Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Sermon on the Mount

I will attempt to write a theological reflection on the Beatitudes from Matthews portrayal of the Sermon on the mount(Matthew 5:1-12).  I have chosen this particular passage from the list of options as I find it to be the one that is most unfamiliar to me.  As a convert, I rarely if ever heard anyone discuss the beatitudes and if they did it was in a passing quote here or there.  After converting to the Roman Catholic faith I found myself fascinated with this entire discourse, more especially since I had found some of them to be very difficult to comprehend from a human stand point.

First I always find it important for my own understanding to address the particular situation in which the author portrays this event. At the beginning of this section of scripture Mathew indicates that “he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him.”  The first major thing that I notice of this passage is that Jesus began by sitting down, assuming a position of authority, the position of the teacher. Then we see that the disciples climbed the mountain to receive his teaching. This leads also an interesting correspondence to the event that occurs when Moses receives the commandments directly from God.   As God spoke from the top of the mountain, Moses climbed up to meet him. Our Pope Emeritus in one of his writings indicated that we should also look at scripture through a Christological lens, a hermeneutic of faith. When we examine this event from that understanding, we begin to see a very similar pattern in that the disciples climbed the mountain to receive a litany of commandments dealing with life with God and with mankind.

The beatitudes themselves almost seem to have an intricate dichotomy of meanings. On the one hand we have these positives, and with the others we seem to have almost a negative promise.  It puts me in mind of the ten commandments themselves in which we find 'thou shalts' and 'thou shalt nots.'  We find that we get a condition “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)  These seem almost to make a direct correlation, an understanding that easily presents itself.   When we take the word blessed and examine it's root of makarios we find the word means in a sense happy.  Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God.   That we are truly only happy when we are like God.  This I think gives me the key to my personal understanding of the Sermon, that to be happy we must be like God, to be more like Christ himself.

The second affirmation seems to me to be “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Another aspect that we clearly see, as maybe the most important aspect of our relationship with God, is that of His mercy. Scripture affirms consistently that God is a just and merciful God, “for the Lord your God is a merciful God” (Deuteronomy 4) reminds us that this all important attribute of God is also one that we must remember.  Jesus himself reaffirms it again in another saying where he says “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:2)  That true happiness comes from being merciful in our lives. In our relationships with others and with God; when we extend mercy to others they too will extend it back to us.

The third affirmative beatitude I'd like to address is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”    Jesus reminds us that nothing impure can enter into the kingdom of heaven, that our heart must free of any attachment to sin. The gospel of Matthew repeats this theme again when he tells us that our “righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees” or we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  This sort of thought prompts me to exclaim with the disciples, “who then can be saved”? Jesus seems to be saying we must be as righteous as He (as God himself) in order to be happy.

The fourth thou shalt of the favorable proclamation from the mount is “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)  Again we see the pattern of those who seek earnestly the will of God, righteousness, will be given happiness.  That true happiness comes from being more like God and seeking to be morally upright in all of our actions.  This  will provide us with a filling satisfaction of not only achieving that justification, but also a supernatural happiness.

That brings us to the other end of the scale, where we seem to have a more perturbing nature of promises or proclamations.  Where as Jesus has been promising happiness for things that seemingly make sense to be happy about, now we find a different nature to the secondary half of the formulation.  Jesus speaks of suffering and pain being the happiness. Things that we might perceive as negative, yet then follows with a reward for them. From my protestant background this almost seemed at odds with the God of the ATM, the God who gave you what you asked for and if you suffered it was simply because you did not have enough faith or had in some way sinned.

I had a great deal of difficulty understanding these four pronouncements for many years, until I heard Father Robert Baron speak of them in his Catholicism series.  I cannot pretend to do justice to what he gave in that series but I'd like to attempt my own understanding of it and hopefully in a clear enough manner to convey my thoughts. He speaks of Thomas Aquinas and the spheres of influence that typically get in the way of our trust in God. Those spheres are wealth, power, pleasure, and honor.  Father Barron compares these to the four remaining beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3)  This beatitude seems to suggest that we must be detached from worldly possessions.  That having or owning something is not as important as not being attached to wealth.  Here we have a simple reminder that  indeed for a 'rich' man to enter into the kingdom of heaven is nearly impossible, but with God all things are possible.  It also reminds us that a poor man can have negative attachments to his wealth just as a rich man can be completely unattached to it.  The widow who placed her two pennies in the offering was generous, but she also could have been stingy hanging on to everything she had left.  That it is our spirit, our heart that determines where our hearts are.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (Matt 5:4)  In the same scheme of things it's important not to be attached or addicted to feeling good.  In our society we often look for good feelings at all times.  Our children shows flood us with the concept that love is feeling good and sex is relegated not to procreation but to what feels right. Feeling good is of course a good thing, and when ordered to God's will is indeed beautiful, but we also know that addictions can occur when we put this first into our lives. Only when we are unattached to those feelings can we truly follow the will of God and do even that which seems difficult or painful at the time to do that which is right.  It also reaffirms that our hearts call out to God, and that the only place we find rest is in Him. We often try to cram anything we can into that God shaped hole in our heart, but the only thing that will fit permanently and comfortably is God himself.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5) I can only imagine how this must have seemed to those who believed Jesus to be the political and kingly Messiah that would overthrow the Roman government.  Here he clearly sets a course that would not lead to any sort of world domination or overthrowing of any political regime. “Happy are those” who are not attached to political (worldly) power and fame.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”(Matt 5:10)   Again we see a call to detachment from another sphere, that of honor. Jesus seems to indicate that by freeing yourself from the need to be seen in a position of honor that we can inherit the kingdom of Heaven and be the children of God.

