Thursday, July 13, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 13:1-23

Here is my reflection on the Gospel passage for Sunday, July 16, 2017

Today’s Gospel reading is one with which most people are very familiar.  It’s one of those readings where you begin to hear it and you say to yourself “Oh, I know how this goes.”  You know that the seed that falls on the path are those who don’t understand the Word of God and have it snatched away, etc.  The problem with a reading like this is that after you hear it so many times, you think there’s nothing new to learn from it.  But the Bible is the living Word of God so there must be more it can say to us, right? 
As I prayed and reflected over this Gospel passage, a pair of words really stood out to me.  The first of those words is seed.  Now, Jesus later explains that this seed is the Word of God.  The person sowing the seed is throwing it everywhere, hoping some of the seed will grow.  Let’s think about this for a second.  Imagine you’re a farmer and you want to plant seeds to grow your crops.  Are you just going to throw those seeds everywhere and hope some of them grow into the crops you want to harvest?  That’s pretty wasteful, right?  It would be pretty expensive to buy seeds that you’re going to essentially throw away.  But look at what God is doing.  So great is God’s love for us that God isn’t concerned with the cost.  Some of those seeds will grow. 
So now the seed of God’s Word has been planted in us, and hopefully we all can feel it starting to grow.  We start feeling that desire to become closer to God and enter into a deeper relationship.  Seeds can’t grow all on their own.  For plants to grow, they need to be nurtured, they need enough water, sunlight, etc.  So how do we nurture the seeds of God’s Word in us to help them grow? 
On way is learn more about the faith.  Reading the bible and meditating on what you’ve read is a great place to start.  The bible is the living Word of God so what is it saying to you?   Read a few verses and then listen to what God is trying to tell you.  Then read that passage again.  You’ll be surprised at what you hear God say if you quiet yourself and open your heart to listen.  Read other spiritual books such as the ones we have available after Mass.  There are many resources available to deepen your faith. 
Another important way to nurture the seeds of God’s Word is prayer.  Dedicate some time every day for prayer.  Even if it’s just ten minutes a day to start, finding that time to pray is like watering a plant to help it grow.  Prayer doesn’t have to be fancy.  Praying the Our Father and the Hail Mary is a great place to start.  You’ll find the more you pray the more you’ll want to pray, the more you’ll want to thank God for God’s many blessings to us.  Pray for others, your family, your friends, your fellow inmates, for those who you are not getting along with. 
As the seed of God’s Word grows within you it will lead you to conversion, which brings me to the second word that stood out to me today: healing.  Jesus quotes Isaiah and says the people will not hear with their ears or see with their eyes “lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEARTS AND BE CONVERTED, AND I HEAL THEM.  Let me repeat that, lest they UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEARTS AND BE CONVERTED, AND I HEAL THEM.  God wants to plant God’s Word into our hearts so we can be healed.  Healed of all the things that are dragging us down spiritually and emotionally.  Things like sin, anxiety, fear, addiction, feelings of unworthiness.  God can heal us of everything that afflicts us and prevents us from becoming closer to God. 
This healing allows us to start letting go of all these anxieties, worries, and burdens that drag us down.  We let go of them by trusting that God has a plan for us and will take care of us.  Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’  Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.  God knows what you need and wants to give it to you.  Learning to trust in God brings another benefit besides providing you what you need: it brings you peace.  Peace in knowing that God is always there for you, no matter what.  No matter how many times we fall down, God will always be there to pick us up and give us strength to keep going.  And what can provide more peace of mind than know that? 
So we’ve received the Word of God, we’ve taken steps to help that seed grow, and we’ve begun to feel healing and peace.  What’s next?  Let’s turn back to the analogy of the seed and the plant.  Once the plant is grown and matures, what does it do?  Why, it goes to seed.  These new seeds are carried by the wind and begin to sprout new plants in other places.  So the plant begins to multiply, perhaps 30, or 60, or 100 fold.  So it is with the Word of God.  As we mature in our faith, we begin to spread new seeds that will hopefully be planted in someone else’s heart and begin to grow there. 
But how do we scatter these seeds?  First of all, by living our faith.  Treating others as Jesus would treat them, with love, patience, compassion.  Praying for our needs and the needs of others.  Thanking and praising God for all of our blessings, all the time.  Be an example for others of what it means to be a Christian.  Believe me, people will notice.  And eventually, they may want that same peace that you have.  If they ask you about it, talk to them about your experiences and the good things God has done for you.  Don’t worry about whether or not you know the Bible or can quote Scripture, tell others YOUR story.  How God has made a difference in YOUR life.  That is how you plant seeds in other people’s hearts. 
So work to make yourself fertile soil for God’s Word to grow within you.  Open yourself up to God’s healing and peace.  God will reward you with more blessings than you would have ever imagined. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Enjoying the Ride

