Lesson from Tax Class

Years ago, in a college tax accounting class a professor mentioned a study that was done to determine how long it took to prepare a Federal Tax return.  It was large group and each person did their taxes and 10 other peoples.  What the study found out was that it took, on average, a person twice as long to do their own as it did to do someone else’s.  The conclusion, after interviewing the people and recording their comments while preparing the taxes, was that people tried to read into the tax code things that would help them get the best of their return; but when it was someone else’s taxes it seemed the people read the rules with an open mind and followed them.

This past week after the sad decisions by the Supreme Court I posted on my facebook account the following:

“Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a psychological disorder over Divine and Natural Laws and while ignoring universal and historical social moreys. Society has been damaged by the attack on its most precious and fundamental building block – may God forgive us.”

Many supported my posting – but I got one response from a work-friend that disagreed.

“The supreme court ruled in favor of those who do not use the Psychological Disorder of religion to force a book full of social contradictions on society.”

I immediately thought back to the tax class.  There are only contradictions in Catholicism if people try to read into the faith what they want to see.  Contradictions are brought about by, big surprise, us – not Holy Mother Church.  If and when a person ‘reads’, learns, about the faith with an open mind the fullness of reason that it contains becomes an epiphany to them – they are amazed by its integrity and are humbled by the love it is built on.

To try and discuss and convince this friend of why he is wrong would be a waste of time – words would do no good.  Many like him think that obligations and limitations coming from social constructs is restrictive and coercive – freedom is being able to exercise your desires. Any opinions to the contrary are totalitarian and prejudicial.  Our prayers and quiet witness is the only tool we have for those types of people.  We will never back down from the Word of God, we will always be public with the Gospel message – and we need to prayerful and sensitive to those many people who try to learn about this faith through the eyes of their desires and fail to understand.  May we constantly pray that they not ‘be wrapped in the darkness of error’ but ‘stand in the bright light of truth’; as we ourselves prayed at the Mass today.

We choose freedom – we choose God!

That we are a pilgrim people should be no surprise to any of us. Followers of Christ know that we are on a journey to, hopefully, our heavenly home. But an interesting thing about the word ‘pilgrim’ is that it comes from a root word, which means, originally, one who is outside – a foreigner; and that is who we are. Disciples are a pilgrim people who are outside of this ‘house of the world’, and we are looking in – we are foreigners; or least we should be.

Today’s Gospel speaks to us about what it means to be a disciple. We hear Christ tell those around Him and us: ‘Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.’ This tells us what our status is. Christ expects His disciples to be those who, though living among the ‘flesh’ (as St. Paul stated in the 2nd reading) should be apart from it. We are not here to participate in the fallen nature that is mankind’s heavy chain – but are here to shed light on the traps of the ‘flesh’. We are here to point out that the prince of this house, Satan, is working against us to trap us in this existence of ‘fleshly’ desires and appetites – so as to stop us from gaining the house of our Father, where true delight, peace and joy reside; where we can truly be whole. For those with eyes to see, we are saddened by how society continuously follows the prince of the world into his insidious trap. Pope Francis talked about how this happens in a May 4th homily: “‘…the prince of the world hates us. And what he did with Jesus (with the temptations in the desert) he does with us.’ With a little word here, a trifle there, ‘he will lead us down a path of injustice’ It begins with the little things, ‘softening us’ to the point that ‘we fall into the trap’. ” Our part of God’s plan is to proclaim, to warn against this.

But, as the Gospel shows us, we won’t be welcomed by those we encounter. As Christ was met by the Samaritans in their village so will we be met by most in society. Our message, God’s plan, isn’t a welcomed plan because it involves freedom, true freedom – freedom of humble service to God and each other – not of domination and power. This freedom involves our whole being: spirit, mind and body in the strenuous activity of constantly warding off the temptations of the earthly prince’s trap and struggling to embrace the true reality of the ‘new’ Jerusalem – it is work to be free; and most don’t want to work. This striving for true freedom isn’t an arbitrary demand from Christ – He himself has walked this path. In the opening lines of today’s Gospel we hear: ‘When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.’ – Christ, knowing what awaited Him, made the decision, freely, to follow His Father’s plan – to give of Himself in true love of others.

