A Mission of Mercy

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This July another group of adults and youths from St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lebanon, Ohio, will make our fifth consecutive Hand in Hand Ministries Appalachian Immersion experience. I look forward again to seeing how the first-timers and veterans apply what we call the Corporal Works of Mercy, those actions in Matthew 25:35-40 about which Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Sheltering the Homeless is the most visible sign of our efforts. Although those whom we help are not actually homeless, they cannot afford to maintain their homes. By repairing their homes, we, in a sense, are possibly keeping them from becoming homeless.

We Feed the Hungry by preparing lunches for those at whose houses we will be working. Lunch may only be a couple sandwiches, chips, an apple, and a few cookies, but it might be their best meal of the week. I love to watch the kids fight each morning over who is going to make the lunch for the family and the put their love into making it.

We’ve given Drink to the Thirsty, by repairing plumbing, or, in once instance, connecting plumbing to a house which previously only had access to dirty well water.

We have Clothed the Naked by donating gently used clothing to be made available at Hand in Hand’s Auxier Center.

By building wheelchair ramps for homeowners, we have liberated them from the confines of their homes, thus Comforting the Sick by reaching out and relieving their isolation and loneliness.

We don’t stop by the local jailhouse to Visit the Imprisoned, rather, we offer those who may have no family or friends a way out of seclusion and loneliness, and the imprisonment of poverty.

We’ve Buried the Dead. Well, not literally, but I recall witnessing our youths show amazing compassion to a widower whose wife had just died a few days before.

We’ve also had the opportunity to offer Spiritual Works of Mercy by being witnesses to Jesus and spreading the knowledge of His love; by quenching the thirst and satisfying the hunger of those who need affirmation and compassion; by restoring the dignity of men and women who’ve forgotten what it means; by being present and relieving the suffering of those who yearn to feel as though they matter; and by praying for each other and those whom we are serving.

I also look forward to the many other positive revelations that come from within our own group, especially the growth in spirit and maturity among our youths, e.g.: High-schoolers who haven’t cleaned their rooms in months treating homeowner’s personal belongings with care and respect; volunteers, young and old, making it their “job” for that day to be a caring friend to the homeowner yearning for company; experienced craftsmen watching out for the safety of the less skilled and helping them learn; and kids volunteering to take a dirty job so that another can rest and get a cold drink of water. They make me proud to associate with them!

And, as we go around the room on our last morning reflecting on the highs and lows of the week, I’ve seen humility that would make Jesus proud!

As I anticipate this upcoming trip, I think about these words from a sermon by St. Augustine, “Fill your empty neighbor from your fullness, so that your emptiness may be filled from God’s fullness.”

The cost for an individual to attend an Appalachian Immersion Mission trip is $250.00. The ability for many in our group to go, especially the youths, is dependent on financial assistance from benevolent donors. Won’t you please consider helping to “fill your empty neighbor” and help others in need by making a generous donation? You can make an on-line donation at this link St. Francis de Sales Mission Trip Donations.

Thank you and God Bless!

Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace that You bestow on all those who give of their time, talent, and treasure to make these mission trips to help the least of Your brothers truly missions of mercy. You give us the opportunity to make a difference in this world, a difference that is desperately needed. Please open our hearts and fill us with compassion. Amen.

(A Mission of Mercy 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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The Cry Room Blues

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My wife, Melinda, and I just returned home from a two-week trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana where we baby sat our 21 month old grandson, Patrick, while his parents took a mini-vacation. I thoroughly enjoyed fulfilling my role as a grandparent but I realized it’s not as easy keeping up with the little ones as it was 20 to 30 years ago.

Patrick is everything you imagine a lad of that age to be: strong-willed, busy, and rambunctious. And, loud. While he is still trying to form words intelligible to the rest of us, he is pretty sure his vocabulary is second to none and he wants to tell you, and the folks in the next county, all about it.

My daughter and son-in-law were out of town Thursday through Wednesday, which meant we either had to split up on Sunday to go to mass or, if we were to go together, take Patrick with us. Although I’m the father of four daughters, they were all grown before I became Catholic and began going to church with my wife. She had all the experience of taking our older three to church, all of whom were diaper-clad at the same time, and I had none. Thus, I deferred to her best judgement when she said, “Let’s take him with us.”

