Conversions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead, call me crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Man of Mercy (Reposted from the Archives)

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

God bless you and may this be your best Advent and Christmas ever!

A Man of Mercy(Reprinted from 5 December 2013)

About this time last year I was listening to a new CD I had purchased by my new favorite singer/songwriter, Jason Gray.  The CD is called Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.  One particular song on it, “Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)”, caught my attention because it was so different from any other Christmas song I had ever heard.  Plus, its subject was something which I had never considered:  what was going through Joseph’s mind and heart prior to, and during, his wife giving birth to not his son, but Jesus, the Son of God?

I discovered that Jason Gray had written an article for The Rabbit Room describing the story behind the song and he explores this difficult situation in which Joseph found himself.  I have re-posted his article below and included a link to The Rabbit Room’s website.  I hope you find it as thought provoking as I did.

Joseph manger stained glass

The Story Behind “Forgiveness Is a Miracle”

by Jason Gray on October 16, 2012

As I approached writing songs for each of the characters in the Christmas story, I felt particularly protective of Joseph, who I think sometimes doesn’t get the attention he’s due. At the very least I know that I’ve been guilty of not really “seeing” him for the remarkable man that he was, and I wanted to amend that. I enlisted my friend Andy Gullahorn, one of the most masterful storytellers I know, to explore a particular moment in Joseph’s story with me.

Taking my cue from Frederick Buechner’s book, “Peculiar Treasures,” in which he breathes new life into biblical characters who have grown so familiar to us that we no longer experience them as real human beings, I hoped to recapture some of the humanity of the people in the Christmas narrative. It was also important to me to try and write songs that were relevant beyond the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas day. I wanted to tell timeless human stories, and with Joseph we have the makings of just that with a love triangle, a question of revenge or forgiveness, and the age old drama of fathers and sons.

As I read his part in the narrative, I found that more than just a foster parent without much to do (as he was often relegated to in my mind), Joseph is revealed as a man after God’s own heart. Faced not only with the news that his fiancée is pregnant, but also with her incredulous story of how it was God’s doing, Joseph’s character is tested and laid out for all of us to see. What will he do? Will he hurt the one who has hurt him? Will he forgive? This is his moment, and all of history waits and watches in wonder.

There are few things more painful than the betrayal and rejection by the one you love most, so we know it must have deeply wounded him—shattering the dreams he may have had of a future with the girl he loved. Pain is like a lightning bolt striking with a violent energy that can’t be held in the human heart for long. It looks for a way out. The way it usually passes through us is in the all too common progression of hurt turning into anger and then into vengeance. Unless the miracle of forgiveness takes place in a person’s heart to absorb it, the pain we experience will pass through us and be visited upon others.

There is debate as to whether it was within Joseph’s power to have her stoned—while Jewish custom might have allowed it, Roman rule did not. However, if not to her body, we know he still could have done violence to her reputation and her heart. But I believe that Joseph did the hard work of bringing his pain to God rather than letting it pass through him, and that God graced him with the miracle of forgiveness. The narrative tells us he was a “godly man” and that instead of doing her harm, “he decided to dismiss her quietly” so that she wouldn’t be publicly shamed. He took the full force of the blow and–acting as the husband he might have been–became a covering over her supposed sin.

It’s hard for us to experience the tension in Joseph’s story since, as the reader, we know from the start that she isn’t guilty of what he naturally supposes and that God is up to something beautiful that the world has never seen before. But to see Joseph for who he is, I have to remember that he couldn’t know these things in real time. It was only after he had given himself to the work of forgiveness that the angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him that what Mary had said was true after all, and that he should marry her.

It occurred to me that perhaps this is where Joseph’s heart was proven—if not to God who already knew his heart, then perhaps to himself. (I haven’t met a man yet who isn’t daunted by the responsibility of being a father, let alone a father to the Son of God. Maybe this was a test to reveal to Joseph what kind of man he could be.) In this moment he is found to be a man of mercy, which I imagine to be just the kind of man that God was looking for to be the earthly father of his son Jesus. In a way, we see that Joseph carries in his heart the same world changing power of forgiveness that Mary carried in her womb.

It’s also meaningful to me to think of how Joseph forgiving Mary is part of the story that leads to the birth of the savior in whom Joseph would find forgiveness for his own sins. Perhaps it’s the narrative form of Jesus’ teaching that as we forgive we find ourselves forgiven.

