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The purpose of life … is to be helpful, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you lived and lived well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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A satisfying life does not require you paint on a large canvas.  A small canvas will do.

I tell you a story.  In my early years I was raised in my grandparents home with my mother (their oldest child and only girl).   My mother helped her mother raise four boys – her brothers: Ernie, Ray, Don and Bob.  They were my Uncles.  I was the peanut among them.  I looked up to them – as I grew they became my friends.  I had an especially close relationship with Don and Ray and their wives.

When my wife suffered from cancer, they watched over me.  When she died, they watched over me.  When my mother died, they watched over me and stood vigil with my young son who missed his Granny greatly.  Both Don and Ray lived the right way – tended to their wives and children, lived honorably, helped others, loved and laughed heartily.

Years after my wife’s death, Ray’s wife contracted a rare illness, one that was most likely to take her life.  I was Ray’s confidant.  He was bewildered by what he faced.  I told him she needed the best Doctor who knew the most about this illness and that I would find that person and I did.  My Aunt Tippy got the best care possible.

I stood with Ray when she passed, and with Don when his lovely wife Ginny passed.  Both good men showed their courage and their loss.  My heroes were wounded as I had been.

Years latter, both Don and Ray developed illness that would take their life.  Each talked often to me during their illness – wonderful conversations, honest, touching, urgent but assuring – privileged.  I spent hours on the phone with Don the day before he died – precious time – beautiful, irreplaceable – unforgettable time.

In my travails and hardships and modest successes I became their “go to guy.”  My losses and struggles and experiences were their fortress in times of strife.  A small boy had become a trusted source, their counsel, guide, confessor.  I was honored by men I looked up to and loved … I can hardly think about it without getting emotional.

When Ray neared death he told me this, “Bobby, I never considered you my nephew – I thought of you as my youngest brother.”  Few things have honored me so.

You do not need a large canvas, a small one will do.  Take your licks in this world – everyone faces difficulty.  Forget fame or fortune – focus on growing in understanding, wisdom, common sense, faith – be helpful – make a difference where and when it matters most to others.  Life is good.

May you be blessed to experience what I have related here.  You have a reason for being.

Shalom.

 

 

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… the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing?  For this man is preforming many signs.  If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.”

Jn 11:47

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Power is intoxicating and easily so.  Herein, we see the chief priests and Pharisees gathering after Jesus calls Lazarus back to life.  Their thoughts?  How can we preserve our status?  

Is this not the way of the “powerful” and the privileged?  Is this not a truth that conveys over all time?  Those at “the top” of the ladder want to remain at the top of the ladder.

Such a disposition turns one’s back on God.  ‘Tis the way of political people, the self-important, far too often.

Oddly, the strongest among us are not those at “the top,” but those who are humble and guided by faith, knowing full well there is a God and they are not God.  In their mortal existence the strongest are immortal by choice, by faith, by belief.

It is an old story – one we prefer to neglect.  Offered a Messiah, we guard our vaunted place in the pecking order.  This is tedious to those who know and believe.  Tedious indeed!  Why concede the tedious ones a grant of authority?  Would you not prefer those who welcome the Messiah be those who lead?  Are they not the wiser?  Braver?

Where are you on such things?

Shalom.

 

… we seek nothing but the particular place willed for us by God …

Then we discover what the spiritual life really is … It is the silence of our whole being in compunction and adoration before God, in the habitual realization that He is everything and we are nothing, that He is the Center to which all things tend, and to Whom all our actions are directed.  That our life and strength proceed from Him, that both in life and death we depend entirely on Him, that the whole course of our life is foreknown by Him and falls into the plan of His wise and merciful Providence; that it is absurd to live without Him, for ourselves, by ourselves … and in the end the only thing that matters is His glory.

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude

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In the Mass readings today we hear God lamenting that His children have moved away from Him and we hear Jesus advise us to move away from those who do not receive or listen to his words.

