Monday, December 31, 2012

Being Thankful. . . Looking back.

As I sit in the coffee shop in Lake Leelanau, MI wrapping up some work on the last day of the year, I can't help but reflect back on what a great year it has been overall.  Were there challenges?  Sure.  Were there certain disappointments at time either professionally or personally?  Yes.  But, I choose to focus on the positives.  I choose to focus on what went well instead of what didn't.  Life is full of ups and downs, but overall it is our choice as to what we focus on and I choose to focus on all the great things.  Here are just a few things that I have to be thankful for:

  1. At the top of the list has to be the adoption of our son, Colten.  The situation came out of tragedy for the family, but has truly been a blessing.  God works in mysterious ways and I love this little guy more than I could have ever imagined possible.  He is pure joy.  
  2. The love of my little girl.  She grows up more and more every day, but I feel so fortunate that she loves me.  This year was her First Confession and I was so proud of how her faith and understanding of God has grown.   
  3. My wife, who has been such a great mother to both of our kids.  I could not do what she does, and I love her for the love that she has given this family.  She is much more patient than I, and I could never do all of this without her.  She is a good partner in life.  
  4. A family, both mine and my wife's, that has been a part of our life and many changes we've enjoyed this year.  
  5. A good job.  In this time when our economy is still struggling, I'm fortunate and thankful to have a career that allows me to provide for my family. 
  6. Friends who are there no matter what.  
  7. Last, but most important, my faith.  This has been such an important year for me in my faith.  As I participated in Abby's First Reconciliation preparation, I found my faith growing again.  I got closer to God and the Church, and it has been such an important part of my life.  I pray more, I think about how God would want me to live my life, and truly feel I have grown spiritually over the last several months.  I am more open than I ever have been to God's hand in my life, and I am grateful to God for all the blessings He has bestowed on me and my family.  
I am looking forward to a great 2013, and leave 2012 behind with no regrets.  Dear Lord, I thank you for many blessings, and ask that I may be open to your guidance in the coming year and follow the plan you have for me.  I ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.  

Happy New Year everyone.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“Why did this happen?” A reflection on the tragedy in Newton.

It has been a difficult few days for the parents and families of those young children and adults killed in the Newton, CT shooting.    I don’t think I’ve ever been as profoundly impacted to my core as I was this time.  OKC and 9/11 were awful, but for some reason this tragedy touched me deeply.  I’m not sure if it is because of the spiritual renewal I’ve experienced this year or the fact that I’m now a father and my daughter is 7 years old – the same age as some of the children who were murdered.  In whatever event, I’ve caught myself, with news snippets, pictures, and videos on-line, coming to tears on several occasions.  My heart has actually ached for those families, yet I know it is nothing in comparison to what they are feeling.  I am grieving for them and pray that God will send them strength and comfort during this difficult time.

Many people wonder and ask, “where was God” during all of this?  “Why did God allow this to happen?”  “Did God Plan this?”  In spite of the horrendous nature of this tragedy, it is important that we recognize this for what it was – Evil.  God has given us all free will.  Free will is God’s gift to us.  Evil is in this world because of sin and it is temptation and the associated free-will that drives some people to do evil things.  We must not forget that God does not make evil happen.  People CHOSE to do evil things. 

I’ve heard others say that sometimes out of tragedy comes good, but it is hard to imagine what good can come out of this one.  I sincerely believe that many people have good in them already, and it sometimes takes an evil thing like this for those same persons to show what is already there.  There has been an outpouring of love for these victims.  And, I think that while this terrible event shows the evil and hate that humans are capable of, so does it show our capacity for deep love and compassion. 

When we or those around us question “why” this all happened, let us not forget that our Father also gave up his only Son.  He knows what it is like to lose a child.  He did it willingly in order that we all might understand the love He has for us by sacrificing His only Son for man’s salvation. 

As we approach Christmas next week, let’s all take time with our families around the dinner table to give thanks for our many blessings and to pray that God sends his grace to comfort those families and all people saddened by this tragedy.  Lord hear our prayer. . .Amen. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Fight Against Minimalism

I'll start off by saying that this is not a lecture or me telling people how they should act.  It is not my place to do so.  This is a call for change.

We are in a fight against minimalism.  What is the least amount I can do to get by?  What are the least amount of credit hours I need to graduate?  What's the least amount of work I can do to get a promotion?  What's the least amount of exercise I can do to lose weight?  Nowhere is this more evident, in my opinion, than in the Church.  Matthew Kelly does an excellent job of talking about the issue in his book titled Rediscovering Catholicism.  My post here isn't an attempt to restate his points, but rather to share some real-life examples of what I see today. 

I've been guilty, and still am at times, of "minimalism" in my life.  I am trying to become closer to God and better understand my Faith like many of you, and I think that we all have opportunities to become better Christians.  As I grow in Faith, I have become more observant of behaviors around me that are bothersome.  One example comes from an experience I had just the other day. 

