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Reflections on Catholic Faith - February 2008 - Entering Lent with a proper heart.

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February 18, 2008

The Gospel for today ends with words about gifts from God. Some of you may know that I have a website – and most often, I post a Monday column on the Internet. And it is usually the same theme or reflection that I use here in Church for our Communion Service or Mass. I started the February Reflections on the website with a theme An Attitude of Gratitude. So often – Lent is thought of in terms of ashes and abstinence and perhaps fasting. These are part of our practices for Lent. But for the month – and certainly for today, I thought that it might be worthwhile to think with an attitude of gratitude for President’s Day.

A year or two ago, I read a book by David McCullough titled 1776. It chronicles the early months of the birth of our nation. In that year, the whole cause of American independence and self-government hung in the balance. The words and noble ambitions of the Declaration of Independence could have been trashed and dashed – little more than pompous ideas scrawled on a soon forgotten paper. In the early hours of this nation, there was a temptation in some places to give up the ideals of this newborn country. But a general named George Washington – again and again in letters to congress and to his officers called for perseverance and a spirit of unremitting courage. And in a war we had EVERY reason in the world to lose, farmers and teachers, men from every walk of life… they became a military who believed in, and supported the ideals of freedom and independence. They won that war. Do you recall that 25,000 Americans lost their lives in the battle against Great Britain? That was roughly one percent of the population of the entire country.

And in a country forged in the battle for freedom and for what we believe in, how ironic it is that In this day and age, if we go into battle, a clock starts an impatient ticking at the first casualty. Contrast that with what our forefathers and soldiers were willing to sacrifice. Consider what they won for us.

George Washington has been called the deliverer of his country. He emerged as one of history’s greatest men. Yet he was a leader who made terrible mistakes… He was a flawed man by any reasonable view of history. Today, we seem to expect nothing less than perfection of anyone in leadership. Certainly not everyone supported military conflict in earlier generations – but unity was much more valued … more important than it has become today. I find myself returning to this thought in my own heart… And I ask you to consider it today as the country pauses to remember George Washington – and to honor him and all of our presidents.

We are so blessed to live in America … the land of the free and the brave. Our freedom came about through awesome stories that date back to the origins of our Country… I believe God’s hand was and is on this country. He has given us this ‘pearl of great value.’ We have a continuing obligation to thank God… and to pray for wisdom about what to do as a response to His goodness to us. In an attitude of gratitude, let us reflect that God has given us so very, very much – including the Catholic Faith, the Church and the gift of America. God has given us the gift of great… yet often flawed – but great leadership. Let us express our thanks to God throughout this day and this week.

And now, in this liturgy, as we are about ready to present our morning petitions and intentions, let us consider our own aging from a point of gratitude. Ralph Martin is a wonderful Catholic author and professor – in his book called Fulfillment of All Desire, he wrote these words: “We normally like to be and to appear healthy, strong, handsome or beautiful, young looking, and so on. And yet, illness, old age, bodily defects of various kinds sweep over the whole race.  This is one of the reasons why the Resurrection of Jesus and our own promised resurrection are so important and give us so much hope and joy. We can respond to the distress of bodily afflictions with pride, anger, rebellion, vanity, and exception, or we can respond with humility, meekness, and deeper trust in, (AND GRATITUDE TO) God. The choice is ours.

Reading 1
Dn 9:4b-10

“Lord, great and awesome God,
you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you
and observe your commandments!
We have sinned, been wicked and done evil;
we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws.
We have not obeyed your servants the prophets,
who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes,
our fathers, and all the people of the land.
Justice, O Lord, is on your side;
we are shamefaced even to this day:
we, the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem,
and all Israel, near and far,
in all the countries to which you have scattered them
because of their treachery toward you.
O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers,
for having sinned against you.
But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!
Yet we rebelled against you
and paid no heed to your command, O LORD, our God,
to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.”

Responsorial Psalm
79:8, 9, 11 and 13

R. (see 103:10a) Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.
R. Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Help us, O God our savior,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake.
R. Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Let the prisoners’ sighing come before you;
with your great power free those doomed to death.
Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
through all generations we will declare your praise.
R. Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.

