Friday, October 13, 2017

Chemotherapy for the Soul


When I first converted to Catholicism I carried with me much Lutheran baggage. I professed that the Catholic Church held the fullness of the truth, yet, like so many Catholics today believed that it was wrong on some very important points. I let my pride guide my mind as I set forth to prove where and why the Church was wrong.

My biggest beef was in the way the Church distributed communion. She freely shared the word of God with anyone who would listen but she reserved the body of God to a select few who met a certain criteria. The Church teaches that you have to be in a state of grace to receive communion. Aren’t sinners the ones who really needed the Lord the most? Didn’t Jesus himself say that the healthy are in no need of a doctor and he came to heal the sick?

My logic was sound. Sound logic is what made people like Luther and Calvin so popular during the reformation. As sound as my logic sounded to me at the time it was never the less still wrong. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith begins with the Eucharist, is centered in it, and ends with it. To question the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is to question the very foundation of the faith. Had I really converted or was I just another Catholic in name only?

If we liken mortal sin to a cancer that destroys a soul then we need a very powerful chemo to kill the cancer. The Eucharist is not that chemo. The Eucharist does not remove the stain of mortal sin from a person’s soul. The Church does possess the chemo that destroys the cancer. It is the most powerful type of chemo that can destroy even the most aggressive and deadly cancer. This chemo is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus gave the Church the authority to forgive sin. Jesus gave the Church the medicine to heal those dying from the cancer that devours souls. Forgiveness is the strongest medicine known to man. It is the antidote to the poison we let into our lives.

So if the Eucharist is not a medicine what is it? The Eucharist is the ultimate super vitamin. It takes a healthy body to the next level. The Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. When we take the Eucharist into our bodies we are forming a very personal and intimate relationship with him. He lives in us and he dwells in us. If we release our will to his we become one. So why can’t a person receive the Lord at this level unless they are in a state of grace? Why does the Church keep Christ from those who do not believe this simple truth?

Sometimes people are so sick, their bodies so weak, that the cure would kill them. Before we can treat the cancer we have to treat the person to get them strong enough to survive the cure for the cancer. To a healthy body the Eucharist is a super vitamin that will bring the person to the closest state of perfection they can obtain on this side of heaven. To a sick person the Eucharist can be deadly. Saint Paul tells us very clearly that those to receive the Eucharist unworthily bring death upon themselves. When a sinner, who knows that they have committed grave sin, thumbs their nose at the Church and takes the Eucharist anyway they do so at the risk of serious peril.

The Church knows and understands this and that is why communion is restricted to those who hold this understanding of what the Eucharist is and who, to the best of their knowledge, are in a state of grace. The Church has the authority granted to her by Jesus to heal the disease with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then strengthen body and soul with the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. These “medicines” have to be administered in the correct order to be affective. One without the other or administered in the wrong order can be deadly.

There is one less bag I will be carrying through this life. Fortunately for me it was also the heaviest.



Sunday, October 8, 2017

δοῦλος


This is the Greek word – doulos. It is most often translated in Holy Scripture as servant. This is the lesser of its two meanings. A better translation of doulos is slave. A slave is;

one who gives himself up to another's will those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men.”

Or

                “Devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests.”

This word is translated as servant in scripture because the modern understanding of slave has been colored by the use of racial slavery in the beginning of this great nation. Racial slavery is a great evil we all should oppose. It has nothing to do with “giving up one’s self” or “devoting to another”. It is all about a stronger will devouring a weaker will. There is nothing good about devouring, even when it is about a plate of barbeque ribs. Nothing should ever be devoured.

But slavery in and of itself is not a bad thing. There are different kinds of slavery and they all have a place in this world.

When I was in the military I was an indentured servant. An indentured servant is one who signs a contract, also known as an indenture or covenant, in which they agree to work for a certain amount of time in exchange for something. I swore an oath to serve no less than eight years in exchange for the benefits I received. The collateral for this oath was my life, which I could be ordered to give up if it were required. I was no longer my own. I was G.I. – Government Issue. I could be punished for something as simple as getting a tattoo because it was considered defacing government property.

Indentured servants were common in the time of Jesus. It was a noble profession. Indentured servants were often well taken care of and some of them were paid enough that they could afford to have their own slaves. Another form of indentured servant are those who have sold themselves into slavery to pay off a debit they have incurred.

I am doulos, in the sense of both definitions above. My life is not my own but of the one who lives in me. At my baptism I invited Jesus into my life. God adopted me as his child. Each time I receive the Eucharist I recommit myself to Jesus. I take the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus into myself. I ask him to live and dwell within me and to make the light of his love push out all darkness within me. I give myself up to his will for his service in bringing him to those in darkness and to bring those in darkness closer to him. Your will, not mine, be done. Although I am imperfect and fail at this task it is what I desire and the goal I try to live to each and every day.

I am also doulos because I have devoted myself to another to the disregard of my own interest.  This should be obvious. I am a husband and a father. My life is not mine to live as I will because it was given up for the welfare of my wife. My main purpose in this life is to get her into heaven. When I became a father that extended to my children as well. Everything I do should be directed to this end, even if that means I do not make it with them. I often think of a scene from The Avengers. Ironman saves New York City by guiding a nuclear missile into space. He cannot go with it and ultimately falls back to earth, seemingly to his death. If my family were that missile and space were heaven I will have fulfilled my purpose if I guide them there, even if I don’t make it with them. One of my prayers before receiving the Eucharist is that God allow me to bare the punishment for the sins of my family so they can enter into his Kingdom at the end of their time on earth. If that means they make it to heaven and I don’t I am ok with that. What loving person wouldn’t take on to themselves the suffering of a spouse or child if they had the ability to do so? That is what it means to be devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests. It is what I would do for them and it is what Jesus did for me.

It is also what he did for you.

Are you doulos?


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Time for a Real Solution


In the wake of yet another tragic act of violence there has been the usual knee jerk reaction calling for more laws and more restrictions, more bans and more loss of freedoms concerning guns. The gun is to blame for the killing in Las Vegas. If we only had one more law this could have been avoided.

