Thursday, June 29, 2017

Who gives more?

John worked at a prestigious university. One Saturday he took his four year old son to the campus to show him where his father worked. As they walked around the campus John pointed out the various buildings and told who they were named after.

“That one is Donnelly Hall son. He gave ten million dollars to the university.”

“That is Baxter gymnasium. He donated twelve million dollars.”

“Here we have Todd Palmer Auditorium. That man donated twenty-five million.”

This went on and on until John’s son asked his father what was named after him. John beamed with pride. “Follow me son. The most important part of this university is named after me.”

John led his son into a building and up to a door with a brass plate on it. John’s son could recognize the capital J but couldn’t read the rest of the name. He was so very proud of his father for being an important person around the campus.

Many years passed and John’s son attended that university. While walking the campus with his girlfriend he thought he would take her by the room named for his father. He found the small building and the door his father had shown him many years earlier. On the door was the brass plate. In big bold letters was the word “JANITOR”.

John was the university janitor. It was his job to keep the place looking clean and regal. John’s father had a job of service to others. These types of jobs are often overlooked or looked down upon. Many important men had given obscene amounts of money to the university and were honored for an age. Yet, without people like John the place would fall into disrepair. It would become dirty and it would become a place no one wants their name associated with it. It is the faceless, forgotten people, like John, who keep this world running smoothly. They will never be honored with a hall, gymnasium, or auditorium.

The rich men gave money from their vast abundance. They will be remembered by a building with a sign. They have their reward. John gave service. He was building his reward in heaven. It is not the man who is blowing the trumpet who is really important. It is the man that spent the time buffing and polishing the trumpet to its shining perfection who is the better man.

Friday, June 23, 2017

4X + (3Y-6X) = 17

When we first start in school we learn how to count. Then we learn to add by single digits. Eventually we are doing algebra with letters and are even able measure constant change through calculus. If you present a quadratic equation to a normal first grader you will get that blank stare and all famous, “I don’t get it.” One thought builds upon another and the next cannot be grasped until there is a firm hold on the first.

Anyone who reads Holy Scripture through the big picture lens can easily see that the Old Testament foreshadowed the New. The Old prepared us for what was to come next. There are many who cast off the Old Testament as having little importance and some who believe there to be different Gods between the two books. The God of the Old Testament is so barbaric and cruel. Jesus is so gentle and loving.

Take for example the command in the Old Testament, “An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” This seems to advocate violence. This certainly contrasts with, “Turn the other cheek.” It undoubtedly seems barbaric to allow the return of violence for violence received. Why didn’t the gentle and loving God just command them to turn the other cheek from the beginning?

Actually, an eye for an eye was a command to scale down violence from the norm of the day. A typical response to losing an eye through violence would be to kill the other person and probably his family while you were at it.

I want him dead. I want his family dead. I want his house burned to the ground. The command to limit your response to a like punishment was the equivalent of teaching a people who barely knew how to count how to add 1 + 1. If God had skipped to calculus with “turn the other cheek” the people of the time would have looked inquisitively towards God and said, “I don’t get it.”

God is a lot like a school teacher. If you struggle with a command he gives he will give you more to work on it. God started with one command – Do not eat from the tree of knowledge. Man did and fell from Grace. Next came the seven laws of Noah, or the Noahide Laws. These laws were given by God to the children of Noah, or all humanity. These are:

1: Do not deny God.

2: Do not blaspheme God.

3: Do not murder.

4: Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.

5: Do not steal.

6: Do not eat from a live animal.

7: Establish a legal system to ensure obedience to said laws.

It wasn’t long after the flood that man started to slip back into his human nature. God took a particular group of people for his own to show the rest of humanity how to live in a right relationship with God. These were the twelve tribes of Israel. To Israel, through Moses, God gave a new set of Laws we know as the Ten Commandments. The numbering of these commandments differs between the Jews, the Catholics, and other Protestant denominations but all groups have all the commandments covered despite of the numbering used. The Catholic numbering of the ten is:

1: I am your God. You will have no other gods before me. The command not to make graven images is included in the long version of this commandment. It was not removed.

