A Lesson From A Tree

FigsToday’s reflection is based on the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 18, 2018.

As we near the end of the Church’s Liturgical cycle, we reflect more seriously about the end of all things–the end of life and the end of time. As the adage goes, all good things must come to and end. But today we ask the question with regard to the end, do we recognize its nearness? Are we prepared?

Jesus tells his disciples that as the end nears, there will be difficulties, darkness, and chaos. Jesus uses natural imagery to reveal the truth of what happens in our world and in our heart as the end approaches. He says, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” While THE END of all things will certainly be a scary sight to see, for 2,000 years no one has seen it, and while we may or may not see the FINAL end in our lifetime, we can certainly look around and be quite afraid of the present darkness in our world, or even be afraid of our own final hour.
Dormant FigWhen things get difficult or scary, I know that I too often cling tightly to the ‘ol saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” But Jesus today offers a different way of thinking; an alternative to what is natural to us. Jesus tells us that the fig tree has much to teach us in this regard–how we should respond when times become dark and when the end is near.
Far from becoming hard in our heart and in our head, we should instead do exactly the opposite! When times get tough for us, we should realize also that times are tough for others as well. And the truth is that many others have it much worse than you or I!  Instead of becoming hard and circling the wagons when things become difficult for us, we should instead become tender and soft and produce much fruit! We should show more love, share more joy, bring more peace, have more patience, be more kind, more gentleness, and more faithful, and display not less, but more self control. (GAL 5:22)
Sprouting FigJesus tells his disciples, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.” MK 13:24-32
The fig tree becomes dormant during the winter and its branches become very hard. That’s okay for the fig tree, but not good for us! When the storms ofl ife come, if  we are in the midst of our “winter,” when life becomes difficult and we begin to struggle, we must resist becoming hard to the world and to the needs of others around us. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned above both in and out of season. We are called at all times and in all places to be the light of Jesus Christ–to bring warmth and goodness, and healing and love to those in need. We simply cannot do that if our hearts are dormant!
And so Jesus tells us today, that in these last days our hearts must become more tender not less. Our hands and hearts must become warmer–not cooler. We must be more generous in our dealings with others, not less. In spite of greater economic uncertainty, we must become more joyful and generous with our giving to those in need. In a consumeristic society bent on convincing us that we do not have enough, we must be more convinced than ever that our cup runneth over! We must be more grateful, more loving, more Thankful–and that’s right on time!
As we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, remember the lesson from the fig tree. Be tender of heart. Produce much fruit. Be generous with others who have so much less, and for the love of Jesus Christ, GIVE THANKS and be grateful for all that we have. Jesus tells his disciples that the end is indeed near, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If we can learn and live this lesson from the fig tree, then we won’t have to know when our end will come, not the FINAL end, because we’ll be ready!
Happy Thanksgiving!
For Reflection:
What is my natural tendency when life becomes difficult for me?
Am I producing the fruit of the Spirit-filled life? How can I do a better job as Thanksgiving approaches?
How can I be an instrument of peace and generosity during Thanksgiving and as the Christmas Season approaches?
With what has God blessed me, that I might be His blessing to the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the religious, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the destitute, both near and far?
By catholicevangelist

Your two cents

Today’s reflection is taken from the thirty-third Sunday in ordinary time.

Not so long ago there was a very popular country song by Billy Rae Cyrus called Some Gave All. The song was written in honor of a veteran he had met in 1989, and all of the men and women who put their life on the line for the love of their country. As the lyrics go, All gave some, some gave all. Ultimately, the song seeks to honor and recognize that in this life there are those who are willing to give their life for something or someone greater than themselves.

On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I want to give a shout out to all who “gave some” and offer a prayer for “some who gave all.” I want to also recognize that, tragically, approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day in the U.S.