Chicago has the strictest gun control in this nation. Some of their laws even have been ruled as being unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the Untied States. The types of guns people use in these senseless acts are illegal altogether in Chicago. On paper, Chicago should be the safest place in this country. Yet, every year Chicago leads the nation in the numbers of murders and the numbers of people who are shot. Their crime is now spilling over to neighboring communities and they too are seeing a record number of murders. Obviously more legislation is not the answer to the problem.

Perhaps the solution is more incarceration. Maybe if we jail more criminals and keep them there longer these sorts of things wouldn’t happen. The United States also leads the world in the number of people we incarcerate. It does not appear that building more jails and filling them with the unruly is the solution either. So what is the solution? Where do we start?

Society is broken. We have lost sight of what is good and true. We hold lies and impossibilities in higher regard. For example, we have institutions full of people we have locked away simply because they believe themselves to be something they are not. Mr. Jones thinks he is Abraham Lincoln so we have to institutionalize him for his own good and for the protection of the population. Yet, Bruce Jenner is heralded as a hero, given his own TV show, and made woman of the year for becoming Caitlyn. Mr. Jones is a danger, Bruce is a hero. Both believe themselves to be something they can never truly be.

Our society has gone completely off the rails. We idolize decadence and debauchery. We kill our children and call it a choice. We extend rights to places they were never intended to exist and take the same rights away from those they are intended to protect. We live in an age where everything perverse is permissible and everything good is unfathomable. Nothing is forgiven.

If we want to rebuild this society to the greatness it once was we will have to begin by restoring our foundation. It makes no sense to fix a leaky roof when the crumbling foundation is about to bring the entire building crashing down. Contrary to popular belief, the foundation of every society is the family, not the individual. As goes the family so goes the society. It should come as no surprise to anyone that our society is in shambles. We have been chipping away at the family for over fifty years now.

The women’s liberation movement started the ball rolling by neutering the male. We have never had a feminist movement in this country. What we have had is an attempt to masculinize femininity. There has been a highly successful campaign to get women to believe that the only way they can be considered equal to a man is if they can say and do everything a man does. They try to shame women who embrace their maternal side to stay home and raise the next generation. We created the pill so women can have sex like men, without fear of getting pregnant, and then made abortion legal so they can kill the unwanted if they still did. These two things combined have done more to destroy our country than any enemy we have ever faced on the battlefield.

The “empowering” of women disenfranchised the men. There is no job a woman can’t do better than a man, including being a father. With the male’s role severely reduced in society his role as father was also reduced. Father’s took a far backseat in contributing to the upbringing of his children. God made us male and female and bestowed upon us different characteristics. Both father and mother are vital to raising a well balanced child.

The glue that holds a family together is the marriage of the father and mother. This too has been under merciless attack for decades. Marriage began as solely a religious institution but state governments quickly got involved because of the importance of marriage and the family in the structure of society. Government used to recognize this and support the traditional marriage. We no longer consider traditional marriage as being the primary building block that forms the cornerstone of society. Marriage is now viewed as an individual right, not important to society. Marriage has gone from a life-long covenant to a dissoluble contract. The family has paid a great price for it. Blended families are now the norm. Fatherless families are not that far behind. The statistics of what happens to the children of fatherless families are staggering. It is rare for good things to come from a family without a father as its head.

If we want to rebuild our society the first thing that has to happen is that fathers have to step up and do the job correctly. We have to restore the value of men and those men have to be the strong examples their children crave.

We have to realize that marriage isn’t about love or what two consenting adults want to do to each other. Marriage is about procreating the next generation and to provide stable unity for those children to grow, thrive, and be loved in. Marriage is a vocation. It is not a right. A vocation is a calling from God. Not everyone is called to be married and no one is called to be in a nontraditional marriage. That is the devil at work in our lives.

With fathers being fathers and mothers being mothers who are committed in a life-long traditional marriage we can raise a well adjusted next generation who can start to right the ship. Until we fix our broken foundation we will just continue the slide into moral decay. The pendulum can only swing so far before it starts swinging the other way. I hope that we are almost at full amplitude.




Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Definition of Insanity


Jimmy’s high school was known throughout the state as having the best football team anywhere to be found. It was a rare year that they didn’t win the state championship. Recruiters from colleges across the country often made stops to watch his team play and every year three or four players were offered scholarships. What made his football team so good? Practice.

The team started practices the week after the fourth of July holiday and went six days a week. Twice-a-days started in August which often became three-a-days if the team did not perform up to expectation. The only two excuses the coach would accept for missing a practice was that you were in the hospital or dead. The football players could not have summer jobs or go away on vacation with their families. Football was life and it was serious stuff.

What was all this practice done for? Eight games. The high school football year consisted of eight games. The players would practice six days a week, eight to twelve hours a day, for months to play eight games.

What is more important – a football game or the state of your soul? Do you practice your faith constantly or do you just show up for the “game” on Sunday? Doing something over and over again and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity as it is so often said to be. It is the definition of practice. We practice in the hopes that our repeated action brings about a change, a different result. Showing up on Sunday solely because it is an obligation or because that is what we have always done does not make one a better Christian. What makes a better Christian is the same thing that makes Jimmy’s football team so good. Practice. We must constantly practice our faith.

Many mistakenly believe that our Sunday services, be that a Mass or other gathering, is our game day. But when we gather in community it is not for the game but in preparation for the game. Game day for the Christian is every day of our lives. We gather together in community to give thanks, become renewed, and to prepare ourselves for the week ahead.

We perform the way we practice. If we actively participate in Mass, offering ourselves fully to God, we will perform better than the person just phoning it in. It is the difference between the championship team and the one that seldom wins a game. It is the difference between a scholarship to an Ivy League university or attending a community college. Where we spend eternity is so much more important than winning eight games. How we practice our faith should be equally as important.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Holiness


God alone is holy. God too, is love. The two words are so closely related that they can be thought of as the same thing. Holiness is love and love is holiness.  Holiness in a thing, in an action, in a place, or in a person is nothing more than a reflection of the holiness of God back to him. The greater the reflection the more holy something is.

Jesus was the perfect human but he did not have a perfect reflection of God’s holiness. Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit and therefore his holiness is not a reflection but the source of holiness and love. On the mountain during the transfiguration the veil of Jesus’ divinity was drawn for an instant to allow Peter, James, and John to see him for who he truly is.

