Examine Your Progress

19 Aug

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Mama always told me to clean my plate–but what was that about being greedy and a glutton?

Yes, examine my spiritual progress. That sounds better than “examination of conscience?” 

It’s less threatening, less old fashioned—but alas, any way you put it, you have to reflect on how you live up to your claim to be a Christian. And one good way to do that is indeed to examine your conscience. 

A proper examination of conscience involves reflection on what you actually did right, what you did wrong and what you failed to do that you should have done.

I always like to start with what I did right—it sort of softens the blow as I progress forward. And then, after all that admission of guilt, I recall again what I did right and thank God for his help in keeping me straight in those instances, however few they may be. 

However, sin is sin. Somehow, in the last couple of generations we’ve managed to reduce sin to mere failures and mistakes. It’s so easy to dim one’s concept of reality by failing to speak the naked truth

It seems necessary, at times, to recognize the ugliness and horror of sin. This is done quite easily by considering carefully the seven deadly sins: pride, anger, avarice, greed, lust, gluttony and sloth. 

Why not take time occasionally to see how you actually do sin in any of those areas—how you sin by commission or omission, by doing what you should not do or by failing to do what you should do? 

For example: 

I am prideful—I consider myself the best person to read at Mass; or I fail to compliment and celebrate with the person who won out over me.

I am gluttonous – I overeat just for the sake of taste.

I am avaricious – I horde my money or my faith rather than share them with the needy. 

That’s the idea – but don’t fail to end on a positive note. Maybe you did share your wealth. Maybe you did not overeat. Maybe you did honor the person who won out over you.

That indeed is something worth giving thanks to God.

 

 

 

 

 

Azariah’s Prayer

16 Aug

Reaching Up

Azariah took a prophetic look at his world,

a prophet must seek and hear his God.

In the Bible’s Book of Daniel, we are treated to the prayer of Azariah. He, Hananiah and Mishael refused to worship an idol created by King Nebuchadnezzar. (Here I use their Hebrew names rather than the ones by which the pagans called them. See Daniel 1:6.)

 Because of their refusal to worship an idol, the enraged king cast them into a fiery furnace. To the king’s amazement, he saw them walking around unharmed in the fiery furnace—and Azariah prophesied about the sinfulness of the Hebrew nation and the justice of God (Daniel 3:1-31).

The Sin of the Nation

In essence, Azariah states that, as a whole, the Hebrews abandoned God. They have ignored God’s will and law, his call to be one with him and to enjoy an intimate life of grace. In spite of all he has done for the Hebrew people, God is dismissed from the depths of the human heart; at best, he is merely acknowledged by external observance of the law; at its worst, his people worship idols and profane his holy Name.

Could we not today, here in our own world, and particularly in our own United States, pray that same prayer as did Azariah? Here, where God has so lavishly blessed our nation with so many good things?

We do indeed have our own idols—the desecration of marriage, hunger for money and power, sex for sex’s sake, and the fear of aging and the desire to look forever young. Just consider carefully the following TV programs: “Dancing with the Stars,” “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Naked and Afraid,” “Dating Naked,”  and that general genre).

We Need the Prophetic Voice

We need prophetic voices, in our Church and in all society, to speak fearlessly, honestly and charitably about the growing darkness in our world.  The old concerns remain and, in my mind, deserve more attention in parishes and in families: Christian frugality, sexual morality, modesty in dress and language, and corruption in government.

And, of great importance, is the responsibility to teach, not  only the things that are sins, but the source of our moral convictions and the unhappy consequences of sin.

St. Augustine was very clear about the responsibility to preach truth. He said that preachers (and I suggest parents and teachers as well) must speak the truth. If they do, and the sinner dies, it is the fault of the sinner; if they do not, and the sinner dies, the preachers, parents and teachers bear the blame.

Jesus, help us to love you purely and passionately and to trust you completely.

Accentuate the Positive

4 Aug

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It happened as I approached my fortieth birthday. Glory, my sister-in-law of happy memory, called me at least twice a week, saying, “It’s over now. You’re going to be forty. It’s over now.”

She psyched me out. On my fortieth birthday, I felt depressed. Was it all over? Am I really going downhill now?

Well, I got over that in short order (no more than six months!).

But, it happened again when, in July 2014, I celebrated my eightieth birthday.

No one psyched me out.

I did that for myself.

I became quite concerned with my age and with periods of forgetfulness—like turning toward church instead of continuing straight to my doctor’s office. (Or was that prophetic?) Then I noticed I was becoming confused as I assisted at Mass—doing what I was supposed to do a bit early or a bit late.

