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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"