My daughter is preparing for her first Reconciliation this Friday, and the parents have had preparation meetings too with our parish priest.  He has done an excellent job of explaining the Biblical theological basis for the confession of sins (something I'll be glad to help anybody understand one on one if interested).  Last night we got a bit off topic discussing how traditions have changed, and one that came up in particular was "dress" at church.  To make a long story short, our priest shared, in so many words, that he doesn't like seeing people in jeans or their Colts' Jerseys on Sunday -- that it's a matter of respect.  Most people were interested in why he felt this way, understood his point, and even said that they, going forward, won't wear jeans.  In general, the mood was light and there were a few laughs, but the group in general listened and agreed.  However, there was one mother who said, "If I see a family in front of me all wearing their Colts' jerseys I just think 'how nice' and I'm just glad they are at Church."  This statement bothered me (and I think others) immediately, but it wasn't until a few minutes had passed that I figured out why.  I didn't respond directly but later shared that I feel that we are becoming minimalists when it comes to God and we owe Him more respect (If you dress up for a wedding or funeral, shouldn't you do the same when you enter the house of our Lord?).  What do I mean by all of this?

Well, first, I'm guilty.  I've worn jeans in the past -- usually with a nice shirt, but I've worn jeans.  Father's statement made me think though that it is not just about the jeans, but about the entire attitude.  Too many people are trying to find the "shortcut" to get to Heaven and to glorify God.  Why do I need to go to Confession if I ask for forgiveness?  I attend Church some Sundays, Christmas, and Easter so isn't that enough?  Why do I need to dress up -- isn't it enough that I just come?  I give to the weekly collection, how much more do I need to give to the poor?  Why is Mass taking so long -- can't they speed it up?  In so many words, we are asking the question, "what's the least I can do to get into Heaven?"  Isn't this selfish of us?  Of course it is. 

God gave us the world.  He is our Creator.  He gave us our lives here on Earth.  He sent His only Son to die on a cross so that our sins may be forgiven and we may have eternal life.  Why do we only want to give the least amount of ourselves possible?  It is about respect, honor, and love for THE ONE to whom we owe everything.  So, whether it comes to how we dress at Church or how much of our time we give to God, why not do just a little more?  Or, a lot more?  Why not wear dress slacks, a nice shirt, and maybe even throw on a tie every now and then?  Why not pray for 15 minutes a day instead of five?  Surely we can find 10 more minutes to keep the One company who loves us more than we can comprehend.  Why not attend a Bible study once a week or go to daily mass once during the week?  How about not going to Starbucks one day and dropping an extra $5 into the collection basket?  Or, picking up an extra case of can goods at the store and delivering them to the local food shelter?  We owe our Lord more than we owe anybody else.

Many people will think I'm just being silly, but I want to be clear  -- this is not just about how somebody dresses for church.  That is just one example of minimalism and certainly does not apply to everyone, but there are many others. This is about something that is pervasive throughout our society and culture, and our relationship with God and the Church is suffering because of it.  The solution starts with all of us through living by example, teaching our kids differently, and then maybe, just maybe, others will follow.  I know, personally, I have a long way to go.  The discussion that occurred with all the parents made me reflect on my own life, where I was, where I am today, and where I want to go.  I know I'm not going to get there by doing as little as possible to show my respect, honor, and love for the Lord.  Though only God knows for certain, I would be willing to bet that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is in Heaven, and she certainly didn't get there by doing just the minimum.

So, during this Advent Season, slow down, make time for the Lord, and pray. . . just a bit more.

God Bless you all. 

Disclaimer:  I think dress code at Church is probably the least of the problems, but serves as an example.  If you are going to wear jeans, then just do so with a nice shirt, shoes, and actually take a shower in the morning.  :-) 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Happy New Year – An Opportunity to Prepare

Happy New Year??  What are you talking about Jeremy?

This last Sunday was the start of Advent – the start of a new Liturgical Year in the Church. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming.” In the Catholic Church, as well as many other Christian churches, Advent represents a season of waiting and preparation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We look at Advent from both the historical perspective with the birth of Jesus on Christmas (First Coming) as well as in the context of the Second Coming. In either case, this is a good time to take stock in what we are doing to prepare ourselves while in waiting. No, I don’t mean making shopping lists for all the food, stringing up lights around the house, or purchasing far more gifts than our children need. What I mean is “what are we doing to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Christ?”

I am not one of those people that “preaches” about the end of the world all of the time, but I do believe that we should prepare ourselves constantly for the Second Coming and Advent is a good reminder. The Second Coming may be today, tomorrow, fifty years from now, or after our own human life passes, but what are we doing to prepare today, right now, for eternal life? In Matthew 25:13, Jesus states, "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” All of us need to be prepared as only God knows. Think of it this way for a moment. What if the world ended today, and you stood to be judged and were asked the question, “why should I let you in?” How would you respond? And, would your response gain you entry into the Kingdom?

We oftentimes allow the many distractions in our day to day life get in the way of doing good works and preparing ourselves for eternal life. Let’s all be honest with ourselves, there is a lot to get done. Like it or not, we need to do the grocery shopping for Christmas dinner, buy gifts for family, decorate, coordinate that pitch-in at work, and maybe volunteer if there is time. Hit pause for a few minutes! Make a list for yourself of all the things you have to do and have planned for the holidays, and then ask yourself, “Of these, which are preparing me?” Are you making time for God in your life? Are you going to Church on Sundays? Are you taking the time out for prayer? Are you helping others around you understand the true meaning of Christmas? Are you donating your time and treasure to help others during this holiday season?

