They were role models for the younger players. They had a good work ethic, cared about, and encouraged their fellow players.

This morning at our Friday morning Communion service I was thinking more about baseball than I was about receiving the Holy Eucharist. I know, shame on me. But, our deacon, possibly the Reds’ largest fan, and who I know went to the opening day game, was presiding and he made me think about baseball. It’s his fault.

I wondered how many Catholics have the end in mind? How many start the day off with the idea of becoming a saint, our own faith’s “Hall of Fame”? Just like an up-from-the-minors pitcher, does a new Catholic believe he or she can become a saint? Do they know how?

I believe there are three ways to get to sainthood. Can you guess what they are? First, we have to “love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind” (Lk 10:27). And, we have to love and respect the teachings of the Church. We need to be that rookie shortstop who jumps up and down with enthusiasm.

Second, we have to be high-performers day-in and day-out. We have to have a consistent prayer life that is focused on not just talking to God, but listening to Him as well – we have to practice, study the game, and be coachable. We need to live lives of virtue, have the courage to do what is right and just and in the right measure – we need to hustle and make the right plays at the right time for the right reasons. And, we need to be merciful and charitable to those less fortunate – lovingly and unselfishly lay down sacrifice bunts when they are needed.

And, lastly, we need to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27). We need to help our brothers and sisters grow stronger in their relationships with Christ. We need to support, challenge, encourage, and teach them – we need to be the veteran players to whom the younger, less experienced players can look for guidance.

Each and every one of us can become a saint. We can make it into our Christian “Hall of Fame”. But, we have to look beyond today’s game, this year’s season, and that possible World Series. With that end in the back of our minds, we should strive to live holy lives by making each play in every game every day with the best of our ability; make as few errors (sins) as possible; and live our faith enthusiastically in life’s game rather than the lukewarm contentedness of sitting on the bench.

In life, each day is an opportunity for renewal. Each day is Opening Day. Let’s start today with the intention of making it into the “Hall of Fame”. God bless you all!

“Lord Jesus, I pray that someday I may join You in our Hall of Fame. Until then, I beg You to coach me and give me the grace to read Your signs so that I may make the offensive plays You desire. I pray, too, that the training You have given me will allow me to play the field with sufficient and errorless defense, preventing the Opponent from scoring against me. Amen.”

(Are You Hall of Fame Bound? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2019 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.

I See It Because I Believe It

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The Annunciation, by Paolo de Matteis, 1712

Growing up with Southern roots I was privy to a plethora of colloquialisms, adages and idioms. I must have heard my mom say things like, “It costs an arm and a leg”, or, “If it had been a snake it would have bit me” a million times. My grandmother’s favorites were, “Goodness gracious” and “Bless his (or her) heart!”

Another idiom I often heard was, “I’ll believe it when I see it!” I thought about that line when I attended mass last Monday for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord.

In the day’s Gospel (Lk 1:26-38), the angel Gabriel came to Mary telling her to not be afraid, that she had found favor with God, and that she would conceive and bear a son. Mary’s response, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” was both a profession of her virginity and, perhaps, some incredulous skepticism. I think if she had been a Southern girl she might have simply said, “Goodness gracious, Mr. Gabriel, sir, bless your heart, but I’ll believe it when I see it!”

Seeing that Mary wasn’t quite on board yet, the angel had to give her a Paul Harvey-ish “rest of the story”: the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would be overshadowed by the power of the Most High, and the child would be holy, the Son of God. Then, as if the angel knew she still didn’t believe, he went on to tell her that, since nothing was impossible for God, her cousin Elizabeth, old and beyond child bearing age, was six months pregnant.

