Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent, Mary, and Elizabeth

There is a popular Christian contemporary song by the group MercyMe that paints a very real, yet mysterious encounter. What will we do when we come into the presence of God? Will we stand in His presence? Will we even be able to speak?

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?
Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine! I can only imagine!
I can only imagine, Copyright: ©1999 MercyMe

During the season of Advent we should be asking ourselves those very questions. As the body of Christ we are waiting for His return. We are waiting for the very presence of God to come back to get us! Do we think about that? What it will be like? How will we respond? One of the most amazing stories to me of the bible is the story of the Visitation, when Mary goes to see Elizabeth.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,  where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" Luke 1:39-45

The first part of this story shows us an amazing thing. Just being in the presence of Mary, whose chaste womb held the living Word of God, John the Baptist leaped for joy! Do we leap for joy when we come face to face with God? Do we even keep our eyes open to see Him and watch for Him to be in our life? Everyday we can come face to face with Jesus in our lives. When we worship we come face to face with God! Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be also! Do we leap for joy? Do we even keep our minds open to the possibility? How do we respond to God's presence inside of us?

This same story from the bible also gives us an example to follow there as well.
And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me --
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."
Luke 1:46-55

Mary is such a brilliant example of how we should respond to God's calling in our lives, to God's presence in our hearts! Does she brag about how good she is? Or how Holy? She gives glory to God! Not only with her lips and her hands, but with her entire soul! With her spirit! With her mind! Then she says all generations will call her blessed, not because of what she has done, but what God has done for her! Do we respond to God with this humility? With this praise to His name? When we partake of communion with God do we realize the great things the Might One has done for us? The forgiveness that He has sent, the grace that He has given?

This Advent season let us begin to open our eyes to the reality that Christ becomes present to us. That yes He is coming again, remembering that He was born into this world to make it possible for us to even be saved. Yet we also must be aware that He is with us always, and that He presents Himself to us in very special ways. Let us bring our worship alive, when we come face to face with the Real Presence of God, let our hearts leap with joy! Let our souls glorify the Lord! Let our spirits rejoice in God our Savior!

In Christ,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent, Mary, and Martha

Advent is a time of preparation. We are preparing ourselves for the arrival of the Lord. Both in memory of His incarnation and as well for His future Parousai. We often forget though that He is also already among us in many special ways.

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

 In the preceding story we see two people responding to the presence of the Lord, but both in entirely different ways. One is busy preparing her home, making food, fretting over all the small physical details. She is anxious and worried, concerned that everything is not perfect. I think the Master as a man likely appreciated those details as well. In fact, he probably enjoyed the clean home, the comfortable place to rest, the smell of the food cooking in the back, and being fussed over as someone important. (We all seem to enjoy that as humans.)

 He reminds us though that Mary has chosen the better of the two, the path of drawing closer to Jesus. She sits at His feet and listens to His words. By reminding Martha of this simple truth, Jesus isn't berating her for what she is doing; rather He is inviting her to do the 'only one' thing that does matter, drawing closer to Him.

What does this have to do with Advent? Advent is a reminder that while Christ is coming again, He is also already here among us. Its an offer to put down the hustle and bustle of life, and instead sit in peace at the feet of Jesus. All too often we turn this season into a time of much anxiety, even competition. Who has the biggest light display? Who can buy the most presents? Who can pepper spray their way to the biggest sale prices?

 Jesus reminds us that the most important part of preparing for His presence is drawing closer to Him and hearing His words. Take time this Advent to do just that. Spend time with God. In study. In prayer. In comfort. Giving gifts and gathering together with your family is indeed good and beautiful, but Christmas is not about that. It is instead a season to remember that "few things are needed--or indeed only One."

 In Christ,


Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent: Abraham and Isaac

So for my first blog post in Advent, I'd like to talk about Abraham and Isaac. Probably not what one would expect. After all what does this story have to do with the coming of Christ? Nothing. And everything!

  Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.