I can say that I love Christmas. For many years now, my family and I go up to my in-laws in Michigan and celebrate with extended family. It is a lot of fun and the bringing together of family on such a joyous occasion is truly special and an important part of the holidays. I’m sure many others have similar traditions, yet in all of the hustle it is easy to forget what the spirit of the season is all about – and, it’s much more than spending one hour at a church on Christmas Eve or Christmas. The season is an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord. We will honor Him and the memory of the Nativity of Jesus Christ by using some of the next 22 days to pray more, help out a charitable organization, volunteer our time, adopt a needy child/family, go to Confession, read Sacred Scripture, and teach our children about the meaning of Christmas. Consider a personal pledge – something that you are going to do this Advent for your own personal preparation.

“Happy New Year” to all of you. Go make time. Slow down. Reflect and prepare. God is also watching, making his list, and checking it twice.

Monday, November 26, 2012

More Than Just the Turkey (A Thanksgiving Reflection)

This Thanksgiving we continued our tradition of going to visit my family in North Carolina.  I love traveling to North Carolina this time of year as the weather is always so nice, whereas in Indiana things are starting to really cool down!  My mom, both my sisters, and their families live in North Carolina just north of Charlotte (Taylorsville, NC area) so it is a great to be able to see everyone.  The one "big" change this year is that we had Colten, and it was also his first birthday so everyone got to celebrate with us!!  Abby loves playing with her cousins and it has been great seeing them all grow up through the years.  My mom hosted a great dinner at her house on Wednesday and my sister did a great job of hosting Thanksgiving and cooking a truly outstanding turkey!  I, of course, did my pumpkin crunch which I think everyone enjoys (at least I hope so). 

When Saturday afternoon came and we had to say our goodbyes I was a bit sad, as always.  It is difficult to be so far away from family, but at the same time I am thankful for the time we had to spend together.  As I reflected on the weekend and the spirit of the holiday, I thought about many of those people who are less fortunate.  There are many who do not have a roof over their head, who didn't have enough to eat on Thanksgiving, and others who are very ill this year.  Most of us know of friends or family who might be unemployed, have fallen on tough times, and who themselves might have lost someone recently due to illness. 

While I continue my own spiritual journey, I can't help but think, "how am I so fortunate?"  "What did I do to deserve such blessings?"  When having these thoughts, I remind myself that God has a plan for all of us.  We are all called to serve in our own way.  I have been blessed, but it is my responsibility to find a way to use those blessings in a way that glorifies God and shows how thankful I am.  Every day, it is important to think about how we are utilizing our own time, talent, and treasure to praise God and help others -- the poor, the hungry, the sick, the home bound, the lonely, and the less fortunate.  This quote from Luke 12:48 perhaps says it best:

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more."

I am very thankful this year -- for more than just the turkey.  I am thankful for my family, my wife, my gorgeous kids whom I love unconditionally and am loved by in return, my friends, my job, having enough to eat, the roof over my head, good health, the Church, having the opportunity to serve others through some great organizations, and a renewed Faith.  I thank God for all of these blessings and many more, and for sending his Son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins for without that eternal life would not be possible.  I pray every day that I might live my life in an unselfish way, giving of myself in a way that lives the Gospel and encourages others to do the same. 

What are you thankful for this year?  How are you showing your "appreciation" for the many blessings you've been given?  Feel free to post and share your thoughts with others. . . 'tis the season for generosity and love. . . it's contagious! 


Monday, November 5, 2012

Peanut butter and . . .not enough jelly??

Okay, so I thought I would try a "catchy" title to see if it grabbed your attention. . . did it work?  As a kid, or if you have kids now, could you imagine having a peanut butter sandwich without jelly?  What if that grape jelly or strawberry jam didn't exist or was simply empty when you opened the fridge?  What a let down, right?  Well, more on that to come in a bit. 

This weekend I had the privilege of going with the High School Youth Group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to the Holy Family Shelter downtown in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.  This is the only shelter in the area of it's kind that is a temporary shelter for families.  There are other shelters for women, men, women and children, men and children, or other combinations, but this is the only one that extends to the entire family.  The shelter can house up to 22 "families" in it's dorm style rooms and even have one room that is setup to hold a family of 9 I believe.  The shelter is "temporary" though and is always at capacity.  It is more of a transition home for those that have fallen down and need help getting back up.  Perhaps parents lost their job(s), a mother was escaping domestic violence with her kids, or a family simply couldn't make ends meet and they need help.  Here, they get that help. 

At Holy Family Shelter, residents stay for up to 30 days (with extensions on a case by case basis) while they get the help they need to find a job, find a more permanent living arrangement, and even get help finding other types of counseling for things like substance abuse or mental health issues.  There are case workers to counsel, medical professionals visit, three meals a day are provided, computers are accessible for searching for jobs and writing resumes, life-skills classes held, and even clothes are given as needed to the families.  There is a lot more, but what a wonderful place to address the needs of our community. 

Our group had the opportunity to take care of the children that day so that their parents could get a much needed break.  One rule of the facility is that the parents must always be with their children just for their safety and security.  Parents are not allowed to leave their children -- they must accompany them to the bathrooms, showers, play rooms, and everything.  So, our youth group setup in the children's room for three hours and took in probably about 8-10 kids at any given time and played board games, dress-up, did crafts, and even had snacks with them, something they never get.  Those kids were great.  They seemed so happy to have all of this attention and you could see it in the smiles on their faces.  They played hard and laughed like our kids.  They jumped around.  They ran.  But, you know that they have been through so much.  Some have went to bed hungry many times.  Others might have been victims of violence or abuse.  One little boy had jeans that were too short with holes in them.  For these three hours though it didn't matter.  When it was over, there was a piece of me that hated to see them leave and I prayed later that they never lose hope and always feel the love of God on them.  For many of them, their hard journey isn't over, but they got a good start thanks to Holy Family Shelter. 

Before I forget, let me get back to the title of this blog.  While we were touring the shelter, we walked through the kitchen and then the "pantry" where they keep the food.  One thing that was striking is they had A LOT of peanut butter.  The volunteer coordinator (who was great) told us they get a good amount of peanut butter donated, but not hardly any jam/jelly (there was only one jar).  She said that all residents, kids included, get the same dinner at every meal.  If the kids don't like the food, then they can go over to the side and get bread and butter or have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  But, most kids don't like peanut butter without the jelly. 

Why bring this up?  Because it struck me how fortunate many of us are in life that we don't have to worry about the little things day in and day out.  We don't have to worry about how our kids are going to get to school, where to take a shower, how we are going to buy new clothes for our growing kids, where we are going to sleep, where to get our next meal, or, yes, if we can afford jelly to make our favorite sandwich.  Every city, every town, and every community has many of its citizens that are hurting for which these are real worries.  And, they need people like us.  Don't wait another day to do something about it!  Find your local food pantry or shelter and donate your old clothes, volunteer with your family, write a check, or, just buy them jelly.  Every little bit helps.  

Dear Lord, give us a love for the poor and the giving spirit to do more.  Amen.

P.S.  Today, on my lunch hour, I took over a box of clothes and six jars of jam/jelly so the kids can have peanut butter AND jelly anytime they want -- at least for the near future.  I'm sure i'll be making more trips.  :-)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day. . .Lives to Emulate!

I listen to this Podcast called Catholic Answers and one of the hosts, Patrick Coffin, always says, "Be a saint, what else is there?"  While, yes, it is a bit of a tag-line, we should all strive to be saints!  Today in the Catholic Church is All Saints Day.  It is a feast day, always celebrated on November 1st, where we Catholics honor the lives of all saints -- known and unknown.  The feast of All Saints traces back to Pope Gregory III in the early part of the 8th century.

Saints have been an important part of the Catholic Church since the beginning.  Many people outside of the Catholic Church accuse us of "worshipping" the saints and essentially committing idolatry.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  We honor the saints and pray to them for their intercession.  In the Catholic Church, we believe that the saints are in heaven and closest to God, so why not ask someone close to God to pray for a specific cause?  Have you ever asked someone to pray for you?  I see people on Facebook every day saying, "please pray for 'such and such' who is sick."  Have you ever asked your family or friends to pray for you?  Here is some more good information if you want to explore why Catholics honor and pray to the saints:

Outside of the debate that often occurs between Protestants and Catholics around the saints, it is hard to disagree that these people were some of the holiest to ever walk the Earth.  Many did not lead easy lives.  Quite often they were persecuted for their beliefs, many were jailed and tortured, and others were martyred.  But, in the end, we have people that were examples of what it is like to devote your life to others -- a selfless living.  The saints didn't live their lives worried about the material things in this world, but instead they were more worried about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, and spreading the loving message of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  The saints didn't wait until tomorrow to do what they could do today.  They knew that tomorrow might never come.  They knew that at any time we could be pulled from this existence and judged based on how we lived our lives up to that very moment.  They lived every day to honor Jesus Christ by doing good and living a life of prayer.  Whether you are Catholic or not, these were good people and we should all try to "Be a Saint."

If you are interested in being inspired, go read about a couple of them.  Just Google Catholic Saints.  Or, some of my favorites are St. Patrick, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Padre Pio, St. Therese of Lisieux,  St. Vincent de Paul, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Vote that Counts. . . the Vote for LIFE

I read a great article in our Sunday Bulletin from the pastor of our Church titled "I'm Catholic. . .but."  It had to do with the idea that so many people identify themselves as a Catholic (or Christian) when it comes to their beliefs, but they don't live the fundamental teachings of the Church.  This begs the question then, "how can one really be Catholic (or Christian)" if he or she is not living the Faith?  In my opinion, you can't separate your personal life from your spiritual life.  God calls us to lead a life that is in communion with our values and beliefs.  In this election, it will become even more important as we chose between two presidential candidates.

The issue that should be at the top of the list for every Christian is the sanctity of life and protecting the lives of the unborn.  As our pastor said, how can someone be both Catholic and at the same time pro-choice?  It's simply not possible.  Catholics/Christians will sometimes justify this by saying that while they don't support abortion, they don't want to force their views on someone else.  Simply put, this is a cop-out.  Why is this any different from say murder or violence against a child where we force our views on what's right and wrong and just punishment on the criminals?

Life begins at conception.  At the point an egg is fertilized, it becomes human DNA and starts to grow.  The fetus is a living being from the very beginning.  As Christians who adhere to God's Ten Commandments and specifically the one that says, "Thou Shalt Not Kill", how could we possibly support a candidate for office that supports killing fetuses -- our unborn, our children??

