Reflections on Faith - Reflections on Lent - March 2007

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March 26, 2007
Deacon Tom's Beatitudes©

As I worked on preparations for a sermon for Beatitude Sunday, I began to wonder if there might not be additional beatitudes. I found a quote by James Lowell – he said he wished Jesus had added another beatitude: Blessed are people who can laugh at themselves, for they will never run out of material. Well – the sermon I developed didn’t make light of any of the beatitudes – but it became a vehicle for me to offer my personal thoughts on the subject. Here then are Deacon Tom’s ideas for additional Beatitudes.

Blessed are dads who tell their sons and daughters that they love them… for they will NOT pass on the Father wounds that can take most of a lifetime for children to get over… the wound of lack of affirmation or acceptance.

Blessed are wives who continue to love husbands and affirm us in all of our flawed weaknesses and our gigantic egos.

Blessed are grandparents who love the grandkids unconditionally – for they show the closest example of the love of Christ found in humans.

Blessed are parents who give the example of prayer in the home – even if it’s uncomfortable to start doing it. And -- Blessed are parents who pray for their children and their young adult kids, before there is a legal or immoral reason to do so.

Blessed are teenagers who accept that the nagging of parents is because they really do know what it’s like to be overflowing with curiosity, hormones and flawed understanding of consequences.

Blessed are young priests (ministers, etc.) who become ‘wild men for Christ’ and who bring that enthusiasm and zeal to our needy parishes. Oh, and Blessed are old priests who have been burned out, broken and sinful and then come back to let us know that we all are broken from time to time… and that God’s mercy is waiting on the other side of our brokenness.

Blessed are those who try… who really try to take up the gift of faith seriously – even if they are unsure of how to be a disciple of Jesus.

I don’t know if those cover all the additions possible – probably not. But why don’t we start to work on these: being in love with the life God gave us – accepting it – thanking the Good Lord for it. I’d like your feedback.(

March 19, 2007
Solemnity of Saint Joseph

It was in the year 1610 that the Spanish founded a town that is now known as Santa Fe, the capitol of the state of New Mexico. Later, as a result of the US victory in the Mexican war, this southwest area was ceded to the United States in 1848. And – at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail stands the Loretto Chapel. Inside the Gothic structure is the staircase referred to as miraculous, inexplicable, marvelous. It is sometimes referred to as St. Joseph’s Staircase. The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20’ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.

Two mysteries surround the spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel; the identity of its builder and the physics of the staircase construction.

When the Loretto Chapel was completed, there was no way to access the choir loft, 22 feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel. To find a solution to the problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Legend says on the ninth and final day of prayer, a man showed up at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work.

Months later the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself.

The stairway's carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today.

I will tell you why I decided to use a part of this morning’s reflection about this chapel and the staircase. It was because I noticed in a friend, Fr. John Putka from the University of Dayton that he has demonstrated a deep devotion to St. Joseph – as well as his wife – the Blessed Virgin Mary. I recently asked him about his devotion to St. Joseph – and at first – he responded with a very typical Fr. Putka line… he said, “My theory is that St. Joseph should be the patron saint of husbands as he does not get to utter one word in the Bible.” But then in seriousness – he said that St. Joseph is a major patron of the Marianists. And he, Fr. John reminded me that tradition has it that he personally built a spiral staircase for a church in New Mexico.  So based upon his recommendation, I looked up the information I have already shared with you about the chapel and the mysterious staircase. The Bible pays Joseph the highest compliment: he was a “just” man. When we hear of being justified – it means that the Good God has transformed the person – they he/she shares in the very holiness of God.

By saying Joseph was “just,” the Bible means that he was one who was completely open to all that God wanted to do for him… all that God wanted of him. Joseph became holy by opening himself totally to God.

Think of the kind of holy love found in the marriage with Mary – a marriage not without problems. It is no contradiction of Joseph’s manly holiness that he decided to divorce Mary when she was found to be with child. The important words of the Bible are that he planned to do this “quietly” because he was “a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame” (Matthew 1:19). The just man was simply, joyfully, wholeheartedly obedient to God—in marrying Mary, in naming Jesus, in shepherding the precious pair to Egypt, in bringing them to Nazareth, in the undetermined number of years of quiet faith and courage.

To all of us – but especially to men – to husbands finding these words today, let us pray that Almighty God would use the same words he used about Joseph: That we may become ‘just’ men – happy in our relationships… in our work… and in our obedience to God.

March 12, 2007

Over the weekend, my wife and I went to visit the mother of a parishioner. The mother is ninety-one years of age – and she is in a nursing home. She is expected to pass away any time from within hours to days to a couple weeks at most. (Of course there is only one Divine Physician who knows the correct answer, isn’t there?)

As a deacon, I strongly believe in the importance of all of us being willing to intercede in prayer for the sick and the dying. I’ve gone to hospitals and nursing homes to pray for those in need. In my weakness (and sinfulness) I often feel like the king of Aram… I want to cry out that I have no god-like power to help in these situations. And in fact, I know there are priests and nuns and some lay people who seem to have great powers of intercession that might be so much more helpful than anything I can do.

In the Church’s reading from 2 nd Kings used for liturgies today, the prophet Elisha seems to have self-assurance in contrast to the king’s agitation with becoming involved in the situation. Once involved, Elisha maintained superiority by dealing with the leper or skin-diseased Naaman – Elisha did this by dealing with Naaman through an intermediary…

Oh – and now I get it – I get a glimpse of how Scripture speaks to me – perhaps speaks to us this day… God uses intermediaries… such as Elisha and even his servants to help with healing in this story. The picture and story now become clearer….

Any of us can become the servant to others – and God can use us – even pass healing instructions through us to others….

When I visited the ninety one year old lady – it seemed she may be near to death… but as I led us in a short prayer service with some ten of her family members around her – I prayed aloud for healing… for strength and recovery… and I prayed for acceptance of God’s holy will. I prayed that when this woman heard the Lord’s call from the ‘other side’ that she would surrender and go joyously to meet the Lord Jesus who would be waiting for her. I spoke these words out loud so they could (perhaps) penetrate the woman’s deep sleep… and so that her family members could pray for these matters as well.

I don’t want (at all) to be presumptuous – but could there be any small parallel between my prayer and the guidance of Elisha? “ Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.” Could my words of prayer have been an instruction for this dying woman to cleanse herself from an undue ‘hanging on?’ The hanging on to the world and to that which is known and comfortable?

And if she had any awareness of my spoken words – I wonder if her silent reaction had any similarity to Naaman who, at first didn’t want to hear the instructions given by Elisha’s intermediary? I certainly don’t know – but I wonder?

As Psalm 42 shared with us today: “ A thirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? As the hind longs for the running waters, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

Yes – our souls long for the face of God – but alas – our humanness struggles with letting go… with recognizing where our true happiness is found. May this Lenten season lead us to move the faith that can be found in our heads – and have that faith move down south about 15 inches to our hearts. And when we pray our intercessions – let us remember this woman – and her loving family members. An aged parent – a parent who hangs on… a situation – a scene many of us have faced – a scene which repeats itself thousands of times daily around the world.

Let us be an intercessory prayer warrior for those in need. God may decide to use us. So be it. Amen.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1
2 Kgs 5:1-15ab

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4

Lk 4:24-30

March 5, 2007

Dear friends and fellow journey-mates. Today, I’ve taken the liberty to borrow and excerpt from a column by Bishop Gerald Kicanas. He is the Bishop of the Tucson, Arizona Diocese. His topic is:

LENT: Study, Reflect and Act.

Pope Benedict XVI will soon publish a book titled, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He began writing the book before he became pope. Since then, he has struggled to find time to continue the work, but despite all the demands on his time he has stayed at the task and in the spring will publish the first 10 chapters. The Holy Father makes a point of saying in the preface to the book that his writing is “not at all a magisterial act, but the expression of my personal seeking of the ‘Lord's face’ (Psalm 27:8). Therefore, everyone has the liberty to contradict me.”

As bishop of the Tucson Diocese, I, for one, look forward to reading the Holy Father’s reflections on Jesus, which have been gleaned from his study of Sacred Scripture, his prayer, his time before the Blessed Sacrament and his efforts to imitate Christ. His thoughts can encourage all of us, especially during Lent, to consider more deeply our relationship with Christ and who Christ is in our lives as we study, pray and encounter Him in our daily lives.

As bishop, if I am going to lead others to Christ, I know that I, too, must meet and imitate Christ as Pope Benedict has modeled. Faith is at the core a personal encounter with Christ. That is critical. Without such an encounter, faith withers. Catechists know that they cannot just teach children the doctrines and morals of the faith, as important as those are.

They know that the doctrines and morals take on meaning when one becomes a disciple in a deep and intimate relationship with Christ. This Lent, follow Pope Benedict’s lead and seek to deepen your discipleship by study, by contemplation and by imitation of Christ.

In seminary, the classes I enjoyed most were on Scripture, especially the four gospels and their depictions of the life of Christ. I marveled at the ways my Jesuit professor, Father Edward O' Kelly could open up the Scriptures for us and what the Word taught about Christ and His mission. I still have my well-used notes from his classes.

This Lent read one of the Gospels, slowly, meditatively, taking in the life of Christ, His words and actions. Reading one of the many available studies of the Gospels can be helpful. Read one of the many wonderful biographies of Christ. Read the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that invites us to journey with Christ. Read reflectively this Lent and deepen your relationship with Christ.

Spend time before the Eucharist, being with a friend Who loves you so much. Talk with Him as a friend, as someone you are interested in knowing better. He surely wants to know you better.

I remember as a young boy in high school coming from lunch on my way to my next class, pausing to kneel before a statue of the boy Christ that stood at the head of the corridor where my locker was. Christ fascinated me.

He was someone even more impressive, believe it or not, than Luis Aparicio, the White Sox shortstop who was a hero to me. These encounters deepened my love of Christ. I identified with Him, wanted to be like Him – and also like Luis Aparicio.

As an altar server, I felt privileged to serve for Forty Hours, kneeling in adoration before the Eucharist. One time I fainted while kneeling before the monstrance. My teacher, Sister Seraphia, panicked, but I convinced her to let me go back and finish the hour.

Take time this Lent for Eucharistic adoration to be with the Lord, and your relationship with Him will deepen. Finally, do some things this Lent to imitate Christ. We imitate a person we admire, look up to and want to be like. Christ went about doing good. He healed the sick, wept with those who suffered, reached out to those on the margins of society. We can do the same.

As we grow in our relationship with the Lord, someday we, too, might be able to write a book about Jesus, the person we have come to know by our study, reflection and action, the person we most want to be like.

© 2006-2008 Deacon Tom Online