A Monday Morning Blessing


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The flag of the Federation of North American Explorers

As I pulled into our church’s parking lot this morning for 7:30 a.m. mass I nearly ran into the back end of a tour bus. The bus was a traveling billboard for a Country and Western radio station so, filled with curiosity, I could hardly wait to see which Grand Ol’ Opry star was visiting St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Lebanon, Ohio.

When I walked through the doors of the church it was obvious there was not a country music star in attendance. Instead, there were what looked like fifty Boy Scouts sitting in the first few pews on Joseph’s side. Taking my usual place abreast from them on Mary’s side, I noticed their neckerchiefs, “Smokey-the-Bear” style hats or berets, khaki shirts, navy shorts and knee socks. The boys appeared to be in age from seven or eight years old to their late teens. But, looking out of the corner of my eye so as not to appear to be staring, I realized the patches and insignia were different than one would normally see on a BSA uniform.

As mass proceeded, I noticed that each boy, and each accompanying similarly attired adult, followed the mass to the letter. Then, as we walked forward to take communion, each boy dropped to both knees in genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament and took communion from our priest on the tongue rather than receive it by hand. Not only was I curious about who these kids were, I was tremendously impressed! They took their faith and adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist seriously!

After our priest gave the final blessing, I was further impressed when our guests knelt again, sang a song and prayed the St. Michael the Archangel intercessory prayer before standing and recessing in an orderly fashion. It was refreshing to see their love for the Lord instead of how fast they could get out of church.

Back in the foyer, our church’s gathering space, I just had to introduce myself to some of the men who appeared to be the leaders of the group. I wanted to know more about them. I learned they were not Boy Scouts, rather they were were Explorers in the Federation of North American Explorers (FNE). They were on their way home to Toronto, Canada from a trip to Florida and Georgia. They stopped by our community outside of Cincinnati because the only FNE chapter in Ohio is based at our sister parish, St. Philip the Apostle, in Morrow, Ohio.

FNE with Fr. Wood

Parochial Vicar and Priest at St. Philip the Apostle, Fr. Eric Wood, surrounded by the Holy Trinity Chapter of the FNE.

Luckily, the gentleman with whom I was speaking was the leader of the local group. He gave me a few minutes of his time before he had to leave to take his group of hungry boys to a local restaurant for a buffet breakfast.

He explained that the Federation of North American Explorers is a Catholic faith-based, single gender, youth program that interweaves faith into the regular program of weekly meetings, field trips, seasonal camping trips, summer camps and international travel excursions. Groups of boys are led by men, and groups of girls are led by women. And, before having to rush to catch up with his charges, he told me his mission is to “Save souls and create living saints” out of these boys.

After I got home from mass, I searched on-line for the Federation of North American Explorers and I found their website Federation of North American Explorers. I became even more impressed!

There are 22 FNE groups across the United States and seven groups in Canada. The webpage explicitly states that they actively embrace and participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, pray together for each other, their families, and others in need, pray the Rosary together, and attend Eucharistic Adoration. They grow through service to others including feeding the poor and visiting the elderly.

Non-Catholic Christians are invited to join and participate in all activities except for reception of the Sacraments. The organization promotes respect for members of other faiths as part of their daily lives.

The intent of the FNE program is to shape “the character, social, environmental, spiritual, and leadership aspects of the child into his or her adult life.” They “deliver a Christ-centered program experience where each member strives to become an Ordinary Saint through love, service, hard work, dedication, honesty, integrity, compassion, courage, prudence and by embracing the Sacraments of the Church.”

The FNE is recognized as a private pontifical association of faithful by the Holy See as well as by local Archdioceses as a Catholic Lay Movement.

I was particularly impressed with the 10 points of “The Explorer’s Law”, those virtues that build character, and consisted of, among other things: honor, loyalty, service and charity. Each law is stated and then explained for clarity. The one that particularly caught my attention was:

Law #3 – An Explorer is made to serve and save his neighbor. “You cannot be a follower of Christ unless you are willing to sacrifice yourself for others, and the motive must always be for our Lord’s own sake….An Explorer must be prepared, first, by learning everything he can which can make him useful, and then by being always on the watch for the ‘good turn’ which he can do….There is one ‘good turn’ which you can do for anybody at any time, i.e. say a prayer for them. In this way you can give great help to many who need it, even if it is out of your power to be of use to them in any other way.”

As I learned more about the FNE, I felt a sense of relief. In a world that is consumed by individualism, relativism and materialism, to find an organization that is developing our future generations into Catholic men of character is a true breath of fresh air!

