Monday, February 19, 2018

The sheep or the goats?

In the first reading for today, we see Moses receiving the Decalogue from God. These are the ten commandments. There are very few people that are not aware of the ten commandments. Even those who can honestly claim they are, have a natural understanding that things like murder, stealing, and cheating are inherently wrong. These are the bare minimum of what it takes to live together in harmony with one another and to show our love for God. Like any person trying to excel in their field though, the bare minimum isn't what we should be aiming for, is it? Jesus shows us in this parable in Matthew that we are to be aiming for love. He has expounded before that it isn't just not murdering, but not even hating. That if I entertain lustful thoughts I am as guilty of adultery as I would be where I actually to go out and do so. Our goal is to see every single person as an opportunity to encounter the image of God. The naked, the hungry, the thirsty, and those in prison. This list doesn't just mean those who are physically exposed, but also those who are spiritually vulnerable. Those who hunger for Christ in the Eucharist and do not know He is even there. Not just those physically incarcerated for crimes but those still chained in the shackles of sin. God calls us to do so much more than the minimum. Lent is a time to remind ourselves of this truth. It's an opportunity to find those who need spiritual and physical nourishment. A chance to extend the invitation to the most nourishing food available, the Eucharist. Both to those who have not received the waters of Baptism, those who are of another faith, and even those who have fallen away from the Catholic Church. If they are hungry, by all means, feed them! Clothe them! Give them drink! Then lead them to the sacred waters pouring from the throne of Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to remind ourselves that the bar is never the minimum. It is always higher than we can achieve alone. When we join ourselves to Him, to the Church that is His Body, then we can receive the Sacramental graces necessary to make a difference in this world. We are to seek out ways to apply the Gospel in love and kindness, leaving the Justice to the King Himself. That doesn't mean forgetting that sin exists. We should be all too aware of the reality of sin and of the spiritual battle we are fighting for our souls. What it does mean though, is reaching out as the hands and feet of Christ with mercy to those who are hurting just as much as we are. It has been popular in the last few decades to make fun of people for being "sheep." That's because sheep follow their shepherd. They listen and know His voice. Goats can be ornery and cantankerous. They do what they want, and they eat pretty much anything (even things that are bad for them.) Being one of the sheep who follows the Shepherd doesn't mean blind obedience, but it does mean listening to God's still small voice to help guide us through all the spiritual minefields we face in this life. Silence. How can we hear Him speak to us and tell us which side to stand on if we are surrounded by noise from screens, devices, and speakers? Take some time this Lent to silence the noise of the world and listen carefully for the Lord himself. A reflection on the readings for Monday of the First Week of Lent.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Downgrading to Upgrade

Today was the First Sunday of Lent.  The readings speak of the familiar theme of Jesus going into the desert before beginning his public ministry.  In the desert, he fasted for forty days.  During that time Satan tempted him in ways that would have alleviated all of that suffering.   Satan even used scripture to try and get Jesus to fall into the trap.  Jesus always responded by using the rest of Scripture to show that God's will was not in align with Satans at all.  Satans was selfish; God's was love. 

As we journey into the desert this Lent we have to look and see what is between God and us.   Jesus consistently took time to go off alone in the silence to meet with God, to commune with Father.   In this world of screens and information, it's hard to find a moment's silence.   The internet is by far my worst crutch.  I have been using a computer on a daily basis since I was around eight years old.  When it comes to the willpower of just not doing it?  I fail miserably. 

So what did I do this year for Lent?   The same thing I did last year.   I significantly reduced my use of Social Media to spend that time instead with Jesus in prayer and meditation.   I realized last year though that my Smart Phone was a hindrance.  Instead of lowering my computer time I replaced it with blogs, bulletin boards, and silly games.  I took a drastic step.   I got rid of my smartphone.   I now carry an LG B470 flip phone. 

