Thursday, December 08, 2016

Conceived without Fear

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

What do you think you would do if you were to come face to face with God this very instant? We all like to imagine what we would do, but if we were honest with ourselves we would admit that we would probably want to crawl under the closest rock. Even though we may have just come back from Confession and Mass, we would still know that we are not worthy to stand in the presence of God.

Throughout Scripture we are given examples of how people react to encounters with the living God and His messengers, the angels. In the first chapter of the book of Revelation John encounters Christ and says, "I fell down at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17). Later on in the same book John is speaking with an angel of God and here John says, "I fell at his feet to worship him" (Rev 19:9). Now, of course all of this is in a beatific vision so we could excuse John in this case for he is at this point out of place. He is allowed to catch a glimpse of the Heavenly Jerusalem and the experience surely overwhelmed him.

However, we see the same reaction from John, James, and Peter at the Transfiguration. Here Jesus is transfigured, His divinity shines through His humanity like a light through stained-glass. The disciples see this event and hear the very voice of God and "they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe." (Matt 17:6). Again, we could excuse this behavior because of the magnitude of the event.

Yet, again, we see others falling before God, trembling in fear throughout the sacred writings. When the angels appear to the shepherds announcing "good news of great joy" the shepherds are "filled with fear." When Gabriel appears to Zechariah he "was troubled...and fear fell upon him."

In today's first reading, Adam hides himself from God out of fear, "I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself."  Eve too was naked and afraid, hiding herself from God, right there beside Adam.

But there is one person who experienced a revelation of God's power and love through the message of an angel who was not "filled with fear" and who did not "fall on her face." In today's Gospel, Mary receives her visitor with wonder but not fear.  For the one who is "full of grace" could not also be "filled with fear." She does not fall on her face for she has been chosen as the Queen of the Angels, The Great Mother of God, Mary Most Holy. When the angel says to Mary, "Do not be afraid", the angel is not trying to ease her fears of himself or the glory of God that surrounds him. Rather, he is comforting her and helping her to overcome the natural, holy, and humble fear or awe that would arise with the announcement of this, her vocation, to be the Mother of God.

You and I would most certainly follow the lead of the Saints like John, Peter, James, and Zechariah in falling on our faces before the living God and His messengers. We would do this because unlike Mary, we have sin and it's effects to deal with. But let us remember that the Woman, the Great Queen of Heaven and Earth, is also our mother (Rev 12:17). She is our mother and she will pick us up and bring us to her Son if we only learn to imitate her beautiful example. "Fiat!" - "Be it done unto me according to thy word!"

FROM THE SAINTS - THE LORD IS WITH THEE - "He is more with you [Mary] than he is with me; he is in your heart, he takes shape within you, he fills your soul, he is in your womb." - Saint Augustine

Learn more about Our Lady with this wonderful, easy to read book by Dr. Scott Hahn (no relation) - Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Bringing the Paralyzed to Jesus

Luke 5:17-26

Have you ever been paralyzed? This could be physical, emotional, or spiritual paralyzation. I think many of us have been paralyzed at some time or another. We know the agony that comes with desiring to do something but not being able to will ourselves to do it. So there we sit, stuck in a rut or flat on a mat, waiting for something or someone to heal us.

Do you know someone who is paralyzed right now? Again, this could be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Do you know someone who is depressed and cannot lift themselves out of the darkness? Do you know someone who is deep in debt and cannot find his or her way out? Do you know someone one who has left the Faith and now wonders if God even exists? Do you know someone who has just been through surgery or is going to go through surgery and is losing hope, is becoming paralyzed by the fear of what life will be like tomorrow? Do you know someone who is paralyzed?

In today's Gospel we are given specific instructions on what to do with our paralyzed friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers. We are to bring them to Jesus. This doesn't necessarily mean bringing them physically into the Church building or asking them to accept Christ into their heart as Lord and King. This means to bring them before the Divine Physician in prayer. Like the friends of the paralyzed man in the Gospel - "they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus." By interceding for those we love who are paralyzed we are placing them before Jesus.

However, we should also be prepared for obstacles in our intercessory prayer. The men in the Gospel faced what appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle, a crowd around Jesus. Yet, they found a way to "lift him up" even higher so that they might place him before the Lord.

As we draw closer to Christmas, let us seek those in our life who are paralyzed in some form and let us work to bring them before the Lord. Let us lift them up in prayer and let us pray that we may all hear the words of Christ, "Your sins are forgiven, rise, take up your mat and go home." And when we are healed or when our neighbor is healed let us also follow the example of the formerly paralyzed man and go "home, glorifying God!"

