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Friday, April 25, 2014

Right Where I Am Supposed To Be

God is truly amazing. He speaks to me regularly, and he uses so many different ways of getting through to me. Sometimes he speaks to me in the quiet morning hours, before I get distracted by my day. Sometimes it's through my wife. Sometimes it's music. And sometimes it's friends.

God has blessed me with many friends from high school. No, we don't hang out regularly. Or go to picnics together regularly. Or even chat on the phone regularly. We don't live in the same cities or even in the same states. But that doesn't stop the contacts, the memories, the interchange. In fact, our most regular means of communication is via the internet and social media. As many downsides as there are to social media (one could spend all day posting and reading posts, to the exclusion of everything else, if one so chose), it is great for meeting new people and for reconnecting with old friends.

Maybe you are wondering what these two paragraphs have to do with one another. Well, let me tell you. One of the prayers that I make to God every day is to let me know his will for me. What is my calling? Music? Deaconate? Back to work? Stopping everything and just be a good retired husband and father? Something I'm completely missing? I was struggling with this. Until I got a message from one of my good high school friends.

He was relating to me what was going on in his life. Hectic. Busy. Trying to get things going. Then, he said that he realized that he was right where God wants him to be. Bingo! When will I learn? I was told this by a priest friend of mine years ago – God's timing is perfect. It was not in relation to my particular calling. On the other hand, God's timing isn't perfect for just some things. It''s perfect for everything. So, I realized that God has a plan for me. (as Van Zant sings, 'if you want to hear God laugh tell him your plans'). My role in this? Keep praying. Keep trusting. Keep listening. God will tell me what to next, and when I should do it. 

The peace of Christ. One of the results of trusting in Jesus.




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

God's Power Is Amazing

In my continuing efforts to grow closer to God, and to gain a better understanding of Catholicism, I have been studying the Bible. Currently I am studying Acts, the acts of the apostles. As you know, Acts describes the spread of Christianity from the original 12 apostles and 70 or so disciples to the world. It is a truly amazing recounting of the changes that took place in all of Jesus's disciples.

For example we have the original 12 apostles. Terrified. Hiding in a room. Afraid for their very lives. After all, they followed Jesus, who was crucified! But, after they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they boldly went out and proclaimed the Gospel. And, they were unafraid to be confronted by the authorities, to the point of the apostles defending their own actions and calling out the authorities.

Then there is the apostle Paul. He was originally not only a non-believer of Jesus, but actively prosecuted, imprisoned, and voted for the death sentence for the believers. Again, God came to him, took away his sight, and showed him the truth about Jesus Christ. Saint Paul went on to become probably the greatest evangelist of the Gentiles that there ever was.

These two are pretty clear in the Bible. But there are other more subtle revelations that one must think about, look for or, in my case, be told. The events in chapter 10 of Acts contain one such revelation.

Chapter 10 begins describing how Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a Gentile, was instructed by God to send some men to Joppa to summon Simon Peter. In a dream, Simon Peter was instructed by God to take the message of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. When the men sent by Cornelius requested that Peter accompany them, he agreed to go. Simon went to the house of Cornelius, ate with him, then proceeded to preach to Cornelius, his family, and others, and converted them to Christianity; in fact, the Holy Spirit descended upon the household in a manner similar to what had occurred with the disciples on Pentecost.

When I first read this, my thinking was 'This is good. Peter is spreading the Word to the Gentiles'. But, upon further reading, contemplation and instruction, it became clear to me how big this event was. Peter was a Jew, and a devout follower of Jewish law. According to Jewish law, it was forbidden for Jews to be with, and especially to eat with, Gentiles. Eating and associating with Gentiles would render Peter spiritually and ritually unclean, since the Jews following only Jewish law were not righteous enough to overcome the unrighteousness of the Gentiles. This is not like going out to dinner with your friend that supports your team's competitor. The act of eating and associating with Gentiles was against everything that the early Jews were taught to believe. 

Could you do that? If God called you, would you be able to go into the home of your adversary and preach to them? Especially if their culture was completely different from yours – if they ate foods foreign and possibly disgusting to you; if their habits were strange or even sickening? Could you? I don't know if I could. But Peter did. All because of the awesome power of God working through Peter.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Jesus Christ Is Risen!

Jesus Christ is risen!



Easter is the greatest and oldest Christian feast. It is the Feast of Feasts. And, it is the holiest day of the year for Christians. Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the act that is core to Christian beliefs. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (647) "it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history".

This was an incredible event. Even the apostles did not believe what was happening. Consider this. According to the Gospel of Matthew (28:17) “When they (11 disciples) saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” And, in Mark (16:11) “When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her (Mary Magdalene), they did not believe.” Luke (24:10-11) relates “The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” Jesus had been telling the apostles for some time that he would be crucified, and would rise from the dead. Still, the apostles, those men closest to Jesus, did not understand and did not believe.

Jesus's resurrection is not the same as raising Lazarus from the dead, which can be thought of as re-animation. With Lazarus, he came back in his earthly body, to continue his life. Jesus rose from the dead as God, in his glorified body. When we are resurrected on the last day, we too will be in our glorified bodies.

The Catholic artist Matt Maher does it again with his song “Resurrection Day”. It is an uplifting, joyous song celebrating Jesus's victory over sin and death, and our freedom from sin. It celebrates the opening of the gates of heaven for all of us. It celebrates, screams even, that Jesus Christ is God. Matt captures this latter reality with the lines: “you declare what is holy, you declare what is good, in the sight of all the nations, you declare that you are God.” Declare? Again I say Jesus is pretty much shouting it from the mountain tops.


Resurrection Day. Listen. Enjoy.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Blessed People

Over the past several years, I have been striving to better understand Catholicism and increase my faith. To achieve that end, I have been participating as both attendee and facilitator in several Bible studies at my Church, and have been pretty much continually reading Christian books. As a result, I have studied the works of various authors, theologians, and saints.

One thing has struck me in my studies - for some people, the yearning to understand and love Jesus occurs later in life. Saint Augustine relates in "The Confessions of Saint Augustine" that he was basically fighting against his calling for a long time, until he read one passage out of the Bible. The passage spoke to his heart. He broke down and cried, asking God for forgiveness, and turned his life around. And, as I have related, my own coming back to Jesus occurred when I was an adult.

However, there are some who heard their calling as children or teenagers. Of course, many saints were called when they were young. Among these are Saints Catherine of Bologna,  Dominic Savio, Colette, Casimir of Poland and Margaret of Cortona. All of these saints followed their calling from God even though they were called at a young age.

Many people who are currently living, though not saints, have similarly heard the call of God at an early age. Jeff Cavins, the theologian, tells how he first became very interested in understanding the Bible when he was confirmed, which I am guessing was when he was around eight years of age. He describes how Confirmation changed him, and inspired him to begin to read the Bible. I don't even remember if we had a Bible when I was eight years old; I certainly felt no great desire to read it!

