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.

The Lord’s Prayer

Today’s Gospel reading may well be one of the most significant passages in all of Scripture.  Jesus tells His disciples how to pray.

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Then He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.

When you talk to God, don’t babble.  Too often we treat God like Santa Claus.  Give me this! Give me that!  Give me patience, Lord!  DO IT NOW!

The Lord’s Prayer can be dangerous in that we ask Him to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, but Jesus tells the Disciples this.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

If you’re not ready to forgive then maybe you shouldn’t ask God to treat you the same way.  I’m just sayin…….

Sackcloth and Ashes

You think you’ve got it tough, look at what the king of Nineveh said to his subjects in today’s first reading.

He rose from his throne, laid aside his robe,
covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.
Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh,
by decree of the king and his nobles:
“Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep,
shall taste anything;
they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water.
Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God;
every man shall turn from his evil way
and from the violence he has in hand.

Not just the people had to fast, but even the cows and sheep had to do penance.  “Sackcloth and ashes for everybody!”  The people weren’t just forbidden to eat,  they couldn’t even have a drink of water.

Today we’ve “dumbed down” fasting to where a lot of people would have to eat MORE to meet the requirements.

I think the point is that fasting is a state of mind.  Where people in Biblical times had to be told what to do, hopefully here in the modern world we’re a little more mature.  There’s quite a difference between eating one normal meal and two smaller meals and having no food and water at all.

Maybe your sins are so severe that you need the old-fashioned fast to cleanse your soul.  If you feel the need to head out into the desert, then we’ll see you on Easter. Hopefully you’re in a little more of a state of grace and just need a gentle reminder.  I hope so.

Have a blessed and holy Lent!

 

The Ten Commandments

For centuries there was no debate about the Ten Commandments.  Moses brought them down from the mountain and everyone took them to heart.  “Thou shalt not kill.”  “Thou shalt not steal.”  Nothing controversial about that.

But here in the twenty first century, things are different.  Misguided people have found problems with God’s commandments.  First you have those who don’t believe that killing an unborn child is wrong.  They call their stand “pro choice” and say that it’s about women’s health care.

I’ll say this.  Thou shalt not kill also applies to capital punishment and I’m against that too.  But, at least I can understand why someone would think it’s ok to execute a convicted murderer.  I don’t agree, but I can understand the reasoning.  But how anyone could possibly think it’s ok to murder an innocent, unborn baby is beyond my comprehension.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  Anyone who would like to try to explain it to me, take your best shot.

Then we have the issue of atheists who believe the Ten Commandments are religious and so have no place in the public square.  Again, an argument I can’t comprehend.  A murdered atheist is just as dead as a murdered Christian.  In fact, in our belief system even more so.  Why is being opposed to murder or stealing or any of the other eight commandments a religious principle that violates anyone’s rights?

Every society, whether they’ve even heard of Moses, has some sort of moral code that looks an awful lot like the Ten Commandments.  They may be codified in the Bible, but they’re not religious.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Yay, it’s Friday!  Not the ordinary TGIF type of Friday, but the first day of Catholic fish fry season.  Where I live, in Saint Louis, MO, you can’t throw a rock during Lent without hitting a great fish fry, and we take advantage of as many of them as possible.  You get a great meal and you help your local parish.

I am traveling today and was surprised to see that Catholic fish fries apparently aren’t a universal phenomenon.  I guess other places aren’t as into fried fish as we are in the Gateway City.  That’s too bad.

As I wrote in a series of posts called 40 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic, way back in 2012, reason number 35 was Catholic fish fries.  I wrote back then,

“When the Church said we couldn’t eat meat on Friday the parish fish fry was born.  When it was decided that we only had to abstain on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent, we turned it into an art form.”

So, do yourself a favor today and instead of settling for a Filet O’Fish, head for your local parish and enjoy the real thing.