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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?”

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‘Let Them Decide’

10 Jan

 

 

el-matador

Find your way t0 the Light of Truth.

“Let them decide.”

That’s the attitude of many people today in questions of morality and faith.

Two examples come to mind.

First: Religion in the family

From time to time, young parents will say they don’t want to force religion on their children. They will let their children decide what they want to believe—if they choose to believe.

Perhaps these young parents were force fed “religion” rather than led into a life of faith in God—a faith which recognizes God as the source of life and the promise of eternal life.

Perhaps these parents were never taught anything about God.

Whatever the case, I find this attitude both illogical and dangerous.

It’s an illogical attitude. It goes contrary to a parent’s desire to do what’s good and right for the child. A loving and sensible parent would never let a child decide if he wants to play on the highway, or jump from the roof to see if she can fly, or decide whether to learn how to read or study history.

It’s a dangerous attitude. It isolates the individual from what others need and what they have to offer. And, if that attitude becomes widespread, it leads to a society in which chaos and violence become the norm as each person vies for what he or she wants regardless of how it affects others.

Just look at those sections of our society in which men impregnate women and then leave them to earn a living for their children. Not to mention the burden it places on the welfare budget.

This attitude, where it does exist, marks a society going bad. There is no sense of right and wrong. There is no desire to know what is right because each person makes up his or her own mind about what “I want and what is right for me.” This is isolationism at its worst. Its leads to a disintegrated society promising nothing but angst, anxiety, loss of focus, hatred, violence and a continued frantic search for happiness and a reason for living.

Second: The Question of Marriage

As these lines are written, there is a rush of gay couples to become married in the eyes of civil law.

Again, judging from Face Book offerings, proponents of gay marriage believe folks have to make up their own minds about what is right or wrong—again, based on a mindset devoid of moral conviction.

I firmly believe that marriage, according to God’s revelation in Scripture, is intended for the union of one man and one woman. There is, according to revelation, in the Jewish and Hebrew Scriptures, no such thing as a marriage between same-sex couples.

Opinions to the contrary seem to be rooted in convenient humanism and the idea that human freedom is devoid of any responsibility to seek Truth and to live according to that Truth.

In short, proponents of same-sex “marriages,” as with any movement away from traditional moral standards, deny God’s supremacy and authority. As they try to fashion God in their own image, they have created for themselves a false god.

I can hear it now: “Homophobe!”

Get a life!

Truth cannot contradict itself!

 

 

 

Christmas and Old Folks

5 Dec

 

133

 This is a West Virginia scene. No snow in Central Florida!

For us older parishioners, Christmas brings back many memories of the “good old days.” I remember my earliest Christmases—the mystery of Santa Claus and the anticipation of what would suddenly appear under the tree.

I remember loving and generous parents, although they were far from rich and not especially comfortable with expenses vs. income. And I had wonderful grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins galore. Then there was brother, nine years my senior—and the wicked joy he took in teasing me.

Memories of Joy and Sadness

But burned ever more deeply in my memory was the tradition of Midnight Mass for all of us, with Mama singing alto in our parish choir.

Even when I was five or six years old, I knew the real meaning of Christmas—Jesus, our Savior is born.

Christmas joy and love remain among us—but, along with other older Catholics, there is that sadness that “things are no longer the same.” We are not as spry as we used to be. We forget things that happened last night while we recall a Christmas decades ago.

And there is sadness, too, that “things are no longer the same” in our families. There are fewer families boasting relatives who live near us, who can come together for Christmas dinner.

And, many of us old folks experience disappointment that, in our judgment, some of our children, grandchildren and other relatives seem to have lost the significance of the birth of Christ.

Incarnation is for Every Day

The Incarnation of the Son of God, and his birth from the virginal womb of Mary, must remain a daily reality. You see, we are part of the mystery of Incarnation. The Son of God became a man like us in all things except sin. We are in Christ; we are the Body of Christ.

