Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sept 11, 13 years later.

As I was doing my morning walk after getting my daughter on the bus, I began to listen to the office of readings. My mind began to wander as the Psalms were being read to me, and I began to meditate sincerely on this set of verses: 
O Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to the next.
Before the mountains were born
or the earth or the world brought forth,
you are God, without beginning or end.
You turn men back into dust
and say: “Go back, sons of men.”
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night.
You sweep men away like a dream,
like grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades.

How fleeting mankind is, from moment to moment. The universe we believe to be billions of years old. Mankind itself thousands and thousands of years. The life of a tree in the multiple hundreds of years, the life of turtles and some reptiles beyond our capacity. Yet we have an inflated sense of ego. We believe we are so much more important than everything else, as if God saw something in us that deserved his love. Those who claim we cannot merit God's love, then seem to feel that somehow they earned it, by being man.

How little we truly are in comparison to the expanse of the universe, how fleeting we are. I pondered how that grass grows every year, but it's a new blade, the old having withered and died. The root is the same, but the blade is refreshed, new cells, new life. Much like humanity that continues on with or without us, blades that may or may not be remembered in the breath of time. Yet God loves us. What is man then that God is mindful of us? We don't deserve it. We are just grains of sand on a beach of time, being washed in and out of the shore. Will anyone remember me 10 years after I am gone? 20? 100? Or will I like the countless others be simply another leaf that has fallen from the tree of life, gone on into eternity but forgotten here. 

These are my thoughts on the memorial of 9/11... what are yours?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jesus and the Forklift

One of the most wonderful notions about Cursillo and the teachings of our church is to look for Jesus in every person.  You know that biblical verse where Jesus said "Whatever you do for the least of these"? As a Catholic we take that literally, that we can 'entertain angels unaware' and that Jesus presence can come in front of us as in anyone.

Well, today I met Jesus. I was at the church this morning, attending daily mass, doing the divine office, then watching as the new carpet was being put down for the music area and talking to Butch about other maintenance issues we need to get to, and upcoming school etc.  While I was wandering around doing some 'busy work' (small chores here and there) a latino gentleman approached asking to see Father.  After being told that Father was at lunch and would be back in a while, this man sat down and said I'll wait.

I walked past him a few times, saying hi and being kind but not really paying attention to who he was or giving him the real dignity he deserved.   Then when I finished my chores I walked down the Hall and introduced myself and started up a conversation.  He told me about his family, about his wife, and about the company he worked for; how they had just let him go from his job as a forklift operator because work was too 'slow'.  He talked excitedly about his fork lift certification and in broken English told me about his fears.  He told me he was scared that on his wife's minimum wage he'd never be able to make it, she works at a fast food place and like so many others that do so, is only 'part time.'

I told him I'd pray for him, not even realizing that I had never even asked his name.  I started to shake his hand to leave and he stopped me.  His eyes met mine and there was that twinkle, that 'there is more going on here than you think' look, and there he was.   Jesus was in front of me.

"You will pray for me?"

"Yes, I will pray for you."

I meant it, I never say that unless I truly mean it.  But everyone reading this knows that when someone says that they will 'pray for you' they often mean, I'm gonna say a prayer as I walk away for whatever your needs are, but then I may not think of you for a while.

He stood up and Jesus looked at me and said, "Ok".  Then he bowed his head.   I knew right then that Jesus was taking me up on my offer to pray for this child of his, my brother.  I placed my hand on his shoulder, and I bowed my head.  I prayed for him out loud.  I prayed for his family. I prayed for his children. I prayed for his job situation. I prayed for his soul.  I prayed for God's guidance.  I called him my friend, I called him my brother. I made the sign of the cross and said Amen.

Jesus was still there in the room with us, but he was no longer in the man in front of me.  The man with trembling voice thanked me, and sat back down I think almost shaken.  I was a bit shaken too.  Thank you Jesus for helping both of us.  The man looked up and he held out his hand one more time.  He said "My name's Fancisco." I shook his hand and told him, "I am Brian."

In Christ,

Friday, May 9, 2014

Will you let me be your servant?

This morning I had the wonderful privilege of leading a communion service for our parish.  About 6:30 as the kids were getting ready for school, I was in the living room preparing for my role.   Between helping find hair brushes and signing papers for school I read vocally and re-read the readings for the day.   I prayed that God would provide me with a lector for the day (since our normal lector for Friday's was on a mission of mercy, and of course God provided.)   Around 6:45 I began to pick out the hymn we would sing (which is also normally done by the same gentleman and brother who is the lector on Fridays.)

So much to the joy of my children just before 7:00 they were serenaded (notice how that word reminds you of a grenade?) with my wondrous rendition of "will you let me be your servant."    Now I'm one of those guys  that gets music lyrics completely wrong. From Like a Cheestick (like a g6) to Rock the Catbox (casbah), I've gotten them wrong for years.   So I wasn't surprised at all this morning when I sang the wrong lyrics to this song, to which my eldest of course corrected me.

"Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you, pray that I may have the strength to..."

