Monday, December 27, 2010

Toys"R"Us - Now I'm Ticked

Dear Toys"R"Us:

You really came through for me in the clutch - having that pink Leapster Explorer that Lily wanted in stock, and on sale.  But now you go and schedule a "Three Kings Day" Sale for January 6th?  Come on, weren't you able to make enough money off of our celebration of Jesus' birth?  Now you have to go and try to co-opt Epiphany here in the States?  I can't even look at you right now.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sending the Rich Away Empty

The thought came to me while praying the Magnificat:  God "pulls the mighty off their thrones so that they can become the humble who He later exults.  He "sends the rich away empty" so that they will return to Him hungry and be filled.  God's justice and mercy - all Love.  As I am being pruned I will try to remember this.

A Woman with Only Four "Words"

Earlier this week I was struck by our Blessed Mother's four "words" in Scripture: 
  • "Be it done unto me according to Thy word"
  • "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. . ."
  • At Jesus' finding in the Temple, "Why have You done this to your father and me?"
  • "Do whatever He tells you."
I want to explore those words more; it seems to me that the Blessed Mother managed to encapsulate the whole spectrum of our interior lives in those four words - Fiat, Magnificat, Why?, and Do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fr. Todd on All Souls Day

I have been thinking about my friend, Fr. Todd Reitmeyer today.  I pray for the repose of his soul (even though he's probably been basking in the light of heaven for some time now!)  If you did not have the pleasure of knowing Fr. Todd in life, here is a wonderful website devoted to him.  Our friendship, several years before he even entered the seminary, helped me to become the Catholic I am today.  God love you Todd. . .and I do too.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Through the Grapevine

If you shrink from enlightenment, then by all means do not pray the Rosary on the Feast of All Saints.  Never have I recognized the Communion of Saints so prominently in the Joyous Mysteries.  Allow me to share:

The Annunciation - Each of us heard the Gospel from the mouth of another, and that includes Mary.  That is just striking.  Mary did not receive that holy announcement "straight" from the Lord; it was delivered through another creature.  Granted, Gabriel is a step up from you and I, but a creature nonetheless.

The Visitation - Traditionally we understand this mystery as being the visit of Mary to Elizabeth.  I would suggest however that it is the visit of Jesus to Elizabeth and John, carried there by His Mother.  Mary, the living Ark of the Covenant, carries the Presence of God.  Jesus imparted an almost sacramental quality to her words:  "And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Lk.1:41).

The Nativity - The announcement of His birth was entrusted to angels.  When the shepherds find Him, He is in the arms of Mary and Joseph.  But there is an even deeper beauty in this mystery - that of God taking on human lips to speak to us, making our own flesh and blood forever His own.  

The Presentation - The aged widow, Anna, announcing His identity to anyone who would listen.

The Finding - after three days of searching, Mary and Joseph discovered Him in the Temple, "sitting among the teachers" (Lk.2:46).  You and I discover Him in the New Temple, His Mystical Body made up of saints and angels, seated amidst (and within) her teachers on earth.

All of this brings Jesus' words at the Last Supper to mind:  "I am the vine, you are the branches. . .By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit" (Jn.15:5,8).  This reality allows us to understand the amazing statement He made earlier in the meal: "he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father" (Jn.14:12).  History, the very Feast of All Saints, reveals the truth of His word.  Next time you hear Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine, think of how God's Life came, and continues to come, into yours - it's through a chain of saints.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dr. Kevin Vost

I just have to make a post about my friend Kevin Vost.  He is one of the most selfless, generous people I know - and no one is a bigger encouragement to me as a writer.  I actually met Kevin through this very blog.  I had just read his book Fit For Eternal Life and wrote a blog saying how much it had opened my eyes to the need for the virtue of temperance and encouraged me to begin high-intensity weight training and climb back on the cardio bandwagon.  (I ended up taking off about 40 pounds over a seven month period, as well as doubling my bench press in a year's time. . .although in the two years that followed I started making excuses to be gluttonous and lazy, and put the weight back!  Pathetic, I know.  I've since dusted myself off and am making another go of it.)  Anyway - Kevin came across my blog post shortly after it was posted and wrote to tell me how happy he was that the book had been of use.  I couldn't believe that I was actually corresponding with an author I had just read.  I don't think I told him at the time, but I was also in the midst of his Memorize the Faith! as well.

A few months later I made the decision to make a go of publishing The God Who is Love through some friends with a small Catholic CD and book company here in St. Louis, Out of the Box Records.  I contacted Kevin to describe the book and ask if he would mind taking a look at it, and if he felt it was warranted, offer an endorsement.  Within two hours of my sending the email he had written back to say that he would be honored.  Within ten days the manuscript was read and a ringing endorsement was in my in-box, along with the offer to help me make interview contacts in Catholic radio!  Now again, this was all from a gentleman who only knew me through correspondence.  His generosity inspired me to contact other Catholic authors and ask if they too would be willing to take a look.  (I discovered that Catholic authors are a good bunch too!)  When The God Who is Love was released in March, 2009, Kevin was the first to bring it to people's attention by publishing a review on Catholic Exchange.  Because of him I found myself speaking with EWTN Radio and Al Kresta a few short months later - and also because of him, many others since.

I was honored in the months that followed as he shared advance peaks at portions of  Unearthing Your Ten Talents and From Atheism to Catholicism.  It was obvious to me that both books were destined to be of great help to myself and the Church at large.  And let me say, you folks are in for a treat when his biography of St. Albert the Great is released in the spring!  

Over the past year we've actually been able to enjoy face-to-face time as well.  I'm quite fortunate that St. Louis brings in such great speakers and that Kevin makes the trek down from Springfield, IL, to hear them.  He and his wife Kathy and their two boys also opened their home to me and the kids this summer.  (They introduced us to something called a "horseshoe sandwich" along the way - that's some good eatin'.)

