Saturday, January 31, 2015

Will Jesus Still the Storm?

"Storm on the Sea of Galilee" by Brother Claude 

Today's Gospel reading is magnificent. One of my absolute favorites because of what it says about Jesus Christ, what it says about nature,  and what it can say about us.  First, the passage as a whole~ then in parts as I'll offer some things to consider verse by verse...

The reading:

Mark 4:35-41 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
Jesus Stills a Storm 
 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”41 And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?
The reading with reflections:

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 

What does it mean for us to "go across to the other side?"  We begin where we are and go with Our Lord to where He would desire to take us. It appears simple enough but as I often like to remember the disciples were common men and not all too different from ourselves.  To set out at night, as I imagine, would be more potentially dangerous and perhaps completely ill advised.  Do we often hope to go with Jesus "to the other side?"  Or do we deem it more favorable to follow Jesus by staying right where we are?  Is it our preference to follow Jesus Christ, "our way?"  This isn't possible.  Let us pray and ask our Lord for the grace to follow Him HIS way.

36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. 

"And leaving the crowd..." Part of what it means to follow Our Lord is to leave the crowd behind.  To use other people as our ultimate point of reference of what, "should be" or for how things, "seem best" is another snare that too easily entraps us. I was once told by a very wise priest, "If you desire to truly serve and love others don't look at them~ rather~ look through them and to the face of God." To be, "in the world but not of it" is absolutely essential to what it means to show our ultimate allegiance to God.  After all when we serve others we serve Our Lord.  As in Matthew 25 Jesus taught: 

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
Therefore, by all means, don't "leave the crowd" forever.  Yet do not ever be entirely given to the crowd in your heart.  You are God's possession...children of the Most High.  They took Him and yet wasn't it He who was taking them?  Do we not need to yield our will entirely, in other words, say "YES" every day?  Do we accept Him as He is or as we imagine Him to be?  We must follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ and no longer the false "gospel of our own making."

37 And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

And, as we can certainly expect, difficulties and hardships will follow if we allow Jesus Christ, "in our boat."  Do we then choose to kick Him out of our boat?  Yes, often, but how do we do this?  We ask Jesus to leave us each time we choose to rely on our own strength and abilities apart from Him...apart from His grace.  Do we need Jesus?  Do we not more often act as if we've got things figured out pretty well on our own?  The disciples, some of them, were commercial fishermen...they knew boats...they knew waves...they knew the dangers of wind.  Yet it would seem Jesus was the only one not apprised of the dangers.  Jesus said:

"...apart from me you can do nothing"

One might reasonably argue that the disciples on this day, (as well as many other days), would have been, "better off" if they weren't hanging out with this rabble rousing rabbi.  They would surely have been safer, more settled, more comfortable to be sure! Yet, they would not be living, " in abundance..." as Jesus offers.  He also offers us an abundant you want this?  Either way you face troubles, hardship, sickness and death in this life...there are no detours around the cross...would you not rather be with the author of life on the "front lines" than be without His abundant life on the "sidelines?"  We often settle for a life of dull mediocrity because we are not willing to, "follow Him wherever He goes."

38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” 

How many times a month have you thought this?  "Lord, this bad situation has arisen for me..." or "Lord, this terrible situation has befallen so and so...Do you not care?"  Do you believe Our Lord cares?  Are you not somehow secretly holding on to the belief that God wishes you more harm than good?  Do you not recognize that this belief is from the very pit of the darkness of hell?  The very foundation of evil is the belief that God is not good but wishes us harm and not good.  This was the root of the sin of Adam and Eve.  They believed that God was "holding out on them" and didn't wish for them to have the "wisdom" God owed to them.  It is as if we believe that God isn't giving us what is best in our lives, right?  Couldn't He be doing a better job for me?  Why doesn't He always pull through with my plans and keep insisting on His own?  Faith, conversely, says, "My Lord and my God...I choose to trust You...though I don't fully understand Your ways nor Your plans."  Consider for a moment some essential words of St. Paul from Chapter 8 of his letter to the Romans:
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
Do you believe this?  Search yourself for a moment.  I would suggest that this verse, Romans 8:28 sums up the very essence of loving trust and faith in Our Lord.  "He was in the stern, asleep..." The alternative to, "Lord, do you not care if we perish?" could be, "Lord, all that I am is for all that You are."

