Archive | July, 2012

Examine Your Spiritual Progress

31 Jul

Whoa! Time out! Off with the shades! Away with the remote! It’s time to take stock.

“Examine your 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 Catholic, a Christian. And one good way to do that is indeed to examine your conscience.

I’ve long been convinced that 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 perhaps, it might convince God that I’m not so bad after all. 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. Again, God, this is a positive!

However, sin is sin. Somehow, in the last couple of generations we’ve managed to camouflage sin under the less unsettling guise of “failure” or “missing the mark.” It’s so easy to wound one’s concept of reality by linguistics.

It seems necessary, at times, to embrace 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 as an individual at times actually 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 complement and celebrate with the person who won out over me.

I am gluttonous – I overeat just for the sake of taste; or – I horde my groceries rather than share them with the needy.

That’s the idea – but don’t fail to end on a positive note, thanking the Lord for all the good that you do through his grace.


Friends for Life

26 Jul

This cute little fellow, Bambi by name, was a Christmas gift from a coworker and friend. Lucy, whose sense of humor remains unsurpassed, decided I needed to be chided for “killing Bambi.” I was at one time an avid deer hunter. Increasing costs and aching old bones make it all but impossible for me to hunt anymore.

So rest, easy, Lucy. “Bambi” is safe — from me, at least. … Well, who knows?

But this is not about deer hunting or its pros and cons. It’s about friendship, the kind of friendship that lasts on and on and on. I’m happy to say that in our staff at The Florida Catholic, when I was editor and manager, we had a great team, great relationships and strong professional and affectionate bonds.

I know I was their friend — but I was also convinced they were my friends. There is a difference, you know. You can be my friend, but I can fail miserably to be your friend.

I started musing about reciprocal friendship and one-way friendship when I reflected on the words of Jesus at the Last Supper:

“I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go out and bear fruit that will remain …” (Jn 15:15b-17).

How often have I failed to be a friend to Jesus, failed to resist temptation, to help a needy person, to work untiringly for the Kingdom. And yet, he has continuously been my Friend, my Savior, my Lord. He has never stopped loving me, forgiving me.

What a great Church we would be if we all were able to live in God’s grace, in reciprocal friendship with him and with one another.

Perhaps that’s why our efforts to bring peace and faith into the world have met with somewhat limited success — we have not truly been friends to those who most need to know God’s love and mercy.

Are our own human friendships— with that sense of hospitality we have with one another, that desire to spend time together — a taste of what reciprocal friendship with God will be like?

Marriage in the Year of Faith

25 Jul

Holiness rises above the cloudiness of stress and confusion. A holy marriage rises above the misconceptions about love and family. Society today needs the solid witness of good marriages and families.

“In rediscovering (Christ’s) love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that can never fade away. Faith … makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples.” (Pope Benedict XVI, “Porta Fidei,” No. 7.)

Marriage is rooted in that agape love of Christ and his disciples; it is given to man and woman for personal sanctification and for providing a safe place for their children (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, No. 11, Vatican Council II).

But is it not more? How can sacramental marriage impact our Year of Faith?

St. Paul teaches that the love of husband and wife mirror the love of Christ and his Church. The wife submits in all things. She dies to self; she submits to the marriage all that she is, has and desires, out of love, to their holy union. The husband does no less. He dies to self so that his wife made be made holy – as Christ died for the Church. The priest shortage rightfully prompts us to pray for vocations to the priesthood. However, with so many marriages “on the rocks,” I don’t sense the same anxious concern over the shortage of successful, fruitful and productive marriages. And we need such marriages for the successful mission of the Church. (Ephesians 5:21-30).

That’s the key, I think: We must see married people and their families as essential to the mission of the Church.

A holy married couple is a Eucharistic presence in the world. They mirror the passion of Christ for the salvation of the world. Theirs is a sacrament of service – caring for their own, but enfolding friends, neighbors and needy people in their familial embrace. They provide witness to the Christian meaning of hospitality (to make a safe place) ; they embody sacrificial love; they live for one another and their children – but they live also for the world and in the world where their faith can have a tremendous impact.

Marriage brings together into one flesh, mind, heart and spirit two committed disciples of Christ. Two lay people, made one in Christ, who are “to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the world.” … “They fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, ‘that is the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 900 and 905.)

Marriage is indeed a missionary, Eucharistic and evangelizing force for the Church’s mission – and, therefore, an important consideration in our Year of Faith

Sanford, Florida

22 Jul

Tempers and prejudices can stir up murky waters.