I think that those four amazing statements can only be understood rightly when looked at while also gazing at the cross of Calvary. As Jesus hung on the cross he embodied all of these, more especially the four negative, in a fullness and a fulfillment of the words themselves. How much more poor in spirit can one get than to have nothing left, worldly at all? As he hung there with no clothing, no possessions, just a crown of shame and his own flesh ripped and torn in the wind.  How much less honor can one have than to be the King of the Universe, but to be crucified alone. Matthew portrays Jesus as having no friends, no family, no disciples at his feet. Even the 'good thief' isn't present, only those who deride and mock him. How far from feeling pleasure can one be than to be suffocating under their own weight, their skin flailed to the point of falling off, their hands and feet pierced by nails and driven to a cross?  The driving winds of the dry desert air parching and cracking your tongue and lips and the heat of the day blistering.  How meek and humble did he appear when he allowed himself to be crucified for our sake? The master of legions of angels and king of the entire universe, placing himself into the hand of men to go to his own death.  Yet, here is truly a happy man who lived for God, and did God's will in all things.

As I examine those thoughts and I image Jesus hanging on the cross in my place, I am struck by how the very sermon on the mount cried out to those disciples on the mount in a way that almost says “Blessed are they who are like Me.” I find that each of this statements directly corresponds to behaving in the way that Jesus behaved.  His life itself lived out the beatitudes to a fullness that I am not sure any other human can or has lived them. A holiness so much more difficult to follow, but so much more practical and easy to understand.  A call for each of us as disciples of Christ to emulate Jesus, who is our Sabbath and our rest.

I feel that this amazing understanding of the need for detachment calls me as a Christian in my own personal walk to begin to further analyze my life.  I also find it particularly pertinent on this the feast of Christ our King, to again approach every aspect of my existence and ask myself, Who is my king? The old cliché “WWJD (What would Jesus Do)” seems even more relevant as we ask ourselves: Are we detached from those spheres of influence? Does the need for honor rule my life? Political, social,  or economic power? Is it a need for things and money? Or a need for things that 'feel' good regardless of their spiritual significance? Should not my needs and wants be centered around Christ himself? To live this way, means reorganizing and restructuring every second and every breath, until I too can look down from own cross and say “It is not about me.”  It reminds us that the things that are unpleasant in life are in a way, our cross.. and we are to look down from our cross and say "Its' not about me, it's about you." Jesus died on his cross for us, so we too must die on our cross for others. We often make it all about ourselves.  The beatitudes, yes Christ himself, reminds us that the goal in life is to live for God first, and our neighbor as well.  That we must be completely detached from everything, including our own ego, and say fully thy will be done.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My dear friend, I will miss you

Betty had been sick for a very long time. I was prepared for her death, and had spent time with her talking about it and sharing our faith together. I never knew how hard it was going to be. Today at the funeral the church where it was held had a special time for those who were there to share stories about her and her life. At first I had no intention of getting up and saying anything, but as I began to see that not many where moving to do so.. I began to arm myself with stories. I'm not shy about speaking even if introverted, so I began to pull stories out of my arsenal of time we had spent with her.

My mind began to remember the pinochle games till late in the evening, where we would sit together laughing and telling stories. Betty would have a beer or two and Julie and I some wine or what have you, and we'd just share our lives. Or we'd sit on the back porch as the sun went down and she would tell us stories of her family and friends, of her boys and their antics growing up. Or the time that I went out of town for two weeks after my back surgery unable to mow my yard, and someone called the police on us to report tall weeds in the back. They police came and Betty not only took time to tell the police the situation, but then she and my other neighbors proceeded to take care of my yard so there would be no fine. Or the many times she gave us food to make sure my kids had plenty to eat, or just to make sure that we knew we were loved. It was her way. Or when we stood together in the driveway as she told me she was ready to die, that the pain was getting to be too much and she just didn't know how much longer she could go... as we held on to each other and just cried.

Yes I went to that podium armed with stories to regale the finest of kings, and greatly overestimating my ability to speak to a crowd. I looked up and looked into the eyes of my friends. The eyes of her children and their children, their spouses and families, their friends and relatives. A lump formed in my throat that could not be moved. Tears formed in my eyes and threatened an ocean of misery. I do not know how I got out the few words I did, but I can only say that the Holy Spirit in that moment spoke for me, though I had not the words to say, with groaning that cannot be uttered.. this time the groaning was my own and in my heart.. words that could not be expressed.. feelings that were deeper than I had ever imagined.

In that moment I realized that all the stories I could fathom could not encompass the beauty of who Betty Ann Walker was. So I simply stated that Betty was more than my neighbor, she was my friend. She was like a mother to us, always caring for us and watching over us and our children. We can never thank her enough or repay her for that.

Yes, I will miss my friend. Till we meet again in Heaven, dear one, pray for me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Oh Happy Day?

This morning was absolutely horrible. Do you know the kind of day I'm talking about? Where everything seems like it's out to get you and even the furniture is on the attack? It all began with a nice alarm blaring in my ear... apparently for over 30 minutes. As I groggily hit the snooze button I happened to glance up and see that it was closer to 7 than it was to 6. Oh no, the kids aren't up! So I quickly rush down the hallway knocking on doors as I go, and move in to wake up Moira who still needs help getting ready. No one seems to be moving. Another round of knocking 3 minutes later as I look for breakfast, snacks, getting together my clothes, planning my shower etc.

