Ode to a Mother

I am a convert to Catholicism; born and baptized in the Methodist Church but lived a life as a suburban secularist – God just wasn’t important. But, as I was trying to understand better why the Catholic church was an anathema to the human race I began to realize the great lie of secularists.  The only way that God wasn’t important is if you ignored Him.  He was and is there, He was and is in love with me.  He was and is who always makes me more human. This process of coming to terms with, and growing in the real truth was my road home to Catholicism.

That road was paved with great people and great words.  I owe my understanding of the faith to, primarily, the writings of Pope St. John Paul the great, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger among others.  The authors of my conversion were the great points of clarity.  But as great as they were (and are) they are points in time.  I step back from life to read and understand.  But as Peter, James and John had to come down from Mt. Tabor I needed to put the books and papers down and go back into my life. This connection, this taking the truths and using them in my life was helped by another – a little nun in Northern Alabama.  Mother Angelica’s EWTN was the connection between these great writers and leaders and living a life in society.  Her enthusiasm for our God radiated through her television station and deep into my soul.  Through her and the programming of EWTN, I found that life could be lived within the faith joyfully. I came to know that my life lived in Christ didn’t mean a life of repression and boredom but a life of true freedom and vigor. The great truths of our faith didn’t hinder me but gave me fullness.  And of course, her ministry showed me that entertainment could be more than mind numbing titillation that left you empty and hungry, it could be life altering and empowering.

Thank you Lord for the gift of Mother Angelica from the very first years of my conversion and for her EWTN legacy.  May I, in some small way, pass forward what she and her community gave to this former ‘suburban secularist’ – a life in Christ.

Requiescat in pace Mother Angelica

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Art of Love

As I opened my Breviary this morning I realized that this was a sort of special Good Friday (as if Good Friday wasn’t special enough). Today, is March 25th, and if it wasn’t Holy Week we would be celebrating the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the feast of the incarnation of our Lord. As I reflected on the import of the symbolism that the day of His death is being celebrated on the day of His conception it brought me back to the early representations of the manger scene.  In those paintings and other artworks[1] you could see Jesus in the swaddling bands that also were used in death.

Here is a powerful lesson in just what our Lord came to do.  He had a mission and that mission is each of us. But I fear that this understanding and appreciation of what God did for us and what we mean to Him has been faded in the past 100 years.  Does our Lord’s passion impact us as it should? And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me’ first and foremost.

I pray that this year I can open myself up to the greatest act of love ever. I pray that this year I can allow the grief of what I did to our God to bring the sting it should; and the overwhelming wave of unworthiness and joy explode in my heart for His 33 year act of love for me.

I wish the same for each of us.

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

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[1] Such as:
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial, 1308-11 by Duccio
Nativity by Jacopo Torriti
Nativity Scene Fresco (1310) by Giotto Di Bondone
Stained Glass at St. Denis Basilica in Paris (ca 1100s)
Madonna and Child (1319) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Will and Testament

A little over a month ago Ron was called home to our Father’s house and we lost a valuable friend and knight.  I was not surprised by the participation that occurred during his visitation and funeral.  His life was filled with works for the church; and his giving of his time and talent to help others help others was a tremendous blessing to all who knew him. Ron’s life was centered around our Lord. Ron’s life was dedicated to serving God who loved him.

It got me thinking about what he has left us; which then got me thinking about what is the most important thing in our lives.

When each of us follow Ron and hopefully go to the Father’s house, we will leave a will and testament to our family and/or friends.  Some of us, those who write an actual will, leave two of them. The testament I am referring to here however is a testament, a gift, of the most important thing in our lives. Hopefully, it is the same for each of us – our faith.  Pope Francis in a February 4th homily spoke of this when he said. ‘When a testament is made people dispense: ’I leave this to him, I leave that to another’ but the most beautiful legacy that a man or a women can leave to their children is faith[1] He finishes the homily by telling us to ask of God two things. The first is not to fear our final passage and the second is ‘that, with our lives, we may all leave faith as the greatest legacy: faith in this faithful God, this God who is always at our side, this God who is Father and never disappoints.[2] I think it is important to note that this homily was given the day of Ron’s wake.

As men the most important thing for us to accomplish is passing to our children and friends a witness of faith – true and strong faith. Our lives should be remembered so that those thinking of us can’t think of us and our faith separately – we are one and the same. Our faith shouldn’t be something that we turn on and turn off – it should be constant. Our faith should be what drives our hearts and minds – so that what we say and do, at all times, is an outpouring of our relationship with God.  St. John the Baptist said: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’[3] That statement is the result of someone who lives his faith.