Mary was also a perfect human and was able, through divine grace, to perfectly reflect God’s holiness and love. She is the model for the entire human race of what is possible. If we wish to be like Jesus we only need to imitate his mother. Mary’s holiness was a perfect reflection of God’s because she emptied herself fully and, literally as well as figuratively, became a vessel for the divine. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mary too said not my will but yours be done. More importantly she lived that way until her last breath on this earth emptied from her lungs.

Therein lies the secret to holiness. If one wishes to be holy one only need empty himself completely and align his will perfectly with God’s. Therein also lies the reason why perfect holiness is not possible on this side of heaven. The original sin of the first humans stained the souls of all human kind. Mary was spared this stain so that she would be a pure vessel in which our Lord could be born into this world. That was her reward for her yes to counter Eve’s no.

For the rest of us humans the best we can do is to be imperfect reflections of the perfect God. This endeavor is not in vain. Every Saint in heaven is the perfect reflection of God’s holiness but no human Saint besides Mary approached heaven that way. Purgatory is the place of perfecting, the place where the dirt on our souls is washed away so that we can be the perfect reflection. The closer we are to perfection when we go to purgatory the sooner we will be able to live with God in heaven.

If our lives on earth is like a marathon to heaven it makes sense that the more in shape we are in the easier that marathon will be to run. If I am a glutton who never exercises, a marathon would be agonizing and torturous to run. It would be so painful and difficult in fact that I would probably give up altogether and gladly accept my fate in hell. If however, my goal is to run the marathon well I will do things to make running the marathon as easy as it possibly can be. I will choose to eat right and exercise, to be in the best shape I can be in.

Likewise, if my goal for this life is to become the Saint I was created to be I will do what I can to better reflect God’s holiness and love here on earth. I must actively and constantly resolve to align my will with that of God. I must look past the person to see Jesus dwelling within that person. I must strive to love that person Jesus is dwelling within with the same perfect sacrificial love God has for me. I must recognize the dignity each and every person has regardless of their lot in life because they were created in the image and likeness of God and intended to live in heaven with him forever.

The better I can do these things the better I can reflect God’s holiness in my life and the closer I will become to being the person I was created to be.



Love Thy Neighbor


While driving through the countryside I came upon a house where someone had transformed various objects into planters. There was an old boot with a bright yellow flower growing up from it. There was a claw-footed bathtub and the rusting body of an old truck with different plants growing in them. The thing that caught my eye the most was an old console TV that had a fish tank where the TV tube used to be.

How often do we use an object for something other than its intended purpose? I am always grabbing a large screwdriver when I need to pry something open. The back of a wrench often doubles as a hammer. My teeth show the damage from using them to strip far too many wires.

We do this to people as well. We use people to get ahead in life. We use them to take the blame for something we have done. We use them as places to direct our anger or hatred. We use them for sexual pleasure. We use them for forced labor. We use them.

People were not created to be used. People were created to be loved and to live with God forever in heaven. We commit a grave sin when we use people as objects. God gave us the Ten Commandments so we could know how to live in a right relationship with him and each other. Jesus condensed these commandments down to just two: Love your God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself.

Loving your neighbor starts with seeing your neighbor as a person. Take the time to get to know those around you. You cannot get to know someone and love them if you don’t listen to them.

On a recent journey I rode in many taxis throughout the week. I met many interesting people, each with a story to tell. There was Cho the Okinawan. He started driving cabs when the need for Japanese tour bus drivers waned. There was Timmy from Vietnam who came here as a refugee fleeing persecution. There was Chu from South Korea who had three daughters and was greatly worried about what is currently happening in the north. My last driver was Peter, whose given name was Duk. He was a Catholic, also from Vietnam. He had two sons and a daughter.

Each taxi ride began with a person typically viewed as nothing more than a servant. Each ended with a smile and a handshake and a person happy to be treated like a person. I came away with new friends and a wealth of new experiences. I would have never met these treasures if I had sat in the back and simply used them as lowly taxi drivers.

This world is in a sad state of affairs because the devil has convinced us that what the other has to say is of little importance. We have lost the skill of listening and replaced it with the art of screaming. He who yells the loudest is the winner. We seldom extend the hand of friendship but are quick to pump a fist in anger.

On the doorpost of the home of every observant Jew hangs a mezuzah containing the great commandment from Deuteronomy. The great commandment does not begin “Love your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength…”  The great commandment starts with the words, “Hear O Israel,” Love begins with the ears before it reaches the heart.

People are not boots we use for vases. They are not screwdrivers used for prying. They are not just the things driving our taxis, cleaning our hotel rooms, or ringing our orders in at the fast food joint. They are people created in the image and likeness of God and they were made to be loved. When objects are loved and people are used a great tragedy occurs. Reverse that and great treasures are found.

Love your neighbor as God has loved you.

Friday, September 22, 2017

This is not a drill!


It was 7:45 on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Hawaii. Sailors were either sleeping or quietly going about their daily routines. Ten minutes later the air raid siren would begin to sound and the General Quarters alarm would blare throughout the ship, causing all to wonder why. This never happened in port, especially on a Sunday. Then came the words no one wanted to hear. “This is not a drill.”

9800 feet above a squadron of ten Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers readied to release their specially modified 406mm armor piercing artillery rounds, made into bombs. Out of the ten bombs that rained down, only four hit Arizona. One of those penetrated the armored deck between the main gun batteries of turrets one and two. The round exploded amidst one million pounds of black powder the ship was carrying. The explosion nearly tore off the bow of the dreadnaught. The fireball it created instantly incinerated men where they stood. The ship sank in nine minutes trapping more men below decks. At the end of that fateful day the USS Arizona lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor with 1177 of her 1511 crew dead.

Why is it important that we try to stay in a state of grace? Like the crew of the USS Arizona you never know when you will take your last breath. Some that morning never even made it out of their racks. Mortal sin is like a cancer that kills the soul. It separates us from God. We are left with only the hope of God’s great mercy if we die outside of his friendship.

