Reflection - October 20, 2019

“But when the Son of Man comes, 
will he find faith on earth?”

The Church is a complex reality, as the Second Vatican Council stated. By this, it meant that the Church is both human and divine. It is both a concrete institution and a mystical communion. More than just the idea of weeds and wheat growing together, of sin and grace being present within (which also happens to be true), this unity of the human and divine finds its source in the person of Jesus, who likewise is both human and divine, uniting God with us irrevocably in one person. As such, the Church, in a sense, is God’s responsibility: begun, sustained, increased and culminated by his love. At the same time, it is our responsibility: in response to love and grace, we contribute to the mission and purpose of the Church by faith. Our good work is indispensable. 

As a human reality, the Church is always in a precarious position. The answer to Jesus’s question above is a resounding maybe. When Jesus comes again, will he find faith on earth? Maybe. It depends on us, on our response to grace, on our good work. Not only has God made himself vulnerable to the possible rejection of his love by each person, his whole mission to share his love with the whole world is vulnerable to our participation. God depends on us. We are his hands and feet. I have heard it said that it would only take one generation for the Church to disappear from the face of the earth. It’s a bit theoretical, but if every Catholic made no effort to live, share, or pass on the faith, it would disappear from the earth. God works with us and through us. Our efforts in cooperation with God’s grace are essential. We need to live our faith, share our faith and pass on our faith for there to continue to be faith. 

Live our faith. If you’re like me, you’re not perfect. Living our faith isn’t about pretending to be something we’re not. In fact, that is an obstacle to faith. It keeps us from really encountering Jesus and developing an authentic relationship with him. Living our faith is about growing in our relationship with Jesus as who we really are and who we can really become. It makes a difference in our lives and changes us. This may happen quickly or, more commonly, over time, but each day we should seek to become, as Matthew Kelly says, the best version of ourselves. We need to be open, engaged, and intentional about our faith. We cannot live our faith passively. At a minimum, we have to do something (prayer and practice) to grow. 

Share our faith. When I was at the St. Boniface booth at the NuLu Festival, I saw a man holding up a sign with scripture on it and yelling at people. When we think of sharing our faith, this may be the image that comes to mind. That’s not it at all. Sharing our faith is about transparency and action. In conversations, relationships, acts of service, moments of need, and celebrations, or, in other words, in real life with real people, we simply don’t hide the role of faith in our lives. We let it shine through, we pray, we share, and we invite. It’s not about winning an argument or condemning anyone. It is letting our love be how God loves others. Sharing our faith is intentional, as well, but it’s not for show. We simply live our faith with authenticity and transparency. 

Pass on our faith. Each of our families should be a school of faith. Within our homes and our community, we encounter the beauty, goodness, and truth of faith. In prayer, symbols, service, forgiveness, responsibilities, and traditions, the faith is practiced. Practice inculcates faith in our children. It passes on the faith. At a St. Patrick event for moms and children, they crafted prayer jars which included prayers written on popsicle sticks and placed in the jars. Two prayers from a six year old girl were shared with me: “God, help me to know my needs from my wants” and “God, you know what’s best for me.” We pass on our faith through practice. We live our faith with our families. 

Will Jesus find faith on earth? I have great hope. Because that depends on us.

Reflection - October 13, 2019

While we are called to participation, community, and to have a transformative effect in our society, our first and, perhaps, most important action is prayer. Pope Pius VI named John Carroll the first bishop (and later archbishop) of the United States of America in 1789.  His cousin, Charles Carroll, was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. Archbishop Carroll wrote the following prayer for our newly formed government on November 10, 1791, to be prayed in his diocese.

Prayer for Our Government 

by Archbishop John Carroll (1791)

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Reflection - September 1, 2019

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor. 
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
'Give your place to this man,' and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. 
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Who are you? Are you more than a product of natural selection and evolution, a complex ordering of nucleotides arranged in your DNA, one instance of infinite quantum possibilities, action potentials releasing neurotransmitters across synapses, or the choice of your parents? Are you more than your actions and activities, your relationships and acquaintances, your degrees and promotions, or your achievements and honors? Are you more than your bank account, zip code, or possessions? Are you more than your sins or failures? Are you more than your social media? Who are you? 

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Reflection - August 4, 2019

“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’”

I have a heart for the ideal, but usually act as a pragmatist. I embody a tension between romanticism and realism. Sometimes both suffer, but often they cross pollinate and create something beautiful. As a young seminarian I had a deeply felt pull to follow St. Francis, give away all my possessions, leave seminary, and live poor with the poor. My spiritual director wisely affirmed the desire, but took several months with me to unpack and explore that desire. Love, justice, and simplicity were there at the heart, but self-aggrandizement, radical independence, and fear of commitment to my vocation and the church were also there. I discovered that there are many ways to live a life that doesn’t make sense unless God and his love are real. My promises of obedience, simplicity of life, and celibacy were just as radical and were at the same time, perhaps, more concrete and more pragmatic. The beauty of holiness is that it embodies both the ideal (“Be perfect just as your Heavenly Father is perfect”) and the pragmatic and concrete (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). Neither, without the other, is complete. Both are necessary. 

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Reflection - October 6, 2019

“How long, O LORD?  I cry for help
but you do not listen!”

I had a conversation years ago, long before I was ordained a priest, with a man who was explaining why he was an atheist. As a child, his mother had been extremely sick and he prayed to God for her to be healed. He prayed fervently, daily, with an innocent and pure belief that God could and would heal his mother. When she died, he concluded that either God couldn’t heal her (maybe God didn’t exist or maybe he wasn’t powerful enough to act) or God wouldn’t heal her (maybe God was indifferent or, worse, sadistic). In any case, the day she died was the day he stopped believing in God. It was the end of his faith. 

