The Pretty Good Son

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?

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?

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!

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!

That Your Joy Might Be Complete

laughing JesusToday’s Gospel reading comes from John’s Gospel, chapter 15 verses 9-11.

Jesus 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.”
It’s been such a long time since I’ve written to offer a reflection on the day’s reading! If you’re interested in a Jesus Before ChristianityREALLY good book about the person we call, Jesus the Christ, I suggest a book titled, “Jesus Before Christianity,” by Albert Nolan. There is a link to it on below if you are interested, or you can just click on the picture. You can get it for less than a dollar! In his book, Albert Nolan said the defining characteristic of Jesus was his joy. He was joyful and his joy brought joy to others–even amidst their struggles in life. You might even know people like this yourself. Somehow, just being in their presence seems to make the day a little brighter, your happiness even happier, or your sorrow a little less difficult to bear. I’ve got a good friend like this myself. He lives next a door over from ours, and I know that no matter what project I’m working on, no matter what difficulty I’m facing, no matter what I’m going through he’s going to go through it with me…and it makes my difficulty a little easier to bear. (He also usually brings a couple of adult beverages!) 🙂
brokenness and sufferingIn Jesus’ time (as in ours, albeit in different ways) there was much suffering, sadness, and brokenness. Life under Roman occupation was incredibly difficult. Not only were the Jews oppressed by the Romans, but many Jews blamed the occupation on the sinfulness of God’s people. They were busy pointing the finger at everyone around them for all their troubles. So not only was there occupation from without, but on top of there was blame, guilt, and oppression from within! This is what made Jesus so much different from other leaders in his day, according to Nolan. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father–his absolute certainty of his Father’s love for him liberated him from the guilt and suffering of those around him. Liberated by the Father’s love, he brought joy and life and peace, and most importantly, forgiveness and liberation to others that he met.
Prodigal sonJesus lifted the burden and weight sin and guilt from all those he met. Anyone who was willing to repent and believe in the Gospel could enter into the Kingdom and begin experiencing this newness of life right then and there. They could return home to the Father’s love regardless of their wrongdoing, have their sins absolutely forgiven and forgotten and once again experience joy, life, and peace from being made whole again through union with the Father through Jesus Christ.
The distinguishing characteristic, then, of a disciple of Jesus, one who has been healed and forgiven by God, is that same joy that was had by Jesus himself. Jesus was joyful in spite of pain because he knew who he was–God’s own Son. And so we become as adopted children of God through Jesus Christ. Is any wonder Jesus taught his disciples to call God “Father” when he taught them to pray? The disciple of Jesus has joy because he too has been made aware of his great dignity, amazing worth, and how much he is loved by God. This doesn’t make the disciple a perfect person all of a sudden, but it does make it possible to be a person that is perfect in joy, because he has been perfectly loved and perfectly healed by a God who is willing to perfectly love in spite of our sinfulness.
As you continue through this Easter season, remember that we are an Easter people. We are a risen people. We are a forgiven people. And there are so many people around us who could use some loving, some forgiveness, and some joy! Don’t be afraid to bright the joy and the love of Christ to your family, your workplace, and our world. We need it!
By catholicevangelist

Dancing, Shouting, and Joy!