Matthew Kelly is another individual who heard God calling pre-adult. For Matthew, his calling came when he was a teenager. Matthew began to go to a Church and pray almost every day, seeking God's wisdom and peace. This ignited in him a passion for God that continues to the present day.

I sit in wonder when I hear these individuals speak (Jeff Cavins) or read their writings (Matthew Kelly). Their passion for God, and understanding for his works, is so deep. Both of these men inspire me to become better, to become holier, so that I, too, can speak with the confidence, knowledge and love for God that is so clearly in these two. I pray that my efforts will one day come to fruition.


Friday, March 28, 2014

God's Timing Is Perfect

After Abram defeated Chedorloamer and the kings that were allied with him, Abram was blessed by the priest Melchidezek. Some time after that, God came to Abram in a vision. God made a covenant with Abram, telling him that he would have numerous descendents, more numerous than the stars in the sky. At that time, Abram and his wife Sarai were advanced in age, and were childless. Sarai gave Abram her Egyptian servant Hagar, and told Abram to have intercourse with her so that Sarai could possibly have sons through Hagar. Abram did as Sarai said, and Hagar bore a son, Ishmael. Later, Sarah (renamed from Sarai by God) bore Isaac to Abraham (renamed from Abram by God).

The outcome of Abraham's decision to father a child by Hagar, contrary to God's will, resulted in difficulties. Conflicts arose between Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael became the father of the Arab nations, while Isaac became the father of the Israelites. And, the Israelites and the Arabs have been enemies ever since.

Later in the Bible, Jacob's son Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph eventually found great favor with Potiphar, an official and chief steward of the Pharoah. Potiphar's wife also favored Joseph and wanted Joseph to lie with her. After Joseph's continued refusals, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of wanting to "amuse himself at (her) expense". Joseph was thrown into jail, where he waited patiently until he was saved by God. Joseph then went on to become great and powerful in Egypt, and saved his family (his brothers and his father Jacob) from a serious drought that ravaged the land.

Why am I relating these stories from the Bible? Because of two events in my life. Some time ago, I was speaking with an atheist friend of mine, asking why he did not believe in God. He gave me several of his reasons. The one the really struck me was basically a line from the song 'Superstar' from the rock opera 'Jesus Christ Superstar' - "if you'd come today you would have reached the whole nation. Israel 4BC had no mass communication". That is, God's timing wasn't good; he would have been more effective if he had today's technology to spread his message. Later, I discussed the conversation between myself and my atheist friend with a priest. The priest told me that, contrary to the suggestion of my friend, Jesus was born 2000 years ago because God's timing is always perfect.

The second series of events occurred to me recently. I have started a second career as a musician. This year I finally have some regular jobs, though the pay isn't that great. I decided to solicit more jobs, and hit the pavement. I haven't gone hog wild with this; and, I have not met with much success. Then, out of the blue, I received an email from someone I did not know, asking if I would play for her wedding!  Apparently she had spoken with a client of mine from last summer who gave me a glowing review. After that, I was contacted by another of last year's clients asking if I would play several times for him this summer, with a bigger payment than last year.

As I was thinking about what happened to me, and reflecting on the events in the Bible, it struck me that, as I said, God's timing is perfect. He will provide for me what he thinks I can handle, when he thinks I can handle it and thereby grow through the experience. After all, Jesus told his disciples (Luke 12:28) that "If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" When will I learn?


Monday, March 17, 2014

40 Days - A Time Of Testing

As I've related previously, music is a key source of inspiration for me. The feeling of the music stirs me in a way that words and pictures cannot. And, one of my favorite Christian artists is Matt Maher. Maybe because many of his songs are Christian rock, and I am an old time rocker from the 60s and 70s, I tend to catch the meaning of the music more quickly and more deeply.


Catholic tradition teaches that the number 40 refers to a time of testing. God told Noah to build an ark, and that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights to flood the world. Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days. The Israelites spied in Canaan for 40 days, and, as a result of their poor report,  the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Before he started his ministry, Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days. So, you can see that the number 40 is very important in Catholic theology.

One of Matt Maher's Lenten songs is '40 Days'. The first verse states: '40 days to wander, 40 days to die to self, 40 days to grow stronger as faith breaks open the gates of hell.' To me, this clearly refers to Jesus in the desert, where he fasted and prayed, and was tempted by the devil. Jesus was tempted as the Israelites under Moses were tempted. In contrast to the Israelites who did not trust God and failed, Jesus put his faith in the Father and passed the test. 

The first test dealt with hunger. The Israelites complained they had no food, not trusting God to provide for them; in response God gave them manna. The devil tested Jesus saying If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Jesus replied, as you and I can reply to temptation, with Scripture, saying “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’”

The second test for the Israelites occurred when they were looking for water (Exodus 17:1-7), testing if the Lord was near, at a site named Massah (testing). The devil tested with Scripture, saying “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”. Again Jesus answered with Scripture saying “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”

Finally, in an effort to tempt Jesus to worship a false God as the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, the devil said “All these (the world) I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Jesus's final rebuke, again using Scripture was “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”

Jesus is our example. Matt Maher reminds us of the temptations and Jesus's success in the chorus where he sings: “In the desert of temptation, lies the storm of true conversion, where springs of living water drown and refresh you And as the Jordan pours out change, your true self is all that remains, where springs of living water bind and break you.” Jesus, the living water, will save us. We can defeat temptation if we will only trust God. I encourage you to listen to the 40 Days during this Lenten season, to prepare your hearts for Christ.



Friday, March 14, 2014

I'm Finally Beginning To Understand The Gospels


In my journey to become a better Catholic, I have been reading spiritual books. Each book provides one more thought, one more approach, to becoming holy. Having said that, the books do have several common themes: pray more; spend more quiet time; read the Bible, especially the Gospels.
 
I have been doing each of these activities. I set aside time every day to pray at least twice; I try for three times though I'm not so good at praying during the Hour of Prayer. I read the Bible every day; I read one psalm (spending 1 week on each one to give me time to think about it and understand it) and one additional reading from either the Old or the New Testament. I read the daily Mass readings. I try to set aside quiet time (not so good at this one yet).

Since I read the daily Mass readings, by default I read parts of the Gospel every day. I know that learning who Jesus is, and what he said and did, is incredibly important. My difficulty was translating that to my own life. Oh, sure, some things are pretty clear: blessed are the poor in spirit – work on becoming more humble. Do not commit adultery – check. Blessed are the peacemakers – got it, don't start fights. 

