A Key to a Fuller Life

27 Oct

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I must recognize his power to create and sustain all things…

A very helpful  insight came, over a period of several weeks, as I prayed the psalms and prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours.

I’m bad about underling both in my breviary and my Bible. I also had made marginal notes in both.

In the psalms and prayers of the “Hours” (breviary), on various pages I have underlined two phrases which struck me as important: “a sacrifice of praise” and “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

One day, I put these two together, and saw a little bit better what Jesus did on the Cross. He was indeed “a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”

He was a sacrifice of praise: Jesus, in his humanity, knew and loved God the Father. He knew so well the omnipotence of the Father. Jesus, in his humanity, gave his Father all he could give—even to his death on the Cross.

He was a sacrifice of thanksgiving: At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us Eucharist (a word rooted in the Greek word for thanksgiving). He took bread and wine and changed them into his Body and Blood, offering the eternal gift as food, the gift of salvation which would be fulfilled the next day on the Cross.

Jesus commanded us to follow and to take up our own crosses, to join him in his mission of salvation of all peoples.

So, I must become a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

I must recognize and praise God for his very Being that has no beginning and no end. I must acknowledge his power to create all things and all peoples, including me, and to sustain us all in life. I must see him in all of creation—the blue of a fall sky, the glorious change of colors in forests, the smile of a baby, the wisdom of the aged.

And I must be grateful. After all, if I acknowledge that all the wonders of the world are created and sustained by God, I will want to thank him for his great goodness. I will want to thank him for the gift of Jesus and the salvation he won for us. Also, I must experience deep gratitude for the Church, the Gospel and the Sacraments, especially for the Eucharist, in and through which we experience in real time the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus the Lord.

Then, another insight: When I thank God, am I not praising him? Are not praise and gratitude so closely connected that they actually become one movement of the faithful soul?

 

You Know that You Know

18 Oct

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You know how it is. You read the same Scriptures over and over again. But one day, you read the same section or verse and a bright light comes on.

It’s a new insight.

When I was first in the Charismatic Renewal Movement, some thirty years ago, there was an expression which celebrated enlightenment or a deeper understanding:

“You know that you know that you know.”

Recently in praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, I enjoyed such a moment. It was during the second mystery, the one which celebrates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven.

I have always known that Jesus ascended to the Father in his complete humanity: body, blood, and soul.

But this time, I realized anew that our redeemed human nature was now eternally present before the Father. Jesus is there, in his humanity as well as in his divinity.

In a real sense, we are there also—because, baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we now become the Body of Christ, we are in him in heaven and here on earth as the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify us and give us wisdom, courage and understanding.

The point is, at least for me, that I must never become too “familiar” and too “comfortable” with traditional prayers.

They never run out of blessings and enlightenment.

 

 

The Power of Parish

13 Oct

 

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Embraced by God, Final in Series

 To discover the strength and power of the Church, I had to move from the limited understanding of Church, to its universal dimension. Strangely enough, I discovered this universality, not in my work as a Catholic journalist on the diocesan and national level, but in the “lived-out” Gospel in my parish home.

 It is in the parish we find the meaning of Christian love—in celebrations of friendship, in ministry to the sick, the youth and the people who seek help for mind, body and soul.   

 Before You Know It—Soup!

Angela Logan (Kimberly Elise) in the UP-TV movie, “Apple Mortgage Cake,” was trying to convince her sons of the importance of belonging and working together. The family was about to lose their home, yet she was dedicated to her friends, and spent many hours helping women in need. She was dedicated to her local church.

She told her sons about how important each person is to the welfare of all. She used a down-to-earth comparison. She said that you may not have everything you need to make a soup, but one person may have a carrot, another, a potato and, still another, an onion—“and before you know it, you have soup.”

Jesus knew we would need to belong, to have stability in a community and a steadfast, ever-renewed Church. This Church would offer hope, healing and holiness to all generations.

St. Paul says: Accept one another as Christ accepted you, for the glory of God (Rm 15:7). He urges us to bear one another’s burdens, and to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).

Our Own Parish

Our St. Mary Magdalen Parish, Altamonte Springs, Fla., among many others to be sure, is a community that offers healing and hope beyond its parish boundaries.

People here love one another. They show it in their joy at Sunday Mass, at weddings and the birth and baptism of infants and adults. They share sorrow at funerals, support in difficult times and participation in outreach to the less fortunate here at home.

