Saturday, January 28, 2017

Homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah, we hear those words , "seek justice, seek humility." Zephaniah was sent to the people of the Kingdom of Judah around the time of the Fall of Jerusalem.  The Kingdom of Judah, even though it had the temple and the Davidic Kingdom, has long forgotten the Law of Moses in which they were to worship God alone and in which they
were summoned to care for the widow and orphan.  They had grown corrupt in their wealth and power, and were primed for the day of wrath that would befall Jerusalem.  But God does not withdraw His hand without giving a way to return to Him and be so spared.  That road of return was to be just and to be humble.

Justice gets a bad name anymore.  Some think justice is about the allotment of punishment, an orderly form of vengeance.  Some think justice is about protesting what other people do, decrying corporate sin.  But justice, which is one of the four cardinal virtues, is about giving to another what they need.  Justice requires a person to look beyond themselves and open their eyes and actions to the needs of those around them.  True justice requires a selflessness of soul.  Had the People of Judah been just, they never would have worshiped any God but the Lord nor would they have ignored the needs of the poor.

Humility is the ability to live in the truth.  It is to know the correct and right relationship towards God.  It is to know who we are, who are not, and who we are before God.  Humility gives us wisdom to act rightly and selflessly.  It reorients us to right relationship with God and with our neighbor. Without these two characteristics that Zephaniah calls for, the people of Judah will remain in the delusion and their sin and so be fit for destruction.

In the Gospel, we have the Beatitudes of St Matthew.  At the core of each beatitude is this same humility and justice.  Each beatitude calls for us who follow Christ to act in the person of the Christ.  Being poor in spirit is being humble.  It is an acknowledgment of our need for God.  The meek are not the weak, but the strong who can hold back their hand in vengeance and give to others the mercy they need, even if they do not deserve it.  The mourning are not the bitter and sad, but those who are moved to pray for those caught in sin and see the consequences of their own sin as well.  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness recognize in humility that our consolation is not found here and now, that trinkets cannot take the place of the Kingdom of God.  In each of these Beatitudes we see a call for selflessness that is courageous, enduring, and strong.

This week we celebrate Catholic School's week.  The major purpose of a Catholic School is to form young men and women who will be the kind of person just described. We are to work with you parents in raising up not merely scholars but disciples who will become the faith filled and selfless leaders of their families, their parishes, and society as a whole. It is a partnership with a singular goal. Both of us need to be teaching that humility that leads us to understand that we need God...we need the sacraments. There is no greater conceit for a Catholic than to believe falsely that we do not need the sacraments.  Both of us need to be teaching that at the core of our Catholic identity is that selflessness that leads us to personally involve ourselves in not merely talking about the needs of others, but addressing the needs of others.  We cannot do either of these in isolation from the grace of God given through the sacramental life of the Church.

While we teach math, science, language, and history...all important and necessary skills to be is in teaching them what it means to be a follower of Christ...what it means to live a life of Beatitude...that is our true purpose.  We are not a private school with some statuary. We are a CATHOLIC school that passes on the teachings of Christ and His Church.  If humility and justice is what God wants...that is what we teach...both in our schools and in our homes.  If it mercy and courage that God demands...then that is what we teach to those God has placed in our care...both in the school and in the home.  Truth be told, whether your child is in the public schools, our parochial school or is home schooled the essential message is identical and we all share in that same mission of training young men and women who will walk humbly and justly before the Lord.

Let us ask God for this grace, then, to walk in truth, to seek truth, and to adjust our lives to the that we may be fitting witnesses to the power of God and teach our youth to do the same. Let us model what it means to seek justice and to seek humility. so that we might raise youth who seek justice, who seek humility, who seek the Lord!

Friday, January 27, 2017

I am human

I am human.
When I was conceived, I had my own distinct dna.
By the time I was five weeks I had a beating heart.
By the time I was ten weeks, I had my internal organs, arms and legs, fingers and toes.
By the time I was fifteen weeks I had distinct fingerprints, my gender became obvious.
By the time I was twenty weeks my mother could start to feel me kicking.
By the time I was twenty five weeks the baby fat was here, but on the bright was my hair
By the time I was thirty weeks, my lungs and other organs were getting ready for life outside of my mom's womb.
By thirty five weeks my kidneys and liver were fully functional.
By forty weeks I was outside of the womb.

But my development wasn't done yet.

Over the course of years my tiny body grew...and grew...and grew.
I developed the ability to crawl, to walk, and to run.
I developed the ability to grasp, to climb, and to get into just about everything.
I developed to be able to babble, then say a few words, and then talk.
I developed the ability to emote, to think, to reason.

My mind was developed by training I received at home and in school.

It wasn't until my late teens and early twenties that my body stopped growing taller or that my brain was fully developed.

In all of those stages I required help from outside of me.  I needed my mom from the very beginning.  I needed my dad as well.  I needed their care, their guidance, and their protection.  At no time since conception was I anything other than a human being.  My DNA said as much.  I did not change from one species to another...I was always human.

I was not a human being because I was wanted.
I was not a human being because of the quality of my parents.
I was not a human being because I made it out of the womb.
I was not a human being because I had no deformity or disease...they are human beings too.
I was not a human being because a government said I was.
I was human by virtue of genetics and science.
Biology tells me as much.

I was a human being...and am a human being...from the very beginning.

Every human being, from conception on, is a unique and irreplaceable human person. You are...I am.
We might be able to say we were zygots, embryos, or fetuses.  But as those are not singular to the human species, we have to distinguish it by adding the adjective 'human'.  To call any human merely a clump of cells is to dehumanize them so that we can justify whatever action we wish to take against or for that human being.

For me, as a Catholic, this all points to the wonderful way in which God knits us together.  He can take whatever circumstance we were conceived in and transform it into a life worth living.  But one need not believe in God to understand that each one of us is human.  We also know from the harsh lessons of history the great evil done when any group is stripped of their humanity.  Let us strive to melt the harshness of heart that blinds to truth so that the very thought of destroying innocent life in the womb is seen for the inhuman act that it is.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why Support Camp Maccabee?

