Monday, July 16, 2012

4th of July Redux or Fortnight for Freedom for ALL...

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
-Declaration of Independence, July 4th 1776

These simple phrases, penned over 235 years ago created our nation. The people of the United States of America, (before it was the United States of America, of course) were pushed to revolution because they were being denied freedoms which, they stated, were endowed upon us by God. Now I will readily admit that the Americans of that day were a little off track when it came to protecting God-given freedoms. We were a nation that still supported slavery, even by some of the men who wrote those words. A wrong that would not be addressed for almost another hundred years, and the residue of which, still affects us to this day.

I thought of those words a while ago, while I was listening to a radio show about the Transportation Safety Administration's pat-down of an 18 month old child (that story was replaced the next week by the pat down of a 95 year old leukemia patient) and a gentleman called in and pointed out that we were in trouble as a nation when we move away from the concept that these rights are 'endowed by our Creator', because we no longer think that people are entitled to those rights objectively. To be honest, at first blush, I thought the guy sounded a little crazy. The more I thought about it, however, I realized that although his tone was a little wacky, his idea was a pretty sound one. He ended the call by saying that in the end, we would only keep the rights we fought for, because if we didn't fight for them, then why do we deserve them?

Interestingly, the two 'victims' of the TSA are a perfect example of the flaw in this system. You see, when we only support the rights of those who can fight for them, we limit the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to those who are strong enough, or powerful enough to defend their own rights. And those who are fighting, better have a good reason why their freedoms benefit everyone else, because you cannot fight without any ammunition (figuratively speaking, of course). In short, we descend into a utilitarian society. "Why should the state allow you to do what you want to do? What can you offer?" The judgment is then up to the subjective will of, well....... who? I guess that is the question. When we lose sight of the fact that these rights are given to us by our Creator, we leave the decision up to somebody else, don't we?

But that is not where we came from. We are a nation founded on the premise that we are all entitled to these rights, not because we earned them, not because we can contribute 'enough' to be worthy of them, but because our Creator, our God, made us all free. The concept is very old. God could easily have created Adam and Eve to obey Him and only do what he wanted. But He didn't. He made them free. They made a mess of things, and His chosen people continued not listening to Him, but he freed them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land. He was just, and He reprimanded them, but he didn't leave His people. Later, even though we were all sinners, He sent Jesus, his only begotten son, to die for our sins. Did we deserve it? Had we earned it? Do we serve God 'enough' to be worthy of such a sacrifice? I know I don't.

So back to our two TSA 'Terror suspects'. What about those not strong enough or powerful enough to fight for themselves? Those at the very beginning of their lives, and those at the end, are not strong enough, or powerful enough to fight for themselves. And, quite frankly, in the eyes of those 'deciding' and those who don't think we need a 'crutch' like religion and God, these two groups do not contribute enough to truly value them in society. So we have a nation where the unborns' right to life is dependent upon a choice made by someone else. And to suggest that their rights are important is to be attacked outright. Imagine, we live in a world where you are considered intolerant by asserting someone's right to life. The old and the sick are being pushed to assert their 'right to die'. But isn't it naive to think that conceding some 'man' has the authority to bestow these rights upon us won't lead to someone having the authority someday, to make that choice for us as well?

We need to realize that the first amendment was not written to keep God out of government, but to keep the government out of God. As we push the faithful out of the public square, and move toward a totally secular society, we must consider what a danger it is to be judged only on what your usefulness is, how scary it will be when somebody else gets to decide what your life is worth, and where we are headed when the government becomes our god.

These two specifics are one important issues on their own, but what is frightening me is the attitude I see in comments everywhere. In the comments on news stories, on Facebook, on other blogs, people seem all too happy to take the decisions once left to God, toss Him aside (because that's how we've been conditioned when it comes to public policy) and allow the government to make that decision for all of us.

This is why we have such a fight going over the HHS contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The Catholic church and Catholic institutions have extremely valid reasons for not supporting contraception, abortion or abortifacients,, but those reasons aren't even what the argument should really be about. The argument is a government mandate that requires a religious organization to go against its principles. Can you force a religious entity to purchase a product knowing that the fees will go toward something that is diametrically opposed to its teaching?

Those in the 'comment' sections point toward the compromise that was put forth by the administration whereby the insurance companies would be forced to pay for these products and services. Considering that there is no way on earth that insurance companies would give anything away for free, this compromise is basically saying, “We know they're charging you for it, you know you're paying for it, but if we just pretend they're covering it for free, then you should be okay with that, right?”

The other common argument is that the church should just 'get over it' because 98% of Catholic families have used artificial birth control. These people apparently do not understand that the church is not a democracy. In a way, the fact that the church has held to this teaching despite its lack of popularity, misrepresentation and over-simplification in the way it's been reported, should be a testament to the strength of the church to teach the truth no matter the pressures to do otherwise.

