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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).

 

 

 

 

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And the Lord Said…

31 Aug

Heavenly Sun Beams

St. Augustine wrote in his “Confessions:”

“I have tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for more. You have touched me, and I burn for your peace.”

An Allegory

I sat and fumed about the violence and wickedness in the world. I was angry and afraid and I felt hatred for those who created such havoc.

Somehow, at some point, I began to realize that my anger, hatred and fear were part of the problem.

I thought I heard a voice say:

“Do you love as I love? Or is hatred your response to my love for you and for everyone I have created–even for those who do evil and for those whom you have hated?”

Then, I had to admit that utter folly was my self-righteous judgment of others.

“Lord, my God, have mercy on me!”

The comforting whisper came again:

“I love you.” Then:

“I want you to bring my love to others.”

I balked:

“I cannot. I am not wise enough, not learned enough. And besides, I am a sinner.”

Then there was a grave, deep and still silence. I longed to hear God speak to me. So, I began to pray, over and over again:

“Please Lord, help me. Direct me. Save me.”

At last the Lord said:

“It is so easy to help others come to me. Just love them as I love you. Live for them, work for them, die to self for them—and for me.

“As I have so clearly said, the one who keeps his life will lose it; the one who loses his life for my sake will keep it.”

I asked:

“Dear God, How can I share my faith in my own home, with my neighbors?

“They know the real me.

“How can I, a sinner, share your love?”

The Lord of salvation said:

“I love you. I have redeemed you, as well as those who do harm to others.

“You belong right where you are among family, friends and coworkers.

“I am with you. Do not fear and wonder what to say. The Spirit will tell you what to say.”

Once again, in blessed silence, came the Great Truth:

“The Lord God is with me!”

Now, I no longer suffer that lonely silence.

I hear him in the cry of the poor, the groans of the imprisoned, the voices of my wife, children and friends.

I hear him in the Scriptures and the moans of the sick.

I hear him in the gurgling laughter of toddlers.

Now, I know:

“Where I am, he is, and where he is, I am also meant to be.”

Today, I pray with great joy,

“Oh Lord, my God, I do love you!”

The Holy Spirit caresses my heart and soothes my soul.

“Divine Mercy, I trust in you!”

Oh, blessed peace!

The Holy Whisper came again:

“Wonderful, is it not? But you have only tasted the beauty of my love. You will thirst for more. And there is so much more—so much more.”

Just Who Are We?

19 Aug

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I mean, as “Church,” just who are we?

Well, indeed, with my fellow parishioners I proclaim we are St. Mary Magdalen Parish (and, we probably think, with “humble pride,” the best of the best parishes).

And you might say the same about your own parish. After all, the local parish is where we Catholics learn about and celebrate our salvation won for us by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

However, I cannot stop there; nor can I stop with the fact that here in Central Florida we belong to the Diocese of Orlando.

“There has to be more,” silently urges the soul.

St. Paul writes that God the Father “has put all things under Christ’s feet and made him, thus exalted, head of the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the universe in all its parts” (Eph 1:22).[i]

This verse from Ephesians stopped me one morning as I prayed The Liturgy of the Hours. I sensed a deep peace—and, yes, joy—as I reflected on “the Church, which is his body the fullness of him who fills the universe in all its parts.”

That’s who we are—the fullness of Christ. For “in him, and with him and through him”[ii] we become the living Gospel. Each of us is called to be a tabernacle of his Real Presence in the world and in God’s entire creation.

In Christ, all things are “under our feet,” for we are the “body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills the universe in all its parts.”

So great an honor, is it not? To be Christ to the world, to reflect the divine light of God in the darkness of fear, despair, unbelief, hopelessness and indifference.

Honor? Yes. But remember, we are his disciples and that’s the only way we share in his mission and glory.

If we are to share his honor and the glory, we have to do what Jesus the Christ tells us:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’” Jn 16:24-25).[iii]

 And here’s where the rubber meets the road.

 

[i] NAB, copyright 1970, 1973, 1975, international Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., taken from The Liturgy of the Hours, Book IV, p. 1519.

[ii] From the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass.

[iii] NAB, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 1970.

 

 

 

Faith, Family and Joy

21 Jul

pierre and marley                 Our own St. Mary Magdalen Parish, near Orlando, has a good cross-section of family life. There are children, teenagers, young adults, single folks, grandparents and great-grandparents. And we have widows and widowers.

          And we are all one family, brothers and sisters in Christ—one and all children of the Father. Our joy and love for one another is quite evident as we gather together before and after Sunday and weekday Masses. Our priests are true spiritual fathers whose love for all of us is so very evident.

