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Reflections on Faith - October 2007 - A Married Deacon's Secret Girlfriend and Other Faith Practices

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October 29, 2007

Dear friends: Blessings. We are in the process of moving (YIKES!), and so I've prepared a Monday Reflection. However it is based upon the Scripture Readings for 10/26. I had to do a Communion Service in our parish on that date. Hopefully -- you won't mind seeing what I had to say then. Blessings again as always! Deacon Tom.

"God sees the greatness within us; He wants to cut away the outside stone and set us free. He sees the flaws. Some he will remove. Our flaws are part of His plan to bring forth holiness in us. He calls; we answer. By responding to His call with courage and faith, we can become saints." Fr. Mike Scanlan, T.O.R. What Does God Want? Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division

What is it that keeps you and me from becoming holy… or holier? What is it that keeps us from becoming saints? I’ve been listening to a teaching on the challenges of the moral life… about us being called to a holier life. And in the area of men and women failing to respond to God’s call – I’m reminded of a teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the Seven ‘Deadly’ Sins. How many of us have heard of the seven deadly sins? Or can you name any of them? (------) Well, these are the serious or death-dealing sins: Pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice or greed, gluttony and lust. It is by these sins that we encounter the beginnings of, or the absolute abandonment of the grace of Almighty God. And when we minimize or abandon God’s grace in our lives – then we lessen our call to holiness.

St. Paul in the letter to the Romans said that in his flesh, there is a willing hand to do evil – but doing good was tough for him. Now this is St. Paul… St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles who spoke this way.

If St. Paul struggled with evil and if he said that sin dwells in him – can any of us here today dismiss this talk as the rant of a foolish deacon? I think not.

In the Gospel for this date, Jesus gave a teaching about signs… signs which tell what is about to happen. I think if we consider the seven deadly sins – if we consider those things or areas which stagnate our holy lives… those things that block us from growing in holiness, then we can have a fresh slant on the teachings from today’s readings.

The one that I’ve picked to spend a few words on is a sin that I think affects most of us. I know it seriously affects me. That deadly sin is the sin of SLOTH. Now some may not be familiar with the word; others may think that sloth refers to laziness. But that isn’t exactly correct. The pocket Catholic Catechism says: Sloth is the desire for ease, even at the expense of doing the known will of God. Whatever we do in life requires effort. Everything we do is to be a means of salvation. The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it. Sloth becomes a sin when it slows down and even brings to a halt the energy we must expend in using the means to (our) salvation.

The theologian St. Thomas Aquinas said Sloth is "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good... it is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man as to draw him away entirely from good deeds."

So – you can be a Martha like in the story of Martha and Mary… you can be busy, busy, busy. But if busy-ness is something that causes you to not stop and sit down in your room and pray… then you may be at the edges of – or deeply in the grasp of Sloth. A person might have the idea come into his/her head to go to the Church for an hour’s visit… and what happens next may be caused by sloth: “I have too much to do – I can’t be going to the Church. Besides, there’s no one there or sometimes there’s noise there.” We create excuses… I can’t afford an hour… people will think thoughts about me… etc. etc. Sloth comes in to kill the possible grace of God that calls you and me to a holy encounter with Him. Sloth kills the calling of the Spirit.

Would you feel ‘funny’ going to Reconciliation and confessing to Sloth? Don’t! Even if you have to explain to the priest… cause Heaven knows we don’t hear much preaching about this kind of sin in our lives. The book called: A Travelers' Guide to Hell says Sloth is ruled by the celestial sign of Saturn – you know – the day and the time to come later. And a person who wrote a review for this book said, “I could have written this book, but someone else did, and now I'm plugging their book.”

I think this tells us that we all need to behold the wages of Sloth. Anything that keeps us from responding to our higher calling… our holier calling.

Reading 1 (for 102607)
Rom 7:18-25a

Brothers and sisters:
I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh.
The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.
For I do not do the good I want,
but I do the evil I do not want.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it,
but sin that dwells in me.
So, then, I discover the principle
that when I want to do right, evil is at hand.
For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self,
but I see in my members another principle
at war with the law of my mind,
taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Miserable one that I am!
Who will deliver me from this mortal body?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 119:66, 68, 76, 77, 93, 94

R. (68b) Lord, teach me your statutes.
Teach me wisdom and knowledge,
for in your commands I trust.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
You are good and bountiful;
teach me your statutes.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Let your kindness comfort me
according to your promise to your servants.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Never will I forget your precepts,
for through them you give me life.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
I am yours; save me,
for I have sought your precepts.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.