Still, these are more arguments that have nothing to do with this issue. The argument isn't whether anyone agrees with the church teaching or not. The argument is whether the government can force the church to do something that is against its teaching. It is answered quite simply in another of our founding documents:

The first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

Now I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I can read. And to me, that says it all. Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Forcing Catholic institutions to provide for services that go directly against their teaching is prohibiting the free exercise of their faith. 

I recently got into a Facebook back-and-forth (I do not recommend these) with someone who said that religion was only responsible for violence, war and hatred and the faster we can get it out of our government, the better. I literally felt like we were talking about two different groups of people as I know a lot of religious people, none of whom are the monsters she described. While I agree that religion should not be a prerequisite for holding a government post and the last thing I would ever want is the government casting judgment on, or creating any religion, (these are the things that the first amendment guards against), it seems to me that people of faith in government, have the perspective of the Creator's unalienable rights and of being blessed with gifts that we do not 'deserve' or do not contribute enough to be 'worthy' of receiving. We are a nation with a lot of hope, with a lot of promise and with a lot of sin. We need to be grateful, we need to try to live up to His expectations and we need humility.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our nation, my wife and I are saying a Rosary every night during the 'Fortnight for Freedom', and hoping that our nation does not forget the words of our Declaration of Independence, the document responsible for the beginning of a bold experiment in freedom. It is an experiment that God inspired and has nurtured. And it is an experiment that could end sadly if those of us with faith in the Creator allow our voices to be shut out of the discussion.

Happy Independence Day!

Psalm 23 or Curse you Michael Landon!

For many years, I thought that the twenty-third Psalm was only for the dead. This was probably due to a tremendous over-exposure to television funerals where the Psalm would be read or recited for the dead. One particularly poignant incident was on a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ episode when Charles Ingalls recites it to himself after they lose an infant son (it’s a two-parter, but well worth the time invested if you can catch the re-run). So I had this perception due to television and well, honestly, I guess a lack of really listening to the words of the twenty-third Psalm.

Recently, Matthew Kelly spoke at our parish. First, let me say, it was awesome! I just started my Mass journal this week and for anyone who hasn’t heard of this idea, you should check it out. More importantly, however, he told a story in which he recited the twenty-third Psalm. For the first time I really listened to the words and I thought, “Hey! This isn’t just for dead people! This is a reminder to us all about how much the living God dwells with us and wants us to dwell with Him. Curse you Michael Landon!” (I’m kidding about the cursing Michael Landon part, by the way)

 So I reflected on it for a while, took some notes, and this is what I came up with. Forgive me because I am not a theologian, but I was reminded at Mass today that as Catholic Christians, we are all baptized as Prophets, Priests and Kings and that God does not call the qualified, He qualifies those that He calls. So here goes...

“1:The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.”

If we put our trust in the Lord, He will guide us and provide for us. It is sometimes difficult to see how He is doing this for us, but that is because it is so often through such ordinary means. The job that you hate still provides for your family. Or maybe in difficult times someone you least expect to do so, steps up and gives you the push you need in the right direction. These are all the mechanisms of God’s love for us working through others. And when we let Him live in our hearts as well, we become that mechanism to others because by listening for God’s direction we allow Him to put us right where he needs us. Remember when you feel you are struggling with the ‘needs’ of this world, that God has plans for us; "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope." (Jer. 29:11)

“2:In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
3:he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.”

By leading us to a bounty that satisfies all of our needs, God leads us to true peace. A place where we can rest and ‘recharge’ in comfort. It was only God who could provide the bread that would satisfy all of our hunger and the drink that would mean we never thirst again. Only the ‘Good Shepherd’ could lead us to the green pastures and the safe waters. Pursuing or following anything else is temporary and fleeting. And when we do wander, it is He who leads us along the right paths. For following His ways leads us to righteousness. In short, the path leads back to Him, because He wants us in His love. Think of the prodigal son who spent his inheritance from his father on the debauchery of this world, but by thinking of his father’s ways and humbling himself, he returned to a bountiful feast and overwhelming joy. His father had desired his return ever since the day he left. And when he returned, his father was ecstatic! This is God’s joy when we put aside the  ways that lead away from His love and seek our way back through His paths.

”4:Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.”

