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

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Conversion of St. Matthew

The Calling of St. Matthew, Caravaggio (1600)
Many scholars today try to dismiss Saint Matthew's seemingly instant conversion. They reason, not based on scripture, that Saint Matthew probably knew Jesus for a while beforehand and this was just his way of telling his readers when he left everything to follow Jesus.

It sounds good but I'll stick with what I read. Matthew got up and followed him. I know of many people who had instant conversions of this sort ( Fr. Donald Calloway, Zachary King). This doesn't mean that they were instantly saints but rather that they made the choice for Christ and did not look back. This doesn't mean everything from then on was easy but that they now had the strength of Christ and through Him they could do all things. Matthew heard the call of God and responded. His heart was open and Christ was able to walk in.

Something else to note is that Matthew didn't care what anyone thought of his conversion or his association with Jesus. In reality there were probably just as many skeptical "sinners and tax collectors" as there were Pharisees. Matthew's friends probably wondered why he would invite Jesus to a party in the same way that the Pharisees wondered how Jesus could dine with "these" people. Matthew isn't concerned about anyone's opinion. He is only concerned with his relationship with Christ. If that relationship results in his friends conversion all the better, but he will not shy away from his master out of human respect.

We see this same attitude in the 1st reading.  Here Abraham is determined to trust God and his plan no matter what.  He instructs his servant to find a wife for Issac trusting that God will provide.  Like Matthew, Abraham doesn't take his eyes off of the Lord and His promises.  We do well to do likewise.

Lord Jesus, You never cease to call me to follow You. Help me this day to leave all that keeps me from You. Help me to leave my cares for vanity and my concern with worldly opinion behind, take up my cross and follow You. Lord, come to my house and dine. Come into my life for I am sick with sin and in need of Your Divine Medicine.

"What amazes you seems natural to me: that God has sought you out in the practice of your profession! That is how he sought the first, Peter and Andrew, James and John, beside their nets, and Matthew, sitting in the custom-house. And - wonder of wonders - Paul, in his eagerness to destroy the seeds of Christianity!" - Saint Josemaria Escriva The Way 799

* 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, July 06, 2017

Giving my Children to God

Feast of St. Maria Goretti

A very common, yet overlooked, reason for the "vocation crisis" to the priesthood and religious life is that parents don't support or encourage their children to consider if God might be calling them to that vocation. I have heard many parents comment on how they would not allow their children to "waste" their talents. They are well meaning but very confused. To answer the call to any vocation is to put one's talents in the service of God.

In today's readings we see to examples of giving our children to God. They are wonderful examples of placing all of our faith in the Lord and His plans.

The story of Abraham taking Isaac to sacrifice has always amazed me. To start, I would have seriously questioned whether or not I was really hearing the voice of God asking me to do such a thing. Yet Abraham was a man of God and knew God's voice well and responded generously. Then there is Isaac who is obviously old enough to talk, work, and be knowledgeable about sacrifice. Did he fight when his dad began to bind him? Was he screaming for help when his father raised the knife to slaughter him? We know that regardless of what took place at that moment, Isaac became faithful to God. He was at an age that he perhaps remembered the terror and the miracle. He remembered wondering why his father would do this, yet He understood his father's faithfulness when he heard the voice of God and saw the ram.

Abraham shows us that no sacrifice is too great for the God who has given us everything. I like to think that my children belong to the Lord. He has entrusted them to me for a time and I must be ready to give them to Him and His service at any time. With six boys it is a painful thought that I might never have grandchildren if they were all to become priests but I will make that sacrifice. It is also painful to think that none of them will become priests but I will make that sacrifice too if it is God's will.

I associate today's Gospel with children because Jesus calls the paralytic "my son." In other translations we are told that they brought "the child" to Him on a mat. This episode shows how important it is for me as a parent to lead my children to God. I must seek to live a life that points to Christ. My vocation must be viewed as one in the service of the Lord. My vocation to being a husband and father must complement the vocation to the priesthood and the single life. Fulfilling my calling to the best of my ability must show my children that the "trinity of vocations" are complementary and that they support and foster one another.

Of course there is the chance that my children will reject Christ. They may end up being like those in yesterday's reading who "begged Him to leave them." However, I cannot let this possibility disable me. If those carrying the paralytic would have been concerned only with whether or not their friend wanted to see Jesus or what the crowd would think, that man would have remained paralyzed and they would have been responsible. In the same way, if I do nothing, hoping only that my children follow Christ, I will be held accountable. But if I do all that I can and they still fall away, it rests upon them.

I must have the faith of Abraham even when, and especially when, I don't understand what God is doing. I must have the faith of those friends of the paralytic and do all that I can to bring my children to Christ.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Saw-Grass Adventures (Chapter Two)

 In another part of the Saw-grass, where it crests the hill and begins its slow descent toward the creek, a little field mouse named Andre and his mother were walking quietly gather nuts and seeds that were beginning to fall. Andre was a good little mouse who loved his mother very much. His father had disappeared earlier in the season. His mother told him that a hawk probably took him. Other residents of the Saw-grass said it was a Nagas, the giant black rat-snake that had captured his father.

