Believe and be Rewarded


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Hebrews 11:6

When I cracked open my Bible this morning to today’s first Scripture passage I saw that it began with the familiar, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 1:1, NAB).  I immediately sensed I should pay attention because something profound was yet to come.  Five verses later, there it was, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for anyone who approaches God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who seek Him.”   Those words evoked a beautiful memory of a life-changing event….

Midnight, Saturday, April 14, 2012 –  I had just spent one of the most uncomfortable days of my life – the first day of a two day Catholic spiritual retreat at which my attendance had nothing to do with my spiritual life.  Rather, I was there to get away from the stress of life, from the loneliness of spending countless time away from home due to work, the loneliness of having made no real friends since I’d moved to town six years prior, and to think about how I was going to dig myself out of the mire of depression into which I was falling.  After the first couple hours of the retreat, I felt like a fish out of water.  I had seen more praying than I’d seen my entire life.  Although I’d been married to my loving and devout Catholic wife for 30 years, I was a NONE, with no real convictions about God.  Jesus was not part of my life.  

I was getting ready to hit my bunk for the night when I fell into a conversation with a man that I had come to know fairly well.  We were friends although we’d never actually shared our lives with each other as I now know that true friends do.  Eric asked me how my day had been.  I opened up to say that I honestly didn’t know what to think.  I had never heard men talk like those whom I had heard that day, disclosing such personal and intimate experiences, and avowing how God had helped them through their struggles.  I allowed that this was new territory for me, that I tried to live my life as morally as I could and with kindness to others, but that I’d never felt called to fully believe in God.  Eric replied, “Brother, you’re doing the good things God wants you to do!  Just open your heart to the Holy Spirit like you heard today, and God will give you the gift of faith.”

2:00 a.m., Sunday, April 15, 2012 – After two hours of insomnia, thinking about the experience of the day, and going over Eric’s advice in my head a million times, I asked myself, “What would I pray for if I was to pray for something?”  Two things came to mind:  first, that I would get some affirmation that my wife and daughters knew how much I loved them, and that I would receive some reinforcement of their love for me; and, second, that I might develop some friendships with these men on the retreat who seemed to be taking an interest in me.  

Summoning up the courage to roll out of my cot, I found my way into the chapel.  I took a pew near the back on Joseph’s side and looked forwards.  Eric and a woman were up near the altar praying.  On the altar was what I had heard them call a monstrance, a cross-looking thing in which a consecrated host was on display.  Kneeling there, I wasn’t sure how to start my prayer so I said, “God, I don’t know how to pray.  I don’t know for sure if I believe you are real or not.  But, after what I’ve seen today, how these men can be so happy in spite of the difficult situations they’ve faced, I want to believe in you.”  And then, for the first time in my life I prayed.  I prayed for those two things:  love and friendship.

11:45 a.m., Sunday, April 15, 2012 – After a few more testimonials that morning I was given a large envelope stuffed with dozens of other smaller envelopes.  As I delved into them I found letters from the men who were giving the retreat thanking me for attending, praying for me, and offering to walk with me in faith.  There were cards from people I didn’t even know saying they had been praying for me all weekend that I might experience Christ’s love.  And, to my surprise, there were letters from my wife and daughters, parents, brother and sisters.  Each and every one was a love letter letting me know how much they loved me and that they knew my love for them.  That’s when I discovered I had what a friend later explained was the Gift of Tears.  

I found more than the love of my family in those letters.  And, I found more than new friendships that weekend.  I found the love of Christ, a love deeper and more profound than any love I’d ever known.  I realized all that i had been missing for fifty-five years.  I started life anew that weekend when I cracked open the door of my heart.  I found the source of happiness, and I wanted more of it.  I was given the gift of faith through the realization of things I had hoped for, because I had been given evidence of something i couldn’t see.  That weekend I became a Christian.  One year later, I became Catholic.

The scripture says we must believe God exists before He rewards those who seek Him.  But, I think He is a loving and merciful God, One Who bends His own rules, when He sees fit, and rewards those who seek Him because they want to believe.  

I imagine there are hundreds of people in every community, yours included, who fit that description, who want to believe, but have no one to show them the way; men, women and children who are waiting for someone to reach out to them in friendship and invest in them and encourage them to crack open the door of their heart to let the love of Jesus rush in.  Won’t you let that someone be you?  

Lent begins next Wednesday.  Perhaps a Lenten resolution would be to meet and strike up a conversation with a neighbor whom you don’t know well;  smile and introduce yourself to someone who looks sad, bewildered, or hurting; or honor the Sabbath by setting aside work and, instead, invite over for dinner someone who is alone.  God gave you an imagination.  I’m sure you can use it to come up with your own ideas of how you can be a disciple for Christ.

