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Reflections on Catholic Faith - August 2008 - TRANSFIGURE US O LORD!

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August 25, 2008
Paul and the Internet

Well – as always – there are several themes we could work on based on today’s Scripture readings. What might we explore about St. Paul and his relationship with the Church at Thessalonica? (After all – this is the Pauline Year!). What is the main theme or teaching in today’s Gospel? And what is all this that Jesus is referring to about swearing by gifts and the altar and binding people by such oaths?

What I’d like to do is share from some notes from a conference I attended at Franciscan University this past June. And what I’d like to propose for our consideration is that the Internet has become a form of a new Church community. The various users of new media are the equivalent of ‘pockets’ of faith happening here, there and everywhere. Someone recently said that the Internet is like the Wild West. In a sense that’s true because there are no rules, no laws and no oversight of all that happens on the net. BUT – an important but – if we leave the ‘microphone’ of new technologies to those with agendas – if we leave the new media outlets to those who aren’t educated or who shouldn’t speak for the Church – then tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands can be falsely educated or worse, completely misled.

Back in the 1960’s, our late Holy Father, John Paul II wrote an encyclical on new media.

Brilliant and prophetic in so many ways, he called for a new evangelization at the beginnings of the new millennium. He said that modern media was indispensable in reaching people throughout the world. And in reflecting on his vision – look at what has been happening.

In 1999, there were about 20-some Catholic radio stations in the country. Just a couple years ago, the numbers I saw reported showed 130 Catholic radio stations. Many of us know of the wonderful EWTN – the Eternal Word Television Network. And now there are satellite broadcasts of faith-based programs (e.g. Relevant Radio). Within the last two years – many dozens of high quality Catholic ‘podcasts’ (explained later) are broadcast over the Internet and listened to by people around the world.

It may be unfortunate that some will never ‘come to traditional Church’ but they will listen, watch, be educated and pray with outlets of new media. Perhaps you’ve heard of the word ‘blog.’ People with frequent access to the Internet can find agenda based topics that people can comment on and post their views. To start a BLOG – I could pick a topic – let’s say “Tradition (with a capital ‘T’) in the Church. I could start my first Internet logging entry saying that ‘before there ever was a Bible – there were traditions which were a significant factor in the faith of early Christians. And in fact – oral history and traditions were the only source of guidance in the first hundred years or more of the Church.

Well – some folks who want to know more might post (enter) comments and ask questions – and here you go. I’ve got a topic-based blog going. Protestants who stumble onto my blog and who believe that the Bible is the sole criteria for faith and teaching would likely disagree – and they can post their opinions and Scripture references. Etc. Etc. Popular (or interesting or incendiary) blogs will gain in viewings and participation.

And what about these things called podcasts? Well – not too many years ago – it was state-of-the-art to have a Walkman. Your Walkman might have been just a very small personal radio; later a tape player was added. Nifty convenience while you jogged or walked or worked out. Now the devices are called IPODs – or any number of names for portable devices that use Apple-computer-like technology to give you virtually ‘on-demand’ personal listening choices. Before? The Walkman only played the tapes (CD’s) you bought or the radio stations that you could hear in your listening area. Nowadays, you connect your personal listening device to your computer once in a while and it gets loaded with praise and worship music, or ‘shows’ from Catholic sites hosted by priests, deacons (ala www.deacontomonline.com ), laity, educators, National Public Radio, etc. Each day or each week you can have fresh programs of your choice ‘down-loaded’ into your personal listening device.

What has all this to do with St. Paul and the Churches he was involved with? Well – St. Paul was involved in spreading the Word of God and the ‘new’ Christian faith into the wild west of his time.

His is the same mission that we have today; feed God’s people with the WORD! At a time when so much of our youth-oriented culture is filling themselves with MTV and (so-called) reality shows and other ‘trash’ – those working in Catholic New Media are creating ‘bite-sized’ ways to share the message of Christ, his Church, and living as faith-filled followers. Let us recognize that just as there is much good in new media – the ‘other side’ is battling for market share as well. So, let us be aware of this new area for evangelization.

Our parishes need to be a part of the new media… having attractive websites – offer print and on-line parish bulletins, have DRE’s or teachers attend new media conferences, etc. Similar efforts are in many cases taking place for each diocese. And if you look at the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – you’ll find they are quite active in Internet communications, teaching and information sharing.