When the thought came to me for a book about Jesus' earthly prayer, Kevin was the first person with whom I shared it (no lie - within the hour).  Again, he was total encouragement and generosity - he was happy to help in any way possible.  Although he doesn't talk about, Kevin and I now share a few acquaintances; and I know he is like this with all of them.  Kevin doesn't just write about the virtue of being magnanimous; he practices it daily - exactly like weight training and cardio.  Oh yeah, and even though he is at the pinnacle of "being in shape," he has never once made me feel like a schlep when I take a flying leap off the bandwagon.  I know I haven't done anything to deserve a friend like this - as with all of God's great gifts, it's pure grace.  If you have yet to meet Kevin through his writing, I highly recommend you do so.  God bless.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Interview with author Bert Ghezzi

In my last post I offered a review of Bert Ghezzi's Adventures in Daily Prayer: Experiencing the Power of God's Love.  Here is a chance to hear from the author himself though.

Kapler:  I’ve met so many people who say that they aren’t very good at praying.  Why do you think that is?

Ghezzi: I think many people don’t understand that God is present to them whether they feel His presence or not.  First, they think that because they aren’t experiencing consolations, something emotional, they aren’t praying right; when the fact is, God is really pleased when we pay attention and may not sense His presence at all.  In the book I quote Julian of Norwich a couple of times.  She explains that God is most pleased with our prayer when we pray faithfully at times when we do not experience His presence.

The other thing is, I think many people have never learned to pray.  They have never learned to take time to pray and to talk to God in a conversational way.  Many people just pray casually now and then, but they don’t grow in prayer.  They pray formal prayers but never open their hearts and talk to God, to let Jesus know that they want to be disciples.  Fr. Larry Richards tells his parish, “I hope you’re all praying.  I want you to pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary, but I really want you to be saying, ‘Here I am God.  I open my heart and mind to you.  What are you saying to me today?  What should I do with my life?’  And then listen to Him.”  That’s the kind of praying that has to happen and many people just aren’t doing that.  I wrote the book the way I did to encourage people to discover that prayer is a conversation with God. 

KaplerIf I may ask a follow-up question:  How do we determine when it is God speaking to us in your thoughts and desires, and not just our own wishful thinking?

Ghezzi:  I take time, regular time, to listen to God; and I ask Him questions.  “Am I where you want me to be?”  When I’m doing that kind of listening I write down my thoughts.  I divide a piece of paper in two, and I have a plus side and a negative side.  If I have a sense that the Lord is saying, “You have to add this to your service;” or “Write a book about. . .;” or “You need to do this with your family;” I will make a list of all the positive and negative indications, and I pray about them.  By doing that I get some sense of what God wants of me.

About four months ago I took a Saturday morning to pray several hours.  I was asking the Lord, “Am I where you want me to be?”  And I made a list of things I was considering doing. I had a sense that I wasn’t supposed to make those changes, that I was to continue doing what I was doing – working in some small ways in my parish, with some ministries, enjoying my family, and working for Our Sunday Visitor.  The Lord said, “That’s plenty for you right now.”  Before a big change I think you need a lot of listening, a lot of praying.  You also need to consult people who you respect, people who have a good handle on spirituality.

Kapler:  Before making a big life change, is there a minimum amount of prayer time you would prescribe to people?  Two months, three months?

Ghezzi:  No, it would vary by each individual.  I think about a recent gospel reading, when Matthew heard the Lord say, “Come and follow Me.”  Matthew got up and left his job as a tax collector and threw a big party for his sinner friends to meet Jesus.  So no, I don’t think there is any set length of time.

Kapler:  Excellent point.  You have written extensively on the saints.  Is there one school of spirituality that you recognize as having had the greatest influence upon you – Franciscan, Carmelite, etc.?

Ghezzi:  No, I draw upon the example of many saints in my life.  For example, I have a great deal of affection for Therese of Lisieux.  I avoid calling myself Carmelite, but I try to do lots of little things with love and allow the Lord to lift me up in prayer.  I have great admiration for Pier Giorgio Frassati, an ordinary person who loved the Lord, spent time in Adoration and served the poor.  He enjoyed life and was a real lover of his friends; I try to be encouraging in the way he was.  I could go on for a long time here because I have many favorite saints, each of whom has taught me something. 

I have a book called The Heart of a Saint.  I wrote that book to showcase ten saints, each of who illustrated one way to grow closer to God.  I wrote about Aelred of Reivaulx because he taught me about spiritual friendship, and I wrote about Roque Gonzalez because he inspired me in the area of social justice.  I wrote about others because they taught me something about the spiritual disciplines I employ in my own life.  That book went out of print but is coming out this spring through Loyola Press under the title Saints at Heart.

Shane Kapler:  You have earned the respect of, and are personal friends with, pastors of various denominations.  Have there been moments when doctrinal differences caused tension?  If so, how did you navigate those waters?

Bert Ghezzi:  Well, most of my contact with Christians from different backgrounds, with Evangelicals and Christians from mainline churches occurred when I was working at Servant Publications.  Servant was owned by an ecumenical community, The Word of God.    I was a leader in the community, and had many contacts in the community with men and women from different backgrounds.  We learned, as a community, to have great respect for each other’s differences.  We learned how to understand the differences without trying to change people’s minds about them.  As an editor at Servant I related to many Evangelicals authors and because we shared the common core of Gospel faith – we believed in Jesus as the Lord; His death, resurrection and ascension; and the basics of Christian living – that common ground kept us from having to debate about the other issues.