This week, almost eleven years after my conversion, I am helping a class of eighty men and women learn and grow in their faith, forming them to become Catholic Spiritual Mentors so that they may more effectively lead others closer to Jesus.  On April 13th, 2012, I’d have said you were crazy if you had suggested I would be where I am today!  I praise and thank God every day for this life to which he has brought me, for the men and women who have led me along the way, and for the desire to help others grow close to Jesus.

The Catholic Spiritual Mentor class of 2025 is forming now.  If you are interested in learning how to become a guide to another in his or her quest for friendship with Jesus, you can visit the School of Faith website for more information, or if you are interested in having a Spiritual Mentor of your own, you can find more information here.

“Dear Jesus, thank You for placing those undesirable and uncomfortable situations in my life that drew me to an environment in which I learned to seek You and receive Your gift of faith.  Thank You for loving me through good men who offered friendship to me, and thank You for a loving wife and children who supported me as I grew to love You more.  Thank You for giving me the desire to be a disciple-maker for Your Kingdom.  Amen.”

(Believe and be Rewarded was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2023 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.


Run the Race


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Back in 1990 and 1991 my family and I lived in Liberal, Kansas, a small city in far southwest Kansas.  Liberal has a sister city in Olney, England.  Residents from both cities have been competing since 1950 in what they call the “International Pancake Day Race”.  It is held every year on Shrove Tuesday (also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday.  Female participants race approximately 400 yards wearing aprons and carrying frying pans while flipping pancakes in the pan.  They are timed and the times are shared between the two cities and a winner is declared.  

There is also a children’s race of about 20 yards for youngsters to get involved in the festivities.  Well, in 1990, my three young daughters, ages 4, 5 and 6, decided they wanted to run the race.  To prepare, we practiced sprinting in the small park behind our house.  I would mark a starting line where they would line up, and a finish line where I would stand.  I would yell, “On your mark, get set, GO!”, and they would sprint the sixty feet, and I would declare a winner.  We practiced for weeks.

The day of the race came and the girls lined up at the starting line on the city street where the race was to be run.  People were lined up on the sidewalks on both sides of the course ready to cheer on the two or three dozen young competitors.  The race official announced, “On your mark, get set….” and then he fired a starting pistol.  It scared the bejeebies out of the girls.  By the time they got their wits about them most of the other kids were crossing the finish line.  

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  But, then, as if nothing happened, the girls decided to head for the finish line – not at a sprint pace, but casually, stopping along the way to talk to a policeman and a neighbor.  When they finally crossed the finish line I asked the five year old (the fastest of the three) why she didn’t run fast.  She replied, “Well, Dad, I wasn’t going to win and I was going to get a medal anyway!”

I remembered this event this morning as I was meditating on today’s first Scripture reading, Hebrews 12:1-4.  In it, we are encouraged to persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.  

In our quest for holiness, to become saints, and reside with Jesus in heaven for eternity, there are many things that will frighten us, distract us, slow us down, and cause us to lose sight of the ultimate goal.  When the going gets tough, we will occasionally feel like giving up.  But, like Jesus, we need to endure those circumstances, our crosses, for the sake of the joy that lies before us.  We have to persevere and not be discouraged because someone else is running faster than us.  And, we need to hear and be energized by the cheers from all the saints in heaven who are lining the course before us, urging us on.

The only way we will not receive that medal at life’s finish line is if we fail to persevere in the race for holiness.

“Dear Jesus, when the race gets tough and seems all uphill, let me remember, please, that you are here with me.  You, Lord, are both my strength and my goal.  You are waiting for me at the finish line.  I know I will stumble, I will get distracted, and obstacles will get in my way.  Let nothing keep me from pursuing You.  Amen.” 

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

©2013-2023 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.

Have Faith and Possess Life


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(A reflection on today’s scripture passages:  Heb 10:32-39; Ps 37:3-6, 23-24, 39-40;  Mt 11:25; and Mk 4:26-34.)

In today’s first reading from Hebrews, we are reminded to not become discouraged and lose hope when we are afflicted by various sufferings.  Rather, we should joyfully accept them knowing that God’s love for us, in the present and eternally, is a better and lasting possession1 if we keep confident and endure to do the will of God.

Scripture is God speaking to each of us.  Meditating on His words today reminded me of how badly I stink at suffering, of how it is so much easier to complain about physical ailments, complicated relationships, and, in general, simply not getting my way, rather than finding joy in spite of those situations.  Then, in the Holy Spirit’s fashion, He didn’t let me dwell on that very long.  He spoke to me with some examples to follow by placing on my mind and heart the sufferings of three close friends:  Harry, Larry and Andy.

