Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to get a horse back to pasture...

I had an experience last summer while on a mission trip that taught me a great lesson. I was working on a horse farm with a bunch of kids. We were to cut weeds, trim trees and pull this horrid parasitical vine out of the trees. The one thing we were NOT supposed to do was leave the gates open and let the horses out. The second day we were there one of the kids left a gate open to a pasture that had only one horse in it. I knew we had to get this animal back without telling the owner so we decided we could push it back in. It was only standing about 10 feet from the gate so we thought it would be easy to give him a few hard shoves and then quickly close the gate. Two big teenage football players and I could not move this horse even one inch. As we tried to force this big animal by brute strength something amazing happened. The granddaughter of the owner, a little girl of about 4, pulled a handful of grass and clover and stood in front of the horse. It followed her back into the pasture and she closed the gate. Wow, did I feel foolish!
For years I have been trying to get certain people to re-engage their Catholic faith. These are persons who have no hostility toward the Church or God or anything like that. They simply have grown into a lifestyle that does not include the practice of prayer, faith, Mass, etc. Despite my best efforts I have had little or no luck in "pushing" them back into the Church. Then Pope Francis wrote a document entitled "The Joy of the Gospel". It is a lengthy piece but the message is clear - you lead people to (and back to) the Church by the JOY and PEACE they see in your life. Certainly, you may need to witness with words at times but the chief way of attracting others to a life of faith is the witness of your life.  
It makes me wonder what I am holding out to persons who are away from their faith. If what I show them is force and bullying they are going to resist with all of their might. If I show them that they are missing out on a life of true joy maybe they will hurry back on their own.

Live this day in the peace and love of this Holy Season. You never know who might follow!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Waiting

Advent, for most of the Church's history, has been a time of quiet, Holy waiting. You don't have to go too far back in time (maybe 100 years) to find an era when people treated Advent with the reverence it deserves. Advent is a time to wait. But we don't like to wait for anything in our culture today, do we? We have grown so accustomed to having what we want, when we want it, that we don't want to wait for anything anymore. That's because we see waiting as boring, frustrating and empty. In reality, the opposite is true, but we need to learn to wait rightly. Waiting rightly is a source of  peace, joy, and fulfillment. It gives a perspective on life that will never be seen in the anxiety and tension of our "get it now" culture.
I am around a lot of people who are forced to wait. I visit teenagers at the local detention center who are waiting - for their court appearance - for their mother to visit them - for a phone call from anyone. I have been visiting one young person who has been locked up for 4 years. She has to wait all of the time for the next hearing date, the next judge's decision or for a phone call from her lawyer. I visit people in the hospital who are waiting for a visit from their doctor - hopefully with good news. I see people in the nursing home who are waiting for a visit - from anyone. I pray with people in hospice who are waiting, waiting, waiting - to die. The funny thing is that most of these people, in hind-sight, say that the waiting was a very good thing for them. They tell me that they needed that time in "suspended animation" so they could order their own lives more rightly. They tell me they needed that time to finally learn how to pray.
Please, please, please use this Advent Season to wait. Wait for God in the stillness this season was designed to give. He might just surprise you and show up.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Are you a contender?

In Genesis 32:23-33 we hear of  Jacob's "match" with the Lord. The text says that they wrestled until the break of dawn. When the divine being saw that it could not prevail it struck Jacob's hip so that the hip socket was wrenched. When it was all over Jacob was given a new name by God - "Israel", because he had contended with and prevailed over both divine and human beings.
As I have read commentaries on these verses I have learned that not all the "scholars" are in agreement on whether or not this was an actual event or just a story. For me, I think both are true. Jacob likely did have a divine altercation because that seemed to be his way. He was always scheming to make things come out for him as in his theft of the paternal blessing from Esau. But the story also has great allegorical value. Which of us has not contended (wrestled) with God? What shall I do with my life? How shall I best serve God and others? With whom shall I spend my life? Where shall I go? Or should I stay? All of these big questions and countless others often put us in a "wrestling match" with God. Should I do what I want? Should I take a different path - one that is more difficult but seems to be where God is calling me?
In my own life, mostly over the past few years, I have contented with God. Should I be a Deacon? That question took me six years to answer in the affirmative. As I look back, I see that God was patiently waiting for me, persistently calling me. Should I leave my job and work full time for the Catholic Church? Maybe when I'm 60 or 65 was the answer I usually gave to that question. But the nagging response I received from God was "Why wait? Why not give me and the Church some of the youth you have left?" So I did. Then it was suggested that I visit the kids at the Juvenile Detention Center. No ministers were going out there on a regular basis but I felt wholly inadequate and ill suited to the work. After him-hawing around for several weeks I gave it a try. I've been visiting kids there now for almost four years and found great blessings in the ministry.
What about you? Have you, are you, wrestling with God? Submit and see what God has in store for you. You won't look back. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I need to see, I gotta know!

