No Chance Encounters

Tags

, , , , ,

The Calling of St. Matthew, Matthias Stomer, 1629

In yesterday’s first reading from 1 Samuel 9, we heard about Saul the Benjaminite who, while out looking for his lost donkeys, just happened to run into Samuel the prophet.  Samuel had been told by God the day before that he would meet the man whom he would name as the new king of Israel at that specific time the next day.  From Saul’s perspective, It was a chance encounter.  From Samuel’s, though, it was God’s plan.

In yesterday’s Gospel, Mark 2:13-17, we read about Jesus calling Matthew, son of Alphaeus, to follow him.  Matthew certainly wasn’t expecting to be called, but it was in Jesus’ plan to pass by his tax collection booth that day and invite him to be His disciple.  

Jesus meets us in unexpected, memorable and life changing ways, also.  Unfortunately, when He does, we can be quick to write them off as mere coincidences.  I’ve learned, though, that most anything very far removed from the ordinary is God working in my life and not just a result of dumb luck.  He’s calling my attention to Himself and His will.  Sometimes it may only be a reminder that He is here with me, sometimes a reminder to be grateful for His providence, and sometimes He’s telling me I need to make a course correction.  Sometimes it’s all of the above.

I had a little God-moment yesterday.  An old friend, Joe, called me out of the blue.  I hadn’t talked to him in many months, and only a couple times since he moved away five years or so ago.  Joe and I first met ten years ago this coming April on a Christ Renews His Parish weekend, a retreat in which neither of us ever expected to participate.  Joe was a lukewarm Catholic with little desire to grow deeper in his faith but attended to placate the man who kept pestering him.  Me, I had never had any faith to allow to grow cold.  I was simply at a low point and attended to get away from the stress of life for two days.

From the get-go, Joe and I hit it off.  We became instant friends, both satiated with the Holy Spirit by the end of the retreat, and wondering where we would go from there.  I chose to join the Catholic Church and learn more about Jesus, and Joe chose to begin living out his faith with renewed zeal.  We were both on fire and our friendship kept each other stoked like a blacksmith’s furnace.  Together, we went onto the next Christ Renews team.  We met for lunch once a week and shared how God was working in our lives. We participated in a men’s small group at which we discussed the Gospel and learned more about our faith from other friends.

And then Joe changed jobs and moved a couple hours away.  We lost touch, yet we kept moving forward in our own ways.  Joe got involved in the small parish which he attends and started making new friends.  I retired and began studying to become a spiritual mentor.  Our small group slowly dissolved and I found new friends with whom to share my faith.

We talked for over a half hour, catching up with each other, our families, our faith.  He called me because he thought of me and our Christ Renews His Parish journey together.  He was giving a pulpit talk this morning to ask men to attend a weekend retreat and he wanted my prayers.  

I told him I have a couple groups with whom I meet regularly and just last week gathered together some of the old guys from our first group.  It was a fun reunion and we talked about resuming regular get-togethers.  Joe said he misses those group discussions and would like to get a small group of friends from his parish together to share their faith.  We talked about our prayer lives, and about the spiritual mentoring that I do, and he sounded interested in getting his own spiritual mentor.  It was almost like old-times.  Before we ended the call we vowed to stay better in touch.  

After our call, I thought back to how our friendship evolved.  We were both called to be on that retreat together.  We had our reasons, but God had His own.  It was not a chance encounter.  Yesterday’s phone call wasn’t a chance encounter, either.  We needed each other during that time to grow deeper in our faith which ultimately made us better disciples for Christ.  We needed each other yesterday.  It was like God giving a couple pumps on the bellows of that old furnace.  

The Holy Spirit is still urging us to continue being disciple makers.  And, because of this, we have the grace to know and accept that He puts Sauls and Matthews in our lives by His plan and not by coincidence.  But, they don’t know that….not yet.

