Be That One Man (or Woman)

Saint-Paul-743Today, St. Paul teaches the Romans the power of grace and life over sin and death through Christ Jesus our Lord. The reading from Romans 5:12-21 follows:

Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.

If by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many. For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous. Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification
for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adam and EveSt. Paul is teaching the very important truth that with God, sin, death, disease, pain, hardship, and brokenness will never be the end. God ALWAYS has the last word. God’s grace is more powerful than any sin that we or anyone else might commit. The disobedience and sin of Eve and Adam is undone through the obedience of Mary and Jesus. Yes, ultimately, love prevails. And that’s good news. Jesus is risen, and we are a risen people!

Sinful WomanI think the take-away lesson that’s so important for us, is first and foremost, through Jesus Christ, in spite of our weakness and sin, we can all experience salvation through God’s amazing grace. As St. Paul says, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Yes, we have been justified (made right with God) not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done! Celebrate your new life though Christ Jesus and give thanks always for the goodness and generosity of God.

Secondly, live in the truth of your new lease on life. I was just doing a retreat in Fresno with a good girl helpingman named, Francis Ruiz. He shared with me that not once but twice, he was as good as dead, but miraculously, God protected him and preserved his life. He was thrown from a motorcycle at 75mph and by all rights should never have lived…and yet there he was. His experience helped him to realize that no moment on this earth can be wasted. God has a plan for him. He doesn’t know what it is, but there’s no time to waste. He has dedicated and rededicated his life to the Lord. Like Francis, each of us needs to be honest about our new life, and serve the one who set us free–namely, Jesus, by serving our neighbor.

helping homelessFinally, we need to be more like Jesus. I’ve heard that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. It always brings me joy as a teacher when by the end of the school year, my students have mastered by words and actions, and they all run around acting like Mr. Valgos. I have entered their heart through my love and care for them, and they flatter me by doing what I do, and saying what I say. So too must it be with those who follow Jesus. If we have new life through him, we must live in response to that new life by giving life to others with our words and deeds. The true indication that the love of God through Christ Jesus is in us, is the degree to which we love, forgive, show mercy to, and have compassion for others. Be like Him, love like Him, speak like Him, and act like Him. He won’t mind–in fact, He’ll be overwhelmed with joy!

Christians do not love out of fear of punishment or a desire for reward. We love because we can. We have been set free by Jesus (who loved us in spite of our sin) to love others who often don’t deserve it any more than we do. This is how all will come to know that we are His disciples, if we have love for one another. (John 13:35). We can quite easily teach the truth that is contained is St. Paul’s teaching today by being willing to love and bring light to a world in darkness and sin. Love, forgive, and show someone close to you mercy today…because you can, and be that one man (or woman) that brings life to the world through Christ Jesus the Lord.

candle light

Recently Published!

Hi Everyone! After much effort over the summer and into Christmas, I am pleased to announce that my work with Saint Mary’s Press to create a Teacher’s Edition to their Middle School Handbook has come to fruition! Yeah! Click the links below to go to the SMP website. Just wanted to share this exciting news. I pray that God blesses your life and family abundantly!

The Old Testament and the Trinity

https://www.smp.org/product/10010/The-Old-Testament-and-the-Trinity/

The Prophets, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit

https://www.smp.org/product/10013/The-Prophets-Jesus-Christ-and-the-Holy-Spirit/

Stephen Valgos

By catholicevangelist

Love. Period.

Image result for John 15:9-17Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…This I command you: love one another.” ~John 15:9-17

The Christian life is very very simple…not easy, but simple. Jesus makes it abundantly clear, even to the point of stating it over and over, if we are going to call ourselves His disciples then we absolutely must love one another. Love is not an “extra” to the Christian life, but is rather essential to it. God is love. God the Father loves the Son. God the Son loves us to such a great degree that He was willing to die for us. Naturally, then, if we call ourselves His, how could we ever fail to love others? In fact, in the first epistle of John, John tells the community that if they don’t love each other then they can’t even claim to know God at all! He calls them liars! He says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (4:7-8)

I think as Catholics we too often get caught up in all the “have tos” “musts,” and “don’ts,” and in doing so become horrible legalists–always looking for the fine line to justify or excuse a particular action. We live our Christian life under the burden of the finite details instead of focusing on the broader principal the underlies all of the Church’s teachings, her dos, don’ts, and musts, namely, love! Jesus had little time or patience for the Pharisees for this very reason (see MT 23). He calls them “blind guides” who have entirely missed the point on what it means to be a child of God.