It is a difficult world to live in as people of faith. And I don’t mean the real or perceived ‘assault on Christianity’. I refer to the shinier distractions of our world. This is not a world that wants to keep us on the path to righteousness. From the acceptance and availability of pornography to the pressures and expectations that have driven us from a real understanding of chastity and modesty.... and that’s just how attractive this world makes sexual sin appear. We have rampant greed and a total lack of humility or charity. We have become a society centered on the ‘self’ to a point where we have diminished the miracle of new life to a ‘choice’.
But we must remember that if we hear the Shepherd, if we recognize His voice, then He will guide us. Sometimes it will be a gentle nudge with the staff, but sometimes it is a loving reprimand from the rod. Remember the unexpected ‘push’ I mentioned? Well sometimes those pushes are not so subtle and are applied by a foot to our backside. They may sting a bit at the time, but when we look back, sometimes we see that a kick in the butt was just there to keep us on track.

“5:You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.”

If we follow God’s ways, we will have joy. It is that simple. God will shower us with His love and it will be apparent to everyone who sees us. He does not set this banquet before us to inspire envy in our enemies. He does it to show His love for us. And sometimes when others see the joy that love brings us, they too will return to His love.
He anoints us all as a sign that He has chosen us as beloved and special in His eyes. From the moment we exist, God has a plan for us. His cup for us is overflowing with love and blessings for us. We only need to trust Him, reach out, and take the cup.

”6:Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.”

When we live seeking God’s will, we increase the good and love that surrounds us. So it follows that goodness and mercy would pursue us, but negativity will get out of the race. I, for one, need to work on this as I have been playing the role of Eeyore in our family’s Winnie the Pooh production for a while now. But if I can trust in the Lord and hear His plan for me, I know He will lead me to true peace in this world. And when my time comes, He will lead me to His house, and I will dwell there in the place He has prepared for me, for endless days.

Our Savior called some of the apostles by saying simply, “Follow me.”

Sure, it sounds a lot easier than it really is, but I have a feeling that it is so worth it! Come on, let’s pursue it together. Let’s get to know the Shepherd and not just memorize the words.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Crosses on Churches or You Know, Those People who Worship the Lower Case 'T'

So at a recent family gathering, the question was posed to me, “Why do churches have crosses on top of them?”

The question came from my brother whom I love very much. But, us being Sicilian and Irish with a bit of English football fan thrown in for good measure, the conversation ended up getting a bit loud as our conversations can. This was, as is usually the case, at least 75% my fault. Okay, maybe more than 75% my fault. As I reflected on the conversation however, and the fact that he said the question was asked of him by someone innocent (i.e. a child) I realized that this is a pretty good question, really. After all, the cross was an instrument of torturous death for criminals, now we go to pray in buildings topped by, you guessed it, crosses. I can’t imagine how someone who finds this gross must be aghast at us Catholics. I mean, we leave the corpus on our crosses! A full fledged crucifix, right where we pray. Yuck!

Can you imagine going to pray in a building with an electric chair on top of it? It might be cool if it was some kind of really awesome heavy metal rock club, but not a church.
So I thought, if this is a really good question, then there must be a really good answer. Why do we go into buildings topped with a torture device to pray to a loving, merciful God? The answer was more simple then I could have hoped. The cross is no longer a device of torturous death. Not only has crucifixion given way to new, more exciting ways to torture and kill people, but, by coming to us as a man and sacrificing himself on a cross, our loving, merciful God hurled it through the looking glass forever.

To the Jews and Romans of Jesus' day, the cross was a sign that someone had been condemned. But by allowing himself to be taken into custody, Jesus drained the cross of its power of condemnation and turned it into the power of our salvation. Imagine how crestfallen the soldiers and guards were when they saw the ‘monster’ they were sent out to arrest. And then he has the nerve not to even put up a fight? “Oh poopus Brutus, I didn’t even get to use my sword!”

The cross was the way that the Romans would hang troublemakers up as an example. It was a warning to others so that they would stay quiet and wallowing in their oppression. But God took that symbol of oppression and showed us the ultimate freedom. No longer could we be held down by our failings, for we are His children and when we let His spirit live in us, we are truly, undeniably and irrevocably free.

As criminals would walk through town to the ‘Place of the Skull’ the citizenry would come out to jeer at them, throw things at them, hit them and spit at them. It was a hike of humiliation, a true 'walk of shame'. The journey that Jesus took was no different than that. He too was taunted, hit, spit upon and cursed. But he trod those steps, those brutal, painful steps, as the pathway to the glory of the Father.

Whether nailed or tied to the cross, the offending miscreant usually expired because his legs could no longer hold his body up. Having his arms outstretched, the weight of his body would make it impossible for him to breathe and he would suffocate himself. This must have been agonizing; the epitome of suffering. But by taking not only his own body weight, but the weight of our sin onto the cross with him, Jesus used this suffering as the way to heal us by saving us from sin.

