Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Life's Storms - there is hope

Hope in the midst of a Storm

Luke 6:17, 20-26

Barak Obama Democrat running for president has written a book titled “Audacity of Hope”.

Apostle Paul admonishes us to “Sorrow not as others who have no hope”.

I meet and talk with people on a daily bases that are on the verge of hopelessness. The storms of life are numerous seemly unrelenting and hope of relief is waning. Where are we to turn how are we to respond when the storms come?

Psalm 1: 1-4 says in part is - Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in the flesh. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord whose hope is in the Lord.

Notice the contrast one man is cursed while the other is blessed. As Christians our hope during the storm is not found in our strength but our hope is in the lord.

Luke 6: 17, 20-26 say blessed are the poor, hungry, those who weep. Or we might say hopeful are the poor, hopeful are the hungry, hopeful are those who weep.

Many times people expect bad things to happen to them. And our life experiences have taught us that some times the storms of life do come. The scripture tells us it rains on the just and the unjust. But God uses all things as an opportunity to bless us. We must learn to face difficulties which arise in our lives from a position of faith and trust in the Lord.

So how are we to respond when you face the storms of life?

1. Don’t Announce the Coming Storm

Don’t expect to be devastated by the storm. Don’t let the storm be the defining moment of your life. Jews that survived the Holocaust have been an inspiration for me. They suffered atrocities my mind cannot fathom and yet they did not allow the storm to destroy their remaining days.

The disciples find themselves in the midst of a storm. Mark 4: 35-41 tells us how they responded. They were fisherman by trade and this was not their first storm or their last. So they did what they knew how to do. They rowed for shore bailed water and did the things they learned from previous storms to reach a safe harbor. When the storm comes respond based on past storms.

2. Don’t let your Faith of Yesterday determine the out come of today’s storm

Past failures of faith arise when we responded in our own strength and can ruin our tomorrow. We all stumble and fall from time to time it is part of the human condition. We also seem to enjoy living in the past and respond to a storm today with the faith of yesterday.

The disciples called upon the Lord. They had expectations they saw storm as a man power problem. They thought Jesus would help them row or bail water he would provide the additional man power to get them to shore.

We are guilty of calling upon the Lord and having expectations as to how Jesus needs to respond to our request.

Jesus answered the disciple’s prayer but not in the manner they expected. He did not row or bail water he did not help raise or lower the sail. He simply said peace be still. When Jesus answers our prayers he always exceeds our expectations.

3. Don’t be impatient wait upon the Lord

God does not have a watch and he has no time table. We must have faith and allow God to bring us through the storms of life in his time.

4. Pray

The disciples called upon the Lord and he answered their prayer. During the storms of life we must pray. We must pray even though it seems hopeless. Jesus said I will never leave you or forsake you. Keep in mind we are never alone. I am Alright Jesus is with me.

When you see storms on the horizon follow these four steps:

Don’t announce storm

Don’t let our faith of yesterday determine the out come of today’s storm



The same Jesus who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee will stand in the midst of your storm and you will hear his words by faith

Peace Be Still

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Spiritual Direction

When you come to a fork in the road take it.
Yogi Berra

As a former Baptist minister the OCIA process provided much needed information about the teachings of the Catholic Church. The initiation process along with practicing my faith as a Catholic Christian for five years led me to accept the call to the diaconate program.

During formation I was confronted with doctrines and dogmas and numerous other concepts that were foreign to me. Not the least of which was spiritual direction. As a Baptist pastor I counseled numerous parishioners experiencing a crisis of faith or a marriage issue. These sessions were not identified as spiritual direction but were simply part of the job.

Entering the diaconate formation program I learned that part of the program included having a deacon mentor and a spiritual director. The deacon mentor is to assist candidates as they move through the program. The mentor knows the ropes and is available to answer any questions and address concerns as they arise.