The Christian life, far from a life of fear of wrongdoing (like abused children always afraid of angering father) is instead one marked by joy, celebration, hope, optimism, life, and love. We are loved my a merciful and forgiving God. We don’t live in fear, we live in God’s grace, mercy, and love. The question each of us must ask ourselves, is not primarily “What does the Church say about this or that,” but instead, “Is this the most loving thing that I can do in my present situation?” When we realize, as St. Paul teaches the Church in Corinth (10:23), that we are free in all things, then we realize also, that our words and actions have amazing and awe-ful consequences. When we come to know the true power of our actions, we will naturally want to make sure that what we do is indeed what is most loving–and that’s the role of the Church in every generation! Namely, to be a sure guide in the formation of our conscience so that we do the good we desire to do from moment to moment.

The Church is an amazing gift to us! God sends His Spirit into the Church, and in every generation speaks to her that she might know what is most good and most loving at every moment in time until Christ returns. We use the Church’s vast experience to form our conscience, and it’s within the well-formed conscience that we hear the voice of God echo in our depths prompting us to do the good that God desires of us, to know what is most loving and true. The well-formed conscience is able to choose what is truly most loving in any particular situation, and then allows us to sleep well in the peace of knowing that in each circumstance of our day we chose to love in obedience to Christ, and thus remain His. St. Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” Well said, indeed. Let us who desire to love in word and deed never fail to first be trained in it.

By catholicevangelist

Y.O.L.O.

Originally posted in 2013 for Lent

And then God said to mankind, “YOLO!” Well, not really, but something like that. My students enjoy a new sort of saying today (You Only Live Once) that I believe is very true, although we have a very different way of interpreting its meaning. While my students will use it to justify irresponsible action that is potentially harmful to themselves and others, I believe that it is a wake-up call to love and accountability. That we only have one life to live is a painful reminder that life is short and it’s time to examine ourselves to discern whether what we are doing is consistent with the will of God.

St. Paul tells the Romans, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (12:2) We are not the Creator, after all, but the creature. We were created by God and for God, and find our true happiness only in His will.

Our Church celebrates this reminder of our mortality and the brevity of life on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of our 40-Day Lenten journey of transformation. My students say Y.O.L.O., but Scripture says it like this: 

  • GN 2:5-7 When God made the Imageearth and the heavens—He formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.
  • GEN 18:27 Abraham speaks to God and says, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!”
  • PS 90:3 God says through the psalmist, “You return to dust, “Return, you mortals!.”
  • PS 104:29 When God hides His face, we are lost. When He takes away our breath, we perish and return to the dust from which we came.
  • ECCL 3:20 We are made from the dust, and to the dust we return.

In all these different ways God’s Word is a consistent reminder that we will not be on this earth forever–in fact, but for a short time! No one will make it out of here physically alive. Everyone you’ve known, everyone you know, and everyone you will know will ultimately “return to the dust.” This became painfully obvious to me when visiting Terceira, one of the Azores Islands, when I was a boy. I visited our family’s burial plot next to the old church. It was not fancy and very, very small. People had been buried in this tiny plot, about the size of a quarter of a football Imagefield, for generations. There were bones everywhere (hence the term “bone yard”) as each new generation reused the same plot to bury their dead where the previous generation had buried the ones that they loved years before. My friends, in short time we all return to dust. 

The most common response I hear to why people get ashes on Wednesday is, “Well, I’m Catholic.” The conversation with the co-worker goes something like this, “What’s on your forehead?”

“Oh, those are Ashes.”

“That’s kind of weird. Why do you have ashes on your head?”

“Well, it’s Ash Wednesday, and I’m Catholic, so we’re supposed to get ashes today.”

I’m told that short of only Christmas and Easter, more Catholics attend Ash Wednesday services, than any other time of the year. The crazy thing is that Ash Wednesday is not even a Holy Day of Obligation, as are all Sundays and Holy Days of the year. Why would so many people get to Church before work, on their lunch break, or after work just to get ashes that many know nothing about? A cynical friend of mine assures me that it’s because that’s the only day the Church gives out anything for free!

Or maybe it’s because down deep we know that the teaching is true. We are prone to sickness, disease, brokenness, and death. We see it on the news, experience it in our towns, our schools, and in our families. WE ARE HUMAN and will die, but we have also been MADE DIVINE and the Spirit of God lives in us, and so we too are eternal.