The story of Lot and his wife leaving Sodom is the subject of the first reading for Mass today. Such an interesting story of God sparing Lot and his family for their righteousness but then telling them to NOT look back as they leave the city. Every time I read that story there is a little part of me that hopes Lot's wife will make a better choice and be spared but, of course, that never happens. She looks back and is instantly turned into a pillar of salt. How sad.
The question I have to ask myself is this - would I be any different? I think I would be greatly tempted to look back and I'll bet you would, too. Our culture is one of the most invasive, newshound, gossip-seeking and "dirty laundry" cultures ever. We want to see into everyone's life - especially if they are famous and see what's going on. Is their marriage failing? Were they arrested? Are they back on drugs? What about their kids?
In my humble opinion, 24-hour news is the worst thing that ever happened to GOOD news reporting. Now there are many competing TV stations that have to fill all of that time with some kind of "news". Things that NEVER would have made the 30 or 60 minute news program of old are now front and center on CNN, MSNBC and FOX. The type of reporting that is done is most often geared to raising emotional responses rather than on giving an unbiased account. Don Henley had it right in his 1982 song "Dirty Laundry" when he quotes the newsman saying "I could have been an actor, but I wound up here". The reporting is mostly about drama and very little about substance. These networks are all vying for high ratings so that they can attract more advertisers and charge more for each ad.
So, what do we do about it? QUIT WATCHING! I stopped watching TV news fifteen years ago and I don't miss it a bit. I get the little news I need from the internet and the radio. Reading it on a website leaves almost all of the hype out and I am free to assess the stories and research them on my own. Give it a try, give up the dirty laundry before you (your soul) turns into a salt pillar.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Can We Start Over?

This past weekend I was at a youth conference in Denver called "Steubenville of the Rockies". What a great time we had listening to great music, wonderful speakers and powerful liturgies. The host, Chris Padgett, told a great story about one of his children that I would like t share with you here.

This is the way the drama played out between Chris (the Dad) and his 4-yr old:

Chris: Son, you had better finish your dinner.
4-yr old: No response - just lots of fiddling around

5-minutes later:
Chris: Son, You NEED to finish what's on your plate. You haven't even touched it and the rest of us are done!
4-yr old: More fiddling around

5-minutes later:
Chris: Son, I mean it! Your mother put a lot of time and effort into preparing this meal, you had better have your plate completely cleaned off in two minutes!
4-yr old: Spinning in chair, fiddling around.

2-minutes later:
Chris: That's it! You are going to bed right now. You will not be joining the family in prayer time and you will not get dessert. March yourself upstairs to your room right now!
4-yr old: Crying and screaming and going to bed

A few minutes later:
4-yr old (through tears): Daddy, daddy...
Chris: WHAT!!!!!
4-yr old: Daddy, can we start over?
Chris (through tears): Yes son, we can.

What a great illustration this is of our relationship with God. It doesn't matter how many times we goof up, we can always "start over" in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If it's been a while since you have taken advantage of this sacrament of love and healing, please do so. All you have to is ask God "Can we start over?". God's response will be "Yes, my beloved child, we can".