Some people will say that there are other important issues as well including care for the poor, the economy, education, and world conflicts.  I don't disagree, but how do we even entertain conversations around those things if the most basic rights are not protected?  Those rights of the unborn?

I know many of you won't agree with me for a variety of reasons.  Some of you are on the fence.  I simply would ask you to take the next week to really pray and think about what you are supporting when you go the polls next week.

God Bless,

P.S.  The link to our Sunday bulletin is here if anybody is interested:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

As another day winds down. . .

As another day winds down,
I think about what I did and did not do,
where I went astray.

As another day winds down,
I think of those I may have hurt,
oh, how I'm ashamed.

As another day winds down,
I think about Jesus on the cross,
His pain,
and how I am to blame.

As another day winds down,
I ask Him for mercy,
for my actions
and falling away.

Forgive me, Father,
for all the wrongs I've done this day.

The Mourdock Controversy -- Weighing In

Two mornings ago, I woke up to a barrage of tweets by local and national media about the Richard Mourdock comments claiming he said rape is God's will.  If you haven't seen any of the reports, then simply do a search on Google, and you'll see plenty I'm sure.  I don't want to recap them here because I think some of the media took a comment out of context and twisted the meaning based on a poor ordering of words.  Mourdock has since, of course, clarified his comments, but we still see certain politicians and specific members of a certain party (with some of the media's help) trying to use it to their advantage which is plain sickening. 

Mourdock's point, and one that I happen to agree with, is simply that life is God's will.  Sometimes, we don't comprehend why bad things happen, and it is hard for people who don't have a good foundation or understanding of Christianity (or Judaism for that matter) to understand why we believe that good things can come out of bad things.  I found an OUTSTANDING article today that I recommend everyone (liberal or conservative, Christian or non-Christian) read about why the media is ill-equipped on these issues:

This article provides some of the theological foundations and references the parts of scripture that outline why some of us believe what we believe and are pro-life. 

As the next two weeks come to pass, I hope that voters will look deep inside themselves, reflect on what they believe and why, and pray about making the right decisions before visiting the polls.  Don't be swayed by biased media coverage.  Don't get distracted by issues that really aren't issues.  Focus on what matter's most. 

God Bless. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reflection on Luke 12: 16-21 (Parable of the Rich Fool)

I just finished reading the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12: 16-21.  It is about a rich man whose land produced a plentiful harvest, and his response was to tear down his old barns and build larger ones to hold all of his 'treasure' for many years.  In his eyes he would always be able to eat well, rest well, and be merry, but God said "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?"  The lesson here is that God doesn't care about our earthly treasures and riches.  Having lots of money, lots of possessions, and lots of things that we think are going to make us happy mean nothing to God, and don't help us get into Heaven.

I wrote previously about the parable of the Rich Man in Mark, and this has a similar theme.  Our secular society has become enamored with having more and becoming more.  Our kids want more toys and nicer clothes.  As adults we may desire the new car, the new/bigger house, that nice boat for the lake, or to be able to take that vacation to the Caribbean.  But, to what end?  Seemingly for nothing other than some sort of shallow and short term satisfaction.  Now, granted, there are some innocent reasons for needing some of these things (i.e. a larger house for a growing family, a new car to replace an old one to get to work), and the point is not that material things by themselves are bad.  The issue is that we get obsessed and become a slave to these things.

Rather than using our time, talent, and treasure to glorify God and become rich spiritually, we become slaves to material things.  Before we know it, we are making excuses and thinking how we really need that new pair of shoes when in reality we don't and the $50 could buy several cases of food for the local soup kitchen or bedding for the homeless shelter.  We have to work those long hours in order to keep the high paying job that pays for the nice house at the expense of spending time with our families or at Church.  We skip Church on Sunday so we can take out the new boat on the lake that we just bought.  We focus so much on the house we need, the cars we need, and how much money we need for retirement 20 years from now that we don't stop to think, "what if I'm not here?"  "What if I am called to God before then?" "Will I be able to say I fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, or clothed the naked?"  Or, will I have an excuse that is rooted in my own desire to have more?

We have all heard the saying "live like there is no tomorrow", but it's time to think about this in context of our eternal life.  Even if our earthly time comes to an end, are we ready for eternity?  There is going to be a tomorrow, but are we prepared for it?  How about, "live like your eternal life starts tomorrow!"

I am as guilty as anybody here.  I pray that my reflections on Sacred Scripture help me make better choices and maybe others that happen to read this as well.

Comfort from Sacred Scripture

This is going to be a short post with a simple message -- spend some time reading Sacred Scripture, the Bible.  I have mentioned that I'm working my way through the New Testament, and I've tried to read some every day.  Some days I read several pages and chapters in a Gospel, and others I read just one short section.  But, what I've found is that on the days where I need it the most, God speaks to me through what I read.  I may be thinking about a difficulty I had at work or in my personal life, and it is truly amazing how on those days I run across a certain passage that gives me comfort.  It may be a passage of love or it may be a passage that speaks almost directly to what I was struggling with on that day.  But, one thing is for sure, I almost always find comfort. 

Some people express disappointment that God never "talks to them" or "gives them a sign" that he is listening.  But, God always hears our prayers.  We just don't always hear him or want to hear what he has to say.  We don't open our ears and eyes in a way that opens our hearts to God's revelation.  My experience these last few weeks in reading Sacred Scripture is a good example of that.  God hasn't spoken to me verbally or given me any visible signs of his presence, but he has spoken to me through the words of the writers of the Gospels and through the words of his Son Jesus Christ.