I love God-moments like these first thing in the morning, especially Monday mornings!

If readers in the Cincinnati/Lebanon, Ohio area are interested in the local chapter of FNE, you may contact Mr. Mark Glaser at holytrinityfne@gmail.com.

“Heavenly Father, I give you thanks for the adult volunteers who donate their time and energy to develop our children, the future of our Church, into Christ-loving men and women of character. Amen.”

(A Monday Morning Blessing 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.


Thoughts on The Fate of Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized


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Last September I was introducing myself to a group of men with whom I would be spending the next six months in formation for an upcoming retreat presentation. Like everyone else, I gave a brief bio of my life: family, childhood, career, etc.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I was recalling our team formation and how I introduced myself as the oldest of four children in my family. I suddenly realized what I told everyone was incorrect. I was the oldest of five.

My sister, Sandra Faye, was born on February 21, 1961. She died 57 years ago today, February 22, 1961. I never met her.

I don’t remember my parents ever talking about the experience of losing a child. I wasn’t quite four years old when the event happened so I wouldn’t have understood even if they had talked about it at the time. By the time I was old enough to understand, their hurt and heartbreak had been diminished by time and the blessing of another daughter and son for which to be thankful.

I admit that I often forget about Sandra. I seem to recall her birth only because my oldest sister also has her birthday in February. This year, as her birthday approached, I found myself wondering if our souls will one day meet in heaven.

The possibility for that eventuality, I thought, depends on two things: that I get to heaven, and, if I do make it, that she is already there. With God’s grace I’m trying to do everything I can to improve my chances of ensuring that meeting. But, our family was not a religious family and I paused to wonder, since she was not baptized, will she be there? I didn’t know the answer and knew I would need to do some research to see what scripture and Church doctrine tells me.

Our faith tells us that Baptism is necessary for salvation1. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.2 In Jesus’ words, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.”3

With respect to Baptism, I remembered reading something written by author C.S. Lewis, “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”4 Lewis alludes to the fact that the Bible doesn’t reveal everything to us. Thus, this gave me a bit of hope that, when Jesus said what he said, he wasn’t including infants who were born but not baptized by their parents; nor given the opportunity to use their own free will or reason to be baptized; or those who were conceived but died before birth by either natural miscarriage or from malicious abortion.

Since the Bible isn’t explicit on this and many other subjects, there has been, since the Middle Ages, a theory elaborated by theologians that the souls of unbaptized infants are in a state of limbo. Although the Church has never adopted this possibility as doctrine and doesn’t teach it, it remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis.6

However, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church does accept and teach that the fate of unbaptized infants is an unanswered question and states, “As regards to children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused Him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’7 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of the holy Baptism [emphasis added].8

Finally, to back up what I found in the Catechism (CCC), I discovered a 2007 document published by the International Theological Commission in which the Church, driven by the urgency to address the number of unbaptized infants in our contemporary culture of relativism and religious pluralism9, sought to clarify the possibility of salvation of unbaptized infants. The Commission concluded by reinforcing Church doctrine that there is “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision”, and emphasized “that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge.”10

Understanding this Church teaching brought me comfort. But, I wondered, since my family were non-practicing Protestants and not Catholic, if there would be a different Protestant point of view. In doing some research into Protestant views on the subject, I found a variety of stances, depending on the Protestant denomination, but little substance that led me to believe the Protestant views are significantly different than our own.

In the end, my research, while not allowing one hundred percent certainty that Sandra is in heaven, gave me hope that she is there. It made me think, too, that, regardless if a person has been baptized, we can’t know the state of another person’s soul – only God knows that – and the only soul we can have some insight into is our own. We must place our faith and hope in God for the salvation of ourselves and others.

That’s good enough for me.

“Heavenly Father, help me to always remember that my ways are not necessarily Your ways. I give You thanks for the gifts of faith, hope and love which You have bestowed upon me through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”


1CCC1257, 2Ibid, 3Jn 3:5, 4C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1942, 5cf. Jn 16:12,
6The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, 7Mk 10:14
8CCC 1261, 9The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,

(Thoughts on The Fate of Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized 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.

A Point of Reference


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Jesus Praying in the Garden 2

Jesus Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane

One day last week a friend of mine, the father of a Marine, shared a link to a video of Marines undergoing Helicopter Underwater Evacuation Training (HUET). Although I was never a Marine, the video brought back many memories of similar training.

