What’s Up with People?

Today is Sunday.  I didn’t preach this weekend so I don’t have a homily to share, but there are some things on my mind that I’d like to get off my chest.  (How do things get from your mind to your chest??) Anyway, I’m home alone today (more on that later) which is never a good thing because I tend to ruminate over things I can’t control.  So, here’s what’s on my mind today.

There’s a blog called Beauty Beyond Bones that I highly recommend.  It’s written by a young lady who is recovering from anorexia.  Believe me, it’s not easy to go public with a disease which many people consider to be a defect of character.  But Caralyn doesn’t hold anything back and I know her words have helped many people.  She is a devout Catholic and doesn’t mind if anyone knows it.

On Monday she wrote a post about the massacre in Las Vegas.  It was a very thoughtful.  Among other things she wrote:

Instead of calls for prayer and compassion for the victims of the shooting, there is outcry for gun control reform.

Instead of numbers and addresses for blood banks to donate the vital lifeline so desperately needed in Vegas right now, there are email addresses and phone numbers to “flood” our congressmen and women about gun control.

Instead of comforting bible verses or religious images, there are political cartoons, using the pain and tragedy of others to parody and promote their stance on gun violence.

Instead of sorrow, and compassion, and empathy, there’s rage and outcry and defiance.

And it is disgusting.

lynchmob

All in all it was a great post but the response wasn’t what she expected.  Here’s a part of what she wrote on Thursday:

The response, and rather – the backlash – from the post, brought out, some not-so-nicewords, to put it lightly. My faith was questioned. I was told I was cursed by God – and that my singleness, infertility and history with anorexia were all signs of said curse. I was called names that would make a sailor blush. (All of said comments have been removed.)

What is wrong with people?  Obviously, these people are followers of Caralyn’s blog.  They know who she is and what she believes.  Why would they attack her?  That’s not to say that I’ve not been attacked both for this blog and for things I’ve said from the pulpit.  But I’m kind of a curmudgeon.  I expect to make people mad once in a while.  In fact, my Archbishop once told us that if we didn’t get any complaints, we weren’t doing our job.  But this young lady, who’s bared her soul to help others doesn’t deserve that kind of abuse.  I hope she doesn’t take it to heart.  The noisy few don’t outweigh the thousands of people who follow her blog regularly.

Speaking of what’s wrong with people, what’s the deal with these overpaid football players refusing to stand during the National Anthem?  Are they trying to make some kind of point?  What is it?  What do they want?  I just don’t get it.  This country that they seem to dislike so much has given many of them the opportunity to escape poverty, get a free education, and make millions of dollars per year for working(?) just a few months per year.  Maybe this country isn’t so bad after all.

If I could I would boycott their games but the NFL stole our team two years ago and moved them to Los Angeles.  I would boycott their games on TV, but I haven’t watched one minute of pro football since the Rams left.  I guess the only thing I can do is refuse to patronize the companies who sponsor the NFL.  Here’s a list for your consideration.

Finally, I mentioned that my wife isn’t home today.  She’s working.  Apparently her employer hasn’t heard about the Ten Commandments, especially number 4, “remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”  Maybe they should take a hint from Chick-fil-a, Hobby Lobby, or locally Goedeker’s Appliances.

All three of these things just emphasize that our country is drifting away from God and that scares me.  God made America great and God can take us down again.

Please pray for our nation.

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More on Seeing Jesus

monks

I posted yesterday about seeing Jesus not just in the helpless, but also in the helper.  Today God taught me that lesson in a big way.  My blood sugar was very low this morning and I was having some trouble getting around.  The cafeteria lady saw me struggling with my tray and asked me if I needed help.  My first inclination was to say “No thanks.  I can manage.”

Then I remembered Father’s words.  I said that would be great and she carried my tray over to “our” table (Once you claim a table in the dining room it’s yours for the week.)  I thanked her profusely for helping me and the look on her face was priceless.  Among  all the priests, monks, deacons, and even a Bishop in this place this week, I found Jesus working in the cafeteria.  It was a lesson I hope I never forget.

merton

The most famous resident of Gesthemani was Father Thomas Merton, possibly the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th century.  He was famous all over the world and people come here every day just to see where he lived.  A “famous monk” seems like an oxymoron, but that’s what he was.  He died in 1948 and the  Abby is still collecting royalties from his books.  But in the end, a monk is a monk.  Father’s grave is marked with this simple metal cross just like all the other monks.  His reward is in a much better place.

This is the last day of our retreat.  Tomorrow we go back to reality.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading this week and I’ve discovered a lot about God and about myself.  I plan to share some of that in future posts.  Stay tuned.

4 Nights Alone in a Single Bed

retreat bedroom

This week I’m on retreat at Gesthemane Abby in Kentucky.  The Abby is where Thomas Merton lived and you can feel his presence wherever you go here.  The guests live in pretty simple accommodations and eat simple food.  In fact  at dinner (12:30 pm, more on that in a minute) they ran out of meat before I got there.  Sidebar, when I first started coming here 14 years ago they didn’t serve meat so my meal of stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes and salad wasn ‘t all that bad.