Camp Maccabee is a catholic camp in association with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri.  It was founded in 2009.  All funding comes from donations made by donors.

 I was asked a few days ago why should a person either send their son to Camp Maccabee or support it.  That is a fair question.  To tell you why either is worthy of your time, energy, and money requires saying what is the purpose of the camp.

The camp, designed in mind for young high school men, operates under a centralized belief: No man should live in fear.  No man should allow fear to restrict who he is as an adopted Son of God.  Hence, our camp is meant to be challenging.

By a man should not live in fear we mean:

1) No man should live in fear of living as a Catholic of Faith.  This is first and foremost.  We believe no catholic man should be squeamish about faith, expressions of that faith, and a foundational  relationship with God and His Church.  If a man lives in fear of this it will effect every other aspect of that man.  This camp is saturated with our Catholic faith.  Daily Mass, Divine Office (morning prayer, evening prayer, night prayer), times for Confession, Eucharistic Adoration, Stations of the Cross, and Rosary are part of the days schedule.  This isn't so as to encourage mere hoop jumping, but to get them to understand that prayer is central, the sacraments are central, and their identity as God's sons is central.  We want to teach them that without this component, they will either fail or not reach greatness.

Your donations help us give each camper a Catholic Men's Devotional Bible, rosary, prayer cards, and other sacramentals all in a backpack.  Those donations also to the buying of the book we use for each camp, a book that focuses on virtue.

2) No man should allow fear to keep him from challenging himself in every manner.  We focus on virtue.  We focus on the theological and cardinal virtues and their application to their daily life.  We do not settle, though, for just an academic exercise, but to push them physically as well.  Lethargy has fear as a natural fruit.  We don't want these young men to see obstacles as unscalable walls, but as opportunities to stretch themselves.  We give no quarter to whining.  Many of our activities are designed to get them to push themselves and in many ways to find out success becomes them.

Your donations help us pay for and expand these activities.  During the course of the week the will do a warrior dash (with the principles of Navy seal Training in mind), a low ropes course, a float trip, hiking, fly fishing, among other activities  designed to get them going.  Your donations also go to fueling these young men with food and drink.  An army marches on their stomach it is said.  Being teenage men, they eat like locusts.

3) No man should be without his brothers.  Both is prayer and activities, we seek to form a bond of common fellowship with our brothers in Christ.  Fear can be increased when a person feels isolated.  The purpose of using the philosophy of Navy Seal training is that in this training they are not that it is the team that is important, success is found not merely in individual achievement but in winning as a team.  We try to each these young men that as they need the grace of God to overcome fear, they also need to seek support and give support to their brothers.  We want them to see each other as fellow warriors of Christ...not as the enemy or competition.  We want them to learn to serve and have each others backs.

The motto of Camp Maccabee is, "praesis ut prosis ne ut imperes."   This is Latin for, "Lead in order to serve, not to rule."  These young men will grow to be leaders we hope.  They will be husbands and dads.  They will be priests and parish leaders.  We want them to be strong in their Catholicism and faith.  They will be greater and stronger leaders if they stick close to God and each other.  With so much in this world that would still them and even emasculate them, Camp Maccabee is designed to tell these young men what God and His Church expects and needs.

In addition to the above, your donations go to giving a modest stipend to our college volunteers, the renting of vans to take our campers and staff to the various sites, insurance (you do what we do and you're going to need insurance), gas, and other equipment we need to pull this off from year to year.

We want to help create the Catholic leaders of tomorrow now.  We ask you to help us and be partners in this endeavor.  We ask you to consider sending your sons.  We take campers from those who can get them to our camp.  We are based in St. Robert, Missouri, which is pretty central in the state of Missouri.  We have taken campers from the dioceses of Jefferson City, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City. Certainly we could also take campers from the dioceses of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Little Rock, and beyond.

Currently we are running a fundraiser through teechip:  We will probably run another soon.  This fundraiser has the theme of this year's session (Be a man, Be selfless, be a hero) on it.  The next one will have the above logo.  We ask you to consider helping us.  You can also help us by going to our website and donating there.  We are in this for the long haul.  Be partners in this noble endeavor!

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Second Civil War.

One hundred and forty four years ago, on April 12th, 1861, a fort that had been built after the war of 1812 as a defense against foreign invaders from capturing the strategic city of Charleston SC was fired upon.  The fort and soldiers inside were not fired upon by the vessels of Great Britain or France.  No, the fort was fired upon by those who until recently had called themselves citizens of the United States.  The act began the US Civil War.  The act was not sudden.  It had been a long time coming.  South Carolina, along with other southern states succeeded from union over the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.  Lincoln represented a clear and present danger to the south as he wanted to deal with the original sin of our country: slavery.  Sentiments on both sides had grown hostile to the point where unity became impossible.

4 years and tens of thousands of lives lost later, the union won.  President Lincoln begged that the union not exact revenge on the south and wanted to restore the American union lost, this time without the bane of slavery.  144 years later there is still pockets of resentment about this era of history.  We still feel the repercussions of our original sin.

We now stand again with two sides looking with intense anger and fear at each other who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters.  This is not broken down so much by states as it is by ideologies.  The sides could be, in my humble opinion, be broken down into two camps: globalists and nationalists.  Each use these nomenclatures as insults against the other.  Each believes that their own ideology is on the side of the angels while the other side's ideology is malevolent and corrosive.  Both sides have a fear and loathing for the other.  Conversations between these groups end quickly in a cascade of insults and character assassination.  The further we go, the further  the heels get dug in and conflict becomes more of an inevitability.

Where people quit listening and prefer the consolation of echo chambers, violence will erupt.  The faults of 'my side' are ignored lest the case for my side be weakened.  The faults of 'your side', real or imagined, are to become a narrative by which propaganda is driven.  Neither is based in reality.  Each fights to control institutions: schools, churches, workplaces, higher education, media, and government itself. These institutions are commandeered so as to spout only one side's propaganda.  The more entrenched they become the greater deceit is approved and stereotypes utilized.  Gone is the ability to accept defeat and it is replaced by the throwing of violent temper tantrums.