It doesn't do apps.   It barely will search the internet.  Texting is a pain.  There are so many things wrong with this phone that I could complain forever.  My first trip to town I realized that I couldn't check my calendar to see where I was supposed to be.   My habit of checking the Bank to see how much money we have before shopping is now something I have to remember before leaving the house.   Responding to email now has to wait until the evening or morning when I use my computer.
Why then am I feeling relief?   I have tethered myself to Christ.  I am no longer checking my phone every time it buzzes.   In a meeting, I have no need to look something up, either I remember it, or I don't.  I am not worried about getting likes or making sure to take a picture of my food before I consume it.  I have finished three books in just a few days and have gotten back on track for the time being with my prayer life.  This small change has made me wonder if I'll ever go back to being a smartphone user again.

The one thing that I have found myself blessed to be able to say is: "No I haven't heard about that!"  In a world where all of the information is at your fingertips, how much news did I not already hear?  How many conversations did I miss because I had already heard all about it or seen that meme ages ago?  My friend said to me in an email that I seem to care when someone is talking to me.  I don't want that go away.   So this is my Lent, my journey into the desert with Jesus, a mission to begin to listen to God speak to me not only in the silence but in each person I encounter. 

Technology is a powerful tool.  I am far from a Luddite.  I have even been called a technophile from time to time.  I think enhanced reality devices are the future.   The problem is we aren't enhancing our reality with smartphones.   Instead, we are replacing reality with images and false narratives.  Yes, this Lent I am putting down the phone so that I can see the real you.   The real Jesus in you!  Hopefully, somewhere along the road, you will be able to see him in me.
His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

February 18th, 2018
First Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 23
GN 9:8-15
PS 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 PT 3:18-22
MK 1:12-15

Thursday, February 8, 2018

An Ill Fitting Suit

In today's first reading we begin to see the fall of the Kingdom of Israel from grace. Solomon started taxing the people tremendously and working them harder and harder to keep up with his lavish lifestyle. His Harem was so enormous that it numbered in the thousands. Those women were not just children of Israel but Gentiles as well. The Israelites had a long-standing rule not to marry or associate with people outside of their own precisely because it often led to concessions in the faith. Solomon began to make those small changes until eventually, he was building altars for foreign gods for his wives to worship their way.
The kingdom fell, and that eventually led to the captivity in Babylon. A divided Israel was unable to defend itself. The people were taken once again as slaves to a foreign kingdom. When King Cyrus let the Israelites go back to their homeland and begin rebuilding Jerusalem, they did not forget the past. Those people who were not of Israel were taboo. Even those Israelites who decided they liked it in Babylon and did not return to Jerusalem were outcasts. Them. The other. Out of fear for another captivity and an attempt to remain in a pure relationship with their God, they became even more xenophobic.
That makes the scene in today's Gospel that much more pronounced. Jesus reminds her that he has come to save the Israelites, to offer them the Kingdom first and all that comes with it. Her faith though moves him to compassion. He extends his power, not with some mystical and magical touch, but through time and space to heal the daughter wherever she may be. Jesus shows us that the Kingdom will include all people. The walls of hatred and division will be thrown down. Racial heritage will no longer matter. All people will have the opportunity to be invited to the wedding, and all can receive the healing that Christ comes to offer.
It's not as simple as that though. In the parable of the wedding feast, Christ reminds us that we must begin by getting dressed for the wedding. What kind of garment should we be looking to find? I was just trying on the suit from our wedding 11 years ago. It's huge! It doesn't fit well. I'd have to have it tailored and drawn in if it's even possible. The suit we need for the wedding though is one that conforms to the image of Christ. It's Christ himself. We have to be washed by the blood of the lamb and begin to try and live our lives in emulation of Him.
How can we do that in this world of temptations and trials? Through the Sacraments that He established to give us the grace necessary to live a life of virtue. That is the life God created us to live. That is the garment we need to be wearing! The more we grow in relationship to Christ, the more we receive Him in the Sacraments, the more we become like him. Then we can safely enter that feast at the end of our lives where He will say, well done my good and faithful servant. A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time. February 8th, 2018. Lectionary: 332 1 KGS 11:4-13 PS 106:3-4, 35-36, 37 AND 40 MK 7:24-30

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Why do we do these things?

