Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Michael Vick - the dogs have had their day

Well I Guess the Dogs have had their Day

I have made an effort to distance myself from the Michael Vick mess. But I can’t help myself. It is not a matter of Mike being an easy target and it’s time for me two pile on. I am addressing this issue for two reasons.

I live in Atlanta and can’t get away from constant conversation in the news or around the water cooler at work.

We truly do love a train wreck and Mike has plenty of company. The young Hollywood teen idols absorbed with themselves, going all out to experience pleasure at any cost. Older Hollywood types on entertainment tonight consumed with or just getting over an addiction. One guy who seemed to have it all tried to commit suicide and thankfully failed.

Mike Vick is not alone but that in no way excuses what he has done. The financial cost of his offence is staggering. The enormity of his crime has polarized the city of Atlanta. Sadly his actions to a degree go along racial lines. Some suggest dog fighting is cultural in nature. No matter how you wrap this package it is a crime that people can’t fathom. Mike training dogs to kill, and some how finding entertainment in watching one dog kill another. On top of that the dogs that failed to perform well were put to death. Defenseless creatures dying at the hands of their guardians.

Many are calling for forgiveness for Mike. Some want the harshest penalty possible. I am not passing judgment here it’s not my place. But I am glad the dogs will have their day when Mike Vick faces a judge.

The second reason I was compelled to speak my peace on this subject is the tarnished hero Mike has become to many children. Boys who proudly wore a replica number 7 jersey. Boys who now must try to understand how their hero could possibly be involved in dog fighting. Our sinfulness has a far reaching effect on others.

I wonder and I suppose many of you do to what in the world is going on? We seem to be confronted on every hand with evil. Well that is because we are or are we? I do not think sin is more prevalent but the reporting of sin and evil is constant. The news can be seen 24/7 we have folks with cell phones that have capabilities our grandparents never imagined. Don’t get me wrong there is enough sin to go around and enough people to participate in yes even dog fighting.

As Christians we have much to do to stem the tidal wave of sin. Be the Christians we say we are. Preach the gospel by our living and striving for holiness. Stand up for what is decent and leading others to the peace Jesus promised his follows in a sinful world.

I have no clue as to the sentence the judge will impose on Mike Vick. Many in the news recently have gotten of very light. There is a judgement day coming when God will impose his sentence which will be in accordance to his law.

The dogs will have their day in the Vick case and rest assured God will have his day.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Preparing to preach - A Homily is born

A Homily is Born Mark 10:46-52

Have you ever wondered how a homily is prepared? I of course can only speak for myself and my homily preparation practices. I am opening this door in hopes it will provide some insight into the preparation required to preach God’s word.

My homily preparation usually follows a well worn path. I begin by reading the first and second readings and noting themes found in both readings. I generally look for words that tie the readings together.

The second step is to read the Psalm and see if it pairs well with the other readings. I make notes here as well.

The third step is to read the readings and psalm together. I leave the homily process at this point and return the next day to continue.

The homily prep continues with the reading of the gospel. I take quick notes as thoughts jump out at me. I read the gospel several times and continue to jot down the themes and thoughts that come to mind.

All my notes are reviewed and a strong sense of a common theme emerges the theme is divided into an outline. The outline is used to compile bullet points that are used to preach the homily.

The process is quite simple but much prayer is required to effectively preach the word of God.

The following homily was prepared and preached by me at my home parish.

A Blind Beggar has a Vision

I want to point out two spiritual lessons found in our gospel reading featuring an encounter between a blind beggar and Jesus.

To spot light these lessons I want to call your attention to a statement Jesus made to his disciples and a question Jesus posed to the blind beggar.

Our story opens with a blind beggar begging on the roadside in Jericho.
He hears Jesus is passing by and begins to cry out Jesus son of David have mercy on me.

The disciples tried to keep him quiet but he cried out even more.

Jesus stopped and told his disciples to call him.

Why didn’t Jesus call the beggar himself?

This statement brings us to our first lesson.

Jesus wants his disciples and his church to be actively involved in bringing people to God.

Evangelism is our first priority. To be successful we all must share our time and talents and treasure to get the job done.

The message: Be of good cheer Jesus is calling you.

The beggar gets up and comes to Jesus.

He cast aside his cloak and the money received from passers by

He left his old life behind

Jesus asks the beggar a question what do you want me to do for you?

This question brings us to the second lesson

We must acknowledge our spiritual brokenness in order to be spiritually healed.

The beggar knew what he needed, I want to see.

If you are praying and your prayers are not being answered you may not have a clear understanding of your needs.

Jesus is still counting on his disciples to call people to him so he can meet their needs.
Let’s follow the blind beggar’s example, after he received his sight he followed Jesus.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

To bowl or not to bowl -- that was the question

Each year during the summer the men in the diocese of Atlanta studying to become deacons are required to attend a retreat. All the men in formation aspirants to seniors are required to attend. The retreat opens on a Friday evening and closes on Sunday.

The golfers arrive early and play golf Friday morning. Over the years the non golfers tried to find an activity that would provide fun and fellowship. In my senior year someone suggested bowling. Little did we know what lay ahead when we agreed to gather on the lanes in Cullman Alabama.

Men being men the competitive nature we possess came to the front almost immediately and the trash talking began. Teams were formed the lanes were reserved and the game was on.

At this point I am sure you are wondering why you should care about men in formation going bowling. Well the answer is not an easy one. As with many things that came up over my years of formation there was never an easy answer. Several events which took place as the retreat approached led to the pondering of a theological question and a paper explaining my answer to the question.

The first sign of trouble came just days before the big match. Two of my classmates announced they would not be able to participate. The first guy dropped his bowling ball on his foot and broke his toe; the other guy came down with pink eye in both eyes.

Emails abounded and it was decided that we would continue as planned. We arrived at the monastery on schedule unpacked and headed to the bowling alley to decide which class was the king of the lanes. As we approached we saw fire trucks police cars and what once was a bowling alley was burned to the ground.