Lk 12:54-59

Jesus said to the crowds,
“When you see a cloud rising in the west
you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does;
and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south
you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is.
You hypocrites!
You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky;
why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate,
make an effort to settle the matter on the way;
otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge,
and the judge hand you over to the constable,
and the constable throw you into prison.
I say to you, you will not be released
until you have paid the last penny.”

October 22, 2007

Those here with us for today’s Communion Service have just heard readings that speak to us of faith… and putting faith into action. Hence the title on my homily this morning: faith of our fathers . No one can doubt that Paul was an example of faith in action. And, in the first reading today – Paul’s letter to the Romans, three times, he, Paul says that Abraham (who is also our Father in faith by the way) – that Abraham’s faith was reckoned (or credited) to him as uprightness.

Now, we don’t speak this way in this day an age about having our faith reckoned as a lived example of uprightness. But one understanding of this is that Abraham truly lived the life of the faith he espoused. Abraham was positively convinced that God could realize his promise of bring life from death. Abraham didn’t question God when he was told that the ‘reproductively dead’ wife would ‘blossom’ into life again. God brought life out of Sarah’s dead womb….

And that same God brought Jesus back to life from death.

Now – if you are with me when I say that the faith of these Fathers was real – was unwavering – then I can ask: what about us? Are there areas of our lives where we decide to build more barns where we can spend time on matters of this world rather than on our future life? Are there any areas where we build more barns to hold more stuff…. more barns to keep us distracted from holy pursuits… more barns that give us a place to ignore God’s gentle voice?

I am working on a column for a new Internet program that I am involved in. It’s called the Catholic Family Podcast – a sort of radio program that is broadcast over the Internet and around the world.

At any rate, in my November column for this Catholic Family effort – God willing, I will be writing about the call for us to have a lived faith life rather than a ‘monastic or semi-retired’ faith life. Let me share one area from the column….

How many of you know Tony Snow? He’s the former White House Press Secretary. We ought to keep him and his family in our prayers because Tony is battling a serious cancer. He had to leave his post at the White House because of it. I don’t want to take us into politics… or into material that will make us depressed – but I think there is a lesson in this quote from Tony Snow. He recently said:

“The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes, shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not a bout the morrow, but only about the moment.

There's nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue.

For it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do.”

You see what Tony is telling us? Being at death’s door made (at least) him realize that faith isn’t something just for the pious… it isn’t something doughy and touchy/feely… and it isn’t a quiet little ‘Jesus and me’ sort of activity. Faith is to be lived out by making it active in every area of our lives.

Now – would it help to create examples? I know you can do this on your own… but here are a few I thought of. Have you ever told the clerk at the Safeway “I’ll pray for you” if they said they were sick or had a serious situation they were facing? Have you ever talked to a Safeway clerk in a way that would indicate that you wanted to know how they were really doing? Have you ever carried a Rosary in prayer out in the open, perhaps as you walked around Lake Estes? Have you ever gone to visit someone at a nursing home even if you feel uncomfortable not knowing what to say? Have you ever come back into Church for ‘visits with Jesus’ like 30 years ago? (The same Jesus is still here… waiting.) Have you ever gone to an abortion clinic and prayed in silent witness for the value of life? Have you ever written a letter to the pastor or the Archbishop and told them of your spiritual love and appreciation? Faith isn’t passive. It isn’t totally personal. Faith needs to be a verb…. Or else, there is the danger that we will want to slip back to building more barns or finding other activities that camouflage what we’re really called to do. Blessings.

Reading 1
Rom 4:20-25

Brothers and sisters:
Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God
and was fully convinced that what God had promised
he was also able to do.
That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.
But it was not for him alone that it was written
that it was credited to him;
it was also for us, to whom it will be credited,
who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
who was handed over for our transgressions
and was raised for our justification.

Responsorial Psalm
Luke 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75

R. (see 68) Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
He has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.

Lk 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable.
“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?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself
but is not rich in what matters to God.”

October 15, 2007

Blessings of this special day. We continue with this month’s theme of saints, holy ones and Catholic practices. Earlier, I spoke of Therese of Lisieux. Today we have another powerful woman saint to consider. She is Teresa of Avila, also known as Teresa of Jesus.

The Franciscan website that offers daily information on the saints says that the way that Teresa left her mark on the Church, and hence the world was threefold: she was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.