David 2Read 2 Samuel 6:12b-15, 17-19

    “David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the City of David amid festivities. As soon as the bearers of the ark of the LORD had advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. Then David, girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the LORD with abandon, as he and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn. The ark of the LORD was brought in and set in its place within the tent David had pitched for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.”
     I have to admit, that this is one of my all-time favorite scenes in the Old Testament, and I believe it to be very David 3instructive for us today. I just love this King who is willing to throw caution to the wind, to set aside “appropriate” and “proper” as he dances like a fool before the Lord of Glory! Too often, I think, our Churches are filled with reverence, respect, silence, and solitude at the expense of our celebratory joy! Please don’t get me wrong here, there is a place for reverence and respect in the presence of God, but is there not also a place for celebration, life, love, and joy? Can we not also in our worship, in our praise, at our community gathering be people who smile, welcome, share, and rejoice?
David Dancing 1     I’m mindful of then Pope Benedict’s words at the end of a recitation of the Rosary at the end of the month of Mary, in the Grotto of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens. There the Pope said, “Joy, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, is the fundamental mark of a Christian: it is founded on hope in God, draws strength from incessant prayers, and allows us to face tribulation with serenity.” The Pope concludes that our Christian joy is what will get us through life’s most difficult times. It is our joy that will make us able to love even during times of darkness and pain.
     David danced as the LORD was returned to Jerusalem from the house of Obed-edom. The LORD of glory was in his midst and as his heart rightfully overflowed with joy in the presence of God. He was moved to clapping, dancing, singing, and praise! Shouldn’t we also to do the same? When I was young and in Church, I was always told to be quiet, don’t laugh, don’t talk, don’t play…because Jesus was here. I remember thinking, “Is He sleeping and my mom is concerned He might wake up?” My friends, if there is one thing that is true about Jesus in the Gospels, He loved life, He loved children, and He loved celebrations! Let us move our feet and clap our hands during praise and worship! Let us shout for joy in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  And let us always rejoice in the presence of the Lord!
     A silent church is a dead church. The Church of Jesus Christ, a Church of young and old alike, a Church of joy and hope, a Church of life and love, will be a light in a world of darkness indeed. Let us follow King David’s example and be a joyful, resurrected, loving, and celebratory community!
By catholicevangelist

No Justice, No Peace. Know Justice, Know Peace

Image“Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’ own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” Mark 6:17-29

John the Baptist’s death has gone down in history as one of the great injustices of Imagearrogance and cowardliness. John’s crime? He spoke what was true and right–even to king. As was explained by the evangelist above, John had called Herod’s and Herodias’ action immoral and wrong. He could have remained silent and kept on living, but justice and his own conscience demanded that he speak what he knew to be true–and Jesus himself calls us to the same.

Image  I think too often in our life we want to fit in or go with the flow. We don’t want to make waves, and recently I was told by a dear friend concerned about me, “Steve, just remain quiet! It doesn’t matter if you’re right! The tallest blade of grass is always the first to get cut by the scythe,” she said, quoting a Russian proverb. John the Baptist is certainly testimony to the truth of that proverb! And if our calling was to go with the flow or preserve our life, that would be really good advice, but that is not our calling. People of integrity and truth say what is true and are willing to accept the consequences of their actions. They humbly and courageously speak words out of truth and love that reveal a connection to a deeper source of Grace and love–a relationship with God that inspires honesty, tenacity, courage, and a strong desire to speak on behalf of those who out of fear or inability cannot find their voice.

There are other axioms that hold true and must also be considered as well. One I can Imagethink of often comes from a quote close to that of Maggie Kuhn, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” Jesus taught His disciples that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Those who live in the center of God’s will as disciples of Jesus Christ are bound to speak the truth in love, and those who DO speak what is true are “speaking Christ,” who is Truth itself. The challenge is to remain humble as one speaks what he or she believes is true, to ensure that one is indeed on the side of truth. We realize that we could be wrong so we are thoughtful, seek the guidance of the Spirit, receive good counsel from others of good will, and remain open to God as we bravely speak–even if our voice shakes. Certainly St. Catherine of Sienna is an example of courage in the face of injustice. See

  For a variety of reasons we too often refrain from what is true because of a very human desire for acceptance by others, a desire for promotion, for money, power, popularity, or under the best of circumstances, just to keep the peace. King Herod today wanted to please his daughter, his wife, and his friends, and in so doing violated His conscience and the law of God. His desire for worldly popularity trumped his call to do God’s work and will. In a word–he failed. No wonder Jesus taught, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (MT 10:37-39) He knew very well that the demands of Christian discipleship are great. If one is seeking friends, money, favor, and power–true, intentional, Christian discipleship is NOT the way to go!

The example of Jesus teaches us that we must stand up against injustice.  Jesus calls his disciples to be peace-Jesus' Crucifixionmakers, and yet all throughout the Gospels Jesus confronts injustice, condemns cowardliness, religious hypocrisy, and says He did not come to bring peace but the sword! What are we to make of this seeming contradiction? The U.S. Bishops offer some help here with their teaching, “If want peace, work for Justice.” To be a person committed to justice is to be willing to, out of love for God and neighbor, speak the hard truths as Jesus did. Not because of a desire for reward, or out of fear of punishment, but because what was being said is true and needed to be said to bring TRUTH to light and end injustice. Only then where there be lasting peace.