No infection takes over the body instantaneously.  It gains ground cell by cell.  But if caught in time the infection can be contained or even eliminated.  The older I get, the more I have seen this infection spread.  We must stop.

How?  How do we stop this careening into a second civil war?  I posit we already in the second civil war.  Its fights are not on conventional battlefields like Shiloh or Gettysburg.  They are the streets of our cities.  They are on the airwaves.  They are in halls of Congress and state houses.  Forward motion comes to a halt for fear that whoever has the upper hand now will continue to have the upper hand.  I posit we are in a civil war because we forgot that we are supposed to be a people and have turned into a collection of conflicting tribes playing a zero sum game.  The deification of the self started in the culture in the 1960's is coming home to roost.  When what is best for us as a country is defeated by what is best for me, then breakdown is inevitable.

If the battle is to cease, then we need to start listening to each other.  That doesn't mean that we are going to agree.  It might help to understand that perhaps the majority of people on both sides are good people who are scared about the future and have bought into one way or the other of thinking as on how to address it.  If we start conversing, it will be harder for the Machiavellian puppet masters to divide us.  We could address each concern without the zero sum game.

There are going to be some issues we will have to choose a side on.  That will not be easy.  The balance, though, should fall on whether we are respecting the humanity of a person or group or stripping their humanity away so as to justify our violence towards them.  If we want to evolve, we will have to choose against that which strips the humanity away from a person and group.  At the time of the Civil War it was over whether it was just and moral to enslave a group.  Now it is whether it is just and moral to kill the unborn.  Certainly there are many other issues, most pointedly what should be the scope and power of the federal government (also at issue 144 years ago).  But reasonable and just people can debate these things and come to just conclusions.

I write this column on the date of the inauguration of President Donald Trump.  It is my sincere hope that he can be another Lincoln, something that was hoped of President Obama.  We need someone in the Oval Office that will not gin up the rhetoric of division and hatred.  I sincerely hope that a new direction can be taken.  I do not want a direction that inflicts retribution on one side over the other as we saw in the last administration.  No, I want a direction that reminds us of the union we are supposed to share, how we can disagree but remain united, who will lead us away from anything that strips the humanity of any group.  It may be a pipe dream, but I look to the day when we fellow Americans can see our country as a garden and not a battlefield.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fine Art of Bullying

Bully.  They have been with us from the beginning of time.  They are like a infestation of which  humanity just won't rid itself.  They are the antagonist in almost every film and show.  Campaigns are waged against the whole concept of bullying.  It infects all institutions.  It is in our entertainment, our governments, our literature , our schools and workplaces, out social circles, and even in our houses of worship.  Bullies have a shrewd way of manipulation and intimidation.  The very best are true artist, veritable svengalis of power and influence.  The best bullies convince you they are not bullies.  They convince if you join them that you too are not really a bully.

I want to distinguish between thugs and bullies.  Thugs love mayhem and violence.  They love to inflict terror.  Fear is their game.  They are mindless bullies.  They own their thuggery with a sense of pride.  Their needs are immediate and quickly sated.  They are the army for the true bullies.  The muscle.  The thug wants you to fear them.  Fear is not enough for the bully, though.  The bully plays a longer game.  The bully wants dominance and unquestioned obedience.  The bully wants surrender of your will to theirs.  The bully doesn't merely want occasionally beat you up,  they either want complete adherence or complete destruction.  The bully will utilize whatever they can get their hands on to enforce their will.  They will usurp authority to get their ends.  They will seize control of service apparati and morph them into bludgeons.

The true bully is all about disinformation.  Deceit is the name of the game.  The true bully believes their own deceit.  The bully grooms by feeding on the need for love and acceptance.  Alas, though, any kindness shown comes with an exacting price: a surrender of free will.  The bully will get you to do what you think is wrong.  He will violate you and make you think you asked for it.  Dirty little secrets and lies keep the bullies victims and associates in line.  The only truth the bully cares about is their own wants and desires.  They are pure selfishness playing a deadly game to manipulate the world completely to their liking. 

The most convincing bullies wrap themselves in a cause.  Causes draw people.  Causes form a common bond that makes the dissemination of propaganda and deceit possible.  The bully stirs emotions.  He or she will use explosive language to whip up the emotions of the followers.  Truth be damned, it is all about exciting people.  The bully finds scapegoats, usually people who disagree with them, to put a focus on whom to intimidate or eradicate.  Any method of achieving this is permissible.  Their army of thugs do the dirty work.  They are the assassins and rioters.  They are also largely disposable, for the true bully sees his or her thugs as disposable tools.

The bully utilizes strength for power and not for service.  This makes sense as the selfish nature of the bully sees all things in service of him or her.  Everything exists for the bully's pleasure.  He sates the thugs by allowing them to participate in this in so far as they don't take anything he wants.  A thug needs to know his limitations. Bullies will destroy thugs on a whim.  The only thing a bully truly creates is other bullies...every action has an opposite and equal reaction.  Debate is little more than an exchange of live ammunition.

A bully will call anyone who disagrees with him and has the power to stand up to him a bully.  The bully can no have no rival.  He will sick his thugs on the rival using any means necessary.  He will paint his opponent as a bully because he believes he is a bully.  Bullies can very adept at identifying every other bully but themselves...they are on the side on the angles in their own minds.  What distinguishes a true leader from a bully is that the leader acts in concern for others and not themselves.

The true leader is selfless.  He or she sees their job as exposing the truth and letting people decide for themselves.  A leader doesn't need to be agreed with immediately.  A true leader doesn't need to call names or destroy those who disagree with him.  No, he understands the truth can defend itself.  The true leader is all about the truth, even when that truth challenges the leader.  The bully demands everyone else change, the leader never puts himself above change.  The true leader is not threatened by being disagreed with nor does he capitulate the truth.  The leader is not concerned first with your loyalty, no, he is concerned with your welfare.  The true leader is patient and  has perseverance. The true leader does not act by force, but by being forthright.    The true leader doesn't need thugs to enforce his reign.

