Do All Things With Great Love

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Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-forth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 17, 2018.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

The lyrics above are from one of my all time favorite songs, written in the 1960s by the late Fr. Peter Scholtes. Do you know it? I love it because it perfectly captures Jesus’ own words to his disciples in John 13:34-35, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The interesting part about this particular verse is that it comes right after the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples. In John’s Gospel, Jesus washes their feet, tells of Judas’ betrayal, and then predicts Peter’s denial. In the midst of all this sadness and pain, our Lord tells his disciples to love. Amazing. What a challenge.

The first reading today from Isaiah 50:5-9a shows a man of insurmountable faith! He returns violence with perseverance in love knowing that God is his vindication. As a foreshadowing of the cross, Isaiah, shows how our faith allows us to love in spite of derision, disgrace, and discomfort. No wonder that Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek! I have heard so many bad sermons that dishonor Jesus’ high demands to love! Both Isaiah and Jesus know that the cycle of violence does not end until one or both parties choose to love instead of hate, talk instead of fight, come to the negotiation table instead of taking up arms.

The commandment to love was as difficult to hear in Jesus’ day as it is in our own. If we’re not going to live it, who is? As the Dean of Students at a middle school of almost 1,600 students, I see one conflict after another. All day long I see bullying (physical and cyber), fighting (with words and fists), name-calling, pushing, shoving, vandalism, and drugs. I wonder how many of those in my office claim the name of Christ. How many of those in our juvenile or adult prisons claim Christ? How much of the lying, and cheating, and bullying, and gossip, and violence, and slander, and abuse in the world is committed by those that claim to follow Jesus, but are absolutely ignoring his commandment to love? From the halls of congress to our jobs, to church, we must be the ones who respond differently.

The disciple of Jesus Christ does everything with the love of Christ in mind. We should be visibly different. Everywhere we go we bring light and love, goodness and truth. A Christian in the workplace transforms that place. A Christian at school changes the nature of the classroom, the lunch line, or the sport activities. We pick up, not put down. We share, we uplift, we encourage others to be their best and do their best! We applaud encourage greatness whenever and wherever it is found. When we see a need, we do not turn a blind eye, we courageously do something about it!

St. James admonishes his brothers and sisters to not only be people of faith, but to to be people who put that faith into action! Our faith must be lived! We who are in relationship with the God of love, must be love not in word only, but in deed as well! He asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” Of course, the answer is a resounding NO! Faith that is salvific is a lived faith! It comes to the aid of those in need. A lived faith looks at the resources the Lord has given and seeks to share them with those in need! Disciples of Jesus Christ are constantly evaluating their lives so that they live more humbly, act more generously, and engage more peacefully. Again, James teaches, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, ‘but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” James 2:14-18

We cannot be duplicitous in this regard. We are called at every moment of every day to be people of faith–not just on Sunday, and not just in our private time. We believe in the dignity of every person and seek to transform society by these values and views that we hold. If we do not light into legislation and love into our laws, we have failed to use the authority given to us by God to make the world His! The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1929-30 teach the following:

Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:

What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.(John Paul II, SRS 47.)

Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. (Cf. John XXIII, PT 65.) If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

So, are you in or not? When Jesus was on the way to Caesarea Philippi, he asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “You are the Christ.” This is what it means to be a Christ-ian. We are those who do not say that he is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets. No, we are like Peter. We believe and have faith that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. We have been reborn into him, possess his mighty Spirit, and are commanded to love. It’s just that simple. We are no longer ours, we are his, and everything we have, and everything we do is for his glory. He asks of us just one thing, to take up our cross daily and follow him. We must be willing to lose our ego, our pride, our anger, our jealousy, and even our life for his sake and the sake of the gospel. Mark 8:27-35

Yep. That’s it. Are you still in? Does your life reflect your commitment to him and his commandment to love? James tells his Church, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” Let’s go out today and demonstrate our faith by the good work that we do. It’s as we’ve said all along – faith and works. It’s gotta be both.

When Christians clean up a mess, we do it with great care. When Christians make a sandwich, we don’t just throw it together, we make it amazing. When we work, we work diligently and carefully, not squandering time or resources that are not ours to waste. When we parent, we parent differently. We spend more time with our kids, teaching, guiding, and spending family time together. Christians put down the phone and look others in the eye. We give high fives, compliments, and bring joy and life to the woman or man at the cash register. Our whole life is marked with a different outlook and attitude. So much so, that someone who encounters us might think to themselves, “Surely, that person is a disciple of Jesus.” After all, they will know we are Christians by our love.

For Reflection:

If I were put on trial today for being a Christian, would my accusers find enough evidence to convict me?

To what degree do I commit myself to loving and serving others? Do I do all things well and with love?

Is my outlook and attitude any different than anyone else around me? Or do I stand out as the positive, loving, hard working person?

 

By catholicevangelist

Be Strong. Fear Not.

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 9, 2018.

Today the prophet Isaiah tells those who are frightened, “Be strong, fear not!” Is 35:4-7a Scripture teaches us that those who fear are not yet perfect in love!

Perfect love is the only goal for the Christian life. God is love, and our goal is to be like God, in whose image we were made, but due to sin whose likeness we have lost. Our goal, due only to Christ’s death and resurrection, is to be restored by perfect love, to love perfectly. Fear, then, is the enemy.

Why do we fear? Jesus makes it very clear that we are to love both God and neighbor but that fear prevents many from loving as we ought. Similarly, out of a desire for a little assurance here on earth, though we know God will always provide for what we need, we sometimes hedge our bets nonetheless.

