Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Christian Love & Charity

Christian love is simply found by looking no further than the Cross, which flows right into God's word and his promises.

God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you."

This past Sunday's readings show us Christian Love and Charity unlike no other. This love is a two way street, with our cooperation being a key part of the equation. Opening with the book of Kings, Solomon is front and center as God asks him for anything he wishes. Solomon however doesn't ask for selfish things. He simply asks for wisdom, understanding and humility, which are aligned with God's desires for all humanity. God then gives him what he asked for and so much more! How often do we ask for things from God like a vending machine, rather than trusting him in his infinite wisdom?

In the responsorial psalm, we are reminded that our lives are much more than material things. Living God's law and avoiding the many things of the world can be difficult at times, even though they are overly appealing and draw us away from him.

"Lord, I love your commands.
I have said, O LORD, that my part
is to keep your words.
The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

In this, I can't help but see a connection in the psalm to Judas' selling out Jesus's location for 30 pieces of silver.

Moving to the second reading, Romans continues to teach us so much more...

"We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers and sisters.
And those he predestined he also called;
and those he called he also justified;
and those he justified he also glorified."

God will take us down a path of sanctification if we simply ask and accept the graces he gives us. This is all too often not an easy thing to do. Justifying us, we glorify him in return.

Putting all this together, we get a whopper of a Gospel that certainly opened my eyes.

"Jesus said to his disciples:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea,
which collects fish of every kind.
When it is full they haul it ashore
and sit down to put what is good into buckets.
What is bad they throw away.
Thus it will be at the end of the age.
The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

“Do you understand all these things?”
They answered, “Yes.”
And he replied,
“Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven
is like the head of a household
who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.

So true! Once the grace of God shows us the love he has for us in the kingdom of heaven, we always want to find it anew and share it with others. Unfortunately, this can be problematic if we don't share it in the best way possible. We can become prideful, pushy, or even agitating towards others if not done with patience, love and simply letting our actions speak for themselves. I know how I've wanted to share God's word with some individuals so much that it caused harm more than it did good.

I have found myself battling Christian Love and Charity throughout my return to the church. Moreover, I seem to catch myself not being charitable to those who don't see the faith in its true light. This can be from fellow Catholic Christians to Christians of other denominations. This is one area that God is working on within me. Many thanks to the Lord for continuing to show me how to be a better person in all respects. Deo Gratias!

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet Jim and Joy Pinto (www.jimandjoypinto.com) who have a radio show on EWTN called "At Home With Jim and Joy". What a great couple full of Christ's love! I learned so much from their talks at the family conference they were headlining. Certainly, if you have never listened to their show or dvd's,  you are missing out. Both have powerful testimonies of how God has worked in their lives and taken them on a path to the Catholic church. After speaking with them at the event, they asked me to call into their show to share some of my testimony. What an honor, as I was on the show for about 5 minutes on Monday. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to meet them and share some of my story to the listeners on the show!

I will close with a powerful prayer called "The Face Prayer. Jim and Joy Pinto ask people to pray this daily and live it out in their daily lives. I have heard them pray this numerous times on the radio, but it really came alive for me during their live talk. I am now praying this every day and reminding myself of it every time I have a thought or action that would not be Christ-like.

"Heavenly Father, I embrace your grace this day,
So that I might not:
Think of another,
Speak to another or
Touch another,
without first looking for
Your Face in the other.
I ask all this through
Jesus Christ:
God Incarnate,
God with Skin,
God made Poor,
God with a Face. Amen!

-by James Pinto, Jr, MEV"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gardening Part Two... and some 'Wisdom'

This Sunday's readings continue the Parable of the Sower, beginning with a reading from Wisdom and Romans, then culminating with the Gospel of Matthew.  My first thoughts from today emanate from a the title of a book that stands out on my bookshelf which says "Welcome Home". It contains stories of those who return to the Catholic faith after grace filled moments and personal encounters with Christ's love & forgiveness.