I used to wonder what Elizabeth’s pregnancy had to do with Mary accepting that she, although still a virgin, would bear a son. And then I figured out that it was a sign, something that supported the unbelievable by making it believable. It was God’s gentle nudge to have faith in Him. If God could make Elizabeth pregnant then why should she doubt Him? With that, Mary demonstrated her true faith and gave her fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Faith. It’s a difficult concept to comprehend. It can be hard to believe that which we can’t see or understand. I think the author of the Letter to the Hebrews explained it best, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)

The corollary to faith is Trust. With faith, we have the ability to trust in God, to believe that He has our back, that He is there for us in good times as well as bad. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6)

Searching my own heart, I know my faith is strong, but it could be stronger. It is trust with which I often struggle. Perhaps it’s a remnant of my pre-Christian life that still has a grip on me, a time when I trusted only in myself and certain others who had proved trustworthy. But, now, like Mary, I know God is with me because He has rewarded me many times with signs that proved His trustworthiness, especially those times when I had nowhere to go except to turn to Him. Still, I need to grow so that I trust in Him with every prayer, not just those made in desperation.

I wish I had the faith of the Centurion who said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant shall be healed.” (Mt 8:8) The Centurion trusted totally and completely in Jesus. He had probably already seen one or more of Jesus’ miracles and, thus, the thought, “I’ll believe it when I see it”, never entered his mind. Rather, his plea was based on trust, a conviction of his faith that allowed him to think, instead, “I see it because I believe it!”

It must be frustrating for God, the One in Whom we live and move and have our being, to hear me and others think, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” What He longs for, instead, is for us to have the faith of Mary and the Centurion, a total trust in Him. He wants me to believe that He will answer all my prayers when I pray them, not to doubtfully think in the back of my mind, “I’ll put this out there and see what happens”. No, He wants me to visualize the outcome for that which I pray. He wants me to see it because I believe it.

When you pray do you trust in God totally and completely? Do you see it because you believe it?

“Good and gracious Jesus, as I journey closer to You, I know I still need Your help. Please, Lord, bless me with the grace to always trust in You, to never doubt but to always believe that You will answer my prayers. With this prayer, right now, I do believe You will transform me because, by that same grace, I have experienced a smidgeon of the joy I visualize that You have waiting for me in heaven. Amen.”

(I See It Because I Believe It was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2019 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.

Are You a Rich Man or Rich Soil?

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Today’s Gospel is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). As I read and reflected upon it, several thoughts came to my mind. The rich man didn’t treat Lazarus as a person. To the rich man, Lazarus was simply part of the “landscape.” (Meditation from Regnum Christi, 21 March). His pride prevented him from entering an inch into Lazarus’ world. He was content to allow him to grovel for any sustenance he could find. As I read on, I found myself thinking, “Yep, you got just what you deserved. Your pride was the hamartia that brought your demise and even in hell you still looked down your nose at Lazarus.”

Then, no sooner had I passed judgment on the “rich man”, than I recalled the shame of having been in his shoes myself just two weeks ago.

It was the first Friday of Lent. I had skipped breakfast that morning before going to nine o’clock mass because it was a day of fasting and abstinence and I wanted to eat a late breakfast and then skip lunch. After mass I stopped by a fast food restaurant and purchased a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit (sans bacon) to go. I had a coupon that let me buy the sandwich and still have a few pennies more than I needed to get a haircut, which was my next planned stop after I woofed down the sandwich. As I walked out of the restaurant towards my truck a young, disheveled man, probably in his twenties, approached me from my left. I heard him say, “Hey, dude, you got a couple bucks? I’m homeless.”

Without hardly looking up, my response was quick, “Nope, not today.” The young man didn’t say anything else and just walked on by. I got in my truck and started it up and that’s when it hit me: I had just lied to that guy. Then, in quick succession, all the other available options I could have chosen popped into my mind. I could have stopped and offered my sandwich to him. I could have kept my fifteen dollars I needed for my haircut but offered to buy his breakfast with my credit card. I could have at least asked him about his situation and then made an informed decision whether to help him or not. Instead, I treated him as though he wasn’t there. I hadn’t entered an inch into his world. He was just part of the “landscape”.