If you were carrying a cross, that was a sure sign that you had been condemned to death. It was a tool used for nothing more than ending a life. Even if you were ‘lucky’ enough to suffer for two or three days and live, the Roman guards would come and break your legs, ensuring your demise. Nobody returned from crucifixion. It was death. But Jesus, after giving himself freely, totally and faithfully on the cross, did come back. He was resurrected, bringing the fruitfulness of everlasting life to all of those who turn their hearts toward him and accept his mercy.

So there it is in a nutshell; what the cross on the top of a church means to me. It is a symbol of the gifts God came to give to us. It is His glorious salvation, suffering for our sins and offering us freedom from them so that we may be healed and share in His everlasting life. And for what it’s worth, I am proud to be a Catholic and glad that we depict the full crucifix, corpus and all. For only in recalling Jesus’ suffering, can we truly appreciate the price He paid to purchase our forgiveness.

Oh, and about the electric chair on top of churches. Lest we forget, those condemned to die today are also God's children and in need of His mercy. One of Jesus' most radical teachings 2000 years ago is just as radical now; Love your enemies and pray for them.

"Oh my Jesus,
Please save us from the fires of Hell.
And lead all souls into Heaven,
Especially those most in need of your mercy."

 God bless,

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My wife and the Holy Spirit or Life in the 'Fast' Lane

A few weeks ago, my group at work had an outing. Before we went, I knew it was going to be on a Wednesday, my fast day for the E5 Men. At first, I thought about not going, or giving myself a pass this one time. But I knew that this ‘pass’ would lead to another, then another...etc. etc. And before you know it, this small, tangible sacrifice that I make for my wife and daughters, is down the tubes! Then my wife suggested that I go AND keep my fast.

“It could be a good witness.”, she argued.

So that’s what I did.

Part way through the evening, one of my female co-workers asked me why I was only drinking water. So after having her promise not to laugh, I explained to her that I fast every Wednesday because of the E5 Men. I explained it was based on Ephesians 5:25, where St. Paul tells men to love their wives 'as Christ loved the church, handing himself over for her.' and that even though the E5 fast is only for the first Wednesday of the month, I fast every Wednesday of the month. One for my wife, one for each of my daughters and one for all the women exploited in pornography or working in strip clubs because I had contributed to those things a lot when I was younger.

She replied, “But it’s their choice.”

I pointed out that many of the women are addicted to drugs or have been abused, therefore, it's not much of a choice. She said that she had some friends who did it and that they didn’t mind it. The money is good and they enjoy it.

“Well then”, I said, “I guess I just do it for the damage I did.”

Later she asked, “So are you Christian?”

“Yes, I’m Catholic.” I answered.

“Like, REALLY Catholic?” she said.

“Well, yes, I follow the teachings of the Church.” I replied.

Her next question was interesting. Although I didn’t know how truly interesting until I told my wife about the conversation later.

She asked, “How does your wife feel about that?”

Later, my wife would wonder (aloud) what part of my following Catholic teaching she should find most offensive. Was it the part where I don’t expect her to pump chemicals into herself and alter her reproductive system so that she can be available to satisfy me sexually whenever I want? Or the part where I don’t have a collection of pornography or spend our family budget on exotic dancers and strip clubs? Or maybe that pesky thing about thinking it is my vocation to give myself to her totally and freely like Christ did for his bride, the church?

When my co-worker asked, I had simply responded that it was my wife who actually brought me back to the faith.

I’m not sure what my co-worker was getting at with the question. She’s a really nice person, so my guess would be that she wasn’t really ‘getting at’ anything. As we came into May, however, when we celebrate the mothers in our lives, the conversation pulled my focus toward the way that meeting my wife truly saved me.

Before I met Kimberly, I had been on a faith journey that meandered through ‘graduating’ from Catholicism after my Confirmation, moving on to Atheism, Agnosticism, studying Buddhist meditation and then just figuring it was enough to be a ‘good person’.

Eventually, I felt God calling me back, but I just hadn’t recognized it yet. I often tell the story of when I was engaged (before I met Kimberly) and my fiancee and I were trying out churches because if I was going to raise children, I wanted to raise them with some kind of faith tradition. She was not interested in a strict Christian structure, so we set out to compromise. Our search ended when we walked into a Unitarian Universalist church and I heard a wonderful rendition of one of my grandmother’s favorite hymns, sung by a man, in a dress. This was not the place for me. I mean, I could compromise, but...

Eventually, I broke off the engagement because I just knew she wasn’t the one. I soon resigned myself to the idea that I may always be the 'cool bachelor uncle' having no idea the incredible blessings that God had in store for me.

When I met Kimberly, she was going to Mass with her parents and I was not going to church at all. One weekend, her parents were out of town and I said I would go with her. “One time”, I said, “past that, I’m not promising anything.”