But as we have seen with this past Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions, our society has other ideas of freedom. Society would rather withdraw into a delusion of freedom, where freedom means following unfettered desires, then come to grips with true freedom and choose to follow God. We have also seen that reaction to our ideas and God’s message can be met with distain, anger, even violence. The irrational and highly emotional mindset – where so-called ‘tolerance’ is a cover-word for indifference and disinterest in the welfare of each other – seems to have triumphed. We have seen first-hand what St. Paul warns about in the second reading and ‘flesh’ seems to have won out over spirit – but we know that this is a false victory for God’s plan is ultimately the only plan. And we choose to follow God’s Plan; not man’s.

As followers of Christ, modern-day disciples; each day we choose to walk with God, determined to offer humanity the words of eternal life, and challenge wrong ideas, policies and laws. We will stand up and fight ideologies and philosophies that reduce man to slaves of their desires by offering the freedom that choosing true love brings. We will stand up to the intrigues and wiles of the prince of this world. Though we will never enter into dialogue with the prince of this world – because he hates us – we will stand to announce God’s love through His eternal Word, by using His word in dialogue with each other. Pope Francis commented on this: “‘Think how the prince of the world tried to trick Jesus in the desert,’ tempting especially his vanity, ‘Jesus never answered this prince with his own words but with the word of God’; and so shall we.

But the big question for us is: how do we present ourselves? This too is answered in today’s readings, indeed by the whole of Scripture. When Jesus was given the cold shoulder in the Samaritan village and the disciples wanted to ‘call down fire from heaven to consume them’ – Jesus rebuked them. They seem to have forgotten what St. Paul proclaimed in the second reading ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

In spite of the reactions we receive; indeed, because of them, we choose through our freedom to Love our neighbor – regardless of how they treat us. As Christ determined resolutely; so we choose freely to embrace with love those who try to hate us. We follow Christ along His path not only to Jerusalem, but up on to the Cross to witness to our choice of Love.

All the time, through all the challenges and attacks we will choose to love everyone – we choose freedom – we choose God!

Advancing

It seems very appropriate the at the start of our second annual Fortnight for Freedom we celebrate the Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas Moore and this evening start our celebration of the Solemnity of Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  Their actions, their witness are important guides for our activities as disciples. All three saints were active in the societies they lived in bringing the Gospel to those around them by their words and how they lived their lives.

Last year we were alarmed by the HHS mandate that intruded upon our first amendment rights; and people of many faiths rallied to protect what we perceive, and rightly so, as an attack on our constitutional rights of freedom of religion.  One year later, nothing has changed; the HHS Mandate is exactly as it was last year, it will affect religious institutions starting this August and we are awaiting the courts decisions.  This coming week we are expecting the Supreme Court to rule on two cases regarding so called ‘same-sex marriage’ and we pray worried – looking back 40 years to another Supreme Court case – Roe v Wade.

Our Bishops are calling each of us to vigilance; to proclaim our beliefs and to defend the constitutional rights of all Americans.  We are called to move forward as Christ’s disciples – witnessing to Christ’s desire for peace and love throughout the world with our works of social justice and charity.  But what does that entail, moving forward as Christ’s disciples – how are we to act? Today’s Gospel gives us some insight. Christ asks the disciples – ‘But who do you say that I am?’ and Peter replies for them ‘The Christ of God’.  This exchange is followed a strange sentence. ‘He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone’.

In today’s world of success by intrigue, deceit and subterfuge we might be tempted to think Christ is trying to hide his mission from the people, trying to quietly succeed by furtive means.  We are tempted to view this comment as proving that He is either worried or has ulterior motives. But if viewed this way, I believe we are missing the point; and by missing it we are failing to understand the true power of discipleship – humility.  His Holiness Pope Francis in his April 8th Homily told us ‘Humility is the “golden rule”. “Advancing”, for Christians, means “lowering themselves”.  He continued by telling those at the daily mass: ‘The whole history of faith is made of humility…It seems that God wanted every event ‘to be concealed, that it not be made public’, that it be , as it were, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.’(1)