I see many people criticize the Church. They claim that all of the rules are 'manmade' and that none of this outward stuff can make a difference. That's not what Jesus had to say about the matter. Jesus instructed the people about the Scribes and Pharisees, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach, but they do not practice." (Matthew 23:2-3 NAB) He then went on to establish Peter his 'Prime Minister' to guide his Church until the day when he returns.
How then are we to take this reading from the Gospel today in which Jesus says: "Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile." (Mark 7:14-15 NAB) If nothing that enters me from the outside can defile me, then nothing from outside can make me Holy either. What Jesus came to destroy was not religion itself, but the hollow practice of it that does not involve an internal change.
The Pharisees knew what to do, and they did the external things, but their hearts never changed. They made up all these rules that were hard to follow, and they had the authority to do so and then didn't live up to them in their own lives. That's why Jesus called them "whitewashed tombs." In public, they gave the appearance of men who had been reformed by the love of God, but internally they were still the same hateful men they had always been. Often using the law itself to avoid doing the good they knew to do.
How then should we live our lives? Solomon was the wisest of all men. His kingdom was the most prosperous kingdom in the Israelite history, rivaling even that of his father, David. It was when Solomon began to pull his heart away from God toward other things that it all started to fall apart. Civil war broke out and the kingdom fell apart. Our own lives will do the same. As long as we put God first, everything will be as it should be. When we allow anything to get in the place that God should be, our soul becomes a battleground. It's not a battle we can win on our own.
That's why Jesus gave us the Sacraments. That is why God gave us a Church. A place of refuge in this war where we can gain the strength and grace we need to continue fighting. Then he gave us Sacramental signs to use in our daily lives. Sacred Scripture, the sign of the cross, holy water, the rosary, and scapulars to name a few. These, however, are not magic amulets or incantations. When we use them, we must also have a change of heart, a metanoia. That's what Confession is all about. That is also what the season of Lent reminds us to do. Are you thinking about that yet? How can you change the inside so that when we do these external signs and symbols, when we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can get out of the way and let Him change us?
A reflection on the readings for Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 331

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Caging the Beast.

Our society has done a fantastic job of convincing us that we are created to be a sinful and vice-filled people.   "I'm a Christian, but I cuss a little."   "He's a good person; he just does some drugs on the weekends."   "No one is perfect."   All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.   That's the truth.   That is not who you are.  You were not created to be a sinner; you were designed to be a Saint.  Our concupiscence is a reality that we must learn to live with, but it's also something we must put in a cage. 

There is an old Indian tale about a man who was watching two wolves fighting with his son.   The father looked at the son and said: "There are two wolves at war inside you as well.   The one that wishes for the good, and the one that wishes for evil."  The son asked in fear "Which one will win?"  The father replied, "The one you feed." 

We all have that same war going on inside of us, but the truth that we must realize is that one voice is our authentic self and the other are doubts brought to us by those who wish to keep us from ever achieving it.  The Scriptures today remind us of that calling from God to become Saints.   We are the temple of God.  We are created for virtue and not vices.   Work to silence that voice, to cage those personal demons that keep making excuses.  Then live a sacramental life. 

I am far from perfect.   I make mistakes, and yes, I often fail to silence those voices.    That is why God has given us so many opportunities for grace in His Church.   Take advantage of them as often as you can!  A life of virtue is not a boring one as the secular world would have you believe!   It is instead a life filled with the fullness of what it means to be alive, the fullness of what it means to be human.   That is to be more like Christ, and much less like our flesh would convince us we are supposed to be. 

This is a reflection on the readings for Wednesday, January 14th, 2018: The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Good Shepherd

