Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chapter 21 Return To Virtue

Chapter 21

Return to Virtue

“…rebuild my church…”

Is it reasonable to assume that those words, though spoken centuries ago to St Francis of Assisi by our God, the Father, were meant for us in the year 2010?

The Church needs rebuilding. The builders are to be us, the children of God. The builders are to be virtuous, but if they are not virtuous, fear not, the builders will be those who are available. God doesn’t need the most talented, the most intellectual, the most organized. He doesn’t really even need the most holy, the most prayerful or the most spiritual either. He just needs those who make themselves available. That could be practically anyone. And if that “anyone” happens to be you, then it would be prudent to be prepared although not necessary. (Jesus was happy to take up with Zacchaeus on “short” notice, but He was most pleased when Philip introduced Nathanial (soon to become one the Jesus’ twelve apostles) whom Jesus described as “… an honest man, a true son of Israel.”)

To rebuild Christ’s beloved Church, we must first acquire virtue. We are the Church. This renewal that is so desperately needed involves a renewal of virtue – our virtue. We have become lukewarm and are at risk of God fulfilling His promise to “spew us” from His mouth. Virtue must be sought and practiced continuously if it is be attained. Its attainment orders a right relationship with God, the Church and the rest of creation. If our relationship with Creator and Creation are rightly ordered, joy may be the fruit of this earthly life we live. We must strive to remake ourselves into a people of Faith, Hope and Love (the supernatural virtues) and seek the ordered life that grows out of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude (the cardinal virtues).

Just as the world cries out for God and yet rejected the Christ, so does the world reject what it most needs today - the Church. We are the keepers of the faith, the builders of Christs’ church. We are the Church.

St. F of A

Chapter 21

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 20 - Leadership

"[M]en don't follow titles, they follow courage... And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I." William Wallace to Robert the Bruce in Braveheart.

What makes a great leader? Is it...


Why does it seem like there are some people in positions of authority who are glaringly lacking in leadership qualities?

Why does it seem that some people with amazing leadership qualities are overlooked or even dismissed because they're too far "outside the box" for comfort?

And who is the ultimate example of authentic leadership?

Mr. Kelly wants to know... where are the authentic leaders? He proposes that, in "the good ol' days", people followed leaders in positions of leadership simply because they held a position of authority. I disagree, I think they just didn't have as much information bombarding them all the time, so their choices were limited. Human nature hasn't changed, only the number of choices we have. With the advent of the internet, we can question literally everything on the planet... including whether or not our leaders are telling us the truth, whether or not they are keeping their promises, whether or not they smoked pot in college, solicited prostitutes, or evaded taxes. With leaders like these, who can we look up to? Who will "rise above" and be an intelligent, moral, trustworthy, bold, and courageous leader?

And most of all... who can we as Catholics in America look to within our own borders for strong, authentic leadership?

Billy Graham is probably one of the most famous and well-respected evangelists among protestants who has ever lived. He is among the ranks of Johnathan Edwards, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday -- all of whom have their place in history for quite literally changing the world they lived in. Does he have an equal among Catholics in this day and age?

Having subscribed to the Saint of the Day, I have read 100s of stories of the saints. Yet again, human nature has not changed. So many times God had to work through these courageous men and women AGAINST the very people who should have been their greatest allies... church people. I have heard it said many times that most churches die because of an attitude of "us four and no more"... a clique, if you will. Well-meaning people, but bent on control. When that happens, a church will only survive... not thrive. Could it be that God brought authentic leaders to your church, but rather than empower them to fulfill the mission God sent them for, these bold, courageous people were instead suppressed, passed over for someone more "sedate" (read: controllable), ignored, persecuted, or even driven away?

I propose that we in the church grow stagnant and stinky like a putrid pool of swamp water for lack of authentic leadership.

Stagnant pools of water are very uninviting places. The water has become corrupt. The odor has become rancid. These pools get this way because there is no outlet for the water that has accumulated and no fresh water coming in. So too goes the church: An assistant pastor, who was supposed to have been a loyal and trustworthy friend, embezzled millions. A trusted and loved priest abused teenage boys. An entire parish presented a letter to the Archbishop stating they do not agree with the "ban on contraception". Where does it end? Who will stand up and say "Enough!!"