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Your True Self

If you read the St  Michael Parish bulletin this past weekend this is the same article.
Your True Character...
Most of us would agree that it is easy to be gracious and benevolent when all is going well in life. Those are the times when we are quick to smile and glad to lend a hand to almost anyone. Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the way life was all of the time? But that’s not the way it goes for most of us. Stuff happens all of the time. We might get ill, experience mistreatment, or just have a genuinely bad day. How are we in those circumstances? Still quick to smile? Still ready to help? Probably not.
In the Mass readings for last Tuesday, Tobit has that type of an experience. He is a righteous man doing his best to fulfill all of the Jewish laws even though he has been exiled to a foreign country and many of those practices are illegal. When one evening, through a strange experience he goes blind, Tobit changes dramatically. Suddenly, he is irritable, angry and hard to live with. Finally, his wife says to him “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!” (Tobit 2:14)
As you may know, Jean Stapleton of “All in the Family” fame, died recently. She tells the story of when she was passed over for an acting job early in her career that she really wanted and didn’t get. Instead she was given a smaller, insignificant role. Prior to being passed over, she had had great respect for the director of the play. When he chose someone else for the part she wanted, Jean became angry and hateful. She had horrible thoughts about the man and hoped that God would get him back for the horrible injustice that he had perpetrated against her.
But then she picked up her Bible. She wanted to look up verses with the word “justice” in them so that she could prove to herself how God was on her side. In her concordance, the word “judge” was just in front of “justice” and she felt compelled to read about that first. This verse from Isaiah’s prophecy was the first listed: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our king, he will save us” (Is: 33:22). When she completed her reading, she felt cut to the heart. She realized that her “true character” had come out and she was ashamed. She knew that she had reacted badly and she needed to pray to God and ask forgiveness. She says “The anger immediately disappeared. The next day at rehearsal I was no longer driven by the ambition to play the larger role.”  The irony of the story is that the woman who had been picked for the big part didn’t work out and Jean got it anyway. But she knows she wouldn’t have been considered if she had remained angry and sullen.
What about you and me? How do we react when things suddenly don’t go our way? Maybe someone is promoted to a job that we wanted, maybe we get into a “fender bender” or someone cuts us off in traffic or cuts in front of us at the grocery store checkout line. What will our “true character” look like when it comes out? Will it be one of anger and vengeance? Or will we let the Lord be the judge and lawgiver and thereby free ourselves to react in peace and charity? I pray that all of us can respond  in accord with the grace of Jesus Christ and pass on a blessing instead of a curse.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What size will the door be when you reach heaven?

In the past two days we have heard about the "rich young man" in Mark's Gospel. When told that he should "sell all and give it the poor, then come follow Me", the man goes away sad - for he has lots of stuff. Jesus looks at His disciples and says "It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven". The disciples are incredulous. In their culture, material wealth was looked at as a blessing from God and the person owning this wealth was thought to one of God's favorites. When Peter states that they have all given up much to follow Him, Jesus assures them that their reward will be great now on earth and, eventually, in heaven.
This got me thinking - what size will the door be when I reach heaven? I have been "blessed" with much as an American. I have a great home to live in, good cars, and all of the "stuff" I need. I try to keep it all in perspective and put my relationship with God first but I have to admit that it can be tough at times. All of my stuff can be quite distracting. As I am doing an extended period of prayer it can be tempting to check my email. When I know I should be reading a good book I often find myself watching some inane television program.
When my wife and I went to Guatemala several years ago I noticed three things in particular. First, the people are very poor. The men and women have to work VERY hard to keep their families fed, clothed and sheltered. Second, the people are VERY faith-filled. They have a trust for God and His providence that I envy. Third, they are happy people. They don't have all of the distractions in their culture that we have in ours so they are focused on what was important - faith and family. No wonder they are so filled with joy.
It makes you wonder who the truly blessed ones are. We in the United States might look at the people in Third World Countries as cursed because they don't possess all that we do. On the other hand, by Jesus words and my own experience, they seem to have a clearer perspective on life. It keeps me wondering - "what size the door will be for me, for them, for you?"

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother, mom, mommy...

I fully realize that almost every person could write a column bragging about their mother. That's just the nature of having a mom and realizing what a blessing she has been. But I want to give you just a few sentences about my mother today. She is a remarkable person who deserves many accolades.
My mom grew up in northeastern South Dakota on a farm during the Depression. She had a very abusive father who terrorized the family through alcoholic fits. He abandon them several times and nearly starved them to death more than once. As mom grew up she realized that this type of behavior was generational and that she had the potential of passing down that curse on her own family. So, before she was even a mom, she forgave her dad and prayed for the grace to be able to live in a different way for her future family. She made a decision not to pass on the curse she had lived with but to raise her family in blessing. Before I was born she gifted me. What a great mom!
Today, she is in the nursing home suffering from Parkinson's disease and the severe dementia that goes with it. Her thoughts are very confused and she doesn't always know where she is or what's going on. Although it's difficult to see her in this state, my brothers and sister and I still thank God for the way she loved us even when we didn't recognize her. She taught all of us how to forgive and how to live in the present. She always reminded us that we needed to let the negative experiences from our past be in the past. She taught us to take the blessing of an experience and live in that blessing, to forgive those who made life hell, and to remember that God loves us through it all.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Advocate