Many who hear these words may be afraid of, or uncomfortable with new methods of evangelization. My answer? Try going to places of your own discomfort – with an eye towards at least being conversant with new media evangelization. Then you can speak to your children or grandchildren about this area. God bless you. I’ll put this reflection on my website – and let’s see who can find it and see what else is there? Blessings.

August 18, 2008
Clinging To Possessions

“When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

My dear friends – those who have listened to this deacon – or who have read my words here or there – you know that I have a love… a great love for the Catholic lay community called Madonna House. It has its headquarters in Combermere, Canada and it has field houses in perhaps 15 or more other locations around the world.

I love to tell the story of Catherine Doherty and her Russian nobility upbringing and how her parents had to flee leaving all possessions behind because of the Revolution. Catherine’s story is a good read, and an interested reader would do well to read many of her books or things about her to gain a well-rounded perspective.

One book that reflects much of her life and journey is called FRAGMENTS OF MY LIFE. It is available through Madonna House Publications. You can find information on the web and you can likely order this and other books by Catherine through Amazon. As a sidenote – late in her life, Catherine married a famous journalist (Eddie Doherty) and he too has written interesting and poignant books.

I mention Catherine because this Gospel for today… the readings for today bring us a message of detachment from possessions…. detachment from the world.

Many of us – perhaps most of us struggle with attachment to possessions of this world. We are familiar with unhealthy clinging to youthful appearance… inability to put down booze or sleeping pills or sweets… some of us are addicted to power or position or the adulation of others. Some live life only and through family. All of these are in stark contrast to the message of Scripture.

And Catherine Doherty knew this – she authored a Mandate for Madonna House… well, she actually felt that Jesus authored the Mandate over the life-journey of Catherine – and He shared it with her in her life experiences. Here is the Mandate:

Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.

Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.

Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you.

Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.

Love... love... love, never counting the cost.

Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.

Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbor’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you.

Pray always. I will be your rest.

Most of us recoil from such a call – the idea of selling or giving assets to the poor and living a life of detachment. I hang on to certain things… I have books on my shelves that I haven’t opened for years. But I won’t give them away – someday I may go back to them. This is not detachment – it’s clinging to things.

Whereas – the Madonna House leaders and staffers wear used clothing that has been donated to the organization. They beg for food and other needs. They give much to the poor and needy. Yet their bookshelves are filled – no one has every gone to Madonna House and not marveled at the books and books available to staff and visitors. When a staffer is transferred – I believe they move with two suitcases – that’s all of their belongings. And in Winslow, Arizona there is a Madonna House called La Casa. It is very sparse – and it is surrounded by the poorest of the poor. But it is filled with a love that conquers all worldliness. Locals know of the love and sacrifice of Madonna House people. It is a marriage of love with passionate Gospel lovers on both sides.

What is it that you cling to? What is it that holds you back from a passionate response to the Gospel? Is it clinging to the norm of society? Do you need to be like everyone else? The message for today is to ask the Lord – to ask the Spirit of understanding to illuminate the places of attachment. Ask for the light to lead us to total release from captivity. Ah… such sweet surrender.

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Reading 1
Ez 24:15-23

The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, by a sudden blow
I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes, but do not mourn or weep or shed any tears. Groan in silence, make no lament for the dead, bind on your turban, put your sandals on your feet, do not cover your beard, and do not eat the customary bread.
That evening my wife died, and the next morning I did as I had been commanded. Then the people asked me, “Will you not tell us what all these things that you are doing mean for us?” I therefore spoke to the people that morning, saying to them: Thus the word of the LORD came to me: Say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will now desecrate my sanctuary, the stronghold of your pride,
the delight of your eyes, the desire of your soul. The sons and daughters you left behind shall fall by the sword. Ezekiel shall be a sign for you: all that he did you shall do when it happens. Thus you shall know that I am the LORD. You shall do as I have done, not covering your beards nor eating the customary bread. Your turbans shall remain on your heads, your sandals on your feet. You shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away because of your sins and groan one to another.