Being a true leader is also an art.  A much harder art than being a bully.  The bully looks to themselves.  A true leader looks beyond themselves.The true leader shows restraint and models disciplined behavior. The true leader doesn't need ideological enemies to make him or her to look good.  The true leader needs truth.  The true leader doesn't want you to be his mindless follower, but wants you to be his friend.  He doesn't want to keep you down, but to lift you up.  Violence is not his tool, truth is.  The bully calls names and publicly humiliates those who disagree with him or her as their default.  A leader might well have to call out outrageous behavior and call something that which it is, he might have flip some tables and fight back evil.  They do so to protect those being harmed.
However, their default is towards exposing the truth and allowing the truth to draw people freely.

When we look at what we write and what we say, humility and brutal truth about ourselves must be the measure by which we judge our actions.  What motivates my words?  Am I offended that someone is not doing what I want?  Am I offended because someone doesn't agree with me?   Is what I say, do, or write motivated to make people believe what I want?  Will I call out people and whip up emotions against people?  Being a leader or a bully can be a very fine line.  We can be for the truth without destroying others.  We can lay out ideals without assigning malevolent motivations upon those who disagree with us.  We can be charitable even in the application of unpopular truths.  We can  refrain from name calling ( the tool exclusively of the bully). Sometimes, though, a brood of vipers is a brood of vipers. We can refrain from whipping up emotions and defining scapegoats.  The leader is the servant of the truth.  The true leader does not see those around to be manipulated but to be cared for.  Which one are you?          

Sunday, January 15, 2017

An Unremarkable Convert

A grainy photo taken decades ago in a trailer park somewhere in West Virginia...or maybe Alabama.  A  little boy with big ears and big smile.  Somewhere in that little boy was a future that was still unwritten.  He was a boy that didn't spend much time in churches.  He was raised to be honest and respectful but not terribly religious.  He wasn't baptized until 6th grade.  He became Catholic that March day back in 1977 in a part of the country (southeast Kentucky) where being a Catholic was not welcome.  At the point of this photo, the little boy had a little sister.  Years later, 4 more siblings would come along.  Home life would be rocky at times.  He would go to a Catholic School in Missouri and be bullied most of the time.  He was by the far the smallest in the class...smaller than even all the girls.  He would find some solace in Church, not a relationship, just solace.  By 8th grade he wanted out of his town and an opportunity opened up.

He had heard about a High School seminary.  It was away from the town he lived in. He had been asked about priesthood by a neighbor.  The neighbor had sons in the seminary.  He and his wife were wonderful people.  When the seminarians came to visit/ recruit, this young man saw a camaraderie  absent in his life.  Drawn by the hope of respite, he begged his parents to let him go.  They did.  He went through four years of seminary.  He was unremarkable and excelled in little.  He was Joe Average.  There was a lot of untapped potential that was there, but he was far too timid to take a chance.  He graduated and headed to college seminary because it was expected and safe.

Without going into detail, the first three years of college seminary were difficult.  What faith the young man possessed slowly ebbed away.  Those who took the faith seriously were dismissed as trolls and the young man had managed to fit in with the 'right' group.  Worldly criteria clouded his judgement.  He transferred his senior year.  That little move of God's hand saved His faith, although it would be years before that became clear.  This seminary took faith seriously and demanded more.  This appealed to the young man.  For the first time, he really felt that there might actually be a real calling to the priesthood.  Just when the story was about to take off, tragedy struck.  His parents were divorcing.

The timidity of this young man was long gone.  He had come into his own.  He found he was smart and could get along well with his peers.  But with the divorce came anger.  Lots and lots of anger.  Much of it directed at God.  How could God let this happen?  The young man was following Him.  How could this happen?  He tried to enter major seminary but the interviewers caught the anger and suggested he take some time off to figure things out.  The young man's faith was decimated.  He went home to New York and landed right in the middle of messy divorce and a split family.  The local pastor found out the young man had been in the seminary and pressured relentlessly to get the young man back in again.

The young man caved to the pressure even though he had severe doubts about even the existence of God at all.  His faith, such as it was, was limited to religious practice which more and more seemed empty.  He lasted less than one year in what was probably the hardest year of his life.  What he witnessed in the year of theology convinced him beyond the shadow of a doubt that there might be something that created but He was as distant from His creation as possible.  The horror show he witnessed in that one year so turned him off to the not just the Catholic Church, but to Christianity as a whole.  He went home and refused to step into a church.  He didn't pray.  God was dead to him.

For the next several years he became largely indistinguishable from his peers.  He got a job, dated, and made plans for  getting married and having children some day.  He bounced from one bad relationship to another. He started to drink a lot.  He started to withdraw.  But, at work, he quickly moved up.  You see, the lessons from his parents about honesty and hard work paid off.  His distancing himself from god and religion seemed to paying off.  He dropped drinking and threw himself into work. He found he girl he wanted to marry and make a future with.  His company transferred him to a much bigger position that would take him back to Missouri.  In fact, right back to the diocese he had studied for before.  When he left for Missouri, he had no intention of rejoining anything of his old life.  Though he lived an hour away from many people who knew him, he made no effort to contact any of them.

Maybe it was being back in place where the old god he worshiped felt familiar.  Actually it was a gnawing hole that wouldn't leave him alone.  The young man, now in his mid 20's found success unfulfilling.  He realized there was never going to be enough.  There would never be enough money, enough power, enough pleasure, or enough honor.  That realization ate at him for months.  Hindsight now shows it was the Good Shepherd calling the name of His lost sheep.  The more he heard  that voice beckoning the more his life seemed empty.  All he had built seemed little more than a sand castle.

The young man started making contact with his old acquaintances.  Of course as Catholicism was part of their life, he reluctantly gave it another chance.  But he didn't want what he had before.  If he was going to do this, he wanted what those who loved the faith had.   The faith would have to be built from a different perspective.  Before, as seminaries were want to do in the 80's, he had been exposed to a 'make it up as you go along' faith touted by the progressive arm of the church.  He knew that didn't work and he wasn't going to put himself through that again.