Servant had two lines.  Charis was the Catholic line, and we did fully Catholic books in that line; and then with Servant we did an Evangelical line called Vine.  We kept the lines separate so that we didn’t have to minimize Catholic teaching, and Evangelicals didn’t have to minimize their teaching either.  
Now some people would not want to publish with Servant because there was a Catholic imprint.  One famous Evangelical pastor started knocking heads with us because he didn’t think Catholics and Evangelicals could work together.  He was challenging his evangelical friends, “How can you work so closely with Catholics?”  I talked with him once or twice; it never got anywhere, but it was a very friendly conversation.

Kapler:  I grew up in the Charismatic Renewal, and it had a very positive effect in my life.  As one of its early leaders, what effect do you believe it has had on the larger Church?  I was also curious if you had any thoughts as to why, at least in the U.S., the size of the movement seems to have decreased?

Ghezzi:  I think that it has had the effect of renewing people spiritually.  They expect the Holy Spirit to act in their lives.   Many of them have moved from the Charismatic Renewal environment into other services in the Church.  In my parish here in Altamonte Springs, Florida, there are a lot of people who grew up in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal but who are now serving in other ways.  There is a couple who works for social justice.  There is a deacon who is preaching and ministering to the sick.  Many people who are “baptized in the Spirit” are using their gifts in different settings.  I think that has happened throughout the Catholic Church in this country. 

The Charismatic Renewal has also contributed to a revival of the healing ministry in the Catholic Church.  Catholics renewed in the Spirit have learned to pray with expectant faith for healing.  They have also learned to pray effectively for deliverance from evil spirits.  These renewals compliment the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation.

Even though the estimate is that in excess of 120 million Catholics are baptized in the Spirit worldwide, the Charismatic Renewal is livelier now in Africa and Latin America than it is in the States.  I think that partly, after forty years, people have gone through the movement and have settled into parish prayer groups; and that tends to take the edge off somewhat.

Kapler:  Your doctorate is in history.  How did the Lord use your study and teaching of that discipline to mold you as a Christian witness?  As a Christian writer, editor, and speaker?

Ghezzi:  There are a couple of things.  I got a Ph.D. in History at Notre Dame and completed my work just as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal began.  So I went to Michigan and took a job at Grand Valley State College.  I was newly baptized in the Spirit and excited.  As a professor of history at a state college, I made some decisions to be very careful about what I would do, but if a student ever asked me about my life; I would tell them.  And so I had many conversations at Grand Valley State College about the Lord and being baptized in the Spirit.  I tell some of those stories about students who I evangelized and whose lives were changed in Adventures In Daily Prayer

People think historians are encyclopedic; they know all the dates, and facts and political relationships.  Some men and women who are historians do; but most of us are trained to do research.  What I’m trained to do is find answers to questions, and I use those research skills to write my books.  I’ve written twenty books by now and many of them I had to research, especially those about saints.  So the skills I learned when I was trained as an historian, I use in my writing.

I also really worked hard to write simply and directly when I was a student.  I strive now to write in such a way that anyone could read what I write and understand it.  That’s part of my training as well.

Kapler:  I would say that you did that very successfully.  I passed along Adventures In Daily Prayer to a dear friend a couple of days ago, and she is already on chapter six.

Ghezzi:  Well, it’s an intentionally easy read because I want people to discover daily prayer as something they really need to be able to do.  I wanted it to be something anybody could read, including those who don’t read very much.

Kapler:  So if there is was only thing a person took away from this book, what would you want it to be?

Ghezzi:  That’s not hard to answer.  The “take away” from the book is God is here with us, trying to communicate; and we need to decide to pray. 

It won’t work just to try.  Trying to pray and deciding to pray are two very different things.  Fr. Larry Richards says to his people, “You don’t try to have breakfast, try to have lunch, and try to have dinner.  You have them every day.  Why do you try to pray?  You need to be praying, and you need to be reading Scripture.  No Bible, no breakfast.  No Bible, no bed.”

In response to God’s loving you and desiring to communicate with you, you need to decide to have a daily prayer time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Review - "Adventures in Daily Prayer"

Anytime I see Bert Ghezzi’s name on the spine of a book, I stop to take a look; so it was a treat to be able to review an advance copy of his newest for Catholic Exchange. As one of the original leaders in the charismatic renewal, long-time editor of New Covenant magazine, the author of numerous books and articles, an international speaker and regular guest on EWTN – all while being a husband and father of seven – he is long on insight. “But,” you might ask, “what more can be written about personal prayer?” Well, prepare yourself to be humbled my friend; I know I was.

In this book, Bert (yes, Bert – with the glimpse these pages give of his interior life, “Dr. Ghezzi” doesn’t feel right) shares the tried and tested principles that have sustained him in prayer for over 45 years, through the highs and lows common to us all. The element that really set this work apart for me was Bert’s conviction that all of us are meant to hear from God – it’s just a matter of making a commitment to remain within earshot of Him.

The rest of the book gives the simple, clear-cut ways to do exactly that. I said that I was humbled by this book, and I meant it. Bert’s wisdom and stories alerted me to the gifts and inner dispositions I have neglected of late. Take Scripture for instance: I say a short prayer before I read the daily Gospel that arrives via email each morning; but I am not stopping to give it the attention Scripture deserves. I have not been chewing over this word the Father sent His Son into the world to give me! At the end of Bert’s chapter on Scripture, as with all of the chapters, he provides several points to Think over – Pray about – and Act on: “What would you have to change to build Scripture study into your daily routine?”; “If you are not already reading Scripture daily, decide to study the Gospel of Mark for fifteen minutes every day for the next month. . .“ His chapter on “Praying with Thanksgiving” would have been reason enough for me to grab this book.

Trust me though, there is no “wagging of the finger.” In fact, it’s just the opposite. Bert is quite transparent regarding shortcomings in his temperament and mistakes he has made, and how God continues to challenge and correct him. It is an exceptional testimony to how prayer is a gift meant for our enrichment, not God’s. Praise, thanksgiving, lectio divina, dryness, intercession – it’s all about taking on the image of Jesus, the image stamped on our souls in baptism.