Some of the events that are related in the Gospels show a genius that I can only hope to attain. For example, when asked about paying taxes, Jesus replied: 'whose image is on the coin? Then render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's'. However, I'm not expecting to be questioned on whether or not we should pay taxes. And, when questioned about the Apostle's picking grain and eating on the Sabbath, Jesus replied: 'Have you not read what Davidc did when he and his companions were hungry?' Again, people don't usually challenge me about working on Sunday unless they think I'm not working hard enough.

But that brings me back again – how can I apply the lessons in the Gospels to me? I know that we are to understand the literal and spiritual (allegorical, moral, and anagogical) senses of the readings. However that didn't help. Until recently.

I was thinking about why people do things almost without thinking, that is, they act 'on automatic pilot'. Why don't they think about everything they do, look around themselves, and see the consequences of their actions? As I thought about this, I thought about how I have acted. Making turns while driving while I'm not supposed to, because I was on automatic pilot. Locking doors before everyone is in the house, because I'm on automatic pilot. Not bringing the juice upstairs from our supply in the basement, because I'm on automatic pilot. Ooops. I do the same things.

Then a thought popped into my head from Matthew's Gospel: 'Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?' That's where the teachings are in the Gospels – in Jesus's explanations and rebukes of improper behaviors! In Jesus's words! I think one key, at least, to my understanding of Jesus and the Gospels is to read the Gospels from the perspective that Jesus is talking to me about my behaviors. Each time, I should think of circumstances where I acted in a way that Jesus would have chastised. I'm guessing that approaching the Gospels in this manner will make them more humbling as well as more instructive. Maybe I should have realized before how to read the Gospels. But, God makes things clear in his own, perfect time. I'm glad he opened my eyes. I guess that means I'm growing spiritually, and now is the time.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Perseverance In Prayer

I have been praying the Rosary once a week for about a year or so now. I'm not bragging. And, I know that I should be praying the Rosary every day; I'm working on that. I am pleased that God has given me the fortitude to successfully pray the Rosary once a week. And I know that eventually I will pray it every day.

But that's not what I thought I would relate today. What I wanted to emphasize is that I have been praying regularly, not only the Rosary but daily in my efforts to grow closer to God. However the Rosary is a special prayer. It takes more than a minute or two to say, which makes the effort greater than a short 'I love you Jesus', or 'What do you want me to do about this decision God?' Because it is longer, I struggled with keeping my focus. Then, a few weeks ago, something really special happened to me while I was praying.

Before you get your expectations too high, I don't think that it was miraculous in the same sense as healing the sick, or seeing a vision of Jesus or Mary. But, I think that it was a small miracle for me nonetheless. Let me explain.

When I first started to pray the Rosary, I found my mind wandering everywhere. What am I going to do the rest of the day? What about that crisis I saw on the news, or read about? Am I going to finish the project on time, and will it be good enough? Will I get that job? Pretty much random noise in my mind. And, it seemed that I could not shut it down, no matter how hard I tried.

I've read books and articles on how to pray, how to pray more effectively, how to pray daily. And, I did my best to follow the suggestions offered in these sources. As I said, a few weeks ago, something changed. As I was praying the Rosary, I noticed that I was ONLY praying the Rosary. No random thoughts. No noisy interference. My thoughts were only on the prayers, and the meaning of the Rosary Mysteries. Using a sports or musical analogy, I was 'in the zone'.

It was surprising to me, and gave me a special feeling in my mind and in my soul. I felt more in touch with God, and more complete. I felt a different type of happiness. To describe the feeling would be as difficult as describing the color red, or the taste of chocolate. All that I know is that it was special.

Since that time, I've had the feeling more regularly, though not always. Reaching this stage is one of those giant baby steps I have been taking on my journey to be a better disciple of Jesus. So, I will continue to follow the teachings of Saint Paul where he said 'pray always' and through that hopefully grow even closer to God.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Be Forgiven

In this first full week of Lent, I thought it would be good to reflect the fact that Jesus died on the cross to redeem our sins. According to the rosarycenter.org (http://www.rosary-center.org/), Jesus saw all of our sins while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. I can't even imagine seeing all of the sins of the world. The murder of Abel. Worshiping the golden calf. The sacrifices of the Israelite and non-Israelite children to Moloch. The hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. And, what about our sins? Our pride. Our arrogance. Cursing. Putting money before God. Lust. Greed. Envy. On. And on. And on. All of these, Jesus saw. The pain must have been unbearable. And Jesus died, so that we can live.

As one thinks of this, it is almost easy to lose hope. Can I truly be forgiven for my sins? Tom Booth's beautiful song "Be Forgiven" from his album "Change Me" restores that hope, at least in me. Tom has woven together inspirational words with moving music that almost bring one to tears. Tom reminds us that 'Jesus died and rose that you might know his love, and be forgiven.'
 
The first verse declares 'Jesus told you he wants your peace, and Jesus told you he wants you healed. Jesus lifted up the blind man. He lifted up the dead. He lifted those who mourn their own. He did just what he said, and Jesus rose for you, and he rose for me. He died and rose that we might know his peace and be forgiven'. The last line again is: he died and rose that we might know his peace, and be forgiven. Can you understand the sacrifice? Most people won't die for a friend. Jesus died, without ever physically meeting you face to face.

Jesus knows who we are. He wants us to be saved. He looks into our eyes, and knows our pain, our weakness, our fears. He only asks that we believe in him, and follow him. If we follow him in that way, to be forgiven.

Listen to Tom Booth's Be Forgiven (http://www.mp3olimp.net/tom-booth-be-forgiven/). Think of the words. Reflect on the sacrifice. Then, take up your cross to follow Jesus. And be forgiven. 




Friday, March 7, 2014

Our Parish Has A Great Pastor

I participate in our Parish as much as I can. I am, and have been for the last 8 or 9 years, a member of the parish music ministry. I am a regular facilitator of parish Bible study courses. Of course I attend Mass regularly. As a consequence of these and other efforts, I have spoken with our pastor many times. I'm not saying this to brag, just to set the background for the remaining of this post.

From what I can tell, our pastor has had a broad range of experiences in his life as a minister of the Church. Aside from his role as priest and pastor, I know he has also acted in other capacities bringing the Word of God to people that are less fortunate and are hurting physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. These experiences have given him a wide foundation to draw upon when delivering homilies as well as providing advice. He is extremely intelligent. And, on top of all of this, he has a great sense of humor. 

As a result of these qualities, I find him very easy to speak with. Combining this latter quality with his sense of humor and joy of living, and one gets a pastor with whom it is easy to joke around. For example, about two years ago, the parish was praying the rosary for a special parish intention. Several of us were talking to the pastor about this, and discussing the various rosaries we had and other topics. My rosary happens to the be the one that I received when I was confirmed over 50 years ago. So when the subject came up, I mentioned this fact of the rosary's age and followed with the quip '...and they still work.' The pastor, not missing a beat, laughed out loud then proceeded to kid me about them. As another example, he was recently the celebrant for a Mass where the contemporary choir (of which I am a member and guitar player) were providing the music. Not once, but twice I accidentally hit my strings, causing random notes to be broadcast throughout the Church. I felt bad about it, since the service, while joyful, is not playful. I saw him outside of the Church afterwards and apologized to me, He started to kid me about it, and I responded that the Gospel inspired me - he again laughed out loud.