Harry has lung cancer.  He endured a series of chemo and radiation treatments and the doctors thought they had it corralled.  But, it came back and he’s now going through a second round.  Harry’s faith is enduring.  He continues to attend daily mass on mornings when he’s able and his compromised immune system is less vulnerable to catching something from the rest of us.  He is always cheerful and, as much as we long to give each other a hug, there is a ton of love in each fist bump.

Larry has skin cancer.  He’s been told he has a couple years of life left…here on this earth.  But, Larry has a trust in God like nobody I’ve ever seen.  He knows from the bottom of his heart that he is in good hands no matter the physical prognosis, and finds strength in the hope of everlasting life with the One Who loves him more than anyone else in the universe.  I know this from the smile on his face and the joy in his eyes I see every time we meet.

Andy was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  With treatment he might make it through the summer.  I had breakfast with him and his wife a couple weeks ago.  He was as upbeat and jovial as he’s always been.  You’d never know he had a struggle in the world.  Andy is a hard worker, and his state in life is to provide for his family.  I know he will continue to do his best in that role until it is physically impossible for him to do so.

Harry, Larry, and Andy.  Three men who are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.2  Three men who, through their love of God and faith in Jesus, are examples to the rest of us.  They are humble and childlike3 before God  They know that all things work for good for those who love and trust in God.4  They are like mustard seeds, which have put forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky (the rest of us) can dwell in its shade.5 They bring the Kingdom of God6 to the rest of us so that we can find comfort and strength.  They model the idea that their salvation is from the Lord; He is their refuge in time of distress.  And the Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.7

Harry, Larry, and Andy.  I pray for them, and every person who is struggling with a terrible disease, each and every day.  Will you join me? 

“Good and gracious God, thank You for placing good and holy men like Harry, Larry, and Andy in my life.  Reassure them, please, that their struggle is not in vain, that through their faith in Your mercy and grace, there will be goodness result from their trials.  Help me, Jesus, develop the trust in you that they have.  For them and for all the faithful, let the Church pray.  Amen.”

(Have Faith and Possess Life was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

  1. Hebrews 10:34, NAB
  2. Hebrews 10:39, NAB
  3. Matthew 11:25, NAB
  4. Romans 8:23, NAB
  5. Mark 4:32, NAB
  6. Mark 4:30, NAB
  7. Psalm 37:39b, 40, NAB

©2013-2023 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.

From the Archives: Be Like Pope Saint Fabian


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Pope St. Fabian, stained glass window from the choir loft of St. Gratien church, Haussaire, Val d’Ouse, Ile de France, France, artist unknown.

When I complete my morning meditations I usually like to read about the lives of the saints who are celebrated on that day. Today is the optional memorial of Pope St. Fabian. As I read about his life, and especially about how he was chosen to be Pope, I thought how it all seemed familiar. I wondered if I had written about him before and, sure enough, I had, one year ago today. His is a fascinating story, and the message in my post from a year ago is still true. I thought it would be worth revisiting.

Today is the feast day of Pope Saint Fabian who was chosen as the 20th pope in 236 A.D., and who died as a martyr in 250 A.D.

St. Fabian’s story is an interesting one. Fabian was a layman farmer who happened to travel into Rome on the day a new pope was being elected to replace Pope Saint Anterus, who, after serving 40 days in his office, had been martyred.  Fabian wandered into the crowd which had assembled to select a new pope and suddenly a dove flew in, descended, and landed on Fabian’s head.  The gathered clergy and laity saw this, considered it a sign that the Holy Spirit was anointing Fabian, and unanimously chose him to be Pope by acclamation.  As Pope, Fabian helped bring Christianity to unconverted areas of Europe, fought heresies, worked to extend aid to the poor, and promoted and kept the faith in spite of certain persecution.

Think about that for a moment.  What would you have done had you been Fabian?  Run and hide?  Refuse the appointment?  To whom would your refusal be addressed, those gathered or the Holy Spirit?  Considering that the person before you had been killed because of his faith – would you have been afraid that, as leader of all Christians, you would meet the same fate?

Or would you have trusted in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit that you were being called to serve Him to lead His people?  Certainly, Fabian, as a layman farmer, had no outstanding qualifications as a clergyman to justify his calling.  But, God knew he was the right man at the right time.  I’m sure the phrase, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies those whom he calls” had yet to be coined.  Fabian’s faith must have been strong, taking to heart Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid”, as he placed his trust in God to lead him to do His will, each and every day, to the best of his ability.

Our culture may have evolved to where we don’t look at signs such as a dove landing on one’s head quite the same way.  Maybe that was the Holy Spirit’s way of catching people’s attention back then.  Today, most of us are literate and can read and, as such, we can receive the Holy Spirit through the sacred scripture of the Bible, God’s written Word, if we ask Him for it.  Through His Word, God is speaking to us, each individually, meeting us where we are at that moment, and giving us an idea of how He would like for us to be, or what we should do, to grow closer to Him that day.