God does not want this for his children. He wants every one of his creation to live forever with him in heaven. Jesus gave us the cure for mortal sin. It is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, one of two Sacraments of healing. It is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus gave the Twelve the authority to forgive or retain sin. There are some faith traditions that believe Jesus’ sacrifice alone forgives all sins no matter the disposition of the sinner. Jesus does not forgive sins. He forgives sinners. His sacrifice covers the debit the sin incurred. We all have been given free will and that free will extends to our sins as well. What is the only sin that cannot be forgiven? The only sin that will not be forgiven is the sin we refuse to let go of. Jesus will allow us to keep our sins if we wish to do so. For a sin to be forgiven a repentant sinner has to seek forgiveness. All you have to do is to have a humble heart, be truly repentant, and ask Jesus, through the proper authority he established in his Church, and you can be forgiven.

Why would God condemn someone to hell? The simple answer is that he doesn’t. God doesn’t send us to hell, he finds us there. Every person, angelic or human, is in hell because they have chosen, through their free will, to be there. They are in hell because they have been separated from the friendship of God through mortal sin that they will not seek forgiveness for. They want something more than they want the love of God.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the greatest thing the Catholic Church has to offer, second only to the body, blood, humanity, and divinity of Jesus in the form of the Eucharist. The Sacrament of Reconciliation cures the cancer. It forgives the sinner and restores him to full communion, full friendship with God. Those who die in a state of grace do not have to hope for the great mercy of God. They have already received it.

So why do so many look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation the same way they look at going to the dentist? Why do so many wait until their teeth are painfully rotting out of their head before they seek help? For most of us that is because of shame. We are so filled with shame over what we have done that we do not want to admit it out loud to another person. It is so much easier just to give it to Jesus in the private of our heart than to say it aloud to a priest in a confessional. What would the priest think of me if he knew I wasn’t perfect? News flash – the priest knows regardless. Another news flash – the priest himself is not perfect and also receives the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The devil will make good use of your shame, amplifying it, to keep you from going to reconciliation. Your mortal sin is his lifeblood. Those who die outside of the friendship with God are his to consume. He will do whatever he can to keep you from restoring that friendship. He will use your unconfessed sins against you to increase your guilt and shame and to keep you as his possession.

If you were dying of cancer you would do whatever it takes to beat it and to live. The state of your soul is much more important. Do not spend eternity as food for the devil. Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation often. Death finds most of us like a thief in the night, or in the case of the poor men on the USS Arizona, like a well-placed bomb on a Sunday morning.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Driving Blind


Atheists often accuse Christians of having blind faith, in believing in something they can’t possibly see, hear, or feel. In reality it is the atheist himself who is blind. They only believe in things that can be proven through empirical evidence. They believe in only the natural, not the supernatural, and therefore limit themselves to only half of existence.

Life is like driving a car in the darkest of nights. We can only see for the short distance that our headlights illuminate. Beyond that is the black void of the unknown. We can look in the rearview mirror and see for even a shorter distance. Things past are quickly out of sight and easily forgotten. We all, at times, overdrive our headlights making it impossible to react quickly enough to changes in the road or dangers that suddenly appear in front of us.

The difference between the Christian and the Atheist is in who is driving the car. Through faith, a Christian allows God to do the driving, knowing that no matter what the road ahead may contain, God will never fail to see us through. An atheist, through lack of faith, refuses to let go of the wheel. They are in control wherever that control may lead. The atheist lives in only that small part of the world that can be seen in the dim headlights. They use the car’s “brights” or science to try to see just a little bit more. Christians living their faith can see just as much as the atheists but live in confidence that the One who is driving can see everything, present, future, and past, as clearly as on the brightest day. That gives a Christian a certain confidence an atheist simply cannot have. For an atheist the end could be around the next bend. A Christian knows that Jesus has conquered death and that the road ahead, although maybe rough at times, always goes on.

Faith is synonymous with trust. A Christian who refuses to let go of the wheel and trust in God is no better than the atheist who trusts his own hand to drive the car. Both are only as good as what their headlights allow them to see. Empirically speaking, blind faith has the advantage over dim headlights even in the darkest of nights.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

A text without its context...


A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.”

In other words, if you do not know the story behind a text it can be used to prove an idea the text doesn’t actually support. A good example of this in Holy Scripture is when St. Paul tells the women of Corinth to sit down, shut up, and be subservient to their husbands.

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?” – 1 Corinthians 14: 34-36

This has lead people to believe through the ages that St. Paul was just another one of those old white guys who wanted to oppress women. This has been used as a proof text by men who wish to justify their domination of women and by women libers looking to break the bonds of male oppression.

In reality St. Paul was one of the great feminists of the time and did more to make women equal to men than those around him. Without the proper context what other conclusion can you come to? And now a lesson in history….




Corinth was a major seaport located on narrow strip of land that separates the Corinthian Gulf from the Saronic Gulf. It was an important and bustling trade city. The city had many pagan temples that employed the services of temple priestesses in the oldest profession known to man. These priestesses were known as honey bees and their job was to raise money for the temple by providing their services. It was considered good luck and a noble thing to employ these honey bees.

Because the land was narrow it was faster and easier to pull small trade ships out of the water at Corinth and portage them across to the Saronic Gulf than it was to sail all the way around Achaia. There were companies that employed slaves to land ferry these ships across. The sailors on these ships enjoyed an extended liberty call and like sailors have done through the ages they engaged in all sorts of drinking, festivities, and debauchery, which included visiting the honey bees. The streets were filled with all kinds of deplorable activity.

The Jews are a people set apart by God. They have the Torah which tells them how to live in a right relationship with God and each other. Jews were easy to pick out in Corinth. The women were silent. They were veiled (we veil what we hold sacred) and they were subservient to their husbands. This made them stand out as being different.

Along comes this new religion, Christianity. Women were viewed more as equals. They no longer had to be veiled or be silent in church or public. They did not act like slaves to their husbands. The problem was that they fit into the Corinth pagan society a little too well and became hard to distinguish from their pagan counterparts. This led to the mistaken belief that the Christians were nothing more than just another pagan cult.

But as Christians we are called to be more like the Jews. We are called to be in the culture but not part of the culture. People should look at a Christian, as they can a Jew, and know that there is something different about them.

The context behind St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians was basically this;

“To avoid creating a scandal and leading the city to believe you are something you are not go back to acting the way the Jews do while you are in public and in church. It is far better to be mistaken for a Jew than it is to be mistaken as a honey bee.”