PS:  My wife and I arrived at mass this morning just moments before the opening procession.  Not wanting to walk down the aisle to our preferred seat, we took a spot in the back pew on Mary’s side, at the far outside end of the pew.  As I sat down I remembered that this was Joe’s seat.  He would always get there early to make sure someone else didn’t get it.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

“Heavenly Father, thank you for the friendships we have developed with You as the Common Denominator.  Through them You give us the extra help we need to be disciple makers and bring our brothers and sisters to You.  Amen.”

(No Chance Encounters was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 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 Worthy Resolution

Tags

, , , , , ,

The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311, National Gallery of Art

Yesterday’s celebration of the Baptism of Jesus marked the end of Christmastide and initiated  Ordinary Time which began today.  Yesterday’s liturgy helped call to mind the gifts of fire and Spirit which we were given at our baptisms, those supernatural gifts bestowed upon us to help us give witness to the light and truth of Jesus in all that we say and do.

Today’s Gospel was from Mark 1:14-20.  I love Mark.  He doesn’t waste any time getting to the meat of things.  No infancy narrative, no beating around the bush.  In the very first chapter, he tells us of John the Baptist’s preaching in verses 1 to 8, about Jesus’ baptism in verses 9 to 11, the Lord’s temptation in the desert in verses 12 and 13, in verse 14 he goes straight into the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and in verse 16 He calls His first disciples.  Bam!  There it is!  He’s off and running!

As I was meditating on today’s passage I wondered if there was an intended purpose in having the temptations in the desert back to back with Jesus’ calling of the first disciples.  Probably not, but I thought of a plausible one that could be relevant to us today.  We’re ten days into the new year and many of us look back at the last twelve months and wish we had done better at this or that.  Many of our perceived faults and failures were direct results of one or more vices: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth.  In a sense, these were the temptations we were faced with in a moment of choice, which we probably caved into, and which may have become habits, or else we wouldn’t be trying to correct ourselves.

Our inherent sense of right and wrong tells us we ought to do better during the next trip around the sun.  So, we make resolutions to correct these vices with corresponding opposite virtues:  humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience, and diligence.  We want to improve our diets, get more exercise, enhance our relationships, change some negative behavior, and so on.  And maybe, just maybe, that second sense is moving you to become better disciples of Christ and draw more people to Him.  To be Fishers of Men and teach your catch to do the same. 

Making changes, real and worthwhile changes, is never easy.  It’s hard to break bad habits and come face to face with fears and discomforts.  These days, one of the hardest habits to break is to pull away from one’s screens.  But, we know inside that doing so will give us more time to enhance our relationships with those we love.  That’s the first secret of improvement, seeing the good that will come.  Similarly, we can see the good, the joy, the feeling of peace, the graces, that will come from living out our calling as disciples.  It may not be easy but it will be worth it.

The second secret is to commit to making the change and eliminate the obstacles.  To lose weight you stop buying a bucket of ice cream each day so you won’t eat it.  So, determine what’s keeping you from approaching other people.  Then commit to making a change and draft a plan.  Ask yourself what you can do differently.  Go to a different mass than you usually go to and meet someone new.  Invite them to dinner.  Build a friendship.  Have good conversation and get to know each other.  Invite them to pray a rosary with you.  You don’t even have to approach people you don’t know.  Just look within your family – people who you already know and love.

Maybe being a better disciple sounds difficult, almost scary.  I know what you’re thinking – “You mean I have to talk to people, maybe even non-Christians, about God and my faith?  I’ll have to invite them to go to church with me, or a bible study, or pray a rosary with me.  What if they turn me down?  What if they reject not just my offer but me!?”  Just remember yesterday’s Gospel:   you were given with your baptism the supernatural gifts to help you give witness to the truth and the light that is Jesus!  And, then, if you were confirmed, you were given the virtue of fortitude to help overcome your fear.