Andre missed his dad and took it upon himself to be the “man” of the family. The mother and son strolled quietly through the tall Saw-grass gathering a seed here or there and stuffing it in their cheeks to take back home. As they wandered and gathered they found themselves nearing Sun Rock.

Sun Rock was a large sandstone rock in the middle of the Saw-grass. It was large enough to open up the Saw-grass and allow the sun to shine on the rock and warm it up. Many small animals and insects came to the rock throughout the day to either see the sun on its journey across the land of the Saw-grass or enjoy the warmth of the sun and the rock. However, today, in the middle of the day, not a soul was to be seen. As they came nearer Andre was in awe of the rock. It appeared to glow because of all the little grains of sand reflecting the sun and the little white stones embedded in the rock appeared as miniature suns.

The stone was so attractive that the two mice gave very little thought as to why no one was on the stone today. Andre and his mother climbed up onto the rock and sat quietly enjoying the warmth. Both of them closed their eyes and let their thoughts wander. As they sat there in the quiet enjoying the warmth of the sun above and the rock below, Andre could hear a faint buzzing sound that seemed like it was coming from the rock. At that very instant a shadow passed over top of them. Andre’s mother’s heart nearly stopped. She knew that that shadow meant only one thing, a hawk.

Run, Andre, run,” shouted his mother.

By this time both of the mice had opened their eyes and saw the hawk approaching at an incredible speed. Andre began to run off the south side of the rock but just as he was preparing to leap he was struck by something and rolled off the opposite side. He landed on his back and watched the hawk crash through the Saw-grass, break free and begin to climb back into the sky.
As Andre looked on he noticed that the hawk’s claws were empty.
As he looked across the surface of Sun Rock he could see a flurry of activity on the other side. Hundreds of yellow-jackets were swarming around that area of the rock. Andre slowly and quietly crawled back into the saw grass and made his way around to the South side of Sun Rock to get a better look at what was going on. As he drew closer the buzzing sound of the yellow-jackets was almost deafening. He covered his tiny ears and watched in horror because there was nothing he could do.

As he sat watching the horrible scene tears streamed down his face as he realized his mother sacrificed her life for his. When the hawk had approached and his mother told him to run she had already learned why there was a buzzing noise coming from the rock and why no one else was at Sun Rock that day. A group of yellow-jackets had built a nest underneath Sun Rock using an old ground-mole tunnel entrance. When she told Andre to run he started to run right towards the opening to the nest. His mother ran in front of him and with all her might threw him to the other side of Sun Rock. However, this effort threw her directly into the opening of the nest. After the first two stings she no longer suffered.

Andre watched and cried till no more tears would come. He turned and wandered aimlessly through the Saw-grass thinking of his mother and his father and how he was now completely alone in this world. The more he thought of all that had happened to him the angrier he became. He wanted to get even with the yellow-jackets, the hawk, and with the other residents of Saw-grass for not warning them. With every step he took he became more and more angry. Many of the residents tried to approach him and comfort him but he would lash out at them and call them names. Pretty soon all the residents of Saw-grass were angry with him and the entire atmosphere of the place went from peace to hostility. No one spoke kindly or helped one another.

Andre,” came a voice from high above his head. “I’m sorry about what happened to your mother. She will be greatly missed in the Saw-grass.

Andre looked up and saw Lawrence slowly descending from the tops of the grass. Andre turned away and sat with his back to Lawrence.

Being angry is understandable,” began Lawrence. “However, you can’t let your anger last forever. It can hurt you very badly if you allow it to burn inside.

It won’t burn forever,” said Andre. “It will only burn until I have chance to make things right, until I have a chance to get back at the hawk and the yellow-jackets.”

Do you really think that will make things right,” asked Lawrence who was now standing directly behind Andre.

Andre thought about this question for a moment. Inside he knew that it would not make things right. He knew that nothing he did could bring his mother or father back. Yet, deep inside he wanted to make somebody or everybody pay for the way he was feeling. He wanted everyone to feel the same thing he was feeling at this moment. He blamed himself, the hawk, the yellow-jackets, and all the residence of Saw-grass.

No, I don’t think it will make things right but it may make me feel better,” said Andre at last.

Everyone,” began the praying mantis “everyone here in Saw-grass has experienced what you are feeling at one time or another in their lives. This is natural. It is a normal part of life here. There is so much death that takes place daily but also so much life. It is a hard part of growing up in Saw-grass but we must be ready for death as well as life.

I am ready for death now,” cried Andre. “I am ready for someone’s death!

Andre,” said Lawrence “the choice is yours. You can choose to take your revenge or to help this to never happen again. The choice is yours but the choice will not affect you alone.

With that, Lawrence silently lifted from the ground and disappeared into the thick grass leaving Andre alone once more.