We decided to attend Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church that Sunday morning and on the way Patrick started showing signs of crankiness. By the time we parked and went inside, the decision was made to partake of mass from the sound-proof cry room. By the time mass began, a half dozen or so other families felt it best to do the same.

Now, the only church I’ve attended regularly is my home church, St. Francis de Sales in Lebanon, OH, and it does not have a cry room. Instead, it has a large foyer, or gathering space, in which parents can take their kids if things get out of hand. I’ve seldom seen more than one or two parents out there who are trying to keep their eyes on their kids and their ears on the Liturgy filtering through the speakers. Rather, most kids are with their parents in the sanctuary and are respectfully quiet. But, I know that Cheerios, juice boxes, Hot Wheels and stuffed animals are all employed for that purpose. I normally sit towards the front of the church and, although I can’t see the young ones back there, I know of their presence by the squeals they occasionally make.

So, I was surprised as I sat in the cry room at OLQH listening to the infants expressing their displeasure about whatever, and watching the toddler / juvenile delinquents run wild oblivious to their parent’s whispered objections. Of course, by this time, Patrick had fallen asleep in his grandmother’s arms with an angelic calmness on his cherubic face. But, it was too late to get up and reposition to the church proper. We were stuck.

Try as I might, I couldn’t concentrate on the mass. The priest’s homily was 27 minutes and I lost focus after the seven minute mark. My attention was on the ruckus going on within the confined space we were collectively occupying. And, more than once, I said a silent prayer of Thanksgiving for “Saint Melinda” for putting up with all this nonsense all those years without me by her side to help. I owe her.

In thinking about the poor parents who make the sacrifice to go to mass and put their patience on the line, the phrase, “I’ve got the cry room blues”, popped into my head. By the time we left church I had half the song written in my mind. On the way home this weekend I tweaked it a bit and added one more verse. I feel obliged to share it with you here:

The Cry Room Blues
(Lyrics by Jerry Robinson with an imagined Memphis bluesy melody)

Gonna go praise the Lord today,
Gonna hear me some o’ that Good News.
I say I’m gonna go praise the Lord today,
Gonna listen to all the Good News.
But all I hear is my baby screaming the Sunday morning cry room blues.

I’d love to sit a bit closer to You,
Up front in the first few pews.
O, Lord, I’d love to sit a bit closer to You,
Up front in the first few pews.
But I’m trapped here in this cry room while my baby’s singing the blues.

My baby needs a diaper change,
Somewhere he’s lost his shoes.
I say my baby needs his diaper changed,
And somewhere he’s lost his shoes.
Now baby’s giving his daddy the Sunday morning cry room blues.

The old folks ain’t got no sympathy,
They’ve all paid their dues.
I say the old folks got no sympathy,
‘Cause they’ve all paid their dues.
Yeah, they’ve done their time singing the Sunday morning cry room blues.

Now, before you think me evil or cold-hearted, let me say that the experience brought me a new-found respect for any parent who chooses to bring their child to church. You could do otherwise and all of us, the parents, children and the rest of us as the whole Body of Christ would suffer. I applaud you! Please don’t stop, especially if you’re afraid to come because your church doesn’t have a cry room. Your squealing and squirming saints-to-be are the future of the Church. And, whether you know it or not, they’re watching every move you make. Keep being good examples and good parents! The rest of us have “been there and done that” and understand it’s a right of passage. My wife and many others have successfully made it. You will too. God bless you all!

“Lord, thank You for all the parents who sacrifice their sanity for the greater good of bringing their children to You. Please give them the grace to continue forming their children in Your ways. And, thank You for providing my wife with the patience and fortitude to do the same with our daughters while I chose to sit it out. Amen.”

(The Cry Room Blues 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 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,
10Ibid

(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 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.

Re-Gifting

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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.

Amen.

(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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be4fc9a0bc4db463abe2916c274ce6fa--palm-sunday-sunday-quotes

– 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.