I have a friend who begins each year with a resolution to bring three people closer to Christ.  Not just any three people but three specific people.  He writes down their names.  He makes a plan that includes building friendships with them by inviting them into his life.  Then, slowly, through their new and trusting relationship, he introduces them to Jesus.  I’ve seen it work year after year.  A win-win for both parties.  Does he get a bite with each cast?  No, but he’s fishing instead of just cutting bait and he puts more in the Lord’s creel than most people.

If you’ve already made new resolutions, or if you’re still kicking around ideas, consider what you can do to become a better disciple.  Ask God to help you.  Certainly resolve to change what needs to change, turn your vices into virtues, so that others can see you living the Christ life.  Then commit to bringing someone else closer to Christ as well.  It’s a worthy resolution.

“Dear Jesus, I love You, and I would love to bring more people to love You like I do.  I can only do so much on my own and I need Your help.  Help me, Lord, to realize the confidence, the faith, and the courage You have so graciously and generously infused into me through Your Spirit.  Help me to help others desire the same.  Amen.”

(A Worthy Resolution was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 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.

It’s the Word that Matters

Tags

, ,

I posted yesterday about my inspiring trip to reconciliation.  As I walked out of church I was pumped up, having just felt an extremely close encounter with the Holy Spirit.  As I walked to my truck in the parking lot a woman whom I had never seen before approached on her way into the church.  She looked at me and asked with what seemed to be a little attitude, “Who is it this evening?”

I initially assumed she was arriving a little early for 5:30 mass.  We have a pastor and a parochial vicar assigned to our parish, I’ll call them Father One and Father Two to protect their identity.  I told her that Father One was hearing confessions so he would also be saying mass.  The woman looked at me and replied, “Oh, I wish it was Father Two, I like his better.”  Not knowing exactly what to say, I offered my rejoinder, “Well, it’s the Word that matters.”  She looked at me kind of funny and then walked on past.   As I unlocked my truck I suddenly wished I could back time up a half a minute so she and I could have a little one on one conversation.  

I would have liked to ask her what it is about Father Two that she prefers.  Is it that she likes the dynamic homilies he occasionally gives, or some other personal quirk that appeals to her over Father One?  I wanted to ask her if she’s ever considered that Father One might have the time to prepare more edifying homilies if he didn’t have to manage and administer two parishes.

I would have liked to tell her that I hear homilies from a couple dozen priests during the course of a year and every priest has his own style of delivery.  Some are enlightening, some not so much.  It’s not so much what the priest is saying in his homily, it’s the Word that matters, and what we hear God saying to us.  It’s Jesus in the Word and in the Eucharist that we come to receive at mass, not the priest.  A less than kind me briefly thought it would be fun to suggest that if it’s a sermon that she comes to get fired up over, then maybe she’d be better off attending a Methodist service.  For that, I thought I might need to go back to confession.  Maybe next week.

I wondered if she knew that every Catholic church on earth reads the same scripture passages on any particular day.  No two priests have the same homily and there are no standard homilies.  The priest formulates his homily based on what the Holy Spirit is telling him.  Not every priest hears the same message.  Likewise, if there are 400 people in the congregation during a mass, then there are 400 different and unique messages being sent from the Holy Spirit, one to each person there.  The priest’s message might get you in the ballpark for understanding what God’s will is for you that day, but if that’s all you hear it might leave you in the cheap seats with a message that probably isn’t uniquely yours.  

Mentally chiding myself for that devilish thought from a moment ago, I thought if I were a true disciple I would be helpful instead of so snooty and teach her how to meditate on the daily scripture before attending mass. That way she could more readily hear God speak directly to her instead of second hand through the lector or priest.  Then, it wouldn’t matter who’s giving the homily.

Suddenly realizing that my know-it-all-pride had just displaced any humility I thought I had, I decided I was making a mountain out of a mole hill.  So I got in my truck, buckled up, turned the key and saw that it was only 4:25.  I thought maybe the lady was going to confession first.  Perhaps she was intending that she preferred Father Two over Father One to hear her confession.

