Monday, July 31, 2017

The Smallest Act of Love

The Kingdom of God,
Starts very small,
Like mustard seed or yeast.
Yet when it grows it changes all,
the greatest from which was least.

Our efforts seem,
To no avail,
Or seem to take too long.
Yet when we see the good that's grown,
Happily we are wrong.

Your task it is,
To sow the seed,
To be tiny leaven.
By action, deed, prayer, and thoughts,
Help others on to heaven.

Be not discouraged by failure,
Or slow imperceptible growth.
It is the smallest act of love,
That changes the world the most.

From The Last Dragon and Other Poems by James M. Hahn, available Fall 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Better Part

We live in an anxious and worried world.  Often we are anxious and worried about things that in no way affect our lives.  We watch the news, read the paper, and become anxious about things in the world  Just as often we forget about these pressing events within a week.  Yet we are also anxious and worried about the real day to day events that touch our lives.

What are you anxious and worried about today?  Are you anxious and worried about your job or children's education?  How about your bills or the stock market?  Are you anxious and worried about your transportation or the election?  What else are you anxious and worried about today?  Which of those things have you brought to Jesus in prayer today?

I have a hard time believing that Mary was lazy or aloof in regard to the world around her.  Rather, she put first things first.  The food could wait one more minute.  The preparations wouldn't be ruined if they were neglected for five more minutes as she spent time with Jesus.  In fact, the work she does after may be even better.  Her heart will be at peace, not anxious.  She may do a better job because she will no longer have worries troubling her heart but will instead have love, Jesus, in her heart.  Mary put relationships first, most especially her relationship with the Lord.

We live in an anxious and worried world.  We live in a world that sees more value in production than relationships.  Our culture encourages efficiency over beauty and construction over conversation. That is why we text rather than call but never say, "I miss her now that she's gone, I wish I could just get one more text from Grandma."  No, we miss the person, the smile, the conversation, the touch.  Martha lived in a similar culture and needed to be gently reminded that people are more important than production.

How could your life change if you (and I) were more like Mary and less like Martha?  Would you find more peace if you spent a few more minutes sitting at His feet and listening to Him speak?  Would your daily routine benefit if it began with a few minutes invested in your relationship with Jesus?  Would your work find more meaning if you first spent time talking to the Lord about the work ahead of you?  Would your family be less anxious and worried about the world around them if listening to Jesus was a daily event, a daily conversation?  Would our relationships with others improve if our relationship with Him improved?

Jesus helps Martha, and us, to see that He must come first in our lives.  He must be a priority each day, every day, even in the most menial events.  He wants to be in our lives.  He wants us to listen to Him and He wants to listen to us.  He wants a relationship.  That is the better part and we should not allow anyone to take it from us nor rob ourselves of it.  That is the better part of our day and our life.

St. Martha, pray for us and help us to chose the better part.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trying to Understand the Parables of Jesus

A few years ago I took it upon myself to begin studying St. Thomas Aquinas and his proofs for the existence of God. The one proof that really caught my attention and gave me extreme difficulties in understanding it was the "prime mover" argument. Basically, and poorly explained by this simple man, it states that everything is put into motion by something else. If everything was put into motion by something else we should be able to trace this "movement" back to an unmoved mover or a prime mover - a being that began the movement but was not moved itself by another force. We call this prime mover, God. (My apologies to Thomistic Scholars!)

As I contemplated this concept in my apartment I walked around tossing a tennis ball up in the air and catching it. I did this for about two hours. As I would throw the ball into the air I would say, "I am the mover of this ball. I have put this ball into motion by my own power. Yet nothing is moving me but myself." The confusion set in and this should explain why it took hours. These were two hours of basically calling myself god. I was thinking of myself as the prime mover. Not until a single moment of grace did I hear the question in my heart, "Who put you into motion?" The answer was clear. Then I wondered why He had let me go on that long! I guess I simply wasn't ready for it yet but it sure felt good when it finally hit home.

In today's Gospel Jesus' disciples ask Him why He speaks to the people in parables. They want to know why He doesn't speak plainly as He does with them. It appears as though the disciples are taking Jesus to task for keeping secrets or veiling His teachings. In reality Jesus is very much unveiling His teachings and revealing them in a simple way hoping the crowd will "get it". He is like a school teacher who searches for ways to explain complex things in simple terms so that the students will "get it". Parables are simplifications not complications. They are designed to address spiritual truths by way of physical realities. They concern the things that they and we are very familiar with - parties, weddings, cooking, growing, earthly treasure and so on.

However, sometimes the hearer is just not ready for the teaching. If you are like me you have had many epiphanies while reading a Scripture passage that you know you have read probably a hundred times before. Yet it is that one hundred and first time that really smacks you between the eyes. It isn't that the teaching changed, its simply that you and I weren't ready for it at that time in our life.