My next response was to give thanks to God for the grace to realize the error of my way, and I knew I had to try and make it right. I backed out of my parking spot and thought I would find him and make amends. But, I had to drive around the restaurant and by the time I got back to the street he was nowhere in sight. I drove down the block but never saw him again.

I ate my sandwich but it wasn’t very satisfying. And, I thought, I had some good fodder to take to reconciliation the next afternoon.

In today’s first Scripture reading we hear, “I, the Lord, explore the mind and test the heart, giving to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds.” (Jer 17:10) I realize that He tested my heart that Friday morning, and in the split second of that moment of choice, my heart showed what it was really made of, and it was found lacking a good measure of humility.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’m much different than most folks who try to be charitable. My tithing includes indirect charity to others through donations of money and goods to organizations that help people in need. That all sounds well and good, and is truly necessary, but is it much different than the rich man throwing a few scraps of food out the door so that Lazarus might scavenge them before the dogs could get them?

Like many folks, I try, also, to be kind and charitable by helping others directly, one-on-one, through organized mission work. In a way, this forces me to step at least a few feet into another’s world, and I’ve found those times to be life changing experiences. This episode, however, shows me that I still have a lot of work to do to be the rich soil that embraces the seed (Word of God) with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance (Lk 8:15).

My meditation today leaves me with this thought: God doesn’t want me to be like most folks. No, He wants me to be like Him, to love others with a good and generous heart, and, with the help of His grace, persevere and bear fruit for His Kingdom.

How about you? Are you going to be like most folks?

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the grace to realize my need for continued growth in the virtue of humility; and for opening my heart to the Holy Spirit to receive Your Word today. Lord, help me today to recognize the opportunities where I may be able to make a difference in the lives of others, and, at the moment of choice, choose to act accordingly. Lord, I love You and I want to bring others to You. I don’t want to find myself in purgatory wishing I had worked harder to save more souls. Amen.”

(Are You a Rich Man or Rich Soil? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2019 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.

Understanding God’s Will for Marriage

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The other day I was reading a pamphlet published by the Knights of Columbus Catholic Information Service entitled God’s Plan for Love and Marriage written by Dr. Edward Sri. In his introduction he notes that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. But, he chose to focus on the “other fifty percent”, those marriages that stay together. He asked the question, “How are those marriages doing? Are they thriving?…Are the husbands and wives really happy in their marriage?…Do their relationships, day in and day out, reflect the total, committed, sacrificial love of Jesus Christ?”

My marriage to my wife of 36 years falls into that “other fifty percent” category so, quite naturally, I stopped and pondered those questions. I felt very satisfied with the answers and truly blessed for our loving relationship. I realized, though, that the answers to the first three questions were positive because the answer to the last question was positive. Until I became Catholic thirty years into our marriage, that aspect of marriage, unfortunately, hadn’t crossed my mind.

When I made my vow at age 25 I was still fairly naive and immature, and couldn’t see the future past next week. But, I was madly in love with that beautiful young woman and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

I wouldn’t understand it for another thirty years but one of the best things that could have happened to me was that she was Catholic and we were married in her parish church. I truly believe that God, through that Holy Sacrament, before Him in His house, gave us the grace to persevere through “better or worse” and to grow in love through the years. It’s why I can look my wife in the eye and honestly say, “I love you more today than the day we were married!”

Last Friday, March 1st, was one of those days when I was able to connect the scripture passages from the Liturgy – the O.T. reading, Psalm, Alleluia, and the Gospel – to a common theme, and reflecting on them helped me align many thoughts about marriage. I know there have been tens of thousands of books written on the subject of marriage and why so many marriages fail, but I want to broach the subject if for no other reason than for my own edification. And, who knows, maybe it will help you in supporting a young couple planning to get married or a struggling, already married, couple.