You may be wondering why I am even writing about him in this manner. I'm explaining this because I think that his behavior and demeanor is refreshing, and is important in the goal of building a strong, healthy and religious community. Many pastors I've met have been very serious and seem consumed with worry or concern. The seriousness builds a wall around the pastor, psychologically saying 'don't bother me'. It can lead to parishioners seeking other routes of advice or solace that are not rooted in God.  Though I realize that all priests have God-given gifts and our pastor's gifts would not be suitable in all circumstances, I for one am very happy that he is our pastor. My prayer would be that all people can belong to parishes where at least one of the priests is able to provide ideal spiritual guidance and act as a holy example for the individuals in the congregation. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Like us in all ways except sin

When you think of Jesus being like us in all ways except sin (Heb 4:15), what exactly goes through your mind? I used to think that Jesus, being God, knew all. He knew the past. He knew the future. He could just about wave his arm, and dismiss temptation. After all, he was God, and God is all powerful and knows all. Right?

One of our parish priests recently explained explained and clarified this statement. Yes, Jesus is God. But, my understanding is that he was NOT all seeing and all knowing. When he was 12 years old, he did not know that he would gather 12 apostles. He did not know specifically that Judas Iscariot would betray him. He did not know that he would die a painful death on the cross. After all, when we were 12, did we know if we would marry? Or who? Or when? Do we know how and when we will die? In that respect, Jesus was exactly like us.

Whoa! That explanation was one of those things that really struck me. I did not realize the extent of 'like us in all ways but sin' meant as applied to his every day life. He fully accepted not only our mortality, but our humanity along with all of its joys and sorrows. He wept when he heard of the death of Lazarus, indicating he truly felt pain at the passing of his friend. He felt for the hunger of the people that heard him give the Sermon on the Mount. He sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane - he truly feared for his life and, in fact, he did not really want to die especially by crucifixion. He was tempted by the devil when he went into the desert to pray.

His life was no walk in the proverbial park. He did not control things around him, to make his life easy. Sorry, no air conditioning. No cold drinks by the pool. No servants to wait on him hand and foot. He led the life of a carpenter, the son of a carpenter. I'm guessing he got more than his share of cuts and splinters. And, they probably hurt.

Let that sink in a few minutes. Like us in ALL things except for sin. Not some things. Not most things. All things. The next time you read the Bible and read what Jesus said and did, put yourself in his position. Would you have the inner strength (where he was truly God) to do what he did?


Image source: Jesus

Monday, March 3, 2014

Good Evening Ladies And Gentlemen, And Welcome To Life

I believe that the Lord wants us to be happy here on earth. I'm not speaking of the temporary happiness one feels after one buys something. I talking true happiness, found only by doing the will of God. After all, when we are not doing the will of God, our inner self tells us that we are missing something. The new stuff we just bought isn't making us happy any more.

Why do I think God wants us to be happy? First of all, we are told as much in the Bible. According to John 14:1 'Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me'; and John 16:24 'Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.' There are at least 45 verses in the Bible, spanning both the Old Testament and the New Testament, that indicate God does want us to be happy.

In addition to expressly being told, all one has to do is to look around. Look at the beauty and wonder of nature. The fields of flowers in the spring. The grace of birds as they fly. The elegance of natural vistas such as the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Alps. The awesome stunning power and majesty of the ocean. Whenever I see things such as these, my breath is taken away in wonder. 

We also have animals, most frequently as pets. One can see the joy and silliness of animals in videos on television or on the internet. Anyone that has a pet can attest to some of their antics that make us break up and laugh aloud. For example, we used to have a tabby cat that was a natural born hunter; in addition, he was the craziest animal that I think I have ever seen. When he was a kitten, his ears were overly large; as a consequence, he would routinely get cat food on his ears while eating. In addition, one of our visitors was walking around with his shoe laces untied. The cat, a natural hunter, was tracking and pouncing on the shoe laces, unbeknownst to the visitor. Every day this cat made us laugh. God's sense of humor writ large.

With all of these visible signs, I cannot believe that God wants us to be sad. And, Matt Maher has written a song expressing the joy that God wants us to have, found in loving and worshiping him. The song is a live recording, and starts with the message 'Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to life.' It proceeds with a carnival like introduction, then breaks into the primary message of the song - we are under the glorious Son, we are the image of the lamb of God. We are called to love one another. Welcome to life. Enjoy today. Have a listen to the song 'Welcome To Life'.







The album can be purchased on iTunes and Amazon.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Remove Temptations

In my journey back to Jesus, I find that he continues to give me strength, every day. He gives me strength to proclaim his Gospel. He gives me strength to trust in him, even when things are not going well. He gives me strength to listen to him, even when I'm not sure why. And, he gives me strength to resist temptations. 

In my experience, there are multiple types of temptations. Some, to borrow a medical term, are acute. By acute I'm referring to intense and short lived temptations. For example, there is temptation to lash out in anger at some perceived slight. Or, the temptation to be selfish as opposed to putting the wants and needs of others before mine. 

Acute temptations, though generally fully charged with strong emotions, are usually clear cut; we know that it is wrong. We will frequently feel bad about it; in fact we should always feel bad. If it was some act committed against another, as in lashing out in anger, we typically apologize to the offended person. Even something less apparent to another, such as selfishness, usually results in some visible effort at recompense. Of course, we should always ask God for forgiveness.

Another type of temptation is I would call chronic, again borrowing a medical term. By chronic I mean low level and constant. For example, maybe it's that television show that you like to watch, that occasionally crosses the line between moral and immoral. Or, maybe it's watching the graphic displays of violence in the movies you choose. Or, maybe it's the not-so-innocent flirting you do at work. I think you get the point.

Chronic temptations are not generally so clear cut. They frequently seem borderline sinful, making it very easy to say things like 'it's not so bad', 'everyone does it', or 'that's not tempting me and I can stop whenever I want'. Do those excuses sound familiar? To me, they are the excuses of addicts. With chronic temptation, it is easy to become 'addicted'. And, of course, the difficult task is to break the addiction. That is where the strength given to me, and all of us, by Jesus comes in to play. 

First of all, one must recognize that we did succumb to the chronic temptation. This will allow us to act and ask Jesus for forgiveness as well as the strength to defeat the temptation. Next is the hard part. And it can be difficult. We have to actively, not passively, make the decision to remove those things from our lives, then follow through with removing them. As I've gone through this process, I have felt bad, torn, like something was being taken away from me. Like losing a prized possession. What will I do without....? My life will be empty!