These days we don’t have to fear for our lives quite like Fabian and other Christians did in the third century.  No, most of our fears revolve around losing worldly things to which we’ve become accustomed:  comfort, money and material possessions, power, status, social inclusion, deeply rooted vices, etc.  But, when we call upon the Holy Spirit to lead us each day as we hear the Word of God, we are often called to sacrifice one of those things that we hold near and dear so that we can grow in virtue, in holiness, and closer to Him.

Today, read or listen to the Word of God.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart so that you can hear what God is asking of you today.  If His will for you is to lose a bad habit or make a change in behavior, ask Him for the strength and courage to make the change. Maybe He’s asking you to love someone more.  Trust that He is asking these things of you because He wants you to be closer to Him, that He wants you to find joy and happiness which you can only find in Him.  Then, resolve to carry out His will.

Be like Pope Saint Fabian.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the desire to spend time with You in silence and solitude each day, to read Your Word, and to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and for the grace to do Your will with courage and trust.  Amen.”

(Be Like Pope Saint Fabian was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Sabbath Was Made For Man


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In yesterday’s Gospel passage, Mark 2:23-28, the Pharisees blow a gasket over Jesus and his disciples shucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus infuriated them even more when He alluded to himself as the Son of Man being lord over the Sabbath and that, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Jesus heals the man with the withered hand.

Then, in today’s Gospel, Mark 3:1-6, the Pharisees totally lose it when he defies their authority by restoring a man’s withered hand to normal on the Sabbath, and in the temple nonetheless!  The shame of it all!  Jesus thumbed His nose at their law by showing that if He could do good for someone, why wait until tomorrow when he could do it today.  To the Pharisees, this was the last straw and they went about planning to put Him to death. 

In meditating on these passages, I thought about how the Pharisees, for generations, had added new laws (far in excess of the Ten Commandments) that acted to the detriment of the people and severely restricted their freedom of life.  Jesus, in His response, clearly made known that no man-made law could supersede or void the respect for the dignity God has for His creation – man.  Man’s need for sustenance and physical health supersedes the law of not working on the Sabbath.  Jesus made these allowances, but He never opened the door for totally disregarding the Sabbath.

The religious precepts of that time seem crazy to us now.  To us who love our freedom and ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want, those laws seem to be at the extreme end of the rigidity spectrum.  But, then I thought about the norms of society today, at what is and isn’t acceptable, and I see where we have slid to the opposite end of that scale.

First, there don’t appear to be any rules about conduct on the Sabbath.  Much of society today does not look to God as One to be worshiped, and, even for those who do, many see no reason to respect the Third Commandment of remembering to “keep Holy the Sabbath Day.” There are simply more important things to do whether they are necessary or not. 

Even within our Church we take exceptions.  Most Catholic schools, for example, pull out the stops to allow sports competition to be conducted on Sundays.  Many faithful see this as an “excused absence note” to not attend mass.  The wrong message is being sent.

But, surely, there ought to be a middle ground.  What is it that God wants from us in honoring the Sabbath?

Let’s begin with what He did on the Sabbath.  He rested after a hard week of work.  He took a break.  And he delighted in His creation, all that he had accomplished.  He set the example for us to follow.  But, what does this mean to us?

The Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest for us, a day to lighten our load.  Jesus said to us, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28).  The things that burden us are more than our work, they include our anxieties, the weight of our sins and inordinate attachments that act to keep us distant from Him.  It’s a day on which we can look back over the week and evaluate our work; consider whether or not we gave it our best shot; and identify our vices and decide how we can replace them with virtues that will lead us to holiness.

The Sabbath gives us a chance to appreciate all that is good in our lives: the good that we do, the good that is in our families, and in our neighbors. It’s a chance for us to rest knowing that God loves us for who we are, not for what we do.  Even when we know we have fallen short, we can rest in knowing that He still loves us.

Sabbath rest does not mean we should laze around and do nothing.  We should use it to respect the dignity of other people.  It gives us the opportunity to think about, care about, and rest in the love of our family, friends and neighbors.  Jesus didn’t think twice about curing someone on the Sabbath.  We shouldn’t think twice about doing what it takes to improve relationships with others, bring them happiness, and love them the way they deserve and need to be loved.  They, too, need to know they are loved not for what they do but for who they are.

Spiritually, it’s the day above all other days in which we live out the first Commandment – to worship the Lord our God – by going to mass.  There, we can rest and find solace in recognizing all that God has done for us, primarily in the saving Grace of His death and resurrection.  Because of this, we ought to remember that life is good, and the next life will be very good!  