2: Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.

3: Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy.

4: Honor your mother and father.

5: Do not murder.

6: Do not commit adultery.

7: Do not steal.

8: Do not bear false witness.

9: Do not covet your neighbor’s wife.

10: Do not covet your neighbor’s property.

As Moses descended from Mount Sinai with these new commandments from God he found that the people had already reverted back to idol worship. Out of anger he destroyed the tablets the commandments were written on and returned to the mountain. When he returned God had added 603 more laws to the list. Moses presented the Torah to the people and they have tried to live by it ever since in as much as human weakness permits.

Everything in the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testament. The New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus, who Christians believe is the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. Jesus is the living Torah. He ushers in the last age of preparation before man is restored to what he was created to be. The New Testament ends with the Book of Revelation. It is the story of the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, the Church. It gives us a glimpse into heaven.

In much the same manner this life foreshadows the next. This life is a preparatory time for the life to come. The next life will fulfill what we have started in this life. If we love God in this life we will know that love fulfilled and complete in heaven. If we reject God in this life we will know total rejection and isolation in hell to follow. Use the time you have been given here wisely. Do what is right. Hate what is evil. Love God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole strength, and your whole soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Living Bread from Heaven

What is faith but trust in God? How do you know how strong your faith is unless your faith is tested? It is easy to say that I trust in God with my whole heart when times are good and the way easy. It is much harder to actually trust in God when the way is difficult and full of trials. That is where the rubber meets the road.

God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt only to have them wander in a desert for the next forty years. Those forty years were more difficult than any they had ever known. Their lives were much worse than what they had been in slavery. Their lives were in danger at all times. They knew hunger and thirst. They died from snake bites and scorpion stings. They grumbled and complained they entire time. They even went as far as to make an idol to worship.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in Christianity is the question why would a loving God allow suffering? Does he like to see us suffer? Does he do it to see what we are capable of? God allows suffering so that love can exist. Love can never be forced. Love is always a choice. For there to be a choice there has to be alternatives. The proof of love is trust. God does not test us to see what we are capable of. He knows. God tests us so that we can see what we are capable of. Is your love for him strong enough that you will put your life in his hands no matter what the outcome?

God is always there to save us when we ask. When the Israelites were dying from snake bites God provided the golden serpent Moses raised high on a staff. When they were dying from thirst he brought forth water from the rock. And when they were starving to death he gave them the food of the angels and brought down manna from heaven. Through their trials they knew that God loved them and they God.

When we are faced with trials we can react to them in one of three ways. We can be filled with grief and wring our hands in despair. Woe is I, why am I made to suffer so? We can put the trust in ourselves and try to control the chaos. Or we can turn to God in love and trust that he will take care of us. We should look upon our trials, no matter how great or small, as blessings. These trials do two things for us. They give us opportunities to prove our love for God to ourselves in our trust that he will care for us.  Our trials also act as conduits through which grace can flow.

When the Israelites were starving in the desert God’s grace came in the form of bread from heaven. The manna sustained the people through their trial. God also provides us with bread from heaven to strengthen us to face our trials with love and trust. He does not give us the manna that he gave to our forefathers. Instead God gives us the true bread, the Bread of Life. He gives us himself in the Eucharist and whoever eats of this bread shall never perish but have eternal life.

All things in this life including our trials will pass away. The love of God and the life he offers through the Eucharist is eternal. The Israelites would have continued to starve in the desert had they not eaten the bread God provided. Likewise, we will be dead in our sin if we do not consume the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, which God has provided to us. It is not merely bread made of wheat and water. It is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of God himself. We invite him into our being so that we may co-exist together for eternity.

Give thanks today for all that you have, the good and the bad, for it all is a blessing from God.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The devil likes more than just idle hands.

