Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Joy in my trials as a Catholic

It is Holy Week, and I think of this last Sunday, Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry of our Lord. It is triumphal in that He is going to the cross. I also think of last week’s homily when Fr. Michael encouraged us to give our testimony to people. I have thought all week about that, and I have concluded that my testimony consists primarily of trials and hardships since my baptism and especially since becoming a Catholic. Non-Christians also undergo trials and hardships, so what is the difference? As Catholics, we have—or should have—joy that goes simultaneously with our trials and hardships. We know that God has a purpose for each trial and hardship, that it is for our salvation and sanctification. It is similar to the training that an athlete undergoes to become competitive and similar to the fasting someone on a diet undergoes.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 1 Kings 17:8-9: “Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah], ‘Arise, go to Zar'ephath, which belongs to Si'don, and dwell there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you’.” What I like about this passage is the fact that the widow did not know of the command but she nevertheless obeyed. This gives me encouragement. Another favorite passage is Luke 22:31-32 where our Lord says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” How inspiring it is to know that when we undergo severe trials our Lord is praying for us, and His prayers are always answered.

Many times we forget the second part of salvation. We were saved at Baptism; we are being saved now; and we will be saved. It is this second part that gives us joy, happiness. This is why we are thankful; this is why we are able to persevere. Our psalm for today, 27, substantiates this: The Lord is my light and my salvation. He is our salvation today and tomorrow. Evildoers will come at us to destroy us. God allows them to come “this far, and no farther.” At that time, they must stumble and fall. “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living; wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.” Some people believe that a particular political party will bring social justice, but heart our God: “[Jesus] shall bring forth justice to the nations… Until He establishes justice on the earth, the coastlands will wait for His teaching…” Jesus brings forth justice now through the Catholic Church, of which He is the Head. We as individuals practice justice when we are in union, in agreement—communion—with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Jesus will bring justice in toto at His second advent.

Hold onto the Prayer After Communion; clutch it to your heart: “Visit your people, O Lord…and with ever-watchful love look upon the hearts dedicated to you by means of these sacred mysteries—not what we do—so that under your protection we may keep safe this remedy of eternal salvation, which by your mercy we have received, through Christ our Lord.” “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?” In this way: “The cup of salvation I will raise; I will call on the Lord’s name.” As a result, “my vows to the Lord I will fulfill before all his people.” “My vows” mean obedience to the commands of Christ—which are the teachings of the Catholic Church. Therefore, we pray: “You are the Christ, the Anointed One of God: remake in the likeness of your death and Resurrection all those who are anointed with the sacramental oils of the Church; You are the redeemer of suffering humanity: bring us out of the shadow of death into the light of your eternal kingdom; you are the deliverer of the dead: raise to new life all those who have been anointed in your name.” T.T.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hosea and Go and Sin no More

Several years ago, my adorable wife and I had a heated argument. Things were said that hurt terribly. I sat in the living room, thinking. She was in the kitchen, and I looked at her. The thought that occurred to me—which I will never forget—was: “I love you because I choose to love you, and I choose to never stop loving you. It is not because of what you do or what you do not do; I just choose to love you always.”

 Although I have never told her that, what I did tell her was, “I love you, and I refuse to fight with the one I love; if you want to fight, you will have to fight with yourself.” I try to live by that. The thought also occurred to me that that is how God feels about us: He loves us because He chooses to love us, and He chooses to not stop loving us. Regardless, we are free to remove ourselves from His love, rejecting Him. Yes, Holy Scripture tells us, “Jacob I have loved; Esau I have hated.” Many things are written in Scripture in a way that our limited understanding can grasp. The same goes for Psalm 5:5: The Lord hates the wicked.

This leads me to today’s Gospel reading, regarding the woman accused of adultery being brought to Jesus. It causes my mind to go back to the Old Testament, to the minor prophet Hosea. I am not going to go into the literal interpretation of the Book; I want to talk about the spiritual meaning. God told Hosea, “Go, get for yourself a woman of prostitution.” “Hosea” means “strength of God.” The strength of God is Jesus Christ. The woman of prostitution is us, humanity, those who will become the Bride of Christ. When we sin, we essentially commit adultery against God.