And, finally, we need to rest and delight in the goodness and beauty of God’s creation:  nature; the giftedness, uniqueness, and beauty of others; and edifying art, music and literature created by those whom He gifted.

We humans need all these things.  We need to be renewed every seven days.  In His infinite wisdom, God knew that we would need a day to regain our strength so that we could do our best in the next seven days. 

He made the Sabbath for us and not the other way around.

“Almighty God, thank You for creating me.  Thank You for creating everyone for me to love and through whom You channel Your love to me.  Thank You for the ability to work, to provide for my family, and to help others in need.  And thank You for Your omniscience knowing that I would need a day to rest and rejuvenate so that I can keep on working in Your Kingdom.  Amen.”

(The Sabbath Was Made For Man was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2023 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.

Follow The Star!


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One of my memories as a pre-teen kid in the late sixties is of playing records (vinyl LPs) on my parent’s console stereo.  These stereos were large pieces of furniture with a sliding top, a record player on one side, an AM/FM radio in the middle and a well for storing albums on the other side.

My folks listened primarily to crooners popular at the time, one of which was Jack Jones.  In 1966, Jones recorded and released a popular song, The Impossible DreamMy folks had that record and it was spun on that state of the art Hi-Fi quite often.  It was a good sing-a-long song that you could really get into.  I can still remember most of the lyrics:

To dream the impossible dreamTo fight the unbeatable foe

To bear with unbearable sorrow

To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong

To be better by far than you are

To try when your arms are too weary

To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star

No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

To be willing to give when there’s no more to give

To be willing to die so that honor and justice may live

And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest

That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this

That one man scorned and covered with scars

Still strove with his last ounce of courage

To reach the unreachable star

The song encourages you to follow your dreams even when they seem unachievable, to persevere and never give up, and to do what is right in the face of adversity.  This dream, the ultimate goal, is the unreachable star.

This memory came to mind as I was meditating on the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrate today, in remembrance of the day the Three Kings reached Bethlehem and gazed upon the infant Jesus.  Three wise men, astronomers who saw the star, had the grace to interpret its meaning and the gumption to follow it. They had no idea of where the star would lead them but they knew they were called to follow it.

They came from afar and their journey had to be long and arduous.  I’m sure they encountered many dangers on their trek.  They weren’t the only people who saw the star.  But, they were the only ones who put their hearts and minds to the task of following it.  They probably faced much ridicule to undertake such a crazy quest, one that had no foreseeable promise at the other end.  But, they had hope for something magnificently good when they reached their destination.

I doubt that the Impossible Dream was written with much, if any, thought given to its relevance to this Christian tradition of ours.  But it suits it to a tee – with one exception.  Our dream is not impossible to achieve.  It may seem that way at times when we are struggling with our sin, with difficult relationships, and periods of dryness in our prayer lives.  Our quest is not hopeless – Jesus, our Star, has promised us that we will reach him if we persevere by living lives of virtue.  Sometimes it feels as though we are marching through Hell, but our Heavenly cause is to grow in faith.  Our faith tells us that if we stay true to our Lord, our souls will rest peacefully with Him in heaven after our time on earth is over.  And, finally, because we don’t give up, we will be better people, better disciples, better spouses, parents, children and friends, and we will make the world a better place.

Follow The Star!  Persevere.  You may get scorned and scarred along the way, but strive with every ounce of courage you have.  Like the Magi who gazed upon Jesus with unimaginable admiration, you will, too.

(Follow The Star! was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2023 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.

Five Words


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St. John showing Christ to St. Andrew, Ottavio Vannini, c. 17th Century

Happy New Year everyone!  I pray this finds you in good health and full of hope for a safe and prosperous new year.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?  Or are you like me and know that you will break them at the first opportunity? Generally, I tend not to make them but prefer, instead, to make daily resolutions gleaned from what I hear God’s will for me is that day based on my morning prayer and meditation.  However, one thing that’s been on my mind these last few days is understanding what I can do this year to help lead more people closer to Christ.  

In yesterday’s Gospel passage, John 1: 35-42, I read, “John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’  The two heard what he said and followed Jesus.” (Jn 1:35-37, NAB)  John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus brought Jesus his first two disciples.  And all it took were five words:  “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

Any good Jew would have understood “the Lamb of God” as indicating the Messiah, the One Who, according to Isaiah the Prophet (Is 53: 7, 10) would accomplish the Lord’s will and lead Israel out of slavery.  These were the words they had longed to hear for generations.  He was their hope, their salvation, the answer to their unhappiness.  He was their rescuer.

