Archive | August, 2014

To Spend Life Itself

31 Aug

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God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him;

male and female he created them (Gn 1:27).

 After eternal life, life itself is a great and magnificent gift. God manifests his benevolence and nourishes us with the fruit of the earth. He claims us and he builds up our spirit—our very soul and life itself—with his Word and the great Sacraments of the Church.

But, it is so unfortunate that people have lost the sense of life itself. Just consider certain TV commercials and print ads that tout shallow appeals to lure you away from the real gift of life:

“My face lift has given me a new life.”

“That (exercise machine) gave me my life back. WOW! I look and feel sexy again.”

“This (beauty lotion) makes me look younger and alive again.”

Surely there is nothing inherently evil about face lifts, exercise and looking younger. However, if you define life itself by how you feel or look, you have missed the point.

Life is a precious gift from God. He willed us into existence. He wants us to live life fully—and he wants us to spend our lives as the precious gift it is.

I say “spend our lives” purposefully. You will remember the parable of the talents (Mt 25:13-40). The master of the house gave three servants various amounts of money, each according to his abilities.  The first and second servants doubled the money to be returned to the master. However, the third, in fear of the master, buried his share of the money and earned no more for his master. The master condemned him as fruitless, unworthy and cast him out of his service.

Too often, we think of the many things God has given us—food, shelter, family and income. We may even thank God for the gift of Jesus, his Church and the Sacraments.

But, what about life itself—how do you, how do I, spend the life God has given us?

  • Do I ignore life itself and concentrate on the peripheral things in life?
  • Or, do I see life as a wonderful gift that I am to spend by helping others to live more fully, to help them overcome self-abasement, the oppression of others or the pains of loneliness, hunger and alienation?
  • Do I “spend” my life in the worship of God, in making this world a safer place, in keeping God close every moment of our lives?

After all, this life we live now is only a brief preamble

which determines how we are to live forever. 

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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!