Monday, May 23, 2016

Pass the Marshmallows

A father and son were enjoying a nice fire while out camping on a warm summer’s night. When it was time for bed the father called the son over and showed him how to separate the burning wood so the pieces were isolated from one another. The fire quickly died down and only glowing embers were left smoldering. In the morning the father showed the son that all but three embers had died during the night. The three that remain were also almost out but had just a bit of life left in them.

The father gathered all of the dead embers together in a pile and placed the three lit ones on top. On those he placed a handful of dry twigs. The father began to blow on the embers which turned red and got hotter with each breath. On the second breath wisps of white smoke began to rise. On the third breath the pile burst into flames and the morning fire was started.

Two-thousand years ago there were eleven embers huddled together in the upper room. They were barely lit as they feared for their lives. The Lord gathered them together and breathed the Holy Breath (From the Greek work pneuma meaning wind, breath, or spirit) upon them and they burst into flames with the fire of desire to serve God. This is the way church works. Those with faith come together to form an everlasting fire of love for God. As a church we burn brightly.

But like the father in the story the devil tries to extinguish that fire by separating the individual embers. The individual embers can burn for a while but none can burn as brightly or give as much warmth as what they do together. Eventually individual embers will fade away and die out. This is what the devil wants to do – extinguish the fire of God’s love burning in each one of us. This is why it is so important that we assemble together in our churches. God will send the Holy Breath upon us to feed the growing fire in each of us so we can properly radiate his love and light.

For those who believe that they do not need a church, that they can be spiritual anywhere, that it is just them and Jesus – they are smoldering embers that will eventually die out. We need to show them the importance of being part of God’s bonfire (bon is French for good). We are so much more when they are with us. Throw another log on the fire. Bring a smoldering ember to church with you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gift of Today

John decided to treat his family to a surprise trip to Disney World. He didn’t tell them where they were going. They just loaded up the car and started the twelve hour drive to Florida. John was swamped with questions that streamed in every twenty to thirty miles.

“Where are we going to eat?” his wife would ask.

“Where are we going? How long are we going to be gone? What do I tell my friends?” Mary, the eldest daughter, would ask.

“Are we there yet? How much longer? I have to pee!” Billy, the six year old, would proclaim.

Katherine, John’s two year old, just sat in her car seat signing to herself while watching the scenery pass by.

This is how we are. The older we get the more we worry about the journey we are on. What will we eat? Where are we going? What will tomorrow bring.

In today’s reading we are reminded that tomorrow is promised to no one. Today is a gift to be lived to the fullest. We have a choice on how we spend our time. It is our most precious commodity. Once gone we can never get it back. Money cannot buy us another day. Do we appreciate the life we have been given? Have we thanked God for bringing us on this trip?

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” – Mark 10:15

We are called to be like Katherine. She didn’t worry about where she was at or where she was going. She didn’t worry about how long she would be away. She trusted completely that her parents would feed her that day, love her, and keep her warm. She did not worry and just enjoyed the journey.

This is what God wants us to be like. He will provide all that we need for today. Sometimes he will give us exactly what we need. Sometimes he will give us an abundance. When we are given more than what we need God provides us to someone else in need. We are to share what we have with them and not hoard for tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come and if it does God will provide for that day as well.

This world has more than enough food that no one should go to bed hungry. There is more than enough clean water so no one has to thirst. There is more than enough love so that every person can feel valued and dignified. This world is hurting but that isn’t because God hasn’t given us what we need for today. We haven’t shared the abundance with all. We hoard for tomorrow or for personal gain.

Tomorrow is promised to no one. Give God thanks and praise for the gift of today. Love as if you will never get another chance to do so. If you wake tomorrow it is because God has decided to provide you to someone in need. Be that gift.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Idle Hands and Idol Thoughts

Catholics are often accused by Reformed Christians of removing the commandment on creating graven images so we can worship and pray to our statues and paintings. This misunderstanding stems from the different ways the different faith traditions number the commandments. When the Catholic Church compiled what is now the bible into a single book there wasn’t chapter and verse. They were simply a collection of books and letters that were being read at Mass in every church. The Church complied a canon or measure of accepted books so that the same scripture readings were read in every church.