In the Alleluia, Jesus prays to the Father, “Consecrate them [the Apostles] in the truth. Your word is truth.” (Jn 17:17, NAB) Consecrate means to set them apart as priestly, or to be ordained, with their lives devoted to God. A priest’s life of devotion is his vocation, and its purpose is to do God’s will.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus corrects the Pharisees on their interpretation of divorce by saying, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh’ So, they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mk10:6-8, NAB) God takes two people and unites them into one flesh. Two things cannot be truly united if they work against each other instead of for each other. Thus, this union of two into one consists of a consecration, a declaration that their lives will be devoted to each other. And, living a life of devotion is a vocation with its purpose to do God’s will.

Just as “God’s will” didn’t cross my mind on my wedding day, it still doesn’t cross the minds of many couples before they enter into matrimony. Why is that? Well, I don’t think “God’s will”, is understood.

Thankfully, Pope John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body gives us a hand. Keeping it simple: God, who is pure unselfish love, created us in His image and likeness, that is to love unselfishly like Him. John Paul II calls this “self-giving” love. It is love that is 100 percent directed toward the good of the other. That is “God’s will” for us in marriage, to unselfishly give of ourselves for the good of our spouse.

Unfortunately, we each have an attitude of selfishness within us which, for many, may be too entrenched to be easily turned around. Why is that? John Paul II tells us it goes back to the Fall, when Adam and Eve realized their nakedness; when they suddenly realized their shame and became more concerned about themselves than each other. Their “self-giving” love became, as Dr. Sri calls it, “self-getting” love.

This selfishness is the root of most marital problems. As I look back on my own marriage I can see where most of our growing pains were caused by our (well, mostly my own) selfishness, an unwillingness to share emotionally, allowing worldly things to come before our need to be physically present to each other, and our lopsided faith.

You ask, “If this is a result of the original Fall of Man, then what can we do about it?” Well, it takes effort, and the hardest work of all, of course, is seeing within ourselves that which needs to be changed and then making the change for the good of another. And, it takes faith in God for the grace to make it work as perfectly as it should.

This brings me, then, to the Psalm, (Ps 119:12,16,18,27,34-35, NAB). The psalmist is asking God to, “teach me Your statutes” (v.12). He eagerly wants to know God’s will. He will take delight in them and “never forget Your word.” (v.16). He wants to see the wonder and beauty of them clearly (v.18). He wants to understand them so he can ponder them (v. 27), and then, “observe them with all my heart” (v.34), “for that is my delight” (v.35).

Therein lies the key to a successful marriage. We all know that life is never perfect, it never goes exactly as planned. It’s hard work and we struggle to make it better. Marriage is the same. The secret is to delight in loving selflessly with all our heart. Unfortunately, our human desire for selfish personal pleasure so easily overrides our desire to give of ourselves that husbands and wives often give up on trying to overcome it. And, without prayer for God’s divine assistance in their marriage, it is even more difficult.

Finally, I come to the first reading, Sirach 6:5-17. In this passage, the author talks about friendship; how to choose your friends cautiously and assuredly; the troubles that come with choosing the wrong friends; and the beauty of finally choosing good and faithful friends. He writes: “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be.” (Sir 6:14-17)

Reading these words a second time, I replaced the word “friends” with the word, “spouse”. It all made sense. Many marriages fail because couples rush to be married before they invest themselves in knowing each other well. They don’t look in the mirror – they want all the attributes mentioned above from their partner, but fail to own and exhibit the same attributes themselves. And finally, but most importantly, they fail to trust in the Lord to help them be the spouses they need to be – husbands and wives who persevere with patience, who are prudent, who are just to one another, and who have the fortitude to love each other unselfishly.

I know every young couple wants their marital bliss to last forever. The reality, however, is that it doesn’t. The initial happiness and feeling of “being in love” wears off and husband and wife fall back into patterns of selfishness. There’s only one way to effectively turn it around and that’s through sacrificial love.