So many of us take the simple gift of a community for granted. In a world where it is encouraged and lauded to spend more time in virtual communication than in face to face interactions, it is tough for us to understand the leper in today's Gospel. This man was isolated from society. If any other person approached him, he was required to shout "Unclean, unclean." To be touched by another who was not also unclean was not to be expected, and was believed to make the other just as dirty (sinfully) as the leper himself.
Jesus on the other hand not only touches him but heals him of his disease. Then instructs him to tell no one but rather go to the established religious authorities and begin the slow process of reconciliation with the community. We can interpret many things from this. One might think that Jesus intended to remind us that we should go to the Church/Community to help integrate us more fully into the body of Christ after being absent. Then again maybe he was indicating that the process would only be complete when he was both physically and spiritually clean. Some would even say that Jesus did not want the people to know about his Messianic secret yet.
The one thing we know for sure from the reading of the Scriptures is that the man didn't listen to Jesus and his instructions. He instead made it easier for himself (the Leper) to be a part of the community, but at the same time, more difficult for Jesus to enter towns and complete His mission. We have been talking about the title of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and it's biblical meaning in Bible study today. How appropriate that both readings had to do with listening to God instead of treating him like an ATM.
The first reading shows the Israelites parading God's ark about like a talisman. They didn't ask God for help, nor for guidance. Instead, they merely went to get their magical amulet to make things better. The Leper didn't follow God's instructions and go to the temple to be purified. Instead, he chose to go on his way and hindered God Himself in the process. Are we letting God shepherd us? Or are we trying to shepherd God? Do we listen when God speaks to us through the Church? Through the Magisterium? Through the Scriptures and the Catechism? Or are we choosing what we will believe regardless of what God has revealed? Do we see God as a good luck charm only when we need it? Or is He indeed the Lord of our lives? When you use the gift of voice God has given you, are your words shouting unclean or pointing to Christ?
All things that are going through my mind this morning as I begin to do some work around the house. I'll leave you this morning with one final study question from our book to meditate on for today:
We often do not know when we wander off. If you take stock of your life, are there areas where you might suddenly realize you are lost and have unknowingly wandered away from the Good Shepherd?

A reflection on the Mass readings for Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary time: January 11, 2018. 1 SM 4:1-11, PS 44:10-11, 14-15, 24-25, MK 1:40-45

Free Gas!

This morning on my way to Mass, Adoration, and Confession; I stopped to fill up the SUV. I swiped my card, looked at the screen, and it said: “Please lift handle and select grade.” That’s odd I thought. Normally it would have asked me for more info: credit or debit? Zip code? So I lifted the handle and began to pump. It started to slow down as it approached the $10 mark. It stopped, and I tried to pump more. Nothing. So I printed a receipt. I swiped my card again. Filled up the car. All while the second pump was going my inner mind confronted me with two different voices in my head:
“It’s a gift from God, take it and go.”
“But it’s not your money, not your gas.”
“But you are always praying for blessings, isn’t this what you want?”
“What if it’s a mistake? What if someone else ends up in trouble because of it?”
“Maybe it’s a promotion! Free gas for a random person!”
“Then shouldn’t I at least ask?”
I would like to say that those two voices were not in conflict. I cannot. What I do know is that in the end, I chose to discern God’s voice in all of it. The old, tired cliche “What would Jesus do” was definitely in my mind. I went in, told the lady behind the counter, and she explained that another girl had asked to pump there and had said it did not go through. I paid the $10, and the lady was very thankful, she would have had to come up with the money missing from the drawer at the end of her shift. Sometimes our ego tries to convince us that something is a blessing for us when it's a 'curse' for someone else.
Later I was doing some Lectio Divina before Mass on the readings for today. It struck me how apropos this situation was in light of what had just happened to me. Samuel heard God’s voice calling in the dark. He didn’t know whose voice it was until he began to discern, with the help of Eli, what was going on. This event led to a change in his life and a vocation that has shaped the world as we know it. In this world filled with darkness, the light of Christ still shines forth and has not been extinguished. He is calling us each day to be better than we were the day before, to be more like him. It is crucial that we listen to His voice, but also go to those people who He has chosen to help us as guides in our faith.
It is out of fashion to go to an elder or to a Priest for advice these days. Instead, our youth are taught to only go to their friends and ask for their help with problems. God can indeed speak through our peers, and through our friends. Yet, so can other voices that seek to drown out God’s calling to our authentic selves. That’s why discernment is so necessary! Not just in calling for Vocations in the Church but also in each decision we make in our lives. Only when we find the authentic voice of God, which leaves us with peace and joy, even when it means carrying a cross; will we begin to walk the path to our destiny.
What is our destiny though? The Eucharist reveals to us our genuine self. It is that gift, that Sacramental presence of Christ that helps us become fully human. The Eucharist renews and transforms us into what it is made of. It is through Christ living in us that we become more like Him, and less like the fallen humanity that so often surrounds us. How does that look? The Catholic faith, which the Athanasian Creed says solidly, that unless a man believes fully and firmly in all that it teaches, he cannot be saved. We must learn through faith in Jesus Christ, through the Church that He, Himself established, and be obedient to the words handed on by Him and His disciples. Make frequent use of the Sacraments. Remember that being called to Sainthood is not just for some elite spiritual person, but rather for every person who takes time to listen to the voice of God as Samuel did.
Take time today to go apart, in emulation of Jesus in the Gospel, who rose early in the morning and went to a place of silence for contemplation and prayer. Carve out some time for that intimate communion with God that you too may listen for that still small voice that will guide you to Holiness and Sanctity. Find an Adoration chapel, or sit before the Tabernacle at your Parish. I have a long journey ahead of me even to be close to Holy, but God willing, I am setting one foot in front of the other in the hope of His promises.
This is a reflection on the readings for Mass on Wednesday, The First Week of Ordinary Time, January 10th, 2018. Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 307 Reading 1: 1 SM 3:1-10, 19-20 Psalm: PS 40:2 AND 5, 7-8A, 8B-9, 10 Gospel: MK 1:29-39