Idle hands are the devil's playthings.
The aspirancy period for my brothers and I in diaconate formation has officially ended. We now have the summer to prayerful discern if we wish to formally declare to the Church that we want to be ordained. At the end of the summer we will face our second scrutiny and the Church will determine if they want to officially invite us to candidacy for ordainment. Please pray for my brothers and me that the Holy Spirit guide each of us to the decision God wants us to make. Pray also for our spiritual protection as the spiritual attacks will increase the farther we travel down this road. You may believe that it is all mumbo-jumbo but I can tell you for a fact that the devil is real and he does not want good, ordained ministers.

Our summer assignment is to write a personal reflection on one of the daily scripture readings. Sunday’s reflection is to be a two page typed reflection. The goal of this exercise is to get us to start thinking as preachers who will one day be prepared to give a daily homily. For you non-Catholics a homily is akin to a pastor’s sermon except it is focused on the daily gospel readings and how they are relevant to our modern lives. We are not permitted to preach on whatever subject we choose. A good homilist is a godsend. A bad homilist is a cure for insomnia or worse.

On top of this we also are to pray the Liturgy of the Hours at least for the morning and evening periods. We are always encouraged to do more. We were warned about getting behind and missing multiple days. We had the same assignment last year, only with fewer days during the week required. I managed to do a reflection for every day during the summer last year and post them for others to read and respond to. Some of my brothers did likewise. We got in a pretty good habit and it wasn’t overly difficult to keep up with the assignment. This year it has been a bit tougher for me to keep my head above water.

During the last month or so of formation my work schedule started to ramp up. As soon as summer break hit so did my workload. I have been assigned as the point person on a very important project and I have had some late hours and increased travel. I have even had to do a few 24+ hour days. This has made it very difficult to get on a schedule of reading, reflecting, writing, and prayer. I am not worried that I will catch up but it is making me very conscious of my spiritual life.

One of my favorite instructors always says that if the devil can’t make you bad he will make you busy. I never fully grasped what that quote meant until this past week. The devil actually loves two types of holy men – the ones he can convince to walk away from their vocation and the ones he can corrupt in their vocation. If he can’t corrupt you he will make you busy.

A busy man quickly uses the time he would normally spend in prayer doing busy work. A busy man spends reflection time and time he normally spends with the Lord doing busy work. Once the devil is successful in getting a man to do busy work and stops him from his time of prayer and reflection he has started to corrupt him. Then once he can make you busy he can make you bad. A question you can ask any ordained man who has walked away from his vocation and get the same answer every time is when did you stop praying? It is a common thread for those who leave a religious life. The stronger the prayer life the stronger the spiritual life.

There are times where I get to the end of the day and I realize that I didn’t read the daily readings, I haven’t written my reflection, and I haven’t prayed the LOTH. How did the day get away from me? Then I examine my day. Did I eat today? Yes. Did I sleep? (most days) Yes. Did I watch TV or play any video games? Yes there to. Did I engage in any unnecessary social media or text messages? Of course I did. It becomes apparent very quickly that I don’t really have a problem with being busy but I have a priority problem. I must learn to reorder my day so that the big rocks go in the glass first. What are the big rocks? Eat, sleep, family, prayer, and exercise. I must reorder my life so that I touch each of those areas at least a little every single day. The more I touch those areas the happier a person I will be. Putting in a twenty hour day at the office never makes me happy. Reaching the line, “May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.” always fills me with happiness. Everything else in my day is just filler.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tomato - Tomatoe

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perishbut might have eternal life.” – John 3:16