I joined the Marines right out of high school (pictured here on the left), as did my dad (pictured here on the right) and uncle before me. I joined right after the first invasion of Iraq, in 1992 and was blessed with a 4-year tour free of conflict. Our soldiers today enjoy no such peace in their time of service. Many who join today give their whole life in the service of our country, and all who join take that same risk. Today we stop to reflect on the life they selflessly offer for our good and the good of others, and to give thanks for it.

Many Marines with whom I served are surprised to discover I am a man of God and a candidate for ordination to the permanent diaconate, and many in the Church are surprised that I am a former Force Recon Marine, but the truth is that the requirements for both are shockingly similar.

Both require a willingness to serve and maybe even to lose one’s life for claiming the title. Both require discipline and courage. Both require selfless sacrifice and long suffering. Both require a love of fellow man and a sure binding to one’s brothers and sisters in service. Both require knowledge and study, time alone to reflect and time together to train. And both demand that a man or woman be “all in.” There’s no half-way with either.

The Gospel today invites us to consider what it really means to go all in for Jesus. Many wealthy people offered large sums of money–but according to Jesus, there were yet far from total commitment. It was only the poor widow today that made the leap from mere “involvement” to total “commitment.” I’ve heard that the difference between a chicken and a pig in the making of eggs and bacon for breakfast, is the difference between involvement and commitment. The chicken is certainly involved in the endeavor, but there is no bacon without the pig’s life–total commitment is required.

Sadly, in our Church we have a lot of chickens and very few pigs. As Americans, myself included, we have a difficult time giving up all for him, and many are simply unwilling to give him their last two cents. Jesus demands time and time again that those who would follow him be of a total commitment sort. Like the widow of Zarephath in the first reading, we need to hear the call to faith and put ALL out confidence in God’s providential care for us–not an easy thing to do for sure–which might help to explain why Western nations are experiencing such a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. For too many who have wealth, it’s asking too much. We don’t mind being involved–but committed we are not.

On this Veterans Day weekend, take the time to pause and reflect on the commitment given by so many veterans, stop, thank, and shake a veteran’s hand–especially if he or she is homeless and hungry, and pray for the souls of those who have died both in the service of, and because of the service to our nation. Be inspired by their commitment to others and a greater cause, and be willing to commit yourself to others and the greatest cause, Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

Take it or leave it, after all, it’s just my two cents.

May God bless and care for you, Stephen

For reflection:

Have I freely committed my time, talent, and treasure to the Lord and His Church?

How is God calling me to love and serve him and my neighbor?

How can I help support and encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life?

Do I appreciate the freedoms and blessings that have been won for me by Jesus Christ and by brave men and women in uniform? How can I show it?

By catholicevangelist

Son of Timaeus

Blind BartimeusToday’s reflection is on the readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 28, 2018.

What’s in a name? In today’s Gospel Jesus encounters a blind man, a social nobody, an outcast, and a sinner. He meets Bartimaeus. Even Bartimaeus’ name reveals only that he is some else’s son. (bar means “son of”) Poor Bartimaeus really has nothing to offer anyone–not even a name of his own. But today Jesus changes all of that for him, and offers a promise to all of us.

Because Bartimaeus was blind, he was reduced to begging, poverty, and dependence on nothing more than the generosity of others. He cries out day and night in the hopes that someone might offer him something that will sustain him for the day. Any more than that and he becomes an easy target for thieves. He depends at every moment on the pity and  generosity of others–a difficult and horrible way to live. Bartimaeus’ poor circumstances have paved the way for his encounter with Jesus Christ, and for salvation. Let’s see Bartimaeus’ three steps to salvation in Jesus Christ.