Responsorial Psalm
Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21

R. (see 18a) You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you. You forgot the God who gave you birth. When the LORD saw this, he was filled with loathing and anger toward his sons and daughters.
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
“I will hide my face from them,” he said, “and see what will then become of them. What a fickle race they are, sons with no loyalty in them!”
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
“Since they have provoked me with their ‘no-god’ and angered me with their vain idols, I will provoke them with a ‘no-people’; with a foolish nation I will anger them.”
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.

Mt 19:16-22
A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

August 11, 2008

Please don’t tell my wife: dare I say that I have a crush on certain other women? Well – what I mean is that among the Good Lord’s wonderful aspects of creation – I certainly appreciate the gift of women. I’ve previously let it slip that I ‘have a thing’ for St. Therese of Lisieux – the Little Flower. And if you ever saw a movie about the life of St. Francis of Assisi – you’ve perhaps seen Clare as a beautiful blond moving almost on top of the grasses in the sun-drenched fields of Assisi. What’s not to love?

Well – while I have typical male weakness, I do find that my heart – my faith – my emotions are so much attracted to women of faith… strong, vibrant faith. Which leads me to say some words about Clare of Assisi. She was born into a noble Italian family. She was a most self-determined young woman. For example, at fifteen – she adamantly refused to marry.

And later, at eighteen, Clare heard a sermon by Francis of Assisi. She was so impressed that she ran off from home on Palm Sunday in the year 1212 and she received the rough woolen habit from Francis. She also surrendered her long hair – cut as a sign of rejection of beauty. Her family sent a dozen men to bring her home. She clung fiercely to the altar – refusing to budge. Or – there is another story that suggests that her prayers made her so heavy – the men couldn’t move her. No matter – she never returned to her birth home.

It is interesting that in this (or any) age of gossip and innuendo – people might surely have talked about Francis and Clare. In truth, he became her lifelong friend and spiritual guide. Not long after Clare’s entrance into the Rule of Francis – her sister Agnes joined her. Others came. And they lived a simple life of great poverty, austerity and complete seclusion from the world, according to a Rule that Francis gave them as a Second Order (Poor Clares). Francis obliged her under obedience at age 21 to accept the office of abbess, one she exercised until her death.

She served the sick, waited on table, washed the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. Her influence was such that popes, cardinals and bishops often came to consult her—she never left the walls of San Damiano.

Francis always remained her great friend and inspiration. She was always obedient to his will and to the great ideal of gospel life he was making real. A well-known story concerns her prayer and trust. She had the Blessed Sacrament placed on the walls of the convent when it faced attack by invading Saracens. “Does it please you, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children I have nourished with your love? I beseech you, dear Lord, protect these whom I am now unable to protect.” To her sisters she said, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in Jesus.” The Saracens fled.

And what, you may ask – does this have to do with taxes? In today’s Gospel – they came to the disciples and asked them: “Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” was the answer.

The ‘tax’ of being a follower of Christ is to do rather than say… to act rather than just to believe… to love as an action rather than to speak of it. Jesus certainly paid this ‘tax’ – he gave us the example. He didn’t call for any of us to be cheerleaders for the wonderful examples he gave to us. He called us to be active followers and participants. This is what Clare became – she was on fire for love of the Lord. And she began to ‘pay the tax.’

St. Clare – dear follower of Christ and wonderful example to the community of Clares which you founded, help us! Intercede for us. Help set us on fire with the kind of love that invokes action rather than words. Bring us before the Blessed Sacrament for times of quiet and to help us gain His strength. Pray with us for more vocations – more men and women such as Francis, and you, dear Clare.

Words written by Clare:

What a great and laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.

Blessings from Deacon Tom


Reading 1
Ez 1:2-5, 24-28c

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year, that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile, The word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel,
the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar.—
There the hand of the LORD came upon me.

As I looked, a storm wind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire enveloped in brightness, from the midst of which (the midst of the fire) something gleamed like electrum. Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human. Then I heard the sound of their wings, like the roaring of mighty waters, like the voice of the Almighty. When they moved, the sound of the tumult was like the din of an army. And when they stood still, they lowered their wings.