In baptism, we were filled with divine life of God—and Jesus’s mission became our own when he commanded: “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19 ff).

Live What We Believe

We have no idea how our faith will impress or inspire those around us. Blessed Pope Paul VI said that we first of all share our faith by our goodness and holiness. In other words, we live and practice what we believe before we can ever hope to convince others when we speak to them about our faith.

 

Wonferful, Wounded Humanity

18 Sep

 

Reaching Up

 

There is such beauty, comfort and power in life: the beauty of creation—mountains, clouds, the deep and light blue of the heavens.

And then, there is us, all of us spread throughout the world.

We are each a distinct creation, each of us an individual, but there is the mystery and comfort of our kinship, in our being one nature. We go about our own personal business, we each pursue individual agendas—but we all breathe the same air, travel the same highways and byways, shop in the same stores. Each of us has come to life in the same way—each conceived in his or her  mother’s womb, born into the world and all someday to die.

Though individuals, we are a massive movement of humanity from one day to the next, from generation to generation—a seemingly perpetual flow of life.

Each of us, creature and part creator, makes life happen. We affect and are affected by all things in life. We each have preferences—ski slopes or sunny beaches, gourmet foods or hot dogs, lemonade or beer.

But we have the regrettable ability to make a mess of what is supposed to be a perfectly good world.

Wounded Humanity

There remains for people of all nations much pain, fear, grief and suffering: the death of loved ones, polio, cancer, mental illness, broken families, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam “conflicts,” the tensions of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Now there are terrorism and conflicts in Afghanistan, the Ukraine, Iraq, Kuwait and Syria—as well as the nuclear threat posed by Iran. And the tensions remain with us today—including the serious challenges from Russia and China.

Need I list the domestic ailments of our nation—political division, doublespeak in government, the plight of the unemployed? The list could go on.

We must rediscover the power and wonder of belonging to and with one another, the great blessing of individual freedom which is fostered and strengthened through personal responsibility, adherence to a moral code, and the belief that truth cannot contradict itself.

It Comes with a Cost

But such rediscovery, I am afraid, will come at a tremendous cost to many modern Americans.

It’s the cost of getting real, of rejecting the lie that the individual is the center of his or her own universe. That’s the attitude of toddlers and juveniles.

It’s the cost of personal responsibility for oneself and one’s family. People must recognize the value and dignity of work—that their labors offer others what they need to live; our labor helps society become safer, stronger and happier.

It’s the cost of realizing that objective truth is not subject to change.

It’s the cost of realizing and accepting the fact that God is real, eternal, and all powerful. It’s the challenge of believing in him as he reveals himself in Scripture, especially in the words of Jesus Christ.

Next: I Surrendered to God.

 

 

 

Hyphen? No!

24 May

pierre and marley

A new life. A new love. An eternal mystery bundled in joy.

It was in a hospital room where our 27th great-grandchild was about to enter the light of day.

Our granddaughter was surrounded by family of various ethnic origins, religions and life experiences.

We were black, brown and white.

We were also Christians—Baptist and Catholic and perhaps a few other denominations.

It was, I thought, a small United Nations with each of us focused on the miracle of new life.

But, no, that is incorrect. We were not a “united nations.” We were family, even though we had just met some of our granddaughter’s in-laws and friends—a family formed in love and the mystery of life, the beauty of life.

You noted, perhaps, that I did not use the term African-American. No longer will I use hyphenated anyone such as Latin- or French-or German- or Polish-American.  

I don’t believe in “hyphen-anything-or-anyone.”

We are American or we are not.

I’ve known too many Catholics, and I was once one myself, who claimed to be, and perhaps really wanted to be Catholic, but were undecided to follow our Lord in the Church he founded. And, I suppose, Christians of other denominations could say the same about themselves and others.

Likewise, I’ve known Americans who were totally dedicated to the principles upon which our nation was founded, among them those Americans who suffered and died for our nation. And then, there are those others who seem to be totally oblivious to the demand freedom places on each one of us.