Every action of Christ’s mission is shrouded in humility; God comes down to our level, He lowers Himself as the Pope put it, and humbly walks the path to the cross.  This path of Christ; this humble path of love, is what He teaches us, this is how we present ourselves, today’s disciples, to the world around us.  It is not a cowering; it is an honest humility that allows people to see love shine forth.  It is Christ on the cross who, while allowing his passion to proceed, turns to the good thief and ministers to him.  It is standing up for our rights (both constitutional and divine), not backing down; but also not pompous or aggressive, nor hateful and fearful – but loving and understanding, accepting all those in the public discourse with love even if we don’t agree with their ideas.  ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ is our mantra as we go forward with our part in the national discussion of events.  As Pope Francis mentioned we allow the Holy Spirit to overshadow events; so that our actions radiate the love, hope and peace that is God as we work from the level of those around us, bringing them up to our level of understanding – to God’s revealed truth.

So as we go forward as disciples, witnesses to God’s message, let us look to the great examples of humility and ask for their intercessions – St. John the Baptist who’s nativity we are celebrating and who proclaimed: ‘He must increase; I must decrease.’; St. Joseph who obediently accepted God’s plan; and of course our blessed mother Mary, who’s great hymn of humility, the Magnificat, we will proclaim shortly.

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(1)     L’osservatore Romano (English edition 4/17/2013 pg 10)

Two People – One Way.

In today’s Gospel we are given two examples of following.

In the Pharisee we see a follower of the faith who has lived his life in the pursuit of what it takes to journey the path to heaven.  He has studied; he made his own the law that has led his people through millennia.  This law, which has led the Jews, is their total orientation; with it they believe they are following God’s will, and indeed God had given them guidance in the form of the Pentateuch.  But as we see with the reaction of this Pharisee to Jesus, and to the woman, to some it has become formulistic, abstract, and barren; it doesn’t breathe God’s life into the journey.  Those like this Pharisee only see the obligation of law; they have become hermits within the letters.

In the scandalous woman we are led to see someone who doesn’t understand this long standing set of rules and regulations, indeed for most of her life she flaunts them and lives a life of wanton abandon and moral decay.  But when she sees the Lord, hears that He is close she has a conversion of heart and goes out of her way to honor Him and by her actions ask for forgiveness.  She isn’t so caught up in the letters that she misses the Word made flesh come to bring mercy and forgiveness.  She has found the living God and she has come to Him.  We see in this woman that to believe and to follow is to relate with our God; to throw ourselves on His love and mercy, to commit ourselves to His will and to trust in Him so as to bring anything and everything to Him.

It is my hope as we continue with our school of discipleship, that we too can resist the letters that end up in stale and sterile routines and come to the word who brings conversion of heart by His mercy.  May our hearts not become stone but remain as God would have them, natural.  May we weep at the feet of our savior with tears of sorrow for our weaknesses and of joy that our God has found us and we have found Him.

We are back in School.

For the past six months, except for a few weeks in January and February, we have been living in special liturgical seasons; celebrating the mysteries of our faith.  Now, after the Solemnity of Corpus Christi last weekend we truly enter the season of Ordinary Time.  As you know it actually started after our Pentecost Vesper service, but for the past two weeks Holy Mother Church has celebrated special Solemnities, Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi for our edification and growth in faith.

But now we enter a period that, for the most part seems to be without special celebrations – just ‘normal Masses’; nothing can be further from the truth.  A Mass can never be considered as ‘just normal’ and Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary. In fact, ordinary is a translation from the Latin that probably is better translated as ordered.  We are now in the period that though we don’t intensely celebrate the great mysteries, we are called to listen to Christ and learn how to put these events, the mysteries, to use as disciples.  These next six months we are back in school, the school of discipleship.

What use is it for us to contemplate the eschatological import of God’s plan for us if we don’t use that knowledge to the betterment of ourselves and others?
What use is it for us to reflect on the great events of the incarnation and nativity, if we don’t take to heart what His coming means for us?
What use is it for us to focus on our actions and attitudes if we don’t continue to gauge them against Christ’s greatest lesson of the Cross?
What use is it for us to celebrate the reason for our hope if it doesn’t cause us to change and radiate even better this hope to those we meet?