First, like Bartimaeus, we need to recognize our poverty and our need for Jesus. The Gospel writer tells us that Bartimaeus was a beggar on the roadside out of Jericho. Bartimaeus had no misgivings about his lot. He brought nothing of his own to his relationship with Jesus. Not fame, not fortune, only sadness and sorrow and difficulty. He knew that he needed. That’s a lot of our problem in our country. We’ve got it pretty good. Jesus makes it very clear, he has come for those who are sick. Bartimaeus knew he needed–do we? Or is earthly wealth and comfort blinding us to our need for spiritual healing and wholeness? It’s quite easy to begin to believe our Facebook profile!
Secondly, we need to cry out! Upon hearing news that Jesus was coming his way, Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” We need to know that we need, and then we need to make our needs known! Jesus hears Bartimaeus call out to him! That is the power of prayer! If we’re not praying, we’re not being heard! Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that they must ask! It’s crazy that so many Christians spend so little time in prayer–me included! The whole Old Testament if filled with examples of God’s people crying out to Him for delivery–and then God delivers them. The New Testament is equally filled with those who cry out and are delivered. Prayer must occupy a central part in every believer’s life. Jesus asks Bartimaeus plainly, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “Master, I want to see,” and then he does. Are you in need? What do you want? Ask.
Finally, Bartimaeus teaches us that we have to be courageous! Bartimaeus was surrounded by haters! Everyone kept telling him to shut up! I’m sure there were beggars like him saying, “Why bother, don’t you know we’re nothing? We’re nobody! Why would he help us?!” Bartimaeus didn’t care! He kept on crying out! Others in the crowd thought they were pretty important. They figured that if Jesus was going to talk to anyone it would be them! They too tell him to shut it! Undeterred by haters, Bartimaeus boldly and courageously called on Jesus to heal him and transform his life. Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
So there you have it, salvation through relationship with Jesus in three steps. 1. Recognize our need. 2. Cry out to Him. 3. Be courageous. I’d like to leave you with that, but the story does not end there, I’m afraid. Those who know their needs know that their needs do not go away. Those who know their needs don’t go away know they will be crying out to Him again. And those who cry out to him often will need constant courage–a gift of the Holy Spirit.
The final step, then, is to follow him on the way. To remain close to him always. The Gospel writer intentionally tells us that healing demands a willingness to follow Jesus–wherever he goes. St. Mark says, “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.”
Bartimaeus found Jesus, found humility, found his voice, and found his courage–and by doing so discovered his ultimate identity in being a son of God–and we can too. That’s his promise. In Jesus we are no longer son of Stephen, daughter of Janice. In Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, with humility, prayer, and courage we can all follow him–and so we must.

For Reflection:

What earthly pleasures possess you, and keep you from recognizing your need for Jesus?

How much of your day is spent in prayer? How important is it for you to spend time alone with the Lord in prayer?

To what degree do you allow “haters” and “nay-sayers” to affect your relationship with God? Who are those in your life keeping you from a relationship with Jesus?

If you’ve been healed, are you following Him?

By catholicevangelist

“What Is” or “Ought To Be”

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Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 7, 2018.

According to Business Insider, Millennials rank the world’s top 10 most serious problems in the following order:

10. Lack of economic opportunity and employment (12.1%), 9. Safety / security / well-being (14.1%), 8. Lack of education (15.9%), 7. Food and water security (18.2%), 6. Government accountability and transparency / corruption (22.7%) , 5. Religious conflicts (23.9%), 4. Poverty (29.2%), 3. Inequality (income, discrimination) (30.8%), 2. Large scale conflict / wars (38.9%), 1. Climate change / destruction of nature (48.8%)

I don’t know that I would agree with these exact problems, nor would I necessarily have them in this order, but I would agree with Millennials that these problems are real and concerning. I would add to the list the scourge of abortion and the increasing number of divorces, addiction, homelessness, and suicides. I would also add to the list the degradation of fertile land, the over fishing of the world’s rivers and oceans, the destruction of entire species, the unjust distribution of the world’s resources and the lack of governmental unity on all of the issues listed above. We are in a state of crisis and more than I hear, “How can I help?, What can I do?” or “To what degree am I contributing?” I instead hear, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

Acknowledgement of the crisis as present and real takes very little effort and presents very little challenge, if any. It creates very little discomfort and does not require an evaluation and transformation of the way I live and engage in the world. In fact, simple acknowledgement of the problem appears either unconcerned, or a bit of a defeatist. Christians, of course, are neither. We care a lot and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to care about unity, healthfulness of relationships, and the planet of which God has called has called us to be stewards.

