Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Simple 'Rules' To Examine Your Life

Today is the Memorial of St Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century man who, although always Catholic, had a remarkable conversion experience while convalescing from an injury received in battle. This soldier, in his idle time, found that he was much inspired by the writings of the saints and that he gained much joy in meditating upon them. He also found that his fantasies and meditations on worldly things led only to fleeting happiness. This experience changed his entire perspective on life and he dedicated his life to God and Church. His Spiritual Exercises are widely used as the basis for retreats at many centers. He was canonized a saint on March 13, 1622 and his feast day is July 31st - the day of his death.
I have studied the "Rules of Spiritual Discernment" by St Ignatius and have profited greatly from them in my own spiritual life. I would highly recommend them to anyone desiring to deepen their own faith journey and experience of God. 
The first two rules have been most helpful to me. Although they are very simple and fundamental they serve as a reminder of how easily I can slip away from walking the right path. Rule #1 says: "In persons going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good Spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason." In other words, if I am feeling guilty and heavy laden and at ill with the way I am living it is time for Confession and conversion.
The 2nd Rule is like it:"In persons who are going on intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God, it is the method contrary to that in the first rule. Then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good Spirit to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet while easing and putting aside obstacles, that one may go on in doing well." So, if I am consoled by the Holy Spirit and constantly tempted and disquieted by the evil one, I can be better assured that I am the right path. 
Please allow these two rules to be a spiritual guide for you. Examine your heart and your life each evening and see which spirit you are following. Then take the proper steps to change (or strengthen) the path you are on through prayer and Sacrament.
 In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A neat prayer...

Here's a prayer I found on another blog that I hope blesses you this day:

Lord of Pots and Pans
“Lord of all pots and pans and things,
Since I’ve no time to be
A saint by doing lovely things or
Watching late with thee,
Or dreaming in the twilight or
Storming heaven’s gates.
Make me a saint by getting meals or
Washing up the plates. Although I must have Martha’s hands,
I have Mary’s mind, and,
When I black the boots and shoes
Thy sandals, Lord, I find.
I think of how they trod the earth
What time I scrub the floor,
Accept this meditation, Lord,
I haven’t time for more.
Warm all the kitchen with thy love,
And light it with thy peace,
Forgive me all my worrying
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food
In room or by the sea
Accept this service that I do
I do it unto thee.”

We are mustard shrubs and yeast

An amazing reality for me is the fact that, 2,000 years after Jesus death, we still "know" Him. Most people's memory fades rather quickly after they die. In my own reflections and prayer I realize that I will probably not be remembered beyond the lives of my grandchildren. Yet, Jesus legacy lives on and on and on. He did this by inspiring a relatively small bunch of followers (12 apostles and a few dozen disciples) to go out into the world and proclaim His name, His identity and His teachings. In doing so these people became the yeast that leavens the whole loaf and the shrub grown from a small seed that ends of sheltering many birds. By following Jesus' commands and working in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, these men and women formed and passed on the Church that carries forward the message today.
Think this through. The only way the next generation and the one after that are going to believe is for you and I to pass on what we have received. As we come to Mass and receive Jesus in Word and in Sacrament we take on an enormous responsibility - that of becoming "salt and light and leaven" to this world. The Mass is a great blessing for all who attend but that blessing is for the good of the entire community. Today, how can you and I go into our "worlds" and make the love of Jesus Christ present? We do it in word and in action. We have the strength of Jesus in us through the Sacrament and the support of our parish community. There are no excuses left - go and give out what you have received.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eucharistic Community - a Homily for Today