This is the same kind of thought St. Paul had when he said that he could eat anything he wants when questioned about the Torah’s dietary restrictions. It is not what goes into a person that makes him unclean but what comes out of a person. However, if eating meat brings scandal upon me I will refrain from doing so when I am with you.

How much more love and respect can you show someone than to change your ways when in their presence for their sake?

St. Paul never intended his instruction to be justification for domination over anyone and he certainly did not see women as second class people who should sit down and shut up.

Context means everything. It is something talking heads no longer concern themselves with.

As Christians we are called to be set apart from society. People should be able to tell us apart by the way we act, the way we speak, and the way we dress. Look around you. Can you tell who the Christians are or are more and more people starting to look like drunken sailors and honey bees.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

To Bear the Burden


Yoke



yōk/

noun: yoke

A wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.

 Yokes are fitted to an animal team. The better the fit the better the animals could work together to bear the load. A well fitting yoke is comfortable and barely noticed by the animals whereas an ill fitting yoke rubs, chaffs, and can do damage to one or both animals it is used on. 







There is a tradition that believes Jesus was a master yoke maker. People would come to him from all around to make a yoke for their working team. If this tradition is true then there must have been some people laughing when Jesus said:

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matthew 11: 29-30

The yoke maker telling us to take his yoke. Was this holy land advertising?

The Pharisees thought the way to righteousness was by strictly living to the letter of the Torah. This put a great burden on those who tried. You were either lowly because you often failed and couldn’t live by the Law or you became holier than thou, like Saul, who boasted of being without fault in the eyes of the Law. Christians see Jesus as the Law fulfilled, the living Torah. Jesus invites all people to live as he does, in the spirit of the Law, and not to be overburdened by trying to ensure every jot and tittle is in its proper place.

The last time I was watching The Passion of the Christ, which I can only do once every Easter, a particular scene stuck me in a new way. It was the scene where Simon of Cyrene was pressed into helping Jesus carry his cross.
When I saw this image I immediately saw….a yoke, Christ’s yoke. I saw two bearing the burden. I was struck by the way Mel Gibson had “Simon” not only carry the cross but our Lord as well. The two of them worked together to make it to the greatest event in human history.

Jesus goes on to tell his Disciples that if they want eternal life they would have to pick up their crosses and follow him. The way to Calvary was not easy. Nor is it easy to be a Christian. We are called to be better. We are called to be the image of Christ.

Back to the image of the cross being a yoke. A yoke is made for two. We never bear our cross or wear our yoke alone. As Simon helped Christ in his humanity bear the burden so Jesus now helps us in ours. With Jesus as our yokemate is there any burden that could be too heavy? When we stumble is he not there to balance the load. When we can no longer stand does he not put one arm around us and one around our cross and lift us up?

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. Be gentle and humble of heart. I will make your burden light and you will find rest for your soul.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini...


I had a friend tell me that he came home from Mass the other day offended and deeply hurt. His adult daughter paid him a visit and they decided to attend the anticipatory Mass together. The problem was that his daughter was dressed in clothes that would make Daisy Duke blush. During the sign of peace an older parishioner took a hold of his daughter’s hand tightly and said, “You should be ashamed of how you are dressed.”

“The lady didn’t look too happy with me either,” he said. When I asked what he was wearing he said that he had on his favorite cut off shorts, tank top, and flip-flops. “Who are they to judge? God doesn’t care what we wear. He’s just happy that we came.”

Personally, I find that to be one of the most arrogant statements I hear. The creator of all existence is overjoyed because we managed to carve out forty-five minutes of our day to go sit in church. My friend’s daughter is getting married at the end of the year. I asked if it would be ok for me to wear my cutoffs and tank top to her wedding.

“What? No it wouldn’t be ok. It is her special day. You’d ruin the pictures.”

For far too many people Mass is a place where they go to get. They get to listen to good music. They get to hear a sermon that makes them feel good about themselves. The get communion. They don’t see anything wrong in wearing beach attire when it is all about them and what they get.

But Mass for a Catholic isn’t about receiving. It is about giving. It is the highest form of worship we have. Mass is where heaven and earth come together as one and we are taken through space and time back to the foot of the cross at Calvary so that Jesus crucifixion is made present in real time to us. When we go to receive communion we don’t go to get a host but to give our lives to our Savior who is giving his to us. It is the most awe-filled solemn event a human can have on this side of heaven. Unfortunately for far too many Mass has lost its awesomeness.

Dress is one area where I think our Muslim brothers have an advantage over us. No, I am no supporter of the full blown burka but I do admire the respect they have for a woman’s body. See, we veil what we hold sacred. Brides wear veils. Our chalices get veiled. The Holy of Holies was veiled. What we hold sacred we cover. They take it to the extreme by covering their women from head to toe so nothing can be seen. What does it say for our culture when women, when our daughters wear as little as they possibly can?

“You should be ashamed of how you are dressed.”

My friend took that to mean “how you are dressed for church”. I am sure the parishioner really meant “dressed in public”. Where is your sense of decency? Where is your respect for yourself? If you hold your body to be a sacred temple of the Lord why do you show it off as if you dance around a pole for a living?

And then to show up for the most holy event in a Catholic’s life dressed as if you were headed to a pool party?

My friend should not have been offended. Instead he should have been humbled and thankful that this person cared enough about his daughter to actually say something to her. Love takes on many forms. Not all of them make you feel warm and fuzzy.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Boiled Frogs


Jake was a high school superstar. He was strong and athletic, excelling in both baseball and football. He took second at state in wrestling. He got a full ride scholarship to a good university and graduated four years later with a degree in structural engineering. By his tenth year class reunion he had landed a good paying job and was enjoying the fruits of his hard work.

By his fifteen year class reunion Jake’s weight had ballooned up to almost three-hundred and fifty pounds. The most athletic thing he did was enter eating contests on the weekend. He had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If he had ever checked his blood sugar levels he would have known that he was already considered diabetic. He was starting to have many other health issues and his classmates were worried.

At his twenty year class reunion Jake was sporting some new body art. He had an eight inch scar that ran down the center of his chest from where he had open heart surgery to correct a clogged ticker. Jake complained of increasing shortness of breath during a physical so his doctor sent him for a stress test that lead to a quadruple bypass. Jake was lucky. The danger was found before any serious damage was done.

