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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chapter 15 The Bible

There were a lot of things that disturbed my faith and led me home to Rome. Birth Control, Divorce, Authority, Apostolic Succession, and the Bible. I can not believe I was a protestant for 45 years and never asked my self “Where did the Bible come from?” (page 204). What a shock to learn that the Catholic didn’t add books to the Bible.

I am reminded of the old preacher who said he believed every word of the Bible from Genesis to the book of maps. But what about the table of contents? Where did the table of contents come from? Kelly gives us some great ammo in pages 206-208. My personal favorite is the whole Sola-scriptura (The Bible alone). This is self refuting as it is not found in the Bible. 1st Timothy 3:15 say the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The Church gave us the Bible (not the other way around). The Church has the sole right to interpret (page 208) Peter said that scripture is not given for private interpretation (2nd Peter 1:20) and even warned (3:16) ..hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to there own destruction”. So much for perspicuity. Who wants to be Pope? We have over 30,000 Christian Church that claim to teach the Bible alone. I mean how many views of Church Government, Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, or views are there. Can they all be right? Remember “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Kelly touches on some great prophesies fulfilled by Jesus (pages 210) Here are some more:


OT Prophecy

NT Fulfillment

As the Son of God

Ps 2:7

Lu 1:32,35

As the seed of the woman

Ge 3:15

Ga 4:4

As the seed of Abraham

Ge 17:7 22:18

Ga 3:16

As the seed of Isaac

Ge 21:12

Heb 11:17-19

As the seed of David

Ps 132:11 Jer 23:5

Ac 13:23 Ro 1:3

His coming at a set time

Ge 49:10 Da 9:24,25

Lu 2:1

His being born of a virgin

Isa 7:14

Mt 1:22,23 Lu 2:7

His being called Immanuel

Isa 7:14

Mt 1:22,23

His being born in Bethlehem of Judea

Mic 5:2

Mt 2:1 Lu 2:4-6

Great persons coming to adore him

Ps 72:10

Mt 2:1-11

The slaying of the children of Bethlehem

Jer 31:15

Mt 2:16-18

His being called out of Egypt

Ho 11:1

Mt 2:15

His being preceded by John the Baptist

Isa 40:3 Mal 3:1

Mt 3:1,3 Lu 1:17

His being anointed with the Spirit

Ps 45:7 Isa 11:2 61:1

Mt 3:16 Joh 3:34 Ac 10:38

His being a Prophet like to Moses

De 18:15-18

Ac 3:20-22

His being a Priest after the order of Melchizedek

Ps 110:4

Heb 5:5,6

His entering on his public ministry

Isa 61:1,2

Lu 4:16-21,43

His ministry commencing in Galilee

Isa 9:1,2

Mt 4:12-16,23

His entering publicly into Jerusalem

Zec 9:9

Mt 21:1-5

His coming into the temple

Hag 2:7,9 Mal 3:1

Mt 21:12 Lu 2:27-32 Joh 2:13-16

His poverty

Isa 53:2

Mr 6:3 Lu 9:58

His meekness and want of ostentatious

Isa 42:2

Mt 12:15,16,19

His tenderness and compassion

Isa 40:11 42:3

Mt 12:15,20 Heb 4:15

His being without guile

Isa 53:9

1Pe 2:22

His zeal

Ps 69:9

Joh 2:17

His preaching by parables

Ps 78:2

Mt 13:34,35

His working miracles

Isa 35:5,6

Mt 11:4-6 Joh 11:47

His bearing reproach

Ps 22:6 69:7,9,20

Ro 15:3

His being rejected by his brethren

Ps 69:8 Isa 63:3

Joh 1:11 7:3

His being a stone of stumbling to the Jews

Isa 8:14

Ro 9:32 1Pe 2:8

His being hated by the Jews

Ps 69:4 Isa 49:7

Joh 15:24,25

His being rejected by the Jewish rulers

Ps 118:22

Mt 21:42 Joh 7:48

That the Jews and Gentiles should combine against Him

Ps 2:1,2

Lu 23:12 Ac 4:27

His being betrayed by a friend

Ps 41:9 55:12-14

Joh 13:18,21

His disciples forsaking him

Zec 13:7

Mt 26:31,56

His being sold for thirty pieces silver

Zec 11:12

Mt 26:15

His price being given for the potter's field

Zec 11:13

Mt 27:7

The intensity of his sufferings

Ps 22:14,15

Lu 22:42,44

His sufferings being for others

Isa 53:4-6,12 Da 9:26

Mt 20:28

His patience and silence under suffering

Isa 53:7

Mt 26:63 27:12-14

His being smitten on the cheek

Mic 5:1

Mt 27:30

His visage being marred

Isa 52:14 53:3

Joh 19:5

His being spit on and scourged

Isa 50:6

Mr 14:65 Joh 19:1

His hands and feet being nailed to the cross

Ps 22:16

Joh 19:18 20:25

His being forsaken by God

Ps 22:1

Mt 27:46

His being mocked

Ps 22:7,8

Mt 27:39-44

Gall and vinegar being given him to drink

Ps 69:21

Mt 27:34

His garments being parted, and lots cast for his vesture

Ps 22:18

Mt 27:35

His being numbered with the transgressors

Isa 53:12

Mr 15:28

His intercession for His murderers

Isa 