The spiritual director assists in evaluating the spiritual progress of the candidate. Monthly meetings are required and evaluation reports are submitted to the director of formation.

The concept of spiritual direction was foreign to me and being the counseled and not the counselor was quite disconcerting. I had been the spiritual director for others as well as myself. So adjusting to monthly meetings with my spiritual director was quite a challenge.

I met with my deacon mentor quarterly for five years. I met with my spiritual director monthly, well that was the plan but let’s just say I had to explain on several occasions why my report was incomplete.

Well this does not sound like a rousing recommendation for spiritual direction but let me explain. My background and training made it difficult to get a handle on spiritual direction. I had two spiritual directors over the five year period. I had no frame of reference as to what spiritual direction was and how to get the most out of the sessions. Time and an understanding director helped me to find the purpose of spiritual direction.

So with all that being said I believe having a spiritual director is a tool we can use to make the most of our spiritual journey. The choice of director and frequency of sessions are up to you.

I believe that many Christians don’t utilize the wisdom of a spiritual director for many reasons the foremost being they have no idea what spiritual direction is.

The following article: "What is Spiritual Direction" is found on a website titled Catholic Spiritual Direction. There have been several different types or models of spiritual direction throughout the centuries. Some of us, especially those of us who have read the lives of the saints, have various ideas of what spiritual direction has entailed in the past. There have been relationships of spiritual guidance similar to father/son, teacher/student, master/servant, and confessor/penitent (such as is still common when spiritual advice is given in the confessional). There were also examples in the lives of the saints of spiritual friendships.
Modern spiritual direction most often refers to a relationship which is more like spiritual companionship or friendship where the director is present as a spiritual friend who listens with the intent of helping the directed recognize how the Holy Spirit is leading and working in one's life. The emphasis is on helping the directed develop a good prayer life and relationship with God. The director does not tell the directed what to do in a way that requires obedience. The directed has the final decision as to what to do in her spiritual life. Questions are asked to get to know the directed, her present life circumstances and spiritual life.
The goal is to help the directed to discern how the Holy Spirit is personally leading, recognizing that God has a special and distinct plan for each person's life and everyone is not called exactly the same way. In this sense, there are no better or worse callings or vocations, as the best calling for an individual is God's plan for that person in particular no matter what it might be. Like scripture says, there are many members of the body and all are good and necessary. The idea is to determine and encourage the directed to be the unique person that God made them to be, doing the things that God is personally asking of each of us.
While God has a unique calling and plan for each person and gives individuals different talents, gifts and vocations (and trials and sufferings) as just described, there is also the recognition that God has certain standards and principles that apply to everyone. Jesus gave us a way to know these truths when He founded the Catholic Church to spread his message. Jesus told the apostles, "Whoever hears you, hears me." This still applies today to the pope (and bishops) who are direct successors of the early apostles through the laying on of hands throughout the centuries. He promised to remain with the Church until the end of time and to send the Holy Spirit to lead until all truth. He gave us the Bible which is the inerrant Word of God. He also gave us various saints to teach us how to be closer to God especially saints who have been spiritual directors themselves such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
Besides utilizing the teachings of the Church, Bible and Saints for guidance on general principles, there is another dynamic that sometimes happens in meeting with a personal spiritual director. When the director and directed have the intention of prayerfully coming together in God's presence to discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is not only the two people joining together, but Jesus himself there with them. As Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Homily: Twenty Forth Sunday Ordinary Time

Homily: Twenty Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time

Luke 15:1-10

A lost Sheep a lost Coin a lost Soul

The longer gospel reading includes the parable of the prodigal son.

I have chosen to focus our attention on the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

Tax collectors and sinners draw near to listen to Jesus. But the Pharisees and Scribes began to complain. This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Note the lack of respect the religious leaders of the day showed Jesus. This man welcomes sinners. This man indeed this man by his death will bring about redemption for all who see him as the savior.