According to the dictionary, an advocate is "one who promotes, defends, and supports the interests of another". It's easy to see an advocate at work in the court system. A lawyer or court appointed person defends, supports and promotes the interests of their client. This person advises and recommends the client based on a sound legal position.
In John's Gospel (16: 5-11), Jesus tells His disciples that is better that He goes so the Advocate can come in His place. What an unbelievable statement! Which of the disciples would have believed that their could be anyone who could take Jesus' place. But that Advocate is the One who leads, guides, and supports the Church today. That Advocate is the same Spirit that emboldened the Apostles and others on Pentecost Sunday. That Advocate is the One who bolstered up Paul as he preached all across Asia Minor, oftentimes being rejected, beaten, and even stoned by the people.
And that Advocate is the same Spirit that works in each of us today. It's easy to sit around and find fault with the world, with our country, with our Church, etc. But we have in us the means, indeed the power, to bring about change. Christians MUST rely on the Advocate as they go about their day witnessing to the truth of Jesus Christ in love. Otherwise we are the noisy cymbals and the clanging gongs.
It would be foolish for an accused man to speak for himself in court. He could only hurt his case and destroy the efforts of his advocate.  It is foolish for us to think that we can affect any change in the world by our own efforts. Today, pray "Come Holy Spirit" and then rely on the Advocate of Father and Son to lead, guide and promote your words and actions.

"Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Plan my own what?!

If there is truly one certainty in life it is death. Each and every person will die, no exceptions. Recently, in my ministry, I have been around a lot of deaths and many funerals and I have learned one thing- I am going to make sure my funeral plans are done prior to my death. We have met with several families of late and the range of preplanning is vast - from absolutely none (most common) to a few sketchy plans. The problem with this is obvious - often the true will of the deceased is NOT followed. Persons who would have wanted a funeral Mass in the Parish Church are often buried with a quick prayer service at a funeral home led by who knows who. Persons who would have liked a Liturgical Wake/Vigil Service with a Rosary end up having a quick visitation and no prayers since their children have fallen away from the faith "aren't going to sit through a Rosary".
Preplanning with a funeral home can be wise, as well. Funeral directors tell us that people who do NOT preplan have funerals that are about 30% more expensive than those who do. In the emotion of the moment, people will often spend thousands more on a casket, vault, flowers, etc.They will end up meeting for HOURS with the funeral home and church trying to get things put together. I thank God that my father-in-law, who died recently, had all of these things done in advance. We met for less than an hour with the funeral director and had the funeral liturgy planned in just a few minutes - and it was the funereal HE wanted.
NONE of us know the time, the day or the hour. Good planning can ensure that you have the funeral you want, where you want. Do your children and your pastor a favor - do that planning now. Many churches have preplanning forms that can be filled out and kept in your membership file. Most funeral homes also have a way of assisting people in the planning process. It may seem morbid or make you uneasy to talk about your own death or the death of your spouse (or other loved ones) but it will make things MUCH easier when the big day comes.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

This is how you do it:

How can we be disciples of Jesus Christ? How would anyone ever know that you or I are connected in some way with God? We might think "I go to Church, I pray every once  in a while, I think I'm a nice person", etc. Although going to Church, praying and treating others with kindness are good things, they are not enough.
Jesus, in John's Gospel, makes it pretty clear just what it takes when he says "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(13: 34-34)
Unfortunately, our culture has all but stripped the word "love" of its true meaning. We have been trained to think that love is sentimentalism or romanticism. While these can be occasional expressions of love, they are not love itself. Love, in Jesus terms, is simply this: Willing the good of the other, as other. In other words, laying down your life for the good of the beloved(s) in your life. If we know that the good of our spouses and children is to get to heaven then we will work, in love, to assist them in attaining that end. If, on the other hand, we want to raise children that will be good Christians and good citizens, we need to be willing to allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions and "fail" if necessary. To shield a child from every negative or bad thing in their life is  anything but love. Love demands respect of the other person's freedom - in fact, love has to exist in that freedom.
Do you want be a disciple of Jesus Christ? I know that I do. But it goes way beyond claiming a religious affiliation or membership in a parish. It goes way beyond good feelings and bland sentiment. It means I live my life loving all persons as Jesus loves me. That is a tall order. That seems impossible. But if Jesus words in this Gospel are true it is the ONLY way to properly follow him. That means I love the people in my life that drive me crazy, it means I love those that don't seem very lovable, it means I love the Jew, the Muslim, the Hindu, the African, the Native as much as Jesus loves them.  Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? This is how you do it: " This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

With accompanying signs...