And this brings me back to the question at the beginning: “Do their relationships reflect the total, committed, sacrificial love of Jesus Christ?” When we think about Christ’s sacrifice we think about His Cross and we associate His suffering with it. But, Jesus didn’t hang there saying, “Hey, folks, this hurts so have pity on me!” Rather, He ignored his own pain the best he could and, out of love, offered his very life as a sacrifice for us. Thus, when we think about our own sufferings we tend to view them incorrectly as our crosses. Our suffering, our reluctance to give up the comfortable easy way, is not the cross we bear. No, our cross is to learn to love our spouse with a total and complete unselfish love, to do it, and, then, once we’ve figured it out, go back and find new ways to love them over and over in the ways they deserve to be loved. When couples learn and accept this, their relationships will flourish. By the grace of God, it will allow them to look their husband or wife in the eye after thirty something years and say with honesty, “I love you more today than the day we were married!”

May God bless you in your marriage and may you be an example for young couples to emulate.

“Good and gracious God, thank You for the wisdom of Your plan for our happiness. Thank You for leading me to my soul mate thirty seven years ago. And, thank You for Your mercy and grace ever since which has helped us grow closer and stronger together! Amen!”

(Understanding God’s Will for Marriage was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2019 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.

Conversions

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It’s 11 degrees F., outside this morning (well, technically yesterday morning since this isn’t getting posted until after midnight). It’s always a good morning when I’m meditating on the daily scripture but it’s especially a good morning to be doing so while sitting by a warm wood fire in the fireplace.

The Conversion of St. Paul by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio c. 1600

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In the first reading from today’s Liturgy, Acts 22:3-16, I can clearly visualize St. Paul, bloody and bruised from a severe beating by the Jews for preaching against the law and for bringing Greeks into the temple, standing on the temple steps witnessing in his own defense how Jesus Christ had not so delicately called his name to follow Him. As I read, I underlined in red the words the Holy Spirit spoke through Ananias to Saul:

“The God of our ancestors designated you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice, for you will be His witness before all to what you have seen and heard. Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon His name.” (Acts 22:14-16)

With the warmth of the fire, the comfort of my favorite chair, and a cup of coffee in hand, my mind slipped back in time to exactly six years and ten months ago today when I heard Jesus call my name. His call to me was considerably more delicate and less dramatic than His call was to Saul, but no less effective.

I wasn’t persecuting the Church or anyone in particular. Although I’d been married to a faithful Catholic for thirty years, I was neither here nor there with respect to religion. No, at the time I was simply in a place where the pressures of life had me pinned down to the point of suffocation. My work was not satisfying and it was keeping me from enjoying time with my family. I didn’t know if they loved me or if they knew how much I loved them.

Looking back, I have to believe that, after 55 years, the Lord finally had me where He wanted me. It was also in His plan for two men to have befriended me, for those same two men to be on a Christ Renews His Parish giving team together, and for me to accept their invitation to attend the retreat thinking that I would find time to relax, get away from the stress, and reflect on my life. Little did I know my life was about to change.

I saw more praying that day at the retreat than I’d seen my entire life. For the first time ever I heard men witness how Christ had changed their lives. But, mostly, I saw happy men whose hearts were full of love for others and who felt loved by their families and by the Lord. I knew my life was missing something.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Something was happening to me that I couldn’t explain. Finally giving in, I got out of bed and went to my knees in prayer. Not knowing how to pray, I simply asked God to help me feel His love, to realize the love from my family and to know that they knew how much I loved them.

It didn’t take long for God to answer my prayer. By noon the next day I’d received affirmations of love from all my family along with acknowledgement that they knew my love for them. I realized their love had been there all along but the darkness surrounding me had blinded me to it. And, I discovered God’s manifestation of love for me through friends I didn’t even know I had – friends who have since become, as the saying goes, more precious than gold.

I don’t remember a friend ever speaking the words to me that Ananias said to Saul, but I felt them in my heart. I knew without being told that I needed to “get up and have myself baptized and my sins washed away”. So, without delay, I went to our Pastor the next day and asked to be taken into the Church.

