Are You Prepared for Lent?

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Last summer my wife and I remodeled our kitchen and half of the first floor of our house.  Well, actually, we hired a contractor to do the work.  But, there were a few things I reserved for myself.  Before construction began we moved everything we could into the garage except for major furniture items which we moved to the basement.  After work was completed we moved the furniture back into the upstairs.  The stuff in the garage…well, it’s still there.

Another task reserved for myself with the idea of saving a few bucks was painting an accent color on a four by seven foot wall in our living room.  It’s now been seven months and it’s still not painted.

My wife occasionally, and patiently, asks me if I’m ever going to get these things done.  My response has been, “Yes, dear, you don’t have to remind me every six months!”

These things came to mind while reading yesterday’s scripture passages.  In the first reading from James 5:9-12, we are cautioned to keep our promises, to “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’”.

In the Gospel, Mark 10:1-12, Jesus and the Pharisees debate whether divorce is permitted in marriage.  In a nutshell, Jesus makes it clear that with marriage, a promise is a promise, and it can’t be undone through simple justification for convenience sake. 

It is four days before the start of Lent and most of us are considering what promises we will make during Lent.  For many, those promises will consist of giving things up, especially food and drink such as quarter pound burgers, chocolate, caffeine, and beer for 40 days.  

But, Lent is about more than giving things up.  It’s about preparing our soul to receive the glory of our Risen Lord at Easter.  The Church has traditionally suggested three ways to do this:  prayer, fasting and almsgiving, often called the Three Pillars of Lent.

The first pillar, prayer, is intended to dispose our hearts and souls to grow in friendship with Christ through conversation with Him.  It’s telling Him what is on our hearts and with what we are struggling.  It’s giving thanks for all we’ve been given and asking His assistance when we know we can’t do something ourselves.  It’s listening to His response, His message about what His will is for us, and then resolving to take action on those inspirations.  That resolution in itself is a “promise” which we then fulfill.

The second pillar, fasting, may include the challenge of giving something up, something difficult that will stretch our efforts.  But, that’s not the whole deal.  It’s more about clearing space in our soul for Jesus.  It’s rooting out the unnecessary stuff that takes up room and crowds Him out of our life.  It’s looking at our poor habits and vices and resolving to change so that God can replace them with virtue.

The third is almsgiving, the component that looks beyond God and ourselves and focuses on those around us.  It’s attention to the needs of others and seeing how we can love others as Christ loves us.  We may think of almsgiving as throwing a few extra coins in the collection basket, or dropping off a few extra boxes of cereal at the food pantry.  Those are good things but they aren’t everything.  It’s good to get creative with almsgiving, to do something which, like fasting, stretches us.  It’s not just about giving of our treasure, but of our time and talent, too.  

Resolutions don’t have to be excruciatingly difficult.  Keep them simple but challenging, doable and worthy of your effort.

I’ve never shared my Lenten resolutions because I didn’t want it to appear like a prideful thing.  But, this year, I am in hope they will help others use this season to become the person God created them to be.  Here are mine:

Prayer – I resolve to spend at least 30 minutes in meditation, reflecting, making a resolution and keeping it, every day without missing a day.

Fasting – I resolve to set aside the comforts associated with idleness and procrastination and be diligent about completing projects around the house.

Almsgiving – I resolve to write a note a day to 40 people whom I love and cherish, letting them know how much they mean to me.

In your effort to grow closer to Christ, the evil one will put obstacles in your path, especially the need to rationalize and justify why you should give up on your resolutions.  Do not give in!

“Dear Jesus, You sacrificed everything for me.  This Lenten season, help me to make sacrifices that will make room for You in my life.  Amen.”

(Are You Prepared for Lent? 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.

Feed Your Flock

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(A reflection on 1 Pt 5:1-4)

Christ’s Charge to Peter, Raphael, c. 1515

One of the most significant moments in Simon Peter’s relationship with Jesus was the third time Jesus revealed Himself to them after His resurrection when He asked Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”  Peter answered three times, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You!”.  And three times Jesus asked Peter to take care of His flock. (Jn 21:15-17)

Peter obviously took that request to heart and remembered it for the rest of his life.  In yesterday’s first scripture reading from 1 Pt 5:1-4, Peter writes to the Presbyters, the teachers of the faith, to tend to and be examples to the “flock of God”.