Lk 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

February 4, 2008

There are some organizations – many of them self-help organizations that seek, in part, to help members to recognize, to name, and to count the blessings of Almighty God in their lives. We could point to the words of today’s Gospel: “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.”

Where are you in regards to the idea of having ‘an attitude of gratitude?’ This Gratitude List concept comes to me in waves from time to time: my (our) marriage has been reborn… I have re-found my faith after many God-less years… And while I am aging – my health has pretty much stabilized after experiencing a pretty bad episode of heart irregularities. And a suspected life-threatening pancreas mass turned out to not be found… and while I have some problems with an impaired vocal cord – my speaking is sufficient for preaching and teaching as a deacon. We have four (adult) kids that we are proud of in different ways… and we LOVE OUR GRANDKIDS. Come to think of it – we love lots of other kids in other families too! Good golly, Miss Molly – what’s not to be grateful about?

Some folks have asked us for prayers. There is cancer, or depression or some other issue. There are kids who have stopped going to church… or their marriages have come apart.

If I can’t inspire or help folks to develop an attitude of gratitude in their lives – we try to work on hope. God is here. God is present. God sees a much larger vision than we ever will. I try to help these folks by joining with them in prayer. And I try to let them know that I really (REALLY) take their needs home and lift them in prayer… regular, daily prayer.

And then – as happens – people will come back and let me know that things are okay… the problem has been resolved… or ‘aunt Isabelle’ has died a peaceful and happy death – then I return to the attitude of gratitude. God is ‘large and in-charge.’

Thank you Lord God for hearing our prayers. Thank You for helping us to think about – to find your answers… your ways… your help. Thank you Yahweh for helping remind me of the many ways you are active in my life – and in the lives of those I interact with.

Lent starts this coming Wednesday. Instead of being sorrowful or somber when you receive ashes on your forehead – how about an unusual idea? Start a Gratitude List that you can use to pray over and about all during Lent.

NOTE: We will be heading off for a week of babysitting later this week. I’ll see you in about two weeks. God Bless. Deacon Tom.

Reading 1
2 Sm 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13

An informant came to David with the report, “The children of Israel have transferred their loyalty to Absalom.” At this, David said to all his servants who were with him in Jerusalem: “Up! Let us take flight, or none of us will escape from Absalom. Leave quickly, lest he hurry and overtake us, then visit disaster upon us and put the city to the sword.”

As David went up the Mount of Olives, he wept without ceasing.
His head was covered, and he was walking barefoot. All those who were with him also had their heads covered and were weeping as they went. As David was approaching Bahurim, a man named Shimei, the son of Gera of the same clan as Saul’s family,
was coming out of the place, cursing as he came. He threw stones at David and at all the king’s officers, even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard, were on David’s right and on his left.
Shimei was saying as he cursed: “Away, away, you murderous and wicked man!
The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul, in whose stead you became king, and the LORD has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom. And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.” Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and lop off his head.” But the king replied: “What business is it of mine or of yours, sons of Zeruiah, that he curses? Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants: “If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life, how much more might this Benjaminite do so? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits
for the curses he is uttering this day.” David and his men continued on the road, while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside,
all the while cursing and throwing stones and dirt as he went.

Responsorial Psalm
3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (8a) Lord, rise up and save me.
O LORD, how many are my adversaries! Many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me, “There is no salvation for him in God.”
R. Lord, rise up and save me.
But you, O LORD, are my shield; my glory, you lift up my head!
When I call out to the LORD, he answers me from his holy mountain.
R. Lord, rise up and save me.
When I lie down in sleep, I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I fear not the myriads of people arrayed against me on every side.
R. Lord, rise up and save me.

Mk 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the Gerasenes. When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.

Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”) He asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” And he pleaded earnestly with him not to drive them away from that territory.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside. And they pleaded with him, “Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.” And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned. The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town and throughout the countryside. And people came out to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear. Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened to the possessed man and to the swine. Then they began to beg him to leave their district.
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.


© 2006-2008 Deacon Tom Online

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