After reconciling with the Church, the young man found a spiritual director.  This spiritual director placed a primacy on the father-child relationship.  Seeing as how the father-child relationship he had with his own dad was stressed, it was going to be hard to readjust.  It was a purging experience.  As that relationship developed a long dismissed notion struck back up in the young man's head: God was indeed calling him to the priesthood.  This was not a welcome development.  Could God not be pleased with what had happened, why did He require more?  To make matters worse, he would have to try to go back to a place where he had done a sufficiently good job burning bridges.

God, however, purifies by burning off the bad.  Pursuing the possibility meant a total destruction of what was.  The job was left behind and replaced by an internship at a parish.  All of the debt incurred by spending with a higher paying job now meant that all the trinkets and prizes the young man has acquired had to sold off bit by bit to settle the bills.  His payment for his internship was room and board.  A job was taken at a local grocery store stocking shelves.  The young man now had lost his power and his wealth. To make matters worse, the diocese he petitioned to had a vocational director who had no intention of allowing him back.  The young man now lost his honor, he was persona non grata.

You might think this cruel of God.  However, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat.  Stripped of his honor, wealth, and power the young man was challenged by the pastor to everything he feared.  The pastor was teaching the young man the importance of service and prayer.  He made the young teach the faith and do it correctly.  He made him get involved with the sick and dying.  That pastor had many sleepless nights worrying about whether the young man had the perseverance to live up to the challenge.  For the first time in young man's life he had to fight for God's was not going to be handed to him with ease.

The next year and half humbled the young man.  He needed it.  It also made clear his gifts.  he needed to know them as well.  He was far from the 8th grade boy who used the seminary to run away.  IF he were to enter again, it would be an positive answer to a call..not a fleeing from reality.  Now, for this young man, a desire for truth and a deeper relationship  arose.

He persevered by the grace of God and made it into the seminary.  His conversion was far from over.  His arrogance had to be tempered.  His anger needed to be tempered.  His trail by fire was far from over.  The young man almost got booted out.  However, the Vice Rector saw something in him and while punishing the behavior allowed him to stay.  That might have been the single most important act of being forgiven to effect the young man.  That act of forgiveness was the coup de grace of his doubts and rebellion.  Over the next four years the young man grew more and was determined to preach and teach the mercy and forgiveness of God.  He knew that to do this meant being immersed in the truth.

He got ordained.  Twenty years have passed.  In each assignment he grew.  His conversion is not over yet.  One of the things he learned in this whole experience is that the prodigal can come home. He also learned that he must be as patient with those undergoing conversion at any stage as people were with him through all those stages.  That young man is now middle aged and creeping slowly into older age.  He is as far away from the little boy in the picture in soul as he is in stature.  He is wise enough to know that through the whole thing...through the high points and low points...God was there and will continue to be there.

Now the reader of this will have guessed from the beginning that I am this man.  I wrote it in the third person to disconnect from the emotions and make it less about me.  Funny in a story of conversion I would do this?  Not at all.  Our lives as Christians  moves beyond us; it points to something greater.  Hopefully some reading this might see themselves in this, for good or for ill, and be sparked to conversion.  I name this an unremarkable convert because this story, or variations of it, play out every day.  Those who are on this path need to know it leads home if they will allow it.  The story of this convert is far from over.  The conversion is far from over.  I am still not the man, the priest, the Catholic, the son, the brother, the uncle, or the friend that I want to be.  I am still not the adopted son of God that I want to be.  I don't see it stopping until God chooses to call me from this life.  Nor do I see God's grace stopping to fuel this ongoing conversion.

Gone is that little boy.  Gone is the angry young man.  But without those phases, I wouldn't be the man I am now.  The end lesson is this: you can either allow the peaks and valleys destroy you or strengthen you.  What I found, is that with the grace of God, they strengthen you like a trial by fire to help mold us into what God call us to be.  It may be hard...but there is always a way home.  

A Most Dangerous Prayer: Part 6

In this final reflection for the Our Father, we look at the final petition of the prayer.  Remember, that in this prayer we are showing a desire for a complete relationship with God.  We are committing ourselves to take on His attributes and make known His Kingdom on earth.  We surrender our wills to Him.  This is all important as we remember the last petition, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Because we pray as our Lord taught us does not mean the devil will not tempt us.  In fact, the more we desire to grow closer to God, the more the devil attacks.  The more we want a relationship with God, the more the devil will tempt us to a disordered relationship with something other than God.  Our free will does not dissipate upon conversion.  No, conversion, being on ongoing process, grows stronger each time challenged.  St John Chrysostom writes of this petition, " Jesus here calls the devil the 'wicked one', commanding us us to wage against him a war that knows no truce."  (Homilies on the Gospel of Mathew 19.6)  St Cyprian of Carthage saw this petition as a recapitulation of the entire prayer.

We are asking God to keep us on the straight and narrow.  We are recognizing that to live the life we have pledged ourselves to in being His sons and daughters, that His grace and protection are necessary for this to happen.  This said, we must be authentic in praying such a phrase.  We cannot adhere to our favorite sins and yet still ask God to save us.  In this phrase we choose a side and a protector.  We look to God and not the powers of this world to sustain us and protect us.  However, if we choose sin, God will allow us to wander, to be lead away from Him.  He will not deliver us from evil if we are running toward evil with arms outstretched.  To pray this phrase is to say that I will keep my joy in God.  If we are unwilling to let go of our sin, then we lie when we pray this.

This doesn't mean we won't struggle and struggle mightily.  The devil knows our weaknesses and will hammer on them.  God gives us the gift of virtue to do ongoing battle with sin and temptation.  He will give us every grace and tool to combat sin, he will give the knowledge on how to use these tools, but He will make us use them.  In asking to deliver us, we are committing to using these tools.  In praying this prayer, we are saying we walk with our eyes wide open.  We say that we indeed are waging a war with the devil that knows no truce.