In the reading from the Book of Genesis today God calls Adam to be united to another like him. It’s the great story of what every man says when he meets his life-mate, and what I said when I met mine, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman, ‘for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” Right when I saw Jill I knew she and I were one flesh. Almost fifteen years and two children later, it is more true than ever. It is not good for me to be alone and she is a fabulous partner for me in my life.

My wife helps me to be a better person. She challenges me to live up the the high calling I’ve received in Jesus Christ to be a man of character, strength, discipline and holiness. And I don’t care how many people mock the Church with regard to it’s stance on divorce and remarriage, its insistence on chastity and holiness within marriage, and it’s call to being open to life within marriage, I know from the deepest part of my being that this is the way it ought to be–Man and woman serving each other in mutual care and concern for each other, their children, their church, and their world. And to be clear, this is not only the Catholic Church’s teaching, this is the teaching of Jesus himself that we hear in today’s Gospel.

Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.  He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (MK 10:2-16) Put plainly, Jesus is clearly against divorce, and so is the church he established. There’s just no way around it without clearly violating the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles in every generation who teach what he taught.

In light of the 6th Commandment, Jesus and the Catholic Church today call us to never lower the bar nor to settle for what is. Jesus and the Church challenge society to recognize and to strive for what out to be! I know from personal experience that tragedy, brokenness, violence,  and civil divorce do occur. The sinfulness of humanity cannot be ignored and the dignity and safety of people–and especially children cannot be jeopardized. But we cannot and must not be okay with the brokenness. As Christians we must admit that although this is the way it sometimes is, it is not the way it ought to be. Everything short of man and woman united together forever in love is less-than-ideal and should be recognized as so.

I remember giving a retreat on the beauty of the Church’s teaching on Holy Matrimony. More than a few people there were quite willing to voice their anger about their single family home–either the one they’re in or the one in which they were raised. One woman said, “My dad left us and my mom did the best she could with the cards she was dealt.” I agreed whole-heartedly. “That’s not the way it ought to be,” I said. Sadly, though, it is the way things too often are. I shared with her my own experience of a single mom striving mightily to put food on the table with three kids and an abusive husband. That’s not the way it ought to be. That’s not the way Jesus wanted it. That’s not the way the Church wants it. For the love of God, let’s never never lower the bar and settle for brokenness just because that’s the way it is. Let’s continue to talk about the beauty, unity, goodness, faithfulness, and life-long, life-giving companionship that ought to be!

And while I’m on what ought to be, Genesis also teaches about humanity’s stewardship and care for all of God’s Creation. The Biblical account of creation is NOT about things or no things, but that all things have their proper origin in God. God created every living thing, but important to understanding the proper relationship of all things to God and to each other, we read that, “The LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name.  The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all wild animals.” GN 2:18-24 Now we know that ultimately, none of these animals proved to be suitable to the man, but the naming of them is significant.

In the Hebrew tradition, which rings true still today, to name something is to claim a degree of authority over it. Not unlike a parent naming a child. To name a child or even a pet for that matter, is to say that the child or pet is now under that namer’s protection and care. The one with the authority to name has become its provider and protector. The Genesis account is quite clear that humanity indeed has the high calling of providing for and protecting the whole of God’s creation–plants, animals, rivers, oceans, and air. God created, and gifted us with the great responsibility of ensuring that his creation was cared for. The story of Genesis doesn’t just teach about things or no things, it teaches the right relationship between all things to God and to one another. Genesis teaches the right relationship of man to God, of man to fellow man, and man to the earth. Right relationships is the way it ought to be. Everything that falls short of that right relationship is what we call sin.

My brothers and sisters, we have not been good stewards. That’s the way it is. Over fishing, over hunting, poaching, poor land management, pollution of the air, land, and sea are just the beginning. The 7th Commandment recognizes that this earth is not mine or yours to destroy, but is instead a stewardship to be respected, to be used with care, and treasured for future generations to enjoy. To fail in this regard is to to steal from future generations. And stealing is a sin!

Click here for an amazing resource for our Church’s many teachings on Care for Creation and Stewardship of the Earth from the US Catholic Bishiops website. It is an excellent primer with links to a variety of church social teaching on the environment and care for our common home. It would be worth your time to peruse the Bishop’s website. It has a ton of useful topics, teachings, news, and resources.

The story of Genesis has much to teach us about marriage and family, sin and grace, about the earth and all that inhabit it, and the way things ought to be. Let’s not lower the bar and settle for the way it is, we are about working toward and striving mightily to achieve together what ought to be!

For Reflection:

How familiar am I with Jesus and the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony?

To what degree am I involved in strengthening my marriage and family, and helping to support other marriages in crisis?

How much do I concern myself with the environment and familiarize myself with what the Church teaches in that regard?

How much do my own spending habits, consumption, and lifestyle negatively impact the environment and the poorest of the earth?

By catholicevangelist

Welcome, Friend!

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 30, 2018.

Today’s reading from Numbers and the Gospel today make one thing abundantly clear, namely, that God is calling upon, blessing, and raising up workers to do his work and his will…and we might not know anything about it. Deal with it. And if you’re smart and holy, give thanks.

There are far more workers in the vineyard of the Lord than any of us can possibly imagine. Don’t quench the Spirit! Let it burn like a disco inferno!

I know it is quite popular to say to those who weren’t there, “You don’t understand, you just had to be there.” Well, actually, that’s just not true with God! Numbers makes that clear. Eldad and Medad not were not with the others when God’s spirit descended upon the 68 elders!

You can just imagine how it went during Joshua’s roll call…”Eldad!? Has anyone seen Eldad!? Okay, last time, Eldad!? Well, you know the ‘ol saying boys,” Joshua must have said, “you snooze, you lose!” Well, turns out that God was using Eldad and Medad anyway! And all those present weren’t very happy about it!

“Hey!” I can hear them say, “what the heck are they doing, man?! They were called, but they’re not qualified! You must be present to win! EVERYBODY knows that!” They no doubt complained to Joshua, who then complained to Moses, “Make ’em stop!”

Make ’em stop?! Are you kidding me?! Keep them going! Moses said, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” You see, Moses knew it wasn’t about him at all, or those there on that day either, it was only about God’s work in the world. How excited Moses must have been to discover what God was able to do without him. Whew! That relieves a lot of pressure! Nm 11:25-29

Moses either knew all along, or was able to see that very day, that God’s plan of salvation is unfolding, and God can use even those not present to receive the Spirit in the ordinary way. Moses knew that some of those called by God might receive the Spirit in an extra-ordinary way known only to they and God. It’s by their fruit that you’ll know them. You’ll know because they will prophesy in His name. How exciting!

The Second Vatican Council in the document Gaudium et Spes #22 affirmed this truth when it wrote, “Since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”

And the CCC 847 says it like this, “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.

And in today’s Gospel, the apostle John plays the role of the new Joshua, son of Nun, and Jesus plays the role of the new Moses. Crazy that in the approximately 2,050 since Moses taught that important lesson, Jesus had to teach it again.

Today’s Gospel reads, “At that time, John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.’ Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

And here we are 2,000 years later trying to teach the same. Some things never change, I’m afraid. So many seek to place limits on God. Too many want to think that their way is THE way that God is advancing the Kingdom, or worse, that they’re the only ones doing God’s work.

Hear the words of Moses and Jesus, look around and gives thanks to the environmentalists doing God’s work, to the peacemakers doing God’s work, to the Social Servants doing God’s work, to the teachers, plumbers, nutritionists, administrators, vegans, Republicans, Iranians, women’s rights activists, lawyers, Muslims and others of good will all doing the work of advancing God’s kingdom of justice and mercy and peace.

Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, introduced the notion of the anonymous Christian wherein he declares that people who might have never heard the Christian Gospel might indeed be saved through Christ. One might even say that just because they weren’t in the room, doesn’t mean they didn’t receive the Spirit! And certainly, at the very least, we might agree with Jesus that whoever is not against us, is for us. It is, after all, by their fruits–either thorns or berries–that you will know the true prophets of God, (MT 7:16-20) regardless of by what name they are known.

For Reflection

Do I sometimes believe that it’s “my way or the highway?”

Am I open to the prophetic voice irrespective of its origin?

Do I listen attentively to all people, even if I don’t agree with them entirely, knowing that there could be a kernel of God’s truth in their message?

Am I a prophetic voice of reason and truth at work and in my home?

Do others hear God when they hear me?

By catholicevangelist

No Sin Like Selfishness

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 23, 2018.

I remember reading a wonderful book a number of years back called, Fr. Joe. Click here for the book. Father Joe claimed that the number one problem with the world, and ultimately what lies at the root of every sin, is selfishness. Every other sin is in some way a manifestation of asserting my will over and against God and Neighbor, and keeps me from abiding by the #1 Commandments of Jesus–to love them.

The bottom line is this, God is love, and by its nature, love is self-diffusive; it pours forth. It is other-seeking. The one who is selfless is indeed close to God.

On the other hand, selfishness is self love. It turns inward and loves itself for its own sake. The selfish person cannot see past his own wants, his own needs, his own problems, and even his own solutions. The selfish person cannot possibly image God–cannot know God, and worships himself as God. How lonely.

All of today’s readings point to this basic truth, namely, peace is from God and conflict comes from within. Selflessness leads to love and peace. Selfishness leads to division, and get, arrogance, and pain–and blinds us to what is good and true and holy. James says it well, “Wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” Wisdom is from God and calls us to concern ourselves with the good of others.

On the other hand, James goes on, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” James 3:16-4:3

And isn’t this indeed the condition in which we find so many problems in the world today? How can there be so great a separation between the haves and the have nots? How can there be so much waste and so many in need? How can we have such a great divide between poor and wealthy individuals, communities, and countries. Selfishness blinds us to the Common Good and makes my only concern what is good for me. We stop asking, “What’s good?” and instead ask, “What’s in it for me?”

This attitude must not and cannot be found among the disciples of Christ. Concern for the common good was the concern of Jesus himself, and is the whole reason he came to earth–so that others could be healed and know salvation. His passion and death was the example of service to others. The teaching of the Church on the Common Good can be found here, as it stands as the foundation for the 7 Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, all of which help us to fulfill Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in today’s Gospel.

Like selfish children, Jesus’ disciples have no sooner heard of his exit than they already begin to imagine their own grand entrance! They begin to bicker as they posture for who will succeed him. In their own desire for power or prestige they argue with each other. The Gospel tells us, “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Mk 9:30-37

Jesus doesn’t miss this important opportunity to teach them about humility and service that are the hallmark of the Christian life. Not fame, not fortune, neither wealth, nor health (no matter what some televangelists claim), but only humble servanthood. Of Christ’s disciples the only comment should be, “See how they loved one another.” That means we need to be a lot more selfless tomorrow than we were today. Join me.

Blessings, Stephen

For Reflection

To what degree do I concern myself and sacrifice to alleviate the suffering of others? Do you have any examples?

How committed are you to the “common good” as opposed to what is only good for you, or your community?

Are you familiar with the Church’s teaching on the 7 Principle ways in which we renew and help to recreate the social order?

By catholicevangelist

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