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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.”

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Hope

20 May

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Even in the most troubled times, the believer has hope.

A devout and funny lady in our parish said that in such stressful times, faith is evident in the hope people have in God. They trust God that everything will eventually be all right.

And, indeed, there are many stressful things happening today, for example, just four observations:

  • Government leaders seem incapable of coming together for the sake of the common good, inappreciative of what the other person is offering;
  • The entertainment industry has gone wild – “Pregnant and Dating” and “Dancing with the Stars” or maybe better named “Modern Mating Rites”  – are a slap in the face of marriage, family and the dignity of motherhood;
  • Germany (and maybe the U.S.) are trying to deny the rights and duties of parents to educate their children according to Christian values;
  • Rampant sexism – no, not against women alone, but against men as well – note the sitcoms and commercials: Men are dumb oxen who need their noses wiped and can’t function without the “genius” of a woman;
  • The brash treatment of sex and contraception in radio and TV commercials and magazine advertisements; sexual pleasure seems to be considered the epitome of being alive; it is to be enjoyed by all – married or single, kids and adults, homosexual or heterosexual.

This wild abandon of common sense and dignity are, in my opinion, clear signs of hopelessness.

Hope “is a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).

That speaks of faith, of a degree of certainty. It speaks of trust in something or Someone totally reliable.

The Hebrews of the Old Testament trusted God’s word that he would always be with them. Even when they sinned, they still trusted God because God is true to his promises. They expected God to rescue them from their folly – and he did. God can be trusted for God never lies (Nm 23:19).

For the Christian, St. Paul’s embrace of hope is exemplary. He also insists that God does not lie (Ti 1:2). God’s word is trustworthy and guarantees the future: If God says we can receive eternal life in Christ, then we can, in faith, believe it. “Faith,” says the Apostle, “is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1 – and read on).

So what’s the antidote to widespread hopelessness, to lack of faith, to this setting aside of God and the entire reality of right and wrong and the reality of objective truth?

On May 11, the online version of the National Catholic Register featured an excellent article, “Protestant South Becoming a New Catholic Stronghold.” Here are a few points made in the article:

  • Catholics in the South are growing in number.
  • Living among Protestants and Evangelicals, Catholics find a social atmosphere in which discussions about faith are commonplace and valued. Also, because of living closely with other Christians, Catholics are motivated to learn more about their faith – to share it and, if needed, to defend it.
  • Small dioceses in the South are producing, per capita, more vocations to the priesthood than larger dioceses in the North. This is attributed to the fervor of Catholics and their desire to share their faith, as well as the healthy impact of smaller secular communities.

Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, was featured in this article and also on Gus Lloyd’s program, “Seize the Day,” Sirius Radio 129. Deacon Smith spoke of the need for Catholics to rediscover the truths of our faith and to develop the ability to articulate what we believe and why we believe it. He pointed to the scriptural roots of our faith.

Hope does not disappoint the believer, insists St. Paul, “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us “(See Rom 5:1-5).

To bring hope back into the world, to increase our appreciation of human dignity and of God, the source of life and happiness, we need to bring faith back into the world.

Catholics, indeed all Christians, must rediscover the joy of faith, the solid truth in revelation and the courage to share that faith, in love, with zeal, confidence and competence.

 

Eucharist: Miracle of Presence

28 Mar

Photo by Ray Hosler

Nighttime is like our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. There is light, beautiful light, but more is promised with the dawn of greater understanding.

“Eucharist” can mean different things to different people; it is more than any human can fathom; it is mystery – but, in faith, a mystery that excites one’s imagination and offers an intimate experience of God.

The ‘Way’ We Enter into Eucharist

Eternity is timeless – no beginning and no end. It is a perpetual NOW. Everything Jesus did on earth is eternally present to the Father. So in the Mass, you enter into the one reality of salvation – all of salvation history. You especially enter into the reality of the Last Supper, the passion and death of Jesus, his resurrection and appearance to his disciples.

You are there – in the Upper Room, on Calvary, at the empty tomb, on the way to Emmaus. In real-time, you experience what is eternal. That’s the power of the liturgy.

For just a moment, reflect on some of the parts of the Mass to see how we enter into Eucharist.