Where we spend our eternity, either with God or separated from God, hangs in the delicate balance of how we choose to live our lives for this brief time on earth. We can either choose life and love, or brokenness and death. And we choose it with every decision we make, with every word and deed. Our bodies have come from the earth and will return to it, and none of us knows when. How should we live in light of the shortness of life and the great length of eternity? Reflect upon that as you receive your ashes today. God Bless.

Y.O.L.O.

Image

 

The Pretty Good Son

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/735/973787/files/2014/12/img_1093.png
Today’s Gospel, from Matthew 21:28-32, teaches us about two types of sons; one that gives his “yes” to the father, and one that gives his “no.” The twist comes from which one is praised by Jesus, and the challenge is to be the best of both. Jesus told the story:

“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (MT 6:9) Jesus’ disciples back then, and we still today, continue to pray in these words. We say “Thy will be done” but we are often unwilling to actually do God’s will. Too many, I’m afraid, are like the first son in Jesus’ story. We honor God, our Father, with our lips but our heart is far from Him. (MK 7:6) Yes, too many of us play the role of the first son.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/735/973787/files/2014/12/img_1189.jpg Make no mistake, there is darkness yet in our world, and our Father demands that we who are his children go out to labor in His “vineyard.” Each of us is gifted and called to serve in different ways according to the grace of God given to us (RM 12:6), but serve we must!

This parable from Jesus is also important because it teaches the truth about the fickleness of our thoughts and words, but the forthrightness of a heart oriented toward God. The second son gives his “no,” as the labor is surely difficult and demanding, and the natural human response is to object, but the son’s goodness is revealed not in his words, but rather in his deeds. The bottom line is that he did good work regardless of what he actually said. Actions do speak louder than words.

In truth, (and sadly) I too often find myself aligned with the first son. I am a Catholic Christian, a disciple of Jesus, a minister and teacher of the faith–there’s my public “yes” for the whole world to see and hear, but sometimes I discover that my disobedient self finds greater pleasure in sitting on the couch instead of doing the good spiritual work that my Heavenly Father demands.

Jesus’ message was to the Jews of his day that had grown comfortable and complacent. They had become lukewarm in their faith and were unfaithful in their commitment to the daily work that God had prepared for them to do–and his message rings true for us today as well.

As we journey through Advent and the day of Jesus’ birth draws near, we need to get off the couch, put on our Spiritual work boots, and remember that there is no such thing as spiritual welfare, but only spiritual warfare. We must dig in and go to battle against the forces of evil in our world, in our communities, in our schools, in our families, and in our own heart!

There is a third type of son that we must choose to become–that is of course the example of Jesus Christ Himself. Each day we are to go beyond both the first AND the second son–we must be the obedient children that the Father desires. We must both say “yes” to God and to doing His work and will in our world. Only then are we the good and faithful servants that God desires.

Say yes. Do good work. Marana tha!

By catholicevangelist

What Do You Have?

IMG_1138.JPG
Today’s Gospel: Matthew 15:29-27
“At that time: Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.” The disciples said to him, “Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.” He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.”

Today’s gospel reveals a God of mercy who sees people in the midst of their suffering, has compassion for them, heals them, and then demands that his disciples give what they have to help others as well. With so little Jesus can do so much!

Throughout Advent we will be continually reminded of two things that are particularly indicative of true Christian discipleship.

The first is that we must have eyes to see the suffering of others and ears to hear their cry. The suffering of others is everywhere and all around us. The first step is to have a heart like Jesus that we might see and be moved to the core with compassion, mercy, and love. True disciples cannot turn a blind eye to injustice, poverty, violence, ignorance, and pain and suffering. We do not excuse the actions that create suffering, but at the same time, we cannot allow the actions that caused it to be a justification for the hardening of our own heart. It is entirely possible for me to both give my student a detention for their wrongful behavior and still love them and mourn the social conditions and human weakness that caused the condition in the first place. We are not called to judge, but to act with justice and show mercy for sinners.

Secondly, notice that Jesus disciples point out a very real problem to Jesus–the people have no food to eat! The disciples want to send them away to fend for themselves but Jesus will have no part of it. Instead he tells his disciples to cough up what they’ve got! He asks them, “What do you have?” Their answer: not much. But with Jesus not much is still enough.

In a world with such great need, it can often be overwhelming and sometimes even paralyzingly. Where do we start? How can we help? What will be left for me? Jesus assures us that even were we to give all that we had to help others, we would never be in want. There is always left overs for those with generous hearts. Like my mom’s house at Thanksgiving…no one goes hungry and the fridge is full of leftovers for a week.

Today’s gospel asks each of us two very important questions, namely, “Can you see the need? What do you have to help?”