If you are just setting out on the adventure of daily prayer, then I honestly can’t think of a better book with which to start; I have a friend with whom I can’t wait to share it. And if, like me, you’ve been on this road a few years and need to take stock of where you’re at, then here is your GPS. No dry theory here folks – it’s all tread marks on asphalt.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review - "Where Do Priests Come From?"

“A priest is a man who makes Jesus real to others through word, example, and the sacraments.  He shows us what Jesus is like. . .”  Does that description remind you of anyone?  I hope so!  It reminded me of Monsignor John Leykam, godfather to my youngest; and it was sure fun bringing him up as the kids and I read this delightful little book.

Elizabeth Ficocelli’s words and Shannon Wirrenga’s illustrations go together like hand in glove to give children a rich, human, catechetically-sound introduction to the lives of our priests.  So where do priests come from?  “They were once young boys just like you. . .[They] played baseball. . .climbed trees. . .dreamed of being an astronaut.”  This book maintains the same down-to-earth, relatable feel as it explores “the call,” priestly formation, life in community, and the various roles in which priests serve.

Something I especially liked was the reminder that priests are journeying toward heaven too.  “He goes to Confession to be strengthened, just like his people.”  We hear how priests need to pray, take breaks, and spend time with friends – just like you, me, and Jesus.  In this very subtle way Ficocelli communicates Catholicism’s incarnational worldview – that the God of the universe loves us so tenderly that he comes down from his heaven to join us in the most humdrum of activities; that in the sacraments humble things like water, bread, wine, and even words, become conduits of Divine Life.

I also take my hat off at the way Ficocelli was able to weave fifteen kid-friendly definitions into thirteen pages!  Now besides being a dad, I'm an educator; and that feat earned her an “A” in my grade book.  There’s even a glossary!

I was excited to hear that is only the first in a series from Bezalel Books, with Where Do Sisters Come From? set to arrive before year’s end, and Where Do Deacons Come From? soon to follow.  It’s such a neat way to open our children’s hearts to God’s call.  The final line of the book is priceless, “Maybe the next young man God calls will be you!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Lord of the Dance" - REALLY?

At the 9:30 Sunday morning Mass I attended, someone thought it would be a good idea to use Lord of the Dance during Communion:

Photo by Beaumain
I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(...lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

(words by Sydney Carter)

Alright, I'll go so far as to grant you a Biblical basis for the song:  Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate (1 Cor.1:24), and in the Old Testament Wisdom was personified as speaking these words:

When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men (Prov.8:27-31).

But Lord of the Dance is not the tune I want in my head as I'm going to receive the King of Kings! And then I've had to deal with it going through my head the rest of the day.  In the end, I see people falling into two groups - those who understand why that is a bad thing, and those who do not.

"Are you telling this parable for us or for all?"

That was Peter's question to Jesus in this morning's Gospel, and Jesus' answer is incredibly pertinent to each one of us and those we love, especially at this moment in history.  We're going to engage in a little Bible study today.  First, Let me take a step back though and give the parable that sparked Peter's question:
"Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them" (Luke 12:36-37).

It struck me this morning that Jesus didn't give a simple "yes" or "no" to Peter:
And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful (Luke 12:42-45).

Peter would have understood Jesus immediately:  while it referred to all, it referred to them, the shepherds, and to Peter in a special way.  Why do I say this?  It seems to me that Jesus is making a pretty strong allusion to Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, sold into Egyptian slavery by his eleven brothers.  (Just as an aside, Jesus is giving this answer to Peter, the leader among a group of Twelve).  Joseph of course rose to prominence in Egypt, being made the Pharoah's vizier, or master of the palace:
So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discreet and wise as you are; you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand. . . Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt" (Gen.41:39-44). 

When famine struck the Middle East, it was Joseph who had stored up Egypt's grain in preparation:
There was famine in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do." So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth (Gen.41:54-57).

But how does this apply to Peter, and by extension to his successors?  Peter too was appointed a vizier, but over Jesus' Kingdom.  I've explored this before when comparing Jesus words in Matthew 16:17-19 with those in Isaiah spoken by God in reference to Israel's vizier, master of the palace.  But look at Jesus' words to Peter again, and compare them to Pharaoh's to Joseph:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:18-19).
And was this same Simon-Peter to whom Jesus later said:
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs. . .Tend my sheep. . .Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).

So in today's Gospel reading, Jesus had incredibly strong words that we all need to take to heart - but especially his ordained shepherds, and Peter's successors most of all.  Our Lord's answer to Peter continued:
And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more. "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!. . .Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Luke 12: 47-53).

We have to keep this squarely in mind as our nation, and we as individuals, face the culture war.  There are so many points at which not just the Gospel but the Natural Law are being attacked in our culture today. We hear of whole groups of Christians picking apart God's Word and rejecting what doesn't fit with this secular morality, only a few decades old.  We have to pray for the shepherds, in our country and abroad, to stand up and lead us in the way of Truth - to make sure each and every parish is giving solid instruction, solid reasons and arguments to share with others.  Thank God that we have a Pope who is doing that at the top!  It might be high time the Church in the U.S.A. lost its tax exempt status.  We need our shepherds to be servants who give the people "their portion of food at the proper time"  And each of us, in whatever capacity God has given us, need to be servants to our family members and colleagues - making sure they get "their portion of food at the proper time."  The time is now; the world is starving for Truth - bold, uncompromising, unassailable Truth. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

We Don't Think The Way God Does

Today's Gospel reading really struck me:  From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." 