As a result, I was fairly well down on myself.

One day recently, I was praying rather earnestly about my “fading life.”

Know what? It was like a light came on. I was feeling sorry for myself, concentrating on the negative instead of, as the old song goes, accentuating the positive. I realized that, during Mass and at other times when I was supposed to be concentrating and productive, I was not thinking but moping.

That awareness was a great blessing.

I decided to change my focus and my ways.

Scheduled to assist at two Masses this weekend (August 2 and 3), I prayed. I thought ahead. I prepared for my liturgical ministry.  I didn’t just show up—sort of self-confident that I could do what I had to do automatically. I cast off, with God’s grace, the negative impulses to which I had so unwisely surrendered.

During his homily, our priest preached on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. He said that the disciples focused on what they did not have—enough food for the huge crowd of men, women and children. They saw only their limitations.

Father told us to focus on what we do have rather than on what we do not have.

Bingo!

Accentuate the positive!

Glorious positivity! I have eighty years of life experience, of good times and rough times, of doing good and doing not so good, of darkness and light, of sickness and health, of joy and sadness. I have twenty-eight years of ministry as a deacon; and for the past fifty-five years I have been engaged full-time in the Church—as a journalist, lay minister, author, retreat facilitator.

I am alive, upright and active! And, with God’s help, and yours, I will continue to accentuate the positive!

Aha! We Are Universal!

9 Jul

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Our faith, a gift for all times, all peoples, from the hands of God.

The Nicene Creed—we’ve prayed it for years. The entire Church prays this creed during Mass. After all, we are indeed the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—the universal Church founded by the Lord Jesus and spread throughout the world by the Apostles and their successors.

Last Sunday, I had a great “aha moment.” Standing next to me at Mass was a priest from Tanzania. As we prayed the creed, the universality of the Church hit me anew. I experienced a deep sense of communion and belonging with this priest.

We all believe this Creed, this truth given us by our good God. Millions of Catholics throughout the world profess this one faith. We live in different time zones, speak different languages, have different cultural histories, live under different governments, eat different cuisines (some of us hardly eating at all, some even starving to death)—yet we all believe.

Together, we believe.

I wonder what would happen, if at least ten percent of us would so confidently express this faith outside the church walls.

I wonder, too, what would happen if, in our own communities, we sought and experienced this kinship with people who seem to be different from us.

May the Holy Spirit speed the day.

 

 

Prayer: Living the Mystery

30 Jun

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Father Francis Martin, Scripture scholar and preacher, has been a great inspiration over the years. I’ve heard him at Catholic Press conventions and at the Priests, Deacons and Seminarians retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH.

We’ve shared breakfast many times during these retreats.

As often as I’ve heard him and chatted with him, one important bit of advice remains foremost in my mind.

Timely Advice

He was speaking about prayer and the difficulty to concentrate on prayers that we have prayed over and over again (for example, the Rosary and the Breviary).

His advice was, “Pray it slowly, out loud, and think about the words you are saying.”

That advice came in mighty handy recently when I realized I could pray the Hail Mary with attention, but not the Our Father. 

Why not?

Well, in the Hail Mary, it is so easy to become present to the mystery. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you”—right from Scripture, the angel Gabriel addressing our Blessed Mother. And then, “Blessed are you among women”—again, right from familiar Scripture, as Elizabeth greets Mary at the visitation.

But for me, trying to pray the Our Father was difficult. The Father is pure spirit. How can I touch, come to know intimately that pure spirit who is the Father?

One day, I recalled what another priest, the late Father Roger Moag, told me. He was my spiritual director back in Louisiana. I had complained about not being able to draw near to the Father.

He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just concentrate on Jesus and you will come to know the Father.”

It’s Taken a Bit of Time

Well, it’s taken many years to bring those two priestly suggestions together, along with that wonderful request of the Apostles: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

That’s when Christ Jesus gave us this magnificent prayer.

So, one day not too long ago, I said to Jesus, “Lord, teach me to pray. Pray with me your prayer to the Father.”

So, putting myself in the presence of Jesus, and letting his grace guide me, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer—slowly, savoring each word and phrase, asking the Father to help me bridge the gap of my doubts or unbelief or whatever was my hang-up.

And,  as Scripture says, “it came to pass” that I was able to enter more deeply into this perfect prayer given us by Christ, the Son of God, who is God, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit.