Our dilemma is that we live in an age where many of the most public and most vocal have moved away from God and do not listen to the words of His Son.  Likewise the culture in its digital discourse and mass communication is crowded with those who operate largely by themselves – without reference to God.  Indeed, that is the bulk of present day discourse and we are obviously affected negatively by this.

What is one to do in such circumstances?

Yes, we are assured in the Old Testament reading of today (from Hosanna) that God will act mercifully as to those who rebel.  And, we know that Jesus in today’s Gospel (from Matthew) would have us separate from those who do not receive his words or listen to him.  So we have a plan: be merciful, yet separate from those who reject the Savior’s words.

But how is this to be done?

Merton offers a way: seeking time in silence and the company of God in that silence.  For in that silence the primacy of God is known and experienced and we are in the form that we are designed to know and in which we will find peace when all about are in discord and distress.

Yes, our confidence is in God and our task is to stand apart form those who reject God outright, and in their rejection of the Son, reject the Father.  Our remedy for this is silence – a singular silence where God is heard – much as the Son shows us in his regular retreats to the quiet of the desert.

In silence we can find stability, meaning and fulfillment.

Shalom.      

 

The transformation of charity into legal entitlement has produced both donors without love and recipients without gratitude.

Antonin Scalia

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These words are from an address given by former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1996.

Among his observations are these:

  • “a Christian should not support a government that suppresses faith or one that sanctions the taking of innocent life”
  • he knows of “no country in which the churches have grown fuller as the government has moved leftward”
  • the most religious nation in the West (the U.S.) is a capitalist society that is “least diluted by socialism”  (Emphasis added.)
  • since FDR’s New Deal, the U.S. has taken on the increasing role of a welfare state (i.e., taking tax proceeds of all and dispensing them to select individuals and groups that are deemed “needy” – and building political constituents in the process)
  • “Christ’s view was that you should give your goods to the poor, not that you should force someone else to give his (to others)”  (Emphasis added.)
  • “to the extent that the states takes upon itself one of the corporal works of mercy that would have been undertaken privately, it deprives individuals of an opportunity for sanctification and deprives the body of Christ of the occasion for interchange of love among its members”
  • the welfare-state does not contain or convey the Christian virtue of altruism
  • “governmentalization of charity effects … the donor but also the recipient … What was once asked as a favor is now demanded as an entitlement … the teaching of welfare socialism is that the world owes everyone a living.”

What Scalia lays out is the decline of the role of faith in secular culture – and with it the loss of moral conduct long displayed by acts of religiously inspired service.

Likewise socialism fundamentally changes the way humans experience themselves, others and the nature of fellowship and community – indeed it blunts the power of love and hope … it deprives us of faith and sanctification.

Make no mistake, religion and God have been shunned in the post-New Deal environment – and, frankly, when moral conduct is not fostered through a population who has an active faith – hostility and faithless division takes its place.  There we become a troubled and self-destructive culture with less opportunity to make of us brothers and sisters to one another.

Converting to socialism and BIG government is, quite simply, destructive.

Shalom.

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves, and then he said to them, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you are making it into a den of thieves.”

Mt 21: 12-13

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We often overlook the ways Jesus tells us about ourselves as human beings.  Here we see Jesus act in an angry manner.  In the very next passages from the Gospel of Mark he condemns the barren fig tree.  Both of these actions come after his celebrated entry into Jerusalem where the crowds welcomed him waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the road he traveled.

What can be said of these situations as they are juxtaposed?  They seem at odds.  But they do tell us something very instructive about our human existence.

It can be reasonably said that Jesus, having experienced the popular political response from those who reflected their orientation to the importance of earthly, imperial status and power, is moved to cleanse the Temple of those who subvert and discredit the reality and superiority of a spiritual “kingdom” which exceeds man and mortal being.  

Yes, Jesus is showing us that secular orientation to power cannot be our preference or default stetting.  Rather he shows us that the Father has created us for much more – that is: what is eternal and peace-giving (no matter the conflict, age, governing system, or suffering that might appear).