God's "end game," pure and simple, is for us to take on the image of Jesus.  This means that many of the experiences we dread - like getting caught with our hand in the cookie jar, or whatever that translates into for adults - appear very positive to God; that correction brings us one step closer to having us with Him for all eternity.  In truth, it's useless to try and run from the Cross; God is going to take us through it whether we want to or not, so "Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed" (Heb.12:13).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

CA's Proposition 8 Overturned

I just finished watching CBS Evening News' coverage of federal judge Vaughn R. Walker's ruling earlier today.  What I found most disturbing was his statement that "Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians."  That a federal judge would enter the realm of theology and pronounce upon it floors me.  He just said that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - objectively, as they have historically stood; not in the watered-down version often practiced here and in Europe - run counter to the good of some of our citizens.  The implication is easy to see - these religions should drop what is disagreeable to the secular morality that has recently gained ground in our society.  It isn't even a robust secular morality - with its rejection of Natural Law it can no longer claim rationality.

As one who speaks and writes about Christianity, the judge's words about religious belief outrage me, and I feel the need to respond.  I have nothing but love and respect for men and women experiencing same-sex attraction.  I do not believe it proper to act on such attraction, but I would never under any circumstance discriminate against or belittle the innate dignity of one who did.  (I've discussed this in several blogs.) Christianity is a revealed religion and its statements on the morality of sex acts between same-sex individuals are crystal clear, unmistakable.  A Christian cannot excise this datum of faith from their belief set without calling into question every other datum of faith - that God desires us to be His children, that Jesus died for his/her sins, that salvation rests upon God's grace, etc.  Christianity is one complete system and should be accepted or rejected as a whole.  Jesus made a claim like no other in history, "I am the Truth" (John 14:6).  As He said to the Roman judge, Pontius Pilate "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37); and to His disciples, "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory" (Luke 9:26).

More on Jesus' Baptism

I've written before about Jesus' death being foreshadowed in His baptism, but it wasn't until praying the Rosary a few nights ago that I also saw His resurrection there. The death is in the going down into the water, but the resurrection in the coming up into the presence of the Spirit and the voice of the Father. St. Paul even did the leg work for us, linking the resurrection to the Spirit and God [the Father's] declaration. Paul wrote that Jesus was "designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). I can't believe how dense I am not to have recognized this before, especially when I've taught on the symbolism of death and resurrection in regards to our baptisms!

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Great Article by Mary Kochan

Here is a great article by Mary Kochan over at Catholic Exchange, a little apologetics to get your afternoon started right: "The Missing Piece"

Living Seed

His disciples approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom."
I'm so used to thinking of the "seed" as the Word of God, due to the Parable of the Sower, that I haven't registered Jesus' other usage - that you and I are the seed He sows in the world. We are the manifestation of the Kingdom of God prior to His Second Coming. That is why the Kingdom can permeate this world like leaven. If the seed is damaged through sin however, the Kingdom can shrink back in size from one generation to the next.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why I haven't been writing my blog

It's just that I've been researching and writing a new book. It will probably take me another three months. So long as I am working on it though, it's hard to write on much else. We'll have to catch up in October - unless inspiration strikes sooner!

Monday, April 5, 2010

B.K., Gets Funky Fresh

These are rap lyrics from my 9-year-old son. (He's operating under the misguided notion that others read this blog!)

Help Me Please
Help, help me please
I have brain freeze
I can't really stop when I wanna go
I can't really sing a solo
But this is how it goes
And this is how I roll

I just wanna roll,
when the wind blows
I can't really stop this brain control
So just see me glow,
when it snows
(Repeat refrain)

Oh oh oh, just go
oh oh oh, just go
Before I explode,
into many toads


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mocking the Crucified

Two thieves crucified with Jesus - they both began with taunting, but one underwent conversion. The thought had never occurred to me before though - why would anyone hanging on a tree muster the strength to mock someone else? And the only answer that came back was my answer for why I watch (and almost always mock) reality television - in my heart of hearts, my comments make me feel superior/clever/funny and, if only for a couple of moments, give me an escape from my problems (cross). It's all a sham of course: if I were on television, with people observing my daily foibles - I would provide them with a motherload of mistakes.

There has to be a better way to deal with our crosses, and I think that second thief, called Dismas in tradition, shows us how- acknowledge where we are and then ask Jesus to keep us in His memory (His Heart). Handling it that way is redemptive; just ask Saint Dismas.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Knockin' on Heaven's Door

I was driving home late this evening, flipping stations, when I happened upon Axl (yes, that's how you spell it) Rose's cover of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." There's something very soulful about the Axman at times, especially on this tune, so I stuck it out. 

Almost instantaneously, the song had me thinking about Mass. I recently read Matt Swaim's The Eucharist and the Rosary: Mystery, Meditation, Power, Prayer, and  had the good fortune to spend some time talking with Matt as well. What is fresh in my mind from those encounters is Matt's insight that Mass is meant to "yank us out of ourselves" - our littleness, our self-preoccupation - and place us in Heaven. 

As I continued along, singing and thinking, I saw my parish coming up on the right.  I raised my hand and made a knocking motion - my own strange profession of Faith. (I felt alright doing this because at 10:30 p.m., on a relatively empty street, the chance of the knock being mistaken for a gang sign were slim to none.)  As I came into the house I wondered, "Is there enough here to write a blog? Does anyone really want to hear about the hand gestures I make while driving?" The answer to both was an obvious "no."  But here is where things got crazy: When I got to my bedroom I gave my email a final check before going to bed, and there was a message from a blog I follow, titled "Knocking on Heaven's Door." I kid you not.

So here you go. If someone out there needs to be reminded that Jesus is present in that church, in that Tabernacle, this is it. If you've been complaining that your parish priest is a lousy speaker and that the choir director has a voice like Axl (again, yes - that's how he spells it) Rose; drop it. Jesus of Nazareth, the Alpha and the Omega, the Crucified and Risen One, is telling you to get yourself there. If you need to go to Confession, then go; He loves you, what are you waiting for? Knock on Heaven's Door - it's always answered; He's always home...waiting for you and me.