Why would they complain? They were jealous of his influence. The Pharisees and Scribes offered nothing to the sinners the marginalized and the lost. Jesus on the other hand offered a message of hope and love.

Jealousy can over take Christians. They don’t accept the fact that a sinner can become a saint. The church offers a program for Catholics who have fallen away from the church. The program is called Returning Home. Classes are presented and participants are encouraged to discuss the reasons they left the church. In many cases healing of old wounds allow our brothers sisters to return the Church and the sacraments.

I have heard from Catholics that resent the fact that they have been faithful all these years and someone who has been away from the Church for years can take a few classes and all is forgiven.

Today’s gospel and programs like Returning Home are not saying Jesus will not honor our faithfulness. He is emphasizing the joy of conversion. The lost sheep is found the lost coin also is found and the prodigal son returns home.

The Shepard who seeks out the lost sheep is Christ. The second Vatican council applies these verses to priests and how they should approach their pastoral work. They are to seek out and assist believers and non believers, Catholics and non Catholics. Assisting Catholics who have given up the practice of the sacraments. This task is not left to the priests alone. As believers we must share our times talents and treasure to promote the coming kingdom.

The lost coin was probably a drachma a days wages for a farmer. A day’s wages is worth getting out the broom and lighting the lamp and sweeping the house. Is not a soul worth more than a day’s wages?

Have you lost your way? Good news God is looking for you.

Do you have an impediment keeping you from receiving the sacraments? Make a commitment today to do what ever is necessary to remove the impediment and begin again receiving the sacraments.

Have you fallen into sin? God is waiting patiently for your return.

The sheep and coin and a son were all found and the angels rejoiced.

When we make a conscience decision to follow God it makes an angel smile.

Have you made an angel smile today?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Will work for food - - - - -

Will Work for Food

It is hard to interest those who have everything in those who have nothing. Helen Keller

I am guilty of not seeing Jesus in those who stand on the side of the road holding signs saying they will work for food.

I can justify this position by touting to all who will listen that these folks have no interest in working for food or any thing else. Articles have been written about this cottage industry as to how much money the “will work for food” crowd make in a day. I don’t have the exact figures but the amount is more than I make in a day working eight hours and commuting three.

Well that being said I don’t feel any better. Thomas Merton said writing is prayer. So this is another attempt to pray for the homeless.

This issue comes to the surface of my life from time to time and I am forced to focus on those in our society who have to struggle to survive. I have a difficult time understanding how so many have so little in the country. Do they not have opportunities to climb the ladder? Did they miss the educational train? What happened to them that was not my experience?

In my case family made the difference in my being who and where I am. Education was a must and I was to do my best. My parents both worked and set the example for me, graduate from high school and go to college or work. No sitting at home while my parents worked. I went to seminary and graduated with a bachelor of divinity degree and was pastor of a church at the ripe old age of twenty two.

The key to my struggle with this issue is self sufficiency. I know this because it has been pointed out to me on several occasions by my spiritual director and a monk in a local monastery.

They offered advice and suggestions as to how I might find understanding that self sufficiency is folly. All I have comes from God and his grace in my life. I was challenged to use my rosary to count my blessings. But all of the counseling leads to more questions.

If all I have comes from God is God not interested in the plight of the poor? I know God loves and is concerned for all people. Why am I so blessed and others struggle for their next meal? Jesus said the poor you have with you always. So where and what are we to do with regard to the poor. More specifically what am I to do with the poor?

The key is not to focus on how they wound up where they are. Lack of family support may have contributed to their plight. Maybe adequate education was out of reach. Perhaps they were raised in poverty that has engulfed several generations.

Finding a man in a pond surrounded by alligators we can discuss with this poor creature how and why he is in the pond or we can get a boat and get him out.

You see I really do have an understanding of the issue but to discuss the totality of the issue is not possible here, my struggle is moving from understanding to action. Moving from the head to the heart is a constant struggle.