The Liturgy of the Word

After the entrance hymn and procession, the expression of sorrow for sin and the opening prayer, you enter into the Liturgy of the Word, the great “listening” part of the Mass.

  • First, there are the Old Testament readings. God speaks to us today through ancient history – we witness the creative, saving and majestic power of God, and the frequent faithlessness of his chosen people; we hear the voices of the prophets and  join in the praise of the psalms.  This is more than a mere remembering of the Old Testament: We live it because it is the living, powerful word of God. He speaks to us now as he did back then to the Hebrews.

  • Then, in real-time, we enter into the eternal presence of Jesus and the timelessness of his own words. The Holy Spirit brings to life those sacred words from Paul and the other writers; Jesus speaks to us today in the gospels; we see him manifest his power in miracles and his mercy in forgiving sinners.

The Offertory

In the Offertory, we are offering more than money. We bring to the altar our entire lives. In gratitude, we offer the Father all the blessings we receive – food, clothing, shelter, family, friends, faith and hope. We also bring to the altar our pain, weakness, temptation and our sinfulness. We bring all this to Jesus who has died for us, to Jesus whose death and resurrection we will witness in real-time in just a few minutes.  

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

It can seem like mere replaying of a scene from Passion Sunday – “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” That was the cry of the people who spread their cloaks and palm leaves before the Lord who came into Jerusalem on the first day of Holy Week, the week in which he was to be betrayed, suffer, die and rise again.

But those words ring out in history, find root in our own hearts as we this day cry out: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

He is coming, really coming – right here in our midst, here on our altar. We are going to receive him, the Bread of Life, our Savior, our Lord and our Brother. He comes to us, not riding on an ass, but as food for mind, body, spirit and soul. This is really Jesus –Son of God, Son of Man, Son of Mary.

He comes to us and we are made one in him. We draw ever closer to the Father, in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharistic Prayer

It is through the power of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, that we have the Eucharist.

Just think about the words of the Eucharistic Prayer: 

“Make holy, therefore, we pray, by sending down your Holy Spirit like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Think, too, of the words of consecration: “This is my Body given up for you,” and “This is my Blood poured out for you…” I added the emphasis because Jesus is acting freely. He is giving and pouring out – for love of us. He is dying in obedience to the Father – for your sake and mine.

In the face of such a gift of salvation, we may want to pray: “How, dear Lord, can I respond to such selfless and pure love? Help me, Lord to live and die for you.”

Then, with the priest, we address the Father: “Through him, with him and in him all honor and glory are yours Almighty Father …” And we respond with a great “Amen!”

  • There is a great truth here. We know that we go to the Father only through Jesus. And we want to go with him. But it’s important to realize what it means to go IN him.
  • IN HIM, we are the Body of Christ. In him, we call God Father. In him, by the grace of baptism, you can look at God intimately and say, “Father, I am your son” or “Father, I am your daughter.

The Lord’s Prayer

When we pray together the Lord’s Prayer, we are doing more than merely saying words Jesus taught us to say. It is no stretch, because we are the Body of Christ, to see ourselves with our Lord and those early disciples who have just asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

  • We pray together, with Jesus, to the Father. We join with Jesus and we pray “through him and with him and in him.”

  • In your personal and private prayer, have you ever asked the Lord Jesus to pray with you this prayer to our Father? Try it. You may well experience a new depth in prayer. Think for a moment on one particular phrase in the Our Father: Forgive us … as we forgive others. What comes to mind? Jesus on the Cross? Jesus in his agony praying for his executioners and tormentors – and for you and me? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The Greeting of Peace

This is a very important action of worship. It acknowledges that we are one in Christ, that we love one another that we want to be close to one another in the Lord. The peace greeting also underscores the need to forgive one another. How can you honestly offer peace with anger and resentment in your heart? As you wish peace to those immediately around you, you offer it to everyone in your parish church and to all believers worldwide – for, you see, we are one body in the One Lord.

The Plea for Mercy

Anyone who believes in God must admit he or she is indeed a sinner and in need of God’s mercy. We also pray for peace of mind, heart and soul, for peace in our Church and in our world.

“Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us … grant us peace.”