It seems that we too often have a tendency to be more like the Pharisees than like Jesus, our Lord. We like rings and fancy things. We like places of honor and show favoritism to those who might offer some hope for advancement in this life, at work, or amongst friends. In other words, we stop caring about others for their sake, but instead for our own. We stop loving people for who they are, but instead for what they can do for us. In short time, we are people who love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. We can become shallow or empty, and see people not as children of God but instead as a means to an end.

This is, of course what St. James warns against in the second reading. He says, “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please, ” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?” Jas 2:1-5

It was a fear and danger then, and remains a fear and danger now. We treat others as a means to an end. We use others to get what we want. We manipulate and wrongfully use others. I’ve been guilty of this myself many times, I’m sorry to say.

The readings today teach us to stop trampling on the poor and the weak. They tell us to stop plotting and manipulating. They tell us to lives honestly and uprightly without ulterior motive. In other words, as Christians, our hope is not in those who can help us gain advantage on earth but instead on He who offers us eternal glory! Isaiah says, “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” Is 35:4-7a

We need to wake up! Too many of us are living in a dream where this life will provide all that we need and if we work all the angles just right. And if we have the right connections we’ll find peace and happiness. Today Jesus says to us, “‘Ephphatha!’— that is, ‘Be opened!'” so that like the deaf man our ears–and even our hearts might finally be open so that we might hear the voice of God and love as he desires for us to love–completely and without agenda.

May we, like Jesus, do all things well. Amen?

For reflection:

When choosing friends, do I have an agenda?

When making decisions, do I keep the good in mind, or what’s good for me in mind?

Do I pray daily that my ears, eyes, and heart might be opened by God?

By catholicevangelist

The Life of Virtue

Today’s reflection is for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 19, 2018.

This weekend I was blessed to have been asked to lead the Catholic Men’s Fellowship retreat at Old Oak Ranch Conference Center, in Sonora. I met a number of Catholic men on fire for their faith and eager not only to learn more, but also to pray, sing, eat, and grow in holiness!

Starting Friday evening, I began to share the Church’s teachings on the Life of Virtue, guided by the Catechism #1803-1845.

In today’s second reading, St Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” EPH 5:15-20

In this passage St. Paul urges them to watch carefully how they live. He tells them to live “wisely,” and as we see in the first reading from the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom delights in sharing herself in abundance! “She [Wisdom] calls from the heights out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” PRV 9:1-6

The virtuous man or woman seeks to passionately pursue wisdom! But wisdom without practical application serves neither God nor neighbor, and so, is practically useless! In fact, wisdom unapplied isn’t even wisdom at all, but is instead just knowledge! Wisdom is defined as the practical application of knowledge. That’s where virtue comes in.

Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows us not only to be good or do good, but to give the very best of ourself. In point of fact, the only goal of the Christian life is to daily grow in holiness; to moment by moment and day by day grow in greater unity with the Lord, Jesus Christ. No wonder St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” We should be talking about virtue much more than we do! Teaching them to our children, and proclaiming them in the workplace!

The Human Virtues are informed and given life and strength through God’s gracious and generous gift of the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, and are seated in the human will. They are those qualities that correct and improve our character, steel our spine, strengthen our resolve, and help us to better and more consistently choose the good in the concrete situations of life.

The virtues are not particular to Christianity though–nor are they even particularly religious. Nowadays it is common to hear about “Core Values,” or “Character Traits,” or even “Civility Programs.” These, one and all, are simply repackaged euphemisms for what men and women for millennia called Virtues.

The Romans, and Greeks predating Christianity–and certainly before St. Thomas Aquinas, were particularly concerned about Virtue. “What are those qualities that make one great?” they would ask. “What characteristics might one expect to see in a great society?” There are over a hundred virtues by which we might live. You probably remember you mom or grandmother reminding you that, “patience is a virtue,” or “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” or even that you should be more trustworthy, creative, courageous, or purposeful–all virtues.

All of the human virtues, it seems can cleanly fall into four categories, namely, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortified–the so called cardinal virtues. Because all of the human virtues hinge upon these four they are aptly called “cardinal,” which stems from the Latin word for hinge, cardo.

The Roman statesmen, orator, lawyer and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero (63bc) repeated Plato and Aristotle when saying, “Each man should so conduct himself that fortitude appear in labors and dangers: temperance in forgoing pleasures, prudence in the choice between good and evil: justice in giving every man what is rightfully his.” (De Fin., V, xxiii, 67; cf. De Offic., I, ii, 5).

The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that 1. govern our actions, 2. order our passions, and 3. guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith. Below are the Cardinal Virtues explained.

Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.

Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due.

Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.

Temperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods.

St. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi teaches, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) I don’t know about you, but I think we need to seek wisdom and get back to virtue in our families, in our communities, and in our nation.

The virtuous life is a humble one and requires great perseverance. It’s a life that is marked with passion and intensity to dedicate oneself to daily growth in being, as Matthew Kelly often says, the best version of oneself. Let’s get back to virtue education in our homes! Our family has two amazing books that teach virtues through stories–and we haven’t even begun to crack them open, I’m quite embarrassed to say. I will start first thing tomorrow when I return from this amazing retreat.

The rest of Ephesians reads, “And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father,” all of which we did over the course of these three wonderful days. If you’re reading this from home…you missed out. Just sayin’.

Today Jesus said to the crowds: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”JN 6:51-58 If we pursue the life of virtue today, we have the gift of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us and bring us to eternal life. God thinks of everything! Eat up! We’ve got work to do.

For reflection,

Do I commit myself daily to being better than I was yesterday, and what is my measure for growth in holiness or virtue?

Do I attend Mass weekly, if not daily, to receive the Bread from Heaven, my food for the journey?

Are you willing to learn more about the human virtues by reading up on or buying a book?

God Bless, Stephen

By catholicevangelist

Do You Believe? Obey.

Today’s reflection is for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 5, 2018.

Today’s readings speak of the amazing mercy and love of God who not only desires that his children be free, but also provides for them daily while they struggle in their journey through the desert. That’s encouraging to know and comforting through difficult times but it also comes with an expectation, namely, that we believe. Jesus said to those that were looking for him after feeding the five thousand, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)

One of the world’s favorite verses is John 3:16, where John (the evangelist) teaches us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Wow! That’s pretty amazing! God sacrificed his only son for me and all I have to do is believe! Easy day! I got this!

Just to make sure I was good though, I looked up “believe” in the dictionary so that I could be sure I punched that card correctly! (I don’t want any hanging chads!) I found out that to “believe” was to hold to something as true. According to Webster, it is more of an intellectual endeavor. Again, I got this!

And in the Johanine epistles (1-2-3 John) he tells us quite plainly his only intent for writing anything at all, “I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13) Again, we see that belief equates to eternal life, and according to my friend and yours, Mirriam Webster, belief happens in our head. But does it? Scripture teaches otherwise.

Today we see that the Israelites not only had to believe (in their head) that God would provide for them in the desert, they also had to follow his instructions (with their hands)–to the letter! Exodus teaches, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.'” (EX 16:2-4, 12-15)

Okay, so according to Scripture, belief happens with the heart and the hands! We believe and then we do. We’ve got to follow God’s instructions. We’ve got to go out daily to gather our portion. No wonder Jesus refers to belief as work! In fact, Jesus tells those who followed him that they were working for all the wrong reasons! Work is assumed, but work for the right reason is what Jesus demands.

He told them, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27) I think it can be very easy to work for things that perish! In fact, unless you live in a monastery, most of us spend the lion’s share of the day working for things that perish! Sadly, I know in our home we’re cleaning out the fridge all the time! We buy fruit, vegetables, bread, and a whole host of other things with our hard-earned money only to see it go bad within weeks! It doesn’t take long for the bananas to begin to turn and the bread to mold!

The truth of perishable items is all around us. We work and work and work, and it seems that nothing seems to last! Not our food, not our clothing, and not our toys either–made in America or not! Evidence of corruptibility is all around us and still we labor as though any of it is going to last forever. Our very good friend, who lives in Redding, was on vacation in Santa Cruz when she discovered that her house and everything in it was destroyed in the fires that have been burning there! Praise God that none of her family was hurt. As the fires burn in California, more and more people are discovering the truth of the futility of storing up treasure on earth.

Can you even imagine?! I work by butt off day in and day out for our home, shoes, food, our trailer, and many other toys–and just like that, it could all be gone. I’m not following Jesus’ advice very well, am I? How about you? Jesus tells us that if we’re going to work, we should work for those things that never perish! He says that if we store up our treasures on earth we will always be disappointed, and he demands that we instead store up treasure in heaven (MT 6:19)…now that’s good work!

The work that we must be about is work that endures–acts of kindness and compassion, love and sacrifice. We ought to spend our time visiting those who are incarcerated, and those who are infirm. We need to spend our time and treasure in food kitchens, in women’s shelters, and in refugee camps. In other words, we need to spend our time in the trenches of human suffering and misery! That’s were Jesus was in his day, and if we wish to find him, it’s where he is still today.

Jesus tells his listeners, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” If we really do believe in Jesus, “the one that he sent,” then we must do the work that he did! In other words, belief = obedience to Jesus’ way of thinking and acting. Belief for Christians automatically assumes action. Our actions can and should be an indication of what is happening in our head. Imagine that! Our thoughts, words, and actions should be consistent. Harder and harder to find that in our world today, I’m afraid. Proof positive that Christians have an important job to do in restoring worldly affairs!

God will give us our daily bread. God is going to provide for us–believe that. God’s mercy and love will always pour over us–believe that. The world needs Christ and Christ-ians doing good work daily in the midst of human suffering that is never far from us–go there. It’s time to roll up our Christian sleeves and provide evidence that we believe. Do you believe? It’s time to go to work. Below you will find a number of informational websites as well as opportunities to provide evidence of your belief. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good place to start, and start we must. If you are aware of others who are also doing good work and need hands, post them here. If you know of opportunities to serve feel free to post the website or opportunities to serve.

Click here to find and volunteer for many Catholic Charities programs within the Stockton Diocese.

Click here to find out more about Catholic Charities in the U.S.A.

Click here to find out how to be more involved with supporting legislation that reflects Christian belief and values.

Click here to find out more about faithful citizenship.

Click here for a number of resources on Catholic Social teachings.

Some questions for reflection:

To what degree are my actions consistent with what I say I believe?

How much of my time, talent, or treasure is used in a way that gives glory to God by helping to alleviate human suffering?

Does my attitude toward sinners, the marginalized, the addicted, the homeless, and the incarcerated reflect Jesus’ own actions and attitude toward the same?

How is God calling me to serve him by serving those most in need?

Have a great Sunday!

By catholicevangelist

Our Claim

Today’s reflection is for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 15, 2018.

What exactly makes one great? Money? Power to influence? Personal or professional achievement? Possessions? Positions? “Bragging rights” mean quite a lot to us, don’t they? Today’s readings call us to humility, knowing that the only accomplishment that matters at all is not our accomplishment at all.

For me, being a Marine was quite an accomplishment–to be a Force Recon Marine even more so! To be a “dual cool” (airborne and combatant diver) Force Recon Marine doing Close Quarters Battle and be an Explosive Breacher meant that heads turned wherever I went in the Marines. It felt good. My accomplishments were hard-won through a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears–quite literally. All of our service men and women–and especially those that rise to the level of Special Forces deserve a great deal of respect–and rightfully so. When I got out, I started going to college and no one seemed to care about military accomplishment. The game had changed–now degrees mattered! And I pursued them too–Bachelors! Masters! Credentials! Oh my!

After 15 years in the “trenches” of the classroom, I’ve been congratulated quite a lot lately on a new administrative position that I’ve accepted in the Turlock Unified School District–Dean of Students at Turlock Junior High. Yes…thank you…thank you… (bowing and such).

When it comes to certificates and degrees and accomplishments, I’ve got a bunch. How about you? What brings you pride? For what do you (or the world) pat yourself on the back? From the bottom of my heart, while I am quite proud of those physical, academic, and professional accomplishments, I can see quite clearly that none of those were an end in themselves. No, that was just training and formation toward a much higher calling, namely, to stand witness to the power of God, to bring light out of darkness, to bring joy where there was only pain, to bring salvation through mercy and forgiveness. With the Psalmist, our only prayer should be, “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation. (Ps 85:8)

Today’s message is quite simple–if we have any reason to boast, it is only in the generosity, love, and mercy of God. He is the reason we move. He is the reason we breathe. He is the reason we have being. If I have accomplished anything at all; If there is any good in me; If I have any good thought or action at all; to Him I give the credit, the thanks, and the glory. As St. Paul tells the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” (1:3)

You see, before the foundation of the world, God knew me and had important plans for me. God’s plan was to use every hardship that life (and the evil one) would bring my way to use for His glory! God’s amazing like that. When I heard God’s call to serve Him, His Church, and the world, my life’s trials and triumphs finally made sense. I discovered that it was never about me at all, but rather, what God desires to do through me.

Again, “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.” In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.” (EPH 1:5)

But to what end does God call us, destine us, and equip us? Toward what end has God transformed every sorrow into dancing, ever accomplishment of mine into Glory for Him? The answer is quite clearly revealed in today’s Gospel–all of this that we might go out two-by-two, mano e mano, as brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, children and parents proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God.

The Gospel proclaims, “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits…So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” MK 6:-13

We who have heard God’s call realize that all is grace. All that we have and all that we do, all that we receive, and all that we will do gives us no reason to boast, but instead only place a burden upon us–to proclaim Christ to the world. How can I who have received so many gifts remain silent about the Giver of those gifts? I cannot. Nor should you.

I have discovered that each of us has been given gifts that are particular to God’s calling for us. My gifts are not yours, and yours are not mine, but the end of the proper use of those gifts is the same–to somehow, in some way, in some place, to some people known only to you and God to love God and neighbor.

When we give our “yes” to God and His calling we change the world around us. Through our yes, we enlighten minds that are in darkness, bring peace to conflict, bring hope where there is only despair. That’s our high calling. That’s why we have any power or possessions at all–to more freely, frequently, and fervently love. No reason to boast–only have eyes open, hands open, and feet moving to those most in need.

Some questions for reflection:

What are your accomplishments in this life–your reasons to boast?

What struggles have you had or do you have that don’t seem to make any sense?

How is God calling you to use your gifts, accomplishments, and pain to transform the world around you?

And finally, are you listening?

Blessings, Stephen

By catholicevangelist

2018 Catholic Men’s Fellowship Fall Retreat – Sonora

Brothers,

We are officially launching the registration for the “2018 Catholic Men’s Fellowship Fall Retreat – Sonora, CA” and appreciate your support. Review, share, and forward this post to other brothers as we invite you to join us for another great gathering in Christ.

“Virtues are gifts from God that lead us to live in a close relationship with him. Virtues are like habits. They need to be practiced; they can be lost if they are neglected. The weakness caused by original sin causes us to be inclined toward sin. The power of virtue is that it reverses the inclination toward evil, and by strength of habit inclines us toward the good.”

Come join us as Stephen Valgos, Catholic Evangelist, in his wisdom of the teachings of the Church lead us to a better understanding of how practice of “The Seven Virtues Perfect our Seven Principles,” and tip the scales of the moral life toward good and away from evil.

Fr. Mike Lacey former Pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, San Lorenzo Ca. will celebrate Mass for our Retreat.

Accept this invitation to join other men for a weekend of reflective spirituality. Get away from the pressures and activities of daily life for a refreshing weekend of renewal. Regain, deepen and strengthen your spiritual perspective.

Select links for details:  

https://www.catholicmen.org/catholic-mens-fellowship-fall-retreat-august-17-19-2018/

More about Stephen:

https://catholicevangelist.com/

Retreat Date:

August 17 – 19, 2018, Friday – Sunday.

Beginning at 5pm Friday and concluding at noon Sunday.

Retreat Cost: $185 per person (Includes lodging and all meals).

You may register online and pay with your credit card or PayPal account.

You may also register by mail by downloading the attached flyer, printing it, and sending a check to the address on the flyer.

Make checks payable to 2018 CMF CA Fall Retreat

Mail to: 10905 Kelso Ct. Sonora, CA   95370

Retreat Location:

OLD OAK RANCH

15250 Old Oak Ranch Rd.

Sonora, California 95370

God Bless,

(209) 264-2263

Email Sonora CMF

Sonora CMF Website

http://www.catholicmen.org/

2018_CMF_Flyer

By catholicevangelist

A House Divided

Harry Potter DividedToday’s reflection is for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 10, 2018.

Today’s Gospel demands that we take a serious look at the divisions that exist within ourselves, our relationships, our country, and in our Church. Sadly, there can be no doubt that divisions do indeed exist. The question is what to do about it.

Last summer was the summer of Harry Potter! Mark was reading the series and as a reward for him completing a book, I would rent the movie for us to watch–so that we could all enjoy his hard work! I couldn’t help but be moved by Harry’s struggle to keep Lord Voldemort out of his head! It seemed, tragically, that Harry and “the Dark Prince” were irreversibly linked to the point that Harry was often sick, Voldemort’s thoughts and words become twisted and intertwined with his own, and Harry clearly  was in anguish over the physical, emotional, and psychological toll that the division was taking…and so it is with Satan and ourselves.

When did all of this division occur? Is brokenness a part of God’s plan? My students are quick to say (in what I think is a defeatist, victim-type attitude), “Well, Mr. Valgos, that’s just the way it is.” To which I am even more quick to respond, “That may be the way it is, but that is NOT the way it ought to be! Let’s not talk about what is unless we also talk about what ought to be!”

The beautiful stories in the first book of Sacred Scripture, the book of Genesis, give us both what it ought to be and what is–and even why it has become the way it is. Through rich symbolism and figurative language we clearly see the truth that God created a beautiful world, in perfect harmony: man to woman, humanity to earth and animals, and all of Creation to the Creator. In today’s first reading from the second story of Genesis, we are immediately confronted with the reality of sin and its consequences.

God created man out of the dust of the ground and created a beautiful paradise in which man could live–but man was alone. So God put man to sleep and from his side created another to be man’s companion, friend, and love. In short order, humanity disobeys God and disorder is the immediate consequence! In their desire for what was not properly theirs the man and the woman eat of the forbidden tree and feel shame in each other’s site, begin to hide from God, and begin to blame each other, evil, and even God for their woes.

God says to the couple, “You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!” The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” And just like that, we have the modern internal, family, and national crisis that exist! How long have these divisions and blame been going on?! Well, since the beginning!

This condition of division within ourselves and with God that causes us to hide from God’s sight, that creates conflict within our relationships, and disharmony with all of Creation, and that ultimately results in brokenness, sadness, and pain is what we call Original Sin. But we must admit first and foremost that in the Beginning it was not so. Okay, so it didn’t last long, but it is the way it ought to be!
The C.C.C. teaches that “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents (390). In that deed the state of original holiness and justice, from which happiness and friendship with God flowed (384) was lost. (sigh)
This tragedy is the flip side of the Good News. Again, with regard to original sin, the Catechism teaches, “The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the ‘reverse side’ of the Good News, that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation, and that salvation is offered to all through Christ” (389). We know that God’s desire is harmony and peace! Our brokenness, however, is the cause of disharmony, and disunity that leads to death–spiritual and physical! The first eleven chapters of Genesis all teach the same truth of this sad human condition of disobedience toward God’s will: The Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and the Tower of Babel.
Each of these narratives all teach the same truth, namely, that humanity turns against God, and when it does pain, suffering, and death quickly follow. But these eleven chapters also teach the most important truth, namely, that sin, brokenness, and death never has the last word–grace does.
In the story of The Fall humanity’s relationship with each other, with the earth, and with it’s animals changes, but God’s mercy clothes them and promises to “put enmity” between the serpent and humanity (a foreshadowing of Christ). In Cain and Abel, Cain is sent to be a restless wanderer but God’s mercy marks him with a seal of protection from those who might seek his life. In Noah and the flood wickedness is washed away, cleansing the earth, but God’s mercy calls Noah to build an ark that God’s creation might endure. And in the Tower of Babel, God scatters humanity across the nations confusing their languages–an event undone by God’s mercy in the call of Abraham that leads to the day of Pentecost whereby the Power of the Holy Spirit unites nations to hear the Good News through the gift of tongues!
Jesus enters the scene and although he is indeed the source of reconciliation with humanity and God, although he heals the blind and the lame, the deaf and the mute, although he forgives sinners and brings them back into the community and to the worship of God, although he the very means by which God is reconciling the world to himself, the scribes have the audacity to claim that HE is acting on behalf of the devil! What?! Even when all evidence is to the contrary, he is accused of being a source of division between humanity and God.
Jesus gives them the beautiful truth that transcends every generation, namely, that a house divided cannot stand. What they claim cannot be true he says. How can he both be the source of unity, goodness, and truth while at the same time be aligned with the divider, the evil one, the deceiver? “Summoning them, [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him” (MK 3:23-26)
No sir, Jesus quite clearly cannot be working for God AND working for Satan. Nor can those who belong to him. Those whom make up the family of God. The new people of God. Those who are brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus. There is a new family that exists through Jesus. Are you in it? Whose side are you on?
Earthly family, blood line, genetic code no longer has any power over us. Not a history of family sin, not a history of personal sin. In Christ Jesus we can be renewed, redeemed, and become heirs of God’s mercy and paradise. Jesus drives this point home to his audience when they say that his family has arrived! He says, who, them? Jesus looks around at those seated in the circle and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (3:34-35).
Therefore the Psalmist today proclaims, “With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption!” (130:7bc) God does not leave us alone in our sin. God wants us to be undivided in our heart, united with each other, and united to Him. That’s what Jesus and the Kingdom are all about! St. Paul tells the Corinthians we have been given a spirit of faith that causes us to believe and to give witness in word and deed! And this Spirit is all about the work of renewal in us and in the world.
He says, “Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God. Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day…for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:15-18)
The Good News today is that while sin existed from the beginning and has been ever present as a source of internal, family, societal, and church division, it need not be so and this division does not have the last word–God’s abundant grace does. Grace, however, requires cooperation. We must choose to belong to Christ Jesus and his family, and participate with the work he is about. With our freedom we must choose Christ and life. God has given us his spirit that is all about the renewal of our body and soul, but we must strive daily to enter into the mystery and be transformed by God’s life and love.
Division only has the last word if we reject God, because with God there is the fullness of mercy and redemption. Division only has the last word if we refuse to participate in what God is doing in the world. Division only has the last word if we do not today fall to our knees and seek his family of faith. In other words, division only occurs if we let it. Division only occurs if we only talk about what is, instead of what ought to be and what can be through Christ Jesus.
Let’s unite God’s house. Let’s start in me. Amen?
By catholicevangelist

Surprise! x 3!