As we wrote the song, it was good to be reminded that forgiveness is a kind of miracle. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that we can muster up forgiveness on our own. It seems to me to be a supernatural force of renewal that we participate in as we point our hearts toward it, pray for it, and make room for it in our lives, but that ultimately we receive it as a gift from God, in his due time.

Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)
By Jason Gray / Andy Gullahorn
From Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy

Love can make a soul come alive
Love can draw a dream out of the darkness
And blow every door open wide
But love can leave you broken hearted

Did she dare to look you in the eye
Did her betrayal leave you raging?
Did you let her see you cry
When she said the child was not your baby?

Pain can turn to anger then to vengeance
It happens time and again
Even in the best of men
It takes a miracle to save us

When love is like an open wound
There’s no way to stop the bleeding
Did you lose sleep over what to do?
Between what’s just and what brings healing

Pain can be a road to find compassion
When we don’t understand, and bring a better end
It takes a miracle to show us

Forgiveness is a miracle
A miracle
And a miracle can change your world
Forgiveness is a miracle

An angel in a dream spoke into your darkest night
So you trusted in the Lord and you took her as your wife
But the forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you
Because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb

Love was in a crowded barn
There you were beside her kneeling
You held it in your arms
As the miracle started breathing

Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
And a miracle will change your world
Forgiveness is the miracle
Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
A miracle will save the world
Forgiveness is the miracle
Forgiveness is the miracle
Forgiveness is the miracle

Blessed Joseph
Your heart is proven
And through you the Kingdom has come
For God delights in a man of mercy
And has found an earthly father for his son

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

©2018 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Advent: A Season for Healing Spiritual Paralysis

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Healing of the Paralytic by Harold Copping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

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

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

©2013-2018 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Looking Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2013-2018 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Eucharist – Nutrition for the Soul

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I’m a bacon and eggs kind of guy. For breakfast that is. Some folks are baffled that I can eat the same thing every day. But, I don’t, actually. Some days my eggs are over medium, some days scrambled. Sometimes I make an omelet and use different ingredients depending on what’s in the refrigerator.

But, sadly, some days, like this morning, I don’t have time to fry my bacon and eggs. I slept in a little this morning and didn’t give myself time to prepare a regular breakfast and eat it by the hour-before-receiving-Holy-Communion deadline. I hate when that happens. When it does, I usually just wait until I get home from morning mass to eat breakfast. But, this morning I had some running around to do after mass and thought I’d better eat something before I go.

Looking in the fridge I found a half gallon of milk that needed to be drank before expiring and I thought it would go well with a bowl of cereal. Checking the cupboard, there was a box of my wife’s bran flakes and a partial bag of muesli. So, I filled a large bowl with flakes, topped it off with a good measure of muesli, and added milk to the point where I could start to see it rise up over the edge of the cereal. I knew I could wolf that down with time to spare.

As I munched I started reading nutritional information on the packages. A serving of bran flakes was a cup and a serving of muesli was a quarter cup. Looking at my bowl, I easily had two of each. The calories per serving count were 110 and 140, respectively. So, I had 500 calories roughly. Considering I planned to eat three meals today, and 2,000 calories per day is the government recommended allowance, I thought I’m still doing okay. But, looking at the nutrients, I calculated I was only getting about 30 percent of my daily value of the recommended fiber, eight percent daily value of fats and a minuscule amount of vitamins and minerals!

“What’s up with this?”, I thought. The math didn’t add up. Am I only supposed to eat one serving of just one of the cereals for breakfast? If I have a serving of each will it ruin my health? What if I had two servings of one and none of the other? And, how do the people who think up these rules know what I’m going to eat the rest of the day to round out my nutritional intake to match their recommendations? I didn’t get it.

I really missed my bacon and eggs. I have no idea what a serving of them is, nor their nutritional value, and I don’t care. They fill me up and make me happy.

I drained the last drop out of my coffee cup and jumped in the car and headed to church.

There wasn’t much out of the ordinary at mass except that today is the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, the first actual dedicated church building to be built since Christianity began, and which church still stands and is the official seat or “cathedra” of the Pope.

At communion, I proceeded to the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, the Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. As I accepted the sacrament I thanked Jesus for filling me with His love, for putting His Holy Spirit in my heart, and giving me the strength I needed to face the challenges of the day. And, as I returned to my seat and knelt, I thought about breakfast, serving sizes and percent daily values. With a smile, I knew that whether I’d had a whole Host or the smallest fragment, a drop of wine or a chalice full, I had received one hundred and ten percent of my daily value of the grace of God. It was true nutrition for my soul!

“Jesus, You fill me up. You make me happy. Amen.”

(The Eucharist – Nutrition for the Soul 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.

Daily Vigilance

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Luke 12-32-40

(A reflection on the Gospel of Luke 12:35-38 and Ephesians 2:12-22)

This morning, in his homily on today’s Gospel, our deacon emphasized the need to live our lives in a state of readiness for the day the Lord will come. We don’t know when that day will be but we need to be ready nonetheless. When He does come, those who are vigilant, who have girded their loins (prepared themselves to follow Christ) and lit their lamps (have a desire and a welcoming spirit), will be blessed.

Certainly, I agreed with our deacon. Every time I’ve ever read this passage it has, like for most people I would guess, evoked that same vision. Thus, I had to ask myself if my loins were girded for the journey and whether my lamp was lit to receive Him when He comes. Will I have lived my life such that I will be one of the blessed for whom He has held a place in heaven? I hope so.

But, then, as I continued meditating on this passage, I realized there is more to it than this – more than trying to be ready for the day that I die, or Christ’s second coming, whichever comes first.

In today’s first reading, Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians (2:12-22), tells the Gentiles that, through the blood of Jesus Christ, they have become near to God. It reminded me that we are always “near” to Christ 24 / 7 / 365. We simply have to search for Him, leave the light on within our heart, and, wherever we are, He will meet us there. It’s not a one-and-done occurrence nor reserved just for the Last Day. If our search is one based in love, our light will burn brightly enough that He will find us as often as we need Him.

How do we do this on a daily basis? I think we need to look at that word, “love”. It’s my love for my wife that keeps me looking forward to her coming home from a long day’s work. It’s my love for my children and grandchildren that keeps me looking forward to the next time I get to visit them. And so it should be with my love for Christ. It should be a love that is a constant longing for the next encounter with Him.

Many times in my reflections on this blog I have made excuses for month-long dry spells, blaming them on busy-ness and other exigencies which have kept me from writing. But, I know from experience that the most profound and closest moments with Christ come when I’m looking for them, when I truly desire His presence; and their absence is because I have temporarily ceased searching for them.

In my meditation this morning, I noticed a lukewarmness in my prayer life. I sensed that my tunic was a little looser around my waist than it should be, and that my candle wasn’t burning as brightly as it could be.

Why does this happen to me? I don’t love Jesus any less! At least not in the noun sense. But, in the verb sense, in regards to my actions and the intensity of my prayer life, I can see where missing the occasional morning of silence and solitude with the Lord does have an impact.

Still pondering this question, I fell back to the word vigilant and remembered that it’s not just the presence of the Lord whom we have to look for every day, but also the deceitfulness of Satan. If we become complacent and don’t maintain our love for Christ through constant prayer, the Evil One will find a way to loosen our tunic and dim our candle so gradually that we won’t even notice it.

I remember what my priest/confessor said to me two Saturdays ago: “It’s October – the month of Mary – and the Devil, in all his hatred for our Blessed Mother, is working double-time to take advantage of our inattention and complacency, to advance our sinfulness, and to make us do a U-turn away from righteousness.”  I think he was right.

“Holy Spirit, thank You for opening my heart and mind to the Word of God today. Lord Jesus, thank You for recognizing my light as I search for You with love. Mother Mary, protect me, I pray, from the deceit and wickedness of Satan. Amen.”

(Daily Vigilance 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.

Martha and Mary

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(A reflection on Luke 10:38-42 NAB)

Martha and Mary

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary – Johannes Vermeer, 1655

Jesus told Martha, “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part…”.

Martha thought her service to Jesus was the best thing, only to learn otherwise. Jesus didn’t say her effort wasn’t necessary, just not the better of the two.

Certainly the Church needs us to be like Martha and serve with our time, talent and treasure. The path to holiness includes service.

Jesus referred to our need, the need to attentively listen to the Word of God so our hearts can change to be like His. It is the better part on the path to holiness.

“‘Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of Your love.’ Open my heart to the Word of God each day, and let me serve Your Church by responding to its needs with the time, talent and treasure which, through You, I have been blessed. Amen.”

(Martha and Mary 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.