I would like to share with you part of a spiritual testament written in 1270 (746 years ago) by French king Louis IX to his son. It is a great example of how we should live our lives; and, of course, what we need to pass on to our children.

My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.

If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it. If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts.

Listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion. As long as you are in church, be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words, but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.

Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can. Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater. Be just to your subjects, swaying neither to right nor left, but holding the line of justice. Always side with the poor rather that with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. See that all your subjects live in justice and peace, but especially those who have ecclesiastical rank and who belong to religious orders.

Be devout and obedient to our mother the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies.

In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly. Amen.[4]

Brothers, let’s not waste the passing of Ron with just fond memories and wishes. Let’s embrace the faith that he lived his life in and make it our own.  Let’s use this sad moment as a time to reevaluate our own faith life, especially our inner most relationship with Christ and move forward with a better one. Let’s build a life with God in the center so that by our lives we can do as St. Louis did for his son. We don’t need to write this testament out St. Louis did – we just need to live it; our children and friends will understand.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, and to us: ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[5] Can we say the same? Can we pass on a legacy like St. Paul’s?

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[1] Pope Francis – Homily from February 4 2016 L’Osservatore Romano English edition 2/12/16
[2] ibid
[3] John 3:30 (RSV)
[4] Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, 2nd reading for August 25, from a spiritual testament to his son by Saint Louis.
[5] Galatians 2:20 (RSV)

Change

This week I have been struck by the celebration of the New Year; how the world celebrates this passing of time and what it means. When we have the idea of change and make resolutions to affect them; when we put the past behind us and look for a new start. But just where are we looking? Where do we expect these life altering events to come from? From the New Year?

Then there is our Christmas celebration of the past two weeks, especially today. In a very real way the Gospel reading for the Solemnity of the Epiphany[1] shows us an alternative to the New Year’s resolutions. Today’s reading shows that with the encounter with our Lord our lives can change, and if we allow it, for the better.

But, the operative phrase here is ‘if we allow it’. We have the final say.

It is much easier to throw ourselves into the hope of the New Year – it is inanimate. It doesn’t judge, it doesn’t react. The New Year doesn’t change us, we try to change ourselves. When our resolutions for change fail nothing happens; times goes on and so do we.

But, an encounter with the Lord, with the person who is God, is different. At first it might seem much more intimidating.

  • First, we are opening ourselves up to ‘a someone’; and this someone is holding us accountable; He desires our best and laments at our shortcomings. He loves us and we love Him, and as we all know, the pain of letting a loved-one down is a great pain.
  • Second, this encounter with Jesus does change us, it demands a newness to our actions and lives; which means it demands real effort.

But this encounter with Jesus is much more than a meeting where we set goals with an observer; it is a conversion, a retooling. Christ brings to this encounter more than just aloof and obdurate observation. He brings love and with it, help. As with the celebration of the New Year we bring to Christ our baggage from the past, but we bring more to Christ; we bring the gifts that He gave us as well. When we allow this encounter to enter our souls Christ takes our experiences, our baggage, and our gifts and uses them in ways that we could never have thought of. He remolds us into a healthier person. His presence calms the hurts and failures of the past – places them in the perspective of the future, indeed eternity. His use of our gifts isn’t surprising since He gave us these gifts and with this encounter He is guiding them to be used as He intended.

The issue is whether we have the strength and desire to allow ourselves to be changed, allow ourselves to be pointed in a new and unknown direction. Do we have the faith to be led? Our part in this encounter is to place our doubts and fears aside and follow without reserve; which leads to using our talents and gifts in ways that cause change in our seemingly comfortable and protected lives. Following someone blindly, trusting, is not easy. Our life experiences with this type of trust give us valid cause for concern; but this is different, He is God not just another person. This is why the psalmist can proclaim:

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever;[2]

Brothers and sisters, we are celebrating the New Year, and the world, in varying degrees, looks hopefully to the future for a better life. They make plans to change, to turn away from the old and travel the new.

Today’s feast celebrates the same; only more powerful and more dependable. But we are not basing this on the passing of one second to another, we are basing it on an encounter with a person. Someone who is real, who has help for us. Someone, who walks with us, who has given us His bride to be our strength when we are weak, our teacher when we are confused, our guide when we are lost.

In the old standard ‘Auld Lang Syne’, sung at midnight of New Year day, we ask wistfully: ‘Should old acquaintances be forgotten, and never brought to mind?’ Then there is the book of Revelation: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.[3]

Where do we look for a better future? Where do we get our strength for change? Where is our hope from?

Passing time? Or our constant and eternal friend?’