39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

A very difficult aspect of our existence is that we don't see the whole picture.  That which at one time terrified the disciples would most certainly serve as "future fodder for their faith."  Can we not all look back on times in our lives when Our Lord "carried us" through our difficulties?  After a time of tumult has He not always offered moments of "...great calm?"  It is  through difficulties that our eyes are cleared, often by tears, to see the beauty of God in all things.  This is a call for us to recognize, in the midst of our difficulty and suffering, Our Lord will bring a better day and always a better time...whether it be in this life or the next~ Our Lord is ever faithful!

40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

This tells us, though we will experience fear in this life~ and often lack faith...we need not be afraid and it makes no "earthly sense" and especially makes no "eternal sense" to be afraid of anything IF we adhere ourselves to God.  We only need ask Our Lord to grant us the grace to love Him above all else and to follow Him "wherever He goes" and He will be faithful and will certainly see it through.

41 And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?

Recognize the Lord in all things and do no be tempted to say, "Who then is this?"  We will encounter times of darkness and times of light.  Either way, whether in life or in death, Our Lord is faithful and always looking out for our best.  Consider the following, Psalm 91, which communicates all of the above far better than I could ever hope to communicate.  I just encourage you, now, seek the Lord while He can be found!
Psalm 91 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
Assurance of God’s Protection

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
who abides in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand;
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

11 For he will give his angels charge of you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

14 Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
and show him my salvation.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Go Beyond Your Mind: Mark 1:14-20

Not long after dawn
Light breeze from the East
Water-waves turning
Old nets cast
Nets twisted
Another day

Hands torn from the night
A voice calls:
"Be with Me!" says He
New sounds
New lights
Glance off the dark waters

I say
I turn
The time has come
So sudden a time
Go beyond your mind

by Robert B. Ferguson

Gospel Mark 1:14-20
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jesus, You Must Be Out Of Your Mind!

Gospel: Mark 3:20-21
Jesus came with his disciples into the house.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.” 

I've recently had some, let's call them, "discussions" on Facebook with some very passionate folks about "Feminism" and, as I saw it, attempts to define the meaning of this word.

Initially, a question was raised that brought this conversation about and, frankly, the precise question raised by a good friend of mine is not important.  What I would like to explore is something that I think can have serious ramifications on our culture. (I say "our culture" because we are IN IT...though I keep trying more and more to not be "OF IT." if you know what I mean?)

Here is what I would like to raise for your consideration: What does a faithful Christian Feminist look like?

Here are some thoughts:

Immediately, when a man brings up the conversation on Feminism in a more, let's say, "liberal setting," there  comes a shout from the gallery, "How can a man dare to share his views on Feminism?"  Frankly, this "shout" is common and just as nutty as it is common.  This is like saying, "How can a White Abolitionist dare speak of the enslaving of people of African-descent?"  This is absurd.  Case closed on that one.

Women (and men) have been misled into thinking that being Feminist must also mean being Pro-Abortion.  FALSE!  Here is a quote from one of my favorite people, Janet Smith (look her up):

“A woman who sets her rights, the supposed right to privacy or right over her own body, above the life of another human being is saying that a woman’s rights are superior to human rights. She has put herself above the human race, she has made herself the executor over life and death. Is that a woman’s right?”

On this point I like to raise the notion that we often operate under a very skewed version of "freedom."  As another one of my favorite people (now a Saint) Saint John Paul II famously said:

"Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."

This runs completely contrary to what I would label (and would like to coin forever as) an, "Insane view of freedom." that so many, so called, Feminists would celebrate.  Why do they celebrate the view that killing babies is akin to "freedom?"  Because they have lost their minds.  NOT because they are women but because they have placed their own self-centered views over and above the very lives of fellow human beings.  Don't agree with this?  Here's a statistic for you statistic minded people out there:  1 out of 3 babies conceived naturally in the womb (potential future WOMEN) have been executed since abortion was deemed, "legal."  Click here for more statistics.

The trouble with engaging anyone, these days, about these issues is that they honestly believe they can hold views like the above, not act on the views themselves, and conclude that, "since I am not the one performing the abortion...I can't take away the "right" for others to commit abortion."  Do you see the flawed logic here?  In other words, "I can know something is completely wrong...but since I am not, in fact, someone else...I can't make a determination about right and wrong for them."  To carry this logic into another setting renders this view completely ludicrous...consider: "Since I don't believe in murdering my neighbor's dog...and I am not my neighbor...I will not stop my other neighbors from killing my neighbor's dog."  I would suggest that to remove oneself from a decision in society based on the premise that, "I am not every other person in society...therefore I can't stop others from doing horrific things" will, necessarily, lead, eventually, to complete and total anarchy in a society...I would suggest that we are nearly there.