P.S., Check out these words of wisdom from Denise Fath on the subject!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The British are Coming!

I cannot begin to communicate how excited I am. Talk about living in amazing times. The Holy Spirit has just done something that many NEVER believed possible - 99 congregations petitioning to be reunited to the Catholic Church! Yes, the Anglican Church in America (o.k., so they're not really British), consisting of 99 parishes and cathedrals, is petitioning, as a body, to enter full-communion with the See of Peter. Please click here to view an article, and here for the statement directly from the ACA. The Apostle Paul's quotation of Habakkuk comes to mind!
Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you! (Acts 13:41)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Teens Sexually Active... as Parents LOOK ON?

NO, of course they wouldn't be! Which is the point of a great article penned by Catholic Exchange editor, Mary Kochan. If you're a parent, I recommend you give it a look. My kids aren't of dating age yet, but Mary sure has me thinking about when they will be...and what my responsibility toward them is.
Putting the Vision Back in Supervision by Mary Kochan

Saturday, February 27, 2010

We're Supposed to Be PERFECT?

Yes, yes we are. Jesus actually calls us to it. Let me share today's Gospel reading, a common objection to it, and then a few thoughts:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt.5:43-48)

There are some people who object to reading that last sentence as a call to a perfect "holiness," a striving to live completely in union with all of God's commands and to bring our interior thoughts into union with them as well. They point out that, in the context of this passage, perfection means being perfectly forgiving, not all hung up on rules, etc.

Alright. My problem with that is that it portrays forgiveness, true heartfelt forgiveness of someone who has wronged us - stole from us, physically assaulted us, betrayed his/her wedding vows - as somehow easier than getting ourselves to Mass every Sunday morning, or avoiding drinking too much or "going too far" in the backseat! And that's hilarious to me. When Jesus uses forgiveness as an example of what it means to be perfect, as God is perfect, He set the bar as high as He possibly could! We can't do any of it without God's grace and the action of the Holy Spirit, but the "rules" are pretty simple comparatively speaking. Now, I'm not counseling myself or anyone else to become neurotic about small, daily failures - God is literally infinitely patient with and forgiving of His children. But lets be honest about what we're called to - that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Montel & Sylvia

The only thing more intellectually stimulating than watching Montel Williams hawk a blender is to see him doing it in combination with the psychic insights of Sylvia Browne. Don't miss out on the amazing Health Master Blender!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

State of MO - Don't Be Hatin'

Thanks to my old friend Bill Hunter for bringing this to my attention: Missouri State Senator Chuck Pergason has proposed Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 29 - do away with personal and corporate income tax but DO TAX churches, parochial school tuition, and charity services. Chuck has earned my "Como, What?" for the week. Catholic Charities should charge a tax from the poor who access its services? Christian parents, who pay taxes to the state to fund local school districts, should have the additional tuition they pay to their parochial school taxed?

What about the college tuition people pay Chuck? Ah, SJR-29 exempts college tuition from taxation on the basis that those payments are an investment toward the future. And parochial school tuition isn't? They're both in addition to the public school system and both freely chosen. Feels like religious institutions aren't getting a fair shake here. Alrighty MO residents, think you had better be contacting your state senators.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Holy" Obedience for Lent?

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). That’s a truth to keep central as we enter this season of Lent. It’s possible to make a grandiose resolution and miss the reality at the heart of the season: We are to take on the image of Him Who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

About a year ago one of my closest friends started reading Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light. My friend, who is Lutheran, soon asked me if I could explain something to her: it seemed very strange that Mother Teresa, who God was clearly speaking to and giving a mission, would have to go and receive permission to undertake the work from her religious superiors. At first her superiors made her delay. Why would Teresa submit to that, when she knew God was speaking to her?

What a fantastic question! Looking back, my response was alright. I talked about how it was a mark of humility, and a safeguard against being deceived, to submit inspirations and private revelations to those God has allowed to assume roles of authority within a religious body. I also shared how, in private revelations to nuns and religious brothers, Jesus often instructs the recipients that they must always submit themselves to their religious superiors, even when it means delaying His requested action. These nuns and brothers took a vow of obedience when they entered their respective orders, and the Lord insists that it be adhered to. But what I failed to point out, the very heart of the matter, was what St. Anthony of Padua saw in the Gospel read a few weeks back on the Feast of the Holy Family. (My thanks to the Daily Gospel apostolate for emailing such quality commentary every day of the year.)

Jesus was twelve years old and stayed behind in Jerusalem following a family trip there, without notifying his parents. After three days of frantic searching Mary and Joseph finally found Him in the Temple:
"Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:48-52)

St. Anthony's commentary here is just gorgeous:
“He was subject to them.” With these words let all pride dissolve, all rigidness crumble, all disobedience submit. “He was subject to them.” Who? In brief, he who created all things from nothing; he who, as Isaiah says, “has cupped in his hand the waters of the sea and marked off the heavens with a span; who has held in a measure the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance” (40,12)...This is he who, great and powerful though he be, was subject. And subject to whom? To a workman and a poor young maid ... So no longer hesitate to obey or be submissive ...
There are people of wisdom within religious orders but it is by means of simple men that God brought them there. God chose the foolish and weak, the lowly and ignorant to bring together those who were wise, powerful and of noble birth through them, «so that no human being might boast in itself» (cf. 1 Cor. 1,26-29) but in him who came down, who came to Nazareth, and who was subject.

Our obedience is a participation in the very obedience of Jesus! The Father's Revelation in Person, made His plans subject to "a workman and a poor young maid." So whenever one of us submits ourselves to the decisions of our bishop or the disciplines (traditions) of the Church as opposed to our own personal "inspirations," it is Jesus' obedience that we are tapping into; and that is life's very goal! We've heard time and again that the Church is the Family of God. In truth, it is the Family of Nazareth thrown open to the entire world. And those God places in leadership may not be the smartest, or the most "charismatic," or the most plugged-in as to what He wants to accomplish in the moment; but they are to be obeyed, because doing so places us firmly in the One Who obeyed "a workman and a poor young maid." May the Lord grant us a holy and profitable Lent!