I thought it was about time for an update on how things were going on the path to becoming a deacon.  Many people I've bumped into recently have asked the question "How's Deacon formation going?"  I normally tell them it's going well and exchange a few pleasantries.  But it's not a bad idea to reflect a little more deeply on how it's really going.

Short answer, so far so good.  I feel like I've grown a lot spiritually.  I'm certainly learning a lot, especially this semester in the course on the Hebrew Bible (better known as the Old Testament to Catholics).  But this Lent I'm finding I'm getting more from my Lenten practices than I have in the past.  I think that's all part of the journey.

I find my spiritual life expanding greatly, more that I would have expected.  Part of that, I believe, is due to a commitment to praying the Divine Office morning and evening.  For those unaware, that's the official prayer of the Church (also called Liturgy of the Hours) performed by priests and those in monastic/communal life.  This Lent especially, the themes of mercy and turning away from sin have really resonated with me.  That's probably the point, but it's a good thing.

I've also found I'm taking more time for prayer.  This is also a good thing.  I'm trying to meditate while praying the Rosary as a Lenten practice and it has yielded unexpected results.  Another thing we've been doing as a family is trying to celebrate more.  Part of the spirituality course I took last semester was a paper called a Rule of Life where we lay out some spiritual practices we'd like to implement in our lives.  Celebration was one of mine.  To me that meant doing more things with friends and family to celebrate life in general and be together more.  So we've done some outings as a family or planned things at home where we could all enjoy some time together.  And I think that's been helpful as well.  At a minimum it allows us to appreciate it more.

Overall I feel like there's been a lot of spiritual growth in me the last few months.  Part of that has translated into figuring out how to serve others.  One of the ministries of a deacon is service to the community.  Part of my personal discernment is to figure out what that is.  This summer, I'll be working in the jail ministry as my diaconal service project.  We try out different ministries each summer during the length of the formation.  I've talked to some of the guys that did it last summer and it sounds very interesting.  I like the idea of being involved in a ministry that focuses on individuals.   I think one of the issues with our nation right now is that we too easily put people in a group of "others": Muslims, immigrants, poor, etc.  When we do that, we lose sight that these groups are made up of individual people, and that these people have an inherent dignity.  The amorphous "they" are easy to forget about, individuals are not.  So I feel like I need to be involved in a ministry where I can impact individuals, real people.  From what I've heard so far, prison ministry will accomplish that.

So far I still feel like I'm on the right path.  Whenever I'm involved in diaconal classes or activities, I feel like I'm in the right place.  And as long as that continues, I keep walking this path.

Friday, February 03, 2017

My How Time Flies

I've been wanting to put something out on this blog for a while now but haven't been able to come up with any coherent thoughts about what specifically to write about.  There's plenty going on politically, but I don't want that to be the focus of this blog.  There's plenty of other places on the internet for that.  There have been a few interesting things going around in my brain, such as the spirituality of cycling, but I think I'll save that for another time.

I decided to instead provide an update on my spiritual journey so far since starting the diaconate program.  That was my original intention with dusting off this blog, and I haven't taken the time to do an inventory of my faith in a bit, so I thought now is a good time.  It's been just over a year since I started formal diaconate formation and nearly two years since I attended the first informational meeting about the diaconate.  Where did the time go?

I must say, looking back, I had no idea I'd end up where I am right now.  That's the beauty of walking with God.  You never know where you're going to end up.  I've learned a lot academically about my faith, both from a spiritual perspective and from a theological perspective.  I've learned things about Catholicism that I never knew before (and, to be fair, Ellen, who went  to Catholic schools her entire pre-collegiate educational career, is marveling at all the things she was never taught but perhaps should have been).  But I don't think that's the real change in me.