But as soon as I walked through those doors, I was home. I felt like the prodigal son with my Heavenly Father running out to greet me. I looked at the inside of the church and (even though I know He’s everywhere) I thought, “God lives here.”

From then on I went to Mass every week with Kimberly and her family. The next spring, Kimberly and I went through the ‘Coming Home to Catholicism’ program at our parish and reconnected with our faith only as an adult with full understanding could. I asked her to marry me on Palm Sunday (because I couldn’t wait until Easter), and we were married by the end of that year. We had started on a faith journey that God had planned for both of us before we even knew each other. And that journey continued. Through the years (only eight years, mind you) that we have been together we have worked with other Catholics returning to the faith. We learned about Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and began teaching it to teens in our confirmation program. We learned about Natural Family Planning and the church’s teaching on artificial contraception to find that it is actually an incredible and beautiful truth that they are trying to preserve and not a secret ploy to have more Catholics. Most importantly, I have grown immeasurably in my relationship with God. Our life has not been perfect, but I cannot imagine going through tough times without my wife and my faith to pull me through.

I felt a slight calling years before I even met Kimberly and when I met her and let God begin to fulfill His plan for me, I was led to (and I quote myself from an early blog post) “Bounty! Beyond! Belief!”

I’m sure it is no accident that I am writing this on the celebration of Pentecost, when Jesus imbued the apostles with the Holy Spirit. Without a doubt, Kimberly, our meeting, and our faith journey has been proof of the Holy Spirit working in my life. I could never have imagined having the life I have right now. Not because our life is perfect, but because I have an incredible wife who loves me and I have two of the most beautiful little girls who recognize Mary instead of Lady Gaga, sing hymns instead of Beyonce songs, and have conversations like this:

Big sister: Did you know that Jesus is everywhere?
Little sister: Yeah
Big sister: Isn’t he the best?
Little sister: Yeah

Jesus said to bring the children to him, and my wife does that for our family, bringing the girls to daily Mass a few times a week and teaching them about our faith at home. We were at a homeschooling conference recently (my oldest daughter is going to be four so we’re getting a feel for how homeschooling works) and my wife reminded me that when we first met and I mentioned homeschooling, she thought I was kind of crazy. Now she’s getting ready to do it and actually hoping we get the chance.

So in this month when we celebrate mothers and the power of the Holy Spirit, I apologize if it sounds like I am gushing. But truly, if the Holy Spirit is the force of God’s love in the world, bringing everyone toward Jesus and salvation, then I am totally comfortable saying that my wife is the Holy Spirit at work in our family.

A long time ago I was in the break room at work and I heard a young guy say that he would never be with a girl who wanted him to change. He left the room and me and the other guy there looked at each other.

“My wife saved my life.”, he said. “If I hadn’t changed for her, I’d probably be dead now.”

“I know”, I replied. “Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t inspire you to be a better man?”

And we both shook our heads.

Thank you, Kimberly, for saving me every day, and for inspiring me to live up to my true vocation.

God bless,


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Lent! or Welcome to Dieting for Catholics!

So today is 'Fat Tuesday', meaning that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I remember a few years ago, when I was returning to the church and gaining an understanding of what Lent was really about, I would listen to a local morning radio show on the way into work, called 'The Morning Buzz'. One of the co-hosts of the show is a guy named Blacksmith who was raised in a Catholic home and was giving up chewing tobacco for lent. The other people on the show were asking him why he was doing this and he explained that during Lent, you give something up as a sacrifice for God. Being raised in the normal legalistic American Catholic household, that was originally my understanding of Lent as well. I remember in high school, one of my friends who I considered very religious gave up his pillow as a sacrifice for Lent. It was all about giving something up.

But the year I heard this on the radio was the first year that I learned that Lent is not just a period to give up some comfort as a sacrifice for God. Lent is a time of preparation and cleansing when you look to your habits from the rest of the year and see what permanent changes you can make in your life to grow closer to God. This host, who was giving up chewing tobacco for forty days, had a reputation on the show as a ladies man, sleeping around, taking women home, having meaningless sex with them. At the time, he did a weekly remote from a local strip club. And for Lent, he was giving up....chewing tobacco. I remember thinking at the time, what a misconception he had, and feeling quite superior that I had (no matter how recently) learned what it was all about! As I look back now, I feel kind of sad that so many of us were brought up with this legalistic, checklist-style Catholicism. It smacks of hypocrisy, even though that wasn't the intent, and does not teach or explain the full richness of our faith.

So tomorrow starts Lent, and many people will give up chocolate, or chewing tobacco, or smoking, or even Facebook in what has become a second chance to start the diet you promised you would start after New Year's. But as I post every year at this time, this is not just about giving up chocolate as a sacrifice. Lent is about looking at your relationship with Jesus and seeing what you can remove from your life that might be blocking that relationship. It is also about adding things to your life to improve your relationship with Jesus.