This passage struck me in a number of ways.  First, I recalled the many sentiments that were offered from comments at our deanery’s recent Synod on Synodality meeting.  Although those present were a mere microcosm of our Church, there seemed to be a general opinion that one of the problems in our Church today is that our bishops and priests are not adequately “feeding their sheep” or “tending their flock”. 

Secondly, it brought to mind that we are all called to be teachers of the faith in one way or another – through our vocations as a parent or friend, through our occupations, and our volunteerism in various ministries.  We only have to recall Jesus’ words to His disciples when He was faced with feeding the five thousand, “Give them some food yourselves” (Lk 9:13), to understand that He wants us to join with Him in His mission to save souls.

Today more than ever, our Lord needs us all, you and me, to help feed and tend His flock.  Too many are not being fed and are straying to what looks like “greener” pasture in today’s world of materialism, idealism and relativism.  Once they leap that fence they become easy prey for the wolves.  We need to fertilize our “Catholic” pasture so that the grazing sates their appetites.

How do we tend to the flock?  I think the first step is to set aside the idea that our faith is something that is done to us, that it’s someone else’s responsibility.  With too few priests and deacons to go around, the laity needs to take some ownership in their personal faith formation and that of those in their “pasture”.  We need to become better catechized, grow deeper in our relationships with Christ through prayer, and live virtuous lives that are examples of holiness to others.

Every person has an opportunity to be a witness to someone who is hungering for the Bread of Life and thirsting for the Living Water.  We need to remember that Jesus gave us one mission, to make disciples of all nations, and we need to make that a priority in our lives.  We don’t have to become missionaries or monks, we just need to live simply and find synergies in our everyday lives that will edify our families, friends and acquaintances.

We need to remember that the basic building block of our Church is not the parish, but rather our homes, the Domestic Church.  If we want to rebuild our Church we need to recall how the Apostles and the first disciples lived after Christ’s death.  Theirs was a two-pronged approach:  to stick together and build and protect their community, and to draw others into it by teaching them the truth of the Gospel.  We can do that with our families by practicing our faith with our children.  We can live hospitality and invite people into our homes for friendship and good conversation which may lead to opportunities to pray together.

We need to look for opportunities to be charitable to those in need by practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

We need to not be afraid to practice our faith in our work places as employers and employees; at school as educators and students; in athletics as fellow athletes and coaches; and where we volunteer.

Our faith ought to be personal but it should never be private.  We need to be bold and leave others with no doubt about our love for Jesus.

Put more succinctly, as laity, we need to step up our game, take ownership and not depend on just our clergy to feed the flock.  We need to survey our “pasture” of influence and determine who is grazing mindlessly in that pasture and on the verge of wandering off.  We need to provide them with “green grass” that will nourish and satisfy their souls.

What is your pasture?  Who is in your flock?  How can you feed and tend to them with the love of Christ?

“Dear Jesus, thank you for providing priests and friends who, through their gentle love and care, have shepherded me in my faith life.  I pray for the grace to do the same for those whom I mentor and lead to you through spiritual friendship.  Amen.”

(Feed Your Flock was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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

It Is Good That We Are Here!

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(A reflection on the Gospel of Mark 9:2-13)

In today’s Gospel we find Peter, James and John atop Mount Tabor where Jesus is transfigured before them.  Elijah and Moses appear to them and converse with Jesus, terrifying the three disciples.  Peter, with deep respect, amazement, and, uncharacteristically, at a loss for words, tells Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

As we attend mass this weekend, or any day when we receive communion, let us remember that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist in all his divine glory.  Let us remember to tell Him, “Jesus, it is good that I am here!”

When we make a Holy hour of Adoration, let us remember that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist whom we adore, and let us remember to tell Him, “Jesus, it is good that I am here!” 

And, any time we enter a church, let us remember that Jesus is alive and at home in the Tabernacle and is welcoming us in.  Let us remember to tell Him, “Jesus, it is good that I am here!”

“Dear Jesus, You are my Savior, my Redeemer.  You love me more than I can ever imagine.  You are always by my side.  May I never forget Your presence and to love You in return.  Amen.”

(It Is Good That We Are Here! 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.

From the Archives: Groundhog Day

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Happy Groundhog Day!  I don’t know how it is where you live but if Punxsutawney Phil lived in Southwest Ohio, he would not have seen his shadow this morning!  We are facing the worst winter storm of the season with predicted ice accumulation and several inches of snow on top of that.