 The first lesson we learn from this story is that Abraham immediately responded to God's call! This is something many of us still need to work on. When God calls us in our daily lives often we think, if He would just call me again; then I'd know it was really Him. Remember the story about the man who kept praying for deliverance form the flood, and every time someone would show up with a boat or a helicopter he'd say, "My God will save me!" Then after he died, he demanded from God, "Why didn't you save me?" God said, "I sent you two boats and a helicopter! As we go through Advent we need to learn to listen to God's voice! To prepare ourselves for His will, that we may be found ready for the Master's call!

Now imagine the amount of courage it would take for Abraham to walk up the mountain after being told to sacrifice his only son. Remember, Abraham had waited for years for this child! He had been promised by God that he would have a son, and here God wants that very son to be sacrificed. We often complain about having to cut back on supplies, or about having to get rid of this or that; or even complain because we have to go to Church an extra day this week, etc. Here Abraham is told to give up something that none of us can imagine, and he climbs the mountain with his son to do so!

 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 

Here again from this story we learn a valuable lesson. Not only did Abraham trust God, but Isaac trusted Abraham! Think about how our kids would react if we were acting this way. If we were telling our kids we were going camping, and not taking a tent, that God would provide the tent! They'd think we were crazy! Yet it doesn't say that Isaac complained, or hesitated or went to play his X-box. Instead, "the two of them went together."

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

Now think about this again! Isaac was probably a teenager at this point. We don't know his exact age, but he isn't traveling with his mother on a three day journey AND he seems to be asking very intelligent questions. Most think he would have been between 16 and 30. Abraham was over 100! Yet there is no recording of Isaac struggling. He still trusted his dad! (Just as we should be trusting our Father!) How many of us would trust someone to bind us, put us on the altar of God and raise a knife over our head! Even more so, imagine what it must be like for Abraham! This father is standing there trusting that God will do something! In fact, he even told his son that God would provide the lamb for the burnt offering! He clearly thought God was going to perform a miracle! He trusted in God to do so, no matter how crazy what God had asked him to do was!

  But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”  The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time  and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,  and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

What does all of this have to do with Advent? Everything! Let me quote part of the story again. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” In English that seems to say one thing, but it could also be read another way in Hebrew. It could even be rendered in English as "God will provide Himself, the lamb, for the burnt offering my son." Think about that for a moment! In the very first book of the bible God is already telling us about the Lamb, about Christ!  What do we learn from this story? We learn about the attitude that we should have everyday of our lives.

First we should be trusting God! Enough to do whatever He asks, when He asks! Not waiting or complaining, but going out of our comfort zone and doing what He has called us to do! Go over to the crying mother and comfort her, don't wait uncomfortably until He tells you again. Go pray for the man who is in rags on the corner! Do what God calls you to do!

Secondly, we see the attitude of anticipation we should have. Can you imagine how much Abraham wanted to see that ram in the thicket? How about Isaac? How much were they looking forward to God providing that lamb? We should have that same sense of anticipation throughout our lives. We are waiting for the Lamb! He is coming back! Just like Isaac on that altar, we should be looking around, anxiously! Knowing that God is going to provide! Trusting enough to put our lives at risk!

So let us look into the thicket! Let our eyes search the skies, the ground, and the faces of every man, woman and child we meet! Looking for God! With great anticipation and hope! God promised to provide the Lamb, Himself! He has also promised to return! Let us hold firm to those promises!

In Christ,

* This story takes on even more meaning when we look for similarities to the passion. The thicket of thorns capturing the ram - the crown of thorns. The fact that the mountain that this occurred on WAS the mount of Olives. The ram was placed on the wood, Christ was sacrificed on wood. The list goes on and on. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Day of Advent

I am going to attempt to write a blog each day during the season of Advent. All to often we forget how we are supposed to live each day of the year, and Advent is a time to remind us to get out of the rut and watch for God! So first I just wanted to share this post with you about what Advent is about. I don't remember ever celebrating Advent while growing up, so a lot of this is new information that has been shared with me from my wonderful church family, and friends.

