Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

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Monday was the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Before Monday morning, I didn’t know there was such a memorial. But, I didn’t feel too bad when I discovered that it had only been established in February 2018. By Vatican decree, its date will always be the Monday after Pentecost Sunday, emphasizing the connection between Pentecost as the “birthday” of the Church; and the role of Mary, through whom the Church was born.

I’ve meditated much about Mary over the last week. As I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary last Friday, I found it, as always, impossible to imagine the pain Mary endured as she witnessed her son being tortured and crucified unto death. I wondered if she was in some way privy to the idea that Jesus, her son and God Incarnate, had to die and be resurrected to demonstrate God’s true love for us. If so, I wondered if it eased her suffering.

As I read the day’s Gospel (John 19:25-27), I imagined myself at the foot of the cross along with Mary and “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Jesus, as His final act of love, entrusted His mother to that disciple. But, by not actually naming the disciple, Jesus entrusted His mother to all disciples, not just the Apostles, but to you and me and all the Church’s faithful. And, in His infinite wisdom and love for us, Jesus knew that we all would need the loving care of a mother – not just any mother, but His very own, the holiest of all mothers.

I’ve thought about the role Mary might have played in the days after her son’s crucifixion. She, and the other holy women, remained with the Apostles. Was she the glue that held them together as they struggled to process what had happened and what was yet to come? Did she bolster their strength and encourage them to be patient and persevere?

On Saturday, as we approached Pentecost, I was thinking about the Apostles gathered together with Mary in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit to come as Jesus promised. I’m sure they didn’t know what to expect. I doubt Mary knew what to expect, but I’m sure she knew it would be a profound moment when He did come. She would know. Because thirty three years earlier she welcomed the Holy Spirit and, with and through Him, she conceived and gave birth to the Son of God. Through Mary, the Holy Spirit brought Christ into the world. Through Mary, the Holy Spirit brought Christ to us, you and me. (CCC 723)

I believe Jesus knew what He was doing when He entrusted his mother to us. Because just as Mary, in union with the Holy Spirit, brought Christ to us, it is through Mary that the Holy Spirit begins to bring men, the objects of God’s merciful love, into communion with Christ. (CCC 725) Just as the Holy Spirit brought Christ to us through Mary, He brings us to Christ through Mary.

Just as our natural mothers gave their love as they cared for and nurtured us, Mary, our spiritual Mother, cares for and nurtures our souls by lovingly bringing us to her Son, Jesus.

I must admit that, as a convert, devotion to Mary has been a difficult concept for me to comprehend. The seed was planted with my baptism but there’s been a cloud of doubt that asked, “What’s so special about Mary when I can go straight to Jesus?” But, my time meditating this week on Mary has been like warm sunshine on a garden that has ripened the fruit to it’s fullness! Our Lord entrusted His mother to us so that she, united with the Holy Spirit, may bring us to Him!

That seed received a welcome watering last week when my wife and I attended a Robinson family reunion at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri from June 1st to the 5th. On Sunday, we attended mass in the nearby town of Laurie, Missouri at what I thought was St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. But, during the summer mass is held outdoors on property adjacent to St. Patrick’s at The National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church. (Coincidence? I think not.)

The shrine was set in the beautiful Ozark Mountains on a terraced hillside amidst tall oak and hickory trees. The altar was at the foot of the hill with a lake and fountain as the backdrop. The “center aisle”, where one might normally find a baptismal font, consisted of an elevated reflection pool beneath a tall, rotating statue of a woman, a mother, with outstretched arms and palms turned upwards to receive the Holy Spirit. The granite walls surrounding the reflection pool were engraved with the names of over 4,000 mothers, the mothers of those who donated the funds to create the shrine.

Nearby was a stone memorial upon which was engraved a passage from Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty, titled, Behold Thy Mother:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral – a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

May God bless all our mothers as He has blessed His own, Mary, Mother of the Church.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Mary, Your all-holy ever-virgin Mother, the masterwork of Your mission of Your Son and Spirit in the fullness of time. In Mary, You prepared a dwelling place in which Your Son and Spirit could dwell among us, Your beloved. (CCC 721). And, Lord, thank you for our natural mothers and their love for us. May they both always know our everlasting love. Amen.”

(Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church 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.