We are told in our personal, professional, and ministerial life, by people who love us very much, that we should just keep quiet if we want peace. We’re told that the principle doesn’t matter–what matters is our job, our acceptance, our next paycheck, putting a roof over our family’s heads, but I am thoroughly convinced that that sort of appeasement, silence, and cowardliness is antithetical to being a person of integrity, a person of faith, a member of the Body of Christ, and a disciple of Jesus Christ, and will NEVER bring true peace, true joy, and lasting happiness. How, after all, can we ask our sons and daughters to tell the truth, speak up for oneself, and against wrongdoers, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God when our silence in the face of injustice perpetuates a world of violence and pain that is the exact opposite of God’s Kingdom? We cannot. I cannot. Edmund Burke said what Jesus knew well, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Let us always stand along side Peter and the apostles and proclaim from the rooftops without fear, and in perfect love, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

By catholicevangelist

Greatness in the Kingdom

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” ~Mark 9:33-37

I Palma logo work at a great school, surrounded by young men of incredible physical and intellectual ability, discipline, character, and integrity. Palma is truly an amazing place. These young men are definitely going places! They are heading off to D1 schools for sports, to UC’s for their academic and social excellence, and are widely recognized as the future leaders of Salinas and the larger community. These are young men who aspire to greatness in all endeavors–intellectually, socially, physically, and Spiritually. It is my pleasure to be around these fine young men all day. These young men are truly exceptional, and worthy of praise, but my work with them is to help them not to be successful (which the will no doubt be) but great. Greatness is the requirement to enter into the kingdom of God, to receive Jesus, and to be received by God the Father. Excellence in the world is admirable, but greatness in the Kingdom must be our fundamental concern.

I think it can be quite easy to get caught up in the things of the world, in greatness according to societal standards. For many, success its-hard-to-be-humbleis measured by how much one makes and how much influence or education one has. Jesus’ own apostles, who were hand-picked by Him, who spent day and night with Him, watched Him forgive, feed, heal, and serve others were still arguing about who was the greatest among them. Did they learn NOTHING from Him? Why is it that so often feeding our own ego becomes our main priority? We live in a world that teaches us to beat our chest and say, “look at me!” We see ourselves only in relation to others. Their success somehow means my failure! Their fortune means my misfortune. Each of us must decide what type of person we want to be. Will we be those that walk into a room and say, “Look! I’m here!” or will we be those who walk into a room and say, “Hey, look who’s here!” There is not place in the Kingdom of God for bumper stickers that read, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re this darn good!” or to step on others to achieve our success.  Jesus calls us to something greater. He says that those who are first, must be willing to be last. He says that the servant of all is the one who will enter the Kingdom first.

What does this look like practically speaking? How does one live this out day to day? Let me first admit, that I am with you on this journey to true humility. In a me-centered world, there is very little recognition of others’ greatness. So often I feel unappreciated and undervalued. I work long, hard hours and wonder if anyone notices my sacrifice. And the less we make others aware of how much we appreciate them, the more our society becomes filled with people who, like me, wonder if anyone is listening or if anyone cares. And in our me-centeredness, in our own darkness and need, we too often fail to appreciate and give praise for the amazing gifts, accomplishments, and contributions of others.

last firstMy good friend and co-worker, Jim Micheletti, honors the contribution of others more than any person I know. He is always quick to compliment, quick to congratulate, quick to sing praise, and is always there to stand in solidarity with those who suffer most. He exemplifies the servant leadership Jesus is calling His disciples to. His coworkers and students are never in doubt of their effort, of their accomplishments, or their value–in spite of their weaknesses and failures. His students leave class and the chapel glowing with pride at their job well done. He showers praise on them (not lies or half truths), and they become acutely aware of their dignity and the dignity of others. And when one’s cup is full and runs over, he shares his abundance with others around him. In other words, people who are empty seek to be filled. People who are full, share what they have with others. And that’s a beautiful gift that brings us one step closer to the Kingdom of God. We might even come to appreciate the truth that the Kingdom is indeed among us.