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Merry Christmas! Go forth, glorifying the Lord by your lives!

December 25, 2017 - The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) - Mass at Dawn

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
Mass at Dawn
Lectionary: 15

Reading 1
Reading 2

The Christmas season has begun.   Catholics will be celebrating the birth of Christ in a special way for the next 16 days, culminating the season with the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.  It is a way of reminding us that every day is a chance for Christ to be born in our hearts, and for us to become little Christs to change a world much in need of His presence.  We gather together on this day each year to exchange gifts, join in fellowship, and of course to feast on the wonderful gifts of food that God has given us.   It’s about so much more than that though.   It’s primarily a day of worship.   A day that reminds us to stop and truly appreciate what God did for us in the Incarnation, when divinity and flesh became one. 

There is a beautiful prayer that is said during Mass that reminds us of the truly beautiful mystery that we Christians celebrate.   “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”   The two things became one.   The water in its natural state, provided by God himself, represents the human condition.  It’s simple, plain.   The wine represents the divinity of Christ.  It is rich, aromatic and pleasant.  The idea here that is being taught is that though a drop of water touched divinity, divinity was not diluted.   The water became part of the wine.   This is a reminder that when we receive Christ in the Eucharist; body, soul, and divinity; the Eucharist does not get absorbed by our humanity, but rather our humanity is being changed that we too might be able to share in His divine attributes: eternal life.

I think often we forget how we should react to that.  All of those present at the moment when the shepherds came to see the baby Jesus in the manger, they were amazed at what was said.  Sometimes we get into a habit of just receiving.   We forget who it is we are receiving.  What the gift of communion truly is.   How that when we look up at that small wafer of bread we are seeing all of the power that created life, created the universe, created all things that exist.   We are gazing upon God who has come to be a part of us.  Then when we receive it, if we are in a state of grace, we are filled with even more graces to allow us to live out our Baptismal calling and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received at Confirmation. 

How then should we react when we participate in this most blessed Sacrament of the Altar?  The same way Mary did when she heard the news from the shepherds.  First and foremost we should “keep all these things, reflecting on them in our hearts.”   We should spend time studying our faith, the Scriptures, and our Traditions.   We should meditate on them to understand exactly what it is we believe, and why.   Our faith does not end behind those doors.  When we leave the Sanctuary to go out into the world, the Priest or Deacon proclaims, “Go in peace, glorying the Lord by your lives.”   Part of that means being ready and willing to give a testimony as to our faith, as to why we believe what we do. 

