“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

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