Come Lord Jesus![4]
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[1] Mt 2:1-12
[2] Psalm 146: 3-6 (RSV)
[3] Rev 1:8 (RSV)
[4] Rev 22:20b (RSV)

Hope

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, might be the most celebrated event in the world. All around the world, regardless of religion, culture, race the people wait for midnight and the new year. There is a palpable atmosphere of hope with this celebration. The old year is passing and the future is very noticeable. No matter what the old year held there is always the promise of the new.

Of course, this evening Catholics start the last day of the octave of Christmas.  The eight day of the celebration of the birth of He who is Hope – Christ. We Catholics are, or should be, a hopeful people regardless of what is swirling around us. We are bolstered by the fact of what we are celebrating – God came among us. He came to us, to lift us up. He will never leave us alone; that is what our hope is built upon.

As we travel these last hours of this year, ready to welcome the promise of the next, Holy Mother Church, in her Vigil Vespers, prays two great ‘hymns’; the ‘Te Deum’ and this great ‘canticle’ of hope from Ephesians[1]; let’s make this our prayer as well:

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

even as he chose us in him
before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy
and blameless before him.

He destined us in love
to be his sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of his grace
which he lavished upon us.

For he has made known to us
in all wisdom and insight
the mystery of his will,
according to his purpose

which he set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.

As we pray this canticle let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the deliverer of Hope, who we celebrate tomorrow as Mother of God, to pray for us to her Son.

Happy New Year !
Ad multos annos!
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[1] Ephesians 1:3-10

Centrality of Family Prayer (Lesson from the Holy Family)

This evening, we gather in community, in family, to offer prayer to God. But not only us; this day around the world the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Holy Family is being raised to He who is our Father through He who is our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit. The faithful of the world gather as family to praise and honor He who made us.

We are all different, each of us have our own history, each of us have our own personalities, attributes and thoughts, we are all different; but each of us are together in prayer. We are family not only because we share the same Creator but also because of our love for God and our shared common experience of this dialog, of prayer, with our Father (of which the Mass is the source and summit). Moreover, we have come to this community not by ourselves; someone or some people showed us the way. This is what a family does; those in our family who have come before us teach us, we take their lessons and blend it with what we have experienced then pass it forward to those coming after us. That is how important family is – it perpetuates wisdom – it passes on love.

The seeming dissolving of the definition of family by radical ideological groups is more a result than a cause. When mankind loses the importance of the centrality of faith in our lives then we start to spin away from each other. When God isn’t at the center of our lives the essential gravity to revolve in unison and to move in harmony is lost; families become whatever we want them to be – love and wisdom become lacking and ephemeral. This affects us all, but it affects the children the most who aren’t given the chance to grow a dialog with God as we were. Maybe, in the New Evangelization, the most important use of our time and talents is to witness to the importance of prayer, especially communal prayer; reinvigorating the dialog of family to our Father and each other.

Because I don’t think I can adequately convey this issue I will finish with a powerful paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2011:

The Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family.” [1]

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience, ‘Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth’, 28 December 2011.

Light and Healing

Throughout the year, indeed our lives, we have felt the effects of loved lost. By betrayal, by distance and most intensely by death, our lives have felt pain – the pain of loss.  It is intense, it is real and though when it is fresh and acute we can’t see it; later we have the chance to try and come to terms with the fact that it is part of love. The pain would not be so great if love wasn’t involved. However, the only way to not feel this pain is to never love – that is numbness and a life wasted. But, why would God do this to us? Why would God allow love to have pain? I have no wise and comforting answer, I can’t really understand it either.

But, tonight, from within our hearts we look down upon Love incarnate. We look upon Love Himself born a babe. Tonight, if we allow it; we can, to some degree, understand what love means. Tonight, if we allow it, love will spread throughout our worn and tired bodies. Tonight, if we allow it, love can radiate from us into this darkened world. Tonight, if we allow it, we can be refreshed and confident that love, in spite of the pain that can accompany it, is the best of all emotions.

Brothers and sisters, especially those in the clutches of the pain of loved lost – take heart – Love has come to heal. Feel the warmth of His light; then spread the light of love throughout our lives and to those we meet. It might seem that the little light that we can radiate gets absorbed into the darkness with no effect but that is not true; the world is a little brighter, imperceptible to us, but brighter anyway. With every display of love, the darkness gets that much lighter – darkness can’t remain – dawn comes!!

Love is here, the question is; will we allow it (Him) to heal us? Allow Him! We owe it to ourselves, to those around us, to the world, and especially to He who loved us first.

Don’t try and embrace the darkness – dawn is here!!

Merry Christmas!