Let me suggest an alternate view.  What is good for one person is good for all...and fundamentally the first, "good" for a person is to be permitted to have a shot at life.  Is something confusing about this?  The good of any society hinges most immediately on how that society treats it's fellow members.  Does this seem off the tracks of common sense?  When I have engaged on this topic with some purporting to be, "Feminists" and they say they will vote for Hillary Clinton BECAUSE she is a woman...I turn inside out.  This is like saying, "I will vote for a man because he is a man."  Does this seem whacked out to anyone else?  Also, when pointing out flaws in logic and this very, "muddy morality" that they would like to cram down the throats of the world these "opponents of people in the womb" often claim, "You're just being so insensitive...I can't talk to you if you're going to be so insensitive."  Are you kidding me?  Insensitive?  Here's a definition of how these, "high-minded-hands-off-ers" obliterate true sensitivity: "I am sensitive to the fact that you want to kill a baby in your own's okay...there there...don't worry about it...who are we to judge you?  That's right, I will continue to protect your right to kill the person in your womb because, well, they're pretty inconvenient."  This is nothing less than the biggest lie ever presented apart from,

"You will not surely die." -Satan

What's to be done?

Pray, pray, pray, pray!!!

Continue to challenge your acquaintances/friends in a loving way...not by stepping around the issues and please. PLEASE call them on their hypocrisy. Please don't remain silent.  Of course there is a time and place for everything but don't take this to mean, "no time and no place."  It is on YOU to find the time and place.

Call them on their antics.  Let them know that YOU know that their attempts to hide the real matter at hand ARE NOT effective.  They know, we know...everyone knows that abortion is killing an innocent person.

Use reason and don't let emotion (which is typically feigned as a tactic on their part) get in the way either.  To love someone means, in part,  to tell them the truth in a respectful manner and not allow them to continue in their "emotion-bubble."  I say let them know you care...then pop the freaking bubble.  Do not be afraid!  Truth always prevails and we are servants of God...NOT servants of their emotional, "well-being."  They are forwarding an agenda that is complete and total evil.  You need to say something and stick to your "guns" of truth.

Never fail to invite people to think whether it be in person or online.  Continue raising the issues in different ways.  Don't think for a moment that sharing a post is meaningless.  Facebook, Twitter etc can be tools for our cause.  Our cause is to rescue innocent human life.  Never forget it and use all means necessary.  Stop tip-toeing around this issue...this is the reason WHY it has come to the point it has already.  Things get worse when truth is hidden...things get better when we shine a light on the problem.

Onward Pro-Life soldiers!  But one last point...don't lose your own soul (relationship with God) over any cause.  God must come first...all else should follow.  As you can see from the Gospel reading...people thought Jesus Christ was crazy (at least for a time) and for a time people may think you're crazy.  What do you care?  You are God's...God's first and foremost.  Be willing to be seen as crazy for the sake of the Gospel...for the sake of the truth.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Today's Gospel: St. John the Baptist- A Different Take

John the Baptist in Prison by Juan Fernandez de Navarrete
Today's Gospel MK 1:14-20: A different take...

I have read this Gospel reading countless times in my life. (Read? Yes.  Heeded? Not often enough) Just to show that Our Lord speaks through His living Word I'll tell you what I received from this reading THIS time...for me it is a gift.

Normally when I've read this passage I have focused on the fact that Jesus called His disciples and THEY left their nets. Good for them, right? Naturally, being fishermen, this speaks of the fact that they were willing to give up their livelihood (and their family expectations) to follow Our Lord.  The thing I have missed is the little snippet at the beginning about John the Baptist. After all St. John the Baptist had, "played his role" and "done his part" already. Now all he had to do was bow to the executioner and call it quits.  In previous readings St. John the Baptist had already said:

"He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29-30

 The Lord showed me that faithfulness to His call can often look VERY different for all of us at various times in life.