For many years I managed the construction, operations and maintenance of a natural gas pipeline system in the Gulf of Mexico. We employed helicopters to travel to offshore platforms and, because there was always the risk of an aircraft going down, we trained on how to react to such an event.

Helicopters used in offshore service are equipped with floats designed to keep the aircraft upright in the event of a water landing. Unfortunately, these floats can fail to inflate or fail to stay inflated. If one float fails, the helicopter will list to that side, capsize and go inverted.

Our offshore survival training was conducted in a swimming pool using a mock helicopter cockpit made for two, four or six passengers. Trainees were strapped in and, because an aircraft may go down at night, we were blindfolded. Then, the cockpit was suddenly inverted and the fun began.

As water rushed in, the person nearest the door opened it, and everyone began unfastening their harnesses. Amidst the rush of water and flailing arms and legs, we each, then, tried to find our way out before inflating our personal floatation devices. (Inflating your PFD before egressing could pin you to the floor of the aircraft.)

The natural tendency is to panic in these situations. When you fear drowning and can’t breathe, see, or hear; can’t find the latch to your harness; and you’re getting kicked and clawed by others trying to save their own lives, it can get hairy. The worst part about being blindfolded and inverted underwater, however, is the total disorientation. Up is now down, down is up, and left and right are reversed. It’s this disorientation, this confusion, that causes people to lose their lives.

The secret to surviving is to find a fixed point of reference onto which you can grab with your off hand before the aircraft starts to list, keeping your predominant hand free to release your harness; and to make a mental note of where exit doors are in relation to that reference point. With respect to the aircraft, this point of reference doesn’t change regardless of the aircraft’s orientation. Taking a moment to mentally orient yourself and visualize what you need to do, will probably save your life.

Yesterday morning at church, I was gazing at the stained glass window of Jesus in the garden of Gethsamane that is behind our altar and this recollection of survival training came sneaking into my consciousness, distracting me. I tried to push it away. But, before I could, I realized that the image in the window was Jesus praying to His point of reference, God the Father, for strength, courage and direction.

Then, I thought about when the exigencies of life turn my world upside down; when crises leave me confused and disoriented; and when heartbreak leaves me feeling lost in the dark and unsure of which way to go, I know Christ is my unchanging reference point.

When our culture tries its best to convince me that my happiness depends on the material things I accumulate, having Jesus as my reference point reminds me that, although I could lose everything tomorrow, He will never leave me.

When the world tells me that the only way to get ahead is to always put myself first regardless of the impact it may have on others, I can, instead, look to Him as an example of unselfishness and compassion.

When I’m told that right and wrong are matters of personal preference, and I should feel ashamed if my opinion differs from that of another, I can rely on Him for the truth.

I know when my ship goes down, as it someday will, it won’t be easy. But, I’ll be ready because I train every day, not in a mock cockpit in a swimming pool, but in daily prayer, meditating on God’s Word, and listening to His message – my point of reference.

How do you train?

“Lord Jesus, You are the Light and the Truth. You are unchanging. Lord, You give me the grace to always turn to you, especially when I’m in danger of drowning. When I reach for your hand in the dark, I know you will be there to pull me up. Amen.”

(A Point of Reference 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.

Wants and Needs


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When my youngest daughter was in the first grade, I volunteered to teach the Junior Achievement program to her class. The JA program was a good introduction for the students into economics and making financial choices.

One of the sessions in the class had to do with wants and needs. It was a lesson on distinguishing between things that we need and things that we simply want. The needs, of course, included food, water, shelter and clothing, but also included other necessities that help one procure those needs, such as a high school diploma or a vehicle to get to work.

I remember chuckling when I asked the kids for examples of things they need. I got answers like a puppy dog, new soccer cleats, and the newest video game. They didn’t think it was very funny when I responded that those were actually “wants” instead of real needs.

I know the intent of the program was to help introduce kids economically into the world of smart consumerism, but I remember there was a feeling of guilt around actually wanting anything. A want seemed to be a mere extravagance. And, in hind sight, I don’t remember talking about wanting something that you actually need.

This memory from fifteen years ago came back to me this morning as I knelt in church after receiving Holy Communion. As I looked at Jesus on the cross, I thought about my relationship with God. God does’t need me. He doesn’t need anything! But, He wants me! He wants me so much that He was willing to give up His only Son to be nailed to a cross in order to show me how much He loves and wants me.

On the other hand, I thought, I need Him! For most of my life I didn’t know this, but I know it now. God designed me to need Him.

