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Archive for November, 2012

Get Ready!

Do you remember the song “Eve of Destruction” which came out in 1965?  At the time the Viet Nam war was raging; racism was sparking widespread violence across our country; Americans were terrified of communism; most schools routinely practiced nuclear air raid drills; many families built bomb shelters; Kennedy had just been assassinated; it was a time of confusion and uncertainty.  Many believed the end was near!

Here we are 47 years later, and many are still anticipating the end of the world.  There is a new group called the “Preppers”, who are stockpiling food, medicine, guns and other supplies.  They have a web page instructing their followers in the event of a government takeover of America.  Even Fr. Bing, of the Alliance of the Two Hearts, has warned his followers to stockpile food and water, in preparation for the difficult days ahead.  Americans feel despondent and depressed, as they watch the moral decay of our culture, and the infringement of our religious freedom.

But remember Jesus’ warning in Luke 21 “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’  Do not follow them!  When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.  Then he said to them “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”

We have certainly had our share of earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues, wars and famines.  But will Jesus come back tomorrow?  Or on December 21, 2012?  No one knows for sure when he is coming back, but he promised in Matthew 16:27 “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.”  Judas had thought Jesus was coming the first time in all his glory to restore his kingdom on earth, but that was never Jesus’ plan.  The purpose of His first coming was to be born a human and die for our sins, defeating the devil on the cross.  And by his resurrection, He destroyed death, granting us eternal life.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, several events will take place before Christ comes back.  First, the gospel will be preached worldwide; second, the Jewish people will be converted and believe in Christ.  Third,  a great many of the faithful will abandon Christianity, and there will be widespread apostasy.  Fourth, Christ will be preceded by the Anti-Christ, who will be a powerful adversary, seduce many and persecute the Church.  The identity of the Anti-Christ is unknown, but has been the cause of much speculation and discussion.

Fifth, there is supposed to be an enormous conflagration, as described in 2nd Peter 3  “but the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up.”  Fire will rain down from heaven, and according to Revelation 8 and 9 “a third of the earth will be burnt up” and “two-thirds of the human race will be killed”.  And of course we will experience the earthquakes, plagues and famines mentioned above.

A really grim prediction of what lies ahead!  I used to wonder why we bothered praying, when we knew the end of the story.  But then I realized the reason we desperately need to pray, is to bring as many souls to Christ as possible!  The last signs before the coming of Christ will be the sounds of trumpets to waken the dead for their bodily resurrection, as well as a sign described in Matthew 24:30, which will immediately precede the appearance of Christ to judge the world.  The Fathers of the Church generally perceived this sign to be some kind of cross in the sky, spectacularly lit up.

Jesus second coming jpg

During advent we reflect on Christ’s arrival at Christmas, as well as his second coming.  So when you light your advent candles, let them be a reminder that Christ will come again, and he will reign triumphantly, decisively defeating Satan and all evil powers.  He will judge the living and the dead; those who are judged to be righteous and just will reign with Christ forever.  But as he tells us over and over in scripture – do not be afraid!  He promised to go before us, and to be with us always.  And remember that each and every one of us will meet Jesus in our lifetime, when our earthly life comes to an end, and we will experience the incredible joy of heaven.  So live each day striving for holiness, avoiding sin and loving God and our neighbor.  And as we’re told in Micah 6:8 “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”.

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During the holidays there is much emphasis on food banks, giving trees, and other wonderful ways to help the poor.  Caring for the poor is extremely important to many Americans today, but sadly it has become a political talking point for some.  We are absolutely called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; in Matthew 25 Jesus warns that on the day of judgment, if we have NOT been there to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, then we won’t go to heaven!

But let’s not forget the Catholic Church teaches the works of mercy as corporal AND spiritual.  The traditional corporal and spiritual works of mercy are as follows:

The Corporal Works of Mercy                                                                        

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant (This and the next work are extremely pertinent categories today, when so many people are confused by what the Church teaches on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc.)
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for the living and the dead

Our culture gives a lot of attention to the poor, but there are so many different aspects to mercy, and we shouldn’t neglect others in need.  Most men in prison have been physically abused and come from single parent homes, and many are hopeless and discouraged.  I correspond with several men on death row, and the living conditions in their prisons are pretty miserable.  The food and medical care are inadequate, and they generally have short life spans.  They definitely need kindness and compassion, no matter how despicable their crimes.