When I look at our new great-granddaughter, at her very white mother and her dark-skinned father, all I see is family, love and the gift of life always coming anew. I see also the hope for a world without hyphens, a world in which each person is accepted as “one of us.”

What a grand day that will be.

That’s the “day” for which Christ died and rose again, and the “day” to which he calls us all.

Politics, Education and …

9 Apr

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

 

Do you sometimes feel we’re going nowhere fast? You are not alone.

 

Many years ago in Cajun land, a candidate for Police Juror (County Commissioner) knocked on our door soliciting our vote.

Let’s call him Bob.

“Bob,” I asked, “what’s your platform?”

He said, “My platform is to win.”

Honest enough answer, but I persisted, “Well, if you are elected, what will you do for the parish (county)?”

He said with great excitement, “I’m going to black top this road in front of your house.”

I nearly laughed, because, you see, work was already in progress to black top that road.

As I look at national elections, sadly I see the same sort of foolishness, but on a much grander scale. People seem to vote for candidates that will feather their nests in one way or another. There seems to be a pitiful lack of concern for who we are as Americans, our history, the strength of the U.S. Constitution and the need to have a strong nation for our sake and the sake of all peoples around the world.

Ignorance is not bliss. It never was and never will be. It is inexcusable that any high school graduate cannot tell you who was the first president of these United States or have any information or interest in the Civil War which tore our nation apart, or in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

But the real problem is in the American family. Faith is the foundation for a strong family and then for a strong nation. We need to rediscover faith in God. Too many people think the universe revolves around them. Henri Nouwen, a popular 20th century writer, hit the nail on the head: People can say with conviction, “I exist.” He said that the moment you discover the truth that “God exists,” you can no longer see yourself as the center of all life. You discover your essence and grandeur in relating to this God who calls you into existence.

I am convinced that this is the fundamental reality that can save family life, education, government and politics.

That, dear reader, is the basis for any hope we may have for ourselves, our nation and our world.

 

A Few Comments

22 Mar

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A Christmas gift from a co-worker whose memory gives me joy. She was making a good-humored statement. She didn’t like the fact that I hunted deer and “killed Bambi.” (But she ate meat with great pleasure.)

Just a few comments on related or unrelated subjects:

The five-day retreat in Parrish, Fla. (March 15-19), was a delightful experience. The folks at St. Frances Cabrini Parish are among the most hospitable I’ve ever met.  Father Jan Jancarz, pastor, is assisted by Father David, retired, and a number of solid lay people who work tirelessly for the parish. It was a Lenten Retreat and we discovered that penance and repentance are not as cumbersome as some folks seem to think. In fact, they follow rather logically after you accept redemption and experience conversion.

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 While I was away on this retreat, Peg had a gift of a trip back to New York State to visit two of our 30 great-grandchildren. It was good that she could be away while I was away. In fact, she left three days before I did and returned four days after I did.  We talked at least twice a day. In one conversation, she quipped, “We talk more when we’re apart than we do when we are at home together.” And that’s a fact. Somehow, we find little need to talk about when we are just sitting around or even eating a meal. In part, we know the same things and people, experience together many things. Just being together is gift enough, it seems. Besides, truth to tell, the less I talk the less foot I find in my mouth.

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At Friday Mass, in St. Mary Magdalen Parish, I was back in the warmth of my parish family. No matter how wonderful my experience in other parishes, coming home is always a joy. As we prayed the Our Father, something popped into my mind as we asked God to forgive us as we forgive others. The thought was this: We pray, as a parish family, not only for our own personal need to forgive and be forgiven. We pray it together, as Church, to forgive those who fight against the existence of God, who laugh at the Gospel and the Church. We pray forgiveness for those who threaten our freedom of religion and who work against the freedom and dignity of all people and the right to all human life. And it also occurred to me that husbands and wives should pray together and forgive as “one flesh” any person or institution that threatens their family security.

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St. Francis, please pray with us.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen!