Sunday, November 30, 2014

Blog # 414 Advent

Blog #  414   Advent

            During Advent the liturgical readings at Mass reach out in hope and joyful anticipation toward the fulfillment of the promise made in Genesis , the first Book of the Bible, and  is reconfirmed and called to mind down through many years of history in Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Samuel, Zephaniah, and the Book of Psalms. Beautiful visions of peace and joy are being set before us to be fulfilled when the Messiah, the Promised One, will come.

           Finally Gabriel reveals to Mary the time had come for the Messiah to be born. She would be his mother and he would be given the name Jesus, Savior.   He grew up and became a man in the ordinary way all of us have done. Assuming the role of Rabbi, he began to speak of  God as his Father. He began to say and do things that only God was expected to do, such as healing the sick and raising the dead to life.  He claimed to be alive even before Abraham came to be. Then he was falsely condemned as a criminal and died on Calvary.  From the Cross he told us his mission on earth as one of us was complete.  "It is finished"'  Now, and down through 2000 years of history we who believe find the divine and original mission of the person of the Word of God continuing until the end of time in the Resurrected Person of Jesus.

            For those who stood at the foot of the Cross and thought Jesus was a fraud, he received in death the punishment he deserved.  For Jesus, his death was a witness and expression of the love that God deserved.   For Mary his mother, the few disciples who stood by him to the end, and to us who continue to listen to him and follow him in response to the Father's identification of  Jesus as His Beloved Son at the time of his Baptism by John, Jesus continues on as the risen Savior, the incarnate, eternal, infinite, Word of God Among  Us,  Emmanuel!  

          For us who believe, the death of Jesus as one of us, in human history, was a human act of unconditional trust and total love for the Father. As an infinite act of the single person of the Word of God, incarnate as one of us and called Jesus, the death Mary and the few disciples witnessed on Calvary was the fulfillment hoped for since its promise was given to Adam and Eve, the promise of a new eternal covenant, the power to pray, to forgive and be forgiven, to love our enemies and one another as we love ourselves, to love God above all, lasting peace, genuine joy, and the accomplishment in Jesus of  God's will for us, all day every day until "it is finished" in the unconditional trust and total love of our death!   

           The message of salvation brought to earth from Heaven by the Eternal Word of  God, in
Jesus was to be shared with everyone, whoever or wherever we might be. As St. John Paul II put it: "All who are  Baptized are missionaries."Jn. 20: 21).   The gift of peace and joy that comes from knowing and loving  God is intentional on the part of  God.  It was planned that way from the beginning of creation.  "Taste and see how good the Lord is!"(Ps 34:9).            

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blog # 413 Christmas

Blog # 413  Christmas
        Christmas is whenever we think about it.  And the more we do the better it gets.  Here in the United States, on December 25,  you could hardly miss the fact it is a special day. We Catholics call it Christmas. The day on the calendar is the same as all other days of the year as far as the number of hours it contains, or in other words as far as the sun is concerned.  But it is very special for some of us who will have spent the time between then and now celebrating the  season of  Advent, getting ready for the celebration of Christmas Day 2014 to come. 

         Our experience of Advent is important, but especially so since under the influence and effect of the present current pagan culture and mass media, whether we realize it or not, we are pressured and tempted to conform to the way the day is lifted up under the name Holiday with little or no explicit  reference to Jesus rather than Christmas in many if not in the majority of  instances. As the sun goes down on Christmas Day we sometimes have the feeling the day was too short, and we have wished the event of Christmas could go on forever.

        Actually, the event of Christmas can, should, and does in some way go on every day of the year in the hearts and lives of those who believe and are Baptized, until the end of time.  But we must think about it, understand it, and make it our own by faith in order to experience Christmas as it was designed to be. We are blessed by our Catholic experience of spending these coming few weeks
celebrating Advent with a spiritual emphasis on what the event of Christmas is about.  We will try not to permit distractions and secular competitors  to consume too much of our time and energy and overshadow the experience of Advent.  As in years gone by,  on December 25 there will be pies and presents, snowmen and reindeer,  Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, gourmet eating and the wonderful experience of Christmas love shared with our families.  All of these are good, and we will be blessed and please the Lord in enjoying them again in 2014. But they are not what Christmas is  all about.

          The theology of Christmas invites us to think more deeply than the colors shapes and sounds of Christmas Day to the identity and meaning of the original event that occurred two thousand years ago.  We are called to realize  in our limited human way the baby born of Mary, to be called Jesus, is one and the same divine person revealed in the Gospel of John as the Word of God , equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit in the everlasting all-powerful Blessed Trinity.  The Resurrected Jesus is the current Jesus to whom we are united as branches on a vine and with, through and in whom we worship God, whom we recognize as our intercessor before the Father, and to whom we address our prayers.  Jesus as the Word of God (Emmanuel) is the sole witness to the creation by God of all that exists, the love of God for all people, the authenticity of the Bible and the Church as the Body of Christ,  and the possibility and unimaginable power that would be required and available to bring peace among all nations around the world if we would seek, believe, and obey His will. 

               All of this is involved in the gift of Christmas. Advent is an invitation to spend time and energy reflecting upon and  increasing our awareness and personal appreciation of it all as it applies to our daily experiences throughout the coming year.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Blog # 412 "...lifted up."

Blog # 412   "...lifted up.

               This is what Jesus said of  His death: "...once I am lifted  up from the earth I will draw all people to myself,"  (Jn. 12: 32 f, Jn. 3: 14,15).  To hear this makes it possible.  To believe it makes it real.  To live it makes it ours. It is God's plan for all people in response to the death of Jesus. It was about love.  Listen.  Believe.  Love. "There is no greater love anyone, not even Emmanuel, God Among Us, could  have, than to lay down His life for others in obedience to the Father's will. To die on the Cross was the greatest thing Jesus came from Heaven to do.  It was His greatest love. It is the love we who have believed and through Baptism, united with Jesus as branches on a vine, are to  possess and share with one another.  "Love one another as I have loved you." It is not that we will be called to be crucified or die a  cruel martyrs death but that we are to live and die giving ourselves in many ways great and small day by day as expressions of the total love to which we are committed by our union with Jesus in Baptism. (Jn. 13: 34; Jn, 15: 13).

              I have known people through the years who have walked away from the Church and joined another or just stopped going to any church because of several various reasons, among which were a grouchy priest or Sister, sermons on money, or lack of friendliness in a congregation.

             Such reasons are examples of elements that touch the surface.  They are not what the Church is about.  Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost touch what the Church is about : love, God's love for us, and our love for God and one another in Christ Jesus.  No one in his or her right mind would walk away from that kind of love. When it is a question of  'leaving' the Church, I think it is in many cases simply a question of not knowing what the Church really teaches.

             "...if I be lifted up" is to say if  you only knew my love for you, you would come to me  and you would bring with you others whom you love who are searching for meaning  peace and joy in their lives.  That is a promise and an invitation from God!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blog # 411 The End

Bog # 411 The End

          This is the final week in Ordinary Time of the year 2014.  Time does fly!  Remember back in '97,  '98, and '99 when we were all excited about the New Millennium that was on the horizon yet off at a distance, getting closer, and then was here?  I can easily imagine how time might seem to drag for people who are confined to bed with illness.  Yet when we look back on the past fourteen years of time from wherever we might be, so much significant history has occurred in the new millennium that it may seem much older than it is.
          Sunday we celebrated our current response to the life death and resurrection of Jesus and acclaimed Him once again as our own personal Savior, and King of the entire world. At the ending of the Liturgical Years as they occur, we look back to assess and evaluate all that has occurred during the past year. We cast aside all that we see as unworthy of God and take with us in praise and thanks all that we see as pleasing to God and sharing in His love.

           We remind ourselves that all creation as we know it is coming to an end. We can also be reminded of this as evening falls each day, as the weeks and months come and go.  It would not be rash to think that in the relatively short time of a hundred and fifty years none of us living on earth today will be alive. The end is coming. It could be as close as tomorrow for any of us.  From the moment of our conception we have never been too young to die.

             This might seem threatening at first.  It is not intended to be so.  But it is real.  In my imagination of it, the Church and our Scripture readings today are like a football coach reminding the quarterback of the set-up for football, four quarters, so many minutes each.  "If you want to score  you have to do it within that framework."

              For those who have prepared well for a history exam it is not so formidable or fearsome at all.  So with judgment and ourselves.  When we honestly reflect upon our conscience we are in a real sense at that time already judged. How we stand in the presence of God in His goodness mercy and love is much the same as we stand before ourselves when we honestly reflect upon our conscience.

                When I look at what God permits in the world with regard to sickness, disease, loneliness, war, etc., I am less inclined to think He is kidding when He speaks of judgment.  I have thought part of the reality of suffering in the world is an expression of  the wisdom goodness and mercy of God telling us and inviting us in one more way to experience the truth about ourselves and God.  Our true and lasting purpose peace and joy can be found in God alone.  "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God" as St. Augustine put it.

                  We remind ourselves that all God's promises will be fulfilled, All bills will be paid. All awards will be given. United with  Jesus and following His will for us the best we can, we are not afraid.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Blog # 410 Marriage

Blog # 410   Marriage

           Growing up as a boy I never even imagined we would ever have in the US the situation we face today with regard to the proportion of marriages that end up in divorce, the number of children who grow up in single parent homes, the number of runaway children on the streets of our large cities, the bias of the media, nor the significant political and juridical power that has been attained by groups advocating same-sex marriage.

            Among the letters I  have received over the past several years from relatives and friends of many years scattered across the country there have been several and a growing proportion telling me of a divorce or a runaway child in the family.  The stories that come reveal a deep sorrow and a significant challenge not only to the person writing to me, but both to myself in giving a response and also to the Church and our nation.  A special synod called by Pope Francis in Rome just concluded on the subject of the Family and a sequence to it will be held next year.

             Sometimes when I receive letters from troubled couples I think it must be hard to be married.  Other letters have come from wonderfully happy couples and I wonder just what makes the difference.  As a priest I  tend to get caught in the middle, a friend to both sides in a divorce case and holding on to hope until the end.

               I see parallels with married life in my own experience of priesthood.  At times and in particular in this particular moment of history it can be a difficult and lonesome road.  Through my faith in the Sacrament of Holy Orders I am confidently aware of being called to accept and live out the possibility of being happy as a celibate priest.  I see it as a privilege.  Along with the privilege
goes a responsibility to care for it, and to protect it from danger distortion or loss.  To be able to offer Mass each day, with the same words and the same motions repeated over and over through the years in a reverent and meaningful way, I must choose to pray at other times outside of the time I offer Mass, and spend time alone with God, renewing my faith and love for Him.

               So, I think it is, for married folks and families. Words and experiences that may have thrilled them in the beginning of their love may tend to grow commonplace and stale after many repetitions through the years.  True love is always free and therefore chosen. If a couple does not find themselves renewing their love by choosing it over and over again, even daily I would think, then their love and their marriage is in danger of losing its luster, its value for them, its ability to call them successfully away from temptation, and support them in times of difficulty and challenge.

                 Doing this or not doing this it seems to  me constitutes a large portion of the difference between a happy priesthood  and an unhappy one, and between a happy marriage and an unhappy one.  In our prayers  let's  remember not only your own individual  marriage and family, but families throughout the world, and for priests, Religious Brothers, and for Religious Sisters who are in need of the same graces that produce a happy marriage  .

Friday, November 21, 2014

Blog # 409 Death

Blog # 409  Death

           The sun makes a beautiful picture as it sets in the western sky.  But it also has the power to burn our skin and contribute to cancer of the skin or cataracts in our eyes.  Water is beautiful to behold  as we sit by a placid lake and watch the sun come up out of the water. It is good in refreshing us as we wash in it each morning, and drink our several recommended glasses of it each day. But water can also freeze and become the instrument of our falling on the ice.  I used to have two good knives in my kitchen and I kept them very sharp.  The more sharp they were the more danger they were for someone who did not exert caution and possess skill in using them. 
             The sun is not the problem here, nor ice that comes from water, nor the sharpness of a knife.  The problem is our lack of awareness and caution and a wrong or inadequate response and use of  the gifs we receive.