Well, checking my pride didn’t last long as I thought of some new things I’d have liked to ask her.  Did she feel more comfortable going to one priest over another?  If so, why?  Not why as in, “Does Father Two make you feel less sorry for your sins?”, but rather, “Why does it matter?”  You don’t go to confession to be comforted.  You go to tell God you’re sorry you offended Him and that you’ll do everything in your power to keep from doing it again.  You go to be reconciled with God, not reconciled with the priest.  After all, it’s God working through the priest, In Persona Christi, Who is the forgiving, All Merciful One.

Once again dismounting from my high-horse, and sorry for being so judgmental, I knew I needed to back off. It’s not for me to judge what’s in someone’s heart by the tone of five simple words.  I realized my thoughts were a defensive reaction to protect the dignity of our priests.  I look up to them and am thankful they have devoted their lives to helping us on our journey to heaven.  Their’s is a demanding “you-can’t-please-all-the-people-even-some-of-the-time” job.  They are too often taken for granted and not often enough thanked for their goodness.  It seems we too often relegate our spiritual welfare to them instead of taking responsibility for it ourselves.  We need to realize there are too few priests as it is, and, as members of the Body of Christ, start carrying more of the load.

I think I know where I’ll be next Saturday afternoon.  

“Merciful Father, please forgive me for being so prideful and judgmental.  But, thank You for letting me see the value of our caring, generous, and hard-working priests, and accepting their uniqueness, flaws and all, just as You accept mine.  Amen.”  

(It’s the Word that Matters was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 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.

Confession, Gethsemane, and the Cross

Tags

, , , , ,

Today was a good day to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  There was nothing on my agenda that needed my time, nor was there any voice in the back of my head giving me false justification for why I shouldn’t go.  It had been about a month since my last visit to the confessional, plenty of time to rack up a few venial sins for which I wasn’t very proud.

“Father, let’s start with the vice of Sloth.  Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe just coming down from the Holiday, but it’s been hard to get off my rear end and do anything worthwhile.  I have a long list of stuff, some of it pretty important, but procrastination has set in and it’s only the feel-good stuff that’s getting done.

“Let’s move on to Gluttony.  Maybe it’s a side-effect of the Sloth, but I’m overdoing it in the Comfort department.  Instead of two cookies, four or five is better.  An intended fifteen minute power nap turns into an hour.  You know what I mean?  I can’t say my lifestyle has earned much sanctification lately, Father.

“And last, and probably the most important, has been my Pride and my lack of faith.  Oh, my prayer life has been great, but my trust in Him has been lacking.  There’s a couple people whom I love very much who are hurting and struggling emotionally right now.  I’m a guy, I want to fix them, but I know there’s not much I can do to help but love them the best I can, and I know I should trust God to answer my prayers to bring them peace, but He’s not working fast enough for me.”

After a few words of consolation, affirmation, and my act of contrition, Father gave me my absolution and my penance to spend some time in church in prayer for those about whom I am concerned.  I thought, “If you say so, Father, but I’ve already been doing a lot of that at home.”

Finding a pew on Mary’s side, I looked up to the altar, above the altar, actually, and the first thing I saw was a stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It’s a beautiful window and every time I look at it I can’t help but think of the emotional anguish Jesus was experiencing at that moment.  He knew what was in store when He said, “Not my will, Father, but let Your will be done.”  Uniting His will with the Father’s, He put His trust in God that all would be well, and then got up and got on with the business at hand.

Jesus Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Not as beautiful as the one in our church but the best I could do)

My eyes dropped down a notch to that which was between the window and the altar – the Crucifix, that wooden cross upon which Jesus was nailed, and which culminated in the salvation of the world.  Looking up at Him, I knew He knew what I was going through.