The Our Father is a most dangerous prayer for those who say it and don't mean it.  It would be as dangerous as uttering the words of the marriage vows and not meaning them.  To lie about the relationship we want to have with God is eternally deadly.  But would Jesus want us to drink a poison every time we pray as He instructs?  Absolutely not!  This prayer is to be a constant reflection in our lives of how we live as His followers.  Prayed in truth, this prayer is of great comfort...the words of a trusting child before father who loves them.  Let this prayer be the standard by which we live our lives day in and day out.  Let this prayer be an ongoing pledge to strive to be a faithful son or daughter of God.  Do not take these words blithely, rattling them off without thought.  Be aware of what we ask for and live accordingly. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Most Dangerous Prayer: Part 5

For years, this next section of the Our Father has stuck in my mind as the most dangerous phrase of this prayer: and forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  This phrase strikes at the heart of the Mission of Jesus Christ: the reconciliation brought about through the exercise of mercy and the forgiveness of sin.  It stirs up protracted discussions about mercy, forgiveness, justice, confession, retribution, and salvation itself.  Indeed, in St Matthew's  telling, immediately after the giving of this prayer, Jesus says, " If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." (Matthew 6: 14-15)

'To forgive' means to 'no longer hold against'.  For example, we can forgive a loan.  This means that the monies owed are no longer owed, the lender cannot come back and demand payment.  We see Jesus draw this comparison in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-34)  To forgive does not deny reality; it does not change that a debt was owed.  It means the the debt is wiped clean through the exercise of mercy on the part of the lender.

To forgive sin means to no longer hold that sin against the person.  Once forgiven, that action cannot be brought up for later accusation and use.  When  God forgives us, the sin is no longer held against us.  This is not a condoning of the sin.  This is not an encouragement to further sin.  It is an act of mercy.  As stated before, in this protracted reflection, to call God our Father is to adopt the traits of the Father and His ways to ourselves.  If God exercises mercy and forgives, then we as His children must as well.  To refuse to forgive is to turn our back on our eternal heritage.  To value forgiveness means we understand that the idea of taking revenge, active or passive, is to turn our back on our heritage.  Note how the older brother's unwillingness to forgive in the Parable of the Prodigal Son leaves him estranged from his heritage in  Luke 15:28-30.  We cannot be like Amon Goeth in Schindler's List who says "I pardon you' as he shoots to kill.

I am convinced that the devil deludes us into thinking that to forgive means to condone.  To condone a sin is to give excuse to sin, to declare it okay or understandable.  God does not approve of our sins when He forgives.  No, he acknowledges we sinned and forgives nonetheless.  If we approach Him in sorrow and contrition for what we have done, He forgives us because he is mercy.

It is worth self examination, then, to look at how we treat those who have harmed us.  It is easy to say, 'I forgive you,' by comparison of actually forgiving.  Actual forgiveness means to 'no longer hold against.'   That is a much taller order.  That, at times, can require heroic virtue.  In actual forgiveness, we leave ourselves vulnerable to be hurt again.  If our forgiveness is contingent upon the offending party never hurting us again, it will be hard to do so.  While there is no guarantee that the person not sin against us, we must learn from the words of Christ to woman caught in adultery, "go, and sin no more."   Certainly, God would afford the grace to the person to do so.  When we forgive, do we help set up the circumstances for possible conversion, or push the person away as an act of self defense?  No doubt, people will turn to extreme cases like an abusive and violent spouse.   The overwhelming majority of the things we must forgive don't quite rise to that level.

Even in the case of an abusive spouse, why forgive?  If you look at the other phrases within the Our Father, each is a recognition that God is looking out for our good.  How, then, is God looking out for our good in mandating forgiveness?  Simple.  Forgiveness is the ultimate act of self preservation.  In forgiveness, we no longer allow the harm another did to control our actions and words.  In true forgiveness, we don't carry the onerous burden of the debt owed us by another.  I think of some of horrible things that have been done to me.  As long as I withheld forgiveness, I carried the burden of allowing those actions to define me and my responses.  Forgiveness frees us.  A loving God knows this and wants us to be free so that we may love as He does.  That ability to love as God loves is truncated while we hold tight to the shackles of resentment.  Without the ability to love as God loves, we shut ourselves out of the Kingdom of Heaven.  That love has as its heart mercy.

I go one step further. We live in a court of public scrutiny.  We display the sins of another and treat them as they were offenses against me as an individual.  I will take an example from today's headlines.: Dylan Root.  When that young man went into that church and killed those who had welcomed him, it was a heinous and evil act.  The family members of the victims and the survivors have a monumental task in forgiving him.  It might be even said that the other members of that Church have the same monumental task.  Certainly it is the duty of the people of law enforcement to deal with Mr Root and give a fitting punishment for the crimes.  We can argue whether the death penalty is fitting, but that is a different argument for a different time on this blog.  All this said, how is what happened my business?  Has Mr Root somehow trespassed against me?  Does he require my forgiveness?  Does he require my condemnation?  My duty to Mr Root is to pray for his conversion and the state of his immortal soul.  That is what my contribution is to be in this matter.  Far too often, in this culture we interject our nose into matters that are not our business.  We cannot call ourselves good Catholics on the one hand and then hold our thumbs in the ready position like the roman emperor in the Colosseum deciding the fate of the next criminal brought in to die for our entertainment.

Jesus makes clear here and elsewhere that God will give us what we give.  He will also withhold from us what we withhold.  Is ceding heaven worth nurturing our hurt?  Is holding onto the chains of our resentment worth hell?  This most dangerous phrase of this prayer is either a constant reminder to virtue or a damning self indictment.  As hard as it might be, forgiveness is an absolute necessity in the life of a Catholic.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Most Dangerous Prayer: Part 4

As we continue through this reflection on the Our Father, we come up on the following phrase , "Give us this day our daily bread."  For what are we asking here? St Cyprian points out, " Daily bread may be understood both spiritually and simply, because both meanings help us to understand salvation.  For Christ is the bread of life, and this bread is not the bread of all, but it is our bread." 

Certainly, the meaning is two fold.  First it is a physical longing for that which we need.  Here I feel compelled to differentiate between the words 'need' and 'want' as our society has a difficult time separating the meaning of these words.  They are not synonymous!   Need would connote a necessity for life.  Needs are basic.  We need food, water, shelter, clothing, and to be loved.  Want goes beyond this and seeks more than needs. 