We have a number of men who go to other states to help people whose homes have been damaged by natural disasters, and in Latin and South America where their help is needed. And each year, our parish joins another parish to build a Habitat for Humanity house.

But so much of the love we have in our parish goes unheralded, and rightly so. I am reminded of a dear old widow. She finds great joy in being with everyone at Sunday Mass, to see familiar faces, to hear God’s Word and to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. She loves to remind everyone, “Jesus loves you.”

There are people who have never thought of God or felt inclined to seek him. Then there are others who somehow have always felt drawn to the Divine Mystery.

I am thinking of a woman in our parish who once said, “If you want a great conversion story, don’t look to me. I’ve always known and loved the Lord.”

Then there are the little children who, at times, entertain us with cries or dropped hymnals—and the occasional parent who rushes down the aisle to retrieve a fleeing toddler.

And there are the aged, the lonely, and the mentally and physically challenged.

The wonder and beauty of it all

We all fit in.

We all belong.

We all love one another—in varying degrees of intensity and intimacy.

The Church, and each Catholic parish, was founded by Jesus—for all of us.

Whoever you are, you are called into the embrace of Jesus Christ. You are called to the fullness of God’s love and the fullness of truth.

You are called by Jesus to enter fully into his Church, to become engaged in the love, sacraments, mission, ministry and worship of the Church.

“Seated at the right hand of the Father” and pouring out the Holy Spirit upon his Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments he instituted to communicate his grace. The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.

             Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Celebration of Christian Mystery,” pg 282.

 

The Messiah Comes!

9 Oct

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Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…

Jn 12:13b

Embraced by God, Part 6

IT IS THE PROPHET ISAIAH WHO SPEAKS so very clearly of the Messiah who was to bring joy to faithful hearts. Isaiah saw in the Messiah someone to be acclaimed as Lord and God—and one who suffers because he is the Savior.

Go up on a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings;

Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!

Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah,

Here is your God!

Is 40:9

    AND AGAIN, the voice of the Messiah, Jesus Christ the Lord, is uttered through Isaiah:

The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue,

That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

Morning after morning he opens my ears that I may hear;

And I have not rebelled, have not turned back.

I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;

My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;

I have set my face like flint, knowing I shall not be put to shame.

Is 50:4-7

HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!

At last, the time has come. The promised Messiah has arrived. He is Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary.

He is introduced to us all by John the Baptist. John is baptizing repentant sinners in the Jordan River. He sees Jesus walking toward him. He announces simply, but forcefully, Jesus’ true identity:

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Jn 1:29

            With John’s proclamation, we enter into the mystery of salvation.

CHRIST CAME TO REDEEM ALL PEOPLE of all generations. We each are called to recognize in Christ our own personal Savior. At the same time, we are called into the new People of God. It is a call to become fully immersed in the Body of Christ, into his Church.

Being in the Church provides what people most need—intimacy with God through Word and Sacrament, and a deeply rooted communion with other believers, a communion ordained by God and reflective of the natural desire to belong, to count, to live with others.

As with the ants in our preceding blog, we need each other, and depend on each other, to achieve success in our lives and mission.

BUT BE PATIENT: When moving into God’s embrace, it is often slow and painstaking growth rather than dramatic conversion.

 

Called into the Comunity of Faith

4 Oct

 

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Embraced by God, Part 5 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people: you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy.

1 Pt 2:9-1

IT WAS JUST IDLE CURIOSITY, and a desire for a bit of intelligent entertainment, that led Peg and me to a National Geographic TV program about ants. I’ve always been fascinated by these little creatures. I recall many years ago sitting with our youngest child just watching ants work, moving objects far larger and heavier than themselves.

As I watched this program, particularly the segment on leaf-cutting ants, I saw clearly how the ant colony depends on the dedicated work of each individual.

Some ants go up into the weeds, bushes and trees and cut off large segments of leaves. They drop these leaves to their counterparts on the ground. These ants cut the large portions into smaller segments for still other ants to carry back to their home base.

Part of the marvel of it all is that these smaller segments weigh more and are much larger than ants carrying them.

Going and coming, they follow scent trails left by scouts looking for plants to supply leaves. They also scout for food.

Their instinct for work is so strong that if caught in a grass fire, they continue working until they are burned to death.

And when the community must move from one location to another, they carry the eggs and the yet-unformed young along with them, with as many as four ants pulling along an offspring who, encased in its “womb,” is much larger than those helping him.