Seeing Ourselves in Simon of Cyrene

"And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross. And they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha" (Mark 15:21-22).

Carrying Jesus' cross. It is the only time we hear of this Simon throughout the whole of the New Testament. Sit with this man's action a moment though...He assisted Jesus in bringing about the redemption of the world. Scourged and beaten, Jesus needed Simon's help to make it to the top of Golgotha to complete His sacrifice. I know there is great depth here, and I'm only scratching the surface; but even a scratch has to be of some value:

Only God knows what went through Simon's mind when he was pressed into that service. He was on his way home from work when the soldiers forced him into position. Had he seen Jesus before, heard Him? Did he recognize Him there on the ground, under the cross? Scared for his own life, Simon lifted the hundred pound beam onto his shoulders. Surrounded by Roman soldiers, he was probably too scared to be repulsed by the blood-smeared beam. Did he try to make eye contact with Jesus, or did he just perform the task given him? What was his reaction when the Lord prophesied to the women of Jerusalem? Did he witness Jesus being nailed to the cross, see the horror on His Mother Mary's face? Was Simon there throughout the Lord's hours on the Cross? Did he hear Jesus' final words, see the blood and water gush from His side? Or did he run to his family as soon as that beam left his shoulder? Only God knows.

What you and I know for certain is this: something happened to Simon. When Mark wrote his Gospel for the Christians in Rome, Simon's sons were among them (Mark 15:21). Simon came to Faith; he knew that Jesus had been raised and, he communicated that to his sons. How did Simon come to faith? Perhaps he heard stories that the Man he had helped had been raised and was appearing to His followers. Personally, I think Jesus paid him a visit. The Lord is never outdone in generosity– for Simon to have shared so intimately in the Cross, it makes me suspect that he shared intimately in the joy of the Resurrection as well.

It wasn’t Simon who redeemed the world, but his exertion and discomfort while carrying the cross did assist Jesus in making His redemptive offering. Even though all the value and power of the sacrifice flowed from the Lord, Simon truly participated in, truly shared, a part of Jesus’ Passion. I believe St. Paul described this reality, open to you and I as well, when he wrote, “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24). The grace and power flow from the Lord alone, and yet we truly participate in His offering – His one offering, reaching out to redeem past, present, and future (Heb.10:10, 9:14).

You and I are in Simon's position, you know. Our Lord allows His Cross to be laid upon us. It is never the type of Cross we would choose for ourselves either. No, it’s a weight we struggle under; and like Simon, we’re pressed into service. It may be the loss of a job, an illness, or abandonment by a spouse. It is always an opportunity to enter into Jesus’ offering though. For when we press on with continued faith in God’s love for us, we take on the image of the Son:

Although he was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb.5:8-9).
Consider him…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons…for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb.12:3,7,11).

The very next verse in Hebrews is of special interest to me: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” You see, God is going to move us forward; we are going to take on the image of Jesus. We can dig in our heels and persist in anger over how “unfair” our lives are, how “cruelly” we are being treated; but it won’t stop the process. God loves us right now, exactly as we are; but He loves us too much to let us stay the way we are! He will settle for nothing less than our obtaining that absolute “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14).

St. Paul understood that this holiness is obtained by embracing the Cross shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus. “For Jesus’ sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8-11).

The Cross creates intimacy between Jesus and the soul of the disciple. If we will put ourselves in Simon’s place – beneath the weight of the Cross, shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus, our hearts pounding alongside the Sacred Heart – then we will experience the unmitigated generosity of God: we will come forth from our tombs in the splendor and power of the Risen One! Because of our union with the Sacred Heart in His Passion, our bodies and souls will participate in His Resurrection. The Cross will be transformed from an occasion of suffering into the insignia of an enduring, Divine Love – His by nature, ours by participation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Call It Eucharist (Thanksgiving)?

Jesus said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”… And He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My Body which is given for you.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:15,19-20).

It is one of those realizations that leave you speechless. There was something significantly more, qualitatively more, going on in Jesus’ prayer than the traditional, “Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Jesus gave thanks to His Father for the True Bread, His Body, that would be broken for us. He thanked the Father that He was able to offer Himself for our redemption! We see how difficult this was for Him when, just a few hours later, we glimpse Him in the Garden of Gethsemane; and yet, almost paradoxically, it was an offering He “earnestly desired” to make.

Historically at Calvary, and sacramentally at Jesus’ final Passover, we see our Lord living out as a man, Who He is from all eternity – the Son of the Father. For it is the Son Who receives all He is from the Father and reciprocates by pouring out Himself to the Father, in the Person of the Spirit. This is the same Trinitarian movement we see in the Cross/Eucharist – but with the Son’s humanity now fully caught up into His outpouring of Love. The Son, Who has received all He is, “gives thanks,” by pouring Himself out in a return of Love. And because He does this as man, His action overwhelmingly atones for – and superabundantly redeems – all sin, man and woman’s rejection of God.

By calling what we Christians “do” Eucharist (the Greek word for “thanksgiving”), we make a profound statement. We have been made sons and daughters in the only Son, and we enter into His Gift of Self to the Father. Like Him, we who have received all we are from the Father, give ourselves back to Him in a movement of thanksgiving/Love - the Holy Spirit pouring forth from Jesus, and carrying us into the arms of the Father. It only makes sense that the Eucharist, what the Church calls “the source and summit of the Christian life,” should be a manifestation of its central Mystery - God’s own Trinitarian Life.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Did the Apostles Pray the Rosary?