 Today is the first day of Advent! Such a wonderful time of year leading up to the Christmas season. For the first day of Advent I just wanted to give a general idea of what the season is about. Some of us celebrate, some of us don't. But for those who do, Advent is a time of renewal, a time of reminders. First off it is a reminder that we are approaching the season in which we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are reminded of the nativity story and the humble beginnings of Him. Every story adds a bit more detail, form the shepherds in the field, to the wise men; we can learn a lot about the anticipation of the birth of the Messiah. Which brings us to our second reminder.

 Secondly, it is a reminder that we are awaiting the Parousai (second coming of Christ). Just like the prophets who spoke over the unborn child, John jumping in the womb, and the entire nation of Israel, we should be anticipating the coming of Christ. Just as they waited with anticipation and all of creation held it's breath for the birthing hour of our God, so too should we be tingling with anticipation that He is coming. We should be doing this year round! But this season reminds us to do it. All to often we get complacent with life, letting the difficulties and mundane experiences get us into a 'rut'. This season reminds us to get out of that rut and be watchful!

 Thirdly it's a reminder that we can encounter Jesus in every person we meet. Whatever we have done for the least of these, we are doing for Him. We should be 'watching' for Him every single hour, of every single day, in every single person. We should be treating everyone with love and respect, and Advent reminds us of that.

 Happy Advent Season!

 In Christ, Brian
I have decided to rename my blog "Ordinary Time" in honor of Father Ev Hemann. His blog on Ordinary Time has reminded me that even ordinary time, should be extraordinary. May we all remember that lesson that he so eloquently wrote about in his blog, "Ordinary Time". In Christ, Brian

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Veganism, from a Catholic perspective

During some study of the Catholic faith earlier today, I was going over something we had discussed a few days ago in our study group. I just wanted to share my reasoning behind being a vegan, and to allow those who are Catholic to attempt to see it from my perspective and using the Catechism to hopefully at least allow them to see that their vegan brothers and sisters are indeed Catholic as well. (I don't know how many times I've been confronted specifically with 'Isn't it a slap in the face of God to not eat meat?' 'God put animals here for us to eat!' etc.)

This is something that I am currently flushing out in my mind, so it may not be a complete defense but one that I think should be used.

The Catechism indicates that every act consists of three moral elements:
objective act (what we do)
subjective goal (intention, why we do it)
concrete situations or cicrumstances (when, where, how, with whom, etc)
Objective Act

The act itself must be an act of good. We cannot do something evil in order to bring good about, as much as we want to. Killing someone to prevent them from killing animals for instance. Kidnapping someone and locking them in your basement to keep them from stealing etc. We must do good things to bring about good, and in order for it to be a truly good act.

Subjective Goal

Why are we doing it? If I am giving a homeless man money not because I want him to have food but in order to get him to leave so he doesn't hurt my business, then it's an act of evil. My heart is hardened and the act itself is not out of mercy and love, but out of hate. Hate is a word that describes an absence of love, and we as Christians are 'known for our love.' That is our defining characteristics and one of the many elements necessary in the fruit that we produce.

Concrete Situation

Where are we? What is going on? For instance, shoving someone might indeed be a bad act. But there is a difference in shoving someone just standing in a room, or shoving someone who is standing before a bus. Shoving becomes part of the concrete situation when evaluating morality, and becomes an act of Good because of where you are, what is going on, is someone in danger etc. Situation really changes the reality of your actions.

Now, we also know that: Matt 15:11 - What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'"

Math 15:18 - But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'

We see that Jesus very clearly told us that the reason behind our actions, that's what makes us unclean. So we cannot defend veganism based on "it makes you unclean." BUT we can defend veganism on the status of a persons heart necessary to eat meat. If their heart is in the wrong place, then it does become a sin.

What do I mean by this? First let's look at the objective act, what are we doing? We are eating. Eating in and of itself is not an evil, we need to eat to feed our bodies. So objectively, eating to feed your body is not a morally reprehesnable act. We cannot defend veganism on the objective act itself.