And, I’ve come to believe that what really makes God happy is to know I also want a relationship with Him; that my desire to choose His love is of my own free will even though He has given me the freedom to do otherwise.

I want Him like I want water when my body tells me it needs to be hydrated. I want Him like I want a big juicy cheeseburger when my body tells me it needs food for strength.

I know this makes God happy because it’s the way I feel about my own children.  They’re grown and away from home with children of their own.  They don’t necessarily need me anymore.  But, I can’t describe the joy that I feel knowing they still want my love and that they still want to love me.

Looking back, I can see that, in the world of consumerism, wants should play second fiddle to one’s needs.  But, in the spiritual world, wanting God is what makes all the difference.

In choosing a loving relationship with Him, all my spiritual wants and needs are aligned and are satisfied when I accept His gift of Himself in the form of the Holy Eucharist – the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of God the Son.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

I think if I was to teach JA to first graders again, I would be sure to teach them that the best value for their money, both economically and spiritually, will be when they align their wants with their needs.

Are your wants aligned with your needs?

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your patience and loving persistence as You waited for me to see that I needed Your gift of faith. Lord, thank You for quenching my thirst and hunger for You by offering me Your Son, Jesus, Who has shown me how You want me to live. And, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit with enough love to not only fill my heart but enough to share with others. Amen.”

(Wants and Needs 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.

Before the Cross


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Jesus Crucified, Le Coup de Lance - Peter Paul Rubens

Jesus Crucified, Le Coup de Lance – Peter Paul Rubens

It’s amazing how time and space can be transformed when you’re in the desert. One hour of silence and solitude during Eucharistic Adoration in the real presence of Jesus can transport you into the mysteries of Christ’s life.

Yesterday, as I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament during my Holy hour, I found myself not alone, but alone with Christ. It was so quiet in the chapel that I could almost hear the flicker of the flame burning in the candle to the right of the tabernacle. Yet, I was listening to the voice of Jesus.

As I knelt on the rocky ground, I could feel the gravel digging into my knee caps. Before me, Jesus was hanging from the cross, struggling for every breath. I felt helpless and ashamed of my cowardice. To rise up and object would certainly mean my death from the Roman soldier standing nearby.

Blinking away the blood and sweat in His eyes, He looked at me. Our eyes met. I uttered, “My Lord, how can this be happening? How can you endure such torture? I cannot bear it!”

He had not enough breath to speak, but in His eyes I could hear Him say, “Because of my suffering you will have eternal peace and salvation.”

“How can I ever repay You?, I pleaded, choking on my words.

Again, I read in His eyes, “I thirst for your love. Show me your love by loving others as I have loved you. Go, let that love multiply as we did with the loaves and fishes. Spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God as I have taught you.”

The pain from the gravel beneath my knees grew worse and I blinked. I lost His gaze and He was gone.

I found myself back in the Adoration Chapel kneeling on the soft cushion of the prie-dieu with the monstrance before me. My hour was almost over. The pain in my knees was just the arthritis from growing older.

(Before the Cross 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.



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imagesThis morning as I knelt before Your altar I gave You thanks for all my prayers, my work, my joy and my sufferings. Then, I offered them up to You as a gift for You to use and apply towards the intentions of all my family and friends, and especially for the intentions of the Holy Father.

You took my gift, transfigured it, and re-gifted it to me in the form of pure love – Your Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. More love than I myself can fathom. In return, all You ask is that I recognize Your presence in everyone I meet and re-gift all that I can’t use to others who need it. And, that’s just about everybody.

Tomorrow we’ll repeat the process. Same gift. Different day.


(Re-Gifting 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.

Do You Not Yet Have Faith?


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– St. Augustine

God continues to work in my life! And, after reading today’s Gospel, Mark 1:21-28, about Jesus casting out the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue; and yesterday’s Gospel, Mark 4:35-41, about the Apostles’ lack of faith while in their boat during the storm, I feel compelled to tell you how He recently touched me and helped my faith grow deeper.

My wife and I had a wonderful but busy Christmas season. We traveled to Europe to visit our daughter who was studying abroad, and we toured parts of Belgium, France and Germany.

We returned home on the 31st and caught up on a few necessary items before driving to Kansas City on Friday the 5th for our grandson Jack’s third birthday. Then, on Monday, I went on to my second in-residence week of training (also in Kansas City) to become a spiritual mentor.

To say that I had been looking forward to this week would be an understatement. I was dying to get there and experience another week of God’s peace and the joy that radiates from the Sisters of the Apostles of the Interior Life (AVI).

Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved spending quality time with my wife and daughter over the holiday, but with all the traveling and site-seeing I let my daily routine of meditative prayer slide. And, I dearly missed it. I was so looking forward to getting back on track, to the spiritual formation and the times of silence and solitude in the coming week.

When I checked in I immediately felt a sense of belonging. The Sisters of the AVI and alumni mentors were there to meet me and the other students with whom I had become friends during our first session last May. We soon went to mass, had dinner, and had our first classroom session.

By bedtime I was ready to pack my bags, get in my truck and go home.

In a matter of a few hours everything about me transformed from being on fire to being consumed with doubt in my ability to ever succeed as a mentor, and a total sense of unworthiness to be there amid so many holy people. I hurt.

I laid in bed begging Jesus for direction on what I needed to do to shake the fear. I was confused and worried. I knew I needed to trust in Him but I just couldn’t make myself let go.

I awoke the next morning in worse condition than when I fell asleep. I prayed but still didn’t know what to do. I began my daily meditation by reading the scripture for the day. The Gospel for that morning, January 9th, was Mark 1:21-28 (the same passage as today). When I read about Jesus casting out the demon from the man, I was reminded of the spiritual warfare I had last year that made me fearful of posting on my blog. It was deja vu all over again!  I thought, “Okay, been there and done that”, so I changed my prayer from, “Jesus, help me figure this out!”, to, “Jesus, I trust in You!” I prayed for the grace to truly turn it over to Him.

But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t happening.

The order of the day began with morning prayer followed by meditation, an opportunity for reconciliation, an hour of Eucharistic Adoration, and a half day of silent retreat dubbed “the Desert”. Fr. Allessandro led the meditation in his soft, kind, Italian accented voice. Between his accent, my hearing aids and the acoustics in the chapel, I barely understood a word he said. But, somewhere in the middle of his talk I heard, “In the desert, you can’t hide from your fear.”

I knew God was talking to me and I was meant to hear those words even if I understood nothing else. I knew something was going to happen while “in the Desert”, but I didn’t know what.

Feeling ashamed of my failure to put all my faith in Jesus, I felt compelled to go to reconciliation as soon as the meditation was over. I confessed to Fr. Steve that my prayer life had been naught over the prior three weeks and I desperately wanted to get it back. I explained my feeling of unworthiness to be there and confessed that I simply couldn’t find a way to turn it over and totally trust in Jesus. Kindly, he told me there isn’t a day goes by during which he doesn’t feel unworthy to be a priest but he knows God called him to be one. And, he told me he knows God called me to be there and to be in the program. Christ, working through Fr. Steve’s hands, forgave me for my unbelief.

I left the confessional and said my one Our Father for my penance. I knelt on the tile floor before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and I started to say, “Jesus, I trust in You.” But, before I uttered the first syllable, I felt an overwhelming rush of consuming love wash over me. If I hadn’t already been on both knees, I would have collapsed to them. In that instant of giving my heart and fear to Him, I felt and heard Him say, “Don’t be afraid, I’ve got this! You’re my beloved.” I broke into tears.

From that moment, the rest of the week was perfect! I couldn’t have asked for more.

Later that day, I recalled the one other time I felt touched by Jesus in this same way (see Put Your Faith Where Your Prayer Is ). It was when I was praying for my four day old grandson Jack’s life as he lay in the NICU at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. I had finally realized there was nothing I could do to help him when, in that moment of giving it up I began to say, “Jesus, I trust in You”, He hit me with the same overwhelming feeling of love and I heard Him tell me, “Don’t be afraid, Jack’s going to be okay.”

Thinking about Jack now as a healthy and normal little boy, I realized it was exactly three years to the day since that first event. Coincidence? I don’t think so. No, I think it was Jesus reminding me and asking me, “Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:40)

I know I’ve shared many stories over the last five years about how God has worked in my life. But, folks, He is with us and is just waiting for us to open our minds to the truth, our hearts to His love, and our eyes to see the tangible signs of his presence in everything around us. I’m nobody special. You can find Him in your life, too.

God bless you!

“Lord Jesus, thank You for Your infinite love, Your forgiveness, and Your patience. Thank You for leading me to the Father. Holy Spirit, thank You for opening my heart and mind to the Word of God, and for opening my eyes to see His presence in the ordinary things of my life. Amen.”

(Do You Not Yet Have Faith? 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.