Without authentic leadership to "move the waters", to "stir things up a bit", to challenge, to invigorate, to clear up the muddled mess and bring clarity and a sense of direction... the Church will rot from the inside out.

Authentic leaders can be scary to "ordinary people". They take big risks, they are enthusiastic and bold, they work harder and longer than anyone else, they fail often and succeed even more often. They are not without fear when facing threats and trials, but they have the moxie to "do it afraid". They challenge all of us to get off our Blessed Assurance stuck in the pew and MOVE... sometimes far outside our comfort zones... outside of a building to become a living, vibrant witness in our families, in our community, and in the world... and authentic leaders know that leading by example is the only way... never asking more of those following them than they do of themselves.

So where does this leave us?

Every last one of us has the ability to lead... because we all have the ability to serve. Jesus set the example of leadership by not only serving others, but by ultimately giving His life to serve all mankind to wipe away the stain of original sin. However, our Lord was no coward when it came to confronting the "religious establishment" in their putrid state of corruption and control. He made no bones about need for repentance, but He also spoke the truth in love, so much so that people flocked to Him like moths to flame. He was bold enough to speak the truth, even when it alienated His followers.

Our Lord Jesus, the saints, and the men I mentioned above never sought the spotlight -- a position of prominence does not make a leader -- their goal was to lead people starving for truth to the only Truth there is... a relationship with God who desperately loves them. And to remain authentic leaders, to stay true to the course, and not be swayed by the temptation to quit, they consecrated their entire lives to prayer and the spiritual life.

To change our world, we must do no less.

With you along the journey,
St. Frances of Rome

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chapter 19

Time For a Change

“And I tell, you are Peter and on theis rock I will build My church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” Matt 16:18-19

The church will not be destroyed – not by us, by apathy, by this culture of death in which we currently live, not by anything Satan and his ilk can throw at her. Holy Mother Church, the bride of the risen Lord Jesus Christ will never be taken down. Comforting words in which we might remember ass refuge.

Change, however, isn’t explicitly mentioned here by Jesus; and times are different now in the year 2010. Science, technology, the forces that drive modern society have expanded influence. I can work my way through calculus if I wish as a high school student and I can use global positioning system to locate my teenage daughter by accessing the cell signal of her phone. The old “world is flat vs. the world is round” argument had not even been considered in the 30’s a.d. So it’s not a stretch to imagine that the living church must move forward into present time and address the issues of the present age.

The church must change, must grow forward, not for the sake of change itself but for the sake of Mother Church. Truth is unchanging. How the church brings the Truth to the world must change in response to what the people bring to the table. Birth control pills were not exactly an issue in the time of Christ or even the early church.

Are we willing to change? Well that depends. Mr. Kelly asks a few insightful questions.

Why? Why should we grow and change? The answer to this question is a second question, “Where are the young people ( 20 -30’s) in our somewhat empty churches on Sunday/” If change and growth is needed, where do we start without loosing sight of the fullness of Truth that is the Catholic Church?

Mr. Kelly states clearly what he feels are the headers in this newsflash.:

1. Education, education, education – we need to start education Catholics about their yearning for happiness.

2. Discipline – we need to educate Catholics about the beauty of discipline and obedience. Counter-intuitive as it is, discipline and obedience in frredom embodied.

3. Practicalities – we are happiest when we allow the truth of the Gospel to direct our actions and choices.

4. Rediscover spirituality

5. Articulate the relevance of Catholicism– the answers the Catholic Church presents in response to the pertinent questions of our present age (i.e. euthanasia, embryonic stem cell work, cloning etc.)

6. Participate in the Mission of the Church

7. Become prayerful people

8. Inspire people to imitate Christ because He is Truth and Love Embodied.

Mr Kelly asks us to focus on two areas: Education and Evangelization. Mr. Kelly explains clearly how the Catholic Educational System is a sleeping giant. If we an arouse it from slumber, the power it can wield would be magnificent and all the more so because its rightful purpose is to glorify God. If we want to win a war, we must know that we are at war, who the enemies, and what weapons do we need to employ. Our Enemy is Ignorance and weapons are the centuries of collective genius that created the vast body of wisdom we know as catholic theology. How did we become so proud and arrogant as to question the extra-ordinary men and women who have fleshed out Church teaching for us without so much as a sniff.

