‘Complete in Christ’

16 Jul

 

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Recently, I had two important encounters.

The first was a man wearing a cap that proclaimed “World War II Veteran.” We happened to reach a doorway together. I thanked him for his service. He eyes watered, he blinked, and said with anger and sadness: “Our nation is lost. America is no more. Our descendants will never know the blessings of freedom.”

I said. “Surely, God will come to help us.”

He replied, “I don’t believe in God.”

The second encounter was with a woman in a store. She saw my rather obvious cross and chain and said to me: “The world is filled with evil. The end times are here. Jesus is coming soon.”

There was a bit of fear and desperation in her voice. Maybe she sees little of God’s presence and goodness in everyday life.

At one time or another, each of us may fear the future or wish that the Lord would hurry down to fix everything. God is with us now. God deserves our unconditional trust.

  • St. Paul gives a key to making sense of all that befalls us—the struggles of daily living, addiction, the pain of a broken family and the worry and fear we may experience in these troubled times (see Col 1:24-28).
  • Paul speaks of the “mystery of Christ in you.” What is that mystery and what does this mean—“the mystery of Christ in you?”

To grow in understanding of this mystery, you have to be open to complete and ongoing conversion. You have to realize that “it isn’t you” alone called to save the world. We are called together as the Body of Christ. We live in him and he in us.

Two sisters, Martha and Mary, speak to us in their actions (Lk 10:38-42).

  • We need to become a blend of both Martha and Mary: We must bring together the labor and holy hospitality of Martha and the contemplative love of Mary.

The Church teaches us that everything good that we do in life can and should be offered to God. As a Christian, you are a partner with God as he builds a just and peaceful world. With the Lord Jesus, you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort those who mourn. You, and all of us together, strive to “make everyone complete in Christ.”

  • Our work can and should be a joyful sacrifice of praise. Our down time should be lived in peaceful gratitude for life itself.
  • We must consciously make every moment of life a prayer to God—and put our complete trust in him.

If we do so, we will have a deeper faith, more courage and greater vision.

Alone, I cannot change the world. But all of us together, with God in us and for us, we can and will bring change to our nation and our world.

We must be “complete in Christ.” Our trust is in the Lord, our God.

 

 

 

The Word of God Was Missing

26 Jun

 

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For many years, the people gathered together to worship God.

One day, a man came to the leader of the people to present him with a book that had been lost for a long, long time.

The book was read to the leader. He tore his garments. He ordered that all the people be gathered to hear the words of this book that had been missing for so long a time.

The man was Hilkiah, high priest of the Jews.

The book was the Torah, the Word of God (See 2 Kgs.22:8-13; 23:1-3).

The Word of God had been missing.

This was the reading for Mass on Wednesday, June 22.

The day before, I had read in one sitting a book given to me by a chaplain at a correctional institution. (I was visiting, not incarcerated.)

The book, “God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life,” was written by Ray Comfort, an evangelical preacher and writer.

The book’s subtitle is “The Myth of the Modern Message.” The author debunks what we Catholics have, since apostolic times, called the “prosperity doctrine,” a false and shallow approach to conversion: “Accept Jesus he will make you happy, solve all your problems and you will prosper.”

Try to tell that to Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake by our own misguided religious leaders. Try to tell that to Peter, James and Paul—and all those Catholics and other Christians who are tortured, raped, beheaded, burned alive and crucified by people who believe they serve God by these atrocities.

Ray Comfort also speaks of the loss of faith in young people—in much the same words as we speak of our own sons and daughters who have heard the clamor of the world’s own call to “happiness.”

But Rev. Comfort wrote something else that resonates with the traditional teachings of our own Catholic Church. There is no true conversion to Jesus Christ without personal awareness of one’s own sins. How can anyone claim to be converted to Christ without admitting that he or she is a sinner for whom Jesus died?

The author urges a return to preaching and teaching the Ten Commandments which can assist people in discovering and admitting their own sin and their need for salvation.

And then, for me, another A-Ha moment—or perhaps a reminder to an earlier moment of insight or lesson learned: The lesson of personal responsibility for sin does not end there, does not end with genuine conversion to Jesus. There follows the beautiful Beatitudes which direct the converted into the life that Jesus wants us to live.

Not a bad ideal, I would think, for a weekend retreat for the entire church assembly–perhaps to be followed up by a series of sermons that will reach those who did not attend the retreat and to reinforce the lesson for those who did.

Whatever we do, we cannot let the Word of God go missing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Radical Catholicism?

19 Jun

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In the Mass, we enter into the real death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

         What pops into mind when you hear about radicals: the angry demonstrators for or against a certain law or movement or candidate?

In one sense, these are radical.