Give Jesus your bread and fish this advent season. He’ll work miracles with it and there will be baskets left over as well!

Give Thanks!

St. Paul teaches the Thessalonians, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who follows my blog! And thank you. It has been my joy to offer my reflections (some brief, some not so brief) on the readings of the day. Thank you for your comments, as they are very encouraging. Quite a lot  has happened in this past year so this blog post will help to serve as an update on what’s happening in my life these days.

First of all, our family is now back in good ‘ol Turlock! We bought a house in a great neighborhood and Jill works just a few blocks away, at Julien elementary school. Our two boys, Mark and Luke (now 8 and 6) attend 2nd grade and kindergarten there. I’m teaching Junior level Theology (Sacraments and Morality), and Senior level AP Government and Economics at Central Catholic High School, in Modesto. This has been such an amazing blessing in my professional and family life. My return to Central Catholic has been well received and I am absolutely loving this great school.

For the past five months I’ve been doing quite a lot of writing for Saint Mary’s Press, in Winona Minnesota. We  have developed quite a good relationship. They have published two of my three Scripture study tools, The Journey Begins!, and have embedded videos of me and other teachers in their E-book curriculum. Most recently, they asked me to help write a teacher’s edition for their Junior High textbook, Catholic Connections Handbook. It’s a great book for introducing the basics of the Catholic faith. I started the project at the end of the last school year in Salinas, worked on it while living with my in-laws in Modesto (what an amazingly generous and loving family my wife has), and have now just this past weekend finally finished it while living in Turlock!

I continue to offer lectures and retreats in both the Monterey and Stockton Dioceses when ever I am called upon to do so. If you’d like to see my speaking schedule, it is now up to date on my blog, and if your parish or group would like to host an event, just shoot me an e-mail.

Now that I finally have some time, I’ll be offering more reflections on the readings of the day. A great blessing of being here at CCHS is the morning prayer service, where we take turns offering our reflection on the readings of the day. I will be sharing those reflections with you more often.

I haven’t been using Facebook, but I’m thinking to reconsider that decision so that the message might be more widely received. Please look for it and feel free to pass it along (with all the political and social cartoons, of course).

Okay, I think that’s about it! Enjoy your Thanksgiving with family and friends. Share, pray, laugh, love, and give thanks! God Bless.

Stephen Valgos

Catholic Evangelist

By catholicevangelist

Who Do YOU say that He is?

IMG_0940.JPG
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.” Luke 9:18-20

Jesus asked them then who others claimed that he was. Answering that question is easy! All they had to do was relay with their mouth what they had heard with their ears! But then Jesus asks a much more difficult question that demands looking deep into their heart–“Who do YOU say that I am?”

The answer to that question requires a much deeper commitment on the part of the disciples because that answer demands an appropriate and commensurate response. If Jesus is anyone but the Son of God–so what. But for the one that acknowledges Jesus as God’s Messiah, that one must make Jesus King of their life and King of their heart. Everything must change.

Of course each of us too must answer that question today. Who OTHERS say that Jesus is runs the gamut and is largely irrelevant to us. But our answer to that question means everything!

Do you acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Lord, as did Peter? Would anyone around you even know it? I know I’ve got work to do–join me in proclaiming Jesus as Lord and then pray for amazing transformation. I’ll be praying for you!

Let Your Light Shine!

IMG_0930.JPG
Luke 8:16-17
Jesus said to the crowd: “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel
or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lamp stand so that those who enter may see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.–Luke 8:16-17

When I read these words about a lamp on a lamp stand I’m always reminded of when I go camping! Anyone who has been in pitch darkness with a lantern knows exactly what Jesus is talking about. No electricity, no flashlights, nor overhead lightbulbs! When in darkness, if you want to see, you’d better light your lamp and raise it high!

And let’s be honest while we’re at it as well, all of us are a little afraid of the dark! Maybe not like my 5-year old, but there’s something deep down in us that knows there is a much greater chance of danger, of pain, suffering, anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness when it’s dark. With light comes warmth, security, peace, and joy. Jesus is the light of the world, and we who are united to him share in His light so greatly that we might own the title “a child of light.”

And these are Jesus’ instructions for us today. Be what you are, a child of the light in a world of darkness. Christians bring love, life, energy, truth, goodness, and peace wherever they go! Let us never hide our light–not even for a moment! There is a world in need Jesus’ light and we are commissioned to bring it! What an honor, what a privilege, what a challenge! Raise your lamp high for all to see–we still live in a world of darkness. I’ll be praying for you!