The weather forecast made me think of one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day, and I remembered that I had previously written a post with that title.  Turned out it was from one year ago and it was a reflection connecting today’s first reading from the prophet Malachi (Mal 3:1-4) with the plot of the movie.  I re-read it and thought its message was worthy of reposting.  Thank you for taking the time to read it.  I hope its message will help you in your spiritual life.

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It’s been two days since the world’s most renowned groundhog, Punxsutawny Phil, popped out of his burrow and saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. (For my international readers who are unfamiliar with Groundhog Day, go hereto learn more).  Personally, I can’t make it through the second day of February each year without thinking about the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day,one of my all-time favorites, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

In it, actor/comedian Murray, plays the part of Phil Connors, an abrasive and self-centered television weatherman who is sent on assignment along with his producer and cameraman to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania.  During the festivities, Phil records his news report on the celebrated groundhog’s prediction with all the contempt for the “rat” (and the people of the town) that fits his egotistical personality.

In a kind of karma, Phil and team are forced to spend the night in the small town because of a severe winter storm which he failed to predict.  The following morning, Phil awakes in his hotel room bed and discovers it is February 2nd all over again, a deja vu which only he experiences.    Then, every morning afterwards, for what seems like a lifetime, he wakes at 6:00 a.m. to the same song on the radio only to find it is still February 2nd.

As the film progresses, Phil’s life progresses from denial to rebellion to despair and then finally to acceptance of his situation.  With acceptance, he learns to replace his pride with humility, his lust with love, and greed with generosity.  He learns the importance of beauty in life and placing others before himself.  In a sense, he is being refined each and every day that he is stuck in the seemingly endless time loop which only he experiences.  In the end, when he finally experiences the true meaning of selfless love, he wakes up one morning and it is February 3rd.

On Tuesday as I was reading the daily Scripture during my daily meditation I thought of this movie again.  For the last four years I have hi-lighted in yellow pencil the passages I have read each day, and underlined in red those phrases which the Holy Spirit put on my heart that day.  And, next to each, in pencil, I have written the date I meditated on that passage.  I’ve now been doing this long enough to see that I’ve read that same passage on or about the same date in a previous year.  

Many Catholics don’t know that the Church repeats the daily readings on a two-year cycle for weekdays, and a three-year cycle for Sundays.  I knew this and always thought it was simply an effective way to read almost the entire Bible over a three year period.  But, on Tuesday, I saw it differently.

In the first reading from Scripture that day, I read in Malachi 3:1-4, “For He will be like a refiner’s fire…” so that their offerings, “will please the Lord.”  It struck me that the only way we can grow in holiness is to continually be refined; that our purpose on earth is to be refined to the point where our final offering will, indeed, please the Lord and we will be united with Him in heaven.  

As Catholics, we don’t wake up to the same song every morning like Phil did, but our two or three year cycle does give us the opportunity to grow in holiness and virtue every day.  

For one who does not spend time in daily meditation listening to the Word of God and asking what His will is for them every day, it can be a difficult journey.  Without prayer and trusting in God to help, you can easily do like Phil, that is deny, rebel and despair when life doesn’t seem to get any better.  But when you spend time daily in conversation with Jesus and you’re docile to the Holy Spirit, and you accept and take responsibility for your faults and weaknesses, it becomes much easier to resolve to grow in virtue knowing you can trust in Him for help.  One day He may show you where your pride is strong and how to replace it with humility.  The next day the Word of God may lead you to growing in love and charity and away from lust or selfishness.  Still another day you may decide that you need to be more generous, or less envious, less angry, more grateful, or stronger in your faith.  Some days it will seem like you’re stuck in your own Groundhog Day (movie) time loop because you didn’t get it the first time…or the second.  But, with each conviction, you can resolve to become better in a particular aspect of your life every single day until your vices have been refined into sustainable virtues that “will please the Lord”.

My goal in life is to become a saint.  I want you to become one, too.  I would much prefer our refinement take place day by day here during our time on earth than when we have no control of it in Purgatory.  Ask the Lord to show you each day how you can grow in holiness, and pray for the grace to resolve to take action daily.  Even if they’re just baby steps, they’re still steps forward towards your goal.  A lifetime of baby steps will get us there.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for this day and every day that I have to grow closer to You.  I pray for the grace to make the most of them by living my life as You would have me live it, with humility, prudence, fortitude, justice, temperance, faith, hope and love.  Amen.”