This is something very important for me this year as I have been really wondering about what God's plan is for me and my family, and if He even has a plan for us. The truth is that I am in a place where my faith and trust in Him is struggling. So this year, I am going to concentrate on a couple of things. I will not go online at night until I have read the readings for the next day. These two parts of my bedtime ritual need to be switched up as it is far more important for me to be awake when I read God's word than it is for me to get through my friends' Facebook updates. The second thing I am doing, is something that was recommended by our new Parish Priest, Father Joe Cooper. When I told him how I was feeling in confession, Father Joe told me about Fr. Solanus Casey, whose Cause is being reviewed for Beatification and Canonization. Father Casey would tell people to thank God before praying for any petition or for His guidance, because even if your prayer is not answered to your expectation, it is because God knows His plan for you and knows that sometimes what you need and what you want are not the same thing. So last night I put together a prayer to pray every morning thanking God for having a plan for me and asking Him for guidance toward what He knows is best. In case you like the idea, here is the prayer I came up with:

Lord, thank you for your plans for me.
For I know it is by your grace that I have each day of my life.
And as I ask for your help, I more so seek trust in your will for me
that if my desires are not granted, then it is your wisdom
and your desires for me that make it so. And I know that you only desire
what is best for me and my family.
So I ask today for your guidance;
That I may have the wisdom to hear your voice;
And the courage to carry out your will.

As I said, Lent is not about giving up chocolate, unless that is the tool that Satan is using to pry you away from Jesus. (I must admit, I have tasted chocolate this good!). It is not just about eating the Fisherman's Platter on Friday instead of the Prime Rib. Lent is a chance to look at your relationship with God and say, "What can I rearrange in this mess that is my life to make a little more room for Jesus? And what can I do to more accurately imitate him and truly be the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Christ?"

Anyone who read my last post, knows that I will most likely be working on striking a better balance when I speak to people about passionate issues. I will also put effort in to paying more attention to God's word and trying to be thankful for all that he gives to me....and even for the things He does not give to me.

Happy Lent everybody! I'll be praying for you, please pray for me!

God bless,

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Army of God or Swimming upstream is not easy, but our General can walk on water!

It’s been said that we are all “warriors for Christ” or “soldiers in God’s Army”, and that description has been amplified during this recent fight for religious liberty against the mandate put forth by the Health and Human Services Department in the new health care law, which requires religious affiliated employers to provide health insurance plans that provide contraceptives, abortifacients and even abortions, totally against their church teaching. In this latest battle, I have found it difficult to gauge exactly how to fight. The first thing that makes it hard is that the media is framing this as a fight over contraception, and claiming contraception as a “right” for “women’s health”. If it were a fight about contraception, and people actually looked at the truth, church teaching would win hands down. But this fight is not about contraception, it is about whether the government has the right to compel an institution with religious conviction to provide, and partially pay for, a service that goes directly against that conviction. The battle also is not about how many Catholics use contraception or have had abortions or sterilization procedures, but the media keeps trotting those numbers out as well (provided by the Guttmacher Institute, of course, which is the research arm of Planned Parenthood). In case nobody in the United States has noticed, the Catholic Church is not run as a democracy. You see, God’s teachings are not subject to change by popular opinion. As a matter of fact, that’s what some of us like about them! No, it’s not always easy to decide which part of your personality to engage in battle as God’s Soldier’ which probably explains why I am no longer welcome on the Facebook page for Planned Parenthood of North America, and was blocked from several comment strings on the Susan G. Komen For the Cure page during their recent dust-up, strong-arming and reversal. You see, I have a knack for sarcasm and can be a bit vicious when I don’t restrain myself. This, I am learning, is not the way to fight as a soldier in God’s Army.

I can see a lot of parallels in the ‘God’s Army’ analogy, with apologies in advance to any of those who have served in the military, as I am by no means an expert in military careers, this is how I see it. I see Baptism as enlisting. Whether it is as an adult, or as an infant, when you are Baptised, you are enlisted in God’s Army. After being Baptised, there is Sunday school, or as we called it ‘CCD’, this is Boot Camp (from the stories I've heard, in previous generations, the two were almost indistinguishable). You are taught the basics of being a soldier and what it says in the manual. This is where I have to apologize to my military friends, because I want to say that the Mass is like Basic Training, and I’m not totally sure that Basic Training in the military, isn't just a different name for Boot Camp. But at the Mass, we are kept in touch with the things we learned in ‘Boot Camp’ and we are kept up on how those things apply to our current mission. That mission is where we go when we get our ‘Orders’. The analogy here is to our Vocation. In fact, one of the Vocations is Holy Orders, but that’s not the only one I’m addressing. There are also the marching orders for those of us in the other Vocations. There is marriage and believe it or not, some are even called to be celibate and single. Our Vocation tells us what our mission is and the Mass tells us how the Basic Training applies to that mission on a daily basis. Now if we consider ourselves soldiers, out there in battle day to day, then we are going to get dinged up a bit, so at some point, you are going to need to visit the M.A.S.H. unit. For us Catholics, this is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We step in and get our wounds treated. We pull some dents, polish up our armor and head back out there to fight another day.

