Tuesday, November 21, 2017

2017 Advent Scripture Study Invitation

It's hard to believe but Advent begins in 12 days and so does our 2017 Advent Scripture study.  Consider joining us if you are able!

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Taken or Left Behind? Which is better?

Friday November 17th, 2017

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

Luke 17:26-37

In recent years there has been a deluge of Apocalyptic literature produced in the Christian world. The Left Behind series comes to mind. In these books we are shown what happens to those who are "left behind" after the "rapture" (a recent theory that reared its head in the 19th century) which proposes that Jesus will return, take the good and leave the bad to be ruled by the anti-Christ for a period of time before the end of the world.

Often, those who believe in the Rapture will point to today's Gospel as a proof-text to support their idea - "I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed;one will be taken, the other left. And there will be two women grinding meal together;one will be taken, the other left."

The question is, however, is it better to be taken or to be "left behind?" Jesus points us back to the days of Noah and Lot. In the days of Noah who was taken? That evil generation that "the Lord was sorry he had made..." (Genesis 6:6). Who, in the days of Noah, was left behind? Scripture tells us that only 8 people were "left behind": Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives.

In the case of Lot, his wife disobeyed the instructions of the Lord and was taken (turned into a pillar of salt) while Lot was "left behind." (See Genesis 19)

When Korah and his family rebel against Moses the ground opens up, swallows them and then closes again.  Moses and those obedient to the Lord are "left behind."  (See Numbers 16)

In Scripture, it seems that it is the good guys that are "left behind" while the evil are wiped from the earth.

As we begin our approach toward Advent our daily Scripture readings and Sunday Mass readings focus on the coming of Christ. In the early part of Advent we are reminded to be ever ready, we know not the day or hour that the Master will return.

Being ready for His return is what is important, not only during any certain season, but everyday. How much different our world would be if we all lived as though the Lord may return any second, before our next breath! This is not to say that we would be standing idly around, bible and rosary in hand. Rather, it means that, as St. Paul says, "whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." You and I must be ready, our souls must be in a state of grace, for He is coming back and He is both Our Savior and Our Judge.

A good practice for today or for Advent would be for us to constantly stop throughout the day, maybe at the striking of each hour, and ask ourselves if we would be ready if the Lord arrived right now. Would we be comfortable having Him look upon us in our present state? Would He find me doing little acts of love or speaking unkind words? Would he find me busy with my duties or entertaining worthless or sinful thoughts? I must be ready. He is coming back just as He said He would!

Two good books that explain the Church's teachings regarding the End Times and being "left behind" are Will Catholics Be Left Behind: A Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers (Modern Apologetics Library) and The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to the end times fever.


* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Greatest Battle

Thursday November 16th, 2017

Luke 17:20-25

Our God is a God of war indeed as scripture tells us (Psalm 24, 144).  However, His secret weapons are stealth and silence.  In today's Gospel Jesus warns us that we can't see the slow steady overthrow of Satan and that God's winning of the war will not be visible like an army of tanks rolling over the horizon.  He tells us that we won't be able to even observe the signs of the coming of the Kingdom.  The question then is, why not?  Why won't we be able to see the coming of the Kingdom?  Why won't we be able to point to the signs?

Jesus gives us the answer and it is a hard one to accept.  Why will there be no way to point to the Kingdom of God as it approaches here or there?  "...for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you."

The battlefield is within.  The war rages upon the battlefield of our souls.  Our souls are either occupied or enemy territory, there is no unoccupied ground in this battle.  Our adversary does not sleep.  Happily, neither does our King.  He is ever at our side ready to lend us aid and help us fight.

But here again lies the difficulty.  We are physical beings.  It is extremely difficult for us to keep up the desire to fight when our weapons are largely invisible.  The very thing that keeps us alive and holding our ground is invisible; prayer.  Very often I'm talked into laying down my weapon and picking up the remote or a sandwich.  This sort of battle is not easy.