Finally after 3 tries I hear movement in the rooms and Moira is stirring enough to start getting dressed. I run downstairs to find the clean clothes I had washed the night before, pull out my outfit and a shirt for Mo and back up the stairs I go. (by run I mean a fast hectic walk that reminds the stair well that if it moves up an inch, it can stub my toe with the best of them.) So here I am stumbling with a toe that's sure to be broken, trying not to drop the clothes, when a magical lego appears out of no where and embeds itself into my flesh. Score 2 for the inanimate invaders and nothing for the dad who is running late.

My head begins to overwhelm me as I remember all things I'm supposed to do today. I need to get Moira ready, I need to get her to the bus stop, I need a shower, the dog needs to be walked before I leave, the clothes need to be put into the washer, the dishes need to be started, I need to help Butch at the church rewire some lights, it's almost time for Mass, then the prayer group, then I need to work on some homework for class, a meeting tonight for the building and grounds... we gotta get moving I remind them in a voice that's entirely too loud, entirely too angry.

Sarah and Hannah run out the door, their bus is running in less than a minute. Moira points to the basket and says "uh oh, Sarah forgot her project." Another thing in my head, a new object crams it's way into things to do... How am I going to get that to her at school? Someone is blowing their horn in the driveway, and I call back (by call I mean yell irritatingly that someone has invaded my introverted space again) 'Your ride is here!' This is followed by a slowly shuffling teenager who takes her time and calls out as if they can hear through the closed door 'I'm coming.' I begin to get irritated and mention that she should hurry, which is followed by a 'I am' as the shuffling sloth like creature begins to put on her shoes.

It all begins to bubble over as she has left and I look to see where Moira is.. and she's in the bathroom. So I knock and remind, we gotta go your bus is going to run. Followed by another 3 knocks in what seems like 10 minutes of time.. when actually it was probably about 10 seconds apart. Finally she opens the door and I notice in horror she doesn't even have her shoes on, her hairs not brushed, and I have less than a minute for the bus to run. I tell her "MOVE!" and she does, she runs into the living room, dancing around in all four cardinal directions as if she was a compass out of control, trying to find her shoes. Dear God help me, she doesn't even know where they are! So we frantically look, and my phone rings. My wife is on the other end reminding me that 'Sarah needs her project for school she left it.' I snap at her, she doesn't deserve that. I hear the air break release on the bus.. we missed it.

Ah, how wonderful a day eh? You may think I'm complaining, and maybe in a way I am. Actually, this morning was beautiful. I didn't realize that when I woke up. When my toe was throbbing I was angry. When my kids weren't moving fast enough, I was irritated to no end.   When my phone rang and sang 'Oh Happy Day' to me, I was angry that it interrupted my space. When the horn beeped in the driveway I was irritated for the occupants in the vehicle who kept beeping every few seconds to remind someone they were here. How do we miss all the things in there that are from God? As I was 'stomping' my way on foot to take Moira to school, a small wind blew through my mind and God reminded me in that still small voice "It's not about YOU."

Dumbfounded. That's the word I would describe me as I stopped mid track.   As I stood there on the sidewalk and Moira caught up to me and I realized I had made my day all about me. I apologized to her for being frazzled and we walked together and she began to talk to me. She began to point out this house or that, this flower or that, this bus and where it was going, etc. I realized she hadn't been talking.. how could she? We were walking at the fastest pace my broken body can handle, and I wasn't really giving her a chance to see anything.

I took her to school, and we got there before the bell rang and I began to walk on towards the other school to drop off the project. At this point I'm not in a hurry anymore. A friend stops and asks if I need a ride, my mind for a second says 'you can still make it to mass, you can make it to work on the lights, forget the project, get in and go!'  I realize quickly that in doing that my friend who is lector for daily mass today would miss it if she gave me a ride. Thanks, but I'm gonna be a while I say, and tell her to go on. It's not about me.  It's now about God.  I need to spend more time listening. So I walk on.

So I open my eyes around me. The barking dogs yapping at me, the squirrels and their nuts, the trees and their blossoms and fading flowers, the elderly gentleman walking his pup, the birds in the trees, and the wind in the leaves. I walk on and back home, all the while thinking what a blessing I had this morning. The bible warns us in sacred scripture that our tongue has the power to curse and bless, and it should only be blessing. Jesus also reminds us that what comes out of our heart is what makes a man unclean. With that in mind, our thoughts can be a blessing and a curse too, they can take a moment in which we can see the finger prints of God... and instead we see only the dust. (Think of a CSI show, how they dust the surfaces to find finger prints.. our lives are dust... but if we look at where the ashes fall, we can find the finger prints of God on the surface.)

Curse: I woke up this morning to a blaring alarm clock.
Blessing: I woke up.

Curse: No one is up yet.
Blessing: Everyone was soundly asleep and resting.

Curse: having to get clean clothes from downstairs
Blessing: we have clothes.

Curse: Moira doesn't have her shoes on.
Blessing: We get to walk together and chat this morning.

Curse: Sarah forgot her project.
Blessing: I get to serve my family by living my vocation, I can take it to her.

Curse: the phone rings interrupting me
Blessing: the phone serenades me with 'Oh Happy Day' followed by the melodic beauty of my wife's voice.

We forget that everyday life sanctifies us. Living our vocation, our calling, can be the most holy thing we can do.. if we allow it to be such. We parents are called to serve. We often think of service as only when we go to church to wire a light, clean a floor, or lector at the Ambo. But service includes those at home as well. We often treat them worse than we would a complete stranger. We are hypocrites. Everyone of us. But we can do better. We can do it one day at a time. One blessing at a time. One walk at a time.