It dawned on me that the Agony in the Garden was Jesus’ passive suffering and sacrifice.  It was what was handed to him as a loving human being.  But, His crucifixion was His active suffering and sacrifice, that which He chose to do for the sake of the world, including you and me.

Most protestants don’t believe in In Persona Christi, that Christ works mercifully through the priest to absolve sins and bring us closer to Him.  I thought how wrong they are because there seemed to be a heap of Grace, Mercy, and Divine Providence staring me right in the face.  Jesus was making it clear that my own emotional turmoil was my passive suffering, it goes with being alive and is a grace that comes from my ability to love.  I needed to offer it to Him with love and trust.

And, He was leaving no doubt that I needed to actively choose a sacrifice on behalf of the ones for whom my heart pours out.  God doesn’t ask for the impossible.  He asks for the possible but at the same time makes you stretch, makes you get over your inertia and get out of your comfort zones so that He can draw you closer to Him.  For me, that means pushing myself to grow in the virtues of Temperance and Diligence to offset my tendencies towards Gluttony and Sloth.  For the ones I love, that’s a sacrifice I can make.

In Persona Christi. Through the priest, the Holy Spirit could have given me the usual Our Father and three Hail Mary’s as a penance.  Today, he didn’t.  He just wanted me to sit before Him and pray, to open my heart to His Spirit and His Will, and let Him penetrate me with His Grace, and convince me that He’s got this. 

“Loving and gracious God, thank You for Your bountiful grace and mercy.  Thank You for putting in me a heart that is so full of love that it hurts.  Thank You for bolstering my faith each and every time I let my pride put more trust in me than I do in You.  Amen.”

(Confession, Gethsemane, and the Cross was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 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 Full-Time or Part-Time Catholic?

Tags

, , ,

The Dishonest Steward – Andrei Mironov

There were two days during the last week where the daily Scripture passages really struck me – last Wednesday and then again on Saturday.  Wednesday’s Gospel was from Luke 14:25-33, Sayings of Discipleship, and Saturday’s was from Luke 16:9-15, The Parable of the Dishonest Steward. 

In the first, Jesus lays out the conditions of discipleship:

  • In all our relationships, including those with our family, friends, and neighbors, our relationship with Jesus must always come first.
  • We must carry our own cross and follow Him even when it hurts.
  • We must know the cost of following Him and plan and prepare accordingly.  That cost will include being virtuous in the face of persecution and suffering, as well as requiring our effort to combat worldly indifference.
  • We must exercise prudence – do the right thing in any particular situation, choose our battles, and resist  foolishness, impetuosity, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, and negligence.
  • We must turn loose of any disordered attachments which we desire more than Him.

In Luke 16:13, Jesus tells us, “No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Our Lord is saying we can’t be a devoted servant to Him if we are a slave to another.

Together these spoke to me about total commitment to Christ.  Not just sometimes, not just when I feel like it, not just when I have time, but all the time, and especially when I’m suffering from something I don’t like, didn’t choose, can’t change or don’t understand.

As I meditated on these two passages, trying to understand the depth of their message and implications, my mind, as it all too often does, drifted in prayer.  I recalled my 36 year career in corporate middle management, how I survived several buy-outs and mergers, each with a change of leadership, and with each change a “new and improved” corporate vision, mission and culture.  

I recalled one particular newly promoted vice-president telling us that we needed to decide if we were going to be the “pig or the chicken” in the new company.  He went on to tell a story of how a pig and a chicken joined together to create a new restaurant business.  They discussed roles and responsibilities, and when they came to deciding what would be on the menu the chicken suggested they offer a variety of meals consisting of either ham, bacon or sausage with eggs.  The pig thought about that a while and retorted that the arrangement seemed quite unfair.  The chicken, thinking her idea made perfect sense asked the pig what he meant.  The pig answered, “Well, it seems to me that I am committing to give up my life for this endeavor while your involvement is only dedicating the occasional egg.”