During the middle ages people were not literate for the most part. Before the invention of the printing press books were expensive and hard to come by. Bibles and Holy Scripture in written form was pretty much restricted to churches and the rich. It wasn’t until the 13th century that the bible was divided by chapter. We had to wait until the 16th century to see it further broken down by verse. The Protestant Reformation brought about different schools of theology and a differing set of commandments. Different religious traditions number the commandment verses in Exodus and the parallel verses in Deuteronomy differently. It is thought that the number 10 was used as an aid to memorization and not as a theology. There are eight different ways the Ten Commandments are numbered based upon the different faith traditions.

The first big difference between the Catholic numbering and the Reformed Christian numbering starts with the second commandment. The second commandment for a Catholic is;

                Thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.

This is the third commandment for a Reformed Christian. The second commandment for a Reformed Christian is,

                Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image.

For a Catholic this is part of the first commandment. The trouble comes in because we have shortened all of the verses of scripture to make the commandments easier to memorize. When you ask a Catholic what the first commandment is they should respond with,

                “I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods before me.”

 All faith traditions do this to make it easier to teach children the Ten Commandments. Reformed Christians falsely use this to make the claim that Catholics worship idols because our churches are full of statues and paintings. If this were true, and the Catholic Church removed this verse in Holy Scripture so we could worship idols, you would not find it in a Catholic bible. Pick up any Catholic or Protestant bible and you will find the following:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”  - Exodus 20, 4-6

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. ‘You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” – Deuteronomy 5, 8-10


So what about the claim that Catholic’s worship idols? The confusion here is with the words idol and icon. An idol is an object that an action is directed to. An icon is an object an action is directed through. Do Catholics worship idols? Absolutely not. Worship is reserved for God and God alone. Do Catholics use icons (statues, paintings, pictures) to focus our attention and direct our thoughts and prayers through to the person the icon represents? Indeed we do.

Let’s take a statue of Mary as an example. Why do Catholics kneel and pray before a statue of Mary? Are we worshiping the statue? Nope, not at all. Contrary to popular anti-Catholic belief we do not worship Mary. We venerate her because she is the mother of Jesus. Jesus loves and honors his mother, just as the fourth commandment tells him to, and so should we. The statute is an icon of the Holy Mother. We use it as a conduit to pass our veneration and prayer through to Mary.

See, to a Catholic a Saint is not a dead person but one who is alive and living with God. Saints include the angels. Just as I can ask you, dear reader, to pray for me or to pray for someone else I can also ask any of the Saints in heaven to pray for me as well. They are in direct contact with Jesus and their intercession with him on our behalf is powerful. There is nothing Jesus would deny his mother. Her intercession to her son is the greatest intercession we can get.

God alone can hear (silent) prayers. No one in heaven can hear our prayers directly. When we pray to Mary or one of the Saints God receives that prayer. He then permits the person we are praying to, to hear that prayer so they may also intercede on our behalf. We are all one big family who loves and prays for each other. Love is a beautiful thing.

We use icons to focus our attention and to remind us of who they represent. They are in essence the same thing as the pictures of my wife and children I carry in my wallet. I do not worship a statue any more than I worship a picture of my family. I have no doubt that those who accuse Catholics of worshiping idols have pictures of loved ones in their wallets and on the walls of their homes. Many put out nativity scenes at Christmas to remind them of the birth of Jesus. They are not worshiping an idol when they do so and Catholics do not worship idols by having statues in our churches.

Worship is reserved for God and God alone.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

This is Your Captain Speaking....

In 1943 Brigadier General Robert Lee Scott Jr. published his autobiography God is My Co-pilot about his adventures in World War II with the Flying Tigers and then the Army Air Corps over China and Burma. General Scott was one of the first aces in WWII and was one of the Army Air Corps finest.

The title of his book resonated within Christian circles. Who wouldn’t want God sitting beside them through all of life’s adventures? Well, God for one. God doesn’t want to be in the right hand seat. He doesn’t want to be the co-pilot. A pilot is the one who controls the plane. A co-pilot assists. He flies the plane only when the pilot wants a break.