"A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” 
― Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

Friday, December 02, 2016

Jesus' House of Healing

*The Advent Scripture Challenge is hosted by Real Life Rosary.  During this season of Advent we are using the book 4 Simple Steps to Better Meditations (FREE PDF DOWNLOAD) to dive deeper into reading the daily scriptures.  Please click any of links for more information.  Join our Facebook Group to stay up to date.  What follows are my thoughts and prayers from today's readings using the 4 Simple Steps Method and Worksheet.

Step #1 - Clear the Mind.

Today I am distracted by the things I need to get done around the house but don't have the time due to my current job situation.  A hoop house needs to be built.  My second job needs more attention.  Rosaries need to be made and sent out before Christmas.

Step #2 - Read the Scriptures

Today's readings can be found here.  While reading the readings this morning particular words seemed to permeate all of the readings and caught my attention - eyes, blind, healing, faith, light, and house.

Step #3 - Join the Story

As I watched the events of the Gospel unfold I was struck by something I'd not seen Jesus do before.  Many folks had approached Him before asking for healing.  They too approached Him boldly, in the open, though some had "stolen" a touch or sought Him under cover of darkness.  When they asked for healing for themselves or others, He had given it almost instantly.

However, today, He did something different.  These blind men cried out to Him and He continued on as though He didn't hear them until He entered the house.  Only then did He address them.  Why did He not turn to them while they were still out in the open?  Why did He not ask them His questions while they were still out in the sun and air?

Then I thought, how painful it is when I awake and the morning sun is streaming directly into my window.  Or, how long does it take my eyes to adjust to the full summer light when I emerge from my dark basement.

Was Jesus concerned about how their eyes would adjust to the "new" light they were about to receive?  Did He want to give them some sort of shelter that would allow their eyes time to learn to see again and not be instantly "blinded" by the intense rays of the sun (Son)?

Step #4 - Talk/Listen to God

Dear Lord, during this time of Advent, please reveal to me the areas of my life where I am blind.  Lead me to the house (real or spiritual) that I need to be in so that you may heal me.  Help me to overcome my fear of following you into that home and simply trust that you want to heal me.

Lord, you know that my ears need healing, that I have struggled with this for years.  I feel that you are leading me to a house of cleaner living (physical and spiritual).  Give me the
grace I need to follow you and please don't ask me to keep my healing quite.  I'm not sure I could manage that either ;-)

Step #5 - Bonus Step - Thanksgiving

Dear Lord, thank you for this time of prayer and meditation.  Thank you for another day to know you, to love you, and to serve you.  Thank you for all of the people joining us during this Advent season.  Help us all to grow in our love for you and one another!  Open our eyes and our ears!

Today is Friday, I would encourage you to pray the Sorrowful  Mysteries of the Rosary.  Here are the Sorrowful Mysteries of Advent & Christmas.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

How to not feel Upside Down this Christmas!

This is a post from my website that I wrote about 11 years ago. We still practice these things today. This year however, Sean, my brother-in-law helped us all draw names using Evite which made things much less complicated since we live all over the country - Ohio, Oregon, and Louisiana.  Read on...

I’m sure you’ve heard of the latest rage for this Christmas season. It’s the newest thing everyone is talking about and everyone must have. It is an upside-down Christmas tree. I’m not joking! Hammacher Schlemmer was selling these trees for almost $600 but now they are sold out. The ad states, “this unique 7' pre-lit fir is inverted to ensure a smaller footprint for less-spacious areas, and allowing more room for the accumulation of presents underneath.”  These trees are now available everywhere from Amazon to Walmart.

This is a very popular item and many people buy them either for the shock value or to display ornament collections and I see no “evil” connection or anti-Christmas message. Instead I see a perfect symbol of how the culture has turned Christmas upside-down.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is not only God’s only begotten Son but God Himself in the flesh. Giving gifts during this celebration of Christ’s birth is supposed to remind us of God’s generosity (see John 3:16) and encourage us to imitate our heavenly Father (see Matthew 5:48). During this season we often place a pine tree in our home and call it a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree is meant to remind us of Christ. It is a symbol of Christ. It is evergreen to remind us of God’s endless love and the gift of eternal life. Its shape points toward heaven, our true home. Since it is a symbol of Christ we place our gifts beneath the tree asking for Him to bless them and accept them because the gifts we give to others are the gifts we give to Him (see Matthew 25:40).