Christians are quite generous and give an amazing amount of  time and money to charities, more than any other group of Americans.  They build homes for Habitat for Humanity, and donate time and money to St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, Goodwill, Mustard Seed Communities, CFCA, Salvation Army and a plethora of other organizations.

Even though the spiritual works of mercy are just as important as the corporal, feeding the poor seems to give us more satisfaction than simply praying for others and being kind.  Yet in Luke 18, Jesus stresses the importance of praying continuously. In Acts 3 a lame beggar sat outside the temple and begged every day for alms.  Peter replied “I don’t have any silver or gold! But I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, stand up and walk.”  Peter then took him by the right hand and helped him up.”  Peter had no money, but he gave the lame man the incredible gift of prayer and healing.  The beggar went in the temple “walking and jumping for joy”. I’m sure the beggar would attest to the importance of prayer, and wouldn’t trade his healing for any amount of money in the world!

I belong to a community called the Marian Servants, and our main charism is teaching the spiritual exercises and giving spiritual direction.  Our foundress, Diane Brown, was conversing with Mother Teresa before her death, and was praising the impressive accomplishments of Mother Teresa all over the world.  Mother Teresa replied to Diane “I feed souls for a day, you feed them for eternity”.  So if you can’t give financially because you’re out of work, or your income is down, you can certainly pray; you can volunteer to teach, or share your love of Christ with everyone you come across.  The greatest gift we can give anyone is the gift of salvation.

Sometimes when we pray, it doesn’t feel like we are accomplishing anything; does God really hear our prayers? Are we just spinning wheels and wasting time?  I have taught confirmation for 20 years, and often it is wonderfully fulfilling.  Other times I feel useless, especially when I have teens who simply don’t want to be there, or are apathetic about their faith.  In the past I have gone to soup kitchens and served the poor, collected shoe boxes full of  necessities and gifts for the poor in other countries, and collected money and household items for the Hurricane Katrina victims in ’05 and the flood in Atlanta in ’09.  I have found it is extremely gratifying to physically take care of the poor, but we have to remember the spiritual works of mercy are just as, if not more important, than the corporal.

When Peter healed the beggar, the people were “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened”.  They too recognized the extraordinary power of prayer; they saw that when we tap into God’s power we can “move mountains”.  We’re encouraged in Matthew 19:26 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

We are all called to build the kingdom of Christ in our own special way, with our own personal calling.  God has given all of us our own unique gifts, or charisms, some of which are listed in 1st Corinthians 12  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit”.   I believe God has given me gifts of teaching and healing, and He is calling me to use them in praying for others, teaching confirmation, explaining and defending the Catholic faith, and giving spiritual direction.

We shouldn’t emphasize one work of mercy as more important than another; instead, pray and discern the gifts that God has given you, and the way he is calling you to serve.  Through prayer we tap into the divine life and share it’s supernatural power; when teaching religious education, or giving spiritual direction, we are given the sacred honor of walking with a soul on their journey to a deeper relationship with Christ.

One of my first experiences of a miracle from prayer came many years ago when a friend, Jack (name changed) had a lung problem and went in for surgery.  During surgery the doctor discovered the damage to the lung was so severe, my friend should have died!  It was an absolute miracle the doctors were able to repair the damage and heal my friend.  Jack knew I had been praying, and called me to let me know how powerful prayer can be.  I had given a mum to Jack, but it had died and he set it out on the back porch.  On the day of his surgery the plant came to life and mysteriously bloomed!

Since then I have seen the entire spectrum of miracles; from bones mysteriously healing, to miraculous pregnancies, to emotional  healing from abuse and addiction, to powerful conversion experiences. The power of prayer should never be underestimated. James 5:16-18 declares “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Elijah was an ordinary man just like us; when he prayed for a drought, there was no rain for over three years. Then he prayed for the drought to end, and the rain poured from the heavens.  In Matthew 7 we’re reminded that God hears and answers every prayer, but sometimes in unexpected ways. When we ask for bread, God’s response may look like a stone, but we can be assured His answer is the right one.