In Christ,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where am I now?

During the process of my conversion, I was uninterested in the Catholic faith. Coming from the particular protestant background that I was raised in, the Catholic faith was not only foreign, but looked down upon if not looked at with outright contempt. My wife and I had married with the understanding that we were of different faiths, but after a while I began to seek to convert her to my own protestant stance. I was convinced that the Catholic faith was wrong and I set out to prove that to her.  As time went by I would approach her with more and more questions, I guess more accurately described as confrontations. “Why do you believe this?” “Why do you Catholics do that!?” To which she would always reply, “find out.”  She refused to argue with me, which of course infuriated me!

At this point I was really fooling myself, because my heart was not really into finding answers. I would do some reading of course online, mostly from protestant and Anti-Catholic websites to try and find answers.  Then a major event happened in our lives: the baptism of our biological daughter, Moira.  As the time drew closer, my wife informed me that we were baptizing our daughter Catholic. We really didn't discuss it further other than when, where, which priest would baptize her, etc.  As a protestant I didn't really care what religion she was baptized into, as long as she was baptized.

As the day finally arrived I stood with every person in the congregation of the church at St. Mary's in Sycamore Illinois.  The priest walked us through the process, renewing our baptismal promises and then asked us if we would raise our daughter according to the Catholic faith. I responded in the affirmative and as I did, it dawned on me that in order to teach her what the Catholics believed I would have to know myself!   I could no longer simply dance around the issue, I had to actually delve into this so that I could teach her as I had just given my word before God and man that I would do so.

I began to search earnestly for answers, not just reading the protestant side of things but going to Catholic sites, speaking to Catholic apologists online, and even spending a great deal of time talking to the priest at our home Parish in Genoa.  I had many questions and someone eventually suggested that I join the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program at our parish.  I was ensured there would be no commitment required and I could go there and find answers to all of these questions that I had.  I signed up and began to attend, but I must admit that this first trip through RCIA was one filled with a bad attitude and hostility.   I wanted answers, but not for the right reason. I came to class to argue, or to find ways to prove to my wife and eventually my daughter that the Catholic faith was wrong.

The sweet lady who taught the class would look at me sometimes and simply say, “It's part of the mystery.” Then she'd move on to another topic or further into the topic we were discussing.  This made me so angry at the time. I had been taught my entire life that there is no mystery! Every answer you want or need was supposed to be right there in the Bible.  I eventually quit going to RCIA and simply studied on my own, convinced that the teacher simply didn't know enough about scripture to be able to answer me.  I was so convinced that I had already known God and his Word that I knew there was no mystery to him.

As time went on I found answers to many of my questions. An astonishing thing happened along the way, I began to find that every single time I found the answer I was looking for, I found a new question. Another astonishing thing happened as well, I began to find answers that weren't in scripture, but were in writings from the early church fathers, documents from the Church itself, even in just talking to other members of the Catholic faith. My beliefs about God were not really changing, but my understanding of God was growing in a way that began to show me that not only did my beliefs fit in with the Catholic faith, but that the faith was so deep that it really was a mystery, because God himself was beyond our understanding. The word that had so exasperated me in the beginning, became a word that I embraced and clung to as I again enrolled in the RCIA program.  This time not to argue or look for ways to convince others of how wrong the Catholic faith was, but to help me understand just how right it was.  Not just for them, not just for my daughter, but for me.

The amazing thing that I am finding is that despite all of this journey that I have been on for many years, from the days when I sat beside my grandfather in the pews of a Baptist church, to the day when I went forward and confessed my love for God at an altar call, through the days of my baptism, prayer services, and eventually my confirmation in the Catholic faith; I never noticed the pattern of repeating that was going on in my life. Even when I began to read this wonderful document about the six stages of development my mind wanted to compartmentalize it into single stages, as if we could graduate from one into another.

Throughout life we have been taught that each event is a stage to move to another, and that eventually we will get where we are going. Working a job leads to a promotion, after which you no longer have to do the things before.  My approach to this document was very similar in that in attempting to analyze where I am in those stages, I quickly began to quantify if I had moved through one stage to the next.  I checked off my list through imagination, quickly moving past literal, to group faith, into personal, and hoping that I might actually be able to write myself down as someone who had gotten to the mystical stage.

As we discussed this in our small groups, many of the others did the same with their analysis of themselves.  We each found ourselves hovering between stage 4, Personal Faith, and stage 5, Mystical faith. In fact, I felt a little ashamed as if I was failing because I could see that I didn't stay in the Mystical area.  I saw parts of my life where I felt I had achieved that for a time, where I had acted in those ways, even from time to time I could honestly say I had achieved the Sacrificial faith that I so desire to have at all times.  Yet, when I was honest with myself; I wasn't there all the time. I felt as if I was failing God and even was concerned about coming to class, that maybe I was the only one who wasn't able to stay in 'the zone'.

Then we began to discuss it at length and the light began to dawn on each of us, more especially when our teacher began to talk about the cyclical nature of faith, that we were walking along that normal path. My eyes began to open to a new understanding of the imaginative faith. Where as before I saw it as something that only children do, even having clever anecdotes prepared in my head of how my nephew talked about God's mom, aka Mrs. God,  or how that my daughter had once thought that God put on a costume so he could look like a ghost; to where I now see that we each have to reach the stage of imagination in order to move forward and learn. That once we grasp on to a concept, some part of the mystery, we must begin to delve it in our mind before we can begin to ask questions. We must imagine what God is like, because he is beyond us. That once we reach a point where we have begun to even glimpse the mystical aspect of the truth that is being revealed to us, another question appears.  We then begin to use our imagination again to try to fathom this new truth, and the cycle begins anew.