Well being students of theology and all things related to God the conversation at the dinner table was filled with the events related to the great bowling alley disaster. Several men suggested that God had intervened and set in motion the events that disrupted our outing. The broken toe, pink eye and the icing on the cake the bowling alley burned down.
Others disagreed and implied that God had better things to do than disrupt a planned outing to a bowling alley. One of our instructors listened intently and suggested we return to our rooms after dinner and contemplate God’s divine providence in our daily lives.

Upon return for our first class for the evening we were asked to write a paper explaining our thoughts on God’s intervention into our daily lives. Writing papers is a large segment of the formation process. If a question arises more likely than not a paper on the subject will be in order.

Seems silly doesn’t it writing a paper about a bowling match that never took place. But seeking to find a better understanding as to how God operates in our lives is far from silly. The problem was we were limited to a couple of paragraphs. How can you discuss explain or begin to ponder such a question in such few words? I am not sure but my response to the question is written below. Read my answer, ponder the question and if you are so inclined please comment.

To Bowl or not to Bowl

I have searched my concordance from Aardvark to Xylophone.
I find no declaration from God that thou shall not bowl.
But recent events a broken toe, pink eye times two and a bowling alley burned to the ground might lead one to surmise that God would rather have us stay away from the lanes.
But scripture is silent on the issue as well as the catechism, tradition and cannon law.
So if your toes are not broke and your eyes are not pink if you can find a lane and maybe a cool drink.
Then bowl my brother bowl

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dark night of the Soul

Mother Teresa is in the news. Personal letters revealed that she struggled with her faith to the point she questioned the existence of God. Some are suggesting she should not be considered for sainthood based on her confession.
The Christians I have known who are on a level spiritually that I have yet to attain without exception all experienced dark nights of the soul.
The following is a paper I wrote while in formation expressing where I was spiritually speaking during my second year in a five year process. I decided to share these thoughts and concerns in hopes it might help someone who may be struggling with their faith. Additionally I wanted to share my faith struggle get it out in the open for all to see. My dark night of the soul according to some will eliminate any possibility of sainthood for me. Oh well as a Baptist I never considered sainthood any way. Truth is sainthood is between me and God not a bystander reading isolated thoughts and fears.
Please read on…….. A Dark Night
Deacons are obliged to give priority to their spiritual life. They should integrate family, professional life and ministerial responsibilities. The goal of realigning priorities in our lives is to grow in our commitment to the person and mission of Christ.
My life seems to be one realignment after another. A perpetual discernment process. Having traveled this road from a different direction you may think that this process is a walk in the park for me. In some ways it is easier and in others it is a mountain to climb.
I can say without reservation that God is first in my life. God however may wonder where I am at sometimes. I think alignment of priorities can not be done one time to be set in stone forever.
Last year I heard that the ideal list or order would be work, family then formation. The reality for me is that during formation the formation process is first. As the year progresses formation may get pushed down to last place behind work or family or ministry.
The key for me is to continue to examine where I am determine what the most pressing needs are and address those areas first. My relationship with God suffered when I was in seminary. Seems odd but trying to study, work and maintain a family life left little time to pray and meditate. After graduation the prayer life and bible study came easier because they took priority, pasturing the flock came next and as a result my family suffered.
At this point in formation the squeaky wheel is getting the grease.
The help I am receiving is coming from my family. Beckey has been very understanding when I have gotten up from the dinner table to go study. I could not begin to complete this process if she was not there to help me. In addition I have my Deacon Mentor. He has made time for me. But to be honest it is extremely difficult for us to get together. We talk on the phone from time to time. His insight into this process has been helpful.
My spiritual advisor, a good man with a big heart has not been a great deal of help. It is partly him and mostly me. I am in a different place than the other men in formation I have done many of the things we are preparing to do. My spiritual direction has been my responsibility for my entire Christian live. It appears I do not take direction well, and have a need to do my own spiritual direction. Old habits are hard to break. But I think more than that I don’t share what is on my mind with him. I suppose I still want to do it myself. I am not saying I have not been helped by his advice but I am not getting all I can from this aspect of the process.
My prayer life is much the same as it was during the interview process for formation. I get bored easily and making time for the office is not always easy. The office helps keep me on track but I am still learning to pray the office. I suppose I over look some things and at times do not pray the office properly but I don not think God is concerned with all that.
This year has been one of the most difficult for my family and me. We made the decision to have Becky’s parents move in with us. So we found a house suitable for all concerned, purchased the new house and put the old one on the market. In the midst of all of this Beckey’s Mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was operated on and died nine days later, unable to recover from surgery.
Beckey’s Dad moved in and we are adjusting to the new living arrangements. The old house is still on the market, so we now have two mortgage payments. Through all of this I put my family first and my formation responsibility has taken a back seat.
We learned last week that Beckey has to have knee replacement surgery. It is scheduled for August 13. Once again I find myself adjusting and realigning my priorities. My formation has to be placed once again on the back burner. My family must take the top spot for awhile.
Many things have taken place this year; my life has changed and is evolving everyday. Though I may not always pray the office correctly it is a blessing to me. I know all the men in formation, all the Priest and Religious are praying with me. The sense of community I have found in this processes as well as the church is a comfort. I know I am not alone. If I ask for prayers for myself and my family I know my Brothers whisper my name to God.
This year has been a struggle. Just because you commit to formation does not mean life stops and allows you to get off for five years later and jump back on when it is over. Life happens during these five years of formation. Our loved ones die, difficult decisions are made. Life goes on. Hopes, dreams, troubles, trials all come our way. These things make formation more difficult to be sure. But the formation process can be the life line to get us through the hard times. The time we invest in formation can be a blessing or a curse. Our attitudes will have a great deal to do with how we view the things life throws our way.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Our Father who art in heaven ----------