Jake’s classmates barely recognized him at their twenty-five year class reunion. He had shed the weight and was now a trim 182. He started an exercise program and was looking good. They all gathered round to listen to him tell his story.

“How did you lose all the weight Jake? What’s your secret?”

“I went on a plant based diet,” was his reply. You would have thought that Jake had three eyes by the looks he received.

“You’re one of those?" someone asked.
“I could never give up mu bacon and burgers,” another added.

“You’ve never had to look death in the face,” was Jake’s reply.

How often are we like Jake’s classmates? How often do we willfully choose something that we know is bad for us? Some drink. Some smoke. Some of us eat too much of the wrong things. All of us sin. Whereas all of the other activities kill the body, sin kills the soul. Much like the other activities there are many of us who don’t know what is bad anymore. We have become increasingly numb to depravity.

There was a time when decency wouldn’t allow a toilet to be shown on TV.  Now even the commercials show all kinds of explicit material that used to be reserved for rated R movies. The family hour has gone the way the VCR and eight track tapes. Our frog had been thoroughly boiled. The water in the pot is at a full roll and we are kicked back and comfortable.

Many of us won’t get a clue until death comes knocking on our door. By then it will be too late to make a life saving change. All we will be left with is the parachute of God’s mercy. Let us pray that we will be smart enough to pull the rip cord in time. An unopened chute kills the sky diver.

Instead, let us be more like Jake. Let us realize that the way we live our lives is actually stealing our lives out from under our feet. Let us make the difficult choice to walk away from the things we think we need and love and live as we were made to live. Let us say no to temptation and yes to God.

That burger may taste good today but it isn’t good enough to go through open heart surgery and suffer debilitating health problems over. That sinful action may be enjoyable now but sure isn’t worth facing the fires of hell for. Jake had to relearn how to eat right. He didn’t do this on his own. He sought the advice of a nutritionist. Likewise, those who have only known sin can’t change on their own. They need to seek advice as well. Where a nutritionist can teach you to correctly feed your body the Church can tech you to feed your soul. Make an appointment today and start the healing!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Invited to Candidacy


On Thursday, August 3, 2017 at 10:00am my wife and I, dressed in our Sunday best, entered a classroom at the Rockford Diocese administrative building. We were met by smiling faces of the eight people who made up the candidacy scrutiny board. For roughly the next half an hour we answered questions about our spiritual growth, how the Aspirancy had gone, and the types of ministries I might be interested in pursuing. Then it was off to the chapel to wait as they deliberated.

This scrutiny was much different than the first. In the first the devil latched on to my anxiety and had me convinced that I would be passed over based on my psychological exam alone. I was getting angrier the longer the process took and really considered not even showing up for the scrutiny at all. This time I was at peace. I was not worried about making it through. If it was God’s will it would happen and if it wasn’t he would make it clear to me. I was not fearful of the questions. God would give me the words that needed to be said. Plus, I was able to brag a little about my class, some of the best men I have known. We challenge each other in the best ways possible and inspire each other to be better. I have been truly blessed to be among them. It has made me a much different person.

Father Ken came into the chapel with a smile and an envelope in his hand. The board had decided favorably and I was officially invited to candidacy. Now I and my wife had to independently petition the Bishop with a hand written letter to seek admission into candidacy.

This is where it all becomes real. If I choose to move forward I will be forever considered by the Church as a man who was a candidate for Holy Orders. Even if I leave formation sometime in the next three years that will follow me in everything I do from this point on. I will no longer be looked upon as a normal layperson and everything I do will be done with extra scrutiny. Why was this person whom we intended to ordain wasn’t ordained? As they used to joke, it is a mark in my permanent record.

I have every intention of finishing formation. I no longer believe that I have been called to service as I did when I started this program. Now I believe I am being called to be ordained. Service will still be a huge part of what I do but God wants me to be ordained. Holy Orders is one of the seven Sacraments in the Catholic Church. A Sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Jesus, to give grace. Grace is favor from God that strengthens us to live a fuller Christian life. Sacraments are permanent – they cannot be removed. To receive Holy Orders is to receive an indelible mark on one’s soul. The fringe benefits are the best in the industry but it does call one to live by a different standard and set of rules. To be ordained is less about what you can do and more about who you become.

The role of a deacon is somewhat foggy for most people, even many Catholics. The Permanent Diaconate was only restored in the US fifty years ago and is constantly evolving and growing. What makes it foggier is that other faith traditions also have deacons that serve in a variety of roles. I have a friend who is a Baptist deacon. He was shocked to learn that my formation is a total of seven years. His was two weeks long. But what he does as a Baptist deacon was the same thing I was doing as a Catholic layman. A lot of the stuff reserved for his pastor I will be doing as a deacon. In some traditions deacons act more like elders or advisors to the elders. It the different definitions and roles across the faiths it is not surprising many are confused. Here are some quick facts about the Permanent Diaconate in the Rockford Diocese:


DIOCESE OF ROCKFORD
QUICK FACTS ABOUT PERMANENT DEACONS



Who is a Deacon? A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or "orders," of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops, presbyters (priests) and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came "to serve and not to be served." The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church. 

  

What are the requirements to become a permanent deacon? Men must be between the age of 35 and 55 and must complete two years of ministry formation and five years of diaconate formation. These programs are conducted by the Diocese of Rockford. For more specific requirements and how to get started, men should first contact their parish pastor or contact the Office of the Permanent Diaconate.



What are these "various ministries" of the Deacon? All ordained clergy in the Church are called to be ministers of the Word, Sacrament, and Charity, but bishops, presbyters and deacons exercise these functions in various ways. As ministers of the Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services.  As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church's resources to try and meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to work toward eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. No matter what specific functions a deacon performs, they all flow from his sacramental identity. In other words, it is not only WHAT a deacon does, but WHO a deacon is, that is important.

May married men be ordained deacons? Yes. The Second Vatican Council decreed that the diaconate, when it was restored as a permanent order in the hierarchy, could be opened to "mature married men," later clarified to mean men over the age of 35. This is in keeping with the ancient tradition of the Church, in which some married men were ordained into ministry. Also in keeping with ancient practice is the expectation that while a married man may be ordained, an ordained man, if his wife should die, would not marry again.