Secondly, we must react as the shepherds did upon seeing the newborn king.  Remember, you are looking upon Christ in the Sacrament.   You are encountering Him in Confession, the Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, and if you are married, in Holy Matrimony.   Those lucky enough to be ordained are servants to the body of Christ, configured to Christ the Priest, or Christ the Servant, to reach out to the body to help both the Ordained and the Laity encounter Christ again in each other.  The shepherds though reacted thusly:  “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.“   They went back to their normal life, but they didn’t go back unchanged.  They instead went back full of joy, full of hope, and proclaiming a message that something beautiful had just happened, something new.   The world would never be the same again.

As we approach the calendar New Year, we celebrate so many beautiful feasts that remind us again and again of this Gospel we have been entrusted with.   From the celebration of the day Jesus was circumcised, and shed His first drops of blood in the plan of our redemption, to the day when He was baptized and began His public ministry proclaiming the kingdom of God; we are taught what it means to be Christian.   That is, that we are to be Christlike in our own lives.   To follow in the footsteps of His disciples, the Apostles, and Mary who gave us the ultimate example of discipleship: a complete and utter surrender to God and His plan, even at the risk of her own pain. 

I pray for each of you, my friends, my family, my Parish, and even my online readers: May God grant you a particular grace this Christmas to experience Him in a way that grants you consolation, in a way that reminds you of His great love for you.   May you be filled with the Holy Spirit, may He descend on you as tongues of flame to invigorate you and give you courage.  God’s blessings be upon you, your family, and your friends this day and forever more.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Merry Christmas!

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

He has showed you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 - Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Gaudete! Rejoice!

December 17, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 8

Reading 1
Responsorial Psalm
Reading 2

Gaudete (English: /ˈɡaʊdeɪteɪ/; Ecclesiastical Latin: [gawˈdetɛ] "rejoice"

This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday. It comes from the beginning of the intro to Mass for that day that begins “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” In English, we translate that to mean “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice.” That simple phrase is a powerful reminder of what we should be doing as Christians. Rejoicing. Being so filled with joy that it’s obvious that something is different about us, that something has happened. When we look back at the disciples after the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, and it’s obvious that something happened. After Pentecost these men who were scared to even go out into the world, scared that the same thing that happened to Jesus would happen to them, were marching boldly proclaiming their faith. All of them but one went to their graves as Martyrs still expounding the truth. Something happened.  

In the Responsorial Psalm, we see the response of Mary when Elizabeth is speaking to her during the Visitation.   The babe John had lept in the womb recognizing the Lord in the presence of Mary, His mother.   Elizabeth asked questions that we can all learn from still this day, “How is it that the mother of the Lord has come to me?”   Then Mary responds to everything that is going on.  Remember this is a young girl who is pregnant before marriage.   She is thirteen or fourteen years old.  Instead of giving into the fear that is so easily seen from her circumstances, she responds with the prayer we know today as the Magnificat.   A prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God for what He has done, and will continue to do for her for all generations.  Mary gave to us, and to God, a gift that had never been given.  Whereas Eve had eaten of the fruit and said “no” to God and His plan, Mary stood up and gave her Fiat, her unconditional yes to the plan even if it meant discomfort, pain, and heartbreak.   Mary lived her life showing that something happened.

That is something I myself have to work on.   The last few days have been difficult for me.  My pain levels have been high.   I have been seeing a lot of anger and hate from people on Facebook, including some difficult conversations that have left some hurt and distraught.  How do I handle this situation where my life becomes difficult?   Where it is hard to see God in the circumstances at hand?  The second reading is clear in that: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  It’s easy to give thanks for the good times.  To praise God with thanksgiving and joy when a friend is cured of an illness, or a loved one makes it through surgery.   When a child is born healthy and well.   How much more difficult when someone dies?   When a friendship ends?   When the money that you expected to be there is not, and the creditor has no sympathy for you?  That’s when faith is most important. A faith that shows that I too have experienced Him, that shows that something happened!

Like John crying out in the wilderness, you and I are tasked with the mission of proclaiming and pointing to the Light that was born into this world through the Incarnation of our Lord.  It’s not an easy task.   It’s not one that we ourselves can ever do on our own.   It’s a difficult and messy thing.  Conversations will be had that are on difficult topics.  Abortion, euthanasia, sex outside of marriage, chastity, and more.   Friendships can be tested in those moments.  What do we do with these conversations?   We listen.   We try to understand.  We offer hope.   Then we do as St. Paul instructed, “test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.”  We examine everything offered to us and test all things based on Tradition, the Holy Scriptures, reason, and logic.   Then we move on and try to love.  