Way back in the “Searin’ Sixties,” when the Civil Rights fight was boiling over, I ended up in court, subpoenaed by ACLU, to testify for the plaintiffs.

 The case involved leaders and members of the Southern Consumers Cooperative, a coop of black farmers who were trying to get a fair price for their crops, and the District Attorney in Lafayette, La.

I can’t recall the exact wording of the charges, but the fundamental driving force behind the case was racial discrimination.

The ACLU subpoenaed me as an “expert witness” in the role the secular press had in forming public opinion against the coop.

At that time, I was managing editor of the Southwest Louisiana Register, Catholic weekly for the Diocese of Lafayette.

 Under the leadership of two courageous priests, Fathers Alexander O. Sigur and Charles B. Fortier, the Register was the only public media promoting desegregation and racial justice. We were so deeply involved in this social issue that segregationists dubbed us The Congo Chronicle.

 I’ve never regretted my part in that battle. I’d do it again in a minute if it were necessary.

With this information as background, I hope that what I am about to say will be received with some objectivity – but I doubt that some people can be objective at all because of their racial bias and political loyalties.

 The reaction of certain African-Americans to the death of Travon Martin in the encounter with George Zimmerman was and is less than helpful. People from out-of-state came to Sanford, Fla. by the busloads to protest perceived discrimination.

 The “racial prejudice gauntlet” was immediately thrown down because in its initial findings, law enforcement thought the death was a result of self-defense. But investigations were still underway.

I hasten to add that the hateful reaction among certain white Americans to this social mess was equally contemptible. Anger and apparent hatred sizzled in some e-mails and conversations, fueling the charges of discrimination.

 Recently, certain African-Americans again took the public stump to tie in voter discrimination with perceived racial prejudice in the murder case. It’s racial discrimination, according to these people, to purge the rolls of illegal aliens – because those illegal aliens are black or Hispanic.

 Racism is far from dead – and it exists in the black community as well as among whites and Hispanics.

 If Zimmerman is found guilty, he must suffer the consequences. But all that brouhaha in the streets and public media does little to support justice and public peace.

 We might all benefit from a bit of advice from St. Paul:

 Let your love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. …

 Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this saying, [namely] “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 12:9-10; 13:8-10).

Do nightmares have meaning?

20 Jul

 As a child I had recurring nightmares — and they terrified me.

 I remember one frightening experience that came back to haunt me time and again.

We lived in Bridge City, Texas. We had a milk cow, Susie, and I was with my older brother as he stacked fence posts in the pasture. I began teasing Susie and eventually she began chasing me. I ran and ran all around the area in which my brother was working and screaming, “Brother! Brother!” Eventually, Brother took a fence post and clobbered Susie right in the face. That stopped her — but not in my dreams.

• As a family we used to go to Joe Bailey’s fish camp on Lake Sabine between Orange City and Port Arthur, Texas. There was this long wooden wharf reaching out into the lake andat on point it was far above the sand. Susie was chasing me down the beach and I jumped up and grabbed the wharf, managing to hang on by my finger tips. Susie was below glaring up at me and shaking her head menacingly. I kept screaming for help as I lost purchase one finger at a time. Then I fell – and landed in my father’s arms.

 • There was this dragon or monster or some horrible creature that chased me down the road in front of my grandparents’ home. The fastest I ran the slower I went with this monstrosity roaring and trying to catch me. Finally, I would awaken, trembling and sobbing.

I’ve never before thought of these nightmares as having any kind of relevance or meaning.

 Now, as I look back to the 1930s from 2012 and with a mature perspective of faith, I see a spiritual message:

 • Susie and the dragon are one and the same – whatever threatens my sense of security and Satan himself.

 • My brother is first of all Jesus who saves me from eternal death; second, my brother is my community of faith, my wife, the men in Bible study, my fellow ministers and all people of faith.

 • And my father? Who else but the Father of us all? The Father who sent Jesus to save us.
Of course back when I was a child those recurring nightmares meant nothing to me but terror – and the ultimate comfort found in my parents’ arms.

 And, since I’m still growing, I can’t help but wonder whether there is still another message that will eventually emerge from the depths of my subconscious and the light of logic.

Could it be that the monster is still after me, that I need my Father and Brother more than ever before?
Is God still speaking to me in those terrible dreams?

 Speak, Lord, your servant is listening (See 1 Sm 3:1-10).

God Can Speak in Dreams

11 Jul

Life is never as dark as you think. 

She died in her room — alone. She had sent Dad, who sat with her daily in the nursing home, off to lunch. She died while he was gone.

Mom died alone.

I was saddened by her death — but mostly because she died alone. I had wanted to be with her as she had been with me at my birth, through my childhood and all my life.