Honestly, I think there have been two things that have made a big difference: prayer and Reconciliation.  I had a prayer life prior to starting the diaconate program.  But it was kind of haphazard.  I was praying in whatever way I felt like doing.  Not that this was a bad thing.  But I'd begun to realize a yearning for something more.  My class last semester on spirituality helped me a lot.  There are some spiritual practices that I really should make more time for, particularly meditation.  But the big thing I've been doing is praying the morning and evening prayers of the Church each day.  For those not familiar with Catholic practices, there is a book of prayer that priests and religious utilize that calls for prayer about every 3 hours of the day, formally called the Liturgy of the Hours.  Deacons are asked to pray from this daily and I'm starting my practice now.

I'm coming to treasure that time.  It's about 15 minutes, twice a day, that I get some quiet time with God.  It gives me an opportunity to listen to God and see what Scripture is trying to tell me today.  I don't always see or hear something that resonates, but I look for it.  Lately, you'll probably notice I'm tweeting (and posting to Facebook) a little line each morning and evening.  This is from the book of prayer.  I started doing it because I thought it was important there was another message going out over social media instead of a lot of what I was seeing.  I think it struck a chord with some people as I've gotten positive feedback on it.

And this ties into the other thing that's been germinating in me as of late: the notion of vocation and calling.  Being a deacon is about more than just saying prayers and helping out in the Mass.  It's about service and vocation.  God calls deacons to serve the community in some way.  I don't know yet exactly what I'm being called to do, but I sense the call all the same.  And I think it begins with being a voice of reason and even hope at a time in our nation where there is division and fear.  I know this fear is real because I see it in my own household.  My children are genuinely afraid right now, for many reasons.

But we don't need to fear if we believe God is with us.  And that's the message I feel I'm being called to give right now.  Sure, our world is turbulent.  Many are angry, afraid, reactionary,  We point fingers at each other, are quick to jump on each others faults and label each other as whatever.  Where is the love of God and neighbor?  We are all each other's neighbor, whether we agree with each other or not.  So many people seem to think our recent election was a referendum to be free to alienate others.  But that's not what Jesus taught us.  It was just the opposite.  Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, pray for our enemies, and to turn the other cheek.  How many of us are doing that these days?  How many of us are fighting all the hate with the weapon of love?  I know I have a hard time doing that but I need to try.

I still have a long way to go before I get to ordination.  But I look back on the last year and see all the ways God has blessed me and I can't help but be thankful and hopeful for the future.  I especially thank God for my wife and children.  I now also pray that God gives our leaders wisdom in guiding our nation.  I pray we all ask for God's wisdom as well.

Friday, November 11, 2016

We Need to Chill the F**K Out

So, ok, we had an election this week.  And about 60 million people voted for each candidate.  Electoral college aside, about 48% of the people that voted picked Hillary or Donald, and the remaining 4% someone else.  So let's safely say about half the voters in this nation are disappointed in the result.  To put that in a little perspective, fewer people voted for Donald Trump than Mitt Romney 4 years ago (by about 800,000 people).  So, the half of the country that was disappointed in the last election are now celebrating a win for their party.

And, it looks like America is going insane.  Again.  There are people on the "losing" side that are angry and are protesting.  There are recriminations about "how could we let this happen?"  People are yelling at each other.  The media is talking about the "meltdown of a political party".  Sound familiar?  Same thing happened four years ago.  About half the country is not happy with our new President and have lost their ever loving minds.  And I have to just say, everybody just chill!  To my liberal friends, I have to also remind you that you spent the last 8 years fighting conservatives trying to tell you that Obama did not deserve to be President.  The shoe is on the other foot now so be careful how you react.  And, keep in mind, that come January 20, Donald Trump will be OUR President.  As President of the United States, he will govern ALL Americans, just like President Obama does now.

However, this isn't really what I want to talk about.  What I really want to talk about is the underlying current of hate that seems to be bubbling up as a result of this election.  I won't point a finger at any one particular group, but it's out there everywhere.  And the hate begins with anger.  If there's one thing I've seen on my Facebook feed this week, it's a lot of anger.  I don't know if it's well deserved or not.  I'll be the first to admit I didn't vote for Trump.  But the election is over and it's time to move on to the hard work.

And that hard work is to find common ground and begin to heal the divisions in our nation.  The polarization has been getting worse over the years.  Since the 90's politics has become more and more about power and winning and less about governing and constituents.  This election cycle is the culmination of a movement (on both sides) that's been under way for 20 years.  And it's time to stem the tide and turn this thing around.