Love does not mean accepting and approving of sin.   Nor does it mean demeaning someone who has sinned as if they are inhuman or not worth anything.   It means judging actions and not souls.   Looking at the action of abortion without condemning the woman who made that mistake.    Journeying with the person carrying the cross of Same-Sex Attraction, while at the same time teaching about chastity, what Holy Matrimony is, and why it is one of the seven Sacraments.   Above all it means going to our knees before our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and asking Him to lead us in our words, actions, and deeds.   St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “God does not require that we be successful only that we are faithful.”  That is a simple and profound truth that all of us must remember.  
So to all my friends and family, I wish you a wonderful Advent and a Merry Christmas.   To those who are struggling with a cross, I pray for your strength and discernment in how to carry it and how to draw close to the Lord.  Know that I accept you as you are, and love you for who you are, but love you too much to keep silent when I believe you are making a mistake.  I want you to be in Heaven with me, and oh how I hope and pray that I myself will be able to carry my crosses and deal with my sins so that God willing I shall be there at all.   I will close with the words of St. Paul as written to the Thessalonians, who says it in a more eloquent and beautiful way than my poor mind can formulate: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”  This is my prayer for all of you this Advent Season.   Remember these simple words:  “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.”   So are you doing it? Are you living your life this Advent in preparation for Christ? Does the world look at you and wonder, "What happened?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Princess and the Pea

December 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 5
Reading 1 : IS 40:1-5, 9-11
Responsorial Psalm: PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
Reading 2:2 PT 3:8-14
Gospel: MK 1:1-8

It took a great deal of my adult life before I realized what it truly meant to love another person.   Growing up I had no idea what a Sacrament was.   I did not know that Holy Matrimony was a channel of grace through which God made it possible for two people to begin to love each other unconditionally.   It wasn’t until I began to research the Catholic church that I stumbled upon this teaching and my eyes were opened to the problems I had been having in relationships.  Then watching Julie, my precious wife, love me completely even at my worse.  It changed for me what love was.

 In the first reading from Isaiah, it talks about comfort.  “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”   For most of my life, I would have told you that being comfortable meant being free from pain.  It meant having enough money to buy whatever you desired.  Comfort was having plenty of food to eat and enough soda to make it through a long night of computer gaming.  It wasn’t until after I had my spine fused, twenty-six bolts screwed into the vertebrae, and six feet of titanium rods inserted into my body that I began to see a new vision of what comfort truly was. 

 Comfort is having no wrinkles in the sheet when your back is so sensitive that you feel like the “princess and the pea.”  It is found in having a wife who smoothes those sheets every time you move because you keep causing the wrinkles yourself.   Comfort is your spouse walking by your side, helping you take painful step by step, to make sure you don’t give up and stop moving.   It is in waking up from another drug-induced stupor, where you are trying just for a moment to hide from the pain, and finding that welcoming face of the woman who isn’t leaving you for being less, isn’t leaving you despite your bad mood, your inability to care for yourself, and despite the fact you feel like less of a man because you may never be able to provide for her again.   True comfort comes from watching her work hard, long hours to continue to provide for the family long after many others would have walked away.

 As we journey together through this Advent season, crossing into the Second Sunday, remember that is what Christmas is about.   God is offering you a new Exodus, a journey from the slavery of sin, into the life of a child of God.   Like my wife, who has shown me more than any other human what it means to be like Jesus, He is constantly waiting for you to just open your eyes and see that He has never left your side.  He offers you a relationship deeper and more intimate than any relationship you have ever had.   One in which you receive all of Him, nothing held back, Body, Soul, Blood, and Divinity, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