Good Samaritans

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(A reflection on Luke 10:25-37 and Galatians 1:6-12)

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan – Vincent van Gogh, 1890

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the scholar of the law that the greatest commandment isn’t just about loving God with all your heart, being, strength and mind, but also loving your neighbor as yourself. And, in His parable about the Good Samaritan, Jesus defines our neighbor as anyone who is near us, regardless of race, gender, social status, age, and political or religious beliefs. He asks us to be observant of our neighbors, and to look for opportunities to be charitable, especially in their times of need, even when doing so is inconvenient or forces us out of our comfort zones. In other words, He asks us to be merciful as He is merciful.

As I normally do each morning during my prayer and meditation on the day’s scripture, I try to relate to what God is revealing to me through His Word, and then write a resolution to do something along those lines that will help me grow closer to Him today. I pondered, “In what situations will I find myself today in which I can observe others and look for opportunities to be merciful?” And, then I realized my main plan for the day, besides going to morning Mass, was to stay home and work in the yard. I wasn’t going to have much of a chance to observe others.

Falling back into prayer, I asked, “Lord, unless You want me to scrap my plans to weed and spread mulch and go someplace where I can observe others, what else do You have for me today?” As I listened, my mind came back to today’s first reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which Paul reaches out to the new Christians after others had perverted his teaching and led them astray. Paul’s mission was to convert souls, never giving up no matter how frustrating or exhausting it was to him. I thought how lucky the people of Galatia were to have had Paul reach out to them as their Good Samaritan, and how they should have been thankful.

Then I remembered a time when some good Samaritans made it their mission to save my soul by bringing me to Christ. At a time when I was hurting spiritually, two couples, in cahoots with my wife, gently but persistently preached the Word of God through their actions and set the stage for me to meet with our Lord through His Holy Spirit. Had they not been the faithful, on-fire disciples that they are, they could have easily passed me by as I lay on my “road to Jericho” struggling for survival.

With prayers of thanksgiving for opening my heart to this revelation, I made it my resolution today to thank God, for the millionth time, for placing these merciful friends, who didn’t steer clear and look the other way, in my life at the time when I needed them most.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for these and all the other Good Samaritans whom You have put in my life! Help me, I pray, to look with love upon all my family and friends, and neighbors who are yet to be friends, and to be observant of their trials so that I will not miss the opportunities to be an instrument of Your mercy. Amen.”

(Good Samaritans 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.

One Day At a Time

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This morning I returned to our local YMCA after being off for a couple weeks from a minor surgery. I’d got out of the habit of going in that short time and could easily have talked myself out of it today. But, something told me I needed to go and put in my three miles on the indoor track. Nevertheless, the thought crossed my mind about how nice it would be if I could snap my fingers and the extra weight I’m carrying would simply disappear.

The track at our Y is one-ninth of a mile per lap. I was in my fourth or fifth lap when a man, probably in his seventies, came in, hung his walking cane on the hook by the door and slowly, very slowly started ambling around the track. When I came back around and lapped him, he’d travelled all of twenty-five feet. When I lapped him again, he’d gone about that far again.

I noticed as I approached him from behind how intentionally and carefully he made each footfall. More than once I saw him almost stumble. I wondered if perhaps he’d recently had a stroke and was teaching himself to walk again. He was taking it slow and easy, one step at a time, completely focused on not falling.

After lapping him a dozen or more times, I approached him again as he was reaching for his cane after finishing his one lap. I wondered if he had set one lap as a goal for himself. Regardless, I was impressed with his determination to finish and, as I reached him, I lightly clapped my hands and congratulated him with a, “Well done, sir, well done!” In return he gave me a smile from ear to ear.

In my final mile and a half, I thought back to my own situation. I couldn’t snap my fingers and make the weight disappear. No, I was going to have to do just like this old gentleman, make progress one step and one day at a time. If I keep at it, I’ll reach my goal.

It occurred to me, too, that the goal of holiness can only be reached in the same way. We don’t become holy overnight. We get there one day at a time, each day focused on not falling into sin but carefully taking one right and just step after another. I hope to reach my goal of making it to heaven. And, when I do, I know I’ll be smiling from ear to ear when I hear Christ clapping and congratulating me, “Well done, my son, well done!”

“Heavenly Father, thank You for urging me to resume my good habits this morning, and thank You for the blessed experience of seeing that elderly, determined gentleman make progress toward his goal. Through him, You inspired me to persevere towards my goal and grow in my relationship with You one day at a time. Amen.”

(One Day At a Time 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.