          From the fourth century, St. Ambrose speaks to the heart of the modern family and parish.

Let your mind “stand open to receive him, unlock your soul to him, offer him a welcome in your mind, and then you will see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the joy of grace.[i]

The Riches of Simplicity

          Simplicity may seem illusive today because of the pressures on the family (or the parish): so many things to be done, so many distractions coming from all directions, the pressures of strained or broken relationships, the departure of loved ones.

          Simplicity is to trust God in all things—budgets, debts, illness, death and whatever else may otherwise shake your faith. It is also to thank God for all the good that comes your way.

          Simplicity is born of humility; humility is the result of standing in right relationship with God—you are creature and he is Creator; your every breath is a gift from our God.

The Treasures of Peace

          Peace comes with trust in God, in believing that in all things God is with us—with you and me, with every member of our families and with our parish family.

          This is the “peace that surpasses understanding,” a peace that is born in the heart of Christ and given to us freely if we can but trust and surrender to God.

The Joy of Grace

          In my younger and even more ignorant years, I thought of grace as a gift of God—and it is. However, I saw it as a commodity God would hand me if I would only be a good little boy.

          Since I am a bit less ignorant now, I realize that grace ultimately is better understood in terms of my relationship with God. God loves me, wants me to know him, love him and serve him in this life and to be happy with him in the next.”[ii] His gift of grace is his invitation and, when I surrender to him of my own free will, he draws me into the embrace of his love, wisdom and divinity.

          “Sanctifying grace” is a share in the divine life of God. Nothing less—and there can be nothing more this side of the Pearly Gates.

          “Actual graces” are special gifts from God that enable us to turn the other cheek, help the less fortunate and keep our priorities in order.

          Grace is a great joy—it helps us focus on who God wants us to become.

          Grace is a great joy because it is God’s special gift in which we know that God has touched us and our families; we can bask in his love and friendship always ready to share that great joy with others.

[i] St. Ambrose (fourth century), Bishop of Milan, Liturgy of the Hours,    Book III, page 469

 [ii] Baltimore Catechism, response to the question, “Why did God make me?”

A Sacrifice of …

13 Jul

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You may have experienced a great faith-hurdle: How can I truly praise and thank God when there are tough things in life, or if I fear that the world is headed toward a God-less devastation?

And yet, in the midst of small and great troubles, the Scriptures direct us to make a “sacrifice of praise” and a “sacrifice of thanksgiving.”[i]

What do these “sacrifices” mean in my relationship with God?

A Sacrifice of Praise

You may hear someone say, “Praise the Lord”—an invitation to others to join you in a moment of intimate gratitude and worship. The invitation may also be a strong statement of faith when made in the midst of fear, danger or turmoil.

For me, praise of the Lord means ultimately to surrender to God who, out of love, willed me into existence. Also, God gave me the gift of faith—but I, too often, smugly regard faith as my gift to God. Even obedience to God is a gift. Without God’s grace I could never hope to know him, love him or serve him.

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Praise and thanksgiving are inseparable.

How can I praise God without a sense of gratitude? How can I thank God without praising him?

And how can I give God anything that demands from him something in return?

(For) ”from him and through him and for him all things are.”[ii]

A Third Virtue

Perhaps we need to embrace a third virtue to accompany praise and gratitude. This virtue, humility, enables the faithful believer to enter into a precious intimacy with God.

Humility helps us stand in proper relationship with God and our neighbor. We become able to embrace, as a gift, that unrelenting thirst to be totally one with God and with one another.

Humility brings us to the blessing mentioned by St. Gregory of Nyssa:

Now when you are told that the majesty of God is exalted above the heavens, that his glory is inexpressible, his beauty indescribable, and his nature transcendent, do not despair because you cannot behold the object of your desire. If by a diligent life of virtue you wash away the film of dirt that covers your heart, then the divine beauty will shine forth within you.[iii]

And then, you will rejoice in God’s gift of life, you will be able to remain hopeful in the midst of troubles or disasters.

[i] See Heb 13:15, Lev 7:11-15, Psalms  35:13, 50:23 and 107:22.

[ii] Rom 11:33-36.

[iii] Liturgy of the Hours, Book III, p. 413.

God’s Perspective

3 Jun

 

 

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Careful. Don’t rest easy with where you are in  prayer.

You can go deeper and ever deeper.

No one can enter into the height and breadth of God’s intelligence and wisdom—but he made us in his image and invites us into a full and intimate relationship with him, the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I want to share an insight I received through concentrating on the mysteries of the Rosary.[i]

For example, the Annunciation: For years, I focused on myself and the fact of faith that the Angel Gabriel did indeed visit Mary and that the Holy Spirit did come upon her (See Lk 1:1-38}. I marveled at the faith of that young Virgin. I wondered about what Mary might have thought and felt. I wondered how I could live this mystery in my own life.