Is a Deacon ordained for the Parish or the Diocese? Whenever a person is ordained, he is to serve the diocesan Church. Deacons are no different in this regard: they are assigned by the bishop to ministries for which the bishop perceives a great need, and for which the deacon may have special gifts or talents. Most often, this will be within a parish setting, just as most priests serve in a parish. Once assigned to a parish, the deacon and any other clergy assigned to the parish, minister under the immediate supervision of the pastor. However, this assignment may be changed at the request of the deacon or the initiative of the bishop. 



This is the life that I am choosing to live. There are fourteen other men in my class with me. Our wives are our primary support network. Although not ordained themselves they are absolutely vital in our success in this endeavor. Just being in this program paints a big bull’s-eye on us for attacks not only from those who do not like the Church, Christianity, or religion in general but it also brings on spiritual attacks by the devil and his minions. There are two types of clergy the devil loves – those he can get to walk away from their vocation and those he can corrupt. Those he can’t make bad he makes busy and there isn’t any clergy who isn’t over tasked and over burdened these days. Pray for me and my classmates, our wives and all clergy. We sure could use it.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Of Infinite Worth


The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.

We often look at this passage and think that heaven is the hidden treasure that we are to go out and find. When we find it we are to sell all that we have to buy it. Oh joyful the man who can buy the kingdom of heaven.

In actuality we are the treasure buried in the field. The field is death and all of us treasure is buried in it. Out of love for us God bought that field using his most valuable treasure, his only begotten son. Jesus’ blood was poured out into that field to redeem us from the bonds of death. God is the joyful merchant who regains that which was lost to him. We are a treasure to him, pearls of infinite worth.

The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.

The offer of heaven is made to every person. It is made not only to Christians but to Hindus, Muslims, pagans, and yes, even atheists. I suspect that at the particular judgment we each will stand alone with Jesus before a charcoal fire. For those who have never heard of him Jesus will be his own best advocate. They will learn of who Jesus is from Jesus himself. And then, like with Saint Peter, he will ask us one question, “Do you love me?”

Love for Christ does not have to be perfect. It only needs to be present. Jesus meets us where we are at and will walk with us the rest of the way. We will be purified until only perfect love remains. We are the treasure buried in the earth. God finds us and cleans us up. He buffs us up until we are shiny and new again.

For those who hold no love for God in their hearts, those who cannot be persuaded by Jesus, those who choose themselves and reject God, those will be the fish thrown into the fiery furnace. These are the ones for whom the pain of hell is reserved. God condemns no man to hell but he does respect their choice to go there.

Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

The head of a household is responsible for every member in the house, both family and servant. It is the responsibility of the head of the household to show those who are in his house how to get to heaven. We do not go to heaven alone. The kingdom of heaven is a family not an individual relationship. When we go to heaven we do not stand alone. We stand with every person we have helped get to heaven along the way. It is the responsibility of each and every person who can answer Jesus’ question with an imperfect “yes” to live in such a way that they become a beacon to all those in darkness. A beacon drawing others closer to God.

People should look to you and say, “I want what they have.” A righteous, upright life is a beautiful thing that draws others to live the same way. Be that beacon to those in your house. Let your love for God be present in all that you do. You are a treasure of infinite worth that God paid for in full. Infinite worth paid for in full. It doesn’t take a math major to see the impossibility of that statement and yet God did that very thing, for you.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Joy be with you.


The mood was sober. The air hung heavy and still. The people gathered together were straight faced, tight lipped, and void of emotion. Every word and gesture seemed labored as if bearing a heavy weight. People seemed to be going through the motions with little thought or care. There was rarely a smile and I often caught looks of distress on some faces as the little children among us fidgeted, cried, or made noise. It was exactly the mood I would have expected had we been at a funeral or memorial of the passing of a person deeply loved and respected.  Instead of being at an occasion of sadness we were celebrating Sunday Mass. We were celebrating the greatest event of human existence. Heaven and earth were being connected as Jesus came down from heaven, becoming our life giving food, and dwelling within us.

This is actually something that has been bugging me for some time. There seems to be a general lack of joy as we celebrate the Eucharist together. It is easy to understand why more and more people fall away from the Catholic Church, preferring one of the mega churches that concentrate on experience and emotion. People have a hard time putting their finger on the exact reason for it. They claim to like the music better or get more out of the sermon. Every reason I have heard always points back to one thing. Joy. Those mega churches fill people with a sense of Joy. They feel good going there. We were made to be happy and people will crawl through the desert on their hands and knees to find happiness. The joy these mega churches offer is real joy but it is a false joy. It is a happiness directed in. The music or good sermon makes us feel good about ourselves. True joy is happiness that radiates outwards. Instead of being filled from the outside in real joy is like a spring that wells up from within us and bubbles outward.

Church leadership struggles with ways to fill the pews. We look for the right combination of things to bring parishioners back. Homilies have changed through the years. It is rare to find a church that preaches about the pains of hell. We strive not to dive too deeply into what makes a moral life. In our rebellious nature no one wants to hear what is the right or wrong way to live. Even absolutes like X and Y equal male are subject to personal interpretation. The more we stand up for what it right and good the fewer people will show up to hear that message.

No matter what we do or direction we take it has to be joy filled for it to have any chance to work. We need to let Jesus work from within, to bubble up and shine through us. Anything done with joy causes a glow about a person that makes people take notice. A joyful person is one others want to be around. A joyful parish is a parish people want to be part of. The Catholic Church offers the greatest thing available to mankind. We offer the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Looking in from the outside, who would be interested in receiving him when the communion lines look as if they are filled by the walking dead?

Be joyful and joy filled in all that you are given, even your sufferings and trials. Even those are blessings from God who will use them to bring about a greater good. It is through  joy and love that they will know we belong to the Lord.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Conservation of Energy


When I started out on my journey for my spiritual retreat I had a car with a full tank of gas. As I traveled the gas in the tank went down. When I arrived at my destination the tank was nearly empty. This is the law of the conservation of energy. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. It can only change form. I had changed the potential energy in the tank into a mechanical action producing velocity and motion and ending in distance.

Because of this physical law many find it difficult to believe some of the stories in the Bible like the feeding of the multitude.  In two separate stories Jesus takes a couple loaves of bread and a few fish and feeds thousands of people with them. This just isn’t physically possible so it has to be just a fable. Skeptics offer any number of ideas how this actually happened naturally and miraculously.