                Cancer of the skin and cataracts of the eyes are as real as the sun.  Ice is as real as water.
Reflecting on thoughts like this I began to consider how suffering and death could fit into the picture.
Without the use of a hearing aid and a cochlea implant I have no detectable sensation of sound whatsoever in a normal conversation.  I am fascinated by the experience of trying to understand what I am asking when I ask myself is silence as real as sound, or darkness as real as light, then saying to myself the answer is "yes", and then ask further of suffering and death can both be a gift and an invitation to experience love, and the answer again is "yes".

              Our Christian response to death does not deny the difficulties they  provide with regard to seeing them as a gift of an All-powerful Loving Creator. However, by force of our faith in the meaning and power of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus and in union with Him in His unconditional trust and total love for the Father we respond with thanks and praise :  Yes, Father, I want to love you this much, with unconditional trust and total love, because I believe you alone are worthy of such trust and love.  I make this choice confidently because of my union with Jesus through Baptism, relying on the power won for me by Him, and joyfully because of the truth about me that Jesus brought from Heaven and You, and He said death was an invitation to experience the greatest love anyone could ever know, and it is the goal You set for me when  you called me into existence here on earth eighty seven years ago.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blog # 408 Unity in Truth

Blog # 408  Unity in Truth

          Just imagine for a moment the tallest mountain in the world. Imagine the peak of the mountain, shaped as a cone. Imagine several groups of people climbing up the mountain from several different points on ground level thousands of feet below. Imagine them not as in a race to the top but independently of one another all seeking to climb to the top of the mountain. If you had made a drawing of what you had imagined it would be easy to see how, as each group climbed higher and higher up the mountain, they would be getting closer to others climbing on another side of the cone-shaped peak. 
           In doing myself what I suggested you do with your imagination in that first paragraph of this blog I see an analogous illustration of the case of the many sincere and dedicated groups of people belonging to various religious bodies throughout the world, including Christians among them. They are all related to the others in that they are starting on the same common level ground all over the world.  They have much in common human needs, love, sleep, nourishment, the experience of living in a family and among neighbors and friends. They make a different sound when they teach their children what to say when they point to the sun the moon, to apples and onions, but the sun the moon apples and onions, are the same realities of which all of them speak.

           There are questions and mysteries in their everyday human experiences.  Why are some people kind generous patient and loving and others are greedy self-centered dishonest and unhappy? What happens when someone dies, and why does it have to be that all have to die? Truth sheds light on  mysteries and gives answers to all questions. In our analogy ,then, let the highest peak of the highest mountain be truth.   Truth is one, and unites those who have found it, but also those who are sincerely seeking it.  As we climb toward the truth in our understanding and  get closer and closer to the whole truth, the  peak of the mountain, we get closer and closer to one another.  In finding the whole truth we would be made one in it.

             If our quest were to climb the highest mountain all the way to its highest peak, to stop at a lower  peak and think that was the top, we might be happy there thinking we had reached the top, but our happiness would not be based upon the whole truth.  If our search were for happiness rather than climbing to the top we have a different picture.  The important question would be are you happy, rather than are you at the top

          A similar situation in regard to religion would be to identify and regard the most important question religion should address is "Are you saved?" rather than "What has God revealed?" , or if you are a Christian, What did Jesus teach?' (which includes salvation for all people!).  So the real problem is not so much that people are, in God's mercy, finding peace in various religious bodies, but the  fact we are divided on what is the truth, and don't even see or be disturbed that we can be united in less important truths such as truth about medicine, mathematics, and even the arbitrary truth about the correct spelling of words as proclaimed in our dictionaries and not the truth about God.  ( Jn. 3: 111; 5: 43,44).  We accept the testimony of man and not the testimony of God.  And until we become aware of this it is not likely we will ever change and come to the single truth about us and all of creation in  the one true God.

            I am convinced the lack of  unity among all who profess belief in God, and in a special way the lack of unity among all who profess to be Christians, is a far greater evil than the terrorism, real and possible we all face at this moment of history.  lf we were one in God, the God Who IS LOVE
peace would follow.

               Years ago I had a printer that could produce copies in black and white but not in color.  I used that as an example to help me understand how the solution to our world-wide and personal problems could be found only in God's love.  We cannot produce this no more than someone other than yourself could produce your love. That is because is your love.  You would have to offer it to another and that person would have to receive it to make it  his or her own.  The copy machine had to receive color though it could produce copies in black and white.  We can be good men and women naturally without faith, but we cannot be children of God without the supernatural gift of  new birth through faith and Baptism.  We may be high on the mountain but only at the top when we have accepted in faith the gift of new birth that makes of us a new creation as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, THE TRUTH. as He claimed to be. 

                The answer to it all begins to come in prayer, that we as individuals and all who believe in God throughout the world might come to a true knowledge and a generous love of the single God of all creation, so that God's love shared with us will make us one in God and bring peace to the world.
(Jn< 17: 20 - 26).



to the questions the group has as its concern.   The group we are cosidering in this blog are special.             

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Blog # 407 Immortality

Blog # 407  Immortality

           At some time, a long time ago, the first man and woman came to be.  Since that time trillions and trillions of men and women came to be.  All of them, with the exception of the approximate seven billion of us now living on earth today are gone.  We speak of them as 'dead'.

          Yet there are those who live among us, and I am one of them, who claim every man and woman who ever lived is yet 'alive'.  It is not that I foolishly deny the death of the body.  It is for the  human person I claim eternal life. I can conceive  a definite unique eternal relationship between the body and the person in each unique human being ever created.
            That transcendental  relationship is understood fully only by God and by those who have already been called from a time on earth to the experience of eternity. In the light of this relationship, without fully understanding it, I can honestly proclaim  the resurrection of the body in  the Apostle's Creed .

              Is this claim of ours a mere guess, an opinion based perhaps upon a deep seated hope in our hearts, a desire that brings comfort in our response to the loss in death of someone we love?  How can we hold such a conviction in the face of overwhelming universal physical evidence contradicting it?  Does anybody know for sure?  What is the basis for our conviction?