        Such demonstrations emerge from a deep sense of oppression—or a terrible discontent with what is real or thought to be real. It might flow from a sick desire to create havoc rather than restore peace.

         “Radical” means stemming from the root of something.When I speak of a radical Catholicism, I am not speaking of any public demonstration for or against anything. Rather I speak of a Church whose members have returned to the roots of our faith—our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the authentic Tradition and teachings of his Church.

          The Liturgy of the Hours offers this: “May we always feed on the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”[i]

          What, then, is that unleavened bread of sincerity and truth? It is the core of what we believe: Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, God and Man, Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit.

          It is the foundation of the Apostles and their magnetic belief in who Jesus is and what he taught. And that authoritative teaching has come down to us through our popes and bishops, and our faith is celebrated in communion with them and with our priests who offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

          That unleavened bread of sincerity and truth assures us that once consecrated, a small unleavened host and the wine in that little cup are now Jesus Christ, God and Man, his Body, Blood, soul and divinity.

          Also, we embrace the truth that in the Mass, we enter into the real death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When our Lord instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he commanded, “Do this in memory of me.” His passion, death and resurrection are eternal realities. In real time through our Mass, we enter and are united in that one and only sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are there—as I’ve said many times before—at the Last Supper, at the Cross and with Mary Magdalen at the empty tomb.

          We believe deeply in the communion of saints—because St. Paul tells us we are saints. Also, we believe because the Church holds up the lives of the saints as examples of faith, hope, love and courage. We always celebrate the faith and love of Mary, Mother of God, and that of her spouse, St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. But in no way does our devotion to any saint equal or replace the Mass.

          Finally, a radical Catholicism becomes a public sign of love for God and for all peoples. It becomes an energetic, calm and persistent witness to our faith in God and our fidelity to his Truth which the Church teaches with grace and authority from God.

 

[i] Book II, pg. 887

Justice: In Home and Church

15 Jun

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At last! I’m back! My computer got sick. Then I had a little bit of a sympathy illness. Now the computer is fine–and so am I. My head has been examined and they found nothing–nothing wrong, that is. So! Here we go!

 

Recently I had a holy aha-moment.

It happened as I was reading about generosity in Matthew Kelly’s “Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic.”

Ordained thirty years ago, I’ve ministered in our own St. Mary Magdalen Parish learning from the wonderful people who fill our church and our ministries. For ten years I served as chaplain for the Winter Springs Police Department. I’ve written thousands of words for books, homilies and my blog.

But have I been generous with mercy? God has forgiven me so many times for the same old stuff over and over again. Yet, I still stroke my memory with a desire for comeuppance for this or that personal offense—real or imagined.

In mercy, have I actively forgiven family members and friends who hurt me deeply—and have I had the courage to ask them for forgiveness? To request forgiveness is to admit that I wronged someone—and that takes both humility and gratitude to God for the mercy extended to me.

Have I been merciful with my children—or have I demanded more of them than I was ever willing to give of myself?

And in our Church, have I been truly generous—or have I taken a joyful leap into the duties and ministries that please me and make me feel compassionate and holy?

I have to admit that I have not always reached out (shared life) with those folks who rub me the wrong way, whose posture, like my own, demands attention and acceptance. Have I embraced others for whom they are—brothers and sisters with the same Father, Savior and the Holy Spirit who is Lord and Giver of Life?

When I meet the poor and terminally ill, why do I feel threatened or at least uneasy? Is it because I still fear weakness and death more than I trust in my God?

More yet.

We preach mercy and forgiveness but still, when it comes to sins such as sexual abuse of children, we struggle to forgive and to protect others in our community. In situations like this, I can stew over the sin and crime of abuse—and remain discontented with how we have had to remove the offenders from our midst.

But, we have an understandable concern that offenders will abuse even other children in our community of faith. Also, there is the question of legal culpability if we do not offer protection and stand firm against such abuse.

Who said it is easy to be a conscientious Catholic—one whose spiritual life is without warps and wrinkle and even disaster?

No one, I am sure, who has a bit of experience in trying to live in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Rise to Freedom, Joy

17 Mar

man in praise

The Church proclaims in prayer:

          “Oh, Lord, unwearied is your love for us.”

We should never tire of contemplating that divine, unending love which brings us to life, forgives our sins, nourishes us with the Word and the Eucharist—that love which promises us an eternity with God and all the saints.

In Christ, we rise to freedom—freedom from fear, unending and unhealthy guilt, hopelessness and separateness.

In Christ, we abandon worries, cling to hope; we learn to cope with sorrows and loneliness; we do not let the world’s troubles lead us to hatred and depression. Rather, we cling to our Lord, to his promise to be with us and to give us wisdom to understand how his will is accomplished in us. He gives us strength to bear even with the unbearable.