It sounds like a ridiculous question for me to pose. It's common knowledge that the Rosary didn't take shape for at least another thousand years! Something stood out to me the other night though that gives me pause; I think the "soul" of the Rosary was always present in the Apostles' prayer.

Jesus' instruction at the time of His ascension was, "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father...before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." And the Apostles did just that: "All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:4-5, 14). That was how they spent the nine days between Jesus' ascension and the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost.

Of what did their prayer consist? Petition, combined with a great deal of meditation (the "soul" of the Rosary) - thinking and rethinking the things Jesus had said to them, the actions and miracles they witnessed, the meaning of His death, resurrection, and ascension. It consisted of reflecting upon Scripture; when Jesus appeared to them on the night of His resurrection, He had "opened their minds to understand the scriptures...the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms" and how they had been fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:44-45). And this meditation was being done in the presence of Mary. She was engaged in it with them. As John Paul II pointed out so beautifully:
Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son's side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11).
The Apostles spent nine days engaged in this with her, making the Church's first novena. We can see the fruits that emerged - Peter's move to replace the office left vacant by Judas' defection emerged from his reflection upon the Psalms (Acts 1:20) and then the explosion of Scriptural insights he unleashed up the crowd at Pentecost! (Acts 2:16-41) Isn't it likely that the Holy Spirit had been bringing key points of that first sermon to Peter's consciousness throughout the nine days of prayer?

When we today pray the Rosary, when we recite the Hail Mary while meditating upon the events recounted in the gospels and Acts (the fifteen Mysteries), we enter into the Apostles' experience. "With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love" (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1). And by doing this regularly, daily, our souls grow and become progressively docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We receive not one, but several Pentecosts as our eyes open up onto new spiritual vistas and we find ourselves acting with a freedom and strength we imagined ourselves unable to attain. And rightly so - these things can only take root in souls that have been broken up and seeded, over time, through prayer. These souls are made ready for that moment when the Living Water rains down and causes the new life to burst forth out into the open.

We won't see Pentecost without it. Jesus knows how we are made, and He knows how to "remake" us in His image; that was why He sent the Apostles back to the upper room. They needed to spend that time in prayer, in the company of His Mother. My friends, almost two thousand years may have passed, but the prescription remains the same.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Just read an article over at Catholic News Agency that made me smile. My former archbishop, Raymond Burke, flew into Phoenix, AZ, this morning to preside at a Mass for legal professionals. In the course of his homily he shared his conviction regarding our country: "It is a society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the 'hope,' the 'future,' of our nation. Reason and faith teaches us that such a society can only produce violence and death and in the end destroy itself.” Prescient.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Who Does God Use?

My greatest joy has always been to speak, and more recently to write, about the Faith. I am not however, a professional theologian nor a philosopher - heck, I don't even play one on t.v. I do not feel particularly dismayed by that though - my favorite religious works were written by a couple of fisherman, an accountant, and a physician. Whatever our educational and occupational backgrounds, if we will just slow down enough to "sit at Jesus' feet" and listen to Him for awhile each day (speaking in Scripture, through His Church in the Catechism, during our Rosary meditations) then we're bound to learn some incredible things, things we will be dying to share with others.

Almost a decade ago, I had the great pleasure of listening to Dr. Scott Hahn speak. The most vivid memory I have of that day was hearing him talk about when Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin, and quoting this verse: "Observing the self-assurance of Peter and John, and realizing that the speakers were uneducated men of no standing, they were amazed. Then they recognized these men as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). That is the key to being instruments of God. The shepherd boy in Israel, an unassuming young woman of Galilee, three poor shepherd children in Portugal - it is those who place their hearts before God, very simply, that He uses to communicate with the world.

You know, I often get the impression that we are hesitant to share our enthusiasm and Faith insights with our young. "Oh, kids can't get into the Bible; it's a completely different world." "The Trinity? The hypostatic union and the intricacies of moral theology? That would be gibberish to teens!" Really? Are we talking about the same teens whose high schools offer chemistry, physics, and even calculus? The same kids who read and take tests over works of Shakespeare? And to hear an eight year-old boy explain The Lord of the Rings' Middle-Earth, or a fifteen year-old girl elaborate on the ins-and-outs of vampires and werewolves ala Twilight, I'm pretty sure they could place themselves back into the times and customs of David or Paul.

I praise God for youth ministers and programs like LifeTeen, for priests who challenge their flocks, and catechists with RCIA and adult ed. programs - but it ain't cuttin' it my friends. It's you and I who have to be raised up and empowered to share Truth if this cultural battle is to be won, if the deterioration we see all around us is to be turned back. The Church in the West could be the sleeping giant of the world. If we would awake, we could see a manifestation of Christ come to "full stature." "It was He Who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ, till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature." (Ephesians 4:11-13)

We must live who you are, share what we are excited about with our coworkers and friends. When someone asks if we are reading anything good, we can let them know, "I started going to this Bible study; I never realized how interesting it could be..." When someone asks you to pray for them, take a chance: "I will; but is it alright if I pray with you, right now, too?" And if they are willing, take their hands in yours and speak the simple, heartfelt words that come to mind. Let your loved one experience the Spirit loving and praying for them through you. We don't need to manufacture opportunities to share our Faith, if we're just honest about who we are and what animates us, every conversation can become an open door for God to enter others' lives. Reebok will have nothing on us (Isaiah 52:7)!

But it all comes back to spending time with Jesus - gazing upon Him in the Eucharist, in Scripture, in His Church. It is only by being fused to Him that we "uneducated men [and women] of no standing," become powerhouses. Only by sitting at His feet will we be able to simultaneously tear down what is false, and build up the Kingdom in its place - "conducting ourselves with innocence, knowledge, and patience, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love as men with the message of truth and the power of God; wielding the weapons of righteousness with right hand and left, whether honored or dishonored, spoken of well or ill" (2 Cor.6:6-8).