Soil Conditioning for the Heart


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The Angelus

The Angelus, Jean-Francois Millet, 1859

In my previous life (pre-2012 and pre-Catholic) I would occasionally crack a Bible and read a passage or two before losing interest and closing it up. This didn’t happen often, mostly when I was traveling, alone and bored in a hotel room somewhere and there was a Gideon Bible in the nightstand drawer. I remember reading from the Gospels and wondering why Jesus talked to the people in parables. As far as I could tell, it was all a riddle that nobody in their right mind could understand. It made no sense.

This recollection came back to me today as I read and meditated on today’s Gospel, Mark 4:1-20, the Parable of the Sower. A lot has changed over the last six years. I understand this parable today – that Jesus is the sower, the Word of God is the seed, and the different types of soil are the dispositions of the diversity in our faith. Or at least I think that’s what it’s about.

But, as I meditated on this today, my thoughts were more on why Jesus spoke in parables rather than the message in the parable.

I have learned that the Jewish rabbis and teachers in Jesus’ time, taught using stories with familiar images and experiences to which the learner could relate. The messages in these stories were not explicit but, instead, were designed to make one think. The answers were complex and seldom simple. If you thought you had it figured out, you probably didn’t. You needed to think about it more, and think more deeply.

Jesus’ parables were similar to what we call allegory today. He always had a hidden complex spiritual meaning or moral lesson embedded within his parable. And, depending on one’s level of faith, you either got it, partially got it, or you were totally lost.

Even Jesus’ disciples and His chosen Apostles didn’t always understand. In today’s Gospel, His disciples questioned Him about the parables. Jesus answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables so that they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.” Jesus continued, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables?” (Mk 4:11-13)

We often think that the Apostles were all totally on board and on the same page as Jesus. But, the reality was that they never did quite figure it out until Jesus’ resurrection and eventual ascension into heaven. No, they were quite often lost regarding the mysteries of Christ’s life (e.g. Mk 8:32-33, Peter’s response to the first prediction of Jesus’ Passion; and, Mk 9:28-29, the healing of a boy with a demon).

Jesus wanted everyone, His disciples included, to think deeply about His message. He wanted them to look beyond the obvious, below the surface, and outside of the box. He challenged them to compare and relate His stories, His parables, with their own lives. The extent of their understanding and ability to relate often depended on their faith.

Nothing has changed. It still depends on faith. The reason I didn’t understand the Gospel as I read while lounging on a hotel room bed was because I had no faith. The difference between then and now for me is that I now believe the Word of God to be the truth. I have a deep desire to understand it so that I can apply it to my life.

Jesus still challenges us to understand God’s Word within the context of our own lives, our own experiences. He wants to sow the Seed on fertile soil so that it may grow and produce fruit. How do we prepare that garden plot in preparation for His sowing?

First, we need to create an atmosphere in which we can listen to God through His Word in the scripture, an atmosphere of silence and solitude that is conducive to deep thought without distractions. Author Henri J.M. Nouwen in his book, The Way of the Heart, describes silence as, “not not speaking, but listening to God”; and solitude as, “not being alone, but being alone with God.” Finding that time and place is critical.

Once you’re there, open up your heart in prayer. Give thanks to God for the opportunity to be with Him in that moment. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to receive the Word of God, and for the grace to understand His Word as you read and reflect upon it.

As you read the scripture, think deeply about what it is God is telling you at that moment. Maybe there is a verse or a phrase or just a couple words that jump out at you. Stop and reflect on that which catches your attention and let the Holy Spirit take you deeper to reveal God’s unique message for you. Say a prayer of thanksgiving once you’ve absorbed His revelation.

Next, ask yourself how that message relates to your life today. Is there something you can do to change? What can you do today to be more virtuous, to grow in holiness, and to become a better disciple, spouse, parent, and friend? How can you condition your soil to make it more fertile? The Holy Spirit will convict you and show you the way!

Finally, take that one thing, that one change for the better, and write a concrete resolution that will effect an improvement that day. Make it easy but make it concrete. Think baby steps instead of leaping tall buildings. Something that you can, at the end of the day, look back on and say with a sense of accomplishment, “Yes! I did it!”

And then go do it.

This is how you grow in faith. This is how you begin to understand the Word of God and not get confused in the complexity of the parables. And, this is how you gradually grow in holiness on your way to becoming a saint just like the Apostles.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for giving me the deep desire to understand Your Word, and for Your Son, Jesus, to sow that Seed in my heart. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for the gift of faith that has conditioned my heart to be fertile ground for producing fruit for Your kingdom. I pray that, through Your grace, the harvest is abundant. Amen.”