My wife is scared to death to fly. He fear stems mainly from the fact that she has no control over what the plane does. Her life is in the hands of someone else. She’d rather drive everywhere where she had the illusion of control. This is how many Christians approach life. They want the illusion of control and they want God to be nothing more than a copilot.

God has called me to serve him in a greater capacity most of my life. And for the majority of that time I have said no to God. That’s nice Lord, but I am in control here and that’s not what I want to do with my life. With every no came increased difficulty in life - strained relationships, financial difficulty, failing health. Every aspect of my life continued to worsen the longer I resisted my call. It took being put on death’s doorstep before I finally relented and said yes to God.

The moment I agreed to follow the path God had laid out for me was the moment life started to change. Although I didn’t come into riches money wasn’t so tight. A quintuple bypass gave me a new lease on life. I am surrounded by people who are true blessings to me, my wife and my children, my mentors, my brothers in diaconate formation. All challenge me to be a better man, to be the man God has called me to be.

I have found a great sense of peace and happiness when I let go of the stick and let God fly the plane. Working in the church, ministering to people, and learning with my brothers makes me happy and gives me peace, a peace that has eluded me most of my life.

Yet I struggle in my home life. I always seem to be angry, frustrated, or depressed. It is like I am two different people, happy away, sad at home. My work has been putting a great deal of stress on my lately but that isn’t the sole cause of the grief. I have an idea in my mind of what the perfect family looks like. I have values and lessons and memories I want to pass on to my children. I want to be the dominant influence in their lives and not the society or the culture. Life moves fast and I only get a limited amount of time to make a difference in the people they will become. I want to be in control.

I ask God daily to grant me the grace of patience with my family. I ask him to fill me with peace and to guide me in being the husband and father my family deserve and not the one they get stuck with. Usually he just provides ample opportunity to be patient and loving and I always seem to fail. On occasion he will speak loud enough that I can hear him over the ramblings of my mind. Today was one of those days.

God told me that I only had the illusion of control. He invited me to let go and let him fly the plane. Trust him to guide my children as he has guided me. My family may not be perfect in my eyes but it is perfect in his. He invited me to close my eyes and see them as he does.

If I have learned anything in the past three years I have learned not to argue when God asks something of me. Lord Jesus I trust in you. The left hand seat is yours.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Apostasy that Isn't

The best way to prepare for a debate is to know your opponent’s arguments better than they do. As a Catholic evangelist it helps me to know what other faith traditions are claiming. I probably spend too much time reading opposing views than what I should be. There is no shortage of anti-Catholic thought in this world today.  The common thread among all of it is a great misunderstanding of the actual teaching of the Catholic Church. Misconceptions and falsehoods both abound and remain even when the light of truth shines brightly. For those who hate the Catholic Church there is not enough proof to sway them. Those open and seeking the truth always find their way home to this Church. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said it best.


“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

As a Catholic apologist I am obligated to know and pass on only the true teachings of the Church. I do not have the right to pass on my opinion as official teaching. Indeed, all Catholics are required to believe all official doctrine of the Church. This faith is not a strawberry field where we get to pick and choose the fruit that is most pleasing to us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t question what we are taught. Questioning a teaching is good because it shows our desire to understand. We are called to accept and seek to understand and not reject because it doesn’t jive with my personal thought.

I also spent a great deal of time reading other Catholic writers. There is some great stuff out there and a wealth of knowledge and insight. The more I can expose myself to the truth the deeper it ingrains within me. The problem is that among the wheat there is an increasing amount of chaff. The number of anti-catholic Catholics seems to be on the rise. It is bad enough when a Catholic stands up in Mass and says, “I believe…” and then gets to the parking lot and says, “But the Church is wrong on…” It is much worse when a Catholic apologist starts spewing his or her personal anti-catholic opinion as Church teaching.