We should not be jealous that others get it and we don't. Nor should we boast when we get it and others don't. Rather we should be praying for the grace to "get it" always or at least as much as God wills!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The parable of the Soil, the parable of your Heart

Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grandparents of Jesus.

"...some seed fell on the path...other seed fell on rocky ground...some seed fell among thorns...some seed fell on rich soil..."

The Path - A path is well worn, hard-packed, and impenetrable. Is this your heart? Have you had your share of pain in life and have now closed your heart to anything new, even if it is healing? Do you think others could see God lavishing seed upon you only to have it carried off by birds because there is no opening in your heart?

This "ground" requires serious work. It is the most difficult to cultivate but not impossible. It generally cannot be worked by the person owning such ground. Rather, others must step in to help through prayer, intercession, and intervention. Where the "rich soil" may require only a run-through with the hoe now and then, "the path" requires a pick-axe and spud-bar - prayer and fasting on the person's behalf by those who love him.

Rocky Ground - Rocky ground is rough, unforgiving, and unrelenting. Is this your heart? Are you a poser? Do you have an image to keep? Are the few soft spots in your heart so shallow that nothing can take root in them, not even the love of others? Do you accept the seed, Church teachings, the Gospel, so long as it benefits you? When the pressure is on to be faithful to Christ do you hide behind that hard heart?

This "ground" too requires serious work. The most difficult part of working with rocky ground is clearing the rocks, obviously. What complicates this is the fact that a rock can appear small on the surface but be huge beneath the ground line. The advantage that "rocky ground" has over "the path" is the fact that there are some openings. If the right seed falls into those openings, it can split those rocks over time. This is assisted by a deep prayer life, by the person and/or by those who love him, which can help the seed take root and break apart those rocks.

Thorns - Thorns grow anywhere and everywhere without question. Is this your heart? Are you often confused, entangled in the world? Are you open, allowing every idea to enter into your heart without discernment? Do you accept the Gospel just as easily as you accept New Age practices? Is being Catholic more of a cultural thing or status thing for you? Is the seed of the Gospel just another seed among many that may get choked out in the long run?

Thorns require completely different tools than "the path" or "rocky ground". One may try to cut off the thorns but the problem is the roots as well as the green growth. In order to destroy thorns you must remove them roots and all, otherwise they will eventually grow back. The tools needed for thorns are shears and a shovel - detachment. Detachment can come often through prayer and study of the Scripture. The most powerful tool, however, is a meditation upon death where the soul realizes that it will be detached from the things of this world in an instant. If we keep death in mind we should never have to worry about thorns, for they can never take root.

Good Soil - Good soil is easy to work with, rich in nutrients, and extremely valuable. Is this your heart? Are you docile to the will of God? Do you allow His word to come and grow in your heart? Do you constantly work the soil of your heart, feeding it with prayer, study, and the sacraments? Are you vigilant to remove any sign of weeds or "thorns"?

Good soil is a blessing not only for the soul itself but for other souls who receive the fruits from it. The growth mentioned by Jesus of thirty-fold and so on is not meant for us alone. These fruits, these seeds, as in the natural world, should spread and take over until the whole world is "good soil", until all hearts are "good soil".

Can the path, rocky ground, and thorny ground become good soil? Without a doubt, with effort. I would venture to say that on any given day you and I may look at our hearts and find that the soil has changed. As in the natural world, the garden of our heart needs constant care if it is to be fruitful. May God give us the grace to work this garden so that it may bear fruit for Him now and in eternity.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sharing the Cup of Suffering

Feast of St. James

Sharing a cup is an intimate gesture. Most of us would not likely share our Coke with just anyone off the street. Even among family members it isn't a real common practice. Hardly ever will you find me offering my brother or my best friend a sip out of my beer mug! The sharing of a cup shows a trust and love that goes beyond friendship.

In today's Gospel Jesus offers to share His cup with James and John, and with us. But first He tells them and us that, "You do not know what you are asking." He is saying that you don't know what you are getting yourself into. By answering, "We are able" we are saying that it doesn't matter, we don't care, we want to be where He is no matter what.

A good analogy for this event is a wedding. Here, a bride and groom promise to stay together come what may. The priest questions - rich or poor, sickness or health, and so on. The priest echos the words of Christ in the fact that truly they do not know what they are getting into. They do no know what life has in store. They have an idea. They have a dream. They have fantasized about life together but they haven't a clue. The couple responds, "we are able."

In today's Gospel these Sons of Thunder don't have a clue but they are in love with Christ. Come what may, they want to be where He is. If He's going to Jerusalem, they are going too. If He is going to suffer, they are going too. Yet, like the bride and groom, James and John have no clue what all this really means, but they will. In the end they will find out what their vow to Him entails. They will know what it means to drink from His cup! And their relationship will survive the trial and shine like the stars for eternity.

