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 (, 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 ( 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.