This past Sunday's readings (http://usccb.org/nab/071711.shtml) are about God's goodness and forgiveness. I am glad to be home in Christ's church even though the process has hurt immensely at times and left me scratching my head in wonder...  The responsorial Psalm (86 verse 5) says it all:

"Lord, you are kind and forgiving, most loving to all who call on you."

Nearly 5 years ago, God answered my prayers when I had called on him to help me return to the church and become a better Christian. This was accomplished through several awakening events in my life and a fellow Christian who served as the primary instrument, for which I am forever grateful, yet are still striving to see God's plan in all of this. God continued to show me a path to his door over time and in December 2007, I responded with a 'Yes' to those answered prayers, returning to the church. My opening the door (Rev 3:20) began a floodgate of grace and faith filled moments. The entire process has not been easy, nor has it been comforting at times, however God has consoled me in many respects along the way.  I was reminded of this on Saturday as I attended a wedding for two very faithful Catholics who exemplify God's love to each other in so many ways. They both pursue devout Carmelite spirituality and see God in everything that they do. Their wedding cake laid out Mother Teresa's words so eloquently and plainly:

"Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self."

That's right - Love is not painless. It's a total giving of oneself to another amidst all trials, temptations and struggles. Sometimes we think things should just be easy. But yet, life is a continuous gardening process.

Sunday's readings remind us that God Loves us, no matter what we do, as characterized at the end of the Gospel passage: Matt 13:36-43

"Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear."

So, as always, we need to be attentive to what is going on around us, cleaning our gardens, sowing good seed, and most of all, trusting God. I will never forget a personal message given to me saying to trust God. It's the famous Proverbs 3:5-6:
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not;In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths."

This is more easily said than done!

I proclaimed the first and second readings at Mass this Sunday from the ambo and they certainly spoke to me when I was up at the ambo. I vividly recall a non-Catholic Christian (actually a former Catholic) commenting once to me "Wisdom? I've never heard of that book".  The thing is that the book of Wisdom has actually taught me a bunch of wisdom in life and I simply cannot see how protestants have tossed seven books out of the bible and can defend doing so, especially with a book like Wisdom. Sunday's reading is simply powerful.

"There is no god besides you who have the care of all,
that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.
For your might is the source of justice;
your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.
For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;
and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity.
But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency,
and with much lenience you govern us;
for power, whenever you will, attends you.
And you taught your people, by these deeds,
that those who are just must be kind;
and you gave your children good ground for hope
that you would permit repentance for their sins."

Let us pray that true wisdom and God will guide us each day of our lives into absolute truth.

The reading from Romans is rather striking when we see that God works in mysterious ways and along with such, will "intercede" when necessary. I see this as the events in my life where I was on one path where God was definitely trying to work on me while I was off in another world pursuing my worldly interests. It reminds me of how much I used to be attached to my hobbies and things of the world that were leading me away from God.

"Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will."

The following blog rolled into my email box this morning. What timing. It's definitely something I have been struggling with in my call to the Catholic desert! It is so easy to swing to either side of the pendulum in the faith. Having a balance is certainly key as I see where I have definitely swung wildly at times. Being an engineer, I guess I could model the over damped or under damped response ;)

"How do I get my focus back?"

May God always continue to work in our lives with our grace and acceptance. And as always, may we continue to de-weed our gardens.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Weeds in the Garden

The Mass readings from this past Sunday (July 10th) are definitely a powerful set, culminating with the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 13:1-23). Who can't forget the ever popular Parable of the Sower? This is a popular set of verses that many will use and have numerous discussions on in relation to planting seeds with believers and non believers alike. It's a very simple message, yet is one of the most striking  when the message is clearly heard, accepted, and most importantly, lived out.

July 10 Mass readings: 

Beginning with Isaiah 55:10-11, the readings really ask us to open our eyes and see correctly the work God is doing and the work that needs to be done in our gardens in order for us to cultivate our own healthy garden and provide good fruit. One can't help but see the church's divine wisdom in setting up the Mass readings to be so inter-connected throughout the year.

After the psalms and the second reading (more on that later), the Gospel of Matthew pulls us into the heart of the story (verses 18-23).