Meditating on this passage, I wished it was that easy to convert people today, to help them recognize Christ as the answer to their problems, the One Who can bring peace in a stressed out world.  All it took was for John the Baptist to say five words!  Five words that hit home with people who were looking for peace, freedom, and a better life.  I thought, millions of people today are searching for exactly those things and many of them are right here in my own community.  I wondered, “What five words could I use to attract them to our Lord?”

As I pondered this question, I realized I would have to first work on getting my little ol’ self out of my introverted comfort zone.  My first five words ought to be directed to Jesus Himself, “Lord, give me courage. Amen!”

I know that evangelizing can be more effective if a friendly relationship is first built with someone rather than shouting through a bullhorn from a street corner.  What five words could be used to initiate a new friendship?  A few that came to mind were:

  • “Hello, my name is __________.”
  • “Good morning, what’s your name?”
  • “Hello, are you new here?”
  • “Let’s get together for coffee!”

We all have friends we know very well, and we routinely meet people for the first time, who, if we are observant, we can tell are hurting in some way, either physically, emotionally or spiritually, and they need lifting up.  What five words can be used to bring the love of Christ to them, to let them know we care?  

  • “Can I pray for you?”
  • “How can I help you?”
  • “A penny for your thoughts.”
  • “You look lonely.  Wanna talk?”
  • “What struggles are you having?”

And, then there are those who we see routinely at mass, who attend simply because they are supposed to or it’s what they’ve always done, yet are lukewarm in their faith.  Many of these folks have let worldliness obscure their vision of Christ as the ultimate good.  Their lives are out of balance and they know something is missing but they’re not quite sure what to do about it.  What five words can we say to them to help them realize their situation, start them on the road back, and rekindle or strengthen their relationship with Jesus?

  • “How’s your prayer life, friend?”
  • “What graces have you had?”
  • “Where’s Jesus in your life?”
  • “Come, let’s go to confession!”
  • “Join me in Bible study?”

Five words for courage.  Five words to make a new friend.  Five words to show you love and care for someone.  Five words to help someone who can’t see the forest for the trees.  That might be all it takes.  Of course, six, ten, or two dozen words might work even better.  It’s really not that difficult if our hearts accept the mission given to us by Jesus to be disciple-makers.

“Dear Jesus, I love You because I know You love me.  I want to share it with others who need to know Your love as well.  Help me, Lord, to recognize the opportunities before me to evangelize, to summon up the courage to reach out, and to trust the Holy Spirit to give me the right words at the right time.  Amen.”

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

©2013-2023 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.

Air, Trees, and the Breath of Life


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This contribution is from my good friend, Bob Magness. Bob is a devoted Catholic, husband and proud father of two daughters. He is a chemist. And, he is a “deep-thinker-about-stuff”. This is the fourth posting from Bob [Random Musings on a Spring Morning (4/22); Proverbs 27:17 – Iron Sharpens Iron (10/22); Reconciliation and a Rock (10/22)]

Air, Trees, and the Breath of Life – By Bob Magness

Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Gn 2:7

I’ve been thinking a lot about air lately.  I realize that sounds less than exciting and isn’t exactly the attention grabber most authors strive for.  I get things – words, concepts, phrases – stuck in my mind.  And without any conscience effort, this ‘thing’ gets spun around like a puzzle piece.  It’s as if something is telling me that this ‘thing’ is important and that I need to make some sense of it.  I’m almost embarrassed to say how long this particular ‘thing’, air, has been turning, but it’s been months.  That’s right, months of idle thoughts about air…  oxygen, carbon dioxide, breathing, and life.

The Krebs Cycle is the process by which animals produce energy – at least aerobically.  It’s the understood process of cellular respiration where oxygen is combined with carbohydrates to produce energy.  The by-products of this cycle are carbon dioxide and water.  (Interestingly these are the same by-products we see when burning carbon-based fuels for energy:  wood, gas, oil, etc.)  In a separate but equally important process carbon dioxide and water are combined and, through the miracle of the chemical processes of photosynthesis, the plant produces carbohydrates – sugars – as its own source of energy.  There you have it:  animals use oxygen and create carbon dioxide, and plants use carbon dioxide and return oxygen.  The biological yin and yang of cellular energy.  I had recalled most of that from high school biology.  And with some level of spirituality, we see the beauty in God’s system.  However, something was missing, there was more to this puzzle piece and my thoughts returned to air.