A question arose in my mind: wasn't John serving the Lord in prison?  Wasn't he about whom Jesus Christ had said:

"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.Matthew 11:11

Of course.  John the Baptist had his prayers answered.  He did decrease and Our Lord Jesus did INCREASE!  A, "what if" arose in my mind that some of St. John the Baptist's disciples became disciples of Jesus. Consider, had John not been been "decreasing" had he not, in fact, been arrested it would have been considerably more difficult for his disciples to become followers of Jesus Christ.  He did, in fact, "Prepare the way of the Lord..." and he did so in the ears and hearts of his own disciples. When John the Baptist said,
"As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

'The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God
." Luke 3:4-6
Is not John referring to the very hearts and minds of his own disciples who heard these words above? A way of looking at this is, we do not, in fact, expect to 1) Hear a voice in the wilderness 2) Every valley to be filled 3) Every mountain and hill to be brought low 4) Crooked to be made straight nor the 5) Rough ways made smooth!  In fact we would not be expecting much of what Jesus Christ had to say.  John's disciples were not likely expecting to follow Jesus at all! Imagine their distress at their master being taken away.

In the end, what I've taken from this episode is that St. John the Baptist by the Jordan AND in prison was fulfilling the will of God perfectly. I realize that I often consider that SOME people in the Church have a much less significant role and some have a much more significant role.  Yet, no "role" that you or I play in our lives is insignificant at all! If  each one of us is simply taking God's Word to us to heart we are PRECISELY where we are meant to be. Naturally, we must always be prepared to, "cast aside our nets" and, of course, take our crosses daily to follow Jesus.  But we MUST NOT consider, even for a moment, that we are not as essential to the mission of God simply because we think ourselves, "unknown" and perhaps even cast aside in the various, "prisons" of our lives. Much of the disciples experience of Jesus Christ was "flavored" by the passing role...the passing away...of St. John the Baptist.  In the end, it is truly our smallness that equates to our greatness in the eyes of God.  We are weak, frail, powerless and entirely unable to save ourselves. We must allow our Lord to "raise our valleys" and "topple our mountains" and grant us the unsurpassed gift of faith.

Consider the above as you read today's Gospel:
"After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him ."
Mark 1:13-20

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baptism: Beloved Son With Whom I Am Well Pleased

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, (One (of the Feasts where I hope to get a splash of Holy Water in the face as our priest walks by blessing us)  This is a reminder for all of us to renew our baptismal vows, and to celebrate the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity. (Recall the Father speaks from Heaven and identifies the Son and the Holy Spirit descends as a dove)
Lake George Lac Du Saint Sacrement NY.jpg
This Feast always helps me recall my own baptism in Lake George (formerly known as "Lac du Saint Sacrement" (The Lake of the Holy Sacrament), New York State.  This Lake was “discovered” by St. Isaac Jogues on his missionary journeys through New York to the Native American Tribes of the area.  In fact we plan on naming our soon-to-be-born son, Isaac, after St. Isaac Jogues because I admire such a man that would give his life over under the throes of such brutality and harsh conditions that others might know the love of God and, themselves, to be children of God.
saint isaac jogues.jpg
As I was praying this morning through the Gospel Reading assigned this year to the Feast I was struck by the phrase, “You are my beloved Son; with You I Am well pleased,” that the Father spoke over Jesus Christ.  It immediately made me remember my own father who we lost to dementia in June 2013.  He was such a loving, warm and holy soul and I always felt as if he was, “pleased” with me even when I was unruly.  In other words, the love he demonstrated never seemed to leave based on my behavior.  I liken this to my own relationship with my own son now who, though often unruly and ridiculous at age 5, I love him, “no matter what,” and, by God’s grace, always will.  Though I’m not always the best at demonstrating this love toward him due to my imperfections.

What I would like to communicate is simply this: You and I are beloved children of God.  We are loved and treasured by Him regardless of how we have “behaved” throughout our lives.  Through our own baptism we are, “born anew to a living hope” and are made part of the Church, the family of God.  Our parents are meant to be a reflection of God’s love toward us but, naturally, are unable to present the best picture of God.  We are all sinners in need of the mercy of God.  The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan should bring to mind our own need of God’s mercy~ He came to save sinners~ but even more than this it should remind us of His love. The Church Fathers speak of the Baptism of Jesus as an act to, “purify the waters” so that the Sacrament of Baptism would be efficacious for us.  

My prayer for all of you reading this is that you may, today, come one step closer to Our Lord.  That you would feel His light penetrate even the darkest recesses of your soul.  That you may be touch, warmed, healed and restored to your rightful place as a beloved child of God. His desire is to show you mercy and to grant you His peace and everlasting salvation. May the Holy Spirit move you to embrace all that Our Lord has given~ the gift is Himself~ May His life remain in you even until the end of the ages.  Amen.