Jesus with childrenThe Lord Jesus took a child, placed it before his Apostles and told them that whoever receives a child such as that in His name, receives Him. I think each of us is called to embrace not just children, but also the child in all people. Children love to be loved. They are tender and clearly in need of compliments, affirmation, and encouragement. They are easily discouraged and we much treat them with tenderness and compassion. Each of us still has that child within. Each of us wants to be loved, complimented, encouraged and affirmed. We must be among those who have NOT become hardened by the world and accept the world’s standard of greatness. St. Paul challenged the church at Rome, “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). If we wish to be great, we must recognize our dignity, recognize the child in others, and like my friend Jim, be willing to pour out the adulation, compliments, love, and goodness upon all those we meet; at the grocery store, in our workplaces, in our families, in our world. We must be willing to make ourselves the servant of all if we ever desire to be first in the Kingdom. Know this, the Kingdom of God is indeed at hand, but are you aware of it, and helping others to be aware of it too? Who is the person in your life who exemplifies the humble servant and loves others? Would others say it was you?

By catholicevangelist

Bear Much Fruit

Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-5

almond blossom branch     My son Mark watched as my friend Jason and I pruned my young peach, plum, and nectarine trees this year. The blossoms had already begun and I’m not sure Mark was very happy about seeing all those pretty flowers, attached to small branches, falling to the ground! I went into his room later than evening and he had on his headboard a small glass jar with some water and a few of those branches that had earlier been cut off inside! The flowers were still quite bright and beautiful, I might add. I asked, “Mark, why did you put those branches in the glass?” He said, “Dad, I’m going to let them grow so that I can have some peaches of my own!” Super cute, right? I said as I gave him a big hug, “Son, those flowers are very pretty, but they can’t and won’t give you the fruit you desire. Once those branches are cut from the tree, although they might look nice for a while, they will die.” And that, my friends, is the hard truth that exposes the world’s lie that Jesus is trying to teach His disciples in today’s Gospel reading.

Almond Blossom     Jesus teaches His disciples that He is the true vine. He alone is the means by which we produce the fruit of a Spirit-filled life, which St. Paul teaches the Galatians are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” (5:22-23). When we are disconnected from the vine that is Christ Jesus, we will wither and die. Period. We might look nice for a while, smell nice for a while, but at the end of the day, we simply cannot bear fruit. As Jesus says, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

I’m not an expert when it comes to things plant-like, but I know enough to know that fruit doesn’t come from the grocery store! Fruit comes from tree branches, vine branches, and the like. And those branches must be connected to a source, a tree, or a vine. And that tree or vine must be firmly planted in good, healthy the ground. It is from the fertile earth that the tree receives nutrients and water that it might grow, that it’s branches might spread, that it’s flowers might blossom, and that its fruit might grow. And that’s just the way it works.

We are lTrinityike those branches, says Jesus. He is firmly planted in the Father’s love. As the third Person of the Holy Trinity, He and the Spirit share with the Father an eternal exchange of love. And the amazing thing is that God has destined us to share in that love! We are not meant to be disconnected, isolated, and alone–in other words, dead. We are instead called to the joy of sharing in the loving communion of God. This is what we call Heaven, namely, total immersion in the life and love of God for eternity. God has revealed that we can achieve this end in Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We know that through Him we can achieve this unity with the Father and the Father’s love even now in partial and various ways right here on earth where it then reaches its fullness when we pass from this earthly existence to the next. He said it himself, and yes, that’s just the way it is. That’s great news! Don’t be afraid to share it!

During this life we are offered quite a lot by many people that promise to satisfy our deepest longing for Bag-of-silver-and-gold-coinshappiness, peace, joy, and love, but like my son’s peach blossoms, that simply cannot deliver what they promise. The things in this world are very nice to look at, smell sweet to our nose, sound wonderful to the ears, but have their end not in fulfillment and satisfaction, but in greater hunger than ever. How many, myself included, have had to discover the hard way that only Jesus Christ has the power to deliver what the world promises–peace, fulfillment, and love? Only when we seek Him, enter into unity with Him, and remain in Him will the love of God that gives meaning and purpose to our life, pulse through our very being. Amazing grace indeed.

fruit     And what of this fruit that both Jesus and St. Paul talk about? You know, my trees do not produce peaches for their own sake. They don’t need them! They need only the soil, water, and the sun. The same is true of all fruit bearing plants and trees! The fruit is not for their sake, but for the sake of other to enjoy. And the same is true of the fruit of the Spirit-filled life. Remain in Christ, produce much fruit–not for your sake, but for the sake of the world that is hungry for more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If you think we could use a little more of these in our world, give me an AMEN! Stop collecting branches that have been cut off, have pretty blossoms, but will soon be dead. Instead cling to Christ. He is the source for what the world needs most and that which our heart truly desires.

By catholicevangelist