The culture, however, sees Christmas not as a time of giving gifts, in the name of Jesus Christ, to those we love and those in need but a time of getting. It is a time of material gluttony. It is a time to reinforce and perpetuate the “one with the most toys wins” mentality. Most retail stores make approximately 80% of their annual income during this season. This should tell us that without Christ they would be broke and we obviously don’t need all of the “must haves” the remainder of the year.

So, how do we truly practice what we preach and “keep Christ in Christmas”? Pope Benedict XVI recently suggested the simple practice of families placing a Nativity Scene in a prominent place in the home. I have three more suggestions to not only counteract this materialistic mentality but to also make Christ the focus of Christmas once more.

First, if you must buy gifts make sure they promote the faith. We almost always buy gifts for our godchildren and when we do, we make sure that they are faith oriented, learning oriented or both. We try to buy Catholic Christian gifts, books, games, and videos.

Second, make your own gifts. Everyone has some natural ability or talent that they can use to create a gift. It can be anything from a painting to a birdhouse or baked goods to quilts. Last year our family filled Christmas tins that we had collected over the years with homemade biscotti, bourbon balls, Kentucky colonels, candied nuts and chocolate covered pretzels and gave them to friends and family. This year we will fill collected glass peanut butter jars with different flavors of homemade hard candy and give those away along with a few bottles of my home-brewed wheat beer.

Third, give a gift that has eternal value. On Thanksgiving we always draw names on both sides of the family to choose who we will be giving our gifts to. From that day forward we begin gathering spiritual gifts for the person we have chosen. We say extra prayers like the rosary. We go to Eucharistic adoration and pray for their intentions. We offer to God special sacrifices like not drinking coffee for the entire Advent season or fasting one day a week for the other person. Throughout Advent we keep that special person close to our hearts in prayer and continually offer to God all our prayers, works, joys, sorrows, sufferings, and sacrifices for their intentions. During this time some of us keep a journal of our acts of love and on Christmas present the person we chose with a letter or card explaining how we continually brought them, their intentions and well-being before God.

This has practice has become everyone’s favorite gift every Christmas. We cannot help but recognize the power of intercessory prayers offered for us throughout Advent. It is a powerful, beautiful, gift that no material object could ever replace. Our cards and letters fit wonderfully beneath the tree but the gifts that those cards and letters symbolize couldn’t fit under any tree even if it were upside-down!

* 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 29, 2016

St. Nicholas Day Gift Ideas

If you are like me, St. Nicolas Day, Advent, and Christmas all sneak up on me way too fast and I'm never prepared.  It often feels like it goes so fast that I don't get to enjoy it!

This year I'm working on doing little things that will help me keep my focus on Christ this year.  One thing that I'm doing and I'll invite you to do also is the Advent Scripture Challenge.  Over 200 of us in our Facebook group are reading the daily readings and sharing our thoughts and meditations.  We are using the book 4 Simple Steps for Better Meditations, which is free as a PDF download at this time.  You don't have to use the book but many find it very helpful with learning to focus.

Our family celebrates St. Nicolas Day, December 6th, each year by putting out our shoes in hope that St. Nicholas will fill them with goodies.  If your family does this as well, here's some things from Real Life Rosary that would be good shoe or stocking fillers...

Candy Rosary or Candy Rosary Kit - we often put candy in the kids shoes, usually in the form of "gold coins", gold foil wrapped chocolate coins.  Our Candy Rosaries and Kits can help kids stay focused for the rosary and reward them with a treat.

Single Decade Chaplets - these are extremely popular.  They are small, soft, and perfect for kids hands.  Available in 40 colors!

Necklaces and Bracelets - Our necklaces are beautiful and fun to wear.  They use a barrel clasp for easy removal.  Add a Saint Medal for only $1.  The bracelets are adjustable and will fit anyone.  Both are available in 40 colors!

A Visit to Church - although this may not fit in a shoe or stocking, this wonderful book will help children of all ages learn about the things they see in the Church and what they are used for in the Mass.

Key-chains make a nice gift for teens and young drivers.  The single decade chaplet is easily detachable for prayer time.  Available in 40 Colors.

Finally, any of our rosaries make great gifts for any occasion.  They are available in 40 colors or design your own tri-color rosary for endless combinations that may match a favorite sports team, school, or club.

I hope you make this the best Advent ever and I hope Real Life Rosary can help make that happen!