Any understanding we have of who God is comes through Divine Revelation.
“It pleased God in His goodness and wisdom to reveal Himself and to make known the mystery of his will”.
The image of God seen in the Old Testament seems far from that of a loving Father: yet he did not abandon Adam and Eve after they fell into sin.
“But God did not abandon our first parents after the fall, God brought them up with the hope of Salvation”.
The love of the Father is seen in God’s actions to redeem mankind. We may have to look past the flood of Noah’s Day, the thunder and lighting, the tablets of stone at Mt. Sini. Yet who but a Father would love a simple people this much? When I read the Old Testament I admit it is at times difficult to see God as Father or understand His divine will as that of a loving Father, when judgment seemed to rule the day. But it was in fact the Father who called Abraham to prove his faith by sacrificing this son. The type and picture of the sacrifice the Father would make with His only son Jesus.
Then God said “Take your son your only son Isaac whom you love, sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.
God has in every age revealed Himself as a loving Father. Revelation comes to us from many sources which transcend time. Creation in an of itself is the beginning and foundation of all Gods works. My parents in partnership with God created me, my mother the vessel allowed the grace of God to bring me to life. Not a distant angry God, but a Father who sought to have a relationship with me.
“For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.
The Nicene Creed in its opening statement affirms God’s role as Father: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”. There can be no doubt that the church from its inception had a perception of God as Father through creation.
Looking back to the creation of our first parents and forward to my creation, God the Father has been the divine source of love that set our world and my world in motion. The church has an understanding of God as Father in redemption, as well as creation.
By calling God “Father” the language of faith indicates to main things: That God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that He is at the same time goodness and loving care of all his children.
God’s greatest expression of Himself as Father is though Jesus Christ. The revelation of God as Father in an unheard of sense. He is not only creator but he is eternally Father in relation to the Son.
“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the son.”
Following this apostolic tradition, the church confessed at the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325) that the Son is consubstantial with the Father, that is, one only God with Him. Jesus said, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father”.

Jesus the second person of the trinity as the Nicene Creed proclaims “Through Him all things are made”. We see the love of the Father though the creation of the Son. Jesus was the manifestation of all the attributes of the Father.
A father watches over his children, even with a passing glance at the life of Christ we cannot miss the unconditional love Christ expressed for all His creation. The sacrifice of his own life to redeem all of mankind is the perfect example of the Father’s love.
Creation, redemption and the second person of the Trinity has given the church ample understanding of God’s father image.
The liturgy of the Church expresses our understanding of God as Father. The disciples came to Jesus and said: “Lord Teach us to pray.” He said to them, “When you pray say: Father, Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us or sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation” The disciples had an understanding of God as Father.
From its inception the Church has incorporated the Our Father prayer into it liturgy. Together we as a church, Christian, sons and daughters of God express our belief that God is our Father.
On some level the early church experienced God as Father. As time passed our God experience has evolved to a greater appreciation of this image. Creation, redemption, Jesus and the liturgy are all evidence that God is seen as Father by the church.
Though the working of the Holy Spirit we are all given divine revelation. The path we take to come to a personal relationship with God is different for everyone. Yet together at the same time, we seek a very intimate relationship with our God. We are seeking to fill a void in our lives with a relationship with God. Not the God far way, all powerful and knowing, but a relationship with Father God, Abba, Daddy. It seems beyond our very imagination that he would set world in motion would desire to love me as Father.
The New Testament, the words from the mouth, lips of God bring us to understand God as Father. The Church experiences God and His love through the reading of scripture at Mass. The church understands and experiences God as a Father though our imperfect earthly fathers. Though imperfect many Dad’s exhibit the love of God. The care and concern for those placed in their care. Placing the needs of their family before own. The church has ample opportunity to know the love of a father as they walk with their earthly fathers. The sacraments, in particular the Eucharist shows us God as Father. The Father providing for the needs of his children.
The children of Israel experienced God providing for them as they journey through the desert. God provided manna. “He gave you manna to eat in the desert something your Father had never known”. Food from Heaven provided by the Father. The nation of Israel gathered the heavenly bread as instructed. They had no part in providing the manna, they did not produce it. It was a heavenly gift from their Father.
The lives of the Old Testament people serve as guidepost to the church. God provided the divinely inspired written history for our edification. The Eucharist our heavenly bread is provided by God. (Manna was a type or picture of Eucharist.)
God provides for this children the body and blood of Christ at each mass. It nourishes our souls. He provides exactly what we need. He knows what we need even before we ask. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
Which of you, if his Son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask for a fish will give him a snake? If you then through you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?
If we miss the Father image in creation, or in redemption though I don’t see how, if we miss him though the roll of Father though the Son and prayer or scripture, we must surely see him as Father in the Eucharist. As a Catholic for six years I wonder at times how I ever grew as a child of God with out communion. I received communion (crackers and grape juice) but not the body and blood of Christ. The spiritual food provided by the Father through the Son. I am jealous of the cradle Catholics who have been blessed to have received this gift of grace for so many years.
The question; what is the churches understanding of God as Father? I don’t think of the hierarchy of the church when I read the question, I think of the individuals who make up the body of Chirst.
That being said, I can see God’s revelation of Himself as Father, but I think the churches understanding of God as Father ebbs and flows. At times I can see we get it, but there have been times when the light of revelation was dim. As I mentioned the Israelites wandering in the wilderness probably had a tough time seeing God as a father figure. The church pre-Vatican II, I don’t believe experienced God as Father. Their experience of God for the most part was less personnel. The parable of the talents would express their God experience rather well. The master gives one servant five talents another two and the thirds servant one. Then he went on his journey. The servant who received five talents put his talents to work and gained five more. The one with two talents gained two more. The servant with one talent went off dug a hole and hid his master’s money. When the master returned he rewarded the first two servants. The third said to his master “I knew you were a hard man harvesting where you do not sow.”
The scale of God with our sins on one side and good works on the other. At the very least we pry for balance. The image of scales and being weighted in the balance and found wanting. Thank God for Vatican II, post Vatican II the image of God has drastically changed. I think the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke Chapter 15.
A young man took his share of his Fathers Estate, squandered it in wild living, came to his senses and returned home. But while he was a long way off his Father saw him and was filled with compassion. Of course we don’t all walk the same path at the same time but the church as the body of Christ understands the term father as it relates to our God. The Father aspect of the first person of the Trinity is seen in all the ways I have mentioned. Creation, redemption, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. The scriptures with all the rich images of father. The liturgy, Eucharist and our prayer. Through all these things the church understands God as Father. God’s prayer and desire for us I believe is that all of His creatures would have the confidence to address Him as Father, Abba – “Daddy”.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How many commandments did you break today?