This reflection is for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Cycle B, 5/27/2018.

I think most parents remember playing “peak-a-boo” with their babies. I just saw a young mother playing with her daughter a few days ago and it brought back a flood of wonderful memories. I remember how much fun I used to have with my boys playing that game. Simply cover your own eyes with your hand, remove it quickly, say, “boo!” and wait for a little jump and giggles galore! So much fun! I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, actually, my sons or me. That’s probably why I played it so much. They loved being surprised and I loved surprising them!

Not a lot has changed for us now that my boys are nine and eleven, actually. They still love surprises and I still find so much joy in doing the surprising! I think most people love surprises, and I’m always sad when I hear someone say that they don’t like surprises! I think some of the greatest joys in life catch us by surprise.

People do love surprises: Christmas gifts, unexpected flowers, wedding proposals, birthday parties, and surprise endings. We love to discover something new and unexpected. It’s proof that we don’t have all the answers, we don’t know all the possible outcomes, and you never know what might be just around the corner!

You know, God likes surprises too! I like to speak of God as the God of surprises. How many times I have said, “Man! I would never have imagined that! Amazing!” Haha!

That’s exactly what Isaiah discovered about God thousands of years ago, when God surprised his faithful people by ending their exile in Babylon! Surprise! King Cyrus of Persia has defeated the Babylonians, and has returned the Judah-ites to their land–and even gave them money to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem! Surprise! (‘Betcha didn’t see that coming!)

Isaiah proclaims of God, “you worked awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as had not been heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you working such deeds for those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:2-3)

St. Paul actually uses the words of Isaiah when talking about Jesus to the Corinthians. He says, “as it is written: ‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.’” (1Cor 2:7-9)

Isaiah and Paul rediscovered what Moses discovered far earlier, but the people had forgotten! God loves surprises! Believe me, you can just imagine Paul’s surprise when while heading off to persecute Christians, Jesus appears in a bright light and says, You’re not going to kill Christians! You’re going to become one, and proclaim my name to the gentiles! Surprise!

In today’s reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses helps the Israelites to be people of faith who never doubt the awesome power, love, and blessings of the God of surprises!

You’ve been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but it’s time to go! Surprise! And look, Pharaoh is even giving you camels, gold, and silver for your trouble! Moses gives the people a laundry list of surprises from God.

“Moses said to the people: ‘Ask now of the days of old, before your time, ever since God created man upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the LORD, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (DT 4:32-34, 39-40)

And then, in the fullness of time, God visits His people! The Incarnation! God really surprised Mary and Joseph, right?! The angel says, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High…The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (LK 1:31) Yahweh is God–but Jesus is too! Surprise!

And no one loved surprises more than Jesus! You can’t find me, mom, I’m in the Temple with the Elders! Surprise!

You’re out of wine and your wedding is ruined! Surprise! Party on!

You guys are horrible fisherman whose nets are empty! Surprise, your nets are breaking!

There’s not enough food to feed 5,000 people! Surprise, everyone is full and there are leftovers!

Your hand is healed! Surprise!

Get up, you can walk! Surprise!

You are cleansed of leprosy! Surprise!

Lazarus is not dead! Surprise!

You are a condemned sinner but now you’re forgiven! Surprise!

Apparently Judas learned something about surprises from Jesus because Judas had a little surprise of his own, right? You claim to be God but I’m handing you over to be crucified! Surprise!

And then Jesus had a little surprise for Satan! You thought I was dead and gone, I am risen! SURPRISE!

And finally, just when you thought God was all out of surprises, God sends His Holy Spirit into the hearts of His faithful that they might know Him, think like Him, and become like Him. Surprise! Yes, by His Spirit God restores His children to His likeness and image that was lost “in the beginning.” Freedom is ours. Original holiness is ours. Salvation is ours. Surprise!

St. Paul tells the Romans today, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (ROM 8:14-17)

OMG! God is three! Surprise! Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come. (RV 1:8) Today we celebrate the most Holy Trinity. We celebrate what could only have been known because the God of the universe chose to reveal something about His inner self, something closest to Himself to people He loves very much.

The God of love, who never ceases to surprise us, wants to love and surprise others too. God does not want our joy to be contained within us, but instead to be shared with others. We share our life, our love, and our joy with those around us! As His children, we must be full of surprises too!

The truth be told, I have a confession to make: I still play “peak-a-boo,” but with other people’s baby! With friends, or family, and sometimes with complete strangers, I always take the time to teach the importance and joy of surprise. (Disclaimer: Get permission first with stranger’s children!) Don’t keep it to yourself, Jesus says!

In today’s gospel, “Jesus approached and said to [the eleven], ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'” (MT 28:16-20)

God is our Father. God is risen. God is Spirit. God is one and three. He is with us forever. What an amazing surprise! Happy Trinity Sunday. Go be like God, surprise someone you love. Surprise someone who needs to know they are loved.

Blessings, Stephen

By catholicevangelist

Is This Your Fight Song?

This reflection is for Pentecost Sunday Mass During the Day, Cycle B, 5/20/2018.

Okay, so I have a confession to make, I love Rachel Platten’s song, “Fight Song.” I think the song gives such great testimony to the power and influence that a singe individual can make in transforming the world. In the opening lines she says, “Like a small boat on the ocean, Sending big waves into motion. Like how a single word Can make a heart open, I might only have one match But I can make an explosion.”