            St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all time, wrote in the thirteenth Century in favor of the immortality of the human person.  As a philosopher he gave five 'arguments' that conceived  the notion of immortality as 'fitting', but he admitted they were not definite proofs.  In 1947 as part of the requirements of a BS degree with a philosophy major I wrote a dissertation on eternal life. I had to concur with what St. Thomas concluded seven hundred years before.  As philosophers, the only way we could definitely prove we live forever is to live forever!   

              As theologians, both St. Thomas and I were absolutely convinced of the immortality of the human soul.  How could that be?  By Faith.  We believed it. To believe is to take something as true on the testimony of another. The conditions for faith, applied to the question of eternal life were fulfilled, and our conclusion is as secure as mathematical certitude.  2 + 2 = 4.  I believe in eternal life, and the resurrection of the body. the total of what that means for me, until I 'die',' only God knows.

             To have faith occur we have to have  as the object of our faith a truth that is not otherwise 
known to us at the time we believe.  A revealer or witness to the truth is then required.  Trust in the revealer follows this, and the experience of faith is ours when we actually accept the truth as our own.

              In the case at hand Jesus is the sole revealer, the only one who claims and has the right to claim from personal experience the reality of eternal life.  He, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is responsible for all of creation, for all that has and will come to be, for the design and production of our life on earth and our eternal life in the life to come.  When we trust the authenticity of His credentials and believe His claim, truth about eternal life is, by faith, for us as true as if we had already experienced it.

Blog # 406 Choices...Decisions

Blog  # 406  Choices,,,Decisions

           Many years ago I had the experience of offering a small boy, about three years old, either a ten dollar bill or an ice cream cone.  He chose the ice cream cone.  That decision was not an altogether dumb one.  He got what he wanted when he wanted it.  But if he had only known...

           Some furniture, some automobiles, some houses, some thoughts, desires and experiences, are more valuable, more beautiful, more authentic and dependable than others.  Each day of our lives choices are available to us. Some of them have little consequence.  Some of them are routine. Some of them can be major.  Some choices are difficult to make.

            What is the best medicine for arthritis?  What is the recipe for making Grandma's Irish soda bread?  What is the shortest way to New Jersey from here? What ought I...?  All of these
questions are related to one another. All of them are seeking truth.

              The question "What is...?", and questions beginning with "Ought I...? imply a quest for truth on a different level.   What is questions normally refer to truth on a physical, psychological, or emotional level.  Should I and Ought I questions normally refer to truth on a moral level.  Both levels are real.  There is truth  to be sought and found on both levels. 
               It is something like living in two different worlds that are distinguishable one from another yet are united in our one life.  It is something like the shape and the taste of an apple. Both are real and distinct from the other, but can exist together in each apple.

              It is  possible to be  more explicitly aware of one level rather than the other, both in the case of the apple and in our experience of life. For example I would think most of us are actually  more aware of and responsive to the taste of a apple we are eating than its shape. The shape is there, but it is not prominent in our immediate consciousness of it. Such an experience is possible with regard to our conscious awareness and response to the physical aspects of our lives as distinguished from their moral aspects.

           These days  we seem to be more aware of and pay more attention to the physical level than the morality involved. What is the quickest diet to get ready for the beach season?  What is the most popular color this coming Spring?  Ought I apologize to my neighbor for having said something unkind and untrue?  This experience is fostered and encouraged by the climate of consumerism, secularism, and materialism in which we currently live.  The answer to what questions tend to promote business. The answers to should questions tend to promote goodness and love.

Blog # 405 Finding God Today

Blog # 405  Finding God  Today

          Recognizing God's presence in all of creation seems to have been one of the main causes of greatness on the part of holy men and women throughout the history of God's dealings with mankind.  Holy men and women throughout our human history have always recognized God around them and within them in created things, in the love and goodness of friends, in the forgiveness of injury and sin, and in all the natural processes we know and experience. For holy men and women a beautiful sky was not just something we see, but an expression and an example of the beauty of God.  For holy men and women the gifts and love of friends were not just tokens of human friendship and love, but the expression of God's love and friendship as well. In a Christian environment people around us would be loving us and we would be loving them at the command of God as well as in response to any attractiveness we would be finding in one another.

             Surely St. Paul was saying something of this when he wrote to the Colossians (3:17):
"Whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him".  And Jesus was telling us this when He told us to love God above all things, with our whole minds, and with our whole heart, and with all of our strength.  To see God in all things, and in all persons, and in all events of our life, and to  love Him there is a method for gaining  great holiness.

            It seems more difficult for people these days to see God in this way in their lives. It used to be we knew God's love for us in the harvest, in the sunshine, and in the rain, in health and sickness, both because of our immediate experience of depending upon God and in our prayers.  People in the Centuries before our own were far less independent than we are today.  When someone got sick or  when an infection set in, there was no knowledge of penicillin  or other such medicines to help with the cure.  People naturally would turn to God.  Before the days of artificial  insemination and artificial  fertilizers. electricity and machines, the farmer knew full well his dependence upon nature and on God.

         Now we know so much and can do so much about nature and its processes that if something goes wrong or we have some need we tend to go to science, to a machine, or to our fellowman for help and advice rather than to God.  We are in danger of forming a habit of forgetting that nothing exists or is possible without God, that the light of the moon always comes from the sun.

           It is not at all that faithful people today should or need go back some hundred and fifty years in history and cast aside the improvements and advances modern science has made possible for us. Not at all! Rather we should make an effort to realize, as always, nothing exists without God willing it to be so, and if today  we have so much and such a wonderful world, we are being given the opportunity and called upon for greater thanksgiving and response to God's presence and God's love. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blog # 404 'Walking with God'

Blog # 404  'Walking with God'

             I remember reading in a small book of Christian reflections more than twenty years ago the author's response to seeing a field of corn growing.  As she drove down a rural highway in western Missouri then on into Kansas, on either side of the road were fields of grain growing. All of a sudden it struck her to reflect upon what she saw, the reality of it all, the earth, the sun,  the roots, the stalks, the grain.