The First Commandment comes on the scene without much fan fare not unlike the opening declaration of God’s Existence found in Gen. 1:1 “In the beginning God created the Heaven and Earth”.
The First Commandment declares our God is one God and demands our love and attention. No explanation of who God is, or why we should be concerned with Him. But because He is … is all the explanation required to demand our undivided attention. The creator has no need for His creation. The creation however is dependent on the creator.
Three things come to mind as I have reflected on the First Commandment.
God created a covenant with Israel with the commandments
All sin is the result of the breaking of the First Commandment
God has provided the means through the sacraments and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for us to keep the commandments
The Ten Commandments are God’s love letter to this creation. But they are much more that a love letter they are a covenant relationship between God and Israel. As a protestant I have viewed the dialogue from the negative “Tho shall not” position. But the commandants and in particular the first commandment declare God’s love for us. I am the Lord found in scriptures and at the beginning and end of his commandments.
You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. Hear, O Israel …
God reached out, God expressed his love first. This action requires a response. The writings of the Old Testament reveal the nation of Israel’s response to God from the exodus the prophets, kings and finally to His son. The love God requires that we accept existence.
Atheism is a denial of the existence of God. I have met several atheists and I am not convinced by their arguments or actions that they actually deny God’s existence but rather use the argument to ignore God.
If my assumption is true our world has as abundance of people who choose to ignore God, call them what you will. We are called to love God and many ignore the call and the God who is calling.
We are to love with all out heart and soul and strength.
Many people who acknowledge God’s existence are guilty of ignoring Him. Calling upon Him when a need arises. Sickness, death or a natural disaster bring calls for God’s immediate assistance.
God is asking a great deal more from us. He is seeking a deep devotional love and relationship from His creation. But we continue to serve the gods of this world.
Materialism a desire to have or accumulate possessions and wealth. This attraction to things causes many to work instead of worship. Malls and stores open on Sunday without regards to God’s call to worship and rest.
We can elevate the most mundane of possessions to the place of prominence. How God must grieve over our choices of things to take His place.
Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. The greatest hindrance to putting God first and that is what he expects is ME. The face reflected back at me in the mirror is the biggest hindrance in placing God first.
We are to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and reject everything that is opposed to it .
Rejecting everything opposed to faith. I will either reject the things that keep me from God or the God who has provided all the possessions I hold so dear. The unemployed pray for gainfully employment and then work day and night, forgetting the God who provided the work.
We seek the love and companionship of others, family, spouse and friends. Only to allow the love expressed toward them to take the place of the creator of love. Rest, vacation and leisure time are all valid and required to live a balanced healthy existence. But we must reject the notion that these activities take the place of worship and time devoted to God.
A place on the lake visited on Sundays, a golf course packed with people seeking quiet and relaxation. We need to set our priorities and goals with God in His proper place. Seek Ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. What things will be given; Food, clothing and drink.
The present sinful condition of the world can be attributed to the godlessness of those who profess to know God and don’t follow Him. God is calling us to place Him first to love Him with all our heart and soul.
All sin is the direct result of the breaking of the first commandment. If God had His proper place in our hearts the sin that haunts us would be diminished.
God has challenged us to put Him first. It is plain to see we have not in mass headed God’s call. What do we need to do to comply with the first commandment?
Acknowledge God’s existence and proper place in our world.
Love God above all things.
Love our neighbor as ourselves.
Consider a world where these three statements were true even if only for a few hours.
If God had His rightful place we would be good to ourselves and others. My mind would be free from sin, doubt and fear.
What one thing would I be able to do for God if I was not afraid? God never intended for us to be live in fear. But we are fearful due to sin in our lives.
To love God with all my heart, and mind; the words imply completeness. No small corner saved from Gods influence. No hiding place or secret room. So God must be master of our very being. We must surrender our hearts to Him without reservation.
Let’s consider the complete surrender of our hearts and minds to God. What does it mean? What does it look like?
A changed world must begin with one person, loving and serving God in their corner of the world. The church has been commanded to go into the entire world and preach the Gospel. We are the catalyst God uses to save the world one soul at a time.
The calling of the disciples in the gospel of Matthew impresses me in its simplicity. Jesus called and one by one these unlearned fishermen responded. They had a profound influence on their world and that influence has reached out over thousand years to me in my world.
A long line of the faithful is to witness to the need for and the availability of God’s love.
As a convert to the Church I appreciate the loving sacrifice made by many to proclaim the truth found in scripture and tradition of the Catholic Church.
The deposit of faith held by the faithful down through the years. The salvation of the world, salvation of the soul is found in the Catholic Church. Truths concerning God and salvation are found in all religions. But the truth from Peter to John Paul II has been entrusted to the Catholic Church. The celebration of the Mass is a moment frozen in time when we experienced the love of God as intended from the beginning. We if only for a moment surrender ourselves; we see God as He is. We say AMEN at the consecration of the Host. We receive the body of Christ, His divinity, we are Christ like. We love God with all our hearts, minds and souls and our neighbor as ourselves.
