Tuesday, April 30, 2013

EWTN's "The Journey Home" - A Year Later

When I heard today's date, I realized that it was my one year anniversary of visiting with Marcus Grodi on The Journey Home.  I remember watching the interview with my family and a few close friends - how completely mortified I was seeing myself, "You guys have to look at that goofy face all of the time?!"  Sure I had looked in the mirror before, but watching my facial expressions as I  told a story was a whole new ball game.  Once again though God showed Himself more than capable of writing straight with crooked lines, because all of the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive - people were not distracted by me, but instead heard how awesomely generous, powerful, and patient God is with His children.

The thing I am personally most grateful for regarding the visit was how it gave me a chance to visit with my friend Kevin Lowry (COO of the Coming Home Network that produces TJH).  I had started reading Kevin's blog a year before, and we struck up a friendship via email; but my visit to the show was my first chance to speak to him face-to-face. He is such a personable, authentically holy, down-to-earth guy - a true brother in Christ.  I felt such a tremendous comfort sharing more of my story with him - in particular my experience of the Cross in the years following those I shared about on TJH. I am very fortunate to have had Kevin interceding for me this past year.  

So has anything changed as a result of my appearance on The Journey HomeWell, it certainly made more people aware of this blog; the traffic for this past year was 300% greater than the four previous years combined!  (Thanks are also due of course to Gary Zimak and Devin Rose for their kind recommendations of Just a Catholic to their readers.)  TJH is an incredible platform to speak from, and I am tremendously honored to have been able to share some of the high points in the story of what the Lord Jesus has done for me.  My sincerest thanks to Marcus, Kevin, Scott Scholten, Bill Bateson, Mary Claire Piecynski, and JonMarc Grodi for welcoming me and making it such a memorable visit.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Turning Forty - From Here to Eternity

Yep, 40 years old today.  I have to say though, it hasn’t been the least bit traumatic.  The last line in today’s Gospel reading made me smile.  I have always loved these words from Jesus, but they are especially meaningful to me today:  “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn.10:10).  How’s that for a birthday message?!

And I’ve got to tell you – driving into work on this fine spring morning, the colors seemed a bit more vibrant.  What a tremendous gift life is – existence is.  Think about it:  there was a time when we “were not.”  God created this tremendous chain of cause and effect to bring our bodies into being and then, at that astonishing moment of conception, directly created our immortal souls!  And the day I became a dad, He made me a part of bringing new life into the world!  I am so deeply grateful.  

Turning 40 gives me time to look behind me and appreciate, not just the miracle of existence, but the way Jesus has filled my life with life – His presence, His word, beautiful family and friends.

Turning 40 also makes me look ahead:  my race is most likely half run.  The funny thing is – that fills me with hope.  It’s not a morbid hope; it’s more like the tinge of excitement you felt when you graduated eighth grade and realized, “Whoa, I’m half way done with my education!  Four years of high school, four of college; and then I get to go out into the 'real world'!”  I still enjoyed - deeply enjoyed - those eight years of high school and college; but I looked forward to the day when I would finally be “free.”

I am amazed at how faith changes our perspective.  Even if we groan and complain about the present moment, we Christians are dyed-in-the-wool optimists: we are convinced that our greatest days always lie ahead of us!  Each year that passes we move closer to our Goal; and, hopefully, we experience more of the abundant life Jesus is intent on pouring into us.

If you could, please do this middle-aged guy a kindness on his birthday:  Ask the Lord to grace me so I can make the most of the time that is left - that they be days, years, or decades of expressing gratitude and of loving family and friends generously and unselfishly.  Pray that I do not stumble or disappoint Him.  Ask Him to bring me safely through the finish line and into the freedom and life He intends.  And please pray that when I depart, He lavishes a double-portion of His love and protection upon my kids.  A sincere birthday "thank you" from me to you!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why I Love "Rote" Catholic Prayers

