Saturday, December 08, 2018

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 03, 2018

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 an 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 efforts he puts forth to approach Jesus and ask for the 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!

* 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, December 01, 2018

Advent and Fear of the Lord


Luke 21:34-36

I haven't posted much this week in the area of Scripture meditations. The reason is that, well, they've been pretty frightening. Seriously, have you read them? If not, take a few moments and check them out. We're talking Apocalyptic readings! Death, famine, earthquakes, fire, and angels with sickles. It's certainly not what I like dancing around in my mind as I put up the Christmas lights on the house!

Although I haven't posted much about the readings, they have been haunting me all week. So, I had to take some time and ask myself, "What is it about these readings that so bothers me?" The gut instinct response is, "I'm scared to meet Christ face to face.  I don't think I'm ready.  I need Confession and to turn my life more fully toward God."

Isn't that strange that I fear my encounter with Christ more than all these other things. For instance, on Tuesday I read, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky." but it is the Lord I fear.

On Wednesday I heard that, "They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors...You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death", but still I fear meeting the Lord!

Thursday I read, "Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives...", yet, still, I mainly fear the coming of Christ rather than these things.

Friday, again, I read, "this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away", but I am without fear except for the coming of the Lord!

On Saturday the readings for the week ended with these words of Jesus, "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."

After reading all of this I believe that my fear is in the right place. If I were worried about natural disasters my heart would be too concerned with the world. If I were worried about wars and battles to the point that I was paralyzed, then I am sure my heart would be in the wrong place. Even if I were worried about imprisonment, torture, and death (my own or of those I love) then I think my sights would be set only on this world.

None of these things do I fear. Rather, I fear the Living God and pray that I, "have the stand before the Son of Man." To those of us who fear God and not man, to those who see all the tribulations as nothing compared to our encounter with Christ the King, Jesus says, "when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."

To the worldly, these signs are terror and destruction for they are loosing all that they have placed their hope upon. For those who believe, these are the signs of arrival of all that has been promised.

As Advent begins tomorrow, let us adopt a holy fear of the Lord.  A fear that restrains us from offending Him.  A fear that is born of love like a lover fearing to offend his beloved.  Let us take advantage of this Advent season to truly prepare a way for the Lord to enter into our hearts!

FROM THE SAINTS - Even here amidst trials and temptations let us, let all men, sing alleluia. God is faithful, says holy Scripture, and he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. So let us sing alleluia, even here on earth. Man is still a debtor, but God is faithful. Scripture does not say that he will not allow you to be tried, but that he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. Whatever the trial, he will see you through it safely, and so enable you to endure. You have entered upon a time of trial but you will come to no harm—God’s help will bring you through it safely. You are like a piece of pottery, shaped by instruction, fired by tribulation. When you are put into the oven therefore, keep your thoughts on the time when you will be taken out again; for God is faithful, and he will guard both your going in and your coming out. - St. Augustine

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Rosary Meditations for the Family - A series of rosary meditations focused on family life and the beauty contained therein.
Meditations on the Crucifix - A beautiful set of meditations on this beloved Catholic sacramental.
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Friday, November 30, 2018

St. Andrew and the Baptism of Jesus

Friday November 30th, 2018

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle & Martyr

Today is the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle and brother of St. Peter.  In my book Rosary Meditations for Real Life I have a section that is devoted to viewing the 20 mysteries of the rosary through the eyes of different participants in those mysteries.  The Joyful Mysteries are seen through the eyes of St. Joseph.  The Sorrowful Mysteries are seen through the eyes of St. John.  The Glorious Mysteries are seen through the eyes of the Blessed Mother.

For the Luminous Mysteries I elected to view them through the eyes of various people.  Below you will find the First Luminous Mystery, The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, as seen through the eyes of St. Andrew whose Feast we celebrate today.  If you enjoy this brief meditation on this mystery, I invite you to download the entire set of Luminous Mysteries for free from our website.  It is delivered in a easy to use tri-fold PDF pamphlet.  Here you will see the Luminous Mysteries through the eyes of a servant at the wedding in Cana, a leper listening to Jesus' words of blessing, St. James with Jesus on the mountain, and even Judas at the Last Supper.  Copying and sharing is encouraged.

The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan as seen by St. Andrew

I had been going to listen to John for a few months. I listened every time I had a free moment. My brother thought I was crazy and couldn’t understand why anyone would listen to a crazy preacher instead of fishing. 

John had been preaching about repentance for as long as anyone could remember. He had also been preaching about this person who was to come after him yet this person was before him. The story didn’t make much sense at the time. 

I was there when John baptized Jesus. John was standing in the Jordan as usual with the water flowing just above his knees. He was quite a sight with the camel hair cloak and long beard blowing in the wind. It reminded me of Moses preparing to part the Red Sea. 

As Jesus approached, time appeared to stand still. The sky was clear and there was not a sound to be heard. The river looked like glass with John frozen in its midst. Then I heard John say in a voice that seemed to echo throughout creation, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Jesus entered the river and was baptized by John. My friend and I decided to follow Jesus to find where He was staying. He noticed us following and recognized us from the river and said, “come, and see”.  (based on John 1: 35-39)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Taming the Roaring Lion

As I normally do, I arose early for some quiet time praying and reading this morning.  I read the daily mass readings and meditated on those for some time.  After that, I moved on to Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

While meditating on what I had just read I looked out my window on the rolling hills of Southeastern Ohio.  A soft light washed the hills as the sun had not yet come up over the Eastern horizon.  Birds were singing and rabbits nibbled on grass in the cool of the morning.  The shape of a large animal sitting in the yard caught my eye.  At first I thought it was a whitetail deer sitting on its haunches looking up at me.  I soon realized that the animal I was locking eyes with was an enormous lion.