Yet, with God all things are possible. God does not go about breaking the rules he has put in place for the world willy-nilly but there are two things to which the law of the conservation of energy does not apply. These are mercy and love. Like the loaves and fishes love and mercy can start out seemingly small and will continue to grow to satisfy the need of every person. But how?

Love and mercy both flow from the very nature of God who is infinite, therefore, like God, love and mercy are also infinite. If you continually draw water from a well the well will eventually run dry. It does not matter how much you draw from the well of love and mercy for they are infinitely full. The amount of love and mercy available never diminishes even a drop.

The people were with Jesus for three days and had no food. They were hungry and he was concerned that they would not be able to make the journey home if he did not feed them. The loaves and fishes were not simply physical food for them. It was an extension of his love and mercy. There would have been enough to eat for the entire world had they been present at the time.

For love and mercy to multiply it has to be freely passed on. The multitude would not have been fed if the first people who received the basket with the food had kept it for themselves. They would have their fill but the rest of the people would go hungry. Love and mercy can only grow if you take what you have been given and pass it on to another. You will receive love and mercy from God in the same measure as you give love and mercy to another. If you wish to received God’s love in its fullest you need to love to your fullest. As you give away your love and mercy to another, God will replenish that love and mercy within you from his infinite well and increase your capacity to love and be merciful.

Love fully, forgive freely, grant mercy to those who neither request nor deserve it. In doing so you will be like God and he will find favor with you. You will find the more you give the more you will have to give but the more you try to save for yourself the more you desire to have even more to the point that there is never enough. The only thing that grows when you save what you have been given is your hunger.

86,400 Seconds


My father meant the world to me. Every year for his birthday or Father’s day I would strive to find just the right gift. He never asked for anything. I was always so proud to present him with my gift of love. He was always appreciative and grateful but I could tell that he never really was thrilled with any gift I gave him. I didn’t understand why until I became a father myself and understood even better once my first born spread his wings and headed out to make a life for himself. There is only one thing a father truly wants from his children. It is the one gift only they can give. All a father truly wants is more of their time.

Time is the one thing that makes all men equal. Rich, poor, powerful, lowly, free, or slave, all men get the same amount of time. We are given one day at a time. Twenty-four hours to spend as we see fit. Once it is gone we will never get it back. Time is the most precious treasure we are given. With time we can make or take a life. With time we can save or we can squander.

What has more value – something we treasure and put away, like expensive jewelry or fine china, or something we use all of the time? The common thought is that the more valuable something is the less we use it. We bring out the good china for special events like a big family Christmas dinner. We put on the good jewelry only when we are going out for that special night on the town. The rest of the time is it safely tucked away, protected from losing its value.

If time is the most precious treasure we possess then it stands to reason that whatever we spend more of our time on or with is more important to us. By this rational the plastic plates and cheap flatware that I use every day is more valuable to me than that set of china I got when I was traveling the world. By that very same notion all video games, TV, and other useless garbage I do must be more meaningful to me than my father, my wife, or my children seeing I spend much more of my limited time doing those things than spending time with those who mean the most to me.

How much of that twenty-four hours do you spend with God? The great commandment is to love your God with all of your heart, all of your strength, all of your soul, and all of your being. You cannot love someone that strongly that you do not spend time with. Yet, many of us find it difficult to impossible to even give God fifteen minutes of our precious day. We make sure we have time to sleep. Many of us never miss a meal. Far too many of us are working more than forty hour weeks. We spend hours a day on social media or gossiping about who is cheating on whom.

Obviously it is not a matter of having enough time. It becomes a matter of priority. What truly matters in your life? Where do you spend your time and money? The devil wants us to squander the limited time we are given. He wants us to get to the end our lives and realize that we didn’t spend enough time with our parents or our children. He wants us to put social media and video games ahead of showing our love for God. A love not expressed is a love that does not exist.  For God so loved the world that he was preoccupied with creating rocks and trees and bugs that he forgot to send his only begotten son so that all who believed in him would have eternal life.

Call your parents. Spend time with your children. Talk to God in everything you do. One day the days you have been given will turn to seconds and slip away like the sand through a hourglass.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Parable of the sower and the seed.


On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:

"A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear."  Matthew 13: 1-23

This parable is an easy one for us to understand. In the verses immediately following Jesus explains its meaning to his disciples. The Word of God is given to many people. In some it takes root and flourishes leading to a holy life. Others hear it and embrace it for a while until something else captures their attention. For some the Word of God falls on deaf ears and is rejected whole heartedly.

I would like to focus for a moment on the rich soil, the fertile ground. Rich, fertile soil is the dream of every gardener and the bane of his existence. You need good dirt to grow strong, healthy plants, but the very characteristics that make my soil good for growing a bumper crop of tomatoes are the exact same characteristics that make the soil good for growing weeds. Every gardener knows the constant battle to protect the good while eliminating the bad. Why do home grown tomatoes taste so much better than anything you can ever get from a store? Well, they are better in no small part to the amount of love, hard work, and sweat that goes into each and every one. Unlike Ronco rotisseries, you simply cannot just set it and forget it.

The Word of God is very much like seeds in a well tended garden. As long as we don’t have stony hearts God’s Word can always find a place to take root. It then is up to us to nurture those seeds so they can germinate and begin to grow. We need to tenderly care for the new plants. We need to keep them watered and pluck out any weeds that come in from the outside world. We need to feed the plants so that they will grow strong. A gardener’s reward is a bountiful harvest with much fruit. Some of this fruit is given to others to enjoy while some of it goes to seeding more plants. A gardener’s work is never done.

Today you have received the seeds of God’s word. May they find within you a fertile heart where they can take root and grow.  Water and feed them daily through prayer and by reading Holy Scripture. If you wait until this time next week to visit your garden you will find that the seeds you have received today will have withered and died. A forgotten garden is quickly overgrown with weeds. Watch yours closely and don’t allow the seeds of the culture to grow better than the seeds from the Lord. Stay vigilant, tend your garden with great care and love and God will bring forth in you a bountiful harvest of the finest fruits.

Ears were made to hear and hearts were made to love. Hear the Word of God and enkindle it into your hearts.