This call of continuing to change our lives and grow more into discipleship is what our journey is about and in a certain way is what this season is helping us with.  Through our participation in Mass during Ordinary Time we will hear Christ teach us the meaning of being a disciple, His words and those of His apostles will urge us to love as He does, to work for His people, to grow as a child of God and to place total trust in His message and above all in Him – to give ourselves over to His mercy. This is not an easy task – it can be very uncomfortable and even frightening because is calls for abandonment of our will to His.  His Holiness Pope Francis commented in a homily about this reticence: “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension.  But we must!…The Lord never tires of forgiving: never!

That we need His help is, for those who are honest, a fact.  Each of us need only to think back on just last month to see this need.  Satan and evil are very real and very active; man’s fallen nature makes us easy prey for his wiles and intrigues.  Our desire to follow Christ can be submerged within us if we allow fear of the cross and doubt of Christ’s promises to control us.

A response to these fears and a prayer against them is today’s entrance antiphon:

The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear?
            The Lord is the stronghold of my life; whom should I dread?
            When those who do evil draw near, they stumble and fall.

This antiphon, from the beginning of Psalm 27, points out that: First, evil will draw near, ‘when’ means it will happen.  But second: it alludes to the failure of this evil when we allow the Lord to guide us, to protect us. This we must do, this we must learn to allow – allow the Lord to take us, lead us, and His embrace will protect us.  Satan, shivers at these words, he quakes at anyone who takes them to heart for he knows that we will be surrounded by the hosts of God.  So let’s enter into this school of discipleship and grow in our knowledge of the Lord and submit to His loving curriculum.  Let us embrace the abyss of His mercy, as Pope Francis so aptly put it.

The constant of our Faith

Today, in a most special way, we brought Jesus out of the Church and on to the streets.  Today, we not only radiated Jesus by our actions and words to those we met but we followed His precious and living Sacred Body and Blood – giving joyful praise – revealing to those around us the reason for our hope and joy.  We put into action the words of Raphael from the Book of Tobit: “Bless God and give him thanks before all the living for the good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Proclaim before all with due honor the deeds of God, and do not be slack in thanking him.”  This we have done – we have proclaimed that which is the cornerstone, the constant, of our faith.

Throughout the millennia Holy Mother Church has seen many changes and innovations; she has seen 266 Popes, countless clergy, and even more precious faithful members.  And each and every one of them looked to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – eternal and unchanging.  They have learned and believed in His immutable truths and have always tried to live their lives around the Eucharist; the source and summit of our Christian lives.  We realize that no matter where we are in our lives we have Christ’s gift of Himself to strengthen and refresh us.  Each day we witness His ultimate act of love and are reassured that His passion is for each of us and His Body and Blood is for each of us.

In today’s procession we had a wide spectrum of the faithful: 1st communicants who looked at the Eucharist and received it for the first time with a love of the Lord so innocent; youth, who learning the ways of life and the world look to the Eucharist with their energetic attitudes and dynamic ideals with friendship and hope; adults, who tried by life look to the Eucharist for strength and consolation and companionship; elderly, who tired and bent by the journey look to the Eucharist with longing for the promised goal – eternal life with their friend, who gave Himself every day for their journey. We had laity, clergy, male, female and so on – every person a different part in the mystical body.  All of us, with all our differences, look to the one constant and unchanging Eucharist; and today, we proclaimed not only His death but His gift of Himself and constant loving companionship – we celebrated.

But today’s procession isn’t only the summit of our celebration, just as the Eucharist isn’t only the summit of our faith and lives.  Our public witness today should be a source for our witness, just as the Eucharist is also the source of our faith and lives.  We need to take this energy and go forward with it; proclaiming Christ, Christ crucified, in all that we do.  Our public persona should be one of discipleship; when people see us they should see Christ. They should hunger for the hope that we radiate.  As we move into the summer months and Ordinary Time lets hold on to today’s procession; let’s remember the feeling we had as we walked through the streets, with Jesus, and let’s continue the joyful proclamation of His most precious and sacred Body and Blood – the source and summit of our lives and the binding that holds each of us together in communion with God and each other.