How relieving it was to find that simple eye opening truth, that all of this time that I had been seeking answers and only finding more questions, that I had been truly following the nature of revelation and faith. God was calling, and I was responding. I wasn't failing, but I was growing in faith. I still hope that some day, I can be in the stage of sacrificial faith at all times; until then I will be content in knowing that I can glimpse those moments without trepidation but simply realizing that when I do have a moment of pure sacrificial giving, a moment in which I am no longer concerned with my self at all but only with 'other', that in that moment, I will have opened another stage of the mystery.  That in opening another stage of the mystery I will have drawn that much closer to God.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger

The book of James is quick to remind us that part of our Christian duty is to listen to another.  It's strange though to think that the average thought of what it means to listen, is not to hear what they have to say.. but to quickly find out their problem, and fix it.

We so often sit hearing another person without actually listening to them. Our mind is often filled with our own preoccupation of what it is that they are speaking about and we wait with some sort of anticipation to interject what we agree with or what we disagree with, or even to say 'here is the answer' to their dilemma.  I was reading a very interesting book and in it there was this astounding thought to me, when my listening becomes a point where I am going to interject something of my own experience, to tell them here is what I agree with of what you said.. or here is what I disagree with.. we have made it no longer about them, but about me.

How much more powerful and resulting would a conversation be if we spent that time actually listening, putting ourselves in their shoes, and attempting to understand fully what they are conveying?  Not simply looking for where they are wrong, or where we are right, or trying to scientifically categorize an answer to their problem;  but simply listening and making sure they know we are listening.  Not systematically dissecting the situation with questions, but simply commenting on their feelings "You were feeling quite betrayed by their actions.  That makes it very hard to trust them again."   Is much more about them than "I'd never talk to them again!" which as become about you.

So do we have it in us? To listen? Not just to hear, but to listen.. unconditionally?  Or are we stuck as a society that is about the I, and not the you?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Where are you? More importantly.. where am I?

So what stage or degree of faith should you or I have? Should we seek the "highest" stage? Should we all hope to reach the point of a totally sacrificial faith? No doubt, we all tend to see that as an ideal. But dare anyone tell you where you should be at a given stage of your faith journey? To insist that you reach complete maturity now is like grabbing a budding flower by the stem and trying to yank it upward into full bloom. Such an effort would be violent and destructive. And it ignores the truth that there is a season for everything.

I've been reading some of my home work tonight as we relax and get ready for bed for an upcoming class in Ministry Formation. The article, How God Invites us to Grow, talks about 6 different stages of faith. I'll attempt to paraphrase those below here.

Stage 1: Imaginative Faith

This is where faith starts, as a young child we often have fancy notions of God being the old grandfather up in the cloud. Flying around the world like Santa Clause. Showering down gifts from on high, bowling in the clouds to make thunder, etc.

Stage 2: Literal Faith

This is where many of us get to and get stuck, or even consider to be all there is to faith. It's where we take all the stories as literal history stories and we never get to the moral foundation of them.. the story of love behind them. It is where we stick to what we know, literal stories, and almost avoid any other truth that can come from them. We see the story of Adam and Eve not as a story that teaches us moral value, but of a God who punishes evil and good, who doles out good and evil, almost a karmic God.

Stage 3: Group faith

This is where we do what we do, not because of any reason other than that's how we've always done it. My grandfather used to grab our heads and push them down during prayer, because that's how we prayed. To this day, I still bow my head during prayer... because that's how we did it. Many of those who start in one faith and live it their entire life, often never find out why they do something.. they just continue to do it. I remember a story about an a family where the daughter always cut the end off the ham... she had no idea why, so one day at Christmas she called home and said Mom why do you cut the end off the ham? Expecting an answer that it kept it moister, or did something with juices, her mother said I dunno, mom always did. So they get together and go see the grandmother.. who opens the oven and says, cause I have a little oven and if I don't cut the end off it won't fit in there.

Stage 4: Personal faith

Responsibility. At this stage we look up what we do.. we find out why.. we live our faith not because someone else told us too but because we understand why we bow, why we kneel, why we genuflect.. not only understand, but agree and do it out of our own choice.. our own faith. Owning your faith. Not being Catholic because your family was and you just always have been.. but realizing what being Catholic is.. and living it because it's right.

Stage 5: Mystical faith

Lots of people give this one a bad name. Mystical faith just means you've gone into communion with God. You're beyond just realizing that God lives in you.. but KNOWING he does. It's having an intimate relationship where you not only realize that, but that he lives in others. You then being to see them as brothers and sisters, regardless of faith, regardless of if they agree with you. It's going above just self and God.. and being beyond yourself.. which of course leads to

Stage 6: Sacrificial faith.

We know this is the ideal.. the faith where we give ourselves away. Where we no longer are concerned with status, personal gain, or even our own safety.. all we are worried about is doing the will of God. He has become our all in all, and as such serving his family has become greater than ourselves. Giving up our selves to serve Him and by it everyone else. As the Article says “One's commitment to the values of truth, justice, and love become all consuming.”