If we could restructure catholic education to reflect the “WHY the church teaches what she teaches …”, then we might rekindle a new understanding of this fullness of faith.

Evangelization is the other side of the coin for Mr. Kelly. Evangelization is to be both passive (prayer) and active (stepping out into the neighborhood and bringing the Gospel to people). In a nutshell:

1. Nuture friendships – the original model of evangelization.

2. Pray for the persons we are trying to reach with the Gospel. (1 month)

3. Do fun, non-church things and eventually get to the point when you can “Tell your story” – once a friendship is founded. (3 months)

4. Invite friends to outreach events at the church – blessing of the animals, church suppers etc.

5. If the interest is there, go to Mass with the friend.

This chapter has so much more within its pages. It’s a great read if you dare!


Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chapter 18

The Rosary--most mysterious of Catholic devotions. Protestants who want to argue that we over-value Mary and diminish Christ will just do a simple tally of the prayers in the rosary. The Decades alone favor prayer to Mary 10 to 1.....

Slowly I came to realize that I could--and should--ask Mary to pray with me,just as I would ask any of my friends in the here and now. Learning to trust the acquired wisdom of the Church can be difficult when, as Kelly says, it is so simple and so direct and so "old fashioned." But the rosary--and the faith it helps develop--has helped many a Saint in times of trouble. Simple the rosary may be--but it is also powerful. Catholics today would find great benefit in embracing it again as their families did in the past, in an act of simple, clear, devotion. After all, does not Christ honor such simple and direct faith? And did He not give His mother to us? What is more natural than a child--even an older one l with grown children of his own--wanting to talk to his mother?

Even without a great deal of aversion to the rosary--and an instinctive attraction to it (something restful about those beads...), I found it hard to embrace the practice It somehow seemed like "putting on airs." Praying the rosary is, after all, elective. No need to get too Catholic about all this.....

But there is. It's just not possible, in my opinion, to fully understand the Christian faith, and enter into its practice in the Catholic Church without coming to grips with the importance and relevance of Mary. I found myself finding Mary everywhere I turned as I read more and more about my newfound faith, and whenever I found her, she pointed squarely to Jesus.

It ought not be a great surprise. God chose Mary to bring forth His son and to present Him to the world. Why on earth would that role stop?

It was interesting to me to read the Marian litany and realize all the titles that are given Mary (and that Protestants object to) make sense when you see her in relationship to Christ. (see:

Mother of God--well, mother of Christ who is God, so--yes. Mother of Good Counsel? Christ is the definitive Good Counsel, she is His mother, so--yes. Mother of Divine Grace? Well, Christ is Divine Grace, so ---yes. Morning Star (which points us to our destination); Ark of the Covenant (which contained the tablets of the Law, the Manna from the desert and the priestly rod of Aaron--all foreshadowing Christ); Mother most Amiable (who said yes to god)...the list goes on and on, each one revealing a little more about Mary and thus a little more about us and our relationship to her Son.

So, I undertook to learn the rosary. It wasn't easy, and I really came to realize how much of myself prayer is intended to involve: my physical being, in voice and beads, and my mind at all levels, in trying to remember unfamiliar words and mysteries, meditate on them and still make intercessions. Had it not been for the gift of a CD, I'd never have made it.

I persevered. I came to love the devotion and the time with my mother and His, in which we just--talk. Like mother and daughter. Sometimes like two mothers. Sometimes like sisters. But always knowing that she will listen, and take my poor words, tidy them up, and as she did in Cana, simply present them to Him in expectation that He will do what is needed. And I hear her say likewise to me, "Do whatever He tells you."

In public recitation, it's given that only the traditional 20 mysteries are used. But I have found that I can meditate on the Gospel in different ways, using Mary's eyes, depending on my need. I have a list of miracles for the days when I am feeling disconnected from the power of God. A list of healings when praying for sick friends. A list of temptations for those days that threaten to derail me. A list of incidents with St. Peter when I am overwhelmed by my own ineptitude. A list that reminds me of the call to holiness, when I lose sight of my center. I pray mostly in English but have learned to pray in Latin and Spanish as well, finding that the ease of the foreign words on my tongue helps remind me of the mystery of God and frees me to meditate without the words getting in the way. And some days, I just remember the few recorded words of Mary and like her, ponder it all in my heart.