I also knew that I was called to be His witness to all I’d seen and heard. Shortly after my initiation into the Church I began contributing to this blog as a way of evangelizing to others. I hoped to show how I saw God working in my life so that others might more easily see Him working in theirs, too.

I participated in subsequent Christ Renews His Parish retreats with the hope of seeing other men’s lukewarm, laissez faire faith catch on fire like mine had. And, through these experiences I discovered that many Catholic men yearn to grow in their faith but don’t know which way to turn nor to whom they can talk and, as a result, their fires often die. I prayed to find a way to help these men.

Again, God answered my prayers by bringing to my attention the concept of spiritual mentorship. And, it wasn’t long before He confirmed His call to me to pursue becoming a spiritual mentor by introducing me to the Apostles of the Interior Life and their Catholic Spiritual Mentorship Program. That was two years ago, and this month I completed the two year program of study for certification as a Spiritual Mentor. I realized today that i have more zeal for helping other men grow in their relationships with Christ and live lives of holiness than I ever had in any of my real jobs – because this job is born of love.

As a result of his conversion, St. Paul went on to convert entire civilizations and, from which, many individuals went on to become saints themselves. With God’s grace, I’ll just be happy if my conversion might become efficacious by bringing a handful of men closer to Him.

“Lord, I cracked open the door of my heart almost seven years ago and You blew it off the hinges! I pray, Lord, for the grace to let the Holy Spirit work through me to do Your will of helping others grow closer to You. May You accept my service as eternal gratitude for Your love and mercy. Amen.”

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


©2013-2019 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.

Happy New Year!

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On Monday the 31st, New Year’s Eve, I was shopping at the grocery store when I ran into a friend. He greeted me with, “Happy New Year!” to which I replied, “Happy New Year to you, too!” A little later I met another friend and we exchanged the same greeting. Before I left the store I had wished the checker and the grocery bagger fellow the happiest of New Years as well.

On my way home I reflected on this experience and a strange thought came to mind. What exactly did those folks mean when they said “Happy New Year!” to me? And, what did I intend when I said the same to them?

You see, I believe that words should mean things. And, it seemed that these three words spoken together at this time of year have become so familiar and expected that their meaning is no longer clear. At best, it’s a sincere but vague wish for some sort of good upon another, and, at least it’s simply an automatic response in recognition of the calendar year sequence increasing by one. I realized that I utter the greeting in both instances but, unfortunately, not often in heart-felt best wishes for another’s true happiness.

What is meant by “New Year”? Does it mean have a happy New Year’s eve celebration, a happy New Year’s day, or a happy entire new year?

And, then, define “Happy”. For whichever time period one chooses for a new year, does happiness mean joy? Does it mean cheerfulness, or exuberance, or simply peace and comfort?

Does happiness mean a year free from pain, frustration, sickness, financial struggle, or disharmony within one’s family? Surely, we know that we will always experience some of those downsides throughout our lives. So, does it mean that you wish one less of those than of the good times? If so, how much less?

Does “Happy New Year” mean one with few or no regrets? Or one in which you accomplish all or most of your resolutions?

As the clock struck midnight I was still plagued with these questions.

Go ahead, call me crazy.

Then, the next morning, New Year’s Day, my wife and I went to nine o’clock mass to celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. As we entered church we were greeted, and we greeted others, with, you guessed it, “Happy New Year”. Of course, the previous day’s questions returned to the forefront of my mind.

As I listened to the first reading from Scripture, Numbers 6:22-27 (NAB), I discovered the answer to my questions in the words which the Lord asked Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons:

“The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

What better wish can one wish upon another for an evening, a day, or an entire year than to be blessed by our Lord; to feel His love and mercy; to be overcome with His grace; and to be filled with His peace! Are these not the fundamental components of personal happiness?