I do believe that something is being taken from us - that something is sin. It's almost as if the tentacles of sin have wrapped themselves into and around our souls, and pulling out the sin hurts. Almost like pulling adhesive tape off our skin. But, after it is done, after the temptation is gone, the wound begins to heal, and it feels so much better. I've found that, within a few days after removing the temptation, I question why it took me so long to make the decision and act. And, I feel so much happier. A dark cloud of shame, of which I was not even aware, has been taken away.

Jesus gives me strength to proclaim his Gospel. He gives me strength to trust in him. He gives me strength to listen to him. And, thankfully, he gives me strength to resist and defeat temptations.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Becoming The Best Me

I have been reading 'Rediscover Catholicism', a fantastic book by Matthew Kelly (get a free copy here: Rediscover Catholicism). In this book, Matthew continually suggests that we become 'the best-version-of-' ourselves. While that is certainly a striking and memorable idea, it was made even more powerful for me because I had just read in Dave Stewart's book 'Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look at Doubts, Plans, Hurts, Desires, Gripes, Questions, and Pleasures', that we should strive to become the person God created us to be. And, again, both authors reflect and re-express the words and ideals of Saint Paul 'that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.'  Saint Paul's exhortation was reiterated by Saint Catherine of Siena, who stated 'Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.'

The call to renew ourselves to be the person God created is a recurrent theme among many saints and prominent Christian writers.  My understanding of these thoughts is as follows: God created us, in his image, to be a perfect person. We are to love God, and do his will to spread the good news of the Gospel. We are to live a life of holiness. However, because of Original Sin, we have become separated from God. And, the sin in our lives continually acts to distance us from God, pushing us to become what the world wants us to be. Our struggle in this life to to become again what God created. Simple, huh?

Becoming the person that God created is really the hardest part. The way I see it, to grow closer to God (again) requires constant prayer (as suggested by Saint Paul) and a constant effort on our parts. I find myself thinking (or at least trying to) during the day 'how can I become the person that God made me to be? Am I doing all that I can?' I think about possible interactions in the future, trying to visualize how best to get my ideas and thoughts across in a loving supportive manner, not showing condescension or impatience. I've taken to reflection on interactions I have had with others. Did I respond the best way? Or could I have been better, expressing more love. And, when I reflect on past interactions and realize my failures I (try at least) to pray to God, asking for forgiveness.

I know I have much more work to do to become the person that God created, and not the person the world expects. I am glad that authors such as Matthew and Dave have written their books in such a way as to reach me. I am happy for the saints who provide excellent examples of how to be holy and not worldly. I am happy that God, in his love, has provided these gifts and the gift of his only begotten Son, to act as guideposts for sinners like me. 





Image from: http://blog.febc.org/wp-content/uploads/man-praying-silhouette-purple-sunset.jpg

Monday, February 24, 2014

One Day In Your Court

I facilitate a Bible study group in my parish and have been facilitating for about 2 years now. One of my roles as facilitator is to get the room (which is in the building where Mass is held, but is not the room where Mass is held) set up for the study session. Since I take this role very seriously, I get to the Church early; I don't think that it is fair to the participants to have to wait, or to sit in a room that is uncomfortably cold or hot.

I have gotten quite efficient at setting up the room. As a consequence, I usually have a few extra minutes to prepare myself for the session. At these times, I have taken to going into the Church proper, kneeling before our Lord, and praying. I relish these quiet times with the Lord.

I speak with the Lord. I present him my problems, my requests. Or, I just give him thanks for welcoming me into his Father's house. Thanks for dying on the cross to save me from my sins and open the gates of heaven. Thanks giving me strength. Thanks for all of the many blessings he has bestowed on me.

And, since it is so quiet, absent the usual cacophony of the outside world, I listen. Listen for his words of love and wisdom. Listen for guidance. Sometimes, it's just a message of 'trust me'. What greater blessing can I have to know that our Lord will be there with me even, no, especially when times are bad.

The Christian artist Matt Redman has written a song entitled 'Better Is One Day' where he expresses the joy of being with the Lord. The song is based on Psalm 84, a psalm reflecting the thoughts and desires of a pilgrim to Jerusalem. The pilgrim longs to be in Jerusalem, in the temple, worshiping the Lord.

I'll admit, the most memorable part of the song for me is the refrain which exclaims: 'Better is one day in Your Courts, Better is one day in Your House, Better is one day in Your Courts, Than thousands elsewhere'. I hear those words in my mind frequently, especially when I am in the Church. I can't think of a happier, holier place to be than in the house of God.

I encourage you to listen to the song (Better is one day) , and think about the words of the psalmist and Matt Redman.


Sing Like Never Before: The Essential Collection

Sing Like Never Before by Matt Redman can be purchased at Amazon.com

Friday, February 21, 2014

Thy Will Be Done

Have you ever noticed that you forget some sermons by the end of Mass, no matter how good you thought they were when you heard them or how hard you tried to remember them, while some other sermons stick with you for years? One of the priests in our parish, speaking on the Beatitudes, stated that we are called to live all of the Beatitudes every day. I heard that sermon at least one year ago, and the words still echo in my mind. Another priest recently gave a sermon that I know will stick with me a long time.

The priest was speaking about vocations, and when he was called. He said one of the biggest obstacles he had to overcome was to agree to do the Lord's will, not his. He reflected on the words of the Lord's Prayer 'thy will be done', commenting that he formerly thought the Lord's will would be done by somebody. Just not him. Just not then. 

I pray every day and ask the Lord to help me to do his will. After all, that is why we are here: to become holy and to do God's will. But, as I thought about my own praying of the Lord's Prayer, I realized that I didn't consider 'thy will be done' to apply to me. No. It was for someone else. For everyone else. For the world. Just not me.

The thought struck me like a ton of bricks. What have I been thinking all of these years? I try to be conscientious when I pray and to reflect on the message and intent of the prayer. However, it is still very common that someone will bring out an important point that I have completely missed. I guess that is why I know the sermon I just heard will stick with me. The sermon was about a familiar prayer, and what seems to be a common attitude. 

Thy will be done. That statement is for me. I guess I still have a lot more work to do.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On The Existance Of God

I have been reading St. Thomas Aquinas' Shorter Summa'. In Chapter 3 of the book, he logically explains why God exists. His approach is to describe God as the first mover. He explains that, since everything is subjected to motion, there must be something that initiated the motion. That something must be immobile. He identifies that something as God.

My background is in science. Though I have not formally studied astronomy or physics, I have been reading about these branches of science and studying them for many years. In the course of my reading and studying, I came across a book explaining the origins of the universe. 

According to this book, the universe started as the Big Bang. The Big Bang was the result of a quantum fluctuation in nothing, and caused all matter and energy to form. From there, the universe has expanded to its present state. According to the author of the book, the universe is not expanding into space; it is not expanding into anything, since nothing exists (not time, not matter, not energy) outside of the universe. So, it is just expanding. And, there are equations which clearly demonstrate this scenario. Wow!