In these sequential events he shows us that man is (and always has been) made to react  forcefully when evil appears and alters the Truth of our existence.  He is, in these acts, showing us who we are.  He shows us the impulse that is an archetypal reality – a characteristic of the human being.  As a corollary one might say that those who avoid conflict at all costs are far from the fullness of their being and faith.  We are made as we are made.

It is so important to look at these episodes sequentially and in-depth – and ask: What is Jesus showing me about being human and being faithful?

Shalom.

More Ignorance in “High” Places – Yesterday, a U.S. Senator (Democrat and lawyer) released a press release “informing” us that some of the the signers of the Declaration of Independence were “immigrants.”  Good gracious.  When we declared our independence we were a colony of England – hence the Signers were English subjects.

A college education and legal training just aren’t what they used to be – nor is the U.S. Senate apparently.

It has been said that no great work of literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude.  We may lay it down as an element of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.

Austin Phelps

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We are social beings.  We prefer others to being alone.  But is that where our peace is?

Think about it.  You have met hundreds of people and you are with scores of people weekly.  You have extended family members but no matter whether family or friends or those you encounter in number – you have only a few people with whom you share completely and who share with you in the same manner.  There are but few you can count on.

Maybe we miss the point that we are made for time with God, time alone with God.

You know when you get to be 70 being alone is a common part of each day, your months and each year.  Many of those who have been close to may well have died or retired and moved away. – and your children, as adults, are busy with their work, life and family.  What once was, is no longer – you spend time alone.

But that is likely how it is meant to be.  Age is a time to sum up – to reflect, take account of a life lived.

The “taking account time” is time with God.  Use it wisely.  Be at peace.

You cannot maintain yesterday’s status quo.  Life moves like the ocean tide and you are like the wave which laps on the shore and dissolves in the sands of time.  There is no shame or sadness in this – it is God’s way to eternity and Him.

Shalom.

Every baptized Christian is obliged by baptismal promises to renounce sin and to give himself completely, without compromise, to Christ, in order that he may fulfill his vocation, save his soul, enter the mystery of God, and there find himself perfectlyin the light of Christ.”  (Emphasis added.)

Thomas Merton, in Life and Holiness

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When you look and observe all sorts of disordered behavior, hostility, division and antagonism – you might ask: How can this be, we were once a united nation and when we disagreed we did so in a civil and respectable manner – a way that did not make us enemies?

Now if you are a Christian, the above words of Thomas Merton might help you understand why we are where we are, and how we might restore what we once knew and enjoyed.

The “how?”  We have forget the gifts of our baptism.  We forget the extraordinary significance of being one with Christ, being a Christian.  Having forgotten our legacy and its inheritance, we reverted to self and selfishness – to godlessness – a life without Christ at the center of our being.

For a Christian, our separation from Christ is a guarantee for calamity, disintegration, division, antagonism, hostility, unhappiness, sin and destruction of all that is good.  Abiding by our Baptismal gifts – we prosper, find strength and happiness – build friendship, family and community – and know joy and humility and courage.

Yes, in baptism we are “called out of darkness.”  In its neglect we court darkness – and see it surround us today.  Ah, but you can change that!!!

Shalom.

 

 

 

If the word is lost, if the spent word is spent / If the unheard, unspoken / Word is unspoken, unheard; / Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard, / The Word without a word, the Word within / The world and for the world; / And the light shone in darkness and / Against the Word the instilled world still whirled / About the center of the silent world.

T. S. Eliot, in Ash – Wednesday

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Between World War I and World War II, the American Eliot joined the Anglican Church.  In his poem Ash – Wednesday, he works out his commitment to Christ and Christianity.

His words might serve is well in the time we now share – a time of disintegration, and violence emerging from within, with hostility on display and a legislative body “of the people” which does not legislate … does not work, and leaves the task of governing to executive fiat, the force of bureaucracy and oft-enfeeble courts of law.