        All of it was there before her eyes, so close and clear she could see it from her car. She could stop the car and walk over to touch it.  As she drove along and reflected further, the content of her experience became more than merely earth water sun roots stalk and grain. It was GOD, growing food for His people! 

         Creation, the world around us,  the world we touch, see, hear, taste, and smell can very well be considered as a message or a letter from God. As a friend might speak to us through a letter in the mail, so God speaks to us through sights and sound, through our every experience, whether in joy or sorrow, through creation, through life and death, through good fortune and bad, and even through our sins.  God is sending us messages, telling us something, something of Himself and of ourselves, something of the world, of our friends, the rich and the poor.  In all of creation God is present, communicating with us, speaking with us, writing us letters, as it were.

           But there is second step.  As with a letter from a friend, the letter itself, folded and sealed in the envelope is very real and the words are really written, but until and unless we open the letter and read it, it is not totally ours.  Creation is a message from God, but we must read it to make it our own. 

          The complete experience of receiving a letter implies a response, that we make an answer, that
we send a letter in return.  So it is with the experience of walking with God in creation.

           The first step is to open our eyes to the complete reality of what surrounds us. We believe it is created by the will of the single Creator of all that exists.  We drive by corn fields and see more than earth, sky, water, more than root stalks and grain.  We see tractors and the work of human beings and in it all we see God growing food for His people, for me.  Some people do not get this far.  Their letter remains unopened.

           The next step in walking with God is to respond to the message God sends us in creation, to tell God we are happy among His gifts, to thank Him for His love, to tell Him of our sorrow when He points out in our conscience where we have been in sin, to accept His invitation to come to His home in the world around us where ever we might be, to pray.


Blog # 404  'Walking with God'

           I remember reading in a small book of Christian reflections more than twenty years ago the
author's response to seeing a field of corn growing.  As she drove along a rural highway in western Missouri then on into Kansas, on either side of the road were vast fields of grain growing. All of a sudden it struck her to reflect upon what she saw, the reality of it all, the earth the sun the roots the stalk the grain.

          All of it was there before her eyes, so close she could see it from her car, so real she could stop her car and walk over to touch it.  As she drove along and reflected further, her experience became more than merely of earth water sun roots stalk and grain. It was GOD growing food for His people!

          Creation, the world around us, the world we touch taste see hear and smell, can very well be considered as a message or a letter from God.  As a friend might speak to us through a letter in the mail, so God speaks to us though sights and sound, through our every experience, and even through our sin.  God is sending us messages, telling us something, something of Himself, and our ourselves, something of the world, or our friends, of the rich and the poor.  In all of creation God is present, communicating with us, speaking with us, writing us letters, as I were.

            But there is a second step. As with a letter from a friend, the letter itself, folded and sealed in the envelope, is very real in that the paper is real and the words are really written, but until  and unless we open the letter and read it, it is not really a letter to us. Creation is a message from God, but we must read it. 

            The complete experience of receiving a letter implies a response, that we make an answer, that we end a letter in return.  So it is  with the experience of walking with God in Creation.

             The first step is to open our eyes to the complete reality of what  surrounds us. To drive by the corn fields and respond in more than boredom,  to see more than easrth and sky and water, more than roots and stalks and grain, to see God growing food for His people. Some people do not even get this far. Their letter remains  unopened.  The next step in walking with God is to respond to the message He sends us in creation, to tell Him we are happy among His gifts, to thank Him for  His love, to tell Him  of our sorrow when He points out where we have been in sin, to accept His invitation to live in His home in the world around us, to pray. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Blog # 403 Personal Holiness

Blog # 403  Personal holiness

          The angels singing around the throne of God in Isaiah 63 sang "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts". That would be a good place to start in establishing a definition of holiness. We must remember, however that whenever and whatever we speak or do or even think of God our thoughts and words are analogously applied. There is an infinite difference between God our Creator and the limited nature of  all of creation, including humanity and all we can think, speak or do.  With this conviction in our awareness at all times, when we want to think or speak of God, we can begin with the song of the angels in Isaiah.

             In our limited minds we do speak of God's power, His wisdom, His goodness, and all the  other qualities we see in God, even using according to custom a masculine pronoun in reference to God  though we should constantly be aware God is neither masculine nor feminine in a literal sense.
The word holy as it appears in the song of the angels in Isaiah is something like our use of a person's name, Fred or Mary. As the names of Fred and Mary, the names say all that can be said of Fred and Mary, their age,  size, weight, hobbies, address, number of hairs on their heads, and dollars in their wallets, etc.

              In this sense the word holy sums up and contains within itself all that God is and God alone is holy, since there is only one God.  In a secondary sense we speak of other persons and things being holy, as a church building which is dedicated to God and the place where we worship God together. We speak of the Bible which speaks of God and comes from God as holy.  We call the place where Jesus was born and lived out His ministry on earth the Holy Land.

               What is the meaning of holiness when the term is applied to persons?  For me, when applied to persons, to be holy means first of all to be like God.  In this sense to grow in holiness means to become more and more like God. I don't remember many people talking about holiness in this way and I sometimes wonder how many of us are actually trying consciously to grow in holiness by trying to be more and more like  God.

               When was the most recent time you can recall doing something or doing something in a particular way precisely and explicitly so that you would grow in holiness, become more like God? 
Perhaps it was the time you mopped the kitchen floor or mowed the lawn.  I have done those types of things to grow in holiness myself, and found them quite effective for the purpose. 