Now, I am an educated person. I think that God has given me the gifts of a reasonable amount of intelligence and the ability to understand complex concepts. And, God has given me a good imagination. Even with these gifts, I have a hard time grasping the physicists' explanation. First of all, I have a hard time imagining 'nothing'. This is not a room with no furniture. It's not being alone on a desert island. It's not being in outer space (where molecules and energy exist). It's nothing. 

I guess the closest I can come to imagining the concept of 'nothing' is the feeling one gets when one is in a completely dark room, like those used for color film photography (youngsters can search the internet to see how we used to take pictures). I've been in that type of dark room, and it is unnerving. But, there is still air in the room. And, when you walk and bump into things, you know that the room is not empty. It is not 'nothing'. So, understanding the concept of 'nothing' is my first difficulty.

The biggest problem, however, is the idea around the origin of the Big Bang. From 'nothing', as described above, there is a quantum fluctuation which resulted in the Big Bang. What is the quantum fluctuation in? There's 'nothing', remember. Nothing to fluctuate. Nothing to spark. Nothing. Now, some physicists will defend their premise by saying 'we have the equations to prove it!'. I say, hogwash. Equations will support the concept. However, people still have to use some common sense. If there is nothing to start with, there can be no quantum fluctuation. Unless, of course, God caused the quantum fluctuation. 

Most people are familiar with the book of Genesis. The story of creation is pretty commonly known. 'In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.' What if the Big Bang was the consequence of God saying 'Let there be light'? Even though the order of events as presented in the Bible do not agree with the order proposed by physicists, the idea that God started everything with his command, to me, is a much more logical and reasonable explanation than an equation avering that a quantum fluctuation in nothing resulted in the universe.

Monday, February 17, 2014

For What Are You Grateful?

So many people today complain and worry about what they don't have. They don't have that nice car that they wanted to buy, but could not afford. They don't have the fancy clothes. They don't have the fame that they sought. Or the big house. They don't have what the neighbors have, or their sister, or brother. They spend far too much time thinking about what they don't have, and not enough time thinking about what they do have.


Music is a powerful way to convey the Word of God. Felix Mendelssohn once stated 'Even if, in one or other of them, I had a particular word or words in mind, I would not tell anyone, because the same word means different things to different people. Only the songs say the same thing, arouse the same feeling, in everyone - a feeling that can't be expressed in words.' Mendelssohn expressed the joy I feel listening to the great Christian musicians of today.

What does music have to do with being grateful? Tom Tomaszek wrote a song titled 'Grateful'. The song encourages us to think about many of the wonderful things for which we should be grateful. Things we don't think about. So, we don't have the big house. But we have something much better. We have a home. We don't have that fast car. But ours is payed for, and is reliable. We don't have the fancy clothes. But ours fit us both physically and emotionally. We have our health. We have our wife, or husband, and they are not only our best friends, but are also our constant supporters.

Tom's song expresses many of the spiritual gifts we have received, that frequently go unnoticed or forgotten. The Father has given us life. He gave us his only begotten Son to redeem our sins. He gave us the Bread of Heaven, and His Holy Word. He gave us love. So many wonderful gifts, that we forget or ignore in the daily hustle-bustle of life.

Listen to the song Grateful, and feel God's grace. Think about the lyrics. Rejoice in what you have, what you are grateful for. 





Picture reference: http://hopeannfaith.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/grateful.png

Friday, February 14, 2014

Leaning Compassion From My Cat

One thing that I have struggled with all my life is compassion. It's not that I am too compassionate; rather I am not compassionate enough. I don't know why. I don't know if it was my upbringing, or my personality. Maybe something happened when I was a child, something that I don't remember, that has caused me to push my compassion to the background. I just don't know.

The woman I married is the opposite. She is very compassionate. That makes her an excellent role model for me from whom to learn compassion. She feels it, and shows it freely. Since one of the roles of the spouse in a Catholic family is to make saints of their partners, I could not have chosen a better spouse.

However, even with this wonderful woman as a role model, compassion has not come easy for me. So, God, in his inimitable way, has constantly been guiding me to be the person he created me to be. I know, sometimes I've taken the long scenic route instead of the shortcut. But, God never gives up. This has been the case with compassion.

By now I'm sure you are asking 'where does his cat come into this story?' Now I will explain. My wife and I have had cats for about 26 years now. The first cats that we got have already died. Both died of cancer. And, even though I felt bad about both cats, and cried when they were put to sleep, they didn't really need any extraordinary care. Sure one of the cats was blind when she was put to sleep, but she really only needed minimal extra effort to make her comfortable.

As with most pet owners, when these two died, we went out and got more cats. Three more, to be exact. And everything was going fine (considering we had three cats who had their regular territorial cat fights) until about three years ago, when one of the cats developed diabetes. Diabetes is very different from cancer. The diabetic cat requires insulin shots, twice a day. His blood sugar has to be monitored, to be sure it stays in a safe range. He requires special food, and we have to be sure that he eats (to avoid insulin shock). We monitor how much water he drinks, and how much comes out as urine. 

He has neuropathy in his legs, resulting in a reduction in his ability to walk or jump easily. So, we have be sure that he can access his food and water without difficulty. And, we help him up when he wants to reach places that are too high for him to jump.

By now I'm sure you are getting the point. With the diabetic cat, care is basically continuous. However, that's okay. Oh, sure, sometimes getting up early for the morning insulin shot isn't easy. But the appreciation that the cat shows is worth the effort ten times over. I think this bout with diabetes has brought all of us, the cat and my wife and I, closer together. 

As I said, God works in mysterious ways, and is slowly helping me to learn and show compassion. Now, if I could only find that shortcut....



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Are There Any Real Atheists?

Atheist - One who disbelieves or denies the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.

Are there really any true atheists? As strictly defined, I am sure that there are some. But, based on behaviors, I personally have my doubts. There are a lot of people that deny the existence of God as defined by the world's major religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.). But, does that mean they don't have their 'gods'? I don't think so.

What do I mean by that? If we look at those that do not believe in God, one usually finds that they do believe in, and worship, something. Probably one of the most common subjects of worship is money - are these people, then, moneteists? They put the acquisition of money, the love of money, above everything else. They are the ones that would 'sell their mothers' if they thought they would make a profit. They may not believe in my God, but they certainly worship and sacrifice to the money god.

Then, there are those that worship fame - are they fameists? You know these people. They sell their souls (and usually their bodies) to whomever for fame. They don't care if their reputation is good or bad, as long as they have one, and people talk about them. Frequently, they get their notoriety by saying or doing things that disgust most people.