I have written a couple things about gardening; I have a similar passion for trees.  I love trees, what they stand for, what they stand against, and their simple potential for being.  That’s probably a bit dramatic.  I’ll say this, though, I have favorite trees.  Not in the sense of a particular variety, but more in their presence or domination of the surrounding landscape.  I like to point these trees out to anyone that might be the least bit interested.  I like finding beauty in the otherwise unnoticed and mundane aspects of life.  There’s a gigantic bald cypress tree in a nearby neighborhood.  To be clear, it has no earthly right to be in that neighborhood.  It is magnificent.  It towers above the other trees.  There’s another tree that is only visible in fall and winter.  I drive by it daily.  It stands proud above the undergrowth honeysuckle.  Its branches come off the main trunk at right angles, massive branches.  My daughter said once that it reminded her of the whomping willow from the Harry Potter books.  I told her that it was not a willow tree and tried to dismiss her.  I wasn’t going to be outdone and trivialized by a twelve-year-old, but she was right.  Worse than that, she knew that I knew she was right.  I’m digressing…

We happened to be on vacation in Oak Island, NC during an early spring break – this was a couple years ago.  The island is full of, you guessed it, oak trees – lots of willow oaks and some smaller live oaks.  One evening we were walking to one of the shops and I happened to see a large willow oak that was lit by the streetlights and was set against the dark night sky.  Without the summer leaves, and silhouetted against the black sky, the tree looked like a set of lungs, upside down of course.  The main trunk of the tree was the trachea.  The tree bifurcated to the two lobes of the lungs, and each of the subsequent branches appeared like bronchi, right on down to bronchioles, and continued its fractal pattern down to the alveoli-like leaf buds. It was a remarkable sight.  A beautiful tree acting as a lung – returning to us oxygen and feeding the earth with tree made sugars.  

I recently came across the book Breath by James Nestor.  An interesting read about the physiological effects that can be achieved by better controlling your breathing and benefits of simply breathing through your nose.  It’s worth the time to read.  Nestor touches on the benefits of emphasizing the exhale phase, extending the exhale.  One of the benefits with extending exhalation is the reduction of pressure on the heart.  As the air pressure in your lungs decrease, the heart has a bit more room to operate and the result is a drop in blood pressure, even if only momentary.  He continues with sections on meditation and prayer saying they are essentially exercises in controlling your breathing.  I thought about this while praying a Rosary:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee


Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus


Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death


That’s a good amount of exhaling while speaking with only three short inhalations.  And when repeated, let’s say 53 times, the effect can be felt, not only spiritually but also physiologically.  

Again, I had chalked all of this up to fanciful spirituality and the wonderment of God’s handiwork.  But, then, I came across some literature by Rabbi Lawrence Kusher in a discussion about Moses at the burning bush.  Moses asks, “When people ask who You are, what shall I tell them?”  This is where we get, “Yahweh”, but Kusher points out that in Hebrew the vowels were not there.  And that the answer given by God are the four Hebrew letters YOD, HAY, VAV, and HAY- mispronounced as Yahweh, when in truth the four letters cannot be said. The word given to Moses, Kusher claims, “is the sound of breathing”.   He continues, “The holiest Name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing.”  

I stopped.  My air puzzle piece was snapped into place.  

The breath of life.  Divinity breathed into man. All mankind.  Yet another reason to love your neighbor as yourself.

(Air, Trees, and the Breath of Life was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Getting Caught in the NET


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In Luke 10:1-12, Jesus sent the Seventy-two out on a mission to visit villages around the country with instructions of how to convert souls and expand the Kingdom by preaching the new Word of God.  They were to enter a house, wish it peace, eat what is offered to them, and cure the sick.  They were to take nothing with them, placing their trust in divine providence. He told them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”  By this, He was asking his disciples to make disciple-makers.

When we read this passage we are naturally brought to reflect on our own efforts and success at being disciples and making disciple-makers – something at which most of us fail miserably.  But, these last couple of days, my thoughts have been more about being on the receiving end of the efforts of these trusting and courageous missionary disciples.  In other words, what was it like to welcome these disciples into your home and receive the peace of the Lord through them?

This week my wife and I experienced just that.  On Wednesday, we welcomed five young women, ages 18 to 20, into our home for two days.  They are part of a team of eight (three young men were hosted by another family) from NET Ministries, a Catholic organization whose mission is to reach out “and challenge young Catholics, through relational ministry, to follow Christ and embrace a life of community in the Church.”

We had never done anything like this before.  But, with our four daughters out of the “nest”, we welcomed the opportunity to offer hospitality to these young adults who are laboring for the harvest.

This team, NET Team 3, is regional to the Cincinnati area.  They cover a territory of Southwestern Ohio, Southern Indiana, and Northern Kentucky.  They travel to a different location and minister to high school and junior high school youths every couple of days, staying with an equal number of different hosts.  They are committed for a year to this life on the road, traveling with only what they can pack in their suitcase, and relying on the hospitality of those in the local Catholic communities.