Two weeks ago today I had the pleasure of accompanying our parish youth (mostly Confirmation students) to a Catholic Heart Work Camp in Davison, MI. The trip took two pretty good days of bus travel and we arrived there on a Sunday at about 2:00 p.m. While we were on the way I was wondering just how the organizers of the work camp would go about turning us into a "community". As I observed our kids, I noticed how they each had their little cliques and there wasn't a whole lot of "common" bond between them. Besides our group, there were going to be many others there and the whole lot of them would need to be transformed from individuals and little bands into one body if the tasks of service before us were to be accomplished. 
What I witnessed after we arrived and started participating in the programs and meetings that were scheduled was nothing short of miraculous. Within one day the 317 attendees were bonding into a working community. By the end of the second day the kids were no longer hanging out exclusively with their own friends but had discovered new ones to get to know. At the general meetings you could no longer pick out one parish group from another because the kids were all mixed together. Through hard work, common meals, shared suffering (long lines for showers and meals, working in extreme heat), shared fun and participating in the Mass together every day a "new creation" had been formed. You might say that we had become "the Body of Christ".
In this new form our community accomplished a great deal, completing over 80 projects in the Davison/Flint area and touching the lives of dozens of people. The message from the organizers on the first evening we arrived was to go out into the mission field and "set the world on fire"! By working in peoples homes, praying with them and serving them above and beyond the call, our kids did just that.
On the last evening, the people who had been served were invited to come to the program and tell of their experiences. What moving testimonials they gave! They talked of their renewed confidence in the youth of our country and they were most grateful for what YOUR kids did for them. They had indeed set the area on fire!
In today's Gospel, Jesus performs this miracle of feeding the 5,000 with only 2 fish and 5 loaves of  bread. I wonder what kind of community was formed among the people receiving this "Eucharistic" meal? As they discovered how this food had been mysteriously multiplied by Jesus there had to be a lot of conversation among them. I imagine that they were initially setting in their family groups but gradually spread among each other as the news of this astounding event spread. In receiving this meal and sharing their experience they became the Body of Christ!
Which brings us to today. We have all arrived here from different homes, families and neighborhoods with the hope of "being fed" on the Word and on Eucharist. If we receive them well we can become personally transformed and strengthened in faith. But, to what end? Is this the entire purpose of the Mass? Of course not! In sharing this experience together, the idea is that we will become bonded in a special way. The personal blessings we receive are not just for us as individuals but for the good of this community. As we take in Jesus in Word and Sacrament the idea is that we will become the Body of Christ. Jesus KNOWS we need each other if anything good is going to be accomplished in the world. Our kids could never have succeeded in their mission trip had it not been for the community that was formed in Davison, MI. The same is true here. If we leave here with the same attitude with which we arrived, namely that we are individuals and that this community doesn't make much difference we will NEVER be able to do what Jesus expects of us.
Our Eucharistic prayer admonishes us to "become one body, one Spirit in Christ". When we come forward today and the minister presents Jesus to us and says "The Body of Christ", we say "Amen". With that response we are not only saying that we believe in Jesus' physical presence, we are saying "yes" I am in communion with everyone here and with the whole church. We are staying that we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic mission of the Church and that we want to be a part of it.
Today, allow the grace of Jesus Word, Body and Blood to transform this assembly into the very Body of Christ so that we can go forward from here and "set our families, our work places, and our neighborhoods on fire" with the LOVE of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Parabolic Humility

Thursday, July 26th
Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne
Today we remember the parents of the Virgin Mary and grandparents of Jesus in our Liturgies. Although nothing is known for certain about their lives we can be sure they were good and holy parents through the actions of their daughter. Mary would never have been able to give her fiat had it not been for the parenting she received. Sts Joachim and Anne - pray for for all parents.