Above the firmament over their heads something like a throne could be seen, looking like sapphire. Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man. Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum; downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire; he was surrounded with splendor. Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day was the splendor that surrounded him. Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14

R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights;
Praise him, all you his angels; praise him, all you his hosts.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Let the kings of the earth and all peoples, the princes and all the judges of the earth, Young men too, and maidens, old men and boys,
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
And he has lifted up the horn of his people. Be this his praise from all his faithful ones, from the children of Israel, the people close to him.
R. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.

Mt 17:22-27

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were overwhelmed with grief.

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”

August 4, 2008

As it is the beginning of the week… and it is the week that combines two memorials or special Church days that I’d like to share about – I have the challenge of trying to tie two seemingly unrelated topics together…. St. John Vianney (celebrated Monday) and the beautiful… the hope giving feast of the Transfiguration (celebrated Wednesday) in the Catholic Church.

Just a personal short story to start off this reflection. At the seminary in the Archdiocese of Denver, just outside of the Christ the King Chapel, there was a wall mounted glass display case that housed relics of St. John Vianney. Every weekend when I attended deacon classes or spiritual formation, I would touch the case and say a prayer asking for intercession of St. Vianney – who is known more for his help and sponsorship of priests than for deacons. But as we passed, I would reach up, touch the relic box, and asked for his help. Help from this priest who had such a great vision of what it meant to truly serve the people of God.

Smilingly, I also prayed because it had been so many years since I had formal, heavy duty classes – and John Vianney was a man who had to overcome meager schooling before he was ordained.

John Vianney took over a parish with a lot of indifferent people – people who were quite comfortable and enjoying their style of living – much the same as faced by the Church of today. Eventually, as he began to prepare the hearts of people to respond to God’s grace, Vianney spent long hours in the confessional.

Often he would stay as long as 12 hours. Who, but this man of vision could see what was necessary to bring about repentance and conversion? His vision was formed by the very actions of the prophets… and by John the Baptist and by Jesus Himself: repent… change your hearts… In his parish, for those who didn’t regularly attend Mass – and who thought that it was appropriate to simply pray on their own, John Vianney would say, “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”

The beauty and power of a congregation united in prayer is a small but symbolic way to see how we can be transfigured… and it gives entrance into a few words about this Feast of the Transfiguration. A Seattle area priest Fr. Phil Bloom speaks about how the Transfiguration is like the Eucharist – it shows us – it conveys to us an image of a power greater than the seeming reality of what is present to us. We hear about how even the clothes of Jesus turned dazzlingly white and part of the Communion of Saints became manifest: Moses and Elijah conversed with Christ.

I love that Fr. Bloom reminds us of the Communion of Saints in the Transfiguration -- all of God’s holy ones – those who are in Heaven waiting for us… yet able to share about our world and what is going one… what is to happen in it.

After Communion – you too are transfigured and able to speak to your loved ones… the holy ones… Imagine conversing for a few moments with not only Jesus and His Mother… but also with Padre Pio or the Little Flower…. Or Moses and Elijah. Speaking of St. Padre Pio, he has been a favorite of mine. He understood – as much as humans – even specially gifted humans can understand. St. Pio trembled and fell into emotion and trance when he said the Mass – especially during the consecration. Padre Pio trembled before the Eucharist… And I know a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver that has similar ‘fear’ (that word means awe and powerful love and trepidation) of the power of the Eucharist…

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to grow in our faith such that we shared in some glimpse of what is behind the Eucharist? How to do this? Well, for sure faith is a gift… but it is a gift we need to accept…. To accept in prayer and in humble anticipation. Our faith needs to be transfigured… This is what we need… to be changed… God has already given us the gift of Himself… now we need to accept the gift and follow the path laid out before us. To all who are Catholic – I encourage you to seek personal transfiguration in your knowledge of the Eucharist… Study the early Church and its practices. Consider the writings of the Church Fathers. If you wish – look at the lives of the Saints… St. Francis of Assisi – so venerated by our Church and even many other Christian faiths… He wrote and had such deep, deep love for our Holy Communion…

And beloved Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her nuns spent a minimum of an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament each day. Transfiguration, hour by hour before the same Jesus who awaits your soul becoming dazzling white…. and it can be done, Adoration by Adoration, and Holy Communion by Holy Communion. Lord, it is good that we are here!

© 2006-2009 Deacon Tom Online

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