Behold the Lamb of God!

Here is the proclamation of prophesy fulfilled!

“Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.”

Here is the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice once and for all.

The Hidden Mystery

There! There it is! The hidden mystery – the truth and completion of Communion: When you receive communion, you receive the total Christ – his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Since his divine nature is the one and same nature he shares with the Father and Holy Spirit, you receive, “through him and with him and in him,” the Father and the Spirit.

You enter ever more deeply into the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity. You affirm your communion with all the saints. The saints are one with God. You and I are one in God. We are all together in God, basking in his merciful and everlasting love.

The Sending

But being in God’s love is not the end of the Mass. The command is there: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Go and make disciples, the Lord tells us, share my love with all people of every nation, show them the joy of living in faith, expand my kingdom on earth.

And enthusiastically we say, “Amen!”

“So be it! We believe! We live for the Lamb of God!”

In quest of peace

26 May

Peace is beautiful – when it is at last achieved. But it is a work in progress.

I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3

 I had to read it again: “the bond of peace.”

That’s what got me the bond of peace.

Peace doesn’t just happen. As Pope Paul VI indicated to the United Nations all those years ago, peace is not merely the absence of war.

Read again what St. Paul has to say. See the blueprint for peace which fosters unity – all those virtues. Virtue doesn’t just happen. For example, you can’t just pray to be humble and patient. You have to work at it – tackling the demons that plague you, the demons you have unwittingly nourished over the years.

That’s the only way we’ll have peace in our homes, in our nation – if peace is peace is active, not passive.

To become virtuous requires work, not lazy surrender. Yes, you have to surrender to God – to the Most Holy Spirit who fills you with discernment, wisdom and strength. But you have to die to self for the sake of rising from the chains of pride, greed, envy, anger and lust.

The quest for peace is the quest for holiness.

Peace has to be achieved. It is a bond, a covenant. You agree that peace will be the bond of your family. As more individuals, families and other social groups live in peace, the nation will eventually reflect that bond, that covenant.

Choose peace. Work at it. Work for it. Make it the bond of your marriage, your family, your workplace.

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come with your grace, your gifts of wisdom, strength, discernment and peace.

It’s True! It’s True!

27 Mar

In 1934, at the ripe old age of 10 days, I was baptized. From age six to twelve, I attended catechism lessons and at my mother’s knee I learned all the answers to very important questions: Who made you? Why did God make you? And on and on. I often say that I had the right answers long before I understood the questions or their importance. Those answers served me well in later life.

At age 12, I was confirmed and in that sacrament I was to receive the Holy Spirit in full measure and be enriched by the transforming gifts of the Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-3). I believe that I did indeed receive the Spirit in full measure at that time, but the gifts lay somewhat dormant until many years later.

Married a month before my 18th birthday (it was not a shotgun wedding), Peg and I reared seven children. We attended Mass regularly. I worked full time in the Catholic press from 1969 to my retirement in 1999.

But, you guessed it, there was something missing. I had not yet made a total commitment to the Lord. I had not surrendered my life to him. I believed everything I knew about him in Scripture and in the marvelous tradition and doctrines of our Catholic Church. But it seems, with hindsight, I believed in Truth as something “way out there,” beyond my reach. I didn’t realize that God wanted me to know him in a deeply intimate way.

On Sunday morning, October 31, 1976, when I was 42, God knocked down all the walls.  A dear friend, Franciscan Sister Briege McKenna, prayed with me asking God to open me to the fullness of his love. As she prayed, she mentioned three concerns in my life that I had not told her about. In those words, God told me, “Look, Henry, I do know you and I do love you!” I was weeping and sobbing uncontrollably. What I had never really believed was true! God did love me!

Me! God loves me! It’s true! It’s true!

And it is true for you!

Through the cross the faithful receive strength from weakness, glory from dishonor, life from death.

                                                                                                                                                             (Pope St. Leo the Great, d. 461)

Next: How Scripture enriches my life.

 

Aside

To Do God’s Will

14 Mar

To Do God’s Will  

This is the third and final in a series of three  on achieving God’s will. Your comments will be appreciated.

Steps in Achieving God’s Will.