We need food, not caviar.  We need water, not Champagne.  We need shelter, not mcmansions.  We need clothing, not name brands.  In prayer, we ask God for needs.  In the Scriptures we see God is concerned with needs, not so much with wants.  In fact, our desire for excess can and does, at times, prevent others from getting their needs.  Before I get accused of socialism or worse, do not forget the operation of the free will.  Our willingness towards looking to the needs of others is not to be done a s a result of compulsion, but as a result of love.  That said, a reading of the Last Judgment sequence of Matthew 25 will be be sufficient to remind us the price of ignoring the needs of others.  Asking for God to attend to our needs as we ignore the needs of others is the height of hypocrisy.

However, our needs go beyond the physical. We are more than physical beings.  We are spiritual beings as well.  The bread needed there is the daily grace of God, especially that which is given most powerfully through the sacramental life of the Church. This is the same Jesus who says "I am the Bread who came down from heaven...I am the bread of life! (John 6:32-42)  The man born in Bethlehem, which comes from the Hebrew 'house of bread', who was lain is a manger, a place where animals feed,  most certainly points to Himself in this directive to pray for our daily bread.

If we are to ask for such things, should we not be open to them?  Do we dare ask God to provide for our needs when we focus on our wants?  Can we ask God to provide for our needs as we deny others their needs?  Can we ask for the bread of life but shut our souls and hearts through sin?  To petition God for that which we do not want is supremely disrespectful to God.  To demand more than we need is to say that what God gives is insufficient.

Jesus asks us to ask for OUR needs to be met. Not my needs.  Our needs. Give US this day OUR daily bread. This would imply an understanding that I not only pray for the needs of others, but that as a son or daughter of God, I am attendant to the needs of others...not merely my own.  There is no room for narcissism in the Body of Christ.  We cannot ask God to be just and withhold being just.  We are told, 'the measure with which you measure, will be measured to you'.

In Catholicism, we are given concrete instruction towards what needs we should be attending (all in the name of a life of divine love) in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  We are given THE Bread of Life in the Eucharist.  We are given the opportunity to be freed of the weight of our sins in the sacrament of Confession.  In giving us our daily bread, God is most generous in the ways and avenues He takes is giving us what we need.  In praying 'give us this day..', we are also implying that we are willing to receive it on His terms.  We can't want the benefits but not the relationship.  We approach God as a loving child, not as an entitled brat. 

As we will continue to see as the prayer further unfolds, to call God our Father, is to desire to conform our lives to make His qualities our own.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Most Dangerous Prayer: Part 3

It is the next phrase of the Our Father that provoked me to write this entire reflection.  To recap, so far we have acknowledged a specific relationship, a specific type of relationship, and have told God we desire to set a trajectory that leads us to Him for eternity.

In the next praise of the Our Father, though, we don't merely look to something that will come.  No, we pledge to bring about that conversion in the present.  We pledge to abide right now in the same state of affairs as we look to in heaven, albeit in lesser circumstances.

We pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Do we have any idea of the extraordinary challenge Jesus throws downs in telling us to pray with these words?  How is it that God's will is done is heaven?  It is negotiable?  Is it something the citizens of heaven can form into something more self serving?  No, God's will in heaven is absolute.  There is nothing that acts against God's will in heaven.  Nothing!  What is this will?  Well, St John, repeatedly tells us this will is love.  This love is not mixed with any self -interest, it is totally self giving.  One would imagine where this will to love is perfectly done that there is nothing of division, pain, loss, sorrow, guilt, or any other fruit of sin.  Read that list again.  See what we commit ourselves to in praying these words, "Your will be done on earth as it is heaven."

To be honestly prayed takes an act of the will to desire to actively engage in the evangelization of such love in the world around us.  Notice, we say 'on earth' and not a more narrow focus of, say, our family or home.  We do not pledge to carry the life of divine love into just the safe and accepting, but into the entire planet.  As those who pray this, we are making a commitment to be ambassadors of God to this world.  It is no surprise that Jesus would have us pray such, as He repeatedly beckons His followers to get about the business of the Kingdom.  When we pray these words, we are saying that it is my will that God's will should be done here and now as it is for eternity in heaven.

Jesus spells out what this life of love looks like.  It is the Gospel that is preached to us (hopefully) day in and day out.  This is much more than be privately held kind or being a social justice warrior.  It is the ordering of one's life completely in the love of God and making invitation for others to do the same.  The love of God is not forced upon us.  It is to be a freely and frequently accepted gift from God.   Hence, the way we live the life of spreading the Gospel should be as well...a free and frequently given gift. As Matthew 10:4 , "Freely you have received, freely give."    The Christian's love on earth is to mirror the love of God in heaven!

Now, this phrase can also be a pledge of our obedience and desire to live as a son or daughter of God, or it can be another self-incrimination of our own disobedience.  We must look at what our actions and such say.  Again, correct words hurled at God's direction are far from enough.  Our actions must back this up,  As I John 4:20 reminds us, "If one says, "I love God" and hates his brother, He is a liar!"  When we look at the seeds we sow in our actions and words, do we sow divine love or weeds?  We cannot go both ways here and still be authentic to the words we pray.  We cannot rejoice in the failure, death, or punishment of those we do not like and still be ambassadors of God.

A good exercise for those who use social media, for example, is to look at your posts, the things you share and like, and such.  What do they provoke and promote?  If we are to say, "Your will be done on earth as it is heaven,"  then we must use that as the measure by which we comment, act, and speak.  This tiny phrase sets a high standard, just as all things Jesus gives us do.  That Jesus would have us pray this when approaching the father, tells us much of the expectation He has of us.    

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Most Dangerous Prayer: Part 2

As we continue this spiritual reflection of the Our Father, I must first refresh what we have already seen in the first line, "Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be your name." In this phrase we have established a necessary relationship, the relationship of a trusting child looking to the goodness and otherness of the divine Father. In this phrase we set a trajectory for our lives that stretches beyond this mortal life and set our hopes and conforms our lives towards heaven.  These words are given by Jesus to tell us what He expects of His Body, the Church.  Again, these words can be of great wisdom and instruction, or they can be words of self-incrimination at our judgement based on how we have lived our lives in the freedom God has given us.