What other weapons are at our disposal?  The sacraments.  These at least are visible but still: bread, wine, water, words, and oil certainly don't have the same feel as an machine-gun or even a sword and shield.  Yet, these are the weapons for a battle field like none other.  These "weapons" would be worthless on any battlefield as we know it and would only serve to aid the body in some way.  Yet can't we say the same thing about modern weaponry.  Bullets and bombs are worthless on the battlefield of the soul.  The martyrs can attest to that!  Shooting bullets on this battlefield of the soul would have the same effect as throwing bread on the worldly battlefield.  God's ways and weapons are certainly not ours!

We know who wins in the end.  Our job is to continue to fight on this invisible front and help others to do so.  However, we must be careful.  Since this battle is largely invisible, our call to arms for our brothers and sisters must also be largely invisible.  Beating someone with a book or doctrine will only cause friendly-fire casualties.  Those things are important but I'll leave the heavier stuff to those above me in the chain of command who can decide when they are ready for it.

 I, for my part will strengthen my brothers and sisters through prayer and good example.  I will love them as though they were Christ Himself.  If the battlefield of their soul is enemy territory, I will be a spy and infiltrate it with love and compassion. Let us all pray for the grace to be the greatest warriors the world has ever known in the greatest battle the world has ever known...or not known.

How to get better at prayer battle.
  1. Set a prayer appointment - Set a time on your calendar each day to meet and speak with God.
  2. Slowly increase your prayer time. - Don't jump in with an hour right from the get-go.  Build up your "tolerance" so to speak.
  3. Commit - to praying and slowly increasing your prayer time for 30 days.  Mark off the days on your calendar.  If you miss a day, jump right back in, don't give up.
  4. Pray - praying is talking to God, it's spending time with your attention focused on Him.  I enjoy spending time with my children regardless of their level of development.  God is the same way.  Spend time praying as best you can.  Use formal prayers if you want or simply speak in conversation.  Don't forget to listen
  5. Journal - Our newly revised 4 Simple Steps to Better Scripture Meditations: Guide, Workbook, and Journal walks you through 4 easy steps that will help you go deeper in your prayer life.  It includes 31 days of workbook and journal pages too!
  6. Read other good books about how to pray better - Prayer PrimerDeep Conversion, Deep PrayerTime for GodThe Spiritual Life: A Comprehensive Guide to Catholics Seeking Salvation.

Get More Out of Advent this Year!  Here's How!

* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Start Living Like the Healed Leper

What if you spent your entire life believing a lie about yourself?  What if, at every turn, there was someone there whispering to you things like, "you aren't good enough", "you stink", "you'll always be this way", "you are a loser you know", "shut up, no one wants to hear your stupid ideas", "you can't change, it's just who you are?"  What would that habit, over time, do to anyone?  It's brainwashing but far worse because it is we who utter, or at least repeat, those words day after day.

We all have that voice, to some extent or another, whispering in our mind and poisoning our hearts.  Too often that voice is our own even if the words are not ours.  We know that if we were to step outside ourselves for just a moment and take a listen, we'd be shocked.  We would see ourselves as robots, cadets in a sadistic school of self-hate, repeating self-hate mantras over and over..."I'll always be this way, I'll always be this way, I'll always be this way."  We'd see a bully standing over us, pummeling us with abuse.

As we've discussed before, those words are never the words of a loving father, the Loving Father.  They are always the words of the Father of Lies, always.  He repeats them over and over until you and I begin to adopt them as our own. They are the slow steady erosion of the soul.  The river, over time, is more powerful and effective than dynamite on the rock and the rock doesn't realize it's being changed.

Thankfully, we can change.  We don't have to believe those lies.  We no longer have to be trained in that school of self-hate. We can change our brains, ways of thinking, our lives, and those around us.  It does take time and practice.  You and I didn't develop the self-hate habit overnight and it won't go away overnight either.  However, it is possible.