When I came into the Church, I could not imagine my life with the rosary, so foreign it seemed. Now, I cannot imagine my life without it, so much a part of my days it has become

In His Service, and under Mary's loving gaze---Martha.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chapter 17 Spiritual Reading

The basic premise of this chapter is that how we live is greatly influenced by what we read. With that said, it is imperative that we evaluate what we read and what we don't read. Are reading the newspaper, various magazines, novels etc. helping us to become who God wants us to become? To some degree, we can say we become what we read.

I would submit that we are also greatly influenced by: mindless TV shows, sporting events, recordings of various types and movies that we think will make us happy. Our experience is that the happiness that these activities may bring, it is short-lived. We need to incorporate Spiritual Reading in our lives that will "ignite the soul"!

There are many wonderful sources of spiritual reading materials and Holy Scripture, as the author points out, should be at the top of our list. The New Testament is a wonderful source of guidance that I believe has affected my life in a most positive way. There are many books and publications about the lives of the saints which are an excellent source of spiritual education and inspiration. In my own life I was continually edified and inspired by spiritual tapes that were given to me, by a very close friend, at a time in my life when I desperately needed help. I played those tapes in my car to and from work. That gift, most certainly, was part of God's plan - the "really Big Picture".

The author suggests that we should find 15 minutes each day to do some spiritual reading. We can't disagree with that goal. Who cannot find 15 minutes of down time each day to read spiritual material if we are really honest with ourselves?


Monday, September 20, 2010

chapter 16: Fasting

Chapter Sixteen


OK, so let’s think about this in a stepwise fashion. If it’s true that man cannot serve two masters (as evidenced in the Gospel this past Sunday), then it follows that there is no gray area in belief. I either believe or I don’t believe in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I either choose to do God’s will or I do not. If I choose to believe in God, then every action and choice I make either brings me closer to him or further away. Again, there is no gray area here. So my spiritual life, then, is subject to incremental movement both closer to and further away from God - a direct result of every choice and action I take.

Spiritual growth is dynamic. It either is on the increase or the decrease. There is no stagnation or steady state in spiritual development. The choices I make either strengthen my spiritual growth or stunt it. There are no neutral positions.

And when we choose to sin, the effect on our soul is lasting – even after we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We must engage in penance of some sort to reverse the effects of sin on our souls. While prayer is essential, sometimes something more is needed.

A most simple and potent vitamin or supplement that we can employ in the growing and strengthening of our spiritual life is the practice of fasting. Fasting helps restore the soul to its intended beauty and resist the tendency toward sinful motives or actions. It can even decrease our appetite for sin in the future. If there is a question in my life --- fast and ask God to guide me. He will. If I have a persistent sin, a habitual sin, one that I know of that I cannot shake or root out of my life ---- fast, prayerfully fast. With humility and trembling, fast. Jesus, Himself, explained that some demons can only be cast out with prayer and fasting. “Fasting is radically counter-cultural, but so is true Christianity.”

As with prayer and almsgiving, fasting is a spiritual exercise. It is done with humility, in secret, with the assurance that God will discern our true poverty and provide all that we need.

As a spiritual exercise, fasting tames the body so that the soul may reign. Prayer alone cannot achieve this nor can an act of human will or works of charity. This taming of the flesh is a task for fasting (and other acts of penance). In a perfect world, fasting and other penance would be part of everyday life. It would be in the smallest of things done with great love. It would not be in anything performed out of a ritualistic superstition or out of legalistic motives. Fasting is something nobody notices. It’s a habit in that it becomes an attitude, a way of daily life. I love coffee, so I with intent switch to tea every once in a while. I don’t enjoy getting caught on the phone with a neighbor, but I make a point of calling her when I’m sitting in carpool line at school. My grandmother is no longer in her right mind but I go and visit her and hold her hand or brush her hair even though I don’t really have the time. You get it. And if things are in crisis mode, I don’t eat from sun-up to sun-down. Every time I begin to stress and worry about said crisis, I feel the hunger in my stomach and I’m reminded to pray.

Fasting – it’s the new “Ensure” for the soul.

In His Grip,

Francis of A