(Soil Conditioning for the Heart 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.

Above and Beyond


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This month marks the 45th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The annual March for Life rally in Washington D.C. will occur on Friday, January 19th.  I made the pilgrimage to the rally last year and joined hundreds of thousand of others in peaceful protest of our nation’s culture of death. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it this year in person but my heart and spirit will be there.  In support of the rally and all of the unborn, I am posting the following article with the hope that it will either directly or indirectly change a few hearts.  My hope is that we will ultimately embrace in America a culture that respects life from conception until natural death.

I would also like to encourage you to participate, if you can, with your parish’s, or a nearby parish’s, Respect Life Ministry and make the trip to our nation’s capitol to participate in the rally.  You can make a difference.

The following article written by Paul V. Esposito is reposted from The Culture of Life.

Above and Beyond

Maybe it’s a trophy kissed and held aloft to the cheers of adoring fans. Perhaps it’s a ring displayed at banquets or conventions. It could be a gold medal and the top spot on a winner’s stand. It might be a scholarship or an invitation into an honors society. It could be any award that signals victory. It becomes a motivator to reach higher, work harder, and sacrifice more. For many, it is the dream.

There is another award, a fairly small one—an upside down, five-pointed, decorated, dull gold star mounted on a blue ribbon and worn close to the neck. No one sets out to win it; this star is not a dream come true. Receiving this award is dictated in large part by circumstances, but in much larger part by incredible bravery. For of the 3,440 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, over half did not survive the action for which it was received.

The recipients were ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In May 1967, Army major Charles Kettles volunteered to lead a helicopter squad into a white-hot battle zone to transport reinforcements and retrieve the wounded. Intense enemy fire killed reinforcements before they could leave their aircraft. The enemy targeted the landing zone, yet Kettles remained there until all others had departed. Later returning to the battlefield, the enemy badly damaged his copter and severely wounded his gunner, but he still managed to get more troops back to base. He went back again and left only when informed that all soldiers had been retrieved. But airborne, he learned that eight soldiers remained on the ground. With complete disregard for his safety, he did a U-turn and headed to the site, totally unprotected by cover fire. All enemy fire concentrated on his aircraft alone, inflicting tremendous damage. Yet Kettles managed to return the last eight to safety. “We got the 44 out. None of those names appear on the wall in Washington. There’s nothing more important than that.”

The Medal of Honor also has been awarded to a conscientious objector, one whose bravery was celebrated in the film Hacksaw Ridge. Army private Desmond Doss felt compelled to serve in WWII, but good conscience would not let him kill. For his beliefs, his superiors and fellow soldiers cruelly treated him. Ultimately, the Army allowed him to serve as a combat medic; he chose not to carry a weapon on the battlefield. Desmond participated in the three-week battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest battle in the Pacific theatre. During the assault, the soldiers were required to climb a sheer 400-foot slope, only to be met at the top by heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire. Rather than seeking cover, and twice injured, Doss tended to wounded all over the battlefield, lowering them down off the ridge on a rope-supported litter. All told, Private Doss evacuated 75 men by himself. “I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, ‘Lord, please help me get one more.”

What ran through the veins of medal recipients to account for conduct above and beyond the call of duty? Certainly, they understood the limits of self-importance. A me-centered person could never do what they did. He would immediately see that he has too much to lose, and the fear of loss holds him back. Next, these soldiers had a sense of total commitment. To their missions. And to their brothers. Major Kettles probably didn’t know those soldiers he evacuated. Private Doss likely suffered abuse at the hands of those he saved. But they committed themselves to sacrificing their very lives for a greater good. And finally, they had a trust in the presence of God that allowed them to step forward under fire. Carl Bentley, a soldier on Hacksaw Ridge, said: “It’s as if God had his hand on [Doss’] shoulder. It’s the only explanation I can give.” Gary Rose, another medal recipient, put it this way, “If you don’t believe in God, you should have been with us on that day.”

We are nearing the 45th anniversary of the longest continuing war in U.S. history. It is more than just a fight over the legality of abortion. It is no less than a spiritual battle for our country’s soul. It pits our personal desires to do what we want, when we want, however we want, against the need to recognize the plight of the voiceless, defenseless unborn. If we will not protect the unborn, we will never cure the many social ills plaguing us, for the right to life is the foundation on which all other rights rest. So we are called to battle against the present darkness of evil that has misguided and hardened the hearts of so many around us.