(From the Archives: Groundhog Day 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.

Where Sin Increased, Grace Overflowed All The More

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It was ten degrees this morning when I drove through our sleepy little town of Lebanon, Ohio on my way to Mass. As the sun was beginning to peek over the eastern horizon, I encountered the usual light traffic of folks making their way to work. Ours is a quiet town, an historic town, with good folks.

As with most small towns we have many churches and as Catholics we are well represented.  I’d say the majority of the town’s citizens lean towards the conservative side of life and, in elections, generally favor the more conservative candidates and their views.  Thus, it was no real surprise that our City Council voted in May of 2021 to become the first city in the state of Ohio to be a sanctuary city for the unborn, a decision that nevertheless ruffled a few feathers.

In Scripture we hear, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5:20 NAB).  I truly believe St. Paul’s conviction, but it seems that it’s never the end of the story.  Evil has a way of rearing its ugly head in new and different ways, creating new opportunities for grace and goodness to abound.  

A particular opportunity will present itself this afternoon, at 4:00 p.m. EST.  The inaugural meeting of The Satanic Temple After-School Satan Club will be held in rented space at Lebanon’s 3rd/4th grade elementary school campus.  The flyer that was distributed encouraged children (with parental permission) to join and participate in “Science Projects! Puzzles & Games! Arts and Crafts Projects! Nature Activities!”  It went on to tell parents their child would learn about benevolence and empathy, critical thinking, problem-solving, creative expression and personal sovereignty.  

It all sounds good until you get to that “personal sovereignty” part.  To me that’s just another way of saying we don’t need God because we are our own gods.  As Christians, we know that the Mother of all Vices is Pride, and there’s no greater expression of pride than to reject God, thinking that we can take His place.

As you can imagine, there has been quite an uproar.  Parents have protested to the School Board only to be told that their hands are legally tied, that, since space is currently rented out to The Good News Club (a Christian club for children), they must accept the application from the Satanic Temple Club.  I understand, and agree with, the State’s point of view.  We are a country founded on respecting one’s religious preferences.  It’s what guarantees our own right to practice our faith.

The thing is, this is not a political battle.  It’s spiritual warfare, and once again, the forces of Goodness and Grace are being called upon to face off with the forces of evil.  We don’t do that by sending disciples with swords to cut off ears at an elementary school.  No, we do it with prayer and refusing to give the Devil his due.  

Today’s Gospel is from Mark 4:21-25, The Parable of the Lamp.  Jesus asks His disciples (and He’s asking you and me), “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?”  Also, today, we read from Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”  As Christians, we receive Him to light our path and we are called to light the pathway for others.  

There’s an old analogy relating God and evil to the science of physics.  Physics defines cold as the absence of heat, and darkness as the absence of light.  Our faith tells us that evil exists as the absence of God.  Put another way, the darkness of evil exists due to the absence of the light of God.  One might ask, “Why doesn’t God just shine the light on the evil ones?”  Well, he respects their free will.  But, he also expects us to do our part to bring His Light into the world. We ought to ask ourselves if we are doing that or are we being a barrier that blocks out the Light?

Our parish is conducting a prayer service at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon and will consist of praying the Rosary, calling upon our Blessed Mother to intervene, to turn hearts away from the evil that lurks in our midst, and let the Light shine.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that today is Thursday, the day on which we pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.  No, it’s the Divine Providence that we need.

If you are in Lebanon and would like to come to St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church today to pray at 4:00 p.m. EST, you will be welcomed.  You don’t have to be Catholic to pray a Rosary.  You can just show up to pray.  For those of you who are not local, please consider taking time to pray for us wherever you are at that time.  And, please feel free to share this post on FaceBook or forward it to your friends.  We need all the prayer warriors we can get.  Thank you!

Lord Jesus, Light of the world, open our hearts to be the light that shines on the path for all those who are searching for peace, beauty and goodness in the world today.  Let us not hide Your Light, but be Beacons of Light to others.  Amen.”

(Where Sin Increased, Grace Overflowed All The More 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.

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.

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.

No Chance Encounters

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The Calling of St. Matthew, Matthias Stomer, 1629

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Worthy Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Word that Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession, Gethsemane, and the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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