And, common among scientists, are the people that worship mathematical equations - aequateists? These individuals believe that their equations show there is no God. They can calculate everything. With their numbers and symbols, no mystery is too great for them. 'Don't worry, my equations will give you all the answers' they say.

What about worshipers of the state? These are statists. They believe that an all powerful government is all good. Government will solve all your problems. Government will take care of you. Government is always right. Government will take the place of God.

In actual fact, all of these people are violating the First Commandment - 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.' They are worshiping man made idols, no different from the golden calf or the asherim. They are all looking at and worshiping non-living gods, instead of the one living and true God.

It is easy to fall into this trap. You think you are doing for the good of your family. Or you are working for a secure future. Or, you are fighting your insecurities, your inner demons. If you are using any of these excuses to turn from God, you are losing the battle with evil. And, unfortunately, falling into the sin of pride, thinking that you do not need God, is frequently the next step.

If you find yourself in this position, pray. Get on your knees and pray. Go to Church, kneel at the altar in front of Jesus, and pray. Pray for forgiveness. Pray that you do not end up turning your back on God, and losing his grace of faith.

Monday, February 10, 2014

I'll Become Even More Undignified


I'll become even more undignified. Yes, I will become even more undignified! 

What goes through your mind when you read the word 'undignified'? Are you thinking about that office party, when the boss and his secretary disappeared for what seemed like a long time? Are you thinking about college days, when maybe someone had a little too much to drink and maybe did some less than savory things? Are you thinking about the recent actions of some awful politician? Or, how about that wannabe performer you read about (or saw) who disgraced his or herself in public? Just what are you thinking?

Would you ever utter the words 'I'll become even more undignified' aloud? If not, maybe you should. The words were said by King David, as recorded in the book of Samuel (Sm 6:21-22). King David was anointed king of all of Israel. He just defeated the Philistines and brought the ark back into Jerusalem. He was so overjoyed and overwhelmed by the power of God, that he danced and celebrated in the streets. His wife, Michal (daughter of the former king Saul) was disgusted. When he returned to their home, Michal asked David how he could act like such a fool. Imagine the king dancing in the streets! King David replied 'I was dancing before the LORD. As the LORD lives, who chose me over your father and all his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people, Israel, not only will I make merry before the LORD, but I will demean myself even more. I will be lowly in your eyes, but in the eyes of the slave girls you spoke of I will be somebody.  How can we not become undignified for the Lord?

I think that Matt Redman, in his song 'Undignified' (from the album Blessed Be Your Name), expresses the joy that David may have felt perfectly. Listen to the song. Listen to the words. Then try to tell me that you weren't tapping your foot, or had the sudden urge to dance. Go ahead, I dare you. This song is so upbeat, I can't imagine it won't move you. Hopefully, it will move you to become undignified for the Lord.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Beauty of the Catholic Mass - The Eucharistic Prayer

The Catholic Mass is a beautiful celebration. I know, many comedians have poked fun at the Catholic Mass. The one that I remember most has the comedian describing "kneel-stand-sit-kneel-stand-kneel-sit..... I've seen other comic interpretations of the Mass, though I don't remember them specifically. But, if one really looks at the Mass, its structure, its purpose, its symbolism, its reality, the Mass is wonderful.  

To me, the most beautiful part of the Mass is the Eucharistic Prayer. It is during this time in the Mass that the bread and wine are turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic Prayer begins with the Offering, where members of the congregation bring bread, wine and financial offerings to the priest and deacon. They accept the offering, and place it on the altar to offer up to God. The priest then recites a series of prayers, beginning with the Preface, where he (and the congregation) praise the Father, and thank him for sending his only Son to us, to save us from our sins. After the Preface, the congregation joins in with the Preface Acclamation. From this prayer, until Communion, the priest is leading the congregation in the re-enactment of the week before the crucifixion of Jesus.

In the Preface Acclamation, we praise the Lord with the words: "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!"  This prayer always gives me chills. It recalls the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah (Zech 9:9) "Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass." And we, the congregation, repeat the cry of the crowd in Jerusalem (Mt 21:9) "The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest." We welcome Jesus into our midst then kneel to worship him as Lord. 

The  priest then consecrates the bread and wine, transubstantiating them to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, by reciting the words of the Last Supper "This bread is my body. This wine is my blood. Do this in memory of me." Jesus is asking us to enter into the a new Covenant between us and God. In this covenant, we agree to follow the Commandments, live the Beatitudes, declare Jesus as Lord. In return we will be rewarded with eternal life. 

The Eucharistic Prayer ends with the priest praying: "Through Him (Christ), with Him (Christ), in Him 'Christ) in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever." The congregation responds with the great AMEN, proclaiming that Christ's actions are our actions also.

What a beautiful opportunity to remember that Jesus died for our sins and to renew our covenant with God. We can get a new start each time we participate in this magnificent celebration (and it is a joyful celebration!) of the Mass.


References
Zechariah 9: "Rejoice heartily..."
Matthew 21: "The crowds..."
Eucharistic Prayer: The Eucharistic Prayer

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Have no fear, for the Lord is with you wherever you go

I have noticed that I am much more relaxed, happier, and more positive than people that I know who do not seem to be seeking God as fervently as I am. Some are atheists. Some are agnostics. Some believe in God but don't seem to make God a central point of their lives. They seem to value money, their jobs, their house or car, or their friends much more than they value God.

This difference in attitude becomes more evident during stressful times. It is then that my mood seems to be more positive than theirs, even when I share(d) the stress. I began to ask myself "why?". It could certainly be my general personality, or my upbringing. Maybe it is my situation in life.

I actually realized the reason during a Bible study class. That's when I remembered the Scripture reading from Joshua 1:9 "I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go." I remember reading that passsage in one of the books from Norman Vincent Peale's three book collection". It always stayed with me. I recite it during troubling times, difficult times. I recite it when I'm stressed, or worried.

And why not? God gave this command to Joshua before he attacked Jericho. And, as we all know, Joshua and the Israelites were victorious at Jericho, then subsequently took the land that God promised to Abraham. If the power of God can give victory to Israel, how much more can it help me and give me what I need to get through what ever troubling times I may be having. It is much easier knowing that God will be with me wherever I go.


Tissot The Taking of Jericho


References

New American Bible, Revised Edition [NABRE] Josh 1:9 
Norman Vincent Peale: A New Collection of Three Complete Books




Monday, February 3, 2014

Open Up The Heavens!

Have you ever cried out to the Lord, with your heart yearning to be near him? Have you waited to be with him, in prayer, in peace, in love? Do you long to see his face? If so, the song "Open Up The Heavens" by Meredith Andrews is the song for you (video link: Open Up The Heavens).

In this song, Meredith describes the waiting for the Lord. In my mind I'm standing with other followers, arms outstretched, looking at the sky in anticipation for the coming of the Lord. My heart is burning. We are calling to the Lord, asking him to come down and be among us. Our fervent cry can be heard far and wide - Open Up The Heavens!