My friend Denise Fath posted this quote from Emeritus Pope Benedict on Facebook this morning, and it captured my sentiments perfectly: 
"Prayer should be 'wholly personal' but we also constantly need to make use of those prayers that express in words the encounter with God experienced both by the Church as a whole and by individual members of the Church. For without these aids to prayer, our own praying and our image of God becomes subjective and end up reflecting ourselves more than the living God."
Amen.  The prayers of the Church and of her saints, rather than stifle my ability to express myself to God, enlarged it.  I slowly came to see how the spontaneous - what seemed to me, the more “authentic” - prayers I offered at the beginning of my faith journey were those of a child.  They were heartfelt and sincere but, in retrospect, they seemed focused upon my life and the small circle of lives touching mine.  They were limited by my lack of knowledge regarding both the deepest needs and movements of the human heart and how prayer could be more than thought and words.   

The prayers of the Church are those of an adult with two thousand years of spiritual depth and know-how.  When I listened to her pray, especially at Mass, I was called out of myself, called to pray for and with the whole Body of Christ – on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven!  I was called to pray, fast, and do penance both for my sins and my brothers’ and sisters’.  Left to myself I don’t know how I ever could have arrived at the realization that all of our daily activities, even suffering, can be transformed into prayer! (My spontaneous prayers now take all of this into account.)

And studying the gospels and the religious life of Jewish people in first century Palestine convinces me that the Church did not arrive at the content or manner of her prayer lightly.  I found the same concerns and practices in the prayer of Jesus himself! The Church’s rich spiritual life is the work of the same Holy Spirit through whom Jesus poured himself out in prayer to the Father.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

We Get ALL of Jesus

It's sometimes easy to "spiritualize" our Christian Faith and forget its fleshly reality.  What am I trying to say?  We can fall into talking and thinking about Jesus' divinity, almost to the exclusion of His humanity.  But listen to what Jesus communicates to us in the Eucharist - it is His entire reality:
My Flesh is real food, and my Blood is real drink ... Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (Jn.6:55-57)
Jesus imparts His whole life to us - divine and human.  We become partakers in His humanity.  We no longer have to live in this world with only our broken souls and weak wills.  Jesus gives us His own human soul and nourishes our bodies with His resurrected one.  And we're filled with divine life!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Sacrament of Reconcilation - Right There at Jesus' Crucifixion

I reread Luke's account of Jesus' crucifixion last night and found my attention captured by the "Good Thief," the man tradition calls St. Dismas.  Mark's Gospel depicts both criminals crucified alongside Jesus as mocking Him. That means that at some point, while suffering on his cross, Dismas underwent a conversion.  Under those circumstances I do not see any possible explanation other than the direct action of the Holy Spirit.  Dismas was endowed with the ability to look at the Man hanging and dying beside him, and recognize Him as the Messiah!  I don't know how many people were praying for Dismas, but there prayers were answered; and it is a lesson that you and I should never - that we can never - despair of another's salvation.  God can bring literally anyone to faith.  That's the first lesson I took away from Luke's Gospel last night.

The second lesson was one that actually came back to my mind from over twenty years ago - and it is in regard to the Scriptural foundation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Yes, the obvious places we see it in Scripture remain John 20:21-23 and James 5:14-16; but as my high school theology teacher, Joseph Burns, taught me, it is in Luke's account of the crucifixion that we see Jesus celebrate Reconciliation:
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
And [Jesus] said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Lk.23:39-43)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Sacrament of Reconciliation consists of four elements (#1448):  contrition, confession, and satisfaction on the part of the penitent, and absolution of sin on God's part.  And yes, Dismas did display contrition, or sorrow for his sin, by asking Jesus to do no more than remember him.  He confessed that he had sinned (making a "general confession") and acknowledged the justice of the (temporal) punishment he was undergoing as a result of breaking the law.  And Jesus absolved his sin in the promise that Dismas would be with Him in Paradise.