My heart froze and I couldn't breath as the animal stared at me and I at it.  My first thought was concern for my family.  I jumped up and ran down the hall toward the bedroom where my sons sleep on their bunk beds.  I again froze in the doorway.  There in the middle of the bedroom was the lion with his back to me watching my sons sleep.  I quietly backed away and ran downstairs to check on my wife.  She was still sound asleep with our youngest boy snuggled up beside her and our daughter sound asleep in her crib.  I screamed without even thinking when I saw the lion resting quietly on my side of the bed hungrily watching them all.

The nightmare ended but the reality set in.

"Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8

Peter's description of the devil should scare the hell out of anyone (pun intended).  Satan is described as actively looking for victims.  He doesn't want to scare them, gnaw on them, or make them turn toward God.  He wants to devour them.  He wants to devour and destroy my family and our souls.  He doesn't sleep.  He is no respecter of persons.  He pulls no punches and he'll take no prisoners.  He is purposefully seeking to destroy me and those I love.

This is not fanciful imagery.  The evidence surrounds us.  How did he get into my yard?  I have neglected my prayer life and have neglected to call upon the saints and angels to protect us.  How did he get into my sons' bedroom?  He has led me to believe that I'm more useful making money than rearing my children.  How did get into my bedroom?  He has made me question the Church's (God's) teachings on marriage and sexuality.  (see Genesis - Did God really say that?).

If you need incentive to get back to a prayer life, the sacraments, family time, or just putting God and family first, imagine that lion at the door or in the house.  Actually, don't imagine it, see it, it's happening now.

"So, submit yourselves to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." James 4:7

P.S. - Today one of the most common ways to allow that roaring lion into our home is via the Internet.  He enters our homes in form of mindless entertainment, consumerism, and alas, pornography.  Talk to any priest and you will find that this is the most commonly confessed sin today - pornography use and masturbation.  In fact it's no longer limited by age or gender and the numbers of addicted are growing daily if not hourly.

Here are a few resources to help defend your family or if need be, cast the demon lion from your home.

1) Internet filter - Although no filter is foolproof, something is better than nothing.  Over the years we've tried many.  Recently we purchased a number of Chromebooks for our children's school work.  We could find no software that was compatible with our Chromebooks.  While investigating we discovered that we would be better protected if we had a filter at the router level.  This would help us filter every device connected to the router (phones, tablets, computers, even our Roku!).

We finally settled on CleanRouter.  This is a router that is downstream from your modem (if you aren't tech savy, don't worry.  The folks at CleanRouter are fantastic).  This device allows you to filter the Internet, get daily reports, control who has access to the Internet and at what times, and so much more.  We can't recommend CleanRouter enough.  You can try it for 30 days to see if it will work for your situation.  If you want to give it a spin, click on any of the CleanRouter links.  When signing up and asked how you heard about it, give us some love and choose Friend, and enter

2) Accountability - Along with the filter there should be some sort of accountability.  Maybe both you and your spouse get the daily email reports.  If you are single, maybe the reports can be sent to an accountability partner or spiritual director.  Having someone who will help you up when you fall, encourage you, not judge you, and recognize the problem/addiction for what it is, makes all the difference between slavery and freedom.

3)  Spiritual Exercises - Two of the most powerful and freeing programs for addiction of any kind are the Exodus 90 program (for men) or Nineveh 90 (for men and women).  While not specifically designed for overcoming addiction, they have that potential.  They strip participants of their worldly comforts and desires by immersing them in rigorous exercise, spiritual readings, and mortification for 90 days.  They incorporate accountability groups where members are free to share the good and bad without judgement while trusting in the fervent prayers of the entire group for their freedom and movement toward God.

Filtering, accountability, and spiritual programs are all becoming a powerful force for change and resistance to that menacing but cowardly lion.  Join us in the battle for the hearts and souls of friends and family.  Remember too that that roaring lion has met his match in the Lion of Judah!  Trust in that!!

* 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...

Monday, November 26, 2018

Giving God My Leftovers

Monday November 26th, 2018 (The Last Week of Ordinary Time)

Luke 21:1-4

"And what I have leftover, I give unto you O Lord!"

Of course I would never pray that privately or out loud. Yet, that is often the way I live. I often give the Lord leftovers. I give money that I can part with. I give my time in prayer when I can fit it in. I seek to help others when I am not busy with my own cares. Leftovers.

What if I did that with my other personal relationships? What would my life be like if I gave my family the money I have leftover after spending all that I wanted to spend? How would my children behave if I gave them the time I had leftover after doing all that I want to do first? What would my marriage look like if I helped my wife with household chores only after I completed my pet projects?

In today's Gospel Jesus shows me two ways of living my life. I can be like the "wealthy" and give from my abundance, what I have extra, leftovers. Or, I can be like the "poor widow" and give what I have from my heart even sacrificing my own needs and desires out of love for God and others.

In this Gospel, Jesus is not looking at the amount given but the heart behind it. He tells me that the widow gave more, not because of the amount, but because she gave with a generous heart. She made a sacrifice out of love for God whereas the others gave leftovers.

Lord, help me to keep the leftovers for myself and give You and others the best of my time, talent, and treasure. Show me this day one opportunity for me to have leftovers and give the best to others in my life - friends, family, co-workers, and strangers. Give me the grace to give from my needs and not from what I have leftover!

FROM THE SAINTS - "The Lord does not look at the amount offered but at the affection with which it is offered." - Saint John Chrysostom

* 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 22, 2018

3 Gift Ideas that put Christ back in Christmas

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 $500 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.

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 rather 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 once 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 homebrewed 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. Today, since we are scattered all over the country, we use an online name drawing program like this to handle the name drawing for us.

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...

Conceived without Fear