Having established the type and  trajectory of this relationship, we now speak a series of phrases on how this relationship is to find its bearing in our lives.  This relationship with the Father is to have a fundamental effect that shifts our minds, hearts, actions, thoughts, and words to be an imitation of the Father.  Having set this, Jesus gives us next the words, "Your kingdom come." These three words are explosive.  In these three words we surrender any and all pretense of the kingdoms we wish to set in our lives with us as the king.  In these three words we willfully reorder our priorities and efforts, not to the building up of our own wealth and power, but towards the building up of the Kingdom of God.  We have pledged ourselves, in uttering these words, towards not mere discipleship, but towards the purpose of the Christ Event: the salvation of all who will hear, believe, and be converted.  We pledge ourselves to the evangelical call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Are we really living such a calling?  Faith is not a private matter.  Faith is to be a evangelical calling card.  The Kingdom of God is built not by magic, but by the intentional action of Jesus Christ and His people.  If we live our faith as a pious hobby, as a functional social event, or an empty shell, these words, "Your Kingdom come" ring hollow.  If we are intent on building our own kingdoms, then 'your Kingdom come' becomes a mocking deceit.  God is not sated by an onrush of the right words hurled in His direction.  No, He demands a transformed life that matches such noble words.  He so wants it, that He will give us all the grace necessary for us to accomplish it. 

But for His Kingdom to come necessitates our kingdoms to fall.   Remember those wonderful words of St. John the Baptist that we hear in the Gospel of John 3:30: He (Jesus) must increase, I must decrease.  In these three words from the Our Father (Your Kingdom come) we essentially are saying the same thing.  Lord, your kingdom must increase and my kingdoms decrease.  It is a willful surrender of the temporal for the eternal.  These three words harken us  to humble submission driven by a profound trust that God's Kingdom can and will give us what the kingdoms of this world will not.  'Your Kingdom come'  is an act of hope. 

Woe to us, then, if we are intent on building our own kingdoms at the expense of the Kingdom of Heaven! To pray this prayer with authenticity requires a humble submission of one's entire life to the will and providence of the Father.  Recall that the first hearers of this were wanting an earthly kingdom run by the Messiah.  they were short sighted.  We are as well if we settle for the tawdry plastic crown presented by this world in place of the Kingdom of God.  It is human nature to place our hopes on those things confined to time and space.  However, we remind ourselves every time we pray the Our Father that we aspire to something greater, but to get to the greater requires allegiance to the correct kingdom.  In giving us these words in the words of prayer before the Father, Jesus is telling us where our true kingdom and allegiance is to rest.

A Most Dangerous Prayer: Part 1

It is a common  prayer used by all of Christendom.  It is used at Mass.  It is used in the Divine Office.  It is used during the rosary.  Its words can roll off our tongues without a great deal of thought.  The Our Father.  It comes as a response to a request from the disciples as to how they are to pray.  It does not take much to understand that everything Jesus calls his followers to do is neither easy nor without a great challenge being laid forth. Alas, though, we have greatly domesticated this prayer.  We have domesticated it by speaking it without understanding it.  If we were to understand it, we would understand it to be a most dangerous prayer.  Every word has the power to lift us up in wisdom and holiness, or become self-incrimination at our judgement.  What is it we pray?

We say, "Our Father."  Do we understand what we are saying?  In just two words we are making two profound statements about faith.  First, we recognize God as OUR, not my. It is implicit that this is not merely a private relationship I possess with God, but one that is shared in union with a larger group.  I don't approach God merely as an individual, but as part of the Body of Christ.  It is only through the mediation of Christ that we are given such access and such a distinct relationship with God.  It is only through being a member of His Body that we can call God what we call Him.  As a member of His Body and hence as an adopted son or daughter, I am given this grace.  Second we refer to this person of God as 'Father.'  Not master.  Not buddy.  Not servant.  Not slave.  Not stranger.  The type of relationship Jesus was sent to establish was that of a father/child with us being the child!  God is not our equal nor inferior, He is not servant to beckon when needed and ignored when not.

When we say this, is this a reflection of the reality of our relationship with God, or are we mocking God to His face?  Do we indeed treat God as our superior and hence conform our will to His?  Or do we demand explicitly or implicitly that God conform Himself to our will?  To do the latter would be to claim the fatherhood of God for ourselves.  Instantaneously, we attempt an eschatalogical coup d'etat.  This no longer makes us in league with God, but in league with the first entity to attempt to usurp God's power, Lucifer.  We cannot be God's child and provoke rebellion against him at the same time.  If we are to indeed truthfully speak these words, we are calling for a deeper conversion and conviction within ourselves to align our lives with the will of the Father.  Furthermore, in praying these words ' Our Father', we are showing a trust in God's providence and will.

We then say 'who are in heaven.'  This implies a focus and directionality.  It implies a desired trajectory. It says where our gaze is fixed.  That we are to so align our lives and choices to the things of heaven and not of earth is a dominant theme throughout the Scriptures.  We acknowledge something beyond this life, something eternal. It is no surprise that the words" hallowed be your name" come next. In this we are to fix our goals and desires to those things of God, for they are the things set apart to our good.  For in God we find the holy/hallowed (meaning that is which apart or set apart).  In 6 words we have set a directionality, a disposition, and a promised trajectory all based on a relationship that we are called to have with God.

The question becomes then is as to whether or not our trajectory is really towards heaven or not.  To say it is not do it, this prayer is not a magical incantation.  If our trajectory is actually here and now, then these words are a mockery.  This is why these words can not be uttered blithely or emptily.  No word that Jesus would have us approach the Father with can be taken so insolently.  No, they are professions of faith and a constant reminder of the challenge and the heights to which we are called.

Don't get me wrong, it is not as if this prayer can only be said by the perfect.  Not at all.  But it must be prayed intentionally and with understanding so as to cultivate conversion in each and every heart of the person who prays it.  The Our Father is tutorial of what it is Jesus expects of His followers till He comes again.  In these words, Jesus tells us not merely of the meaning of His mission but the ways in which this mission is meant to change everything.

In subsequent columns, I will go through the other words of this prayer and look at what we are actually praying for and expressing a desire.