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Memorial Day

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Kneeling in prayer before mass on Monday morning, I remembered, honored, and gave thanks for the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the preservation of freedom and liberation from tyranny.

Opening my eyes, I gazed upon Jesus on the Crucifix, Who gave up His life for our sins. His ultimate sacrifice on the cross showed us the way to everlasting life and liberation from slavery to sin.

As He continues to give His life for us and to us in the Holy Eucharist in the Sacrifice of the Mass, every day is Memorial Day.

“Heavenly Father, may all those who have gone before us, who have offered their lives for the protection of our freedom and liberties, find their reward by Your side. May all of us whom they have served never forget their sacrifice. And, Lord, may I never cease to remember, honor, adore and glorify You and give You thanks for Your sacrifice to save me, a sinner. Amen.”

(Memorial Day 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.

Who Is Imploring You to Be Their Light?

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A mosaic from a mural near the Church of St. Nicholas in Kavala, Macedonia depicting St. Paul’s first step into Europe upon landing in Macedonia in 49 A.D.

(A reflection on today’s scripture from Acts 16:1-10 and John 15:18-21)

I feel certain that Paul’s fervor for spreading the Gospel led him to prayer asking the Holy Spirit to tell him where he should take his ministry. The Holy Spirit answered his prayer in a vision, prompting him to go and serve the people of Macedonia.

In John 15, Jesus tells us that, because He has chosen us, the world hates us.

As I reflect on these passages, I ask myself, “Who is imploring me to be their light that will guide them on their Way?”; and, “What worldly constraints are keeping me from doing God’s will to help them?”

“Holy Spirit, as I drive for the next five hours and as I meditate on this reflection, reveal to me, I pray, to whom You desire I shine the light of Your love; for the Wisdom to identify the worldly constraints that hinder me; and for the Fortitude to overcome them so that I may do Your will. Amen.”

(Who Is Imploring You To Be Their Light? 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.

Be Thankful for the Lemons

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A cold glass of lemonade would be wonderful right about now.

I’ve been sitting in the westbound lane of Interstate 70 just west of Effingham, Illinois for over an hour and a half. Well, the westbound lane is actually the left lane of the eastbound lanes since the true westbound lanes are shut down for construction. Just after it reduced to one lane, a series of five emergency vehicles passed me on the shoulder so I assume there is an accident up ahead. I’ve said a prayer for whoever may be involved in the accident, that they may not be seriously injured.

My truck’s thermometer says it’s 85 degrees outside. To save gas I turned off the engine. It started to get a little warm so I rolled down the windows. That’s when I realized there is a dead deer just a few feet from my door. By its appearance and odor, I’d say it’s been dead a day or two.

My first reaction to this situation was to rue over my misfortune. I’m on my way to Kansas City and I hoped to make it to my daughter’s in time for dinner tonight. It doesn’t look like that will happen.

My second thought was, “What am I going to do while I’m waiting for the accident to clear or the buzzards to eat this deer, whichever comes first?”

I realized that this may be the first moment of real “downtime” I’ve had in several days. In preparing for this nine day trip to Kansas City, I’ve been extremely busy with chores around the house which needed to be completed before leaving. More than once over the last week I realized that my busy-ness has taken a toll on my daily prayer and meditation. My consolation has been that I’ve tried to make my work a special form of prayer offered up to God. I’ve never tried to justify a lack of prayer in that way before so I don’t know if it works or not. We’ll see.

“Well”, I thought, “there’s no telling how long I’ll be sitting here so this is probably a good time to spend a few minutes with the Lord.” I got out of my truck, careful not to step too close to the poor deer, and retrieved my bible from my bag in the back seat. As I read today’s scripture from Acts, I was again amazed at the courage and persistence of St. Paul to preach the truth. I resolved to try to be a little more like him.

As I finished my prayer, I realized I’d just received a cool glass of lemonade. I was handed lemons in the form of an unexpected and unfortunate delay and the unpleasantness of a ripe deer carcass, but, through the grace of God, the Holy Spirit helped turn it into a few refreshing and long over due moments with Him.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the grace to return to You, the One in Whom I live and move and have my being. Thank You for the challenges I encounter in my life. You help me accept that to have lemonade, we first have to have lemons. Amen.”

(Be Thankful for the Lemons 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.

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.

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.