From today’s Gospel:

“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”

That seems to be pretty clear.  The greatest commandment is to love God and the second-greatest is to love your neighbor.  So, why do we have such a hard time with this?  I wish I had a really great answer.  But people way smarter than I am have been trying to answer this question for centuries.

Clearly Jesus made an impression when He gave this answer to the scribe.  The passage ends:

And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

For once He was able to shut down His critics.  As we know they will be back, but on this day Jesus had the last word.

The Feast of Saint Joseph

In my mostly Irish/American world, the feast of Saint Joseph has a tendency to get short shrift.  After all, we’ve just celebrated the feast of the patron saint of the Emerald Isle with all the associated parties and parades and corned beef and cabbage, so a feast day with little pomp and circumstance, even if it is for the man who raised Jesus, can seem a little bland.  Back in my younger days I might have even still been hung over on this particular feast day and not in the mood for additional celebration.

But, let’s face it, if not for Saint Joseph and his very critical place in salvation history there might not have been a Saint Patrick or a Holy Roman Catholic Church.  Much is made, and deservedly so, of Mary’s “yes” to the angel.  But if the Old Testament prophesy was to be fulfilled, Jesus earthly father had to be from the House of David.  And that meant Joseph.

It was very hard for Mary to take the word of the angel seriously.  “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?”  But what about the story that Joseph had to accept?  Seriously, guys, would you be so willing to buy what Mary and the angel were selling if you were in Joseph’s place?  Don’t be so sure.

 

So today, on this 20th of March, the first day of Spring, let us give Joseph all the honor and glory he deserves.  He’s a role model for fathers everywhere.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Third Sunday of Lent

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about Matthew Kelly’s book,  Resisting Happiness.  If you haven’t read it the title seems a little ridiculous. Who would resist happiness?

 

The answer is that we all do, maybe not consciously, but it’s in our human nature to resist real, true happiness and most of us do it all the time. True happiness, the kind Kelly writes about, is found with God. It’s what we’re all after. But how many times have we put off reading the Bible to watch a ball game? How many times have we skipped mass because we have “something better” to do? How many small things that we could do to help others are pushed aside in favor of something that may seem important but doesn’t lead to real happiness.

 

Two weeks ago Jan and I were in Huntsville, AL. We went to mass at Saint Mary Church of the Visitation. It’s a pretty little church and like Saint John’s it’s on the edge of downtown so it draws a fairly diverse congregation. Ironically, the pastor is Father William Kelly. Since Matthew Kelly is Australian and Father Kelly is definitely American, I don’t think they’re related.

 

But Father Kelly is an excellent preacher and I have been known to borrow something from him from time to time.

 

Two weeks ago the theme of his homily was “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” This is very much in line with Resisting Happiness. I felt like God was speaking to me and I had to share the message with you. Then I looked at today’s first reading.

 

Moses was leading his people out of Egypt and all they did was complain. They thought he was taking them into the desert to die. He was leading them to the Promised Land and they just wanted to whine. Look at the third strophe of today’s Responsorial Psalm, God says, “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted me.” Meribah and Massah are the scene of the first reading.

 

But how often do we act just like Moses’ people? God has given us everything but still we complain. We don’t have enough stuff! “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.”

 

Jesus covers this pretty well in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” Jesus calls himself a gift, and that’s what He is. God gave us the gift of His Son. That’s so far beyond our understanding that I have a hard time thinking about it, let alone explaining it to others. Who would do that??? Who would give up His only Son to save someone else? But that’s what He did, whether we can understand it or not.

 

All we have to do is show our gratitude, worship God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God knows that we’re weak creatures who may try to be good Christians, but how often do we fail? “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” Easy to say but hard to do.

 

Fortunately for us, God understands us better than we understand Him. He knows how often we fail. In the Lord’s prayer we ask Him to forgive us our trespasses. That’s our faith and our hope. No matter how many times we come up short, He’s always there, waiting for us to come back to Him and ask Him for forgiveness.