My meditation was good and helpful.

Then, I felt motivated to reflect on this mystery from God’s perspective.

For example, how was the Father personally involved in this historic moment? Did he observe it from his throne in heaven?

That can’t be. For he and the Holy Spirit are One God–along with the Son who was taking to himself a human nature—body, blood and soul—in Mary’s womb. So Jesus the Christ was at once that vulnerable human being who could be killed by sinful men, and the omnipotent God through whom the Father created all things (Jn 1:1-5).

And how did the Father “feel” about that saving mission of his only Son?

He knew, of course, that Jesus would be born and die the agonizing death of the Cross. Did the Father experience sadness or joy?

Of course, these are human emotions and are, therefore, a stumbling block to true understanding and wisdom.

Think rather of a God so pure and so full of love that he indeed would send his divine Son to assume a mortal body, live completely as a human being, and die a terrible death—all for the sake of men and women of all time, for the sake of those who denied him, ignored him, and who misused and abused the gift of life.

How to understand a love that is so pure and so complete?

Years ago, I told my spiritual director that I could not identify with the Father. He told me to focus on Jesus and I would eventually know the Father as well.

He was right.

I do have a relationship, in Jesus, with my Father, my Abba.

But, he was also wrong.

How can my finite mind sufficiently grasp that infinite Being who is perfect Unity? It is by faith that we know and believe there is only one God, one divine nature, equally possessed by three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Spirit.            

 

[i] The Rosary is a prayerful meditation on the life of Jesus Christ, his birth of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, his salvific mission through the Cross and Resurrection, and the commissioning of the Apostles to form the Church and spread the saving love of God and the Gospel of Christ throughout the world. 

There are five “decades’ in the “beads”—an Our Father and ten Hail Marys.

There are  twenty “mysteries” we pray as we pray the Rosary: 

  1. The Joyful Mysteries: the Annunciation, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, the Nativity of the Son of God, the Presentation of the Infant in the temple, and the finding Jesus at twelve years of age, speaking with the learned of Israel.
  2. The Mysteries of Light: Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus preaches the Good News and heals and forgives, the Transfiguration, and Jesus gives us himself in the Holy Eucharist.
  3. The Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony in the Garden, the Scourging, our Lord is Crowned with Thorns, Jesus carries his Cross, and Jesus is crucified and dies on the Cross.
  4. The Glorious Mysteries: the Resurrection, the Ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, and lastly, Mary Queen of Creation.

 

‘One Mell of a Hess’

24 Apr

 

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

Many Americans think we are going nowhere in a hurry. Others think we are going backwards. Others think we are doing just fine.

 Americans are suffering insecurity. We no longer feel safe.

Our world is rocked by violence, untruth and inhumanity. Terrorists run loose, unfettered. Their boldness is beyond imagination. They commit unspeakable atrocities.

We are in “one mell of a hess.”

For the sake of our families and of all people, government leaders must make the right decisions to defeat ISIS, tame Iran and put Putin in his place. They must decide better how we are taxed and our money spent. Our military must be strengthened instead of weakened.

The Real Problem

However, domestic and worldwide challenges to freedom and peace cannot be solved only by diplomacy and military strength. We have to go deeper.

In the midst of that terrible malaise of Americans, there is a growing sense of anger, frustration and disillusionment. Some people, perhaps too many, simply give up. They lose hope. They no longer believe they can make a difference. Some even stop looking for work. Some citizens think their only recourse is public demonstrations.

We are descendants of courageous immigrants who came to our land because America was the greatest nation on earth; because the United States of America offered personal freedom, the opportunity to find work, to become citizens. Here their children had a chance to become productive citizens.

Our forefathers saw no limits to the American dream. They knew they had to work for that dream—and they did.

Their faith in God energized them, activated their imagination, and fortified them with hope.

They had true faith in God, not just a mere nod to God.

They trusted God through thick and thin.

And Now?

We are plagued with the most deadly of all malaise—lack of belief, lack of faith.

Too many Americans perhaps believe that there is a God. But they no longer know their God—a God who loves so completely and tenderly, who became man and sacrificed himself for the salvation of all peoples, a God who sanctifies and strengthens his people.

As a nation, we must return to the God who gives us life, the God who inspired and was trusted by our Founding Fathers.

There you have it: Faith in God and commitment to our national heritage are the only answers to what plagues our nation.

Simplistic?

No.

It’s just that simple.