The Gospel today is from the 13th Chapter of Matthew. In it Jesus explains to His disciples the reason He uses parables in His teaching. Initially it sounds like Jesus is intentionally trying to withhold information from some while giving it to others but I think there is a better interpretation. In the context of this story, Jesus has just had a disagreement with the Pharisees. They are so arrogant and prideful that they do not have the ability to properly understand Jesus teachings. As He opens up the mysteries of heaven, earth and salvation by using similes of light, seeds, shepherds and etc. it is obvious that it takes a person in touch with the earth and the agriculture to rightly understand His meaning. This means that the Pharisees would probably have to go to a farmer or a shepherd and be humble enough to ask them to explain their trade to them so they could understand. Something they would likely NOT do.
But what about us? How many times do we sit in Mass and hear the Scriptures and receive the Eucharist and then go about our lives like nothing happened? There have been many times in my own life when I have sate in the Mass distracted by what is coming up next or thinking about what I need to do later. That is arrogance. That is thinking that my "stuff" is more important than what is going in Word and in Sacrament. It takes a humble heart to learn and receive what the Lord has for us.
Jesus, give me a humble and contrite heart that I might leave every Mass enriched by Word and enlivened by Sacrament.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Today is the Feast Day of St James, Apostle of Jesus Christ and brother to St John the Evangelist. St James had the honor of being in Jesus' inner circle. When Jesus went to heal the daughter of Jairus, when he went to be transfigured at Mt Tabor and when he prayed at Gethsamane, James (along with Peter and John) was invited to come along. James must have had a persona (a "son of thunder") that Jesus liked and respected. According to the 12th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, James was killed by King Herod making him the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom. As with most early saints there are many legends and half-truths told about James that might be true. I prefer to believe in what is KNOWN about James - that he was a brave and loyal servant of his master, Jesus Christ and that he was willing to give his very life for the glory of God. St James, pray for us.

“You were called to freedom…”

Last week I had the unique pleasure of attending a mission trip with 26 of our parish high school students and nine other adults. We took off on Saturday morning (July 14) and headed off for Davison, MI to a Catholic Heart Work Camp. The week was full of adventure, hard work, sacrifice and great fun but the details of all of that will have to wait for a future article.
As we traveled along on the bus, Rhonda (youth minister) handed out a page with several Scripture passages on it and asked each of us to choose the one that best described our attitude and expectations of the upcoming week. Of the nine choices any one of them could have fit for me but the one from the 5th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians spoke the most clearly to me: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
What a wonderful definition of true freedom! Instead of the cultural tendency to define freedom as licentiousness, St Paul reminds his readers that true freedom comes from serving others. Instead of freedom being the throwing off of rules and regs, St Paul tells us that TRUE freedom exists in TRUE love. Not love as the world defines it (sex, romance) but a love that emulates the way God loves us. In the ways we set aside our own interests, desires, and wants and put the needs, wants and desires of others first, we become an icon of God's love on earth.
With that in mind, how would you define freedom? As Americans, we pride ourselves as being among the freest people in the world, but what does that really mean? For me, that definition has changed as I have aged. I went through the stage of thinking that true freedom meant doing what I wanted, whenever I wanted. As I have experienced marriage, parenting, the deaconate and good friendships, that definition has "matured". True freedom, for me, is living my vocation as a married man, a deacon, and a human being. As I pour myself out for the good of the beloveds in my life I enjoy the freedom of a child of God. As I live in ways that are true to God's will for me I become the person God intended. How much more free could a person be than to live in harmony with his or her Creator?
But isn’t that peculiar? By this definition it seems that freedom is not about throwing off impediments and limitations but instead, living them in love and sacrifice. Think of it this way – is a train really free since it can only move on rails? In one way we could say ‘no’, the train is only free if it can go where it wants when it want. In order to make that happen, the train would have to be changed dramatically. It would need new wheels, it would have to be shortened and it would need an engine in every car. Wait a minute - it would no longer be a train, it would be a truck!
The very same can be true of us humans. In order to do whatever we want, whenever we want with whomever we wish we can become something our Creator never intended us to be. We become inhuman because in these conditions because we lose our freedom. Would you say that the drug addict is free because he is taking all of the drugs he wants? Of course not. We would say he is not free at all but a slave to his own bad choices.
The beauty of human freedom comes from the element of choice. Indeed, without choice there is no freedom. In other words, if we are forced to love God and live the way God demands than we are not free. Just as Adam and Eve were free to choose obedience to God or to choose the “tree” we are free to make that same choice now. Each day we are presented with many options. Some of them honor the dignity of who we are as human beings and some of them clearly do not.
Before you go to sleep tonight consider all the choices you made today. Examine them in the light of prayer and honestly decide if they have led you closer to God (virtues) or if they have led you further away from God (sin). Did your choices exhibit love of self (narcissism) or the true love of others (self-giving)? In freedom, did you choose true love? Remember, as a beloved child of God Almighty, “You are called to freedom to love and serve one another”.