This transformation is possible through the reception of the body of Christ. The sacrament of the Eucharist, and outward visible sign of the application of inward grace. A physical sign of an invisible reality.
The First Commandment is fulfilled in our lives through the sacraments, specifically the reception of Holly Communion.
I have reflected many times on the last six years. My reception into the Catholic Church. What was it specifically that brought me to Mass, the OCIA process and the Easter Vigil? Desire to love and serve God? The opportunity to experience the symbols so prevalent in the Catholic Church? Finding a spiritual power through the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments? When I narrow my search it is the power of God in the Sacraments that help me succeed in living out the First Commandment.
The commandments are not negative stop signs on my faith journey but green lights to experience Gods love as I turn from things that separate me from God and say “yes” to God, to love Him with all my hear and soul through the Sacraments.
The power of the Eucharist has been and is being revealed to me on a regular basis. The Eucharist enables me to say yes I love God and my neighbor. Because I am full of the divinity of Jesus Christ. At this time I cannot fully understand all the theological implications of the Eucharist but I know the difference it has made in my life.
I am not capable in and of myself to meet the demand of God in the First Commandment. But God had provided all I need to succeed. God has provided the sacraments, the Church, the Scriptures and the people of God to assist me, encourage me as I strive to meet the demands of the First Commandment.
To keep the commandment is to correspond to the wisdom and the will of God as expressed in His work of creation. When I keep the commandments I respond to the wisdom of God. It is this wisdom that created the commandment in the first place. God desired a relationship with His creation. He does not need or require such a relationship but wants what is best for us. A relationship with the Creator – what could be better!
Jesus acknowledged the 10 Commandments but he also showed the power of the Spirit at work in the letter of the law. He preached a righteousness which exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees as well as that of the Gentiles, He unfolded all the demands of the commandments. “You Shall Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
If you love the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping His commandments, then you shall love and multiply. God gave the commandments for our edification. The ten words sum up and proclaim Gods law. They also proclaim that God loved us first. The Ten Commandments have occupied a place of predominance since St. Augustine.
The commandments deal with loving God and neighbor. The first three deal with Loving God the last seven with loving our neighbor. “From the beginning God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law. Then He was content to remind him of them. This was the dialogue. We are obligated to comply with the Law of God. The commandments are engraved on our hearts.
Apart from me you can do nothing. God makes demands and then provides the means for us to meet His obligations. Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. TO adore God is to acknowledge Him as God, as creator and savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exist, as infinite and merciful love.
All men are bond to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His church and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it.
The revelation of the reality of Christ sharing His body and blood with the Church is the one doctrine that brought me to Catholicism. The fact that God is intimately involved in revealing the truth through the church was also important to my conversion. A Baptist sole source of authority is the Scripture. Thank God for tradition and on going revelation. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind but it is not the only revelation.
The commandments push us to seek the truth, who is my neighbor? And once found we embrace it and live it. The scripture tells us of men and women of faith who followed God and loved their neighbor.
We gain insight and strength from reading about Abraham and his only son Isaac. Father we have wood and a knife but where is the sacrifice. Abraham responded “God will provide”. People caught in the snare of sin, the woman about to be stoned, Jesus said
“He who has no sin cast the first stone”. Then to the woman “GO and sin no more”. Truth revealed must be embraced and taken to heart.
God had placed his servants in my path to reveal truths to me with love and compassion. Truths that the commandments are expressions of love straight from the heart of God and not a list of Thou Shall Not's to make me miserable when I fall into the misfortune of sin. But valentines expressing God’s love for me.
Is the law valid in our day and time? Of course it is. The precept of loving God and our fellowman never goes out of date, but we are in the dispensation of Grace aren’t we? True we have been in a Grace period from the moment of our birth. The law points to our need of salvation and the inability of the law to save us.
We must love God with all our heart, mind and soul. We must love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said “Let not your heart be troubled” don’t be concerned with the concerns of day to day living.
God demands a great deal from his creation, but He has given so much more. I love God and my neighbor not out of obligation but from heart felt gratitude for all the blessings I have received. Not the least of which is the opportunity to receive Christ in the Eucharist and to worship and serve God in the one Holy and Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church.
If God’s revelation to me would cease today I am blessed by His body and His church. When I return to my seat after receiving communion and kneel down and pray I lift my head and watch my brothers and sisters receive Christ. As they make their way to their seats I see Jesus in them as they pass my pew. At that moment the Church is filled with the Love of God and His people are prepared to leave the mass to present Jesus to the world.
“This Mass has ended let us go forth from this place to Love and serve the Lord”, and the people respond –