Matt: 13:18-23  "Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

At first glance, who doesn't say to themselves "Yeah, I'm keeping good soil for the Lord to plant things in. Plant away Lord!"? The harsh reality is that we are fooling ourselves if we aren't looking deeply at ourselves, our actions, and how God is working in our lives. Too often the "noise" and "business of the world" prevent us from working the ground and ensuring that we let the seedlings attach and take root.  A lot of the times, it is the friends we keep and run into that are the weeds of the world. Instead, we end up planting (going to Church), forgetting to water and de-weed, even though we think we are doing the proper work. We leave church with a fresh mind, knowing how to plant properly, but are soon swallowed and surrounded by the weeds of the world which snatch that word from us. This definitely underscores the point of surrounding ourselves with solid Christians who will help us live our faith.

I can't tell you how many times I've gone into my own yard and said "Whoah, when did all these weeds pop up? They were not there yesterday! Where are the plants I seeded?"

Sure the weeds were there. I just wasn't looking... and was ignoring the yard work. "Sure, I'll get to it tomorrow".

This past week was one of the most challenging of my life. A relative passed away, which resulted in a funeral and it seemed like at every corner things were just more difficult. However, God uses this to teach us lessons and slow down in life (which I've been feverishly working on). It was the pulling away from the world during the funeral and time away from life that has made me realize many things over the past week.  It's these events that help realign our priorities in life and make those important course corrections. Just as I was worshiping other things before I returned to the church nearly 4 years ago, we always find weeds lurking in the garden and priorities that need changing.

I typically don't go to 8pm Mass much, unless the day decides otherwise or if I am scheduled to lector it. Because I was away all weekend, I returned just in time to make the 8pm Mass. I believe it was a providential thing that I was away for the weekend and went to this particular Mass on Sunday. The priest that gives this Mass is one of my favorites for teaching. He's a very solid, retired Jesuit who still serves at a myriad of Masses all week. Some think he can even bi-locate. He actually takes time to interject historical comments in-between the readings, psalms, Gospel,etc - All which bring the Mass alive if one is truly listening.

The thing is that this pulling away for the majority of the week and culmination of the readings at Mass really made me realize as much as I didn't think there was, there were weeds in my garden that did not let seeds grow in my life. Granted God has done huge things in my life and pulled a lot of big weeds, but I now see more clearly where I was not letting some seeds fall on good ground because I hadn't fully de-weeded things. In fact, the weeds were there, but I just couldn't see them. Often weeds are at the base of plants and shrubbery. One can look from the outside and all appears well, but deep down, the weeds are slowly taking over the plants, not allowing new fruit to grow. In many respects, the weeds blend right in and look like a good plant or grass. However, they are slowly taking over our lives and we simply do not see it. 

As a Christian, life is not easy. It takes constant working of the soil and de-weeding of our garden, even if we think our soil is ready. Before the Gospel of Matthew, the second reading from Romans (8:18-23) reminds us to pick up our cross, endure the sufferings of the world, and let God work in our lives so that we can attain the final goal of ever lasting life through redemption.

"Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."

The funny thing is that I had felt the nudge to look deeper at this subject some time ago. I began writing this blog post 6 months ago and felt that the Lord was working on the right time for me to finish writing it, but it wasn't just quite there yet. Isn't it great how the Lord teaches us lessons and provides the inspiration and timing as he did this past week? I kept telling myself my soil was good, but it still needed work. In fact, the soil will always will need constant work!

St Fiacre, Patron Saint of Gardeners provides us a great lesson in gardening - He shows us to work our garden not with big equipment, but with fine care as he did with the point of his staff!

My prayer for the day:
"Lord, thank you for all the gifts of life you have given us. May we always listen attentively and allow for them to truly work in our lives. Many times we feel that we plant seeds with others and they may not take simply because their soil is not ready. May the Lord always help us de-clutter our own gardens and help work in other's with Christian charity and love. And most important of all, help us keep clearing the garden every day, being on guard for those weeds trying to take us away from attaining the glories of Heaven."