So, what’s the deal?  Why drive 322 miles to sit in the woods and read?  The daily schedule goes like this:

3:15 am (yes, am) Vigils, the first prayer of the day.  To be perfectly honest, I used to get up for this, but as the years have gone by, not so much.  This morning I didn’t even try.

5:45 am Lauds.  This is morning prayer.  Most retreatants get up for this.  I’m ashamed to report that today my alarm went off at 5:00, I thought about getting up, and when I looked at the clock again it was 7:00.

Sixish is mass following 5:30 am vespers.  Note that I missed those too.  Breakfast is served after mass at 7:00.  I didn’t miss breakfast.

There are more hours of prayer throughout the day ending with Compline, or night prayer at 7:30 pm.  The prayer routine is broken up by supper at 6:00, following Vespers. Notice that they don’t have lunch here.  They have dinner at 12:30, which is the main meal of the day, and supper at 6:00.  There’s no room for lunch.

Face it, you don’t come here for the gourmet chow.  It’s a place of prayer and reflection and food is served out of necessity.  The rest of the time is spent either in the chapel or someplace engaged in private prayer, reading.  God is definitely present here and you can choose how you want to encounter Him.

retreat library

One thing that’s new this year is wifi in the library.  I will be able to post what’s happening all week.  I expect something significant.  It always happens when I come here.  I have a lot to pray about what with family and friends, parishioners at two churches and an upcoming job change.  I’ll keep my readers in my prayers as well.

I hope to be able to post some pictures this week but at the moment I’m having some technical difficulties so for now, I’m borrowing some pics from the monk’s website.

retreat abby

 

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

I have recently been advised of a change in my assignment.  I wasn’t really prepared to announce it so soon, but the information has leaked out so I felt like it was prudent to talk about it today.  Have a happy and safe holiday weekend and please pray for the people of Texas and Louisiana….also the folks in the Pacific Northwest who could use some of that water to put out the wildfires.

In spite of what you may have heard from Three Dog Night, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog.  Jeremiah was a prophet who lived around 650 BC and this isn’t one of his best days.  He’s ticked off at the Lord and he tells Him so.  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”  Strong words, especially when they’re directed at the Almighty.  But things aren’t going well for him.

 

He’s accepted the position of prophet, but when he speaks, people make fun of him.  Believe me, that’s no fun. Jeremiah is fed up and says he’ll never speak of the Lord again.  But “it becomes like a fire burning in (his) heart….(He) grows weary holding it in.  (He) cannot endure it. So he continues to speak and he’s persecuted, sent into exile in Egypt, and eventually killed by his own countrymen.

 

700 years later, we find Paul writing a letter to the Romans.  He’s giving them a warning.  “Do not conform yourselves to this age.”  He tells them that if they do conform to the age they won’t be able to discern the will of God.  Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?  The world of the Romans in the years after Jesus death and resurrection isn’t really Christian-friendly.  Paul’s telling them that they must be in the world, but not of the world. The situation that you and I face today as Catholic Christians isn’t all that different from Paul’s world over 2,000 years ago.

 

We Christians have always been kind of a counter-cultural bunch.  Living the words of Christ has never been easy, which is exactly as He told us it would be.

 

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  There’s really nothing ambiguous about that.  It’s all right there.  There are no loopholes, no exceptions.  So why doesn’t everyone do what He says.  Remember, in John’s Gospel Jesus tells us that we’re His friends if we do what He tells us.

 

Here’s what we know:

  1. Jesus is the Son of God.
  2. He gave us some very simple rules to live by; basically love one another, keep the 10 Commandments, do unto others as we would have them do unto us, take up our cross and follow Him.
  3. If we do what He says, we’ll go to heaven and, inversely, if we don’t do what He says, we’ll go to hell.
  4. He created a Church and gave the Apostles and their successors the power to speak for Him.  Remember, “whoever hears you hears me”.  He put Peter and his successors in charge of His Church and promised that “the gates of hell” wouldn’t prevail against it.

 

That’s it!  That’s all we really need to know.  Frankly I don’t understand why so many people don’t get it.  Sometimes I feel like Jeremiah.  Preaching the Gospel isn’t always popular.  Some people just don’t want to face facts.  But I can’t not do this!  Like the man said, “I grow weary holding it in.”  I hope you feel the same way.  As we leave here today, let’s remember what Jeremiah, Saint Paul, and Jesus are saying to us.

 

Don’t hold in the fire.  Let it out. Share the good news in spite of the personal consequences.  There are a lot of people who don’t want to hear about Jesus, and they sure don’t want to hear that they might be going to hell. They want to maintain this fantasy that they can do whatever they want and there won’t be any consequences.  But are we doing them a favor by not correcting them?  If you saw someone about to step off the edge of a cliff, wouldn’t you yell “stop”?