From behind a closed door in the back of the house a disembodied voice bellowed "It's grace!"  "What?"  "I said it's grace!"   "What!?"  The door opens and she says "I said it's grace, not strength.. the lyrics are 'pray that I may have the grace'.  The door closes.

Isn't it funny how sometimes God corrects us through others?  How that something so simple as her just being herself was a moment of 'ah ha' to me?   There is such a huge difference in me having the strength, and me asking for the grace to let you be my servant too.  It reminded me immediately of the scene where Jesus says he's going to wash Peters feet and impetuous Peter declares Lord no!  You will never wash MY feet. Jesus then tells him If I do not wash your feet, you will have no part of me.   Then here I was this morning crying out with Peter, Lord then wash not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!

All too often we forget to humble ourselves enough to accept God's grace.  He offers to do something for us and we turn our back on it, lifting ourselves up and saying I don't need that!   Our pride gets in the way.  It's when we try to do things on our own strength that we find ourselves falling back into those same old sins.  You know when you say "I've got this beat, I haven't done XXXXX in weeks, I have finally mastered myself."  that we fall.   When we rather turn to God and say "I'm not strong enough to do this on my own.   I need you.  Please heavenly Father, send me strength, send me grace, send me help;"  that is when we find ourselves able to resist and live a Christ like life.

We often hear that saying that God will not give us more than we can handle.  I'm not sure I agree with that.  Sometimes I think God allows us just a bit more so that we can break, so that we can say "God I'm not strong enough for this.. help me carry my Cross.."  So today I ask, and pray;  will you let me be your servant?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

An Encounter with Christ

As many of you know, I've taken some time away from the computer for Lent; only recently returning to Facebook and blogging.  During that time I've tried to add some other pursuits that would help me grow closer to God.   One of the things I decided to do was get back to 'pleasure reading.'  With classes for ministry formation, bible studies, prayer groups, etc... a great deal of my reading has been 'assignments' or things I needed to research to plan a prayer retreat, or even the Facebook posts.  So I picked out a few books to read, to help me grow closer, but also books that are just for me.  Books I wanted to read.

One of those books is The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by Reverend James Martin, SJ.  This book interested me because of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, and his Jesuit background.  I don't know a lot about Jesuits so trying to understand their spirituality is very interesting and enlightening to me.   I've also been reading the wonderful book, Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads given to me as a gift by my dear friend Laci.   One of the interesting things I have found about Father Martin, is that he consistently looks for Gods presence in everything.  In every person. In every action. In every thought. In every 'desire'.   He looks to find God, if not in the moment, at least in retrospect to the end of his day when he does his daily Examen.  There is such a wonderful anecdote in the book by Father Martin about a man working in an administrative position who, when the door bell rings, would say "I am coming Lord!" in preparation for trying to see God in whoever had come to visit or to do business.

Such a simple concept, to look at your day and try to find God in each person you talk to.  In each task you are doing. In every blessing and even in every problem.  Father Tim Seigel  used to say much the same thing, when he would talk about the beauty of our round church.   He would tell us that in each person in the room, there is Jesus waiting.  I even remember a story about a grumpy old man that someone was trying to serve or at least talk with in a shelter, and the story ended with "Jesus wasn't in a very good mood that day."

It all boils down to "whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me" and in the same token "whatever you have not done for the least of these, you have not done for me."  This long introduction leads me to such a simple moment, but one that really opened my eyes and blessed me this morning.   On Thursdays we say a chaplet of Divine Mercy in our Sanctuary after Mass.  Today as we were praying for Mercy for the world and all of us in it, I was drawn to contemplating Mary Magdalene and the gospel from a few days previous.  In that Gospel Mary arrives at the tomb and finds it empty.  She is devastated.  Jesus walks up but she doesn't recognize him in his glorified state, and I'm sure her grief stricken heart and tears helped make it even more difficult to recognize anyone at all.  She, thinking he was the caretaker, begged him to just tell her where Jesus body was and she'd come get it.  She turned back to the tomb, turning her back on God... and a moment later, Jesus said her name.   Something so simple, but immediately she recognized him.  As we were praying for Divine Mercy, I was thinking of the beauty and mercy of that tender moment... being called by God, by name.
There I sat thinking looking around at the faces of the beautiful people praying with me, and asking myself do I see Jesus in this room? In Richard and Gene I always find love, in Mary I find patience and fortitude, in Paul I find the kindness to go out of his way to help everyone.  Yes, in these people I see Jesus every day.  My heart was content for I thought, "Yes, I have seen Jesus today in his body!"

Then as we were leaving, I was talking to Rita about the prayer basket we had set up in the entrance and she, as always, was kind and generous.  Then as she was leaving she gave me a hug and a kiss on the check, and she said "You tell your children and wife," then she paused for a moment as if taking time to get every word just right and said, "Haley.  Hannah. Sarah.  Moira. and Julie."  Pausing between each name as if they were precious and beautiful, and then "that I love them."   Then she walked away.  There He was.   When I was least expecting him, when I thought I had already seen through my own effort what he had to offer me for today, the God of Surprises blessed me with a beautiful moment in which he reminded me "I have called you by name.  You are mine." (Isaiah 43:1) Thank you Lord for reminding me that you love and watch over my family, and that they belong to you.  May I try to live up to that honor of having them in my life; and thank you Lord for Rita, for being your instrument today to bring me such a beautiful present.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How can church Doctrine help me grow closer to God?