NET Team 3

They arrived on Wednesday evening with only a suitcase and a backpack each, and two guitars.  After showing them to their rooms and beds we gathered in our living room around a cozy fire in the fireplace and began getting to know each other, swapping stories about life and our personal faith journeys.  Sharing came easily with no hesitation to go beyond superficialities.  There was an aura of peacefulness about them.  Their faith was evident without being in-your-face preachy.  I’m sure they had had a long and arduous day but they gracefully stayed up with us to pray a Rosary before retiring for the evening.

Thursday morning we were blessed to prepare a good breakfast for them before they headed off to a local Catholic high school to hopefully save a few souls from succumbing to the ways of the world.    They returned that evening and we enjoyed a fine home-cooked dinner (if I do say so myself!).  I got the sense that they appreciated not having pizza because they came back for seconds! Throughout dinner and then, again, afterwards around another fire, we continued with good conversation and friendship.  A guitar was uncased and we sang a few songs together.  

On Friday morning we were all up early as the team had to head about an hour south to their next retreat.  We prepared a breakfast for them to take with them.  We exchanged hugs and blessings and wished each other well.  Then they were gone.  But, they left behind the memory of thirty-six hours of peacefulness well spent, and the hope that we might be able to do it again sometime soon.  

Their mission is to grow the Kingdom of God with students and young adults.  But, I wonder if they know the impact they have on us old folks?  The joy they emanate by doing the Lord’s work brings hope to us all that some of the sickness in the world will be cured.  Thank you NET Team 3 for bringing your joy and hope to this house!

“Dear Lord, thank You for inspiring these young women and men to be disciple-makers for Your Kingdom.  Thank You for the opportunity to serve You by serving them.  I pray You abundantly bless Mally, Maggie, Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Terese as they labor for Your harvest.  Amen.”

(Getting Caught in the NET was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Sweetness of the Word in a Sour World


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Jesus cleansing the temple

In today’s Scripture there seemed to be a common thread of how sweet the Word of God is to the faithful.  In Rv 10:8-11, we read about the angel handing John the scroll (the Word of God) and ordering him to “Take and swallow it.  It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.”  The prospect of heaven is sweet, but the suffering we experience on our way there can be upsetting.  

In today’s Psalm, Ps 119:103, we read, “How sweet to my tongue is your promise, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  

In the Alleluia, Jn 10:27:  “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  Sheep are comforted by the words of a trusted shepherd.

And in the Gospel, Lk 19:45-48, the chief priests, scribes and Jewish leaders sought a way to put Jesus to death after he exercised His authority and cleansed the temple by driving out the money changers – “but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose because all the people were hanging on His words.”  Jesus was feeding the people with something far sweeter than anything the Pharisees had been providing!

A new prophet was in town.  Not just any prophet, but the one the people were calling the Messiah!  Don’t you know this drove the Jewish leaders crazy!  They were being ignored.  They were losing control.  Jesus was a threat to their power.  

Not much has changed in two thousand years.  World political leaders have consistently been frustrated over Christians who choose to follow Jesus, the Word of God, rather than capitulate to the philosophies and cultures they try to impose.  Today, you don’t have to travel away from home to experience the sour stomach effects of what’s being shoved down our throats:  abortion up to and including the moment of birth, rampant promotion of transgenderism and euphoric celebration of the LGBTQA movement, the redefinition of marriage, the erosion of religious freedom and hosts of other misguided policies that tear down accepted morality and the institution of the family in the pretense that government knows best.  

Making it particularly difficult for us Catholics are the various leaders within our government who claim to be devout Catholics yet are on the front lines of promoting these immoralities.  Faithful and humble believers are a threat to their agenda, a pain in the rear to the pride that drives their desire for power and control.  Desperate people do desperate things and theirs are true acts of desperation.  Their level of frustration with all of us who follow the voice of our Good Shepherd must be reaching a crescendo because, from all observations, they are working hard to do the devil’s work. 

We must remember to let the evil born of their frustration be theirs and theirs alone.  As virtuous Christians, the Church Militant, we receive through prayer the grace to take these issues which we don’t like and haven’t chosen and work to peacefully change what we can. But, for those issues out of our control, we need to pray for that same grace to live lives of virtue, maintain interior peace, and hang on His words – the only medicine that will soothe the indigestion of life and transform our frustration into acceptance that all will be well for those who love and trust Jesus. 

Let it be Jesus to whom we listen! Let it be the sweetness of God’s Word we savor rather than the immoral philosophies of the misguided leaders of the world. We will be victorious and it will drive them crazy!

“Lord Jesus, Your sweet words hold the promise of everlasting life.  I pray for the conversion of all misguided souls. And, I pray for the grace to be an effective disciple maker, to help change the world by feeding hungry souls on the sweetness of Your Word.  Amen.” 

(The Sweetness of the Word in a Sour World was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2022 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.