Don't make an excuse.  Make time for God.  We can all find five minutes, 10 minutes, or 15 minutes a day to spend with him in prayer and meditation.  A good way of spending time is by reading the Bible.  You will be glad that you did. 

God Bless.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Christianity in Today's Society. . .What can we do?

I read an article a week or so ago that has been just eating at my a bit.  It has caused me a great amount of sadness.  The core of the article was about the decline of Christianity overall and the rise of the portion of the population that identifies themselves as atheists, agnostics, or people with no particular religious beliefs.  In addition, there were quotes about how far fewer Christians are going to Church and only identify with certain parts of their faith.  For those of you that are Christian, regardless of the denomination, this has to be somewhat discouraging.  For me, as a Catholic who is working very hard to become a better version of myself every day, I am deeply bothered. 

What has caused this?  Is it a lack of evangelization on the part of believers?  Is it a poor upbringing of children who were "unchurched" and are now adults?  Is it the distractions of today's secular society that pull people in so many directions that they've stopped making time for God and Church?  I think it's perhaps these and much more.  If it were just one thing, all remaining Christians could ban together and fix it.  But, it isn't. 

Even those that identify and call themselves Christians aren't always living their faith.  In the Catholic Church, it disturbs me to no end to hear prominent Catholics voice their support for abortion rights.  How can you be a good Catholic (or a Christian at all) and not believe in protecting the sanctity of life?  Forget all other dividing political views.  If you are Catholic, then nothing else should matter when you go to place your vote if a candidate supports abortion.  This is just one example though.  Protecting the sanctity of marriage is another.  As Christians, we are called to love all of our neighbors, but the sacrament of marriage is sacred and was designed between a man and a woman -- who are we to change it?  The laws of man do not override the laws of God.  We do not get to pick and chose which parts of our Faith we want to believe.  I saw one person quoted as saying, "I'm spiritual, but I'm not religious."  What does that mean?  Someone else says, "I don't believe everything the Church teaches, but I have my beliefs and that's good enough."  No, actually, it isn't.  The Church's teachings aren't made up.  They are based on the Bible and Sacred Tradition.  To not follow all of them is to stray away from not just the Church, but God as well. 

What can be done about all of this?  Many say, "I'm just one person.  What can I do?"  If all of the individuals and families band together, we can have a large impact.  Here is what I think we can do:

1)  Pray -- Don't underestimate the power of prayer.  Pray for the conversion of non-believers, pray that non-Catholic Christians may come to understand the fullness of Truth, pray that believers may live their faith, and pray that we all may have the courage and conviction to live a good, Christian life. 

2)  Evangelize -- The Catholic Church recently kicked off the Year of Faith and a key component is the call for all Catholics to Evangelize.  We all need to talk about our Faith, learn more about our Faith so we can explain it better, and be proud of who we are and what we believe.  Passion in our beliefs will pierce the hearts of those that don't believe or don't understand.  God will help us in our efforts.  We have to be proud and find our voice again.

3)  Live by Example -- Be good.  Simple, right?  Easier said than done, but live good, act good, and be good.  Teach your children about the Lord.  Volunteer at Church, feed the hungry, visit the sick and homebound, do charitable work, and comfort the lonely.  Be a good husband/wife, father/mother, and live a life of holiness.  You don't have to be a priest, monk, or sister to live a holy life.  If you live a life of holiness, others will be drawn to you -- believers and non-believers.  As others ask questions, it provides an opportunity to evangelize and bring them back to the Church and back to God.  Leverage your time, talent, and treasure for the glory of God.

We are all called to share our Faith.  We cannot sit by and just watch as our society strays further and further away from God.  Pray, Evangelize, and Live by Example.  Let's start there. 

God Bless you all and may the Peace of Christ be with you as you start this journey. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

4 out of 5 and looking forward to Sunday

This week I was able to attend morning Mass from Tuesday through Friday.  . . 4 out of 5 of the weekdays.  I said it in another post early on, but there is no better way to start one's day.  My wife Tammy asked me the other day, "are you becoming a holy roller?"  Of course she was joking (I think), but I told her I just enjoy it, that it only lasts for 30 minutes, and I only get to work about 15 minutes later than I used to while getting up only 15 minutes earlier in the morning.  Being able to participate in the Eucharist helps me feel that God is within me and it gives me the support I need to lead a good life. So, why not?  Many people struggle to find time to just pray every day, and by going to Mass it helps me more disciplined about spending time with God.  I don't consider it a sacrifice on my part at all; rather, I consider it a blessing.

On a separate note, I'm so glad it's the weekend.  It's been a long, hard, physical week working outdoors, but for a great cause.  I'm definitely ready for some rest and family time.  I'm really looking forward to what we have planned for High School Youth Ministry on Sunday -- we are spending about 30 minutes of the time doing Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Spending time face to face with the Blessed Sacrament is about the closest one can get to being in the presence of Jesus Christ.  If you are wondering what I'm talking about, go to Google and type in "Eucharistic Adoration" or here are a few links:

I hope everyone reading this has a great weekend.  Peace of Christ be with you all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mark 10, 17-31: The Rich Man

I think I've mentioned that I've been making my way through the New Testament.  I started with Matthew, and now I'm on Mark.  My goal isn't to read it quickly just to say I did, but rather to really focus on quality, spiritual reading so that I may learn and understand certain messages.