Simple things like dedicated times of meditation and prayer are a good place to start.  Simply smiling makes a huge difference.  Studies have shown that the very action of smiling, real or not, for extended times, a minute or so, has a positive mental effect.  I know it's true from my own life.  Regular exercise can also have a great effect on our positive mental health.  There are many great books on the science of retraining your brain.  My favorite is The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

God wants us to be happy and full of joy.  You cannot be a saint without a smile.  If those internal voices are making you miserable, stop right now, realize that it's not from your Heavenly Father, and ask Him and others for help retraining your brain.  It is possible.  I'm living proof and I can introduce you to others.

So, you may ask yourself, what has this to do with today's readings.  Maybe nothing, but today's Gospel really made this idea jump out at me (hopefully it was the Holy Spirit).

The passage that jumped off the page was this, "And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him."  Most specifically - "...realizing he had been healed..."  

It made me think of the other 9 lepers.  For so long they had experienced this terrible disease that even though God had healed them, they continued to live as though they were lepers.  How many of us are walking around like that today?  How many of us have been healed, baptized, confirmed, received countless graces, yet we continue to believe the lie that we are sick?

Jesus didn't suffer and die on the cross for you and me only to have us walk around saying, "I'm sick, I'll always be this way, I can't change, I'm a terrible person."  If the voice in your head, your voice-the liars words, continue to haunt you, run to confession, run to the Eucharist.  Go to those sacraments, receive the healing (often), believe you are healed (every day), and return "to give thanks to God" then "Stand up and go" tell those other 9 they too are healed!!

Get More Out of Advent this Year!  Here's How!

* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Making Deals with God

Tuesday November 14th, 2017

Luke 17:7-10

I can remember in my younger days making deals with God or at least trying to make deals with God. Looking back now it seems humorous and embarrassing. Usually I would end up promising God that I would stop something sinful if He gave me what I was asking for. So basically I was promising to stop doing something that I shouldn't be doing anyway and expecting to be rewarded for it. It's like saying, "God, I promise to stop taking money out of the safe at work if you will just let me win the lottery."

I also used the opposite approach. I would promise to do something that I should have been doing anyway if God would only "give in" and let me have what I wanted. It was like this, "Dear God, I promise to go to Mass every Sunday, if you will find me a new job."  Or as one of my sons might put it, "Dad, I'll stop taking candy without asking if you will give me candy."

Our dealings with God can often be like these examples. In today's Gospel Jesus clears things up rather nicely although it stings the pride a bit in practice. Here He tells me that I know deep in my heart what it is that I should be doing. I know how I should be living. When I am doing all of these things I should not expect any kind of rest or reward.  There is rest and reward but that comes much later, at the very end of my service.

Today's Gospel may sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to our modern ears. This message is directly opposed to the culture in which we have been reared. The world tells us to seek recognition for our efforts, even if it was something we were supposed to do anyway.

Our society, with it's twisted sense of fairness, reads this Gospel passage with arrogance and places it aside. We might hear our society say, "This must have been what it was like back then, cruel, heartless, and demanding but no so in our day. This servant should have rights too. The fair thing is for the master to serve the servant after his hard day of labor in the field." And thus the message is lost.

The Lord is telling us that we must seek to serve and not count the cost or look for a reward. He is not placing an unrealistic demand upon us. He himself showed us what He meant by these words. "...[He] rose from supper, laid aside his garments and girded himself with a towel." He took the form of a servant saying, "I have come not to be served but to serve." If we are to be like Him, we must serve and not hunt for laurels. The Lord has done so much for us, how can we say anything but, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty."

The Gospel today is a great antidote to pride. By simply praying this Scripture often, I can keep the correct perspective on my place in the Kingdom, "I am an unworthy servant, I have only done what was my duty." If I can honestly say that when I meet Our Lord, I will be doing great!

FROM THE SAINTS - "The path of Humility takes you everywhere...but above all to Heaven." - Saint Josemaria Escriva in Furrow # 282

Get More Out of Advent this Year!  Here's How!

* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Becoming a Dishonest Steward

Saturday November 11th, 2017

St. Martin of Tours
Veterans Day, USA

Luke 16:9-15

Not long ago Nicole and I started working on our Total Money Makeover, a program from Mr. Dave Ramsey. This program helps teach its "disciples" how to get completely out of debt and grow wealth. It is by no means a get-rich-quick program but rather a get-rich-slowly and permanently program.