Open up the heavens! What a glorious request! We are all sinners here, striving for holiness, trying to get to heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins. We call to him inviting him into our hearts and our lives, to bring us the joy of his kingdom.

Do you feel it?

References
Meredith Andrews Official Page: "Meredith Andrews"
Album link: "Worth It All"



Friday, January 31, 2014

Rediscover Catholicism - Discovering Me

I have been reading a fantastic book titled "Rediscover Catholicism" by Matthew Kelly (link to free book: Rediscover Catholicism). I'm about one-fourth of the way through the book. On every page, in every paragraph, Matthew provides wonderful insight that makes me think, and challenges me to become a better Catholic.

I just finished reading one section on discipline (the word 'disciple' is derived from the same Latin root word as discipline: disciplina from discipulus meaning pupil). Matthew pointed out that the usual reason children are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports, is to build and develop discipline. However, in the modern world, where children are shuttled from one activity to another on a daily basis, the end result is not discipline but loss of focus.

What does this have to do with me? I've taken the Myers-Briggs temperament test several times. It turns out that I am an intuitive thinker. Yea, so what . According to Myers and Briggs, intuitive thinkers are interested in everything, and want to master everything. That's me! My interests cover religion, music, computers, politics, economics, plants (like cactus), fantasy, science, science fiction..... And, I am an insatiable reader. For example, I am now reading religion, fiction, fantasy, and politics. Everything.

Getting back to the chapter in "Rediscover Catholicism", I thought about children running from one organized activity to another. Then I realized that was me! I have spread myself over a wide range of interests. The problem with this was that I was having trouble seeing what God wants me to do. I slept on it, and woke up understanding that my path for God has two parts: music, and being a disciple of Christ to spread the Gospel.

I decided to focus my energies on these two activities. In music, I will work harder at becoming a better musician, emulating those individuals that I respect. I will continue to participate in the music ministry of my Church in any way that I can. As far as spreading the Good News, I will continue to facilitate and participate in Bible study groups at my Church, read the Bible and other religious books, and, of course, do what I can via these posts to inspire people to look for Jesus, and trust in him. With God's help, hopefully I'll be successful (in his eyes) with both endeavors.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"As you judge, so shall you be judged"

"For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you."

My journey to Jesus has taken many twists. I have been forced to rethink many things in my life. The above statement, spoken by Jesus and documented in the Gospel of St. Matthew, was one of those times I realized that I needed to do some thinking. What is Jesus saying here? The next statement in the Gospel further clarifies Jesus' point: "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?"

I looked at those statements from a different angle, applying them to myself. How many times did I think someone sinned, and cursed them to go to hell for things that I do? Hmm. When someone was rude to me, did I respond with anger, cursing, damning, being rude to them in return? Or did I pray for the person that was rude, and forgive them? When someone didn't respond as quickly to my request as I would like, what do I do? Did I complain about them, and wish evil upon them, or do I show mercy?

When I use the first approach in the above scenarios, I am really wrong. Based on Jesus's own words, my actions, my sins will be judged as harshly as I have judged the sins of others, a pretty scary thought. I know I have been very critical of others, to my shame. I blamed instead of offering forgiveness and prayer. I cursed at them, instead of trying to be understanding. I have a way to go to be holy. But, I work at this every day, praying that I will be able to meet the challenge of Jesus, to be understanding and forgiving of others. How about you?

References
New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), Matt 7:2

http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/judge-not

Monday, January 27, 2014

Finding Jesus Again: What Inspirations Do You Use To Become Closer To G...

Finding Jesus Again: What Inspirations Do You Use To Become Closer To G...: What resources do you use to remain inspired and to help you grow closer to God? Two very common resources are praying and reading the Bible...

What Inspirations Do You Use To Become Closer To God?

What resources do you use to remain inspired and to help you grow closer to God? Two very common resources are praying and reading the Bible. Attending services at your Church is also key; it is here where the Word of God is expressed and celebrated in communion with other believers.

However, many other resources are available. For example, there are thousands of books available from many retailers. These books discuss almost every topic in relation to God including, but not limited to, how to pray, when to pray and the meaning of the Scriptures.

For me, I have one more very powerful source - music. God has gifted me with the ability to enjoy and be moved by music. So I find great joy in the fact that there are many Christian musicians that can express and explain God's word. One of my favorite musicians is Matt Maher.

Matt Maher is a Catholic artist, writing and performing songs which proclaim the glory of God. He adeptly combines his powerful lyrics with excellent song writing skills. Among my favorite songs of his is Love Has Come (video link: "Love Has Come").  This is a song we typically play around Christmas at my parish.

To me, this song begins ("With one voice the angels sing, songs that make creation ring") somewhat subdued, with creation anticipating the birth of Christ. As the song progresses, anticipation builds. The drive of the music increases. Asking God for grace. Looking forward to the fulfillment of the covenant. The song grows gradually louder.

The song culminates at about 3:05 on the accompanying video, with the hosts of heaven proclaiming "Now salvation has come, in the New Jerusalem, dancers dance and singers roar, proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord!" How can one not be moved by the power of the words and the music?

I ask you to listen to the song. Read the words. Praise God!

To purchase this album go to Spirit and Song
.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Beatitudes - A Challenge

We've all read the Beatitudes, heard about them in homilies, and seen them on wall plaques. According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus said:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  

Here, Jesus is not negating the Ten Commandments. Instead, He is expanding the Commandments, and explaining them more clearly. He is challenging us to be bigger, better and holier. And what a challenge!

To be poor in spirit - to trust the Father in all things. That alone is difficult, since we tend to trust ourselves, our money, our leaders. We must get back to trusting the Father as Jesus did, even to the death. The Beatitudes build from there. For those that mourn, God will comfort them; again we are being asked to trust and have faith in the Father. Seek to be righteous, following the commandments and doing the will of the Father in all things. The righteous will be rewarded with heaven. Be merciful - really sympathize with others and feel what they feel, helping them as they need help. Be clean of heart to reap the reap the rewards of heaven.

As I said, the Beatitudes build on one another. Thus, one will not be comforted by God, if one is not poor in spirit. Only the poor in spirit will seek righteousness, or truly show mercy. Only the poor in spirit, righteous, and merciful can have a clean heart. If one follows the beatitudes as Jesus proclaims, one will be persecuted for being soft, being weak, being unrealistic, being a blind follower, being stupid. How wrong are the persecutors!

What's more, the greatest challenge, is that we are told to live ALL of these beatitudes EVERY DAY! It's not that today you are righteous, so that tomorrow you can be merciful. Think about that. All of them. Every day. Suddenly it doesn't seem so easy. Pray for God's grace, the only way we can live all of the Beatitudes every day.