 With the fall of mankind by virtue to Adam’s sin, we no longer was God’s wife, and He no longer was our Husband. When we commit sin today, we act shamefully, saying by our actions, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.” Because God chooses to love us, the Church, He ensures that, if we run after our lovers, we will not overtake them, if we seek them we will not find them. Then we will say, “I will go back to my first husband, for I was better off then than now.” We forget many times that it is God who gives us the grain, the wine, and the oil, the silver and the gold. God takes them back in order that we return to Him. God the Father tells the Son, “Go, love a woman (the Church) who is loved by her Spouse but commits adultery.” So Jesus acquired her by His Passion, death, and resurrection. When I was a Lutheran, the assistant pastor told me that God was a gentleman, allowing us to do our will. My remark was, “I don’t want God to be a gentleman; I want him to be a Marine general, taking charge, and saving me. Many people view Jesus as a passive Shepherd, a passive Savior, just pleading with us to trust in Him. Scripture paints another picture, a picture of a Good Shepherd, an aggressive Savior, who knows His sheep and knows how to keep them. The Father works and the Son is working, working to save us.

Many people hate predestination. We must remember that the Catholic Church says that to not believe in predestination is heresy and to not believe in free will is heresy. The Catholic Church plainly teaches that the Blessed Virgin was predestined. Nevertheless, her will was free and she used it in obedience. Jesus told the twelve, “You did not choose Me; I chose you.” What do we have that we did not receive? Grace comes before faith, and grace came without us asking for it or earning it. If we are saved by virtue of our using our free will, how can we thank God for saving us? He would only be giving us what we earned. St. Paul did not ask to be saved. He was trying to destroy the Church. Nevertheless, when Christ chose him, gave him grace and faith, he cooperated by utilizing his free will. When we bring our babies to the Church to be baptized, the babies do not ask to be saved, do not ask for grace or faith. Although it is our will to have them baptized, that is only our will cooperating with the gifts of grace and faith which the Holy Spirit first put in us. “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. God works hard to save us, but we can reject His grace and the faith he gives us as a result of that grace by loving the things of the world more than Christ. Too often we attempt to become our own judge, making the decision whether we have done, or are doing enough, to remain in that grace.

We too often become the judge of which Church doctrines are correct. Because we sincerely believe something or something seems rational, we oftentimes believe that that is truth. Truth is in the Catholic Church. Our Savior commands the apostles to teach us to obey His commandments. That is because Truth is in the Church, not us as individuals. This is one of the methods He utilizes to aggressively save us, to keep us. We have free will to reject the teachings of the Church, rejecting Christ, the Head. Go, and sin no more.

This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: stpaulcatholic.net

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Third Day

“Come, let us return to the LORD; it is He who has rent, but He will heal us; He has struck us; but He will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day He will raise us up, to live in His presence. Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD; as certain as the dawn is His coming, and His judgment shines forth like the light of day! He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.”

Tomorrow, we enter the Promised Land by way of the Mass. As we look forward to it, so too does our passage have us look forward to our Lord’s second coming: “As certain as the dawn is His coming, and His judgment shines forth like the light of day!” It is not threatening—as it was on Mt. Sinai. No, His coming for us is to be looked forward to. We are “two-faced:” On the one hand, we pray that His kingdom come, but we do not really desire that He come now. If we do not desire Him to come now, when do we desire Him to come? in our children’s time? our grandchildren’s time? never? Come now, Lord Jesus; come now! “He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.” He will not come to us like a thunderstorm, like a tornado, or hurricane; He will come like the gentle spring rain.

But who is the “us”? Is it all humans? No, “us” means those who rent their hearts, the baptized, the humble. For the unbeliever, His coming will be fearful, even terrifying. Unlike them, the Christian yearns for His coming, it is then that we will be like Him.

Because His coming is certain, let us return to the LORD. Our passage informs us that it is the LORD who rents us. If we do not grieve because of our sins, we must ask the LORD to cause us to grieve. When He causes us to grieve over sins, He will heal us. “When He strikes us, He will bind our wounds,” for He strikes us in order to save us. He is not desirous that any of us should perish. He will revive us after two days; on the third day He will raise us up, to live in His presence.” Tomorrow is the third day.

Until our Lord returns, the Sunday Mass is the third day; every other day is the two days. Therefore, we can rejoice in our tribulations, as did the apostles and the saints who have gone before us. “Let us know the LORD,” and then let us strive to know Him more.