Don't forget to check out our shopping guide for dad!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Only Say the Word

Monday of the First Week of Advent - Matthew 8:5-11

"The prayer of the righteous man has great power in its effects." - James 5:16

This story, in the eighth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, is meant to show us both the authority of Jesus and the necessity of faith. Since Jesus' address in the synagogue in chapter 3 all the way through chapter 7, Jesus has been teaching. Chapter 7 ends with this verse, "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." This leads us to understand that the scribes were teaching in the name of Moses whereas Jesus is teaching of His own authority. In fact, He often says, "you have heard it said...but I say."

Matthew then moves on to show us that Jesus' authority is not contained merely in His teaching alone. He shows us that His words have the power to change hearts but also the power to heal. Sometimes His words are accompanied by a touch or action as with the leper at the beginning of chapter 8. At other times, like in today's Gospel, it is His word alone that heals.

However, these healings,and His words, come as His response to the faith of the person being healed or to the faith of one interceding for another.

The centurion is interceding on behalf of his servant. This tells us that the centurion was a man with compassion. He had a heart for his fellow man. He did not treat his servant as a possession but as a human person with worth. We can even guess that he loved this servant by the lengths that he goes to to approach Jesus asking for healing. The centurion certainly didn't approach Jesus under cover of darkness and he didn't hide his faith that Jesus was someone special, "Lord, I am not worthy."

The centurion, as a man in authority, also recognized the authority of Jesus. He recognizes the fact that if his own words have such power over those under his authority, how much more power resides in the words of this Jesus of Nazareth!

My favorite quote from this passage is, "When Jesus heard him, he marveled..." I pray that during this season of Advent my faith may increase and the Lord will "marvel" at my prayers as well. Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed, only say the word and my loved ones will be healed, only say the word and this world will be healed.

Who, during this Advent season, can you bring to Christ in prayer? Who do you know that may be sick, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and is need of the healing power of Christ? Is it a relative? A friend? A politician? Is it the mailman? Is it the teen you saw at the mall this weekend? Is it someone you heard about on the news, a blog, or in the paper? Do you know someone that you are reasonably sure has no one to pray for them?

Be the centurion for that person over the next four weeks. During this time of Advent bring this person each day to Jesus in prayer. Trust in his healing power with the faith of that centurion and you too will amaze Jesus. Wouldn't that be a nice gift to give the King!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Christmas Gift Guide for Dad

Christmas is right around the corner and if you are like me, you are probably reading this on Christmas Eve wondering why Amazon hasn't got that whole delivery within an hour or drone thing going on.  If it is the day before Christmas, I may be able to help you out but I'd suggest bookmarking this article for next year.

Below you will find a list of ideas for dad on Christmas.  These ideas are based on the things that I've received, bought, or coveted over the years.  They may not be right for your dad or baby daddy, or grandpa or baby grandpa (is that even a thing), but then again, they might.  If they are right for you and yours, you are welcome.  A blog post of ideas for mom and a post of ideas for children will follow in the coming days.  We'll start with dad because he's the toughest to buy for, in my opinion.

#10* - A Rugged Rosary from Real Life Rosary - Yes, am starting with a shameless plug for my own rosaries.  I'm not only the owner, I'm a customer.  Seriously though, this picture shows the rosary I carry with me everyday.  These rosaries will stand up to anything dad can throw at them.  They won't snag on stray thread in the pocket, rattle in the woods and spook that big buck, or make you think there's a cat in the dryer if it gets washed and dried.  If it ever breaks, send it back and it will be replaced, no problem!  Where else can you get a rosary that will last a lifetime for $10 or $12 for one with a metal crucifix?

#9* - Nalgene Wide-Mouth Loop-Top Water Bottle - I've had my Nalgene for 6 years and I use it everyday.  It's rugged, I've even used it to roll on when trying to crack my back or massage my legs.  You can put warm or cool liquids in it.  I've put hot coffee in it with no ill effects on it or me...  Even if dad isn't a camper or backpacker, it's great just to have on the desk.  It holds 32 oz so dad can keep track of his daily water intake.  The only thing that has happened to mine is that the lid loop broke.  I bought a new lid for a couple of bucks, good as new.

#8* - French Press Coffee Mug - Yeah, that's right, a French Press MUG!!!  I have two and I seldom drink coffee any other way.  These mugs work just like a regular French Press but it is a mug.  So, put in your coffee grounds, pour in some boiling water, wait a few minutes, stir, put the press/lid on and begin pressing the grounds down, drink, and enjoy.  It makes incredible tasting coffee for one at a fraction of the cost of those sissy Keurig things.  This mug even has a hidden compartment for storing more coffee.  Dad will love long as he doesn't like cream and sugar with his coffee, if that's the case, move along to the next idea....