Monday, August 20, 2007

Do you shop on Sunday ........

Work is a foundation for the formation of the family life, which is a natural right and something that man is called to do.
We are called to work and we reap the benefits of our labor to a point.
We are also called to rest and if we focus on remembering the Sabbath and resting it becomes clear that work and labor have seen drastic changes. The compendium of the social doctrine of the Church calls these changes new things in the world of work.
A new form of property has appeared capital and a new form of labor – labor for wages. In this way labor became a commodity to be freely bought and sold on the market more over the worker was not even sure of being able to sell his own commodity continually threatened as he was by unemployment.
If you are not willing to work overtime, double shifts or Sundays there are people will to sacrifices freedom and family for a pay check.
The Catechism of the Church states: God’s action is the model for human action. If God rested and was refreshed on the Seventh Day, man too should rest and let others especially the poor be refreshed.
The Sabbath is a day of Rest against servitude of work and the worship of money.
The Scripture admonishes us to observe the Sabbath and keep it Holy. Deut. 5:12
The Seventh Day is a Sabbath of solemn rest Holy is the Lord. Ex. 31:15
God has set an example with regards to man and work that we have ignored. There are those who out of necessity must work on Sunday but are provided rest during the week.
Sanctifying Sundays and Holy Days require common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others.
Sunday has become like any other day with regards to commerce. The shopping malls are open; restaurants stand ready to serve – from fast food to fine dinning. Sunday appears to be just another day. It was not always this way. There was a time in our history when Sunday was as God intended – a day of rest. What happened – what has changed that has relegated Sunday to being JUST ANOTHER DAY?
The repeal of Blue Laws. Blue Laws restricted certain activities, particularly shopping hours on Sunday. It had its root in accommodating Christians Sunday worship. Though it persists to this day more as a matter of tradition.
In recent years 40 states including Massachusetts have scaled back those laws. MIT Economist Jon Gruber just finished analyzing the effect of those changes. He says “it is quite a sticking response, they go to church less and give to church less”.
One of the main reasons given to discontinue the Blue Laws is that they are out of date for today’s society. Nothing is further from the truth. If anything they are more compatible and necessary today than at any other time in history. Sunday closing laws are compassionate legislation that is pro-family, pro-environment and pro-labor.
It is highly likely that all Blue Laws stem from the first such statute set down by Emperor Constantine.
“Let all Judges and all city people and all tradesmen rest upon the venerable day of the Sunday.”
Blue Laws date back to the Colonial Period, starting with the first Blue Law in 1610 that required the citizens of Jamestown to keep the Sabbath day holy.
But it was not until the early twentieth century that such statute became common. Church groups and some merchants association supported these measures, auguring that society would benefit if citizens were required to take a day of rest.
In 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Sunday closing laws were Constitutional, since such laws were Civil and not religious in Nature.
Police found the strict enforcement was impractical and the Virginia General Assembly enacted twenty one exemptions to the Blue Laws. In 1974 the Legislation allowed each city and county the right to suspend or retain closing laws. Finally in 1988 a group of Virginia Beach businessmen initiated the case that ended Blue Laws in the state of Virginia.
One of the last remaining Blue Laws in the United States that covers virtually all selling is found in Bergan County, New Jersey. Grocery stores are allowed to operate.
Repeated attempts to lift the laws have failed. As many locals see keeping the laws on the books as a protest against increasing hours and days of commercial activity.
Texas as well as Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota continue to operate car dealerships under Blue Laws prohibitions in which an automobile may not be purchased or traded on Sunday.
Many unusual features of American custom such as the fact one can buy groceries, office supplies and house wares from a drugstore are the result of Blue Laws. Drug Stores were allowed to remain open on Sunday to accommodate emergency medical needs.
The simple fact of supply and demand led to the repeal of the Blue Laws. People were ready and willing to shop and merchants were willing to open their doors, (even on Sunday) to take their money.
Will we ever see the Blue Laws in affect again? The answer is NO.
Commerce, retailers, consumers have become accustom to buying and selling on Sunday.
It is possible for a retailer to succeed in business today and close his business on Sunday? Yes, we have an example of a retailer in Georgia who from the beginning refused to cave in to the worship of money and has closed the doors to his restaurants on Sunday. Despite his loss of Sunday revenue his business has thrived. Who is this man that has taken a stand against conventional wisdom which says “closing on Sunday is folly”?
Truitt Cathy, founder and CEO of Chick-Fil-A. Chik-Fil-A motto is - “We exist to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
The Family Christian Book Stores chain has enacted a policy of opening their doors on Sunday. As a Christian bookstore, they should feel especially obligated to close their stores on Sunday. Instead, they appear to have made a conscious decision to seek profit at the expense of others. By opening their stores, they are contributing to the weakening of the church's witness, the decay of our society and the lowering of standards.
Will we ever see Sunday as a Holy Day and an opportunity to rest? Not as long as Christians do not set the example. We leave our churches and race to our favorite restautant for Sunday Dinner. It used to be that the favorite place for dinner on Sunday was at home with family and friends. Now we rush through a Sunday service so we can get to the Piccadilly before the Baptist, who are trying to get there before the Methodist.
If we as Christians make a collective choice and honored the Lords Day by staying home we might turn the tide of supply and demand and force the closing of restaurants and stores for one day a week.
If no one enters the shop on Sunday the business owner would have no choice but to close shop. We can complain about no one horning the Lords Day but maybe a better choice of action is to honor the Lords Day ourselves and encourage others to do the same.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blessed Mother and a Baptist Preacher

The Blessed Mother and a Baptist Preacher

My years as a Baptist minister were filled with study, prayer, countless sermons and all the duties related to being a pastor.

Theological differences led me to seek answers to a number of questions. My presentation detailing why I joined the Catholic Church culminates with a one word answer: the sacraments. Sifting out all the fringe issues it repeatedly came back to the sacraments, specifically Holy Communion.

Well it has been eleven years and Holy Communion still remains the number one reason I became Catholic. Over the years I have discovered numerous additional reasons to become a part of the Catholic family.

I will spare you a mundane list and focus on one treasure. It took me several years to uncover this wonderful gift and still several more years to appreciate it.

This wonderful treasure was not hidden but I focused on other things and almost missed this gem the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As a Baptist minister my knowledge of Mary was limited to the virgin birth. I never questioned the concept of the virgin birth after all it’s in the Bible.

As I began to study in earnest the dogmas surrounding Mary I was quite surprised to find I was in agreement with the assumption of Mary her perpetual virginity and the fact she was born without original sin.

I don’t claim to understand how these things can be but in my limited knowledge they made sense. The chosen one who would bring the Son of God to the world would need to be a vessel without blemish. The ever virgin dogma eliminates all possibility that Joseph was the father. And the assumption completes Mary’s yes to the angel as she surrendered to the will of God.

I was profoundly moved by a lecture given by a priest instructor during my deacon formation classes. The title of the class was Mary’s Yes. Mary set an example for all to follow giving ourselves without reservation to God and his divine will.

I began to examine my motivations and actions in light of Mary’s example and instead of feeling like I was very inadequate I discovered her example to be encouraging.

If I respond to God with a resounding yes to follow him the same Holy Spirit which filled Mary is available to me as well. The same grace is mine the same hope for the future is mine.

From a very limited knowledge of Mary to being the spiritual director for the legion of Mary is quite remarkable. As I continue my spiritual journey I am amazed by the means and methods God uses to bring me to a deeper relationship with him.

There are many hidden treasures in the Catholic Church. I encourage everyone to consider the treasure beyond price The Blessed Virgin Mary.

Hail Mary full of grace blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Twentieth Sunday Ordinary Time
Luke 12:49-53

Jesus said to his disciples:
I have come to set the earth on fire, how I wish it were already blazing.
Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No I tell you but rather division.
From now on a father will be divided against a son and a son against a father.
Mother against daughter and daughter against mother.
Mother in-law against daughter in-law daughter in-law against mother in-law.

OK what did they do with the real Jesus? My friends this is the same Jesus who uttered from the cross Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

So what are we to make of these statements that seem out of character for our Lord? First of all they are not at all out of character but very much in line with the teachings of Christ.