So, how do we do that.  Well that's easy.  And hard.  Jesus said it simply and powerfully.  Love your enemy and pray for those that persecute you.  My friends, we need to get back to loving (and respecting) those that have different opinions than us.  Most people that disagree with you are well meaning people.  I'm sure if we actually listened to their opinion in a loving and respectful fashion, then they would give us the same courtesy.  We may not change each other's minds, but maybe we'd learn something.

And maybe we would quell the anger.  Not to go all Star Wars, but anger is the next step to hate.  And the only antidote is love.  That's why Jesus asks us to love our enemies.  We can be angry and upset with the ones we love, but it's really hard to hate them.  Further, it's really hard to be angry with someone you love when you're with them.  In my own experience, it's easy to be angry with my wife about something if she's not around but it just melts away once I get in the same room with her.  That's what love does to you.  It takes away hate.

I really think all of this anger and division is the work of the Evil One to keep us from loving each other.  And by Evil One, I do mean the biblical one, not any particular human being.  God is love and God calls us to love each other.  If you do, the Evil One has no power.  But if the Evil One can sow seeds of doubt and division, then we find it hard to love and embrace God who is love.  The signs stating Love Trumps Hate are cute, but also true to an extent.  We need to love our neighbors and our enemies.  Not a superficial love, but the kind that puts their welfare above our own.  A selfless kind of love that can be an example to others.

It's ok to be angry.  There are a lot of important issues facing our nation we need to address.  We don't know what's going to happen and that makes us afraid.  And that fear is driving a lot of the anger out there.  But we need to channel that anger into something positive.  And do so in a loving way.  Keep fighting for the issues you care about.  Try to change minds and hearts if you think your cause is just.  But do so in a loving way.  You're more likely to bring someone to your side that way than by scoffing at those that don't agree with you.  Righteous indignation never changed anyone's mind.

And don't be afraid.  The other thing we've lost in this nation is trust in God.  I don't care which God you worship.  I've always felt all religions really worship the same God without realizing that's what they're doing.  So whether you worship the Triune God of Catholic faith or some other god, trust that you will be well.  My God loves all of creation and wants nothing more that to love us and bless us.  But in order to do so, we need to let go of fear and attachments and let God work in us.  Trust that God's plan for us is to give us everything that we need so that we can be one with God in the next life.

So relax everyone.  Be at peace.  God's got this.  And if God has work for you to do to make a difference in our nation, God will lead you to it and bless your efforts.  May the Lord bless us and keep us.  May God shine His face upon us and be gracious to us.  May God look upon us kindly and give us peace.  God bless all of us.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Simple Life

As part of my reading for my Spiritual Formation course, we read a great little book on spiritual discipline (Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster).  It highlights a group of spiritual disciplines that can help us get closer to God.  One of these disciplines really resonated with me right now: the Discipline of Simplicity.

The idea is pretty straight forward.  We need to learn to simplify our lives more.  It's a crazy, chaotic world we live in.  We seem to fill it up with things to keep us "busy".  This busyness I believe contributes to some of our stress, anxiety, and tiredness.  The theory of simplicity is not so much to remove things from our lives, but to put them in their place.  For example, while having a smartphone is good, do we NEED the latest and greatest as soon as it comes out?  And is the smartphone a tool for our use or do we let the smartphone rule us?  How many of us can put down their phone from the time you get home from work until the next morning?  I can feel your anxiety already through the screen.

What brought this to the forefront for me was a conversation with my Facebook pal Julie.  She expressed anxiety about whether she should start watching some series that was "highly recommended" and a "must watch".  I agreed that I too was a little anxious about just finding time to watch all the shows on my DVR as it is without adding anything new.  And it dawned on me.  Why the hell am I stressing out about watching a television show?  And what areas of my life have I been stressing out over for no reason?

So I've decided to try and simply things a little.  Partly for my own sanity.  With two diaconate courses this semester I need more time to get that work done.  But beyond that, I need to take care not to get too stressed out for the sake of my wife.  I can be a real pain in the ass when I feel overwhelmed.  So the first thing I did, for now anyway, is get off of Facebook.  Why?  Because stupid memes, political posts, and just trying to keep up with my feed were starting to get to me.  I'd be annoyed for hours over some stupid thing someone shared that I found idiotic.  I even uninstalled the Facebook app from all of my devices.