That’s how God made us—individuals, dependent on one another for personal survival and the survival of the human race.

God created each of us and loves all of us.

But, God wanted a people of his own, a people to whom and through whom he could communicate his love and wisdom to all humankind.

From the Old Testament, God calls Abram, a seventy-five-year-old pagan, whom he will rename Abraham, to leave his own homelands, to strike out into the unknown.

The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Gn 12:1).

And thus began, in the Hebrews, his chosen people, the great odyssey of God’s plan for salvation. It remained rooted in the hearts of the Hebrew people—in faithful and in unfaithful times.

Among those who came after Abraham was Moses, who led God’s people away from slavery in Egypt.

A great nation—a people: This is God’s vision and his promise.

“I am the Lord. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians and will deliver you from their slavery. I will rescue you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment I will take you as my own people and you shall have me as your God.”

Ex 6:6-7a

Then there was David who became a mighty king and warrior, also an adulterer and murderer, but one chosen and forgiven by God. David gave his people victory. He also gave us psalms to instruct us and to help us praise God.

Solomon, David’s son, built a magnificent temple for God. His wisdom is noted to this very day.

God kept his covenant to be faithful to his people even when they fell away from him and took on the attitudes and practices of pagans. His promise of a Messiah rang down through the centuries.

Next: The Messiah Comes

 

Inward Growth, Outward Witness

1 Oct

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Embraced by God, Part 4

 Brandon Vogt is a 28-year-old Catholic husband and father. He is a blogger, public speaker and author. In May 2011, he was one of ten Americans invited to the Vatican to dialogue with Church leaders about the use of new media in the interest of the mission of Christ.

In the spring of 2014, Brandon joined “Word on Fire,” Father Robert Barron’s very relevant and successful ministry. He is now internationally known for his expertise fostering faith through modern digital communications.

Brandon began to grow in faith in his first years at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

He was at FSU with Kathleen Floegel, a devout Catholic. They were sweethearts in high school. It wasn’t just puppy love—they are married and parents of a growing family.

At the university, he began worshipping at the FSU Wesley Foundation. It was there that he began to develop a personal relationship with God. Vance Rains, the Methodist pastor at FSU, was instrumental in Brandon’s spiritual development.

Brandon says, “For most of my life, I never met a rigorous God who made any sort of demand on my life. And I never encountered an intimate God who ravished me with deep love or an epic God who waged war against evil for my sake. The church I grew up in cared for me deeply. It encouraged kindness, and presented the basic, biblical stories to me. But I never really experienced anything transcendent.”

He began to hear God’s word in worship; the Scriptures took on new and deeper meaning. He discovered that “God was a Lover on a relentless pursuit” – the total surrender of one’s heart, mind and soul to God.

At FSU Wesley Foundation, Brandon found a “resurgence of classical spirituality” and discovered Catholics like Augustine, Chesterton, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day.

As he read and studied these authors, he “couldn’t avoid a nagging theme: the Catholic tradition lurking behind” the inspiration of these writers.

           “How,” Brandon asked himself, “could Chesterton and Augustine be so right about everything but their religion?” He discovered that the Eucharist was an echoing theme in all of their writings.

The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and the unity of the people of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

CCC, No. 1325, from Eucharisticum mysterium , 6

Brandon said, “The Eucharist really catalyzed my probing. It was an unavoidable hinge. Many of the holiest saints claimed the Eucharist as their fuel.”He discovered that the Catholic Church proclaimed the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of her Faith.

He didn’t want to believe in the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Jesus – his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. But the “earliest Christians believed in the Real Presence, as did the great saints and many of the most brilliant theologians and spiritual masters of today.”

He said that once he found that the Catholic Church “had the real presence of Jesus pulsating at the center of her Faith, I was hooked.”

At the Easter Vigil In 2008, Brandon Vogt was received into the Catholic Church. Present were Kathleen and his Methodist pastor and friends from the FSU Wesley Foundation.

Looking back, says Brandon, without God’s constant pursuit and what he learned and experienced along the way, without the community of faith, the sacraments, the saints, and a big dose of Divine Providence,” God for him would have always been a “declawed kitten.”

And now, he says, “I’ve been caught by the Lion who has always been in pursuit.”

 

 

[i] Word on Fire, www.wordonfire.org

Hanging by a Thread

23 Sep

 

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Embraced by God, Part 3

It Takes Honesty to Receive Mercy

“Repentance—how ‘cool’ it is!” That’s one lady’s response to salvation.