Knights Prayer Breakfast – Corpus Christi

Midmorning Prayer, Saturday June 1st

We just prayed in the first psalm for today, (Psalm 119:169-176  XXII(Tau)) the words:

Let my lips proclaim your praise
because you teach me your statutes.
Let my tongue sing your promise
for your commands are just.

It is a prayer to fulfill the obligation we have taken on as followers of Christ. The laity; and especially the Knights of Columbus, has vowed to the Lord that we will be heralds of the Gospel message.  Each of us is called to be ‘a Prophet of the most high’ as Zachariah proclaimed to his son John the Baptist; ‘to go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation…

In whatever time we live and situation we find ourselves in, it is up to us to proclaim the good news.  We are called to live in this world, but not be of the world. This message was so important that it was part the last address of his holiness Benedict XVI to the College of Cardinals.  We should not allow the world to mold us; rather we should radiate the light of Christ and help mold the world.

This calling, along with the demands it entails has been handed on for almost two thousand years.  It has been lived by the faithful in times of turmoil and uncertainty; in fact it has been lived in only these types of times because those are the only times we have.  As dire as the world seems today, with the tragedies of war and death as well as the continuous onslaught of secularists against our message, it has always been so.  We only need look into history to see this.  For us this means it should be no excuse not to proclaim the Gospel, with our words and lives; because those who came before us did it.

Two weeks ago Dolores and I traveled to France on our annual vacation/pilgrimage and spent three days and nights in Lourdes.  To understand the history of the Church in France for the past 200 years is to understand attacks of the enlightened ‘intelligentsia’ (who ran the government) against the Church and her people.  St. Bernadette’s story was one of proclamation of the Gospel message and Mary’s visitation against the overwhelming face and force of the government.  They did everything to stop her message, and then to stop the church and her followers from celebrating it.  But God’s truth won out eventually, with the ingenuity and help of the faithful members, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Our time is no more volatile and precarious so we need to be the latest version of that little maiden; we need to wrap ourselves with Christ’s strength and proclaim His message without fear; and to proclaim it with the love and humility that Bernadette showed.

The world needs us to proclaim Christ; the people, whether they know it or not, hunger for it.  This was continually brought to my attention as Dolores and I prayed or attended Masses in the great churches and cathedrals we visited.  For instance, as we were praying in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, waiting for the Vigil Vespers and Vigil Mass for Pentecost to begin; I couldn’t help but notice that we were being watched by the thousands of tourists circling us.  They were stopping and taking pictures of the Vesper service and Mass; we were part of the display so to speak.  But most importantly (I felt), they were curious about what we were doing.  We were witnessing to God in the midst of the worldly – we were in the world not of it.  This example reinforced to me just how important every action in our lives can be.  Every word, opinion, task and reaction that we make has the potential to be like that scene in Notre Dame de Paris, someone might be watching, someone who needs the message; needs God’s love; needs Christ in their lives.

This is what we are called to be and do – in a very important way Knights are heralds of God’s message.  But we need to be Knights in the true sense of the word; we need to live our calling. Knights of old had a code, they lived for honor within that code – the same is true of us – our code is our faith. It just isn’t good enough, as Knights to go out and do good deeds, even in the name of Christ if within all of our actions we don’t profess our faith.  The reason for our charity isn’t because we want to help people, worthy as that is it isn’t what we are about.  Our reason for our charitable action is because we love Christ, plain and simple, and He would expect nothing less of those who love Him.’  In his first homily as Pope, to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis spoke of this exact message:

we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful non-governmental organization, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Now I have to admit, as you already know – this isn’t an easy task, for to reach this level we need to share in the Cross.  We need to accept the task of carrying this symbol of ultimate love.  To proclaim Christ Jesus, in a true and meaningful way, we must embrace the Cross. Again Pope Francis:

“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, (and I would add our vocations to his list) but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.” and so will we.

This afternoon we start our celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi; the celebration of the Most Sacred Body and Blood of our Lord.  We come together to give thanks for His presence among us, give thanks for His continual gift of His Body and Blood that strengthens us, and of course to proclaim to the world that we have a better way, indeed the only way to true happiness.  As we celebrate and follow the Monstrance through the streets of Bolingbrook lets pray that our actions in following Christ during this procession continue throughout our lives so that we can live the words of Zechariah ‘go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation…’