Last night, I ran across the story of The Rich Man.  This is the story where a rich man approached Jesus and asked the question, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus replied a few sentences later to the man to "sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven."  This made the man sad as he had many possession and Jesus told his disciples, "It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."  What a powerful message this is to hear.

This doesn't mean that a rich man can't enter heaven, but it does suggest that many of us get too attached to worldly possessions and the idea of such possessions, and even Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that "no one can serve two masters. . . You cannot serve God and mammon."  These two sections of Sacred Scripture in Mark and Matthew invite us all to think about what is most important in life, and why we are here on Earth.  It is not, and should not be, to collect material things.  We are put here to glorify God, and we do that by loving our neighbor and by helping those in need.  If we are worried about being rich and having the nice new car or the new house or the latest, trendy clothes, how can we focus on what matters most?

I am guilty of these things myself.  I have tried to succeed in the corporate world just to be "successful", I've wanted to give "more" to my family and not make them "want" anything while occasionally treating myself to nice "stuff", and yet I haven't looked around enough to make sure I'm doing those things that make God happy.  I'm working to change this, but praying over these passages in the Bible helps me understand I have a long ways to go.

God, help all of us understand how to serve you more faithfully and not become a slave to mammon!  Amen.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

A day outside. . . A day of spiritual rest

Who would know that a day full of hard work outdoors could be so refreshing?

I am a corporate "suit."  Okay, so I don't wear a suit every day (in fact not really ever), but I work at a Fortune 500 company and am part of middle/upper-middle management.  I am in a sales/marketing job responsible for managing some of our largest customer accounts.  I have a good job and I work with a lot of great people, but at times I do wonder if this is what I was supposed to do?  Should I have done more with my life?  I believe I have done well for my career, for my family, we live in a nice home, and we don't have to worry about many things that those less fortunate have to worry about every day -- for that I feel truly blessed.  But, the job certainly comes with its stresses.  For example, I seem to never be truly "off" work.  There are the late night and weekend phone calls, the constant internal/external e-mails making my phone vibrate at all hours, and the feeling of failure at times for things that often we don't control and that are really trivial when put next to many of the world's problems.

So, on days like today, I have to be thankful.  One of the good things that BrightPoint does is it has a "Week of Caring" every year where employees volunteer at a local non-profit organization for an entire week and do all sorts of activities "free of charge" to simply help the organization.  This year I'm part of the committee responsible for the Week of Caring and we picked a place called Jameson Camp which provides services for under-privileged, poor, and at-risk youth year-round.  It has the traditional "camp" atmosphere, but also has buildings where it has indoor activities.

My "team" each day is responsible for essentially taking this acre or so area of woods, clearing out a space for a 650 foot nature trail, removing debris and invasive plant species (which I can tell you is the hardest part), defining the trail, laying mulch, and planting native species to provide a learning experience for the kids.  Today was the first full day and I LOVED it.  Not only did I love it because I was doing something great for the community, but it provided my a bit of "spiritual rest."  Yes, the work was physical and tiring, but mentally and spiritually, I felt more refreshed and less tired than usual after a day of normal work.  I was able to breathe in the fresh air, and felt fortunate to be working with my hands surrounded by God's beauty.  Somehow, this was fuel for my soul, and I can't wait to get back at it tomorrow.  I did have to run to the office for about an hour and checked e-mail once or twice on my phone, but most of the time I was immersed in the work at hand.  I couldn't help but wonder, if I did something like this every day, would it make me a better person?  Would it please God more?  If I didn't have to answer the late phone calls, look at e-mails all the time, and be stressed over work even after work was "over", would I be a better Dad, Husband, and, most importantly, follower of Christ?  I think I know the answer to that question, but I'm just not sure how to make it a reality. . . that's probably for another post.

God Bless. . .

Surprised by Truth -- A book worth reading for all Christians and non-Christians

As I renew my faith and devotion to the Catholic Church, I'm trying to immerse myself in its teachings.  One way of doing this is obviously by reading the Bible as much as possible which I believe I've done every day for the last couple of weeks (I started at the New Testament Gospels and have now made it all the way through Matthew and am on Mark).  Another way of enhancing my understanding is by reading other spiritual books/papers.  I just finished a great book titled Surprised by Truth by Patrick Madrid, a renowned Catholic Apologist.

This book was just outstanding.  It contains several stories of  people who either were Protestant and converted to Catholicism, Catholics who left the Church and came back, and even a story of someone practicing Judaism that converted to Catholicism.  In all cases, these people did a tremendous amount of personal research into the Church's teachings and deep discernment to come to the same conclusion -- to experience Catholicism is to experience the fullness of the Church's teachings.  These readings helped me to understand more deeply some of the Catholic Church's teachings including papal infallibility, Communion of Saints, purgatory, the value of Sacred Tradition, and the importance of Mary.  These are often subjects misunderstood by others outside, and even inside, of the Catholic Faith for all of the wrong reasons.  Once understood, it is tough to deny that Catholicism is the truest and fullest form of Christianity.  It's not that other forms of Christianity are bad -- they are just incomplete.