In essence, that new exec was asking us to decide if we were going to be fully committed to the company’s direction or would our dedication be intermittent, jumping on board only when that which was being asked of us was in line with our opinions, made us feel good and satisfied our own desires.  As a manager I was expected to set an example for the employees who reported to me.  But, truth be known, there were many times I felt like balking, procrastinating, going a different direction, and objecting because toeing the line was simply too demanding of me.

Coming back to the present moment in my prayer, I thought I had been distracted with that crazy memory.  But, then, I realized that the Holy Spirit had led me to exactly the place He wanted me to go:  to examine and understand my level of commitment to being a disciple of Jesus.  Am I a full-time or part-time Catholic?  He asks that question of each of us.

A good place to start answering Him is to consider the depth of your love for God.  Do you  envision Him with loving eyes looking down upon you, His beloved son or daughter?  Do you realize that His great love has provided everything you have, including your family and friends?  Do you express your love by being grateful for all He has given you?  

Do you love Him by simply loving those around you, even your enemies, by doing what is right and just, by loving them as you should love yourself?

Do you love Him in the sacraments, especially the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation?  During the liturgy of the Mass do you focus on trying to understand His will for you that day?  Is your attention completely captured during the epiclesis when the Holy Spirit is called down to sanctify the bread and wine making real the body and blood of Christ?  Do you frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation out of love for God because you have offended Him, or is your motive to selfishly rid yourself of guilt?

Do you love Him in your suffering, by accepting your cross as an opportunity to grow closer to Him, to grow in virtue, and to aid Him in His redemptive mission to save souls?

Do you demonstrate commitment by defending your faith in the face of persecution from those who ridicule you for your belief?  Do you practice integrity when you are faced with tough choices by doing the right thing?

Do you love God by looking within yourself and identifying those things to which you are attached, those ingrained bad habits and vices which unnecessarily draw you away from Him, and resolve to change for the good by resisting their temptations?

Being fully-committed means living one life for God rather than giving only a part to God while reserving a second part for yourself.  Our commitment has to be more than giving an hour a week to Him when, out of habit, we attend Mass, or when we say grace before meals.  We have to live it every day, all day, in our relationships, our work, and our play for the mere glory of God.

A good way to begin moving towards living a life fully committed is to begin each day with gratitude, giving thanks for one more day to live and love Him, and for all that He provides.  Then, in prayer, offer to Him out of love all that you will do and experience that day – your work, prayer, joy and suffering – to aid in Christ’s salvific mission of saving souls.  Then, spend time with Jesus in prayer, asking Him to show you what His will is for you that day and resolve to do what He tells you.  And, finally, carry out your resolution.

Truthfully, none of us are perfect, we are all sinners to some degree.  We are all on an elevator somewhere between the basement of minimum involvement and the penthouse of full commitment.  Each day we move up and down in that elevator, yet the goal of our lives is to ascend more floors than we descend and ultimately reach the top floor, heaven.  The important thing to remember is that, while God keeps the elevator running, we are the ones pushing the buttons.

“Loving Father, I give You thanks for Your eternal love, and for the opportunity to love You each and every day.  As I operate this elevator of daily life, help me, Lord, to resist pushing the down buttons that move me away from You.  Amen.”

(Are You a Full-Time or Part-Time Catholic? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Everything is Going to be Okay!

Tags

, ,

Friends, it’s been way too long since I’ve ventured into the blogosphere and shared how I’ve seen God present in my life.  It’s not that I haven’t been inspired, I certainly have!  Many of those inspirations started out to be new posts but died on my laptop because I simply didn’t have time to finish them.  Let’s see if I can change that with this funny little family story that happened recently.