Now, with the exception of the HHS Mandate, which has to be either a direct attack on institutes of faith or an extremely misguided idea of what is a right or necessary medical treatment, I am not a fan of complaining that our faith is constantly under attack. I do feel that in our world today, if you speak out as a person of faith, your opinion is marginalized and your intelligence is questioned, which makes it a semi-hostile environment for those of us who swim against the stream of popular opinion. But ask yourself, when has that not been the case for those who swim against the stream of popular opinion? Those who swim against the stream have always been swimming upstream, and when you swim upstream, then you get hit with a lot of... well, let’s just say you get hit with a lot of what flows downstream. So when we're out there fighting, we cannot use the same types of weapons as a conventional army (not even metaphorically). Lobbing text 'artillery' and committing verbal violence will not get us anywhere. The two greatest weapons in our arsenal as Christ’s soldiers, are compassion and prayer. I am far from perfect in these respects, as evidenced by my aforementioned war record on the social network battlefield, but I’m trying to find the balance.

As I was reading the Gospel for today’s Mass, I was reminded that the greatest part of this analogy is that as soldiers in God’s Army, we also are determined to leave no man behind. In today’s reading (Mark 2:1-12), Jesus returns to Capernaum and is healing and teaching when four men carry a paralytic friend to him on a mat because they know Christ can heal him. Upon arriving, they find that they cannot even get him near the door. Like good Marines would do, the men adapt, improvise and overcome, opening up the roof of the house and lowering their friend in to get him to Jesus. Jesus, impressed by the faith of his friends, forgives the man’s sins and heals him. Those men knew that Christ was the hope for their friend to be healed and they did whatever it took to get him there. They were not going to have their friend left suffering on the battlefield when there was a shred of opportunity that they could bring him back alive!

As soldiers in God’s Army, our most important responsibility is to bring people to Christ. As members of His body, the church, we are to be His eyes, ears, hands and feet in today’s world. He’s not as welcome as he used to be. But if we can keep from using the wrong weaponry and we can keep up with our training, we can continue to leave no man behind. And remember, in this war, we don't win the battles by destroying the ‘enemy’. We win by saving their lives!

Please remember to pray for those serving in our nation's military and their families. And continue to pray for each other.

God bless!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Silent' St. Joseph or "Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much."

After a recent meeting of the 'Men of St. Joseph' at my parish, it dawned on me that I have never written a post about St. Joseph. Can you imagine that? I write a blog about how my faith affects me as a husband and father, and I have never written of our Lord's earthly father. With this strange omission in my mind, I set out to write a few words about our model of earthly fatherhood; the man that God chose as foster father of his only begotten son.....

So I sought out words of wisdom from St. Joseph. I hoped to weave poetic prose about his advice to Jesus, and all of us, so I went to the bible, to the gospels, and I looked up the sage advice from St. Joseph's mouth. I checked in Matthew's gospel and there I found.....not a word from Joseph.

Well okay, surely in the gospel according to Mark, Joseph imparts some brilliant verbiage for us...ummm nope. Not a word...

Luke's gospel has the infancy narrative, the circumcision, the presentation in the temple and Jesus getting lost in the temple, but still, not a word from Joseph.

John talks of the beginning, with the Word, and then talks about the Word coming to dwell among us, but his first story of Christ is the wedding at Cana, when he started his ministry. Joseph isn't even around then, and many scholars think he had died by the time Jesus started to teach.

So what can we learn from the 'silent' Saint Joseph? Obviously we won't be studying him in any kind of public speaking program, or sharing his deep observations on the origins of men's souls. No, we won't learn much from what Joseph said because it isn't recorded. I mean, we can assume he could speak. He had to tell Mary he wasn't going to divorce her. He had to go to the innkeepers asking for a room. He had his own contracting business. And it's possible that he had a few choice words for pre-teen Jesus when they finally found him in the temple. But his words are lost to history. Still, I think there is much we can learn from Jesus' earthly foster father.