“Judy” is a woman who knows the great gift of mercy. She also knows the freedom and joy of changing her life, of finding the healing balm of repentance.

She calls her story, “Hanging by a Thread.”

Judy’s story is one of gradual separation from God—without even realizing it—and God’s loving mercy in receiving her back. It is about the importance of prayer, even when your prayer life is minimal. It is about the need for direction and correction as we mature. It’s also about patiently and gently guiding young people toward God’s truth about faith and morals.

She says “I was born into a large Catholic family. We faithfully attended Mass every Sunday.

“Growing up in the 60s and 70s, catechesis was weak. I don’t remember being taught about the beauty of the Church or the Mass.  I don’t recall being encouraged to have a relationship with God. My faith was a Sunday thing, not a part of my whole life.”

Coming of Age

She came of age in the 70s, and although relatively sheltered from what was going on among her peers, things changed when she went to college. At first, she attended Mass regularly. She had strong Catholic influences in the families with whom she was associated. But faith was “a Sunday thing.”

She got her own apartment and “with that freedom I could experiment. And I did.  I do ’t remember being taught about the value of purity and chastity.  My parents never had the talk about the “birds and the bees”.  And the culture at the time encouraged sexual promiscuity.  Even older women, who loved me like a mother, were very supportive when I shared my plans with them for exploring things with my boyfriend.  Oh, how I wish they would have corrected me rather than affirmed me.

And so there began a time of promiscuity that lasted about two years. Along with promiscuity came contraception.

“During that time I stopped attending Mass. I don’t think I realized what was happening.  We can so gradually move away from God, and by the time we realize how far away we are, we can be truly lost.”

Judy says she “went from a naïve young woman to a foul-mouthed ‘woman of the world.’ I thought I was liberated, grown-up, cool.  But now I see how foolish and lost I was.  I ended up moving in with my boyfriend, who would later become my husband. He, too, was a non-practicing Catholic.”

Judy became pregnant. The doctor suggested a legal abortion. She and her boyfriend chose that option. “So I chose abortion and ended the life of my child.”

“I attended church only when I was home with my parents. Still, I remember praying every night.  It was just the simple, memorized prayers of a child—Our Father, Hail Mary—but I know they were the lifeline to God that kept me connected throughout that time away.

Hanging by a Thread

“There is a saying, ‘hanging by a thread.’” Judy said. “That’s what I envision with me and God. When I was baptized, there was a thick, strong rope connecting me to God. Each time I sinned, a thread from that rope was cut.  Eventually, all that was left was a thin string between me and God.  That string was prayer.”

After about ten years, she became pregnant again, but the baby was lost in miscarriage. Later, she conceived again—about one year after she began her journey back into the Church.

Judy says that in August of 2000, she “went to confession for the first time in more than twenty years, confessed the sin of abortion (and many others, of course), and began to make it to Sunday Mass on a regular basis. About a year later, in September, 2001, my son was born.  And I knew, throughout my pregnancy, that he would be fine. I had no fear of miscarriage or anything else.”

Slowly, God was calling her back.

She began to explore her Catholic faith. She attended “Why Catholic?” She began going to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. “I don’t think I ‘got it’ but I was there.  I began reading and learning.  And once that began, I had a hunger and couldn’t get enough.”

Three Levels of Conversion

Judy refers to her conversion as having three levels.

“My first conversion was of repentance—recognizing my sins and confessing them. Then, it was an intellectual conversion—learning my faith. Now, the third conversion is one of heart—falling in love with God. This is the best part!”

Judy’s story concludes with this:

“I know that God loves me as only our Father can love. I feel like Molly Ringwold at the end of the movie ‘Sixteen Candles.’  She has a crush on a popular, rich boy and has no hope of him even thinking about her.

“But at the end of the movie, she comes out of church after her sister’s wedding and there he is, sitting on his fancy car. He waves at her and she looks around to see who he’s waving at, but she’s alone.

“She points to herself and says, ‘Me?’ He replies, ‘Yeah – you.’

“That’s how I feel about God and me. He sees me, some nobody who has offended him in so many ways.  And he waves to me.  I look around to see who he’s waving at because surely it isn’t me!  But it is.

God wants me!

How cool is that!”

Judy discovered that healing and spiritual growth are found in the Church, its sacraments, and in the embraces of those who also believe.

 

 

 

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