Many today are out of work, sick, discouraged and depressed.  Whenever possible we need to be cheerful and encouraging, ready to lend an ear.  There are a multitude of ways to make a difference in this world; offering to babysit for moms with small children can be a wonderful blessing; you can volunteer to teach religious education or get involved in some other ministry.  There is a dizzying array of ways to volunteer, from hospitals, to grief ministries, to retreat leadership, to prayer groups, to animal shelters.

And first and foremost, we are called to pray “unceasingly” and be “faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12), whether intercessory, contemplative, with the rosary or with scripture, in the morning, in the night, alone or with others, with petition or with thanksgiving!  Pray for your family, for your country,  for your church, for peace and an end to violence.  Pray for the homeless, the hungry, and the sick.  Pray for the lonely, the abused, and for those with no faith.   Pray for the unborn, for the lost, abandoned, or forgotten children of the world; for those under the power of addictions or bound by depression, anxiety, or bitterness; and for prisoners and service men and women.  As you pray, stand firm in faith and be confident that God’s power can overcome any obstacle!

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Prepare the Way

Advent is now upon us; during these next few weeks we will focus on preparing a way for the Lord by making a straight path, and pushing aside obstacles that might get in the way.  The word advent means “to come to”, and refers to the coming of Christ.  In the four weeks before Christmas, we ponder first the coming celebration of Christ’s birth, secondly the way Christ comes to us daily, and then finally, His Second Coming at the end of time.

Instead of the usual boring lecture about slowing down during advent and asking you to pray more, this blog will be about “preparing the way”.  Whenever I hear these words, I think of the song from the musical “Godspell”; that whacky, playful, psychodelic collection of whimsical melodies from the seventies.  In Matthew 3 we hear about John the Baptist who proclaimed “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The prophet Isaiah spoke of him as “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

So what does it means to “prepare the way”?   It means to create a positive surrounding or to make it easy for one to be engaged in your life.  Let’s take a look at Luke 3:4-5,  “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth.” Apparently, John the Baptist was creating a warm and welcoming setting, making it easy for Jesus to enter and work in other’s lives.

Free Bible images of John the Baptist in the wilderness and the baptism of Jesus. (Matthew 3:1-16, Mark 1:1-11, Luke 3:1-22, John 1:1-34): Slide 1John traveled throughout Judea announcing the imminent arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the savior who would redeem us and take away our sins.   As part of preparing the way, John the Baptist preached the repentance of sins and baptized people for the remissions of their sins.  He was surprisingly harsh with the Pharisees and Sadducees calling them a “brood of vipers”!  He saw the hypocrisy in their hearts, and knew their hardness of heart prevented them from turning away from sin, from their arrogance and self-righteousness.  He warned them about the coming judgment that would bring about the destruction of unrepentant sinners.

In John 1:8 we’re told “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”  John the Baptist was to testify to the light, and to announce “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world”.  He was getting people ready for Jesus’ arrival by urging them to look inside and acknowledge their sins and then repent, allowing their hearts to be transformed. Hebrews 12:14 tells us of the need for holiness, “without which no man shall see the Lord.”

John the Baptist was rolling out a big red carpet, inviting everyone to metanoia, which means turning from the world, and toward Jesus Christ.  He was working on softening hearts so they could be open and willing to recognize Jesus when he came, and to respond to the free and beautiful gift of salvation.  But today, just as in the time of the Baptist, sin blocks the power of the Holy Spirit to pierce the darkness and bring light and truth.  By rolling out the carpet, John was trying to cover the potholes of indifference and greed, move the boulders of selfishness and materialism, and instead make a smooth and level path for the Holy Spirit.

“Sin has closed the windows of the soul, darkness is over all the region: it is the land of darkness and the shadow of death, where the light is as darkness. The prince of darkness reigns there, and nothing but the works of darkness are framed there.”

There is a spiritual darkness pervasive throughout our country and our world; the vast majority of Americans are spiritually dead, many are atheist; hedonism is widespread – sexual desire is to be fulfilled at all costs, with 60% of all existing web pages used for pornography; many suffer from depression, anxiety or addictions; our culture is secular and materialist.