I haven't retired from social media, but my Twitter and Instagram feeds are pretty small.  Manageable.  And not terribly annoying.  I've also cut back on my musical activities.  I knew that had to happen but it kind of handled itself.  One of the band members could no longer go on so that was as good a time as any to call it quits.  I'm still working on balance with school and my Christian group, but as that's more a ministry, I think I can work that one out.  I'm looking for other areas to simplify and get more time for reflection and prayer.  And time with my family.  It's a work in progress.

I must say, however, I'm not really missing Facebook all that much in the short time I've been off of it.  There are a couple of people I'd like to keep up with.  I suspect that if I get back on, I'm going to be hiding or unfriending quite a few people.  Honestly, I probably accepted far to many friend requests from acquaintances I don't really know any more, like high school classmates.  Nice people and all, but ones I never really spent much time with even in high school.  We shall see.

For any of my Facebook pals that wish to touch base for any reason, you can always email, message, or hell, even leave a comment.  May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord shine His face upon you and be gracious to you, and may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Week of September 4

This week I'm trying something new based on a recommendation from Father Paul.  He called it the TNE approach to spirituality.  You thank Jesus for your blessings that day, tell Jesus what you need, and then state where you experienced Jesus today (TNE = Thanks, Need, Experience).  I've been trying to do that as part of my evening prayers.  I think it's pretty easy to think about what I'm thankful for and what I need, but where I experience Jesus is a little more difficult.  Some days it was pretty easy, such as after Tony's funeral.  But other days, like today, it's much harder.  Today was just an ordinary day.  Mass in the morning, a few things around the house, a block party, visiting with my mom.  I think I need to look more closely on where and how I can see Jesus in these every day interactions.

I'm feeling that I need to work more on the spirituality of the every day.  Things like looking for opportunities to see Jesus in others.  Offering daily tasks and situations to the Lord.  Taking more purposeful time pray, reflect, and try to be in God's presence.  I wonder sometimes if I'm going through the motions.  For example, I read the daily Scripture readings each morning.  But am I just reading them or am I letting it sink in?  I certainly don't take dedicated time to reflect on them.  Perhaps I'm letting myself be too busy to make the time.

Julie hit on something with a Facebook post this week.  She mentioned having anxiety about binge watching shows due to the time it takes to truly focus on what you're watching.  It made me wonder if I'm trying to fill my spare time with "things" so I don't make the time to quiet myself and actually listen to God.  Am I being anxious about going deeper into my faith?  I keep saying its important.  Or am I just feeling that I'm not being Christian enough?  Like I don't measure up to the spiritual awareness of others in my diaconate class?  I don't know.  But that probably needs further reflection.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Week of August 28

Tony passed away on Wednesday, September 1.  Since seeing him in the hospital the previous weekend, and especially have seeing him in hospice, I've been a little out of sorts.  Two things have been on my mind of late.  The first is on forgiveness and family.  Talking to family members has brought back some old hurts and reminded me of other unhealed or unhealthy family relations.  I think about how insulted I felt when Vinnie didn't send flowers to my dad's funeral.  Of how my uncle Joe treats my Aunt Irma.  About wanting to make a "statement" at their funerals some day by my actions.

Since recently going to Reconciliation, I'm trying to be more attuned to where I sin in my life.  I didn't realize I was still hanging on to this bitterness.  That I probably should forgive them for how I think they've offended me, regardless of whether they reciprocate.  I also think about the lack of relationship with Kirk.  It's something I don't really think about since it doesn't impact my relationship with my sister or my nephews.  But is there something there?

At Fishers of Men yesterday, we watched a video discussing the line from the Our Father "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that trespass against us".  Am I truly forgiving others?

I've also begun reading Celebration of Discipline for class.  It's placed me in an odd mood.  I can't put my finger on it, but I feel agitated and a little upset.  Like it's pointing at me showing me all the things I should be doing and am not.  Questioning decisions I'm making as to whether I'm doing things for me or because I'm trying to trust in God.  I keep saying I trust in God and am trying to do His will, but am I really?  Am I just going through the motions?

One thing I did take away from class with Nancy on Thursday is that spirituality is work.  I think I need to work on my spirituality, once I figure out just what it is I'm supposed to do.  Hopefully the class will help me to grow and point me in a direction.