The first thing that I am struck by when I think of what we can learn from Joseph, is his trust in God. I'm sure that by the time the angel is coming to him to tell him he needs to return his family to Nazareth, they had a pretty good rapport going, so it's not surprising that he was comfortable listening by then. But I think of when he had the first dream, telling him that Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and that it would be okay to take her into his home. I can imagine that would be a tough pill to swallow considering he had just been gracious enough to keep quiet, and not to make an accusation that would lead to her stoning. Now he's being told that he should willingly make himself the laughing stock of his friends and the talk of all the local gossips for the rest of his life. I know I would have thought, 'that's all well and good for you up in Heaven, God, but I'm the one who has to live with the consequences of this choice down here on Earth. You don't know how brutal this place can be!' Maybe Joseph had some doubts, but at the end of the day, he trusted in God and did what He asked.

The second thing we can take away from what we know of Joseph in the gospels, is that he was a courageous man of action. In Matthew's gospel, it does not say,'The angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his wife and the child and flee to Egypt. And.... after freaking out about how cold and dangerous it would be, whining and complaining about how God doesn't give him enough time on these things and spending a couple of hours in his man-cave, Joseph took them and went to Egypt.'.
It simply says, "Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt." (Mt. 2:14).  He does what he needs to do to keep his new family safe, without hesitation. Strangely enough, God just offered me an incredibly ironic illustration of my imperfections in this department. Literally moments after typing that last sentence, I heard my 16-month-old start to cry through the baby monitor and I walked off to her room grousing about how I'm 'never going to get this blog post done and I've only been trying to finish it for two weeks, grumble, grumble,grumble...' For the record, I know I need to work on my tendency to whine and complain...
Well anyways, back to St. Joseph...

The third lesson that St. Joseph can teach us as Christian husbands and fathers, is that we need to support our wives. I know a few men from my generation who have fallen in love with a woman and taken on the responsibility of her children as well. I know men from a few generations back who did the same thing in a time when I know it was more difficult. In many ways, these men are examples to me of what the term 'heroic love' means. I've seen them pour themselves out to support and be a father to a child simply because they know that child is a part of the woman they love. How daunting must that proposition have been in ancient times? Think of that for a moment and then add that the child in the 'package deal' you're getting, is the only begotten Son of God. That's a ton of pressure. But the woman Joseph loved had a calling, and he poured himself out to support her in fulfilling that purpose. He got them safely from place to place for the protection of the newborn king. It was Joseph going out in faraway lands to find work to support them. To use a sports analogy, God was the coach, calling in the plays, and Joseph was the quarterback on the field executing them and making them work.

Looking at the gospels this way and thinking about what we can learn from St. Joseph as a model for us as husbands and fathers, led me to do something that I haven't done seriously in a long time. I actually made a new year's resolution. As I was putting together the ideas for this post, Advent was winding up, Christmas was coming, and the year 2011 was ending. So I was thinking about the Holy Family with Joseph as the husband and father and considering how my family, more specifically, how I 'measured up'. And what I took from the gospels was a thought about the old saying, "If you're going to talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk!". I realized that, by the gospels' report, Joseph didn't even bother 'talking the talk', he just got right on to walking! What I realized is that there are many ways I was / am JUST talking the talk.

For example, there is my Wednesday fast with the 'Men of E5'. I eat nothing but bread and water every Wednesday of the month, one Wednesday for my wife, one for each of my daughters, and one for all women who are exploited, used and abused by men in our society. I have been doing this for a while now. But I realized that while I was putting forth the effort to make this sacrifice for the women in my life, I was ignoring the real sacrifices that the fast represented. I would complain to my wife about work constantly. I would avoid working overtime, even though we could use the money. When I came from work, I would be content to sit while my wife washed dishes, did laundry or took care of our girls. In some ways, I was actually disengaging from the three most important ladies in my life; the three ladies that I professed to be fasting for every Wednesday. Change takes time, and although I am by no means perfect on all of these fronts yet, I feel like there has been some improvement, and I think that my wife feels there has been too. If she doesn't, then I guess I just need to try harder.

Another thing that this 'walk the walk' perspective has provided me in these early stages, is that it helps to clarify a lot of things for me. I am certain that I have a clearer picture of things in my life I can take credit for, things I need to take blame for, things I never should have taken blame for, and things I need to let go. You see, when you're looking for the chance to 'walk the walk' then you're going to identify the things for which you can take action as well as the things you have no control over. I'm sure that halfway to Egypt, Joseph wasn't bemoaning the decision he had made twenty years ago to drop out of that hieroglyphics program at the local college, because if he hadn't made that decision twenty years ago, it would make it so much easier to find carpentry work in Egypt. He figured out what needed to happen for his family, took what he had at his disposal, and made it happen.

I, for one, still need to work on that.

God bless,