 

Hopefully we’ve all chosen a penance for Lent. Maybe we’re giving up something. Maybe we’re doing something extra. Maybe you’re watching Matthew Kelly’s daily videos. Today is day 18. No matter what we’re doing, forty days is a long time. Chances are we’re going to slip up. The good news is that in our failing we see our flawed human nature and know that we have a forgiving Father to hold us and comfort us and to let us know that it’s ok.

 

We all sin, even though we know that it might keep us from going to heaven, which is for all eternity. At the time the temporary pleasure that may be sinful gives us immediate happiness. That’s when we get in trouble.

 

During this Holy season of Lent, remember, “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.”

 

 

It’s Paddy! Not Patty!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone.  This post really has nothing to do with Lent but it’s a good day to show off my Irishness.

First, like the title says, today is NOT Saint Patty’s Day.  Patty is the familiar form of the female name Patricia.  The male form, at least in Ireland, is Padraig.  And the short form of Padraig is Paddy.

If you doubt the truth of this bit of history, in New York City the Paddy Wagon used to go around picking up our drunken ancestors.  They were called Paddy so the horse-drawn police vehicle was called a Paddy Wagon.  For more on the name Padraig, check this article on Wikipedia including a list of famous Paddys.paddy-irish-whiskey-40-07-l-puszka

Currently the most famous Padraig is Padraig Harrington, the Irish golfer.

Need more proof?  Paddy is a very popular whiskey in Ireland.  It’s Paddy, not Patty.

paddypowerLast, but not least, off-track betting is legal on the Emerald Isle, and the biggest legal bookie in the land is a company called Paddy Power.  They’re huge and have betting parlors all over the country and in Great Britain.

As much as we hate to admit it, Saint Patrick (Padraig) wasn’t Irish at all.  He was born in England and kidnapped by pirates who held him in Ireland.  He escaped but returned later to bring Christianity to the country.  Today he is the patron saint of the Irish (and those who wish they were Irish) and his feast day is celebrated all over the world.  How important was he?  Even today many bishops dispense their subjects from abstaining from meat today.

So, if you live in a diocgreen chicago riverese where it’s permitted, enjoy your corned beef and cabbage (something the Irish never eat), drink your green beer, and dance a jig or two, but keep in mind that is is a feast day for one of the most revered saints in history.  (FYI, there never were any snakes in Ireland).

Catholic Couple–non-Catholic Wedding

From a reader… QUAERITUR: My son and fiancee are Catholics and considering having a non-priest perform the ceremony in the Outer Banks, NC. We have two family members saying that as Catholics, they can’t attend the wedding because it is outside of the church. Is there some rule that is keeping them from attending the wedding? Once again we…

via ASK FATHER: Wedding of Catholics with a non-priest out in Mother Nature — Fr. Z’s Blog

Here’s a post from Father Z’s blog that should  be read by every Catholic contemplating marriage.  It covers a particular scenario, but the principals apply to all marriages.  For some reason, otherwise reasonable Catholics seem to want to throw their faith out the window when it comes to marriage.

It’s a short post.  Check it out.

Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?

Yesterday I shared a post on Facebook called Meet the 50 Richest Pastors in the World.   The post listed most of the preachers you’ve heard of, especially the ones who preach the s0-called “prosperity gospel”.  In essence these guys (and gals) treat Jesus like Santa Clause.  “Love Jesus, and prove it by sending me money” and you’ll enjoy financial success.

Many of these rich pastors live in other countries.  Number one is a Brazilian.  But number two is all-American Pat Robertson, host of the TV show The 700 Club.  Number three on the list, at a net worth of $250 million is none other than George Forman, the former boxer and grill guy.  Obviously the definition of “pastor” on this list is pretty lose.

I won’t boor you with the entire list.  You can check it out for yourself.  I will say that the list is in reverse order so, if you want to cut right to the chase, start with this link and work backwards.  In other words, http://standardnews.com/meet-richest-pastors-world/50 will take you to number one on the list.  Replace the number “50”with “49” and you’ll see number 2, etc.  Or just click the “previous” button.

 

The reason I bring this up today is that I was listening to the comedy channel on my satellite radio today and I heard the song “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?”  Maybe it’s just a coincidence but I really don’t believe in coincidences so maybe it’s a sign during Lent.  Watch the Ray Stevens video below.  I think you’ll get a kick out of it.  After all, we are allowed to have some fun during Lent.