 

Don’t conform yourself to this age.  There are powerful forces surrounding us every day that want to push us down the wrong path.  Don’t let them win.  Like they used to say in the ‘60s, “keep the faith, baby”.  Truth doesn’t change.  What was true 2,000 years ago is true today.

 

And, finally, think as God thinks, not as humans think.  Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.  He will come back.  There will be a judgment.  He will repay each of us according to our conduct.  That’s a promise from the Son of God Himself.

[pause]

 

Twenty years ago, in 1997, God called me to become a deacon in His Church. I didn’t understand it (still don’t) and I fought it for a while. But God put me in a position where I was able to spend a couple of hours with a deacon who I knew and trusted. He told me to go for it. So, I enrolled in deaconate formation.

 

After five years of study I was ordained in 2002, fifteen years ago, still not completely sure I was doing the right thing. But like Jeramaih, I couldn’t not do this. The path was very clear, I was assigned to Saint Bernadette parish, my home parish since 1975. It was a very natural progression but the Gospel is very true when it says “the prophet is not without honor except in his own town.”

 

 

Fortunately I was blessed to have a great pastor who helped me make the transition from lay parishioner to ordained minister. I was very blessed. During that time I was also a pastoral care volunteer at first Saint Joseph Hospital then at Saint Clare. I was also working a full-time secular job until I retired in 2009

 

Then in 2010 things got a little more complicated. The Archbishop called me to a new assignment, Director of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel. I would be the first deacon in Saint Louis to take over a church without a pastor. My retirement didn’t last long.

 

I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t a boost to my ego. Something new. I’d be a pioneer. No one had ever had this job before. I said I’d give it a try for three years. That was seven years ago.

 

I kept my ties with Saint Bernadette doing weekly communion services and assisting with funerals.

 

Now the pastor at Bernadette is having some serious health issues. He’s very limited in what he can do. It’s especially hard for him to say mass. He needs help. So, I’ve decided to give up this assignment and go back to Saint Bernadette. My health isn’t that great either and frankly I’m ready to go back to just being a regular deacon with no administrative responsibilities.

 

Fortunately there’s another deacon in the Archdiocese who is looking for more to do. Deacon Joe Iovanna will be joining us here at Saint John’s on September 18. He will serve as Assistant Director, learning the job. When his training is complete he will take over as Director, some time before the end of the year.

 

I will gradually transition back to Saint Bernadette during that time. I hope you will welcome Deacon Joe into the community and be patient with both of us as we make this change. I’ve known Joe for a long time and I’m sure you will like him.

 

Something’s Gotta Give

Beauty Beyond Bones is a blog written by a young woman named Caralyn who is recovering from anorexia.  Her posts are always inspirational and uplifting, especially if someone you love is a victim of this terrible disease.  Her most recent post is called Something’s Gotta Give and I encourage you to read it right now.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time paraphrasing what she said because I couldn’t possibly say it better than she did.  Just read it and I know you’ll be as impressed with her work as I am.

Also be aware that Caralyn has a Youtube channel with videos that are also worth your time.  Let’s support this courageous young lady who loves God and doesn’t care who knows it.

(Besides, she follows DeaconCast, so she’s obviously highly intelligent.)  You can also follow her on all the various social media.  There are links on her blog.

Lent—How Did You Do?

We’re just about to the end of Lent.  (It ends tomorrow evening).  So how did you do?  Have you successfully given up something for the entire 40 days?  Have you done something extra every day?  Or are you a fallible human being?

Personally, I’ve been more successful in the “giving up” than in the “doing extra”.  The things I decided to give up for Lent are mostly still gone.  But I’ve fallen short, sometimes very short in the things I thought I would be able to add.  This blog is a perfect example.  My plan was to post something each day.  I started pretty well, but as you can see, my last post was March 24.  EPIC LENT FAIL!  Not only was it an epic fail, it was a very public fail.

Other things, like my plan to focus more on my prayer life, may be failures, but at least no one knows but me (and God).

The 12 Step programs have a slogan, “progress, not perfection”.  Isn’t that what being a Catholic is all about.  We may strive for perfection, but we know that progress is the most we can hope for.  The writer Matthew Kelly prays that God will make him the best version of himself.  It’s a great prayer.  If we ask God to make us better, He will.  If we ask Him to make us perfect, we’re going to be disappointed.

Thomas Merton wrote “I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you.” (Thoughts in Solitude).  Progress, not perfection.

I don’t think we can rate ourselves when it comes to Lent.  We’re all humans.  All God wants from us is our best.  Our best isn’t the same as someone else’s best.  If we’ve done all we can then He can’t ask for anything more.  If you’re a better version of yourself than you were on Ash Wednesday, you’ve had a successful Lent.

I hope you’ve had a great Lent and that you’ll have a great Easter.

 

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.”