I spent about an hour talking with my wife after reading this article. We were discussing.. where are we? I know where I want to be.. I want to be there at that Sacrificial level... but I don't know that I am. I'd like to say that I'm on some levels getting towards a mystical faith.... some of the lines really spoke to me. “For most people this awareness of God's inner presence begins with a longing or a compelling desire to be one's whole self or to live one's life as meaningfully as possible.” That resonates with me on so many levels. As does the statement: "Recognition of the sisterhood and brotherhood of all people also intensifies one's commitment to the well-being of all humankind.” Am I there? I am not sure. Is my ego wanting me to be more than I am? Possibly.

I do know I am beyond group faith. I no longer follow any faith, without understanding why. I do not tell my kids you will do this because that's what we do! We do this because of this reason, this is what it means, and here is where we can find that information. They also will choose for themselves, to be Catholic or not when the time comes. For now I will teach them as much as I can about our faith.. not just what we do, but why we do it, and where those traditions come from.

So here I am. Discerning. Woefully inadequate, praying that God will lead me on down this path and turn me into the man he wants me to be, and not the man that I am. Hoping to be on the highest level, feeling I'm really on the lowest rung. With that I will leave you with the words quoted in the article of Thomas Merton, “When I have found my truest self, I will have found God.”

Lord help me to find my truest self, to become the self that you created me to be, that I may be in full and perfect communion with you.. praying at all times, walking in Your will and not my own.

In Christ,


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Division? Fire? Who is leading your life?

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing! 
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! 
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? 
No, I tell you, but rather division. 
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” 

This reading is the reading for today's mass for Catholics all over the world. It's a reminder to us that Jesus message is not an easy one. It divides friends, families, even nations. We see it in our own Christian walks as we meet other Christians, who are divided from us in our beliefs... all of them believing in Jesus, but finding different interpretations from those that their other brothers and sisters hold. As Jesus quoted Micah to his followers, it makes me wonder if they had any inkling of how true this statement was? How the Word expressed himself to mankind, knowing that they would divide because of their own hardness and stubbornness of heart. Something to meditate on today: Is the division I see in my life caused by a rejection of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, God's only begotten son? Or is the hardness of my own heart the cause of some of those divisions?

Friday, June 21, 2013

It is Finished

These words still echo throughout the world, as Jesus hung on the cross giving his life in love for each one of us, he uttered the words that would change history. "It is finished."  We have so many who take this to mean that they are finished too, that what Jesus did on the cross completed it all for them.. and in a way they are right. There is nothing you or I can do to complete what Jesus did, it's already done. Yet, the work you and I must do is just beginning. When we take up our own cross we are running a race towards the end of our lives, a race that ends with our own death and resurrection.

What did Jesus mean when he said It is finished? So many things can be taken from it. One he meant that mans redemption, the sacrificial liturgy of the Eucharist, the Mass at Calvary, was finished. Two he meant that his work, his life, was complete. He meant that propitiation was complete, that Jesus had died for our sins, and that it was over. He did not mean that you and I had no work left to do. No far from it.

I think one way we can look at it is to examine popular movies in our culture. How often do we see in the movies someone passing away suddenly and unexpectedly, and as the result they become stuck as a ghost who needs to do something to fix their life, or to finish it. I remember a movie with Robert Downey Junior in it, where four ghosts attach to him and each of them must 'finish' their lives.  They run around and of course hilarity ensues, as they begin to right the wrongs that they should have done during their lives. Then we have the ever popular Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze (God rest his soul) in the movie Ghost, where he holds on to her and keeps trying to protect her from the evil that managed to kill him. Only after she is safe and the evil is vanquished is he able to move on to eternal life.

This is the kind of completion that you and I should be looking for. Our faith results in works, that is faith without works is dead.  We are not done.   We have work to do.  You show me your faith without works? and I'll show you my faith BY my works. (St. James paraphrased.) When we die one of two things can be said about us "Look how much he left behind."  or "Look how much he took with him."  If we die without completing our lives, then there is so much left behind we should have said.. should have done.. should have completed..  But if we live every day working for God, every day teaching love, hope and faith... then when we die people will say, look at that man.. he took part of me with him, I will remember him forever.

Have you met someone in your life who had this impact on you? Whose life was so complete at death that you knew they were done? Who lived in such a way that on their death bed their life itself said, "It is finished." in glorious imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ? That is my challenge, to live each day for God in such a way that when I am gone.... I leave behind nothing, but take all of you with me.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Personal Relationship?

There are three camps in Christianity right now that seem to be the most prevalent, and two of them I find to be fatally flawed and separate from the Gospel according to Jesus Christ. Both have their merits, but both are lacking something to be complete.

The first is the camp that our relationship with Jesus is a personal relationship. You often see people say don't judge me, I only answer to God! In a way that's correct, just as David said, I sinned against you and you alone, our concern should be first and foremost with God. That's what Jesus said the most important commandment was right? So in a way our relationship with God is personal, it's primary.. but it's not just. Just said that was the first and greatest commandment, but then he went on to say there was a second, like it. (Another translation says "A second, equally as important" (see Mark 12:28-33). That makes a big difference doesn't it?