At the beginning of your Christian life you said, "I am able." Don't give up on this relationship. Don't walk away from your true bridegroom. He is willing to share His cup with you, the cup of suffering. Ask any couple who has been married for any length of time and you will find that it is in drinking from this cup that they are strengthened, that the bond is forged - here and for here-after.

"Drinking the cup of another was a sign of deep friendship and of readiness to share a common destiny. It is to this intimate relationship that Our Lord invites those who wish to follow him. To take part in the glorious resurrection one has to share the Cross with him." - Francis Fernandez - In Conversation with God #2, 15.1

Friday, July 21, 2017

Living for Sunday

Matthew 12:1-8

Thou shalt rest. Thou shalt take it easy. Thou shalt relax, read, spend time with friends and family. Thou shalt spend time with Me for one day before going back to work.

How many of us have ever uttered these words or similar words? - I'm so busy, I need a break, If I only had some free time I would (insert favorite activity here). I always thought the third Commandment was sort of ridiculous. Who needs to be told to take a day off? Who needs to be told to not work? Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get out of work. Yet God, who knows His children best, saw fit to make one of the Ten Commandments tells us to take it easy.

Of course keeping Holy the Sabbath is not simply about being a couch potato. It is supposed to be a day of retreat. It is a day where we can duck out of the world and spend time with God and enjoy His gifts - creation, family, Scripture, etc.

I treasure my Sundays. That is my favorite day of the week. It is a day when we get up early, go to Mass, eat breakfast on the deck, go for a hike or go fishing, and end the day with a campfire or family rosary or both. When we can't get out and about, we institute an "electronics free day" and spend time reading, playing board games, or wrestling.

While some may live for the weekend I live for Sunday. I admit that it often does take some planning since we choose to refrain from shopping, dining out, etc. But I think that makes the day much more enjoyable. If we're going hiking at the state park we make sure our tank is filled on Saturday. If were cooking out or entertaining we get the extras during the weekly grocery trip. Then, come Sunday, no worries. I love it! It's like a weekly retreat. It's recreation in the true sense, re-creation - a chance to be re-created in God's image and likeness. Its a chance to love Him and enjoy His love.

So what was the big deal with what Jesus' disciples were doing? The Pharisees had taken a basic list of things that shouldn't be done on the Sabbath and expanded it to a 39 item list. So a simple command (in it's true sense and spirit) like "do not perform farm work on the Sabbath" becomes a ridiculous and anguish-filled command like "do not walk through a field of grain or even casually pick the grain to munch on for that is considered farm work."

Jesus is teaching the Pharisees, His disciples, and us that the law of charity must trump all other rules. He uses a story that they were very familiar with to prove His point (1 Samuel 21). Man's basic needs must come before ceremonial rules. Jesus shows that it is better that man be fed by picking grain on the Sabbath than starving to death on the Sabbath in order to keep a ceremonial law.

Lord Jesus, help me to truly rest in Your presence this coming Sunday. Give me the strength to deny my worldly interests for one day and focus on You and the gifts You have given for my benefit. Help me to retreat for a day and be recreated so that I might better serve you in the days that follow.

FROM THE SAINTS - "I have always seen rest as time set aside from daily tasks, never as days of idleness. Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals, and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job." - Saint Josemaria Escriva

Monday, July 10, 2017

If only...

In my teen years I was filled with this phrase - if only. If only I had a car I could go and do what I wanted. If only I didn't have to go to school I'd be much happier. If only (insert desire) then (insert poorly perceived result).

Today's Gospel made me put these "if only" moments in perspective. In my "if only" moments I am usually acting in a faithless selfish manner. Either I am trying to make a deal with God or I am exhibiting a lack of faith that would make those in Nazareth take notice. Here, however, I find people swarming to meet Jesus. He is unable to find rest because of these people and yet they are not making deals with Him. They are not promising to change their ways if only He will improve their lives. Rather, these faith-filled people are coming to find Jesus hoping that they "might touch only the tassel of His cloak."

This hunger, this desire for Christ is so strong and their faith in Him is so strong that all they are asking is that they might touch a part of his clothing. This sort of faith is exhibited throughout the scriptures. In Matthew's Gospel the Centurion has so much faith in the power of Jesus that he asks him to "only say the word and my servant will be healed" (Matthew 8:8). Today, in the same Gospel we hear of the woman who was suffering for years with hemorrhages who said to herself, "If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured" (Matthew 9:21). In the Acts of the Apostles we see that this power is passed on to the Church when crowds look for Saint Peter, "hoping only that his shadow might fall on one or another of them" (Acts 5:15).

Looking back on my life I feel as though I have been setting the conditions with God by my if only attitude. Yet today I see that He clearly says to me, "if only you had more faith..."

Lord Jesus, give me a simple faith. Give me a faith that is content with a touch of your garments or to have your shadow fall upon me. It is truly more than I deserve!

FROM THE SAINTS - "If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself." --Saint Augustine

The Smallest Act of Love