If you are Catholic, I recommend this book to help better understand why we believe what we believe.  If you aren't Catholic, I recommend this book to help you understand what Catholics believe and why we believe, and, just perhaps, you'll start asking yourself some of the same questions that others in this book asked of themselves at one time.

God Bless you all.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Confession. . . the feeling afterwards

I will save a post for a later date that discusses the theological basis for going to Confession, but for now whoever reads this will have to trust me that it exists (because it does).  But, this isn't about the theology, this about the feeling afterwards. 

I woke up this morning aroud 7 a.m.  My wife and two kids were already awake.  We meandered around the house, I went to McDonald's to get Abby pancakes and me a couple of biscuits and a coffee, and then we all started cleaning up around Colten's first nap.  I looked at the clock and realized that Confession started at 9:30 on Saturdays, it was already 9:45, and I wanted to go.  I huried and got cleaned up and threw on my clothes, and I told my wife I was going to run to Church and do Confession.  She looked at my a little sideways since I'd just went a few weeks ago (which was the first time in years), and she said, "What do you have to confess?"  I simply told her that everybody sins, and I, for example, used the Lord's name in vain a few times, I got angry at others, I was impatient, and a few other things. 

I went to Church into the Blessed Chapel where the confessionals are located, said a prayer beforehand, re-examined my conscious, and entered the Confessional to sit face-to-face with the priest.  I can honestly say that in the little room, as I sat across from the priest, I felt like I was confessing my sins to not just the priest, but that Jesus Christ himself was listening.  I expressed sorrow and I received my penance.  I left and went back to the Chapel to pray and do my penance and was home before Colten even woke up from his nap. 

I have felt great all day.  I didn't have any mortal sins to confess -- just venial sins.  But, to be forgiven by Jesus Christ through his priest cannot be described.  Yes, we all can ask forgiveness outside of Church, and should do every day, but it's just not the same (which even Bible teaching supports) and going back to Confession has reminded me of that.  I feel like a different person when I'm finished.  I feel like a better person.  If you are Catholic and haven't been to Confession in many years, then I'd encourage you to take the plunge and go back.  Put your heart and soul into it.  Tell the priest everything.  You'll feel better for doing it.  And, if you aren't Catholic, this is one more reason to consider the Faith.  Trust me, it is life-changing. 

God Bless you all. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Daily Enjoyment of Mass

I decided to try something new (for me) on Tuesday -- going to morning Mass before work.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (where I go to Church) has a morning Mass at 6:30.  This, I thought on Monday night, would work out perfectly as I am usually an early bird at work and get there around 7:30 ish or even earlier (even though I really don't need to).  Guess what?  I was right.  I got there at 6:30 and got recruited into doing the reading and Psalm, and the entire Mass was done in about 35 minutes.  I got in my car, and was still at work before 8 and most other people. 

The best part of this?  I felt spiritually refreshed and ready for the day.  I felt happy, great, and fulfilled before the day started.  It is amazing what an impact celebrating the Eucharist to start the day had on me.  It was so nice that I went back Wednesday morning and Thursday morning as well.  I didn't get to go Friday as I was out of town for work.  I think my general rule is going to be that as long as I don't have anything at work before 9 o'clock, then I'm going to try my best to get up and make Mass whenever possible. 

Mass makes me a better person.  It helps me further my relationship with Jesus Christ through the Eucharist.  It helps me become the best version of myself. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Where to begin?

I have decided to start a new blog that helps me track my spiritual journey.  This is a journey not just about my relationship with God, but also about my relationship with my family -- as a father and husband.  I just finished a book my Matthew Kelly titled Rediscovering Catholocism, and it has inspired me to find a way to become the "best version of myself."  I encourage anyone who might see this blog, regardless of whether you are Catholic or not, to read this book.  In so doing, it has helped me to reflect on my life and what's most important -- God and family.  I believe that I can only become the best version of myself if I deepen my faith and improve my relationship with the Church and those around me. 

As a first step, I have made a personal commitment to be more engaged with God and at Church.  It all starts with a commitment to prayer daily -- a habit I'm working to make stronger.  I went to confession for the first time in many years a week or so ago.  I can't describe how good it felt to talk openly to a priest and then to God afterwards asking forgiveness for my sins.  I intend to go more often.  Additionally, I have volunteered more at Church.  I just joined the high school youth group core team to hopefully assist our young adults as they explore their own relationship with God.  I have agreed to serve on our Family Room Fund committee to solicit donations for the expansion of our facilities -- leveraging my experience in communication and sales for the good of the Church and our community.  And, finally, I am trying to be as active as possible in supporting my daughter as she goes through preparation for First Reconciliation and First Communion by teaching her about prayer and faith. 

Outside of working to engage more with God and Church, I wish to grow closer with my wife and children.  I want to be the best husband and father possible, and I know I can be better, more patient, and more loving than I am today.  They need me, and I want to be there for all of them.  I am praying more that I may follow the path that God has put in front of me, that I may listen to his wishes, and have the courage to do what is necessary. 

This is not going to be easy.  I am just a regular person trying to live a good, Catholic life and do what is right by God, but I believe that change has to start somewhere.  We can't look around and expect things to change unless we are willing to change ourselves.  As a society and people, many of us have strayed too far from God, and it is time to return "home."  I hope that as I make my personal journey and share my struggles and successes that it will inspire others to do the same.  

God Bless you all.