Then the second camp, one less common but one the Pharisees themselves seem to have been guilty of, is that it's a community relationship and only a community relationship. These are the people who put the commandments before the people. Their relationship is ONLY religion, only about the community. The Pharisees were very guilty of this, and if you watch the recent 'Bible' television series, you see some of that attitude. The "I need to protect my religion, my people" at all costs mentality.  The man who follows his religion to a T but neglects the needs of his fellow brothers and sisters, this man puts community before person, there is no personal relationship, even among the community.. only the community structure. The white washed tomb that Jesus called them greatly expresses this ideal. They appear clean on the outside, because they do everything right, but on the inside.. it's still dirty, still hate filled. We all seem to fall into that trap from time to time.. but notice that Jesus didn't say for people to ignore the tradition? No.. Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples,  “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.  They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:1-4)

So then what are we to do? We see here clearly that Tradition is not bad.. no the Tradition of the Pharisees was beautiful and had many beautiful teachings in it.. but they weren't practicing what they preach. We also see that God is important, the first and foremost.. but so are our brothers and sisters.. So neither of these approaches work. Why? Because they try to separate the body from the head. You see with the first, you take you and try only have communion with the head, Jesus.  With the second, you only have communion with the body as a whole, and not the head at all. Both ignore the other parts of the body and Sacred Scripture clearly tells us that we cannot separate the parts of the body. The eye cannot tell the hand I have no need of you (1 Corinthians 12:21), etc.

So we need all of it. We need the head, the body, and the parts! In order to be in communion with God who is a trinity.. we must also worship in a trinity (you'll find this pattern all through scripture!) We have to be in communion with God, with the body, AND with each other! So that is the simple answer. Tradition is beautiful, but so is love. God is important, but so is your brother and sister. You love God BY loving each other. It's really that simple.

That was one of the first things that drew me to Catholicism, and it's the thing that keeps reminding me that this is home for me. That there is a huge emphasis on God, worshiping him and him alone.  Yet, there is an emphasis on still talking among the body (both here and those already gone to Heaven), in the communion of saints. And yet there is still the personal relationship, how much more personal can it be than to go forward every Sunday and touch Jesus in such a unique way in the Eucharist? It's all there.

And remember, the only person scripture records as saying "Am I my brothers keeper?" was the one who had just killed his brother.

Peace be with you,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Those Guys Over There!

On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats.
Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them
and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God. 

On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered 
to hear the word of the Lord. 
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy 
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said. 

Today our priest, Father Don, gave a long talk about this very passage. I want to try and capture what I took away from that homily. The lesson there is one I hadn't really thought about, but as a person who does a lot of apologetics and witnessing on the internet, I find it's one that is so very pertinent to us on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Notice that when Paul and Barnabas came to the town, they received them well. They were in their comfort zone. Paul and Barnabas were both Jews and they were bringing a message of hope about the Messiah! They accepted the message with open arms. They followed and worshiped with Paul and Barnabas and treated them with respect.

It was only on the next weekend, when they gathered to talk and the entire town gathered, that the Jews became jealous. Notice that the following verses (I've included the entire section below) indicate that it was because of the Gentiles that they were jealous. Not because the message was one they didn't appreciate, but because of inclusion. They were mad because not only was the message for the Jews, but for them! For those other ones over there, the unclean, the sinners, the ones who aren't part of the chosen ones.

How often do we fall into that very trap ourselves? Growing up I was not Catholic, but a baptist. Many of the churches I went to talked very uncharitably about the Catholic church, and well frankly, about any church that wasn't their church. Don't date that girl, her dad is one of those Jehovah's witnesses. Don't go to the boy scouts, they meet in the basement of the Methodist church! Oh you don't want to go to that church, they speak in tongues and fall out in the aisles! Or, don't go over to that church they don't speak in tongues or don't fall out the aisles (both from different people in the same non-denominational church.)  Jesus is white! No Jesus is black! No Jesus is a Jew! He loves everyone, no he hates everyone except this group! It's enough to make your head spin!

It's so easy to say, God's message is for me, for this type of person, for the ones I am comfortable around. But God's message is for everyone! Now will everyone get to heaven? No, I don't think they will, scripture is pretty clear on that. However, Christ owns the Catholic church, the Catholic church does not own Christ. Jesus decides who goes where and who is included, not us. We spend too much time judging and not enough time spreading light. As St. Theresa said, At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.' Hungry not only for bread - but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing - but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a home of bricks - but homeless because of rejection.

In Christ,


Acts 13:14, 43-52

Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga
and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats.
Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them
and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.

On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered
to hear the word of the Lord.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said,
“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it
and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.
For so the Lord has commanded us,
I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”

The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this
and glorified the word of the Lord.
All who were destined for eternal life came to believe,
and the word of the Lord continued to spread
through the whole region.
The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers
and the leading men of the city,
stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them,
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Week

Holy week is always a tremendous time spiritually for me. When we as Catholics go through our ceremonies of reading the gospel together, actively participating in carrying the cross, or even watching as some of our members get their feet washed by our priest; all tend to move me to really think about the Passion of our Lord and Savior. This year has been especially moving, I think because last year was so vibrant and moving that I missed parts of it (being the year I came into the church.)

What struck me as particularly moving, was a moment I haven't spent much time thinking about. As Father Don was preparing to wash the feet of these wonderful people in front of me, he took off his covering (outer robe.) and stood before us in just a stark white linen garment. It dawned one me that I didn't really think about the fact that Father Tim had done the same thing last year. Here they stood before me, just as Jesus was before his Apostles. Jesus had taken his robe off and was wearing a towel around his waist.

My mind began to wonder in awe... What must it have been like, to know that the Son of God was kneeling before you.. stripped of his outer garments? Like a servant. Bowing to wash the dirt and grime of this world, of soil that was foreign to them, soil that many still thought made them unclean. Here was the King of Glory, washing their feet. A menial task. Something meant for the servant, or for the help.

Do we realize the amount of humility it must have taken? For someone fully human, to bow themselves, knowing they had all the glory of Heaven.. but emptying themselves of it to wash a foot?  Then we see our priests, even our pope, kneeling and washing feet, and some of them kissing them in humility, every Easter. How often we criticize them for the smallest of faults! That one is angry! That one is lazy! That one, well he's just waiting for retirement.... But today.. regardless of faults.. they knelt and washed feet.