Her song teaches us the truth that every thing that every person does can have an immeasurable impact and can transform lives, and even the world. And this is what Jesus did, and this is what he calls us to do today. Jesus told his disciples, “I have come to set the world ablaze! And how I wish it were already burning” (LK 12:49).

Fire is an amazing force, and an appropriate image for the Holy Spirit. Fire brings warmth, peace, comfort, and security when there is fear, uncertainty, danger, and darkness. How valuable a camp fire for one who is alone in the wilderness! Fire is also trans-formative. It changes everything that it touches! Burning wood becomes ash, burnt prairie teams with new growth and, if not for fire, the giant sequoia would never release its seeds for new life. And this is why Jesus sent His Spirit to the earth: to be our comfort, our guide, our security, our hope, and our force for transforming our life, our family, and our world. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations and to proclaim The Kingdom with boldness, and it’s the Holy Spirit received at baptism and strengthened at Confirmation that enables us to do just that!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace, and by it we are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit which makes us true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and able to defend the faith through our word and actions.” (C.C.C. 1285) In baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but in Confirmation they truly come alive in us! Confirmation is like steroids for the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us! What are the gifts that the Spirit gives?

You might remember that they are those gifts prophesied by Isaiah, found in the Book of Isaiah 11:2-3. They are Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Counsel, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, and Piety. It might be helpful to remember them this way: The Spirit gives us knowledge, which is good, but doesn’t exactly help us to solve our everyday problems. Knowledge is good, but what we really need is to understand. Understanding allows us to not just know it, but really “get it!” Once we get it, it’s time to apply it to the normal circumstances of life. The real-life application of knowledge and understanding is wisdom. That’s usually the toughest part though. Actually LIVING what we know to be true and applying it in the concrete circumstances of life! That’s where the fourth gift comes in, namely, fortitude/strength. Fortitude steels our spine that we might do what we ought, even in difficult situations. Now that you know the way and go the way, it’s time to be a great leader and show the way. That’s the fifth gift of the Spirit, Council. Council means that you are now helping others to know what to do and to do it. Of course, when people recognize how thoughtful you are, how wise you are, and how strong you are, this can easily lead to arrogance and pride! It can all go to our head and we begin to act as though all of this greatness is from us! That’s where the sixth gift comes in: fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is not being afraid of God, but is rather a healthy respect for the greatness of God. Fear of the Lord recognizes that everything I am, everything I have, and everything I do is entirely owed to God. HE is the one to whom the glory goes–not me! Fear of the Lord recognizes that I am merely the vessel of God’s gifts and in no way deserve any of the credit. And that is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, I’m afraid. In a world of self-aggrandizement, humbly giving glory to others is quite difficult. The pious person does not have this issue. The seventh gift of the Holy Spirit, piety, finds absolute joy and fulfillment in the fear of the Lord. The pious person points always to the Lord and wouldn’t have it any other way.

With these gifts, the disciple of Jesus Christ can transform the world! We are courageous soldiers of Jesus who humbly yet boldly say what is true, give direction in life, take leadership roles, and give all the glory to God. It’s no wonder that Jesus asks so much of us, He gave us the means to achieve everything He had done, and more! In John 14:12 Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” He knew we could do it because He promised that we would receive this amazing gift of the Spirit, first at Pentecost, and then with the laying on of hands by those at Pentecost! And the power of the Spirit has been transferred from the Apostles by the laying on of hands in every generation until today!

Jesus told His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6) Simon, the magician, was so impressed by the power of the Holy Spirit transferred through the laying-on of hands, that he tried to buy it! Acts 8:18 reads, “When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money.'” The act of attempting to buy or sell the power of God is aptly called, “simony,” named after Simon the Magician.

You see, from the very beginning the Spirit has been a gift to the world. That’s it. It is free, but NOT cheap. Jesus’ death and resurrection has paid the price for this gift to us. It is not something that can be bought, but a person must be open to receiving the gift and must be willing to cooperate with God’s gift for it to truly take root and transform his/her life. It’s not magic, after all. It is the gift of God that binds us to Jesus and the Church, and enables us to fight the good fight and live out Jesus’ commandment to love.

The Church teaches that the laying on of hands in Confirmation doesn’t do anything new in us, as we already have the Spirit and It’s gifts, but it does strengthen those gifts in us–for one purpose and one purpose only. The Catechism teaches, “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply as children of God;  it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it more perfectly bonds us with the Church; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross. (C.C.C. 1303)

If we are His, we must boldly proclaim Him to the world. We must spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ that the whole world might know Him, love Him, and serve Him–and it’s the Spirit’s presence and working in us that transforms us into these bold courageous witnesses to Jesus. What will our lives look like if we are His, and what will the world look like when every knee bends at the sound of His name?

St. Paul first gives a glimpse of what living apart from the Spirit looks like (living in the flesh), and secondly, what living in step with the Spirit looks like when they are filled with, and responding to the presence of the Spirit within them. He teaches that if they have the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit, then they should be producing the Fruit of the Spirit. He says, “Brothers and sisters, live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. (5:15-25)

Jesus wants to transform the world, and it’s His Spirit that will do it–but not alone. Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church, whereby Jesus sent His Spirit into the hearts of the faithful, giving them gifts that they might produce fruit for a hungry world. Jesus is the only saver of souls, and no one can say, “Lord, lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 COR 12:3). It is our job as His disciples to share the name of Jesus in word and deed. We are called to day-by-day bring light and love, goodness and truth, wholeness, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion to thirsty souls. That’s a pretty difficult thing to do, of course, especially as the world becomes increasingly violent, but the true disciple will continue to love in spite of suffering and pain.