My daughter, Mary, and her husband have two sons, Patrick, 5, and Declan, 2.  They recently relocated from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Olathe, Kansas due to my son-in-law’s job change.  They have a new future in front of them with a new job, a new house, new schools for the boys, a new parish and, with hope, new and fulfilling relationships.  But, that last day, the day they loaded their car, locked up the house, and said goodbye to the neighbors was a traumatic one with lots of tears being shed.

As they gave last hugs to their neighbors and walked back to their car, Declan cozied up to his sobbing mother, hugged her leg and said with all sincerity, “It’s okay, Momma, I take care of you.”

The tears didn’t stop once they got in the car and headed north.  Both Patrick and Mary were crying.  At one point Patrick cried out to Mary, “We have to go back, Mom, we can’t leave them, we have to go back!”  Mary replied, “We can’t Patrick, we have to keep going to our new house.”

Declan, who is really too young for all that sentimentality, quickly followed up with, “Will you guys be quiet, my babies (stuffed animals) are trying to sleep over here!”

Several miles later, Patrick calmed down and became quiet.  After a while, he said, “Momma, I have to tell you something”, to which Mary replied, “What do you need to tell me, Patrick?”

Patrick answered, “Momma, God just talked to my feelin’s and He told me everything is going to be okay.  He told me we’re going to like living in Kansas.  So, it’s okay, Momma, we’ll be okay.”  From that moment on he was good to go.

“God just talked to my feelin’s!”  Oh, how I wish that we, as adults, could dispose our hearts so easily to listen to God like this child did, making that leap of faith and turning loose of his anxieties and regrets and simply trusting in the Lord!  

Why is it so hard for us to take heed of the Lord’s words, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Mt 18:3)  It’s because we spend most of our time trying to be in control of our lives, doing things our way.  It’s difficult to stop and listen to God and accept what we hear especially when it’s opposed to what we want, or when it pulls us away from our worldly attachments, or causes us some sort of suffering.  But, when we do make the effort to listen and follow His lead we are guaranteed a better outcome than that from our own disordered choosing.

The key to getting there is to build a strong foundation of prayer, to grow in our interior life and in our relationship with Jesus.  It’s spending time with Him daily in meditation, conversing with Jesus, telling Him what’s on our hearts and then listening to Him tell us what He wants us to hear.  

It is only through following His will instead of our own that we discover true and lasting happiness when we listen and hear Him say, “Everything is going to be okay.”

Postscript:  Declan admires his big brother, Patrick, to no end.  He constantly looks up to him, watches every move he makes and carefully listens to every word he says.  After Mary and her family began to settle into their new surroundings, Mary took Declan shopping with her while Patrick was in school.  Declan found a toy he liked and the ensuing conversation went like this:

Declan:  “Momma, I heard God.”

Mary:  “What did you hear?”

Declan:  “God talked to my ears.”

Mary:  “God talked to your ears?  What did He say?”

Declan:  “He said let me get this [holding up a set of dominoes].” 

Mary:  “But I thought he told you to get the fishing game?”

Declan:  “And this!”

Mary:  “God wants you to get both of those?”

Declan:  “Yeah!”

Mary:  “I don’t think so.”

Declan (with a sly smile):  “Okay, I put it back.”

Gotta love that boy!

“Dear Jesus, help me to hear your voice in prayer as I try to discern your will each and every day.  As I encounter distress in my life help me to remember that You are always with me, that when I place my child-like trust in you ‘everything is going to be okay’.  Amen.”

(Everything is Going to be Okay! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

God Loves You In So Many Ways – Be Grateful!

Tags

, ,

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

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

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

__________

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

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

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

__________

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

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

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

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

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

__________

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

__________

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

(God Loves You in So Many Ways – Be Grateful!, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Christian Persecution: Then and Now

Tags

, , , ,

Icon of St. Justin, Martyr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Christian Persecution: Then and Now was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Service, Sacrifice, and Suffering

Tags

, , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Service, Sacrifice, and Suffering was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

An Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering

Tags

, , , ,

Icon of the Crucifixion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(An Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2021 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.