                God teaches us very clearly in the very first Book of the Bible that He made the entire universe and that God cares for it all. In our care for it we are holy or like to God. We would miss many opportunities for growing in holiness if we saw the opportunities as limited to prayer,  Bible study, or going to church.  Yet it seems some people do just that, almost living two separate lives in the process, the life of Bible reading, church, and prayer, and the life of the world, business, industry, recreation.
                If it were ever to be merely this for us, there would be a most significant element of our Catholic faith that would be missing, the supernatural gift of our sharing in God's life  called Sanctifying Grace.  In the supernatural gift of Sanctifying Grace bestowed upon us
in Baptism, we are united with Jesus and become members of the Church, the Body of Christ, as members of a vine are united to the vine and share the life of the vine.  In answer to the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper and in response to His gift to the Father in the act of worship or unconditional trust and total love of Jesus for the Father on Calvary, the Father now loves us as He loved Jesus!   United with Jesus in this love, as the Father loves Jesus and Jesus loves us, God lives in us! (Jn. 17: 22, 23).
               There is no  more effective plan I can imagine for growing in holiness or being like  God than our application of the gift of Sanctifying Grace in our lives through our reception of the Sacraments and in all that we do as Baptized Christians in the name of Jesus, in union with Him as branches on a living vine and members of the Church the Body of  the Resurrected Jesus on earth.

                   XXXX                  XXXX                                      XXXX                     XXXX

This might be a good place to refresh our memories of some of the many texts of Scripture that serve as the foundation of our faith in the effects of Baptism and the gift of Sanctifying Grace. From all of these texts I can understand and appreciate why the Sisters teaching us in St. Thomas the Apostle parochial school back home all the way down to the second grade were so much aware that we  desire to live always "in the State of Grace".

Gall.2: 19,20. I have been crucified with Christ and the life I now live is not my own; Christ lives in me.
Rom. 6: 3 - 8.  Are you not aware that we who have been Baptized into Christ were Baptized into His death?  Through Baptism into His death we were buried with Him, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, we too might live a new life.

John 10: 27,28.  My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they know me. I give them eternal life. (Note: hear, follow, give, are all in the present tense.)

John 10:10 I came that they (my sheep) may have life.

John 1: 11 - 13. Any who did accept him he empowered to become children of  God.  These are they who believe in His name who were God.

John 5: 24.  I solemnly assure you, the man who hears my word and has faith in him who sent me possesses eternal life.

John 14: 5  I am the life.

II Cor. 5: 17 If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

1 Peter 1: 3,5  Praised be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who in His great mercy gave us new birth.

Titus 3: 5  He saved us through the baptism of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 1 - 5  Live on in me as I do in you...I am the vine, you are the branches.

1 Cor. 6:19 You must know that  your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within...

John 20: 30 Jesus performed many other signs...these have been recorded to help you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,  so that through this faith you may have life in His name.

John 3: 4 I solemnly assure  you, no one can enter into  God's  kingdom without being begotten of water and Spirit.

1 John 3: 1  See what love the Father has bestowed upon us in letting us be called children of God!  Yet that is what we are.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blog # 402 Growing in Holiness

Blog  # 402  Growing in Holiness

               In the first letter to the Thessalonians chapter 4 verse 3. Paul writes: "It is the will of God that  you grow in holiness." I wonder what we would have on paper if we would sit down for just five minutes and write out what comes to our minds in response to these words of Paul.

              What do we mean by holiness?  How do we grow in holiness?  Does it occur like old age. We grow in age whether we like it or not.  Did you ever decide to grow in holiness? What did you do
about it?  These are some of the interesting questions the statement of Paul suggests.

               I imagine many people go back and forth to church each week for years on end without much thought as to what holiness means and how they as an individual could grow in holiness.  In a City like Cincinnati, where I live, what is the difference between a person who is holy and a person who is not holy?   Some of us go to church and some of us do not.  Is that the main difference between being holy and not being holy? 

              As far as can be observed, the rest of our lives outside of church attendance is pretty much the same for many of  us.  We care for our lawns, pay our bills on time, show up at work each day, and though our address might be on Jefferson Street or Manchester, our lives look pretty much the same from the outside. If this be the case, it could be that all of us are holly or none of us is holy. But it seems further that unless we are changing in some way we are hardly growing in holiness. 

           "It is the will of God that you grow in holiness "  May the Lord direct our minds to know Him better and our hearts to love Him more.   

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Blog # 401 The Holy Spirit/ /death

Blog  # 301   The Holy Spirit / death

                 A couple of weeks ago I was particularly impressed by a reading dating back to St. Hilary, a Bishop in the Church in the middle of the fourth Century.  First he quotes some of the words of Jesus given in the Scriptures with regard to the Holy Spirit then shares a few of his own thoughts.

              "Our Lord has described the purpose of the Spirit's  presence in us.  Let us listen to His words: I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot hear them now. It is to your advantage that I go away; If I go, I will send  you the Advocate.  And also: I will ask the Father and He sill send you another Counselor to be with you for ever, the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you unto all the truth...( Jn. 16: 7, 12, 13).
                 "Since our limited minds cannot comprehend the Father or the Son, we have been given the Holy Spirit as our intermediary and advocate, to shed light on the hard doctrine of our faith, the incarnation of God.  We receive the Spirit of Truth so that we can know the things of God.  In order to grasp this, consider how useless the faculties of the human body would become if they were denied their exercise.  Our eyes cannot fulfill their task without light, either natural or artificial; our ears cannot react without sound vibrations, and in the absence of any odor our nostrils are ignorant of their function. Not that these senses would lose their own nature if they were not used; rather, they demand objects of experience in order to function. It is  the same with the human soul.  Unless it absorbs the light of the Spirit through faith, the mind has the ability to know God but lacks the light necessary for that knowledge. 

             This unique gift which is in Christ is offered in its fullness to everyone.  It is everywhere available, but it is given to each person in proportion to our readiness to receive I.  Its presence is the fuller the greater a person's desire to be worthy of it.  This gift will remain with us until the end of the world, and will be our comfort in the time of waiting.  By the favors it bestows it is the pledge of our  hope for the future, the light of our minds, and the splendor that irradiates our understanding".

              I found it impressive to realize these words came from a Bishop who was born almost  sixteen hundred years ago and  yet could be applied so well and meaningfully  by us in our current moment of history,   Such a realization demands a process.  As with some of the passages of Scripture, their full meaning requires a slow reflective and prayerful reading and re-reading to stimulate further thought.     

                        xxxx                   xxxx                   xxxx                    xxxx              xxxx

Here is a prayer I am offering to the Holy Spirit on the occasion of the very sudden death of Father Jerry Dorn, one of our former Glenmary Presidents and faithful generous member for 50 years.