#7 - Wilderness Expedition with Wilderness Outreach - Does your dad love the outdoors?  Does he love the mountains of the American West?  Does he love his Catholic Faith or growing in his Faith?  Does he enjoy work, asceticism, camping, praying, hiking, and brotherhood?  If so, an Expedition may be something to offer for Christmas. I've been on two expeditions and they are life-changing.  Click on the link to learn more.

#6* - A gift subscription to Audible - I love to read but I love it even more when someone reads to me. I don't always have time to read all the books I want to so thankfully there's Audible so that I can listen to the books while doing other things like walking, driving, or making rosaries.  The audio books are very affordable and yearly subscriptions make them even more so.  Plus, dad can listen on his phone, computer, tablet, or MP3 player!  My Audible library has hundreds of titles that I've purchased over the years.  With over 180,000 titles, dad is sure to find a great book.  I'd recommend The Gates of Fire and The Count of Monte Cristo to start.  Plus, you can get two free books to start!

#5* - Beer Making Kit - I've been making my own beer for 10 years and love it.  It's relatively easy to do with a little patience and a minimal amount of equipment.  Now, these aren't the  Mr. Beer kits that you see at Wally World (I've heard good things about Mr. Beer).  This is genuine, honest to goodness, brewing ingredients.  The kits have been tried and tested over and over so messing it up takes some real genius.  If dad is a guy who loves trying different micro brews, cooking, or is a mad scientist, a beer making kit would be a perfect gift.  You can get him started for less than $100 and that includes some crucial equipment and ingredients.  If you are really not sure if he'd like it or not, there are also small 1 Gallon Batch Kits for around $50.

#4* - A Personal Journal - I know, most dad's aren't going to be jumping up and down with joy when they receive this gift.  However, it's a gift to them that they, in turn, can give back to you. These are more than mere journals.  They contain 12 questions or statements per month to help dad get started on writing down his life, experience, and wisdom.  I'd love to have a shelf full of these from my dad, grandfather, great-grandfather and so on.  He'll see the wisdom and beauty of passing on his memories if you but ask.

#3* - Pocket Knife -  I cannot remember a time that my father did not have a pocket knife.  My grandfather always had a pocket knife as well.  In fact, when he died, they discovered loads of pocket knives and the grandsons each received one.  I now have at least half a dozen pocket knives sitting on my dressing shelf.  Each one has it's own history, personality, and use.  Don't roll your eyes, I'm serious.  Where I'm going or what I'll be doing that day
determines which knife I bring along.  DO NOT CALL IT AN ACCESSORY!!  I'm not a fan of sheath knives, nor is anyone in line at the bank.  Nor am I in favor of pocket knife so big I walk with a limp.  I prefer a compact, old fashioned 2-3 blade knife that is sharp, easy to use, and fits well in my pocket without being bulky.  If you are really trying to win points, have it engraved!  Click here for reasons why every man should carry a pocket knife.

#2 - Of the Month Clubs - Oh my, there are so many awesome "of the month" clubs I don't even know where to start.  You can see some  great ones here but I'll list two of my favorites.  A) Taster's Club: Great Whisky Every Month and Learn all about it.  This is awesome.  I love whisky and I love learning about whisky and other drinks.  Each month they send you not only a bottle of whisky (bourbon, scotch, etc) but also an educational piece on How to Properly Taste Whisky, How Whisky is made, and more.  B) Mystery Tackle Box - do I really need to go into detail on this one.  Each month you get a box packed with lures, baits, and more.  Of the month clubs are a great gift that keeps on and on and dad remembers you each time that shipment arrives.

#1 - A Handwritten Note - This is probably the least expensive gift on the list but one that costs us the most.  It may not be easy to do but it will be worth it and you won't regret it.  Take time to write dad a note.  Tell him what he means to you, how much you appreciate all he has done for you.  Recall wonderful memories and jot them down for him.  Chances are he may not even remember the event or think it was significant and will be moved to know how it affected you.  I've spoken to too many people who regret not doing this simple act with a pen and paper.  Even if your father is no longer with you, write the note.  If your father wasn't the best, write it to a father figure in your life - a priest, grandfather, cousin, co-worker, etc.  Tell a the man/father figure in your life that you love him, admire him, and are praying for him.  We dads need it, even if we act like we don't.  Merry Christmas!

* 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...