Imagine if you will what it was like in the 16 th century to be a woman and to try to do things… to try to help bring about change. Consider the word ‘contemplative,’ and then consider how ‘painful’ it must be to be a person who wants nothing but peace and time alone with God… and yet to be called or driven to come out into the world as an agent of reform. She was a beautiful woman yet totally human… a mystic with talent and an affectionate nature. Teresa wanted to become a Carmelite and even her father was against her doing this. And is it not interesting that once a Carmelite, she spent time and energy seeking to reform the order?. So conflict and challenge seemed to follow this woman.

In 1970, the Church declared her one of the few women Doctors of the Church. Somewhere or another we’ve heard the saying about a mystery wrapped in enigma.

This is certainly what we see in this holy woman of God. Toward the end of her life she exclaimed: "Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value.”

There are times when I am drawn to strong women. But in reality – I wonder if I would have been attracted to Teresa of Avila? Or would I have felt that she ought to stay in the chapel and to be like other women? Would I have felt threatened by her zeal and impact? Or would I have been touched by her holiness and writings?

In this day and age, we have so many people – many among them women – who feel that the Church is out of touch… that it is an old, male-dominated institution. Many take an adversarial stance concerning the Church and what it is teaching and what it is doing.

Teresa gave lessons concerning this. First – God chooses and uses people according to His Divine Will. Second – they are always people of humility… of great holiness and of prayer. And most often – we see that these people of change bring about many good things from within the Church and its organizations. They do not accomplish reform by fighting the Church from the outside. Though some may find her deep – deeper than we feel called to go in our own search for holiness, consider the beauty of these words from her autobiography.

“It pleased the Lord that I should sometimes…see beside me…an angel in bodily form…. He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seemed all afire…. In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of its iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times…[leaving] me completely afire with a great love of God.”

I have been orienting the reflections of this month to saints and holy ones and on practices that we can do to help us in our faith journey. Would you consider taking the time – to find a book that has some well-written material on Therese – the Little Flower; or on Teresa of Jesus, or on St. Margaret Mary Alacoque? How about St. Ignatius of Antioch or St. Luke – the prolific Evangelist? They are among the saints of this month… oh, and Francis of Assisi as well.

Next week: some words on Catholic practices – and things to inspire a growth in our faith. Blessings.

October 8, 2007

Well blessings and happy Columbus Day. We honor the heritage of our Italian brothers and sisters. I recall being in the Bay Area in earlier years and going to San Francisco’s historic North Beach section – a vibrant and lively neighborhood with a majestic cathedral-like Church at the heart of the Italian area city park. And no trip to celebrate in San Francisco was complete without a visit to the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor that does such a lively business there.

Well – I digress from our reflection of today which is a continuation of the theme I started last week. In fact, on my Deacon Tom website – I said that my reflections for the month were on this married deacon’s secret girlfriend and on faith practices.

Those who heard my Communion Service reflection of last week – or who read last week’s website reflection know that when I referred to a secret girlfriend, I was speaking of my love and devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux – the so-called Little Flower. Obviously, I am serious about the subject of devotion to saints and holy ones. And I am in no way making light of marital vows or the serious nature of the sacrament of marriage. That said – let me continue this area of reflection by saying that I have developed a special relationship with a few holy ones that I will mention. This has come about by doing enough reading to find spiritual friends who excelled at areas where I am weak… or in areas that I especially admire.

My own special spiritual friendships may not work for you. But thanks be to God, there are thousands of saints and blesseds. So you can spend any remaining years reading about them until you come to the point of having your own named holy relationships.

Jesus is first in all things. His dear Mother follows and points to her Son…. But then in the order of how others came to me, let me name some of my holy friends. Catherine Doherty is the foundress of Madonna House – a (mostly) lay community with headquarters in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. Catherine was a no-baloney, Gospel-activated Catholic woman who came from Russia. She brought new dimensions of liturgy, worship and faith practice into the areas of the U. S. and Canada where she worked. I just happened to look at the October 4 th calendar with sayings and thoughts from Catherine. Recall that the fourth was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Here’s what Catherine said, “Nothing can save us except sanctity. That’s why we need saints today. If St. Francis of Assisi had an atomic bomb, would anyone worry about it? No. Because, being a saint, he loved much. And where love is, there cannot be fear or evil.”

Can you see why my heart was turned toward this woman and towards her words? We need saints… we need holy examples… even the ones who challenge us and make us think.

Following my gaining some knowledge and prayerful respect for Catherine, I heard a pastor speak on the Little Flower – Therese. And as I said, I spoke and wrote of her last week.