We live in that freedom known only to the sons and daughters of God.

We rise to purpose—the call of Christ Jesus to witness the Father’s love to everyone in our lives; the call to share our faith in salvation through the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.

We are to become a living Gospel, the kind of person and people who love as Jesus loves, forgive as God forgives, and repair with love the wounds caused by illness, injustice, poverty, and ignorance.

We rise to the recognition of the fundamental purpose to which Christ calls us—together to be his faithful presence in our everyday world, and to shine with hope.

We rise to joy—the joy that overcomes pain and discouragement because we know our God, because we walk together in the Lord and because the Lord lives in us and for us.

Joy in God is the root of compassion. If we are not joyful, how can we hope to help others come to know Jesus as the way, the truth and the life?

Joy is contagious. So are sour dispositions, doubting hearts and resentful spirits.

I know people whose lives beam with joy and with hope—some of whom live with deep suffering. It’s so wonderful to be in their presence.

Our freedom, purpose and joy have their source in the resurrection of our Lord. As St. Paul reminds us:

“And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty too, your faith” (1 Cor 15:14).

 

 

 

 

Repent, Repent! It’s Lent, It’s Lent!

4 Mar

The Cross of Christ calling multitudes to salvation, calling you and me, calling our family. Givng us identity, continuity. Letting us help God in making and remaking sociiety into an image of his Kingdom.

To help us overcome sin, our Church urges us to continue our traditional Lenten practices of fast, abstinence and prayer.

We are also asked to eliminate bad behavior and replace it with the opposite good.

For example, you may frequently fall into great moments of anger and resentment. You are asked to confess your faults and to repent by making the effort to be patient and kind to those who have hurt and angered you.

We are all called to become ever more deeply in love with Jesus Christ, to love him so deeply that we are eager to do precisely what he wants us to do—to love as he loved, to heal the sick, clothe the naked and feed the poor.

We must become true disciples of our Lord.

A hard truth

You can intellectually assent to the humanity and divinity of Christ and to his miracles, and still not be a disciple. You can pray every day and never miss Mass and you can be kind to people and still fall short of being a committed disciple.

What does it mean, then, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

It means you accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life; you seek the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; you at last surrender completely to God. You become clay in his hands, you let him melt you and mold you. You listen to him in the silence and depth of your heart.

A committed disciple

with whom you form a Christian cell of faith with your children.

So how do you do this?

  • You ask God to reveal himself to you. You set aside a sacred time for deeper communion with God—and that’s what prayer really is.
  • You reAs a committed disciple, you embrace the Gospel and the authentic teachings of the Church. You live the faith at work, at home, and in down time. It means you love your spouse flect on Sacred Scripture—especially on the readings for the coming Sunday. You may do well to discuss them with family and friends.
  • You frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation and you open yourself more and more to the great mystery and reality of the Mass. You join a responsible and authentically Catholic Scripture study group.

If you do this, you will begin to fall ever more deeply in love with God. He won’t be up there somewhere, but in your heart—and in every relationship and facet of your life.

Then you will be able to do what Jesus did—and what he wants you to do.

His Crucified Hands

25 Feb

 

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His name is Peter.

His story is true.

In his own words, Peter recounts his prayerful experience.

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I was seated in church after receiving the Eucharist.

The priest had said, “Sit quietly for a few minutes. In your imagination go to your favorite place of prayer and invite Jesus to come to you.”

At that time I had a small prayer room in my home. The Bible was enthroned below a large crucifix. So, I imagined myself in my little “chapel” and invited Jesus to come to me.

I pictured him leaning into the room giving me a big smile.

So, I asked him to sit next to me. He did. I leaned my head on his chest. It was such a great moment. It seemed so real.

I was so moved I wanted to surrender completely to Jesus.

I said to him, “Oh Jesus, I love you. I surrender myself to you. I give you my heart, soul and body. I surrender everything to you—my family, my job, my finances and everything I own. Everything, Jesus, is yours.”

All was quiet for a moment.

Then Jesus said, “That is wonderful. I love you. I accept your sacrifice.”

Then Jesus cupped his crucified hands before me and said, “One thing is lacking, Peter. I want you to give me your sins.”

I shrunk away in shame. I told Jesus, “I can’t do that Lord. You are so holy. My sins are dark and ugly.”

Jesus said again, “Peter, give me your sins,”

“No, Lord, I can’t do that.”

Then firmly, Jesus insisted, “Give me your sins.”

So, I named them, one by one as I placed them into his cupped, crucified hands.

I was weeping as I finished this terrible task.

But then, blood welled up from the wounds in his hands and covered all my sins.”

Jesus said, “Peter, that’s who you are—a sinner covered with my blood.”

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