There are wolves among the flock that do their best to divide and conquer. I am sure in their hearts they truly believe that they are trying to save the Church. I also believe Martin Luther thought the exact same thing. The Church that Jesus created has lost her way and it takes the personal revelation of the individual to bring her back on course. This is the apostasy that wasn’t.

My question to all of the anti-Catholic Catholics is this: Do you love Jesus? Do you trust him to be true to his word? Church teaching on this is very clear and is not open to debate or to personal choice. If you do not accept this teaching you are not Catholic no matter what you call yourself or what Mass you attend on Sunday.

1: Jesus started the Catholic Church.

2: He appointed the Twelve as the official leaders of that Church. These men became the original bishops of the Church.

3: He appointed one of the Twelve to lead the rest. His name was Peter and he was the first Pope.

4: He passed on the authority the Father gave to him to these men who in turn passed it on to their replacements. This became the Magisterium.

5: He promised to be with his Church until the end of the age and that even the gates of Hell would not prevail over her.

6: Because of that promise we believe that he guides the Church through everything she does and will not allow her to fall into apostasy.

Let me repeat that – We believe that Jesus will not allow his Church to fall into apostasy.

When you form an opinion contrary to official Church teaching examine closely where the inspiration for that opinion came from. I will guarantee you that it did not come from Jesus. The alpha wolf is hard at work. Don’t allow yourself to be separated from the flock that the good shepherd has given his life for.

Monday, May 9, 2016

One Down...

The first year of diaconate formation is officially in the books. I cannot believe how fast this year has gone. It feels like only yesterday that I received my acceptance letter. I am surrounded by a great group of guys, each bringing a special gift to our group. I feel truly blessed to be among them. The knowledge and insight they bring to the party is incredible. Brother Brian summed up the experience for himself in one word – humbling. I think he correctly reflected the feeling we all share.

This year has been a whirlwind of classes on subjects like intros into theology and philosophy. We learned a bit on evangelization and stewardship. There were classes on spirituality, morality, and the types of prayer. We got an introduction on how to properly interpret the bible and took a deeper dive into the Old Testament. Some of the classes were light hearted and fun. Some left our heads hurting from the depth of information we received. All the classes I would compare to a great steak dinner – we were left thoroughly satisfied but longing for more.

One thing that became more and more apparent with every class is the depth of beauty and sheer genius of the Catholic faith, indeed, the entire human design. To be able to look at the internal working of life and not be able to see the hand of the divine creator constantly at work boggles my mind. To be able to see the hand of God at work boggles my mind even more. I can only equate it to what it must be like for a new born baby opening his eyes for the first time. Welcome to a much bigger world. We have so much to learn.

I am so humbled and thankful for not only my brothers I travel this road with but all of our wives who are the bedrock of support for us. We could not do this without you. We are especially thankful for Betsy who can support Bill and all of us in ways no one else can. Please pray for us, our formation, and our spiritual welfare as we continue this journey together.

Rockford Diocese Diaconate Formation Class of 2020 - now in Aspirancy 2

Rockford Diocese Office where we have classes

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

True Food

The Jews used animal sacrifice to atone for their sins. In this sacrifice wood would be placed on the altar. The animal to be sacrificed was slaughtered and placed on the wood. The wood was then set on fire. The aroma of the cooking food would rise to heaven and was pleasing to God. Blood is considered sacred because it contains life. The blood of the animal was sprinkled on the altar. If God found favor with the sacrifice his grace would descend down upon the animal. The animal was consumed by the people offering sacrifice and they shared a meal with God. This shared meal was the bond for the atonement. Animal sacrifice was never enough to atone for all sin for all times so the sacrifice had to be repeated as often as necessary.

The greatest sacrifice the Israelites offered to God was the Passover. When the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians Pharaoh ordered all new born male Israelites to be put to death. This kept the male population down and made the Israelites easier to control. The tenth and last plague God sent down upon Egypt was in kind. God would take the life of the first born male of every creature in Egypt, both human and animal.

The Israelites were warned of this coming plague and were told how to be delivered from it. Each household had to sacrifice a lamb or goat without blemish and then that sacrifice had to be consumed by the entire family the night of the plague in a very specific manner. The blood from the sacrifice had to be put on and over the doorposts. When the angel of death descended upon Egypt any family who sacrificed properly was passed over and the first born male of that family was not killed.