We have become too comfortable, too fat, too expectant, too brittle with false thoughts of self to the exclusion or our whole being, or the others standing near.  Free speech fades as the voices of intolerance grow louder.

We have lost a generation to education – not of what has worth but rather degrees in “studies,” ideological droplets tailored to bias and division : “studies of gender,” “women studies,” “white privilege studies,” “Black studies,” “Latino studies,”  “Immigrant studies” … We no longer teach how to reason, think, explore, build relationships, maintain an open mind, defend the rights of all, turn to God and prayer …  Having won the war, this is our postwar debris, our landscape –  homeless heroin users in San Francisco, burnt headless animals left to intimidate a public servant, shameless vulgarity, value shaming in many forms delivered by moral vagrants, legions upon legions trapped in government dependence and no expectations … talk of injuring others – – – innocents no more … blood nears …

Do you hear the Word?  That which is and was before all time – Word waiting to be heard?

Time is ripe for a return to the Word – for word in action, word making us solemn and assured – unafraid … Shepherds seeking their sheep danger notwithstanding.

We seek our sheep in twilight, as night closes and violence and division grow … 

Poor sheep, what will the Shepherds do?

Shalom.

 

… that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You.  May they also be in us …  (Emphasis added.)

Jn 17:21

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In the recent four or five years in traveling across the country and in my daily public activities like shopping, I have had the privilege of meeting and talking to a good number of African-Americans – mostly men.  The conversations have always been cordial – actually wonderful, warm, joyful and a real blessing.

In each of the conversations I am referring to, I have offered and observation which has been universally and warming accepted.  My observation?  It is this: I say to the man with whom I have shared kind words and some laughter – this simple thing: “You know, for the life of me, I cannot understand why it is that others are intent on turning us against one another.  If I or you were drowning and someone threw us a rope that saved our life, would we ever care what their race, or religion, or ethic heritage was?”  Not one of my conversation partners ever responded other than this way: “You are so right, I am sick of the division.”

” … that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in me, and I am in You …”

Look, we have one critical responsibility and that is to be one as the Father and Son are one.

That said, ask yourself as you listen to those whose words are presented in public discourse – Does this man or woman divide us?  Or do their word bring us together?

I pray that we all start to apply these two questions to all who speak to us.

We will die by division – just as we will live and prosper only as one.

If you doubt this, think of this one thing.  In the Genesis story God provides man a companion – a woman because it is not good that man be alone.  Friends, could this be any plainer?  Men and women are clearly different and yet we are made whole by one another.  Does God not make this plain as day?  You know the answer.  Let’s live this reality, this truth.  One.  One.  One.

Dear God, help us see that we are one, meant to be one – help us turn from those who would divide us, create hostility for their own dubious benefit.  Amen.

Shalom.

If this message makes any sense to you, please share it with others.  We really are in this life together.  We own the problems we have and we have a way out of the troubles we had created.  Let’s get busy being one.

… she seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching …

Lk 10:39

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Here we refer to Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus feet listening to His words, His teaching while her sister Martha prepared a meal for others.

As you recall, Martha complained to Jesus that her sister sat while she worked.  And you likely recall that Jesus remarked that Mary chose the better way.

We in this Nation are, in my opinion, at the most significant historical point in my lifetime of 72-plus years.  We face today a political, moral and spiritual crisis which I believe to be the most ominous threat to our existence that we have faced.

There are those among us who seek to secularize us completely, to disgorge us of faith and morality, substitute socialism for free market capitalism, concentrate power in Washington, regulate human behavior, thinking, and opinion, and institute a government of a small and privileged ruling class.

So why reference Mary of Bethany at the feet of Jesus?  Well, because there is a profound and urgent lesson in this story.  The lesson?  Our welfare, security, prosperity, peace and the preservation of this unique free nation, built on belief in God coupled with freedom, can best be maintained by listening to the Word of God, being guided by it and incorporating it into our life and political views.

“If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink.  Out of his inmost being will flow rivers of living water.”

Jn: 37-38

Shalom.

 

 

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