              We worship  you, Holy Spirit of Jesus.   We call you by human names, Wisdom, Fortitude, Love, so that we need not be entirely silent in the total truth of who you are for us.  We open our heart to receive you that we may learn how deeply and powerfully you are present everywhere.  You are in the air we breathe. the distance into which we gaze, the space that surrounds us. You are the kindly light in which we are attractive to each other.  You are the infinite love with which we have been created.
                We pray to you, Spirit of Jesus, that you would help us prevent the evil we are capable of doing and inspire us toward what is good, to faithfulness and patience, to compassion and gentleness. Waken in us friendship for every living being and with joy for everything that is good and true.

                Everything that lives grows by your power. You are hidden deep inside us like yeast.  You are our will to live, the love that keeps us here on earth and unites us to Jesus and the Father. You speak in silence and all languages interpret you in sound.  You are the truth of all words, and everyone who listens with an open mind can hear you in their own language, in their own lives.  Put words into our mouths, then, that comfort and shed light, make us alive to justice and what is good, guide our hearts and our faith, let out thoughts and our labors be fruitful and give us the bread of peace. 
                 You are the truth with which the word of God is spoken, the wind on which the Gospel is borne everywhere and to everyone in the world. It is your work and the wonder of your inspiration whenever we experience that Jesus lives, that we follow Him, that He becomes our way, that He is worth all else that we can find in the world.

               You are the source of fulfillment for all the promises made to us by Jesus. His work and love continues in us through you. Help us every day wherever we go to be aware of your presence among us and within us.  Then our lives will be holy and we will be worthy of the place Jesus has gone to prepare for us in the eternal mansion of His Father's love.  Amen!   

Blog # 399 We believe...

Blog  # 399  We believe...

               One of the more important truths we believe is the fact we are created and destined to live forever, beyond time, beyond physical death.  In our limited human capacity as human creatures we cannot even imagine this as it really is, let alone understand it or be in control of it.  So it is fitting that we pray for the gift of faith which leads to trust in the Lord's promise of it.  Believing, we trust, and trusting we live what we believe.

            When we were kids back home, we used to play 'Cowboys and Indians' in our neighborhood streets of  New York City, far from the Old West.  We would choose sides and divide the gang into cowboys and Indians.  Then we would chase one another through the neighborhood, taking captives, riding imaginary horses, shooting imaginary guns and bows and arrows. We were captured, shot, and died many times over before we outgrew the thrill of the game.  It was a game of  'make believe'.  You acted as if  you were an Indian or a cowboy.  But it was far from the Old West, and you were actually neither.
           In identifying ourselves as believers we could find some similarity to that of identifying ourselves as cowboys and Indians when we were playing a game as children.  There are significant differences, however, between the experience of playing cowboys and Indians and the experience of being a believer.  In the game, I carry an imaginary gun or an imaginary bow and arrow.  I ride an imaginary horse.  But faith is not a game. It is not that I think, and act, and speak in a certain way as if  I believed a certain truth that has been revealed to me, but because  I believe that truth.  Because
I believe in God I actually pray.  Because I believe in eternal life I am already living forever.  It is not  as if  things were different when it comes to faith, but because they are different that I think
and speak and act differently. 

         With faith, it is not as if through Baptism I am united with Jesus  and the other members of the Church as a branch on a vine, but because I am Baptized I am so united. With faith it is not perhaps or maybe, but for sure.  With faith it is not tomorrow, but now. already, by faith yes, but already, for sure. We are created to live forever.  That is our faith.  To prove it by experience we will have to live forever.  By faith it is ours already.    

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blog # 400 Freedom

Blog  # 400 Freedom

            Many people have wondered at one time or another why it is God does not make more people good Christians, why God doesn't make the Christian life more attractive to young people, and why God doesn't make His people more enthusiastic about spreading the Gospel message of brotherly love and Christian salvation  These questions have also been my own.

            The best 'reason' I have thought of as to why does not do more in the world to guarantee our holiness, our faith, and conversion from sin, is that God loves us and wants us to be free.

              Try this experiment some time. Get a stone, or a book or a pencil, and place it on the table before  you. It stays right where you left it.  Now move it from place to place, first to the left, then to the right, and then back again to the center.  The stone or the book or the pencil does just what you want it to do.

             Put the pencil into our hand.  You can make it write the word 'hate', or the word  'love'.  You can make the pencil write the word 'goodness', or the word 'sin'.  You are in control of the pencil.  It is not free. As a result it is very limited. A pencil cannot know you or appreciate you. A stone or a pencil or a book can only be one thing - a stone, or a pencil, or a book.  They are not free and cannot be holy or sinful.

           You and I are different, in our nature, and consequently in our gift of freedom. We can make choices. We can know when someone loves us and we can love someone in response to love that is given us. God wants it this way.  Rooted in our freedom is our love. 

  We ae free.  We can make choices.  We ca ko when someone loves us nd we can love someone n response to their love.  We can be good if we choose, and we can be sinful.  God wants it t his way.  Rooted in our freedom is our love. 


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Blog # 398 We are salt; we are light

Blog # 398  We are salt;  we are light
              I really should not be surprised at this, but sometimes I actually do feel surprised when I am
reading something from Moses, David, or one of the ancient Prophets in the Hebrew ('Old') Testament and find it so  similar to what I have ben accustomed expect and find in the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels An example of this is Isaiah 58: 5 - 10, and at.5:13 - 16. These words  of Isaiah indicate something of our relationship with the world and people around us.  It has been and continues to be a popular notion among people in our present moment of history. Isaiah in an interesting and forceful way speaks of God as ready and enthusiastic about answering our desires for help in bringing mercy and love to those who live around us in one or another form of need. 

           Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, This is what I want, says God. Ask for help, and I will come. The needs Isaiah speaks of are physical needs, needs for food, clothing and shelter, here on earth.  God's endorsement of  the project of bringing help indicates God's desire that we live comfortably and securely. But God's desire is for comfort and security be the condition of all people. As for the people in the time of Isaiah, so for  us today, all of our work for social justice, our efforts to aid the poor and needy can and should be  grounded in this universal divine desire.  The poor, the hungry, the homeless, on their part should be able to ground their hope in this same divine desire.

