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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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‘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.

The Power of Lent

20 Mar

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Have we truly recognized Jesus? Have we asked Jesus to rescue us from the darkness of doubt, shallow faith and indifference to his love and law?

 

Lent reveals the marvelous wisdom of God and the pastoral love the Church has for all of us.

Just think a bit about what the Lord has given us in the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent:

  • The Samaritan woman had gone from man to man. She was regarded by her contemporaries as an outcast. She came to the well to draw water—but she was thirsting for more than water. She wanted happiness, peace of mind and soul. She found it in the mercy of God—but only as she gradually recognized who Jesus was.
  • The man who was blind from birth had no hope beyond the kindness of passersby. He had no idea that God loved him so much. He felt unimportant. He merely existed. Jesus gave him physical sight—and more. The man was given fresh hope. Did he follow Jesus for the rest of his life?
  • Finally, we rejoiced in the resurrection of Lazarus. Here was a miracle of miracles: Jesus raised his friend from the dead—after he had been in the tomb four days.

In what ways do we still walk in, or maybe even cling to, spiritual darkness. Are we ready to leave the death that is sin and move toward the Voice that bids us to come forth?

Let’s reflect together, honestly see where our love and trust lie, and then put our entire hope and trust in Jesus, who died on the cross that we might live in the light of love and the power of grace.

  • Are we hooked on the “latest gadgets” or the newest clothing styles or the latest model of that special car? Are we suckers for every “savings offer” that comes along? Are we not happy unless we shop until we drop?
  • Do we place our faith and trust in gaining wealth—or even what we call a “comfortable life?” Do we “need” to surround ourselves with things that help us feel important with the hope of impressing others?
  • And think for a moment about your quest for sensual satisfaction. Do you live to eat? Are sexual pleasures ruling your life? Are you involved with sinful actions and relationships—and what about pornography?

Enough. I think we all get the picture. But this is only the first step. If we think only of how we have failed God and others, we are sure to become depressed.

God’s mercy is endless, but not unconditional.

The one condition is to search our minds and hearts, to review all our relationships, to recognize and confess our sins. This, then, is how we open ourselves to dive ever more deeply into the embrace of God.

God’s mercy and his grace move us from the death of sin into new life, from the shadows of conditional faith into the fullness of life in Christ.

The Mystery of Love

22 Dec

Baby

Take a moment.

Think.

Forget carols, presents, trees and last-minute rushes.

Think about the great mystery of love—not what passes for love in modern entertainment and “romances.”

Love, that real, unsullied, selfless and everlasting love—the love that prompted God to become one of us, like us in everything but sin.

The angel asked, “Will you?”

Mary said, “Yes.”

And God became one of us, fully human and yet still divine—truly a human with body, blood, bones and a soul.

God has become so human that, like us, he is totally vulnerable, able to suffer pain and hunger, cold and chill. That Baby, soon to become a man, had to have his diapers changed. He had to learn to walk, to talk, to pray.

Jesus is his name—Son of God, Son of Mary, Son of Man, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Messiah and Savior.

But, also, he is Friend and Brother.

Jesus had to grow, to work, to play with his young friends.

He grew in age and wisdom, as do we all. He, Son of God, had to learn the depths of his Father’s love, the path he was to walk, the mission he was to fulfill, the death he was to suffer and the resurrection that would defeat sin and death.

That’s the mystery of love—of God’s love.

Christmas isn’t about trees and lights. It is about the Light of the World.

It’s about how the wood of the crèche foreshadows the wood of the Cross.

God so loved the world…

That’s the mystery.

That’s love.

Have a Holy Christmas—one filled with the joy born of being loved and the hope born of resurrection.

 

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. 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

What About the Will?

8 Jun

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Trying the discover what makes you tick?

 I am aware of three things that enable me to live as a rational being:  intellect, memory and will…

These three powers of mind and soul enable me to seek and understand truth, to recall the past and imagine the future and to decide what to do with what I know and understand–and to do so while foreseeing (imagining) possible ramifications for my decisions.

Your intellect and imagination are constantly bombarded with information, sales pitches, and invitations to this or that powerful lifestyle and to this or that gimmick which will really make you happy and popular.

Consider the stimuli we encounter every day–movies, Facebook,  iPads and smart phones. We can even imagine being up at bat in the major leagues or making the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl.

For those blessed with deep faith, the intellect thirsts for God’s Word and will. The faithful one can even imagine, with God’s grace, being in the heart of God and reliving the ancient Scriptures in the present moment.

But, what about the will–that gift and power which enables us to make decisions and act upon them?

Your decisions in life depend on what you invite into your mind and your openness to possible ramifications for this or that decision. Right decisions–those that will give you peace of mind and happiness–depend on your willingness to seek all truth and the strength to decide for truth.

Your properly informed will enables you to decide for truth and it enables you to love purely and without compromise.

For, you see, love is a decision–the decision to do what’s right for the beloved.

We often pray, “Thy will be done.” What comes to mind? What is God’s will? How do we seek his will? How understand his will?

Unless we understand God’s will, we can never understand our own mind or imagine what true freedom and love are like and we can never make mature and good decisions.

When you say, “God, your will be done,” are you only asking that you accept and obey his commandments? Yes, that’s part of it. But there is more.

Go back to the Garden of Eden, before the sin of our first parents. Go back and see the splendor, peace, beauty and comfort of a world without sin, suffering, violence and family miseries.

Go back to the time when God walked with man and woman in the cool of the evening, to the time when Adam and Eve were comfortable in God’s presence.

That is God’s will manifested in the way he wanted us and the entire world to be–at peace with him and everyone else, loving him and everyone else, walking with him in the cool of the evening.

Jesus came to bring us back to the Father, to remind us of who we are supposed to be and how to become once more the kind of people the Father longs for us to be.

Yes, Lord, your will be done!