But in large measure, we are not answering the call of duty. We have cowered under the nonsense that standing up for life is “offensive” speech that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite conversation. We have failed to witness to our faith in our homes, workplaces, or the public square because others might not like what they see, or worse, because it is inconvenient. Our Church leaders have not spoken up because they don’t want to be unpopular with the people in the pews, or because they want to curry favor with the local politicians.

Recently, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the newly elected head of the U.S. bishops pro-life activities committee, told us that this must change. “[I]f the Church is silent on the destruction of life, we’re being negligent, and leaving our young people vulnerable to making this tragic decision.” To our priests, he mentioned the need to preach on the sanctity of life, even at the risk of losing some people. “We can’t fail to talk to our people about these real sins that affect the lives of our people. If we talk about sins they don’t commit, of what good is that?”

The challenge is to all of us. For the battle is heart-to heart, and it requires us to stand up directly in the line of fire. It can be difficult to challenge the views of family and friends. It takes commitment to speak and act in support of life. And for many, it takes great sacrifice to vote for the pro-life candidates of another political party. But the battle is not about our needs. It is about the greater good of saving lives: unborn babies and their families. May we remember the prayer of a man who risked himself to go far above and beyond:

Lord, please help me get one more.”


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2018. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.

©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.

The awesome power of the Christmas story

“The awesome power of the Christmas story” by Bishop Robert Barron


One of the best Christmas sermons I have ever read appeared some years ago in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. In the course of a wide-ranging interview, the Irish rocker Bono, leader of the group U2, spoke of his religious faith. Prompted to articulate why he embraces Christianity, Bono said, “I believe that there is a logic that stands behind all things, and as a poet, I see the wonderful appropriateness that this awesome power would express itself as a baby born in straw poverty.”

Any number of religious and philosophical systems would hold to the first part of Bono’s statement. They would teach that an intelligent power is responsible for the order and intelligibility of the universe. What makes Christianity distinct is the puzzling and subversive assertion that this creative mind, this high metaphysical principle and first cause, looks like “a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Mary and Joseph, two nobodies in a dusty corner of the Roman Empire, made their way from the tiny hamlet of Nazareth to the little town of Bethlehem. They were too poor and unimportant to secure lodging, even in the pathetic travelers’ hostel, and thus were compelled to take shelter in a cave, surrounded by animals. In that dirty and forgotten place, the baby who is God came into the world.

Stated as bluntly and directly as that, the claim seems weird, doesn’t it? It is meant to. For it expresses the poetic reversal that Bono invoked. The creator of the universe is not a cold and impersonal force. It is a love that makes itself vulnerable for the sake of the other. The logic that lies behind all things is an infant too weak to raise his own head.

This poetic and theological illumination compels us to think differently about many things, but especially about the nature of power. The maker of the cosmos in its entirety is undoubtedly a supreme power, but now we know that authentic power is not a matter of domination and manipulation, but of nonviolence. Willing the good of the other (the classical definition of love) is moving with the deepest rhythms of creation and with the very nature of God. And this is precisely why it can transform society. If you doubt me, look at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s remaking of American culture or Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian revolution — both prompted and sustained by love, not violence.

St. Augustine offered, in the 4th century, a pithy definition of sin: libido dominandi (the lust to dominate). Although it applies to any and all types of sin, Augustine’s characterization is particularly compelling in regard to the sins that have been on public display these last months and years. What we see in the abuse of children, in the exploitation of the weak, in human trafficking, in cruelty to the families of immigrants, and in the sexual harassment of women is, fundamentally, the libido dominandi, the twisted exercise of power.

There is an extraordinary passage in the book of the prophet Isaiah in which the seer envisions the coming of God’s reign, which will put an end to suffering and injustice: “The Lord bares his holy arm for all the nations to see; to the furthest corners of the earth, he makes known his saving power” (Is. 52:10). The image is bold, even aggressive — God pulling up his sleeve and revealing his mighty arm. As the Anglican theologian N.T. Wright pointed out, the supreme irony of Christmas is that the holy arm of the Lord God is revealed as the tiny arm of a baby emerging from the crib of Bethlehem.

The power that made the universe is not the assertion of personal prerogatives; it is not pushing people around; it is not manipulating others for the aggrandizement of one’s ego; it is not preening self-display; it is not the lust to dominate. The logic that lies behind all things is a baby born in straw poverty. When we get that in our bones, we will understand the meaning of Christmas.

Robert Barron is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.