Here are some of the “pearls” of grace I’ve received by praying the Lord’s Prayer, slowly and deliberately:

            Our Father who art in heaven: God is everywhere, so heaven is everywhere. I need only to let the Father into my heart and I have heaven in me. I am one with God, with all my loved ones here and hereafter.  I am his adopted child. With Jesus and in Jesus, I am one with the Father, one with our God.

            Thy will be done: What indeed does this mean? What is God’s essential will for you and for me? Think back. Think of how God created man and woman—pure, undefiled and able to know him and love him. That is God’s will for us now. That’s why he sent Jesus into the world, to close the chasm between himself and us, that terrible chasm created by the sin of our first parents.

            And lead us not into temptation: Surely God does not lead us into temptation. It happens and he permits it. He permits it because he wants us to love him freely, to choose him over self, to embrace him and his truth willingly.

It has been said that every occasion of sin is an occasion of grace. You may want to take the advice of Bert Ghezzi, my dear friend: When you are between a rock and a hard place, prayer fervently:  

“O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.”

Or, maybe something as simple as this:

Jesus, save me!

 

The Good News About Sex

22 Jun

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It frequently seems that people today have lost their way to true happiness. Love, deep and true love, is possible and the only road to happiness. 

 Just look at commercials on television. I don’t care what’s being advertised—cars, vitamins, diet programs, hair coloring, clothing or whatever. Too much of the time, the appeal is sex appeal: You buy or use this product and you’ll be irresistible to the opposite sex.

The problem is this: Sex sells. It sells because our society has become ignorant of the mystery and wonder of human sexuality. It’s all about sexual “freedom,” and personal pleasure.

Forget about total commitment. Forget about true love—oh, but it is said, “We do love each other.”

St. Josemaria Escriva said that only a chaste man and woman can experience true love.

You see, true love is sacrificial. It’s what marriage is all about: “I die to self for your sake,” say man and woman in marriage. Otherwise, it is not really a solid marriage. Without that total gift of self you cannot claim to love truly and completely. Our Lord said that the greatest sign of love is that you are willing to die for another (Jn 15:3). And that’s what marriage and true love is all about: “I die to self for you.”

You have to die a little, to live and love a lot. Invitations to “little deaths” arise every day—overlooking a remark that suggests an angry rebuke; sharing chores when you are ready to rest; caring for your friends’ baby while they are out playing golf; sitting up all night with your loved one who is ill; living chastely while the world urges you to commit adultery or practice artificial birth control.

And the list could go on.

I’m reminded of “The Good News About Sex,” a book written many years ago by Father David Knight, a long-time friend. It would be worth reading today by parents and teens.

Sex is sacred. It is given to us by God. Chaste sexual love between a husband and wife is one way of dying to self—you each become totally vulnerable to the other, seeking mutual self-giving. And, second, and by no means least, God’s gift of marital love is for the procreation of children. The bearing and rearing of children, by loving faith-filled parents, is a holy sign of God’s unending love, of the Church as a community of Eucharistic love—that love which dies to self for the sake of the other.

You can’t claim Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, or honestly claim to be Christian, if you reject out of hand his authority and teaching and that of his Church.

Children are a burden and blessing. So was the Cross of Christ. My wife and I thank God for the family he has given us: seven children, twenty-one grandchildren and, so far, thirty-three great-grandchldren.

No wonder that Planned Parenthood hasn’t drafted us as a poster family!

 

 

Mixed-Up Pelosi

20 Jun

 

 

It's time for Catholics to come in for a check-up.

 Going nowhere fast.

 Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi ignored the constitutional right to free speech when she wrote San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone “that he should not attend” the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) June 19 march in Washington D.C.  (Information from www.briebart.com).

The NOM is dedicated to promoting and defending the scriptural and, therefore, Christian view of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Pelosi, a Catholic, noted that there would probably be vicious signs and calls directed toward gays and, therefore, the event would be “venom masquerading as virtue.”

There you have it!

Could it be that citizens, who are committed Christians, do not have the right to address any social or legislative issue, but their opponents do? Where is Pelosi when anti-life protesters angrily and venomously viciously  picket pro-life events and speakers?

She spoke with a double standard that surely does not square with the Church she claims as her own, nor with the Constitution of the United States.

But maybe that’s her problem—claiming the Church as her own rather than that of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6).

Maybe Pelosi needs to revisit the Scriptures: 20), and Mt 18:18).

And, as a Catholic, she may want to revisit the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”—or maybe pick it up for the first time.

 

 

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