How Can Accepting the Doctrine of the Church help you come closer to God?

As a convert to the Catholic faith, the organic nature of the development of doctrine is something that I have experienced first hand.  During my formative years I began to do what is most common in the Protestant denominations; that is I began to church shop.  Many protestants are taught that the bible is the sole authority of their faith, and that they should continue looking for a church until they find one that teaches the bible and only the bible.  The problem then becomes whose version of interpretation is the correct one? Who is the authority who has the final say in interpretation? The Holy Spirit of course is the answer, but in the physical world we also have to have someone speaking via the Holy Spirit to make decisions in matters of  faith.

One of my first memorable experiences of this sort of process in action was in a church in rural southwest Virginia.  As the preacher began his sermon for the day, he began talking about another preacher from a different church and condemned him for smoking tobacco.  He talked about how it was bad for the body and that scripture had clearly shown that our body was a temple, and that smoking was desecrating that temple.  He kept preaching into a fevered pitch and paused just long enough to spit his ambeer into the cup.  This man of God had just been preaching about the sinful use of smoking tobacco while clearly chewing tobacco himself. I began to look for another church.

My next experience of this sort of doctrinal formation was in a Pentecostal style church where they were very animated and vibrant. They began to argue though shortly after I arrived about the necessity of one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, glossolalia. One of the more prominent ministers argued that one must indeed speak tongues in order to be saved.  The pastor began to refute that argument with scripture and indicated that while it was indeed a sign of being saved, there were other gifts of the spirit and that speaking in tongues was not required of every single person. A few weeks of arguing back and forth, during church service mind you, and they decided to go their separate ways. So one minister who disagreed with the preacher, along with all those who agreed with him, formed his own church just a few miles away.   Now we had two separate churches just a few miles apart that agreed in every issue but one, but both would point to the other and say that they were going to hell. I again began to look for another church.

After a while I settled down in a small church of the non-denominational variety, where they preached 'the bible' and studied it quite often together. The Pastor seemed to be a very nice fellow who gave a very good sermon, and they often had visiting singers and preachers who would get the congregation 'stirred'.  Everything here seemed to be right on the mark, they talked about hell, gave altar calls, shared scripture in snippets just like always.  In Sunday school they had us memorize the 23rd Psalm and various bible verses that we should be able to speak at a moments notice. Then one day before Christmas, the pastor began to preach against Santa, and instead of sharing the Christmas story and God's love for us.. it became a tirade about how Santa was truly from Satan.  Each holiday became just the same, the Easter Bunny next, then Halloween. Eventually it was that time again, I began to look for another church.

One day, shortly after I began to really research the Catholic church at the insistence of my wife, I stumbled upon a verse that I had read many, many times in the past. “Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.'”  Here in Jesus own words was a verse telling me not to simply walk away and search for another church every time they did not agree with me. So I began to ask myself, which church is it that Jesus established? How can I know? What do they teach?

After many years of study and fighting the call of the Holy Spirit to become Catholic, I knew that it was here that I needed to be. It was only here that we had the seat of St. Peter, from whose authority the bishops and priests receive their anointing. It was here that we have the church with the power to bind and loosen.  It was here that we have the sacraments as Jesus himself initiated them. It was only in the Catholic church that I would find the fullness of faith, the teachings of the Apostles and of the Holy Spirit himself.

So how do those teachings help me to grow closer to God? For the last two thousands years men much smarter than myself have been studying, philosophizing, agreeing and disagreeing about various questions that I myself have seen others speaking about and arguing about.   Many of these have been put into documents, encyclicals, and into the Catechism of the church. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit many of those very questions that I have seen protestant churches splitting over, have already been answered and cemented as Dogma. Not only can I find the answers when there is a disagreement, but I can find the documents and biblical verses that back up those teachings as well. By following Catholic doctrine I have freed myself from a world where two men can split an entire congregation into two separate bodies; and joined myself to a church, that guided by the Holy Spirit, instead tries to keep the body of Christ as One Body.

The doctrines, teachings, and dogmas of the church also help me to find aspects of God that help me to further understand the mystery of his incarnation, of the trinity, and of the Sacraments. Through each of these wonderful teachings and writings on those teachings, I can further understand who God is, what God did for me, and how I can live to better please God.  I also have access to the treasure of the doctors of the church who have expounded in words much more eloquent than my own matters that sometimes seem very difficult to understand. As St. Peter said, “There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”  By finding the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, lead by the seat of Peter himself, I have found the key to understanding those scriptures.  I have found the source which will allow me to further understand and further grow closer to God, to find answers to those questions and find hope and grace in the Sacraments. That hope and grace draws me closer and closer to God himself.