We are disturbed by these statements because they don’t agree with the gospel we have fashioned around our own interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. Many today choose to practice a gospel of ease and comfort.

Many protestant ministers are preaching a prosperity gospel. Jesus was rich and he wants us to be rich also. The only one getting rich preaching this gospel are the preachers.

Catholics are not immune from following the teachings of Jesus and his Church that meet their needs and leaving the difficult choices to others. This cafeteria style gospel picking this leaving that is akin to allowing a toddler to choose to eat candy for dinner each evening and skipping the vegetables. Our bodies cannot function on a diet of sweets. Our souls can survive on a diet of doing what we think is right.

There are numerous self serve gospels available none of them have received the imprimatur of our Lord.

The gospel Jesus preached brought about division. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. We don’t see much division brought about by the preaching of the gospel today. We have become politically correct in our preaching. How long has it been since you heard a homily about the devil? Or a homily condemning the prevalent sins of our society today?

Jesus teachings by their very nature bring about division. So if we don’t see or experience division brought about by the preaching of the gospel maybe we are hearing a gospel Jesus never preached.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 15 marks the solemn feast celebrating the dogmatic belief that Mary upon her physical death was assumed body and soul into heaven.

The Church has held this belief from around the 5th century. Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma revealed by God that Mary the immaculate perpetually virgin mother of God after the completion of her earthly life was assumed into heaven.

There are traditions regarding the place time and date of the physical death of the blessed mother. But no definitive knowledge of her death exists.

St. Gregory of Tour provided an explanation for the tradition of the assumption which is related to her having been preserved from original sin. It is inconceivable to think Mary’s sinless body should decay in the grave.

For Christians death is not extinction. Unlike Mary all ordinary mortals the Christian faithful and saints must wait for the second coming of Christ to receive glorified bodies.

You maybe thinking “All of this sounds good but what’s in it for me?” The assumption of Mary into heaven is important to the Church and to each of us individually for the following reasons.

We find hope in Mary’s assumption. One day known only to God we will experience the death of our physical bodies. The only exception will be the second coming of Christ to earth. Death is thought of as an end or maybe an unpleasant experience by some. Our angst will be lessened by the hope Mary’s assumption provides.

The second reason the assumption is important to us has to do with the care and concern Jesus shows to his followers. He said I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am you will be also. We have scripture and the tradition of the assumption to provide hope and peace as we journey toward the end of this life and the hope of heaven.

I greeted a parishioner after mass this morning asking how things were going. He said the golden years are not what they are cracked up to be. Our bodies as the result of the aging process don’t function as they once did.

This brings me to the third reason the assumption of Mary needs to find a special place in our lives. We like Mary will receive a glorified body. I have no idea what this new body will be made of or how it will function. But I will take a new body sight unseen over the one I have now. My present body has served me pretty well to this point but I have noticed some subtle and not so subtle changes. And I know by observing others that the older I get the subtle changes won’t be quite so subtle. So the thought of a new body is quite a comfort.

Comfort is a good thing to have as the day’s race by. I suppose that is one element of Mary’s assumption we all need to consider. I find a great deal of comfort in this ancient tradition of the Church

Saturday, August 11, 2007

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Ready or not here he comes

The gospel reading for this Sunday seems out of place. The reading has an Advent flavor.

Advent is a time in the liturgical year the church reflects on the first coming of Christ. It is also a time of anticipating the Lords second coming. And a time for Christians to discover the many ways God enters our lives on a daily basis.

The first and second readings have all the ear marks of the Advent season.

The first reading taken from the book of Wisdom speaks about the awaited salvation of the just. The key word awaited reminds us that we must wait until the time is fulfilled for our Lord to return.

The second reading from Hebrews speaks to us about faith, specifically the faith demonstrated by Abraham. By faith he obeyed God. By faith he sojourned to the promised land. By faith he had a son in his old age.

Our spiritual journey is much like that of Abraham. By faith we wander the land in search of the promised land we call heaven. At times our hearts are heavy and our burdens are almost unbearable.

We long for the day we meet Jesus face to face. We long for the day when we will be reunited with loved ones. We long for the day when we can feast at the Lords table for all eternity.

So why are these readings placed in ordinary time? We need to be reminded that our spiritual journey is made up of anticipation waiting and preparation. These tasks are to be undertaken year round not just during Advent.

We must be ready

The scripture tells to gird our loins. The dress of the day for men was a flowing robe. They hiked up the robe and tucked it in and went to work. We must be prepared for the journey.

We must light our lamps. Our master might return during the third or fourth watch. Our lamp allows us to see any one who might approach. Our light will be a sign to our Lord that we are vigilant.

We must be Vigilant

The word vigilant means to be alert to watch and to stay awake. We don’t want the Lord to find us asleep when he returns. Remember Jesus praying in the garden in agony. He returned to the disciples to find them asleep. How many Christians will Jesus find asleep when he returns?

We must be prepared

For at an hour you do not expect the son of man will come. The church has provided all we need to prepare ourselves for his return. The sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion received on a regular basis will provide for our spiritual needs.

If Jesus returns today will you be glad to see him?

Will he be glad to see you?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Vanity Vanity all is Vanity - - - -

Vanity Vanity all is Vanity….

The first reading taken from the book of Ecclesiastes sets the theme and tone for the readings this 18th Sunday in ordinary time.

Vanity is defined as excessive pride in ones appearance or accomplishments. Excessive pride in our accomplishments is vanity Ecclesiastes continues “All his days sorrow and grief is his occupation. Even at nights his mind is not at rest”.

Have you ever spent sleepless nights wondering how to maintain a life style that your current income cannot support? Keeping up with the Jones family who has what appears to be a perfect life.

It might surprise many to learn that this seemingly perfect family is trying to keep up with the Smith family. The average family is carrying a credit card debt of about $9,000.00. Vanity all is vanity.

Today’s second reading taken from the book of Colossians continues the excess theme. Put to death the parts that are earthly immorality impurity passion evil desires and greed.