The world will always throw obstacles in our way which, if our happiness depends on material things, will prevent us from reaching the desired level of comfort, wealth or position, or acquiring certain possessions that we believe will bring us pleasure. We will be afflicted with health issues that will inevitably bring pain and which will create unhappiness within us if our happiness doesn’t depend on God. Even God Himself will throw obstacles in our way to test our resolve, patience and willingness to trust in Him. These things are given in life. Measuring our happiness in terms of worldly desires is a recipe for failure. Even if we accomplished all of these things but failed to have a relationship with Christ, we would not be truly happy.

We are reminded of this in the first two lines of Chapter One of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC27):

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”

Ultimately, greeting someone with “Happy New Year” should be considered a blessing, a heart-felt desire for the other to encounter the goodness and generosity of God.

You and I will now look at this greeting in a new light. When we look someone in the eye and say, “Happy New Year!”, our intention will actually be a prayer for God to bless them abundantly. But, I know most people won’t understand it this way. For them, it will continue to simply be a formality, the expected familiar greeting. That’s okay. We know in our hearts that it’s the thought that counts.

So, I’ll wrap this up with, “HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU AND YOURS!”

“Heavenly Father, as I look back over the last year, I give You immeasurable thanks for all the many blessings You bestowed on me and my family. And, I take this opportunity to examine my conscience, to replay my faults and failings in virtue over the last twelve months. I resolve, Lord, to grow in piety, to learn more about my faith, and to act in ways that will help me become a better disciple, husband, father, grandfather, son, brother and friend. Amen.”

(Happy New Year! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2019 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

A Man of Mercy (Reposted from the Archives)

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Since yesterday’s Gospel was from Matthew 1:18-25, the story of the birth of Jesus, I meant to post this yesterday. But, I got busy with other stuff and forgot. Every year during Advent I think about St. Joseph and what was going through his heart and mind when he learned that his betrothed was carrying a child that wasn’t his. And, I’m reminded of Jason Gray’s song Forgiveness is a Miracle (A Song for Joseph) (link to YouTube music video) in which he paints for us a profound example of mercy that was offered by Joseph, and gives us some insight into the divine wisdom of God. Both the Gospel and the song help me to remember God’s will for me every day is always about love. I hope you enjoy the song, that it encourages you to find a way to grow in love and mercy, 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 and Christmas 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.

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)
By 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

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

©2018 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.

Advent: A Season for Healing Spiritual Paralysis

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Healing of the Paralytic by Harold Copping

As I was driving to town to attend mass this morning I was running through plans for the week, trying to remember what appointments I have, what I need to be prepared for, and, especially, looking for blocks of time when my wife and I can spend some time together. I made a note that our parish has its Advent penance service this Thursday evening, and I looked forward to this being something Melinda and I could do together.

Participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation has always been special for me. In the year before I became Catholic, while I was waiting for RCIA to begin and then throughout the formation period, I would go to Confession for “practice”. My friends would tease me about it but it felt good to make my examination of conscience, admit to my lapses in virtue. and to pray for the grace to get better. Unable at that time to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation seemed to be the best place for me to meet Jesus.

The Gospel for today was from Luke 5:17-26, the Healing of the Paralytic. I listened to our priest read about the healing of the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him from the roof of the house in which Jesus was teaching so that he might meet Jesus and be healed. And, as I pictured in my mind’s eye this man descending on his stretcher, coming closer and closer to Jesus, hoping to be healed, I thought about how it parallels my hope for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What anticipation he must have felt as he was being lowered to the floor! Then, what joy he must have felt when his paralysis was cured and he stood and walked away carrying his stretcher! I thought, “I know that feeling!”

Then, my thoughts turned away from the paralytic and towards the four friends who cared enough to bring the man to where Jesus was teaching.  Their faith was strong enough to not let the crowd obstruct them from arranging for the man to meet Jesus. I knew the true message of this Gospel passage was contained in Jesus’ forgiveness of their sins. Their faith and their love for their disabled friend saved them.

The paralyzed man could not get to Jesus under his own power. Instead, it took friends who loved and cared for him – friends who brought him hope.