Part of this program is realizing how damaging debt can be. After reading the book we realized that what we owed was really keeping us in bondage and would do so if we didn't act radically. We sat down and wrote a budget. We looked for ways to cut costs. We began searching the basement for items to sell that would help us pay down our debts quickly. We have a plan and it is slowly working and we are very excited about it.

Today's Gospel illustrates a hard lesson and it relates directly to what we are currently doing. We, like that dishonest steward, are wise enough to see what is happening to our finances and family to make drastic changes that will enable us to survive and perhaps thrive in the future. We, like him, see the signs around us and act accordingly to ensure our future. Like the dishonest steward, we have stopped the squandering of the gifts given to us. We have acted prudently and our family will be that much better off for us having done so.

So why is this a hard lesson? It is a hard lesson because Jesus is saying, "if you are wise enough to act in such a way with the things of this world that are passing, why do you not act similarly with eternal things? Why do you not sit down and work out a spiritual budget? Why do you not look for the things that waste your time, time you could spend with me? Why do you not rid yourself of the things in the basement of your soul that separate yourself from me? Why do you not examine your sins, what you owe, and have a Total Soul Makeover?"

A hard lesson indeed! Am I a child of this world or a child of light? Am I squandering my master's property? Lord, help me to act prudently and according to your will in all areas of my life.

Another program that we have not yet studied but one that is Catholic and highly recommended is  The Seven Steps to Becoming Financially Free by Phil Lenahan.

* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Great Debt Forgiveness Program

Friday November 10th, 2017

Pope St. Leo the Great

Luke 16:1-8

Imagine that you owe thousands of dollars in debt.  You owe on the house, credit cards, a car or two, and student loans.  For many, I don’t think I’m stretching your imagination to the breaking point.  Now imagine that a representative from the institution that you owe this money to arrives at your house this morning.

This nice person begins to review your debts with you but then suddenly presents new contracts.  He or she tells you that their financial institution has decided to forgive much of your debt.  You sign the new contract for the home and you only owe half of what you owed moments ago.  You sign a new contract and 50% of your credit cards and student loans disappear.  One more contract and your car loan is reduced by 20%.  If everything was legal and on the up and up, I doubt many of us would pass on this opportunity.

How would you feel about the person sitting at your kitchen table helping you sign the forms?  I’d make them a cup of coffee, offer to buy them lunch, and probably give him or her a hug through tears!

What would your feelings be toward the financial institution?  I’d send a thank you note or a gift basket to the president.  I’d also tell all of my friends and family about this great organization that helped me so much and its generosity.  I’d probably even give them the highest stamp of approval today – a like and share on FaceBook.

Much has been written about the master and the steward in today’s Gospel.  However, I think you and I can readily identify with one of the unnamed debtors.  We wouldn't really care too much for the back story.  We wouldn't care about the argument, the stewards wastefulness, or somewhat unseemly actions.  As long as our debts were reduced, we’d love both the steward and the master!

Do you remember that feeling of having all of your debts reduced mentioned earlier?  Felt good to dream didn't it?  What if they weren't reduced but wiped away completely?  What sort of high would that give you?

Now, with that feeling of freedom in mind, remember that you and I have the power to give that feeling of freedom to others.  Let us tell the woman who owes a great debt for her anger that God will wipe out that debt!  Let us tell our brothers in Christ who owe a great debt for their pornography addiction that God has purged that debt!  Let us tell the world that the Great Debt Forgiveness Program is in effect.  They need only turn to God, go to confession, and ask for the grace to incur no further debt and they to will experience the freedom. 

We are stewards of God’s love and mercy; we’re the financial reps, so to speak, of the Great Bank of Mercy!  Though sinners, we are “sons of light”, we are stewards of mercy.  Let us lavishly give our Master’s mercy to others.

FROM THE SAINTS - "Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ." - Pope St. Leo the Great (One of our favorite books about Pope Leo is Throne of the World, it's no longer in print but there is one available here)

* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...