Today is the Feast Day of St Mark the Evangelist. Mark is mentioned in Acts,1Peter and by St Paul in his letters. He is believed to be the first Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt where he eventually suffered martyrdom by being drug through the town with a rope tied around his neck.
In the last lines of his Gospel he talks of the signs that accompanied the Apostolic preaching on the life of Jesus Christ. I wonder what those signs might have been then? I wonder what they are today as believers continue to go forth with the Word on their lips and Christ in their hearts. How is their relationship of love evident?
I surmise that it is not much different than a relationship of love between two people. When I first started dating my wife some 40 years ago I was different than I had been before. My friends often asked me "What has gotten into you?" I was so filled with new found love that it was obvious in my words, my attitude and my actions. I imagine many of you have experienced that same thing.
Our relationship with God should be like that. We discover God through the Word and the testimony of others. As we begin to understand the love God has for us it becomes easy to fall in love with God. Just as in human love, we will be different because of that loving relationship with God. That love should be evident in our lives and, indeed, be the "accompanying sign" of our relationship. St Paul reminds us how necessary it is to have that love before we go out and proclaim so that we do not become a "noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1Cor 13:1).
Today, on the Feast of St Mark, let that love shine forth in new and beautiful ways!

Monday, April 22, 2013

God's Patience...

Recently, I have been involved in several funerals in one way or another - wake services, assisting at funeral Masses or burials. What really got me thinking was the diversity of ages of those who had passed away. The youngest was 39, the oldest was 97 and there was a 60 year old and a 67 year old in between. In my ministry as a Deacon, I have done many Wakes and been involved in many funerals and most of them have been for people younger than me or just a couple of years older. I often wonder why one person gets 97 years and others die very young.
A Scripture verse that helps me is 2Peter 3:15 which says "Consider the patience of the Lord as salvation". God gives us the years we need in order to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). My prayer for all of the people that I work with at funerals / wakes is that they truly have participated in the work of their salvation and benefited from God's patience.
I also consider that years spent on earth are not the same as living in Eternity. What truly is a long (or short) life from and Eternal perspective? Whether a child lives only a few hours or a person lives to be 100, I believe God honors that life completely. Certainly, from a human perspective, it is difficult to lose our loved ones (particularly children). Our own Faith, Hope, and Love along with the support of family, friends, and parish is what assists us on the path of grieving and sorrow.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A happy man?!

If you have had the good fortune to read Fr Robert Baron's Book "Catholicism" and/or seen the accompanying DVD series you are blessed indeed. This is the most effective and beautiful (DVD) presentations of the faith that I have experienced.
In Chapter 2 "Happy Are We - The Teachings of Jesus", Fr Baron explains the Beatitudes and then, while standing in front of a crucifix, explains St Thomas Aquinas' challenge to all of the faithful:
To hate what Jesus hated while on the cross and to love what Jesus loved on the cross. What did Jesus hate? - the attachments to wealth, power, pleasure and honor that have plagued humanity in every generation. What did Jesus love? - doing the will of His Father.
And then Fr Baron adds a disturbing point - if we truly believe these things then Jesus Christ on the cross is a truly happy person!!  This is hard to accept but is necessary if we are going to understand our own relationship with God. Could you be happy without being attached to wealth, power, pleasure or honor? The paradox, of course, is that you can ONLY be happy without those attachments. What is the will of God for your life? We learn God's desire for us as we free ourselves from attachments and addictions. In prayer, in silence, and in all truth and love, each of us must discern where the cross is for us - and then become free and happy human beings.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"A Hallelujah Christmas" by Cloverton (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

 I tried to include this video on my last post - it didn't show up (?). I have included the link in case it doesn't come through with this post:

It's over, but...

Last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus Christ officially closing the Christmas Season. Beginning yesterday, and continuing until Ash Wednesday (2/13) we will be in Ordinary Time. With that in mind I hope you will indulge just one more semi-Christmas song. I say "semi" because, although some of the lyrics refer to the birth of Jesus, others talk about His Cross and death. I had not heard of this group or this song until about a week ago and I have completely fallen in love with it. Please give it a quick listen and put it on your list for next Christmas.