I thought about all the people in our parish community, in our country and in the world, who, for one reason or another, are paralyzed in their faith. People who feel their sins are so severe they are too ashamed to admit them to God. Men and women, young and old, who have fallen away from their faith and now don’t think they are worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.

I thought about all these good people, all children of God, who may just need “four friends” to bring them to Christ so they can be relieved of their “paralysis”. More than likely they can make it to church on their own two feet or in their own vehicle, but they just need some encouragement to go to Confession so they can be healed. They might only need to be reminded of the joy that comes from returning to grace and feeling God’s love for them. They may only need someone, like you or me, to rekindle their hope in this Season of Hope.

We may also know someone who truly is “paralyzed” from going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation because they can’t make it on their own steam. Perhaps they are disabled, isolated and lonely, or simply have no vehicle in which to get to church. As faithful friends we are called to reach out, assist, and arrange the means by which they can have their meeting with our Holy Physician.

Every parish in the world is offering a penance service during this season of Advent. I hope that each of you reading this will make it a point to go to Confession to prepare your heart for Christ’s coming. And, I hope that each of you will reach out and be the friend who helps those who are paralyzed, in whatever form, make receiving the Sacrament a reality.

God bless you!

“Lord God, thank You for the actual grace You bestow on us that allows us to come to You for forgiveness. And, thank You for the restoration of our baptismal grace once we do. Lord, help us to be the friends who bring those we love to You so that their loving relationship with You may be rekindled. Amen.”

(Advent: A Season for Healing Spiritual Paralysis was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2018 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.

Looking Within

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A couple weeks ago my gracious wife gave me the latest music CD from Jerry Jeff Walker. His mellow baritone voice, guitar style, and heartfelt story-songs have appealed to me since the early seventies. Taking my comment that I’d never seen Jerry Jeff in concert as a cue, she checked and found he doesn’t have a tour.  But, she did find that he recently produced his first album in ten years. As I listened to It’s About Time, I thought it could be his best album ever.

One particular lyric that caught my attention was from the song, The Rain Song. He wrote:

“The hardest thing a man can do / Is look inside and see the truth / About himself”

That line grabbed me not just because of how simple yet profound it is, but because I’d been thinking much the same thing. There were some things weighing on my heart and I needed to work them out. I just wasn’t sure how to do it.

Then, last Wednesday, our parish offered a day of Adoration with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. hour for that day was void of a regular adorer so I volunteered to take it. Later, as I was driving somewhere, The Rain Song came on my stereo and within moments I heard that verse. It hit me that I needed to spend my time with Jesus in reflection looking within myself. And, since I had nothing else planned for Wednesday, I decided to spend not just one hour but a half day before Jesus in a self-imposed silent retreat.

Those hours spent in prayer, meditation and reflection were some of the best I’ve ever spent. The experience was like having a second conversion. As I prayed for the Holy Spirit to enter my heart and reveal to me the “truth”, I invited Christ to help me work through my fears. I asked Him to lead me, to give me direction, and I promised to follow. I laid it all out and then I shut up and listened. He didn’t disappoint.

Over those four hours I learned a lot about myself. And, when time was up, I knew where I stood. I knew that, to get to where I wanted to be, it would require some hard work and a measure of suffering, both born of love, but the fruits would be worth it. I knew, too, that I wouldn’t have to go it alone, that Christ’s love would be there with me every step of the way.

Jesus said, “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). He convinced me last week that if I knock on His door seeking through prayer the knowledge of the Prudent thing to do, Justice in why it should be done, Temperance for knowing the right measure, and Fortitude to make it happen, He will open that door and provide the right answers.  With His help it wasn’t all that hard after all.

I’m convinced, too, that the best place for this to happen is with Him in Adoration. Give it a try.

“Jesus, I love you and thank you for your most generous love. Thank you for sending your Spirit into my heart revealing to me that which I needed to hear. Thank you for the grace to come to you in prayer and for giving me the strength to do what is right and just. Amen.”

(Looking Within was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2018 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.