I have in the past given money to those who requested assistance. But I must be on guard my attitude can ruin a good deed. Money given a dollar at a time is not a sufficient long term answer to the problem but I don’t have the method or means to provide a long term solution. So I am left to determine the best short term response.

I utilize the resources such as Saint Vincent de Paul and local charities and governmental resources but those agencies leave me feeling empty because I find myself at arms length and detached from the process of caring for the needy.

So I have decided a change of attitude is in order. No matter my response or the method if I give begrudgingly it’s in vain. So I will sharpen my vision and give assistance as God makes it available one person as a time.

Please remember me in your prayers as I struggle to see Jesus in the poor and not be judgmental.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Discipleship - Twenty third Sunday Ordinary Time

Homily: Twenty Third Sunday Ordinary Time

Luke 14:25-33

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother wife and children brothers and sisters and even his own life he cannot be my disciple.

The Cost of Discipleship

This theme has pervaded the recent readings. We were encouraged to light our lamps and be prepared for the bridegrooms coming. Jesus statement I have come to set the earth on fire and do not think I have come to establish peace on earth, no but rather division. Gave us pause as we wondered what happened to love peace and joy. Next we were told to strive to enter through the narrow gate. Finally we are instructed to be disciples whose service is marked by humility.

Are we to interpret Jesus words literally? Am I to hate my family and my own life to be qualified to be a disciple of Christ?

Jesus used two examples to illustrate the cost of discipleship.

The building of a tower

The builder before beginning construction counts the costs of building the structure. By counting the cost he eliminates the possibility of running out of funds before the tower is finished.

The king going into battle

The king evaluates his troops and determines the strength of his enemy. If he determines his enemy is stronger he negotiates a peace treaty.

So the question we must answer, What am I willing to pay to be a disciple of Christ?

The answer based on the readings of the last several weeks is EVERYTHING

It is clear from the teachings of our Lord that we cannot be a part time casual disciple of Christ. We must choose Jesus over everything. We must be willing to accept suffering in his name. After all Jesus set the example by leaving his family and giving his all for love of the Father and you and I. His suffering puts any suffering I experience in perspective.

We cannot allow anything to prevent us from being faithful Disciples of Christ. Family and our own lives must not come between us and Jesus. What ever the cost it is not to high Jesus demands our all not a portion of our lives.

Like the builder and the king we count the cost and say yes to Jesus. In light of the gospel everything else is secondary.

We must set priorities. A deacon brother of mine is a huge Michigan football fan. During our formation if Michigan lost a game he would be in a funk for days. Saturday Michigan lost to Appalachian State. I sent him an email wondering if he was in mourning. He responded that since ordination college football though enjoyable was not a consuming activity.

Properly set priorities, counting the cost brings us to the place where we choose serving Jesus over all else. We must count the cost not only for ourselves but for those we serve. If we fail to be of service there is no one else to take our place.

The things of this world family and friends work children and any number of things pull us in many different directions. The cost must be counted and then we must understand that no matter the cost we must follow Christ.

Christ gave his all for us how can we give him less than our all?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sex - What does God have to do with it?

The Survey says ….. Part II

Part one the survey says was posted in August of this year. The sex survey completed by researchers at the University of Texas sought to determine why people have sex. The number one reason was because they were physically attracted to each other. The last reason people indicated they had sex was to get closer to God.

September marks the beginning of OCIA classes as well as adult education classes in many parishes. OCIA classes are offered to non Catholics who are searching and inquiring into the teachings and practices of the Catholic faith.

At some point during the inquiry process I present the Catholic teaching on sex and marriage. Marriage is a union between a man and women. This union is developed and enriched through sexual intercourse. In addition sexual intercourse provides the opportunity for the sexual union to provide for the birth of children.

The understanding that only married people are to engage in sex is met with approval if you are discussing teenagers having sex. Adults and parents have no problem saying amen to this teaching. When I tell them that if you are not married you are to abstain from sexual activity no matter your age or station in life they look at me and say you’re kidding? I am fifty years old and you are telling me I can’t have sex?