His story raises significant questions for us about prayer, specifically about petition and, more specifically, about intercession. Although we may recognize that sometimes we ask for things we shouldn’t ask for and can look back with the prophet Garth Brooks and “thank God for unanswered prayers,” more often we are faced with disappointment, heartbreak, or pain when our prayer of intercession seems to go unheard or unanswered. We are left with profound questions. Does God hear us? Does he care? Do we lack faith? Do we need to pray harder? Ask more of the saints? Pray a particular devotion or novena? Have more people praying? Is there a right way to pray to get what we are asking for? Perhaps most profoundly, why? Why doesn’t God answer us? Why do we pray?

How I wish there was a simple answer!!! Even a simple answer I didn’t like would at least be satisfying (not to mention, it would let me give an authoritative and complete answer in this short article). Some of the prime contenders are: I didn’t have faith, it was God’s will, or everything happens for a reason. Is it possible that I didn’t trust God? Is it possible that it was God’s will? Is it possible that it happened for a reason? Well, yes, but that’s far from the whole story. Trusting God, having faith, is a surrender to our loving Father, walking with our Brother, and receiving the indwelling Spirit. It is a relationship of love and knowing God’s presence with us, even in suffering and death. One of the fullest expressions of faith is the lives of the martyrs. In addition, God’s will isn’t the only thing happening on earth or in our lives. Our will, natural forces, and evil all coexist with the inbreaking of God’s will. We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will perfectly exists in heaven, but not here. Likewise, not everything happens for a reason, or at least a good and noble reason. We can, however, shift directions. Even if there is no reason, or a bad reason, we with God can bring good from evil, give purpose to suffering, and effect change from challenge. We can take the bad and transform it for good. 

So, it’s not so simple. Why do we pray? Prayer is our relationship with the profound mystery of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has first drawn close to us and our prayer is our response to his love and grace. We place our trust in him, share our hearts with him, tell him our needs, and ask for his intervention. We thank him, adore him, contemplate him, praise him. From a place of humility, we give our whole selves to him and God gives us himself. God’s first answer to our prayer is himself. God’s final answer to our prayer is himself. God doesn’t always give us specifically what we ask for, but he always gives us himself. In the end, perhaps, we can pray with St. Ignatius, “You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”

Reflection - August 25, 2019

Someone asked him,
"Lord, will only a few people be saved?" 

Theoretically, this question encompasses the ideas of God’s will, our free will, God’s grace, salvation, predestination, and eternal security. It has been prayed about, reflected upon, and debated. Some have sought to answer it appealing to God’s infinite mercy and love and concluding that every human being will spend eternity with God no matter what they say or do. Others, taking certain passages of the bible literally, have limited it to only 144,000 who are predestined to be saved. Some believe that once you say the right prayer, your eternal destiny is guaranteed. Others, that you can “lose” your salvation. Some see it as a single event in your life, whether through confession of belief or through water baptism, and others see it as an unfolding process that culminates with judgement at your death. In any case, it is a significant question. 

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Reflection - July 21, 2019

“Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
‘Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? 
Tell her to help me.’
The Lord said to her in reply,
‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. 
There is need of only one thing. 
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.’”

In seminary, we had an annual award for the seminarian that showed the greatest effort and initiative taking care of menial tasks.  Things like moving chairs from the basement storage room to the dining room (in a seminary, it’s called a refectory) for special events, cleaning up the television lounge, and organizing the outdoor furniture and storage were included. It was called the Martha, Martha Award. Those things needed to get done and they were, perhaps, contrary to most seminarians’ inclinations. We were there to pray, study, grow, serve pastoral needs, participate in sacraments, etc.  You know, the better part. An old priestly saying gets at the heart of it, “These hands were made for chalices, not calluses.” Hence the need to reinforce carrying out the mundane with an award. There was no, and no need for, a Mary Award. 

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Reflection - September 8, 2019

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
...anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”

I like a challenge. Especially if it is difficult, complex, or improbable to complete, I get more excited. Naysayers increase my resolve and I relish success against the odds. I was not a hard young man and a high school classmate, upon hearing that I accepted an appointment to the Air Force Academy, predicted that I wouldn’t make it. He came extremely close to being right! I almost didn’t make it, multiple times. On my worst days, when I felt like giving up, I would recall his words and, among other and better motivations, would make it for one more day, or sometimes just one more hour. I can be resilient and resolute, almost to the point of tenacity, when unexpected challenges arise. It may have been from my grandma that I first heard the old saying, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” My grandfather had owned his own business, a number of times, and of my dad’s 10 brothers and sisters, seven of them have had some foray into entrepreneurialism. I came up with my first idea for my own company when I was 16 and, technically, I have been self employed three times (only once did it pay the bills). Risk and opportunity must release endorphins in my brain. 

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Reflection - August 11, 2019

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

We are capable of more than we think. When I want to be inspired, sometimes I’ll look up “People are Awesome” on YouTube. These videos are montages of amazing examples of human dexterity, agility, coordination, skill, and pure physical prowess. While there is a small element of chance, most of these feats represent hours, or even years, of passion, dedication, practice, training, and not a few failures or broken bones. There is an inherent accountability: failure results in direct and immediate consequences. That’s part of the process. We learn from our mistakes, resolve to do better, work diligently, and strive for success. We need to set expectations in order to achieve excellence. None of the incredible accomplishments in these videos are accidental. They didn’t just happen. There’s much more to it than that. 

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