It seems clear that we need to be proactive disciples – disciples who want to do what Jesus did, to spread the news of the Father’s love, to make the Lord’s mission our own.

Here are a few thoughts you may want to consider. 

  • You are important to God. He brings you into the intimacy of his family, the Church. It is in and through the Church that you are called to the life of grace, to the Sacraments, to the Table of the Lord and to the Word of the Lord. It is in the Church that you are empowered and sent to live and share the love of God.
  • Make prayer and your Bible the foundation of each day.  Schedule a special non-negotiable daily appointment with God. It is a time to listen, to be open to what God wants you to be and do. Read your Bible. Join a responsible Bible study group.  The publications, “Magnificat,” “God’s Word Today” and “Shorter Christian Prayer,” are great aids in learning to live the Scriptures.
  • Be faithful to Sunday Mass. You gain strength and grace through the Eucharist. Reflect on the Mass – see how you are called into intimacy with Christ as he suffers, dies and rises again. Attend daily Mass as often as you can.
  • Plan to share your faith. Pray for the opportunity to tell others about your faith in God. You pray for family and friends, to be sure. But, you also pray for other people who need to know God’s love. God will help you recognize opportunities to call people to faith in Christ.
  • Get a copy of Pope Paul VI’s “On Evangelization of Peoples.” Read it and reread it. Mark it up. It’s full of inspiration and practical direction. It’s comparatively short and wonderfully to the point.

Committed Catholics choose to live as God wants them to live, to be disciples of Jesus who want to do what he did –  to bring the Father’s love to each and every person we meet. Tell them what the Lord has meant to you, how his passion and death have enriched your life. Tell them how the Holy Spirit has filled you with light, joy, wisdom and grace.  

Consider how Pope Benedict, in his apostolic letter, “Door of Faith,” announces the Year of Faith (October, 2012 to November, 2013). He challenges us all. He wrote:

“We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. … To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, are tasks that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year (No. 9).

“(F)aith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. This ‘standing with him’ points towards an understanding of the reasons for believing. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes. The Church on the day of Pentecost demonstrates with utter clarity this public dimension of believing and proclaiming one’s faith fearlessly to every person. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us fit for mission and strengthens our witness, making it frank and courageous” (No. 10).  (Author’s Note: See Acts, Chapter 2) .

 That seems perfectly clear, as indicated by Pope Paul VI in “On the Evangelization of Peoples” — if you are evangelized  you yourself evangelize (No. 24).

She didn’t want it!

10 Mar

I’m from Southwest Louisiana, real Cajun country. Our farm was in the southern part of Vermilion Parish (County), in a place called Prairie Gregg (Coffee Pot Prairie). If you went much farther South, you’d end up in marshes which bordered Vermilion Bay. 

Part of Prairie Gregg were the communities of Henry (after a family by that name) and Boston (a rather grandiose name for a crossroads, three houses and a country store). 

Just west of the store, heading toward Bayou Tigue was a house built by a loving husband for his wife. It was a grand house for that time and place, with French doors, beveled glass and spacious rooms. 

The problem was, the wife didn’t want the house and she never moved into it. Nor did he. The structure was completed – except for painting. It stood there for decades as a testament to a mistaken notion and chronic stubbornness. 

Finally, it rotted away. I suppose someone ultimately tore it down or burned it down. It is no longer there – hasn’t been for about 20 years. 

The moral of the story is this: If you want to do something for someone, be sure they want it done – which brings me to the point of this story. 

An old Pentecostal preacher once said, “There is a big difference in working for God and doing God’s work.” 

I have a dear friend whose entire life is dedicated to pleasing God. His decisions are based on this one question: “Will this please God or not?” 

What is the fundamental response to God’s call to do his work, to please him? 

What did Jesus say? “If you love me, you will obey what I command you” (Jn 14:15). And this is what he commands: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (See Mt 23:34-40). 

If you want to do God’s work, consider your strengths, skills and visions. Check them against what Jesus has held up for us as the pattern for a full and happy life – the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12). See your present commitments in the light of your gifts and the will of God.  Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten you. You will help change the world if you love God and do what he wants you to do. 

We have to be sure the “house” we are building for the Lord is the one he really wants.