This is undoubtedly the most well-known and often quoted verses in the Bible. It manages to pop up on signs everywhere from sporting events to protest marches. For far too many it is about as deep as their religious convictions get. I believe in Jesus so therefore I am saved and am going to heaven. I certainly do not need a church, its Sacraments, or to do anything further than simply say, “I believe in Jesus and accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
Is this really the point God meant to get across to us or have we lost something in translation? Most people read the Bible in their native language using a modern understanding of word meanings. They have no desire to ever dig deeper. This is unfortunate because they will never experience the true flavor and complexity that is in Holy Scripture.
If all you have ever tasted was a hot-house tomato bought from a mega-mart in January you would never know what true tomato flavor really is. Once you sink your teeth into a ripe, home-grown, heirloom tomato during the height of growing season you will never desire the bland things you buy from the store ever again. The same holds true for Holy Scripture. Once you get some understanding of the rich and complex meaning of scripture as it was written in the original language you will find a new appreciation and love for the words.
So how does this apply to the most quoted verse in the Bible?
A good modern day definition of “believe” is:
                to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.”  
If this is all the scripture meant to convey then Satan would be more saved than any of us for he not only has confidence that Jesus is God’s only begotten son but he knows it to be fact. Satan believes in Jesus for he knows him personally. Unfortunately many of us have confidence in the truth that Jesus is God’s only begotten son and because we have this confidence we believe we have been saved.
The word used for believe in the original Greek holds a much deeper and exact meaning. In this verse believe becomes synonymous with the word “faith” which is always synonymous with the word “trust”.
                “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who trusts in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
What separates trust from simple belief? Your actions. There is no action required when you simply believe. When you simply believe you have confidence in the truth. Trust requires proof. What is proof that you trust? You do what is asked of you by the person you trust.
If a stranger walked up to you right now with a glass containing an unknown liquid and told you that you had been poisoned, drink the liquid if you want to live, you would not drink the liquid until you had a chance to verify the claim. You have no trust in the stranger. If someone you trusted did the same thing you would drink the liquid without needing verification of the truth.
“…everyone who trusts Jesus, and does what he commands, might not perish but might have eternal life.”
As a Catholic I believe that all official Church teachings were given to her by Jesus himself. To trust in Jesus is to trust in his Church. If I trust in Jesus I cannot pick and choose which teachings of his Church I believe and follow. If I trust in Jesus and wish to do as he commands I must do my best to follow every teaching of his Church. If I have to follow the teachings of his Church it cannot simply be me and Jesus.
Satan believes in Jesus for he knows for a fact that Jesus exists. Satan does not trust Jesus for he refuses to listen to his commands. The first step to eternal life in heaven with God is trusting in and listening to Jesus through his Church here on earth.
Off to make a BL – heirloom Tomato sandwich.

Monday, June 5, 2017

You have the power!

"Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." - John 20: 23.

The authority to forgive and retain sins was indeed given to the first bishops of the Church and is currently exercised in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Catholic Church, but the authority to forgive sins was given to each of us on a much more personal level. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the two sacraments of healing.  Open wounds do not heal on their own. Forgiveness acts as stitches that bind spiritual wounds closed and allow the healing to begin.

We have each been given the authority to forgive those who trespass against us. In the “Our Father” we give God permission to only forgive our sins to the same degree as we are willing to forgive the sins of those who have sinned against us. We tell God that it is ok for him, through his Church, to retain our sins and not forgive us for them if we are not willing to forgive those who have wronged us.

If your brother has wronged you the first step of healing that wound is not an apology from him. Healing can only begin by the person who has been wronged. Healing can only begin by closing the wound by forgiving your brother of his wrong.

There is nothing a penitent man can do amend for his wrongs to a god who does not forgive. God, our Father, is a loving God who will forgive our sins and allow us to show our deep sorrow to him through humble hearts and penance.

We in turn need to offer our brother the same kind of forgiveness for the wrongs we have suffered. We give God praise for his great glory when we imitate him and freely and completely forgive those who trespass against us. When we truly forgive from the heart we let go of the pain and suffering the wrong as caused. We close the wound, allow the healing to begin, and are liberated by love.

We live in a world where people want everything to be permissible but forgive nothing. We live in a world of hurt, anger, and hate where everyone seems so easily offended. Now imagine a world full of love and kindness where neighbors do not quarrel over trivial things. That world begins with forgiveness. That world begins with you.

In the next week find at least one person with whom you have had a long standing grudge and do your best to forgive them from the heart. Take that first step to mend an old wound. Let God’s infinite mercy flow through you and see just how liberating forgiveness actually is.