When I strive to attain heaven, heaven is always beyond my grasp. When I seize to strive, heaven is beyond my grasp. I find heaven within my grasp in the Mass, when I “know” Christ, and when I strive to know Him more. It is then that I find myself striving to live in obedience—not because I feel I have to, but because I desire to, for it is in His Son that the Father is pleased. I do not have to try to become one of His sons, for I am His son in Baptism. When I become “lost” due to sin, I become “found” when I go to the confessional.

How great we have it as Catholics! In the Mass, we physically meet our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only do we meet Him, we receive Him—body, soul, and divinity—in us. Every other food we receive into bodies is dead or dies when it enters our stomach. Food is necessary for us to live, but it cannot keep us alive. Our Lord died once, never to die again. When He enters into our stomach, He does not die; He continues to live—that we may continue to live, never to die! T.T.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Called to Serve; Not to Judge

At a very young age, I had a life changing experience. Growing up in a rural area, our home was not far from woods and railroad tracks where homeless peoples of diverse races existed as best they could. In 1955 (during a time of much racial unrest in this country), I was four years old and out playing in those woods.  Already at that age, I had been exposed to deep prejudice that friends and family held toward those of a different color or socio-economic status.

 "The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)" (John 4:9).

As I was playing in the woods that day, I became stuck in dense underbrush for what seemed to be a very long period of time. Eventually a homeless black man came up to me. As he neared, my young mind summoned thoughts of impending doom.  I thought my life would soon to be over. Based on what I had heard and been told, I believed this was a person to be feared. As he came nearer, I knew that he sensed my terror. Instead of harming me – or even ignoring me, which he could’ve easily done, he reached out and said, “Here, take my hand”. I reluctantly grabbed it and he pulled me out. I had a sense of wellbeing and  great relief as he walked me home. When we arrived at my home, the man told my father what happened. My father offered him some money for his good deed. Looking back, I know that I saw the face of Christ in that kind man,  I’m also glad that he  would have the opportunity to get a good meal that evening.

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” (Luke: 10: 30-36)

This experience has stayed with me throughout my life often causing me to question some of my personal biases and prejudices about others who just happen to be different or less fortunate than me.  If we are honest with ourselves, many of us know that we can be quick to judge the circumstances of others. When judging others, here’s what we often say. Why can’t these people do something about their life?  Why can’t they pull themselves up by the bootstraps?  Why can’t they beat their drug/alcohol addiction? Perhaps some insight can be drawn from understanding the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next. Just think of how your life might have been different if these had been your priorities when growing from childhood into adulthood.

1.     I know which grocery stores’ garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food.
2.     I know how to physically fight and defend myself physically.
3.     I know how to get a gun, even if I have a police record.
4.     I know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the Laundromat.
5.     I can get by without a car.
6.     I know how to live without a checking account, electricity and a phone.
7.     I know how to move in half a day.
8.     I know how to respond to people who use racial or ethnic slurs.
9.     I am very good at trading and bartering.
10.  I know how to get someone out of jail.

“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”( John 7:53-8:11)

 To a great extent, we are all a product of our life experiences. When we find it difficult to understand another’s situation, perhaps we would do well to remember that each of us see the world through different lenses. To a significant extent, what we see in the lenses is influenced by our gender, age, race and socio-economic circumstances.  If we kept that in mind; meditated on the life of Christ and prayed about it, perhaps it would help us to be more like Him in service to others and less judgmental.  JG

Bring me a three-year-old heifer

A few Sunday's ago, the Word of the Lord told us, “The Lord God took Abram outside and said…” Did anyone pause and ask themselves, “Why is Christ telling me this?” or did it just go over everyone’s head, in one ear and out of the other?

There are some very strange things in that passage. First, the Lord takes Abram out in the daylight, tells him to look up at the sky, and count the stars. How many stars can you count in the daytime? Secondly, when Abram asks God, “How am I to know that I shall possess [the land],” God answers, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer…” What was Jesus telling us?

 Christ desires that we think. The more our minds contemplate Christ, the more we love Him, the more we obey Him. God takes Abram outside in the daylight. Light signifies being enlightened in Truth. “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” God said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.” Although stars can very seldom be seen in daylight, they are there. By this, Christ is referring to those descendants of Abraham who will trust in God by faith. They are future; they cannot be seen; yet they are there. We know they are those of faith for God was also talking about the Land He was going to give to Abraham after Abraham was dead. We know this because Abram asked, how am I to know that I shall possess “it”? God was not referring to Abraham’s descendants through Ishmael, but those descendants through Isaac.