God has not provided a set of rules and regulations to keep us from enjoying sex. But sex outside marriage is not what is best for us. And God knows and wants what is best for us.

Teens and preteens having sex lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In addition children engaging in sex are not emotionally prepared for a relationship that includes sexual intercourse or the consequences that follow.

Adults in class will occasionally try to convince me that they unlike teens are old enough and emotionally mature enough to engage in sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage.

The sex survey indicates that nothing can be farther from the truth. We have sex because we are attracted to each other. It has been my experience that physical attraction outside the commitment that comes with the marriage bond is fickle. If you are introduced to an individual and discover you are more attracted to them than the one you are currently dating guess what it’s time for a change.

A recent survey indicated that women who date men they found through internet dating services are engaging in sex on the first date about twenty five percent of the time. The survey also indicated the women were engaging in unprotected sex. I can’t believe adults in this day and time participating in such risky activity. So needless to say the argument that mature adults should be allowed to engage in sex outside marriage won’t hold water.

The consequences of such behavior are obvious. The divorce rate is fifty percent. Why? Physical attraction cannot sustain the relationship through the hard times. Children are born into unstable families. Many are raised in single parent homes. Many single parents accept the consequences of their actions and do what is necessary to provide for their child. We need to remember these parents in our prayers. Others it seems are more concerned with what they consider to be best for them. They do not acknowledge responsibility for their acts and continue in a life style which tends to see history repeat itself. We need to remember these men women and children in our prayers. May God’s presence in their life be made know to them and may they be led to spiritual conversion. Lives lived apart from God are not the best choice. As Christians we are called to share the good news with the world so all may know the love of God.

God knows what is best for us, I see this demonstrated each day. The churches teachings are at times not easy to accept. But accepting them can keep us from the pain and heartache we experience when we focus on self.

The survey said the very last reason people have sex is to get closer to God. God being in last place, is it any wonder we have relegated having sex to simple physical attraction.

SEX: Anywhere, with any one, any time can only lead to trouble.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Monks find common ground in prayer

Monks find Common Ground in Prayer

The Trappist monks who reside at the monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers Georgia hosted Tibetan Buddhist monks. The monks offered prayers of thanks giving and fellowship.

The following article appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution news paper. The monks focused on what they share in common a life of prayer. Prayer is a wonderful example for a world that seems to focus on our differences.

At first, the stillness amplified the differences between the monks' prayers.
Soft and light as a whisper, the chants of the Trappist monks crept along the soaring concrete walls of the church. Each note seemed muffled by the thick, moist air at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers.
Later, when the Tibetan Buddhist monks began their own sacred song, each tone and vibration seemed to beat back the gray of a rainy Wednesday afternoon. Guttural and bold, each note charged forward and seemed to linger long after the red-robed monks were done.
Yet each group of monks, in its own way, was offering the same thing; a prayer of thanks and fellowship .
It was a mission of fellowship that brought the Tibetan and Catholic monks together. For two years the Tibetan monks have crisscrossed the U.S. and Canada as emissaries of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan culture and to support their monastery in India.
Their Indian place of refuge has a partnership with Emory University, which serves as home base for the monks when they are not on the road. Because of a decades-long relationship between the order of the Catholic Trappist monks and the Dalai Lama, it was only fitting that the Tibetan monks spent an evening at the Conyers monastery.
Despite cultural and language differences, the gesture of ritual united them. Bodies bowed in prayer. All eyes closed tightly in silent reflection. At supper, smiles and nods were exchanged over steaming plates of roasted squash and vegetables.
"The emphasis is what we have in common on a deep level, and that is compassion," said Brother Elias of Holy Spirit. "Today is an era of contention and people are so judgmental. Not to sound New Agey, but it's us joining together to bring positive energy to the world."