Ezekiel 3:17 directs us to continue to be a “watchman” and steadfastly proclaim “the kingdom of God is at hand”.  We have to stand firm and continue to spread the gospel, and not allow ourselves to get discouraged or give up.  “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.  When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.  But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.”

Whoa!  An incredibly strong warning for us to stand up for truth and proclaim God’s word.  Instead of getting angry at those who are so blind, look upon them as Jesus sees them; lost souls in need of redemption.  Stop judging and condemning those who think differently than you do.  In the November issue of the Word Among Us, we’re told to “reach out to others with a loving and compassionate heart and be willing to find common ground with them, showing respect for their convictions”.  As Pope Benedict XVI told us, the witness of our faith is meant to “open the hearts and minds of those who listen.”  The words we speak and the lives we live are meant to move people  “to respond to the Lord’s invitation” so that they can “become his disciples” (Porta Fidei, 7).”

 

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The agonizing and speculation is over.  No more polls, no more campaign ads, no more predictions.  Half of our country is jubilant, and half are disappointed, many are desolate.  A comforting prayer is the “Serenity Prayer”, which is one of my most popular prayer cards at my bookstore:

                 God grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

One definition of wisdom is “understanding the true importance of events”. Wisdom is highly sought after, but so elusive.  Another definition “The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.”  King Solomon highly pleased God with his holiness, and so in 1st Kings 3:4 “the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.  God said: Whatever you ask I shall give you.”  King Solomon responded “Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil.”

God was so pleased at King Solomon’s request that He gave him “a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you.  In addition, I give you what you have not asked for: I give you such riches and glory that among kings there will be no one like you all your days.”

I absolutely love this verse and meditate on it often, asking God for the gift of wisdom.  Managing a small business in today’s economy can be nerve-wracking, and trying to navigate through the snares of the world can be difficult.  Many times I feel uncertain, not knowing which way to turn.  To me, there is no greater treasure on earth than the gift of wisdom.

Catholic Encyclopedia notes that wisdom, “by detaching us from the world, makes us relish and love only the things of heaven.”  Wisdom helps us to be “in the world”, but not “of the world”; to distinguish between right and wrong, to avoid sin and grow in holiness.  Wisdom helps us to be selfless, rather than self-centered; it saves us from making mistakes, and from going in the wrong direction. It equips us to handle difficult circumstances; helps us understand our filial relationship with God, and gives us confidence and assurance in God’s bounty.  Wisdom helps us understand God’s magnificence and omnipotence, and to see the world in it’s proper light, as a destination on the way to heaven.

Proverbs 2:2 “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.”

Have you ever heard the song “It is Well With My Soul”?  It was inspired by the story of Horatio Spafford, a wealthy Chicago lawyer, happily married with four daughters and a son. He was a devout Christian and devoted to Scripture.

Though Horatio’s career was highly successful,  he and his wife Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Not too long after, on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every one of Horatio’s real estate investments.

Sinking of the Steamship Ville du Havre.

Two years later Horatio sent his wife and daughters on vacation by boat to Europe. Horatio was going to join them later.  Within several days he received a telegram that his family’s ship had sunk; all four of his daughters drowned; only his wife survived.

While traveling to join his grieving wife, Horatio expressed his profound sorrow with these famous words, “When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul.”  Composer Philip Bliss was so moved by Horatio’s story, that he composed a beautiful piece of music to accompany the lyrics. The song was published by Bliss and Sankey, in 1876.

Horatio was given the gift of wisdom…Even through his grief, he hung on to the assurance of heaven; that he would see his loved ones again. Wisdom gave him serenity and peace, in the midst of this terrible disaster. We know that with this election, the days ahead will be turbulent as many new government regulations kick in with enormous new taxes and mandates, and new requirements for churches, businesses, and organizations to violate their religious conscience.  Our economy is faltering, yet businesses are going to be taxed at huge rates.

Wisdom helps us to deal with adversity with “great calm and hope” (New American Bible).  We desperately need wisdom so that “you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world.”  Phil. 2   My prayer for you is to receive this incredible supernatural gift of wisdom, to help you stay in God’s covenant and find your eternal home in heaven.

 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Ephesians 1:17

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