 I think that is part of why we Catholics are so intent on preserving Holy Matrimony.  It is more than just a document, more than just a relationship between two people.   It is life creating!   It is inviting God into your lives in order to bring about new life, to bring Comfort, to bring the graces necessary to even hope to live a life that looks like the one my wife has shown to me.   We Christians are the Church, the Bride of Christ.  He offers us that same relationship.  He also calls us to be His Body in the World.  Take some time this Advent to pray, go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, ask yourself how are you showing comfort to others?   How can you be more like Christ?  How can you let Him be born into your heart so fully that when others lift their eyes from yet another stupor brought on by the drugs of this world, they see Him waiting to lead them out of it?  Then, go and be that person.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Firmly on the Rock of Humility

December 7, 2017

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 178
Reading 1: IS 26:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: PS 118:1 AND 8-9, 19-21, 25-27A

There is something very uplifting about examining yourself during the Advent season to prepare yourself for the arrival of the Lord in our hearts, for the daily rebirth of Christ living inside of us.   There is also something very humbling about the same process.   I don’t mean that false humility that makes us say “look at how humble I am becoming,”  but rather that true humility that doesn’t think less of himself but rather thinks about himself less often.    I found myself in a room full of people just the other day bragging about my abilities.   Not that simple matter of fact statement of what I am capable of.   That in and of itself is never wrong.  Being humble means you know who you are, both the good and the bad.  No, I found myself speaking with pride and vanity about myself.   I should apologize to all of those who were there for when I did my examen later in the day I found myself ashamed of how I acted.

I don’t believe in coincidences.   So when last night I was actually thinking exactly of that moment and my brother in Christ, Dave Womac, began to pray for our safe departure from class with words that spoke of humility and emptying ourselves, I knew God had put that on his heart for that very moment.   Then when I got up this morning to begin meditating on tomorrow’s readings I knew instantly that a theme was beginning to emerge, the theme that Advent should bring about in all of our lives.  Yes, humility.   Isaiah proclaims this morning that “He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.”   It almost seems arrogant in and of itself for me to begin to think that God wrote these words with me in mind doesn’t it?   Yet, I do believe that is how He operates.  Why?  Because it’s only in becoming “poor in spirit” that we can truly begin to get out of the way and let God operate through us.  It is only in preparing an empty manger, a simple dwelling that has nothing else cluttering it up, that we can create an altar worthy of Christ, and Christ alone, in this temple that God has created in our hearts.

I believe that truly the rock foundation of our faith is exactly in humility.  That is why I believe that being called to the Diaconate is so foundational to who I am as a man.  A servant.  Someone who is called to exemplify Christ in my actions and words.   It is when I try to build on my own abilities, not in humble recognition of the talents and gifts that God has given me to share with His Body and build up His Church, but rather as the basis for my calling that I realize how much sand and straw are all the things that I have to be proud of.   Everything I have is from Him.  It is only worth something because He is the source, the creator who endowed me with those gifts, and the rock that I must build my faith on is that truth.  

C.S. Lewis once wrote in the Screwtape Letters this following statement attributed to one of the senior devils in advice to the young tempter: “Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility.”  Today is the feast of St. Ambrose, a man who once ran when they asked him to become Bishop because he knew he was not worthy.   Then when they insisted and installed him anyway, he spent his life studying to show himself approved.  Learning the truth of the Scriptures, reaching out to the poor and marginalized, and fighting heresy with gentle words, sound reason and logic.  I know my mistake always occurs when I begin to think “I am starting to be a little humble.”   There is an old joke that I used to tell flippantly, but it illustrates this:  “They gave me the most humble pin in high school.  Then took it away because I wore it.”  Humility is the basis of all the virtues.  But be careful, “Lord teach me humility” is one of the most dangerous prayers you will ever pray.   Opportunities to learn to be humble are not often pleasant.  

So let us pray with Enzler and with Dave Womac, a man who truly inspires me to be better, this beautiful prayer from Enzler’s Way of the Cross:
My Lord,
I offer You my all­--
whatever I possess,
and more, my self.
Detach me from the
craving for prestige,
position, wealth.
Root out of me
all trace of envy of my neighbor
who has more than I.
Release me from the vice of pride,
my longing to exalt myself,
and lead me to the lowest place.
May I be poor in spirit, Lord,
so that I can be rich in