How about from the perspective of a subjective goal? Why are we eating? We are eating to nourish our bodies and keep us healthy. We know from scientific data that meat is not necessary for human health, as a matter of fact meat proteins are linked to cancer promotion. Consumption of meat is directly proportionate to the increase in heart disease, renal failure, strokes, diabetes and even obesity. So we are not eating meat for health. We are not eating meat because it's good for us. We could say we are eating meat for the nutrition? However, when analyzed the human diet does not need animal protein at all for nutrition. We thrive off plant based protein but have trouble breaking down animal based proteins. We also do not need the extra cholesterol, fatty acidic acids, or even in the case of body builders the protein. All of the protein we need can be gotten directly from fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. We also hear the argument that we eat meat for B12. However, B12 doesn't come from meat directly but from bacteria. The bacteria already present in the soil (though often destroyed by our cleaning processes and chemical treatment of the soil) is the actual source of B12 production. We can also get B12 from different versions of blue green algae, so we cannot say we 'need' meat for B12. So we cannot say we eat meat for nutrition.

Why then do we eat meat? Personal pleasure. We eat meat for the taste. The texture and taste are the top reason for consumption of meat, and why many say 'I just love my meat', or "I couldn't give it up, it tastes too good.' Our subjective goal then becomes personal pleasure.

Now, personal pleasure is of itself not a bad thing. I truly believe God wants us to have personal pleasure, but for the right reasons. This goes back to where is your heart in order to get that person pleasure. First, let's go over the final component of the decision to eat meat.

What is our concrete situation? First we have to look at our society. We are not hunters, but consumers. It is not necessary for us to hunt for animals in order to feed our families. We are also not starving. I do not think it's a sin to consume an animal (though thanks must be truly given in my eyes), when your family is starving and you have no other food available. We live in a land of plenty where massive amount of grains are avialble, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables in almost every market.

Next, a very important part of our concrete situation is, what does meat production do to our world, our bodies, our families, and the animals themselves. We live in a world where the actual reality of raising animals has become a very 'factory' like situation. These are called CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The animals are kept in as small an area as possible, fed the most concentrated feed possible, and gotten to 'market' weight as fast as possible. Using any means necessary including genetic manipulation, and force feeding.

Next, CAFO's produce the most pollution of anything in the world at present. Giving up just 10% of meat from a SAD (standard american diet) will reduce a persons carbon footprint as much as selling a SUV and getting a hybrid car. We are literally destroying our world, our forests, jungles (80% of all the destruction of the Amazon rain forest is for cattle land), and our bodies. We are polluting our water ways, our atmosphere, and feeding our children meat filled with antibotics, super bacteria, and heart clogging cholesterol.

The big factor for me is 'consequences'. In order to eat meat as an educated individual we must decide specifically, "My taste and personal pleasure is more important to me than the environment, the health of my own body, the health of those I feed meat to, and the life of an animal." Now, with that being said. Can anyone who is educated (knows that animals suffer, knows that raising animals creates pollution, knows that animals are being mistreated and killed, knows that they are destroying health in their body and creating disease, and knows that they can feed themselves and their families without meat and still be perfectly healthy) be able to say with a clear conscience, that eating meat is not a sin?

(TLDR)A short recap -
Objective act - Eating is not a sin. Eating meat out of ignorance in and of itself is not a sin either.
Subjective Goal - Personal pleasure. In and of itself also not a sin. God wants us to be happy, and enjoy things but only for the right reasons.
Concrete Situation - Creates pollution, destroys health, animals are killed and mistreated

Can we truly defend meat eating as a Catholic/Christian person and have our hearts in the right place? Is not eating meat after being informed and educated, in and of itself putting our own personal pleasure AHEAD of all other concerns, including the health of our children, our world, and the animals themselves.

"The ends do not justify the means." (see CCC nos 1749-1761)

Saturday, November 12, 2011


We often think of prayer as an event. As a moment in which we get down on our knees and begin to talk to God. We consider it to have a definitive beginning, and very concrete end. It starts when He comes on our mind, and it ends when we've finished our petitions, blessings, praises and even worship. Is that all there is to prayer though? Could it not be much, much more?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.