Now you are aware of my devotion to this saintly nun who died at twenty-four and who promised to spend her eternity doing good on earth. She is one of the few women to bear the title ‘Doctor of the Church.’ Then followed St. Padre Pio – the priest from Italy whose life I found chronicled in a 13 week EWTN television series. He had such deep, deep devotion to the Eucharist and the Mass. He was said to be able to be in two places at one time… this is called bi-location. And he had the Stigmata – the wounds of Christ. He had an apparent capability to read souls – especially people who came to Fr. Pio in the Confession. Imagine going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a slip-shod or careless manner without due preparation… and having Fr. Pio tell you what sins you hadn’t properly brought into the confessional…. YIKES!

And there are others – Fr. Solanus Casey – the Capuchin Franciscan doorman from Detroit…. And Blessed Andre Bessette from Canada… Blessed Andre may have interceded for me when I was operated on for a suspected pancreatic cancer about three years ago…. The doctors found nothing when they opened me up. Praise God.

And so I urge you – I commend to you God’s holy ones – just as Catherine Doherty said and did. We need sanctity so very much. And if you have a devotion to one or more of your own – I’d love to hear about them from you. Blessings.

October 1, 2007

A few days ago, a parishioner asked my wife if I would be delivering the homily today since it’s my girlfriend’s feast day. Please be patient with me as I repeat a story from four years ago. I cannot pinpoint the exact reason why I started my own love affair with the Little Flower… I am referring of course to St. Therese of Lisieux. Some things have happened that led to this fascination. A decade ago, I listened to a sermon that touched on the life and personality and foibles of Therese. The priest ended his sermon by saying that he was so moved by her story that he lifted the book he had been reading and he kissed the picture of Therese. Imagine a priest saying that from the pulpit! One of our deacon formation professors did his thesis on Therese… he speaks of her with much love and excitement.

I bought one of those 30-day daily reflection books – a small soft cover with words and thoughts from Therese. I felt deep stirrings when I read some of her simple, yet profound insights: “God would not give you the inspiration to do something good, without the grace to help you accomplish it.” Or, “Speak simply and our Father never fails to understand.” One moment of grace related to Therese is as follows. I was in the library at the John Paul II center at the Archdiocese. My eyes fell upon a video on the life, death, and especially the veneration of the relics of St. Therese. The focus of this program was on the North American tour of her bones to some 25 cities. There were interviews with PBS news people who witnessed the veneration of the public during the tour stops. There were interviews and comments from Jews and non-Catholic ministers.

All commented on the life of Therese of Lisieux, or her impact of her life on the Church. Perhaps God’s grace helped me to see that the adults in my RCIA faith classes might be intrigued by why Catholics venerate bones – and why and how the Catholic Church acclaims sainthood. Over five weeks of RCIA – I showed short segments of the video. The students seemed almost unanimous in their desire to see and hear more of Therese.

This saint who died at the age of 24 – left us simple, yet profound teachings. For example, she said, “I was puzzled why Our Lord was pleased to caress certain people from the cradle to the grave, allowing no obstacle in their way when coming to Him… helping them with favors so that they were unable to spoil the immaculate beauty of their Baptismal robe. I wondered why poor savages died in great numbers without even having the name of God pronounced. Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the flowers were to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with wild flowers. And so it is in Jesus’ garden with its world of souls. He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet.

Perfection consists in doing His will – in being what He wills us to be.”

There is much of this kind of elegant, down-to-earth, plain people theology in St. Therese: flowers, and happiness and awareness of the all encompassing love and plan of God. And if you want to know how much we have gotten off the path – read Therese’s autobiography about her First Communion – she speaks with touching profoundness of her first kiss from Jesus. And at her First Communion, she remembered to pray for a poor cripple she had met four years earlier while on a walk with her dad.

I have a friend that sort of pooh-poohs any notion of returning to the days of saints and mystics and the ‘old Church.’ He dismisses as pious history and ‘things of other times’ any ideas from the early or Middle Ages of the Catholic faith. How profoundly and horribly sad to think that God gave us such great examples – and that they should be relegated to the dusty shelves of libraries – waiting for someone to research how things used to be before we became enlightened.

I believe there is still hope for us – and grace waiting to be accepted and acted upon. I believe in the words of Therese, “Everything works for the good of each soul.” But, like the ground in Therese’s garden – we must be fertile and ready to accept the seeds of God’s will and guidance. By the way if you promise not to tell my wife, I’ve lifted the book with the picture of Therese – I’ve kissed her image there – and I’ve told her that I love her… and I’ve asked for her help.

© 2006-2008 Deacon Tom Online