            It is not always an easy thing to do on either side. Evidence of the manifold and complex difficulties involved are played out on our TV screens as we witness the argumentation going on in Washington and across the country with regard to social security, tax, and welfare reform.  We have to believe that everyone can be worthy of God's love.  We have to trust there can be enough food and resources for all.  But the more basic need, the fundamental need, is that we be in touch with God, the source of faith, the treasurer of hope.

             I do  not know what proportion of those currently representing us in Congress believe in God or are regular church-goers. I imagine there is a good number of Congress persons who do.  But faith and trust in God, prayer for God's wisdom for making political decisions, explicit reference to God's presence and design on earth are not publicly and constantly brought to the floor as relevant to the work of deciding who should have what of the American pie.

        And that is where Isaiah comes in. He emphatically claims the problems can be solved if we seek and find the will of God.  It is a clear vision. For me it is true. I believe it. We need not, and cannot hope to make the right decisions and solve the problems on our own.

          The same God Who inspired Isaiah's insights and convictions is the same God Who speaks in Jesus. He too lived among the problems of the poor and the rich, the hungry and the well-fed.  His advice and commands are the same as those of Isaiah.  Feed, clothe.shelter.  Seek first the reign of God and all that you need will be yours.  Pray.  Do unto others as  you would have them do unto  you.  Love one another as I have loved you. What a world it would be if we all listened learned and followed!
            The images Jesus uses bear further reflection.  He speaks of us as salt and of salt becoming useless if it loses its flavor.  This would seem to warn and remind us of the possibility of losing or weakening a conscious awareness of our identity as believers, as members of the Body of Christ.  Whether our work be among the poor or to keep ourselves from becoming poor, it is essential that we be identified and empowered with the wisdom goodness and generosity of the Lord.  This is our flavor as Christian believes.  When it is lost we are useless in effecting God's  plan on earth.

          In the way Jesus uses the image of light we are reminded of or being sent as Christians into the world around us.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a bushel basket.  The implication is that God did not give us the  gift of faith, the light of truth, merely for the sake of our personal salvation, but rather that we should shine that light upon the world around  us, that we share the light with others.  There are needs, there are problems, there are questions that can only be supplied solved and answered by God.  We are to be God's light in darkness. Jesus told us so.                       

Blog # 396 Zaccheus

Blog # 396  Zaccheus

        In Luke's Gospel (18: 9 - 14;  19: 1 - 10),in two separate texts,  we have  two well-known stories of  a Pharisee and two different tax collectors. In the first instance we have a Pharisee and a tax collector going to the temple to pray.  The tax collector recognized his sinfulness, asked the Lord's mercy, and went home justified.  The Pharisee patted himself on the back for having done so much good, and was not pleasing to the Lord. It seemed he thought he was doing God a favor by his holy  life.  He should have reflected on Psalm 50.

          The story of these two men is given as a parable of Jesus.   In the second instance  we have a real life situation.  It is the story of  an actual tax collector, Zaccheus by name, in a well known City,  the city of Jericho. Zaccheus is wealthy and certainly well known in Jericho.  He is the chief tax collector. 
          In Luke's account Zaccheus goes out of his way to see Jesus. Too short to get a good view of Jesus over the heads and shoulders of the crowd, he climbs into a sycamore tree along the route Jesus was taking. Wisdom and patience were his. Jesus  greets Zaccheus and invites  himself to the home of the tax collector as a guest.  Zacheus was delighted.  People in the crowd began to complain that Jesus had gone to the house of a sinner to eat.

           In response to their complaints, I think Jesus may have thought of  a passage in the Book of  Wisdom (11:22 - 12: 2) . It is a clear witness to the Father's mercy always lived out  in the life of Jesus. "For you love all things you have spare all because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls...Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!" 

            In the second instance of Luke's reference to a tax collector, the Pharisee has dropped out of the picture.  The tax collector in the real life situation has become the chief  tax collector, a sinner with a capital 'S' you might say.  He begins to speak in the presence of Jesus in a way that seems much like the speech given by the Pharisee in the parable.  But in this case Jesus is pleased. He invites those listening to  Him  to see in Zaccheus what it means to be a child of Abraham, to witness in him the advent and meaning of salvation.

            The difference in the words  used by the Pharisee and Zaccheus does not seem to be significant at first reading.  Both sets of words see to be bragging and words of pride. "I do this!".  "I do that!"
            The response of Jesus to the two men, affirmation of Zaccheus, and disapproval of the Pharisee, invites us to to discover the difference between the two. The difference does not seem to lie in the truth or untruth of what the men said of themselves.  Most likely the Pharisee actually did what he said by way of fasting regularly, paying tithes on all he possessed, etc. Most  likely both tax collectors were indeed sinners of one kind or another.

             I find a significant difference in the attitude of the two men toward themselves and toward what they had done.  With the attitude the Pharisee had toward himself he is not likely to change.  He is apparently entirely self-satisfied.  He is satisfied with who he is and what he has done. He is not looking for change.  His words are proud words. He sees God as his helper rather than his guide.

            We find Zaccheus desiring to see Jesus. He does not see himself complete within himself, existing for his own sake.  But he cannot see Jesus because he is too short.  He looks around to see if something could be changed. He climbs the tree, and in his new position his desire is fulfilled.  His words are humble words, words that could be used to prepare for repentance and change.

             Another significant difference in the words of he Pharisee and Zaccheus is this: the concern of the Pharisee is for things: "I fast" (food); "I pay tithes" (money).  The concern of Zaccheus is for people :  "I give to the poor" (people); "If I have  defrauded anyone..".(people).  That difference certainly would seem to  put Zaccheus close to the heart of Jesus. He was ready to grow in God's love.

            The beautiful passage from the Book of Wisdom is an invitation to both men, and to us, to discover again how close God is to all of creation, how good it all is, how ready God is to call us back from our sins and share God's love with us.  In my examination of conscience this evening I plan to ask myself  "Is my name 'Zaccheus'?