We have this same encounter with Jesus, through His priests, when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation!  It doesn't get more intense than that.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

4 Ways the Mass Makes Present Jesus' Prayer

At Mass you and I enter into Jesus' human prayer.  There are many aspects in which this is true, mystical as well as practical; but I want to point out four in the very structure of the Mass:

  1. The Mass, in its entirety, hearkens back to the daily Temple liturgy in which Jesus participated when He made pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
  2. The Liturgy of the Word, the first half of the Mass, is the synagogue service in which Jesus regularly participated.
  3. The Liturgy of the Eucharist, even the very petitions made by our priests, come from Jesus' final celebration of the Jewish Passover on the night before He died.
  4. Further, the Liturgy of the Eucharist makes present Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, where His prayer and gift of self were fused into one.

A Good Reminder

I was walking this morning, thinking about the passing of Brennan Manning and all of the awesome stories he shared regarding God's radical love for us.  I think, and I think Brennan would agree with me, that parenthood gives us a unique entry point into the way God "feels" about us.  Being a dad has helped me wrap my mind around (at least a little better) the truth that God loves us each of us infinitely.  Having two kids has taught me the way that loving one with every fiber of my being does not make me incapable of loving the other with every fiber of my being - love is not a quantity that gets burned up.  It has taught me that discipline/punishment is not the opposite of love, but an expression of it.  And it is incredibly precious to God when he sees us loving one another. God's love is tender.  (It's good to read 1 Cor.13 every now and then.)

It also amazes me to realize how my parenthood is a pale reflection of God's Fatherhood.  Where my ability to love my children is limited by my creaturehood, His is not; He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent!  He is not tainted by sin.  His love is always perfect - perfectly wise and just.

Where You Want to Be ...

This picture speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What is "Divine Mercy Sunday"?

It is the Second Sunday of Easter.

The Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection is so great that eight of our calendar days are folded into one, great liturgical day!  That’s right, we celebrate the Octave of Easter; the preface of the Eucharistic prayer on the “following” Sunday is exactly the same as that for Easter morning, “We praise you with greater joy than ever on this Easter day…”  Just as Jesus stood up “on the last day of the feast [of Tabernacles], the great day,” and promised that the living water of the Spirit would flow from his heart to ours; so the Church recognizes the fulfillment of his promise on the last day of its octave.  To help us understand the significance of the Easter Octave, Pope John Paul II declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would be known throughout the Church as Divine Mercy Sunday.

When he did so, at the canonization Mass of St. Mary Faustina Kowalska, he invited each of us to “accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter ... In the various readings, the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relationship of fraternal solidarity among human beings.”  He continued:
"The Church sings. . .as if receiving from Christ’s lips these words of the Psalm. . . 'Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; is steadfast love endures for ever' (Ps.118:1) ... Jesus shows his hands and his side.  He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in his heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity ... [He] bears the great message of divine mercy and entrusts it to the ministry of the Apostles in the Upper Room: 'Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you ... Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'” (Jn.20:21-23).[1]  
As an incentive for the faithful’s special celebration of the day, John Paul also made it an opportunity for gaining a plenary indulgence.  His reasons for doing so are quite moving: “so that the faithful might receive in great abundance the gift of the consolation of the Holy Spirit. In this way, they can foster a growing love for God and for their neighbor, and after they have obtained God's pardon, they in turn might be persuaded to show a prompt pardon to their brothers and sisters.” [2]   

To obtain the indulgence a person must: 
a) “take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy,” or 
b) “recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. ‘Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!’)” 
These are of course in addition to the usual requirements: sacramental Confession, detachment from affection for even venial sin, receiving the Eucharist, and praying for the intentions of the Pope.          

Divine Mercy Sunday is now one of the Church’s great treasures, an opportunity for all of us to appropriate the graces won by our Lord’s Passover.  Tied as it is to the very heart of the Gospel, it is an unassailable development of the liturgical year.  The impetus for John Paul to recognize the value in such a development however, was a matter of private devotion, the Divine Mercy Devotion.

 [1] Homily for The Canonization of Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska, April 30, 2000,