But she was in Louisiana and I was in Florida.

I guess I was a bit angry with God.

She had suffered long and hard — nine surgeries in six years for cancer of the tongue and jaw. Her gentle and beautiful face was gradually disfigured as they tried to save her life by cutting away jawbone and bits of tongue. She had a lot of radiation. She suffered gallantly, faithfully.

About a year before her death, I was with her in the hospital — her 160 pounds depleted to a mere 75, her abdomen pierced for feeding directly into her stomach.

Sadly, she said, “Son, I don’t know what I’ve to God to deserve this.” That was the only complaint I ever heard from her during that terrible illness.

I told her, “Mom, you didn’t do anything to deserve this. I don’t know why you are going through this, but I want you t know something. Your faith and courage have touched the hearts of doctors and nurses — and our own relatives as well. They marvel at your strength and your faith in God.”

She thought a bit and then said, “Then it’s all right.”

Her favorite hymn was “That Old Rugged Cross.”

Here funeral Mass was at our home parish, St. John the Evangelist in Henry, La. She was buried in a tomb long before prepared for her and Dad.

We went home and I still stewed over her dying alone. My brother had told me, “She didn’t die alone,” and I sort of took that with a grain of salt since he hadn’t been to church in years.

After her death and before her funeral I had gone to the nursing home and stood by her bed and prayed for her.

But, back home in Florida about a month later, I had a dream. I was standing at the foot of her nursing home bed and, with their backs to me, stood Jesus on her right and Mary on her left. They reached out to her and she shook her head “no.” Jesus said, “He will be all right.” She smiled and the three disappeared. She had hesitated, I feel sure, because of Dad.

No, she did not die alone!

That dream gave me both comfort and joy.

I’m convinced our Lord gave me that dream — to comfort me and to help others who may hear or read about it.

If you want to be free …

9 Jul

Sometimes dusk is beautiful. But sometimes it seems to capture the mood of the heart – things just don’t make sense: Is my life meaningless? Am I always to be a captive of fear, anxiety or sin?

In my two previous blogs, “Freedom isn’t free” and “The price of freedom,” I discussed the threat against religious freedom in present federal law and political machinations to redefine for us what faith and religion are and are not.

The price of freedom, in a word, is surrender – surrender to God, surrender to his love and grace, and surrender to the awesome, staggering truth that, in Christ, I can actually say, “God is MY Father.”

As with any mystery of faith, our only recourse is God’s Word, his Church and Sacraments. As with any desire to live in faith, you have to be a martyr.

There’s no getting around it – to be free, you have to die.

Not everyone is a “bloody” martyr – someone who sheds his or her blood for God, family and country.

In 1902, 12-year-old Maria Goretti, a simple Italian farm girl, died at the hands of an intended rapist. She was stabbed to death for resisting. In 1950, at her canonization ceremony in Rome, Pope Pius XII said that we must all be martyrs; and though not all are called to a bloody death for the sake of God, we are called to that day-by-day death of self. And we die to self in resisting temptation, in standing for right and in serving those in need.

To live this slow martyrdom faithfully and fruitfully, you must be committed, dedicated and willing to work without ceasing for God’s glory and the good of your neighbor. You need the grace of God – the call of God to holiness and God’s strength. You need the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, the Fire of faith, the Sanctifier of heart and soul.

Without the Holy Spirit there is no Church, no Scripture, no Eucharist. It is the Holy Spirit who fired up the Church in that first Pentecost. You receive this Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation.

So, if that’s so, why are so many Catholics so cooled down when it comes to living the faith as committed disciples of the Lord Jesus?

Receiving the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments is only part of the equation. The other part is accepting the Holy Spirit, the gift of salvation, and whatever special gift the Spirit wants to give you for your own holiness and to help others discover the glory of having God and OUR Father.

The Spirit gives you gifts to make you a Christian, to make you holy – go to Isaiah 11:1-3. And the Spirit gives you gifts to help others, certain “ministerial gifts” that enable you to call others into the marvelous light of faith. Read 1 Cor 12:4-11.

In my recent book, “Catholic and Confident,” Part Three is dedicated in large part to the Spirit’s activity in the lives of so-called ordinary Catholics (how can you be ordinary if God is your Father?). Chapters Eight and Nine treat “The Power of the Spirit” and “The Ministerial Gifts of the Spirit.” I hope these reflections will help many people.

If you want to be free, even in persecution and oppression, call upon the Holy Spirit. It is only in spiritual freedom that we have any hope for protecting our freedom of religion in our own country.