Colossians 3:22-24 - Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

These two verses give us an interesting look at mindfulness. Mindfulness is an ancient concept that simply means to be aware. It means that in every action, every thought, we are completely aware of what we are doing and we are paying attention. By being aware of what we are doing, we can also be aware of why we are doing it. As Christians we are supposed to pray without ceasing. How can we do that? We've got to stop to wash the dishes, or for that business meeting at work, or do we?

Prayer is not just something that happens when we start 'talking' to God. It can also be doing something. We can turn even the most mundane of tasks into a prayer. A prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer of praise! As Christians we are called to live a life of faith. That is a life that shows what we believe. Do we do a good job of that? One of the Psalms tells us “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” -Psalm 24:1

Do we show people that we truly believe everything in the world is God's? Our actions could do just that, and we could show God that we believe what we profess. How often do you consider the dishes God's? I know that in my personal experience if I was using something of infinite value, I'd take better care when washing them. I'd spend more time making sure they were truly clean, and then stacking them in a nice neat fashion. Often times in our own homes we don't put as much effort into things as we would if it were someone else's. In fact, when we visit someone else and we are in their home, we often go the 'extra mile' to make sure that things are done right. How often have you spent the night somewhere and made the bed when you got up? Yet at home often we only do that when we have company coming, and sometimes for that we just shut the bedroom door.

How about that business meeting? How often do we go into a meeting or into a classroom and sit day dreaming and staring out the window, completely uninterested in what is actually happening. Sure we pay a little bit of attention, maybe even take down some notes or contribute once in a while. How would we act instead if Jesus were teaching that class or running the meeting? We would be completely different people, hanging on every word. Even if He were just sitting in the meeting, we'd likely not gossip with our friend or goof of texting someone while His gaze were upon us.

Yet isn't that exactly what we profess to believe? That God is omnipresent? That He is always with us, even unto the ends of the earth? By being aware of what we are doing, and that we ARE doing it for God, we can turn every task into a moment of prayer. We can hoe our garden and do it well, not cutting corners or putting it off till later; all because we know it's not really ours. We are just borrowing it from the Master until He comes again, or till He deems someone else to tend it.

So be mindful. Pray with your mouth for it is good and just. But also pray with your entire being. With every thought you control. With every action you perform. With every job, every song, and every breath, praise the Lord!

In Christ,

Friday, November 4, 2011

John Chrysostom

I was exploring a book I just received a few days ago from my church, and I stumbled upon this quote:

St. John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should say to their wives: I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . . . I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.

I was blown away. I've often written about the love that a husband must have for a wife, but I've never really put it to terms with exactly how powerful that love should be. In Ephesians a well known verse is often quoted, and it's very apropos to this concept: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). That's a powerful statement! Just as Christ loved the Church!

How much did Christ love the Church? More than life itself. He placed our concerns, our lives, above His own. He went to the cross for OUR wrongs, not His own. I'm supposed to love my wife that much! So much that I want to place her love above all earthly things! Imagine how great a love we must have for it to be 'bitter and painful” if we disagree, or if there are hard feelings?

How many times have I annoyed my wife or done something that hurt her feelings and gone to bed as if nothing had happened. Yet, that's not the man that God wants me to be! He wants me to be so concerned with her that my own sleep would mean nothing if she were angry with me, to the point where I would instead be concerned and approach life with the knowledge that she comes first.

Now I've heard it argued that man will not be married in Heaven, and Jesus even affirms this with his words in Matthew chapter 22. That doesn't make the quote above any less poignant! In fact, it makes us realize how much higher than us God's ways are. You see in Heaven, the kind of love I'm supposed to have for my wife here on earth, is the kind of love I will have for everyone! Imagine a place where everyone loves everyone so much, that we put them first! No one will be last, because everyone will serve everyone.

Now imagine if we could do that right here on earth? If we could humble ourselves and put others before us. If we could learn to love so freely that God's “will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” Till everyone serves each other, and everyone comes first; no one comes last.

In Christ,