Excessive focus on our desires wants and supposed needs are vanity. As Christians we are new creatures in Christ. We are to put to death vanity laden excesses.

The gospel reading from Luke for today focuses on a parable of a rich man who demonstrates for us that material excess to the loss of ones soul as vanity.

He has a bountiful harvest and wonders to himself what shall I do? His storage facilities are not large enough to store the harvest. This is what I shall do. He decides to tear down his existing barns and build bigger barns. Today we don’t bulldoze barns we rent storage facilities to store our excess. When he completes his construction project and gets his harvest stored he says now as for you rest, eat drink and be merry. You have goods stored up for many years to come.

But God says you fool this night your life will be required of you. Oops! Just about the time we seem to have every thing in hand God says….

Notice the vast difference between the rich mans view of his circumstances and God’s.

First there is the sudden death that we never seem to take into account. Won’t happen to me, think not glance at the obituaries on any given day and you will see death is no respected of age.

The rich man had not considered death in his near future. He was ready to relax and party. He had a plans that did not include a spiritual score card if you will. He was possessed with a retirement plan.

God poses a question to the rich man about who will own his possessions following his death. No answer is recorded. The rich man had never considered that someone else might enjoy the fruits of his labor.

The second difference between the two opposing views is this attitude. This parable is not simply about the dangers of possessions.

The rich man had a problem, came up with a workable solution and problem solved. Notice no consideration is given to how God might be involved in this problem solving exercise.

Simply put what role dose God play in our everyday lives? Are we willing to allow God to make his presence felt in our lives? Or do we simply go about our business like the rich man thinking and planning for a future that may not ever come. He was rich in worldly things but not rich in what matters to God.

Spend some quiet time today reflecting on what matters to God.

Vanity Vanity all is Vanity…….

Remember all vanities are not dressers.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Faith Family and the FBI

I wonder from time to time how adversity and change affect faith and family. Change and adversity are part of our life experience. I enjoy reading stories from the Old Testament about the struggles of an ancient people. The insights have helped me in my daily walk of faith. So I want to share with you a major change taking place in my family in hopes it will be a beacon of hope to all who are struggling with change.

My wife and I have three grown children. One daughter and two sons, the boys are married and we have two wonderful daughter in laws. Truth be told I could not have done better if I picked them myself. Our youngest son lives in California and is a youth pastor and very active in his church. Our daughter lives in Florida and is a college professor with a Masters degree in English. I am very proud of all three of our children.

The change in our family centers around our oldest son Bill and his family. We have one grandson Hunter who will be three in October. Those of you that have grandchildren know the joy they provide to a family. Those of you who don’t have grandchildren must think we are a bit possessed. They live about eight miles from us so we see them often.

Bill received a call from the FBI this week and he has been accepted into the FBI. He has worked very hard over the past three years and has passed every test they threw his way. I cannot express how proud I am of him and his accomplishment.

Well as you might have guessed the big change is they will be moving following six months of training Bill must complete.

While I am happy for Bill, he has the opportunity to do something few get the chance to do. On the other hand sadness dampens the joy. The selfish side of we wonders why he could not stay here and things remain just as they are. Yes I know the answer but right now I don’t like it very much. To say the least this is a major change in our family.

Part of the angst is the unknown element which surrounds the change. Where will they go, how often can we visit and so on. You maybe wondering how often we visit our son in California we have been there once in five years. Our daughter we see once a year or so. So what’s the problem? Bill and his family made the absence of the others bearable.

The Old Testament stories I mentioned are marked by situations much more difficult than the change I have shared. Yet until I have a chance to process this change it seems huge from where I sit.

So where do I go from here? Well I trust faith will kick in at some point and rational thinking will have to do until faith breaks through.

Rationally I know that I will see Hunter, Bill and Mont just not as often and who knows where this road may lead our family. I don’t know the destination so I need to focus on the journey.

Along with faith I have the love and support of my wife Beckey. She has walked with me over the years and we have shared the joys and struggles of family and faith. She is my best friend and the love of my life. This is not the first or last change we will face.

Yes I am struggling a bit with this pending change. But my faith, my wife and my family will pull me through.

It is my prayer that those of you facing change or challenges find hope in my struggle.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Survey Says.......

Researchers at the University of Texas Austin conducted a survey to discover why people have sex.

The first study asked 400 people to list reasons why they had sex. The follow up study involved 1500 people ranking the reasons they have sex based on the reasons provided by the participants of the first study.

The reasons were compiled and a top ten for men and women were listed. The bottom ten for men and women were also listed.

I noticed a couple of reasons that quite frankly were a surprise. Several reasons were bazaar but I should have expected nothing less from a sex survey.

So why bother writing about a sex survey? Because of the two reasons, that I found very telling, about our understanding of sex and relationships.

1. The number one reason men and women have sex is physical attraction.

Why is that a surprise? I expected as much from the men but the women responding the way they did is I think a change of great proportion. If memory serves me correctly twenty years ago women had sex because they were in love. So what is the big deal? Women apparently have had a change of heart no pun intended. They are not as emotionally invested as in the past.

2. The number ten position of the bottom ten list revealed that men and women agree the last reason people have sex is to get closer to God.

I suppose God getting honorable mention in a sex survey is a shock to most people. But lets be honest God is in last place in the bedroom according to the survey.

I heard this sex survey discussed on Fox news. Much of the discussion was centered on the apparent changes in thinking with regards to why we have sex. But getting closer to God was not mentioned. The fact that God made the survey is less telling than the fact that God is in last place.

Well God in last place in the bedroom is just one more place God has been relegated to last by many in our society.

Our creator the fullness of love created us as sexual beings. We like our first parents Adam and Eve are brought together by God, marry have families and provide a sacramental physical sign of God’s love to our world.

Sex as God intended is a beautiful union between a man and women joined by God in the sacrament of marriage. The children produced by their union are signs of the completeness of their love.

Sex as portrayed in our society today is far from what our creator intended.

Is it any wonder God is in last place, when those responding to the survey are living by sight (physical attraction) and not by faith?