Jesus promised His disciples that in these last days, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. All these are the beginning of the labor pains. Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come. (MT 24:7-14)

No big surprise, then, all this should be expected. Let’s do our job: receive the Spirit and Its gifts, call on the Spirit, produce good fruit, boldly proclaim Christ, and persevere until The End. I mean, “Like a small boat on the ocean, Sending big waves into motion. Like how a single word Can make a heart open, I might only have one match But I can make an explosion.” (And set the world ablaze for Jesus!) Amen?

Easter Blessings, Stephen

By catholicevangelist

Where Did Jesus Go?

This reflection is for Ascension Sunday, Cycle B, 5/13/2018.

I was surprised recently when talking with my students. It was this past Friday before Mother’s Day/Ascension Sunday. I like to make sure that my students are thoughtful about their mothers and how much their mother’s do for them and sacrifice for them. One of my students, when making a mother’s day card, wrote in Spanish in big letters, “I know I’m not the best son, but I’ll always love you, mom.” As I read it I told him how powerful it was and that I’m sure his mom would appreciate it. He said, “Yeah, Mr. Valgos, moms never stop loving you no matter how bad you mess up.”

As I agreed with him, I thought about my own mom and how many times I’ve messed up, and I thought about my wife and how much she loves our boys and sacrifices for them. I was immediately overcome with gratitude for both my mom and my wife, and got all choked up and became teary-eyed. Not a single one of my students clowned me for it. When you teach alternative education, everyone knows moms reign supreme. They pick up the phone, they hassle the kids, they make sure they’re dressed, on the bus, and are passing their classes. Moms are the ones who sacrifice everything for their children. In this Age of the Church, Jesus is working through moms in a powerful way. Many will come to know the love of God through the love of their mom.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. In the Creed we announce that, “He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” (C.C.C.659-667). And the very next phrase is, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” (C.C.C. 668-682). It is very important that we reflect a moment on the implications of these two short phrases because the implications are tremendous. I hear quite often that Jesus “lives in you and me,” or that Jesus “is in my heart.” But technically speaking, how is that possible if the resurrected Jesus “ascended to the Father” and “will return to judge” at the end of time, as we state every Sunday in the Creed?

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus will return! Look busy!” If Jesus will return…then how can He also “be here” or “in my heart”? What I think most people really mean is that, “the Spirit of Jesus” lives within us, or that Jesus’ Spirit is here among us. It is the Holy Spirit that is Jesus’ active force in the world today. That, after all, is the importance of Pentecost, which we celebrate this coming Sunday! Jesus looked forward to ascending to the Father so that He could send the Holy Spirit (cf JN 16:7) and usher in the “age of the Church” whereby Jesus would act in and through his faithful disciples, the body of Christ, the Church.

The Catechism says it like this, “The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’–the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, ‘until he comes.’ In this age of the Church Christ now lives and acts in and with his church.” (C.C.C. 1076) In yesterday’s Gospel reading Jesus says to His Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (JN 17:18).

A great way to see these two realities lived out quite clearly is by comparing Luke, the evangelist’s, two writings, namely, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is part two of the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke begins with, “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Luke 1:1-4). So the Gospel clearly intended to gather information about Jesus’ life for “Theophilus” (which translates “Theo” = God + “Philus”= lover, so a “lover of God”) into an orderly narrative from the beginning to the end of Jesus’ life. Luke ends with Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

Acts of the Apostles is our reading for today, and begins with, “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2) Clearly Acts continues Luke’s teachings about Jesus, only Acts IS NOT about Jesus, per se. It is instead about the Body of Christ! Whereas we saw the earthly Jesus in the Gospel, we now see Jesus in Heaven working through the Holy Spirit in and through His Church in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Acts of the Apostles replaces the Old Testament reading throughout the Easter Season. We’ve been hearing from it everyday since Easter and we continue to hear from it right up to Pentecost. You might have noticed that in Acts, the Apostles heal people, show mercy to people, and proclaim the good news–in other words, they continue the mission and ministry of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit–and it all begins at Pentecost!

If you want to see Jesus in action, read the Gospel! If you want to see Jesus Spirit in action, read Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit is sent to Jesus’ disciples that they might be Him on earth until He returns. No, Jesus is NOT in your heart, is not in your neighbor, and is not in the Church–the Spirit of Jesus is! Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and will come again to Judge the living and the dead. The Holy Spirit binds believers together into one body with Jesus as the head. The Spirit makes Christ a present reality in and through His members, the Church, the Body of Christ.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) said it perfectly and beautifully when she wrote the following poem:

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

In today’s Gospel Jesus said to his disciples, “’Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”

Jesus is still “here” and working with and through His Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. We will indeed experience Jesus today–by the Holy Spirit that makes Christ present during this Age of the Church–most especially in the Eucharist. But we will experience Him primarily through others. Through other people’s responding to Jesus and producing good fruit. We will experience the fruit of the Spirit by their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (cf. GAL 5:22).

We will come to know Jesus Christ ascended by the working of His Spirit through the Church. We will come to believe in Him by the way that they live out holy lives. We will come to hear the words of God, see the face of God, feel the love of God through others…moms first of all. And we should do the same.

On this celebration of Mother’s Day we give thanks for all those moms who responded to Jesus’ call to proclaim the Gospel to every nation…starting in their home, with their husband and with their children. Thank you, mom. Thank you, wife. Thank you, Jesus. And we who have come to know the love, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus are called to go out and do likewise. We continue by the power of the same Spirit of Jesus that animated them to love to then go out and show love, forgiveness, and mercy to others. And that’s how we and the Holy Spirit build the Kingdom of God. Let’s get started! The King will soon return. Look busy.

HAPPY MOTHER”S DAY!

Easter Blessings,
Stephen

By catholicevangelist