“Bring me a three-year-old heifer…” This is a covenant, and Abraham knew that God was making a covenant with him. This brings my mind to Jesus and the New Covenant.

We live by Faith. Christ is our Hope. This “hope” is not wishful thinking; it is concrete—as long as we persevere in the Faith. We persevere when we live by the doctrines of the Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, of whom Jesus is the Head. Nevertheless, we are weak; therefore, we ask, “How am I to really know I shall make it to the Fatherland?” Now hear Him speak, “Bring me a Sacrifice.” Familiar? We call it “the Mass,” the summit of which is the Eucharist. In it, we have Jesus perpetually crucified, perpetually risen, and perpetually ascending—reigning. We are on a journey for we are exiled pilgrims. There will be times that “deep, terrifying darkness” will envelope us, but Christ has overcome the world and will lead us through them, delivering us. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”

The Gospel account (Lk 9:28-36) is the promised outcome. The epistle reading is a guideline on how to live and how to persevere.

People have accused me of not being able to think for myself because I try to live by the doctrines of the Catholic Church, often referring to “the Church.” They accuse the Church of taking away our freedom to think. The Catholic Church does not tell us what to think, but it does give us guidelines (doctrines) to shape our thinking. We do this to our children. We do not tell them, “I can’t tell you what to think about drugs; you’ll have to arrive at your own conclusions.” That would be telling them to use drugs and find out for themselves. As Catholics, we are members of The Church. Our doctrines do not come from men; they come from Jesus, our Head.

 We are either going to allow Jesus to give us guidelines for our thoughts, or we are going to allow creatures (the world) to dictate those guidelines. Which one is true--the Creator or the created (the creature/the world)? Due to concupiscence, many times we initially lean to the world’s way of think; it “seems” to be more practical; but it is a lie and leads to destruction, e.g. sex, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, etc. It is the Creator/Savior who knows Truth, who is Truth. Concupiscence and sin always make us lean toward untruth. Christ will not deceive His Body, the Catholic Church. T.T.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Can I have fries with that?: Reflection on LK 15:1-3, 11-32

Can I have fries with that?: Reflection on LK 15:1-3, 11-32

As many of you may remember, my dad Vince was a pretty good public speaker. He was a natural, but he really worked hard at making what he had to say come together in a special way. Occasionally he would use a prop of some description to make his point. I remember one time I was admiring a prop he was going to use in a speech that evening…and of course I broke it. I shouldn’t have been messing with it, and I broke it. There was no time to replace it. I knew what I had done, and I was really sorry. There was also no doubt about who did it…so I just waited. When he came through the room to pick up his prop, there I was…he saw me standing there with the pieces of the prop in my hands. “I broke it!” I said, not that it wasn’t really, really obvious. He wasn’t happy, but when he saw the look on my face, he immediately smiled and said “…it’s ok, I forgive you.” I can still remember vividly that warm feeling, that sense of relief. There just is nothing like forgiveness…nothing…like forgiveness.

Here we are, two weeks into Lent…and for a lot of people…like me for instance…it’s not going the way we planned. We’re not making the good choices we said we would; What-A-Burger still looks pretty good, and I’ve never seen it listed under “things to eat while you are fasting and abstaining”. We are so easily called away from prayer. Will we ever get it right?

In today’s gospel, we hear probably the most popular story of forgiveness ever told. We never tire of hearing it, and it always makes us feel the same way each time it’s told. What is it about this particular story that is so compelling? Why does it hit us with such force? This story is about bad choices; it’s about loss and sorrow; it’s about resentment and about jealousy; it’s about dashed hopes and expectations; it’s about sadness and joy; it’s about a father and his sons; it’s about God, and us… it’s about relationships…and it’s about forgiveness.

God made us special…we are the only creatures made in his image and likeness. We are free to choose how we will live our lives; we are free to reject his Grace and his love; we are free to sin…and through all of that freedom and choice, we are always his children, and he is always our father. We need to run to him, and tell him “O God, I am so sorry…I am so very sorry…for all of those things…” and then brace ourselves for those words “…I forgive you.”   W.W.