Have you allowed Jesus to wash your feet? Think about what that means. As he told Saint Peter, "If I do not wash  you, you have no part of me." Think long and hard on this next passage, it's powerful to think of during this time of reflection as we approach Easter Sunday.

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

As the service finished  and Father Don walked to the front and began to put his robes back on I thought, someone should help him.. he has done so much for us today, kneeling through his pain, walking with visible pain up the steps to get to his robe.. Do we realize what he has done for us? He has reminded us of Christ... how much more powerful a gift can he give?

In Christ,

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Eyes of a Child

The other day I was attacked by a ninja in my own home. I'm pretty sure that Dustin Gurntz had something to do with it, because I've  been told he's definitely the ninja. I had left the house to get our youngest off the bus and in the interim our other daughter devised an ambush. She gathered a large sloppy snow ball, and hid inside the house with it. As we walked in I began to take off my coat and smoosh.. upside the head with a big, cold wetness. I glared... I laughed... I giggled... then I warned.  "When you least expect it, I'll get you back."

For a few days she flinched when I'd walk past her waiting for the snow ball, or the tickled attack. I never gave it to her, I simply waited. Then tonight, she fell asleep on the couch.  You all know where this is going right? I did what my father would have done, what all of us men for generations do, I got a big bucket, filled it with snow and dumped it on her in her sleep.

It was priceless! For about 20 seconds.. till I heard a earthshaking, crying scream. It was coming from to her left, it wasn't even her crying. She was shaken of course, but she wasn't as torn and demolished as the young 6 year old girl standing next to her who informed me it wasn't funny for me to make Sarah cry. My daughter, my youngest child, stared at me tears streaming down her face.. looking at me as if I were a stranger.  My world was shattered. I had scared her. She trusted me to always do good, and here I was... being probably the worst example my children could have.

Later I apologized to Sarah for dumping the snow on her and made her a promise. I would never, ever do it again. Haley laughed and said but he didn't promise either of us!  I agreed, and we all went towards the car to go get some food. Moira asked me to stay inside with her while she switched to her boots and that's when it happened. That's when God spoke through my little girl to me, with eyes looking at me with wisdom beyond their years, she informed me of my error.

"Daddy, you know you promised Sarah you would never do it again. That means you promised all of us. God is inside each of us, and you promised God that you would never, ever do it again." How many times have I sat in a room with a prayer group and reminded them to try and see God in each person they meet? Yet until this morning it had never dawned on me that when I promise someone.. I'm not just making a promise to them, but to God.. and thereby to every person made in God's image as well. Goodness doesn't just stop with the individual.. it's a communion... a community.  Did Jesus have this in mind when he said make your yes, yes and your no, no?

She looked at me with those piercing eyes for what seemed like an eternity. Then she looked down at her shoes, and when she looked back up it was happy go lucky Moira, as she danced out there in her snow boots informing me, "And I'm glad that God made feet!"

In that small moment, that instance I was taught something that Jesus told us 2000 years ago, but a lesson we learn again and again.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"  And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them,  and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 
Mathew 18:1-6

How often we allow our studies to make us feel important and powerful.   We study theology, we study the bible, we study psychology and sociology.   We then think we have figured out God... but simple truths, they are seen by 6 year old's when a bucket of snow is dropped on their sister... a 6 year old who reminds us that it's not funny... In a society where our television shows ask us to tease one another and play jokes on each other... she reminds me that I am to be good always.   That when I sin against one of these... I am sinning against God himself.

It brings a whole new meaning to that simple phrase that David penned in his anguish, many years before the birth of Jesus, doesn't it?

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.  Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right* spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness,  O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.  O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. 

Psalm 51:1-15

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Least of These

President Obama famously declared in a speech a while back that whatever we are, we are no longer a Christian nation.  I would like to believe that isn't true.  The numbers say that we are mostly Christians in our population. The increase in secular thought, belief, and liberalism would say differently. Even our conservatism is much more liberal than it was in years past. That's not the point I want to talk about.

Included the presidents exact words, so that others
could see exactly what he said in context. 

Lately I've been seeing a lot of posts decrying our government from spending money elsewhere, when it is needed at home. How dare we send relief to some other country when our country has some problems of its own? Why spend money educating children in Africa when we could be increasing our own public schools.  Why subsidize third world countries when we are hurting here and need jobs? These are all powerful questions, questions that can't be answered lightly or in few words.

But there is a key here... if we ARE a Chrisitian nation.. then we truly believe that all people deserve help. "Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me."  If we are a Christian nation then our neighbor is not just the homeless man here, but the homeless man in South Africa as well. If we are a Christian nation, then the child who needs school supplies in  China is just as important as the one who needs school supplies here in our home town. If we are a Christian nation, then every man needs our help.. not one or the other.

Am I saying that we should help those abroad before we help those at home? No. What then am I saying, that we should help those who are here before we help those abroad? No. I am saying IF we are a Christian nation, we should help both!  

If President Obama is right, that we are no longer a Christian nation then none of this matters. We should only be concerned with our own national issues, and not worry about the world.. but if he is wrong... if we are still a Christian nation... then we should be concerned with all of humanity, and yes all of creation as well. We don't have room in a Christian mindset to say I will ignore the plight of someone I cannot see, and only concentrate on those I know personally... we cannot say stop taking care of those in need because we have needs here... instead we must realize that we all have a little to give, and a lot of places to give it.