Jesus Christ is the new Passover. The altar he was sacrificed on was the cross and his holy blood saturated the wood. He was not offered up as a burnt sacrifice but his sacrifice did atone for all sins of all people who participate in the sacrifice for all time. How does one participate in the sacrifice of Christ? The same way the Jewish people participated in the sacrifices of atonement and of Passover - by consuming the flesh of the sacrifice and sealing the bond with a holy meal with God. Does this mean we have to eat the flesh of Christ to receive the blessing of atonement for our sins? That is exactly what Jesus told us we must do.

“Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”  - John 6, 52-56

How does Christ make this possible for all people through all time?

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  - 1 Corinthians 11, 23 – 26

At the last supper Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In his earthly body he could only be in one place at one time. After he ascended to the Father he was able to come down into the Eucharist when a priest consecrates it. This allows Jesus to be everywhere at all times until the end of time. Jesus is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the form of bread and wine in a consecrated host.

Why must it be a priest? Jesus passed this authority on to the Twelve and only the Twelve. The Twelve passed this authority on to their successors, which became the bishops of the Catholic Church. Because bishops cannot be in every parish every day they have passed this authority on to their priests to act as their proxy. It is an unbroken line of apostolic authority from Jesus, through the Twelve, to the bishops, to the priests.

I thought Christ was sacrificed once for all. Doesn’t the Catholic Mass sacrifice him over and over again?

No, there was only one sacrifice for all. The Mass does not re-sacrifice Christ. It re-presents it. Mass acts as a conduit between time and space transporting those taking part in the Mass back to the original sacrifice, the crucifixion of Jesus. Our sacrifice does not re-sacrifice Christ but makes us present to the one sacrifice. If human eyes could see the supernatural glory taking part at the Mass we would be able to see Christ in his glory on the cross surrounded by all of the heavenly hosts and the Saints giving worship to the Lord our Pascal sacrifice, the Lamb of God without blemish. We are connected to the greatest event that will ever happen. But human eyes can only see the world in which we live and not the truth that surrounds us.

As Catholics we believe that Jesus descends down into the host during the words of consecration and that the Eucharist becomes the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. We consume the Eucharist, eating the flesh of Jesus himself completing his sacrifice on our behalf. We do as he commanded and eat his flesh and drink his blood and believe we have his everlasting life within us.

This presents a problem for non-Catholic Christians who view communion as nothing more than a symbol of the last supper. For 1500 years Christianity took part in Jesus’ sacrifice and honestly believed they were actually eating the body and blood of Christ as he had instructed them to. Then along came Luther who thought himself smarter than the Church and began to teach his opinion over what the Church had always taught. He let the genie out of the bottle and people started creating churches that taught what they believed truth should be over that which Christ had passed on to his Church. Mass ceased being a sacrifice and became nothing more than an opportunity to instruct the faithful.

By Jewish understanding of the sacrificial laws passed down from God when Christians ceased eating the actual body and blood of Jesus they also ceased to participate in his sacrifice of atonement for sin. It is written in Holy Scripture that he was sacrificed for many, not all, who believe in him. It also says that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only God knows who is saved and not saved. I have to take Jesus at his word and be part of the only Church that can offer me his real body and blood as my holy food. I don’t want symbolic salvation, I want to really be saved.

Do you think that the angel of death would have passed over a Jewish house the night of the tenth plague if they had coated their doorposts with red paint symbolizing blood? If the life of your firstborn son were at stake would you have chanced it?

When Jesus told those following him that if they wanted eternal life they would have to eat his flesh they fled from him in droves thinking him crazy. He didn’t chase after them telling them he was only speaking of symbolically eating his flesh. Instead he turned to his disciples and asked if they were going to leave him too.

Where can I go Lord? Only you have the words of eternal life. If you tell me I have to eat your flesh and drink your blood to have this life within me then that is what I will do.

Take this and eat. This is my body that will be given up for you….