 

 

Here’s an interesting sidebar.  Everyone associates this song with Ray Stevens but it was actually written by Chet Atkins.

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Help us this Lenten season to listen more frequently to your word, that we may celebrate the solemnity of Easter with greater love for Christ, our paschal sacrifice.

This is one of the petitions from this morning’s Liturgy of the Hours.  While it’s a short prayer, it certainly gives a lot to think (and pray) about.

Whatever our Lenten penance, we don’t do it just for the sake of doing it.  Even the traditional  “giving up chocolate for Lent” is supposed to remind us each time we crave chocolate that we are preparing ourselves for Christ’s death and resurrection.  In praying for God’s help to listen more frequently to His word, we aren’t just doing penance.  We are actually preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter with greater love.

There is no shortage of God’s word, especially during Lent.  You don’t have to devote long hours to reading scripture or to sitting in church.  In fact (and this is just my opinion) I believe frequent, short exposure to His word may be much more effective.

Thanks for coming to our blog and have a blessed Lent.

From the 6th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Why is this so hard  for so many of us (m0st of us?  all of us?)   It ain’t rocket science.  It ain’t brain surgery.  You don’t even have to stay at a Holiday Inn Express to understand it.

Do yourself a favor.  Find a quiet place and spend ten minutes meditating on these words.  I promise it will change your attitude toward life.  Then, make yourself  repeat this process every day for the remainder of Lent.  I promise it will make you a new person.

Twelve Steps

I yesterday’s post I promised I would say more today about God’s ability to answer our prayers that seem counter to what we expect.  The best example I know of is the famous Twelve Step Program of the various anonymous groups; Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and others.

These programs all have twelve steps and the steps must be done in order for the person to be successful.  Millions of people have been cured of their addictions through following the twelve steps.

These are spiritual programs though they are not religious programs.  However, anyone who has been a Catholic for any length of time will recognize our Catholic ideas throughout.

The first three streps of the twelve go like this (from the book Alcoholics Anonymous):

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Notice that you don’t get very far before you are asked to turn your life and will over to God.  Accommodation is made to the agnostic and the atheist by the words “as we understood him”.  God is referred to as a “higher power.”

God will be referred to frequently but the word “alcohol” is only mentioned in Step 1.   The rest of the steps involve “cleaning up our act” or learning to live a better life including step twelve which calls on the recovering alcoholic (addict, overeater) to help others.

That’s the real key to the whole thing.  By helping others the addict helps himself (of herself).

I don’t have space here to give you an in-depth examination of the twelve steps but I think, since this is a Catholic blog, that it’s worth mentioning steps 4 and 5.

4.  Made a searching and fearless moral and financial inventory of ourselves.
5.   Admitted to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Sounds a lot like examination of conscience and confession, doesn’t it.  I’m just sayin’.

 

Unanswered Prayers

“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

This passage, from Matthew’s Gospel is a familiar one.  It gives us hope that God will answer our prayers.  But isn’t it true that we don’t always get what we ask for, or conversely that sometimes we get something we don’t want?  Doesn’t God often work in strange ways?  Isn’t our belief in God’s knowing more about we need than we do called “faith”?

One of the big events and fund-raisers at my church is our “world-famous” goulash festival.  It happens the first Sunday in November.  I always stress out over it because so many things have to happen correctly for it to be a success and I have to admit that I can be a micr0-manager.

But last year (2016) I had surgery on November 1 and I had very little to do with planning the festival.  On the big day I was flat on my back and nowhere near the church.  Guess what?  The 2016 Goulash Festival was the most successful one in years!  Being forced to delegate everything led to an amazing act of teamwork by everyone involved and an important lesson for me.

Saint John Nepomuk Church was founded in 1854, more than 162 years ago.  I’ve  been there for just over six years.   In other words, for more than 156 years the place ran just fine without me and, God willing it will continue long after I’m gone.

The cemetery is full of people who thought they were indispensable.  Surprise!  They weren’t.  Life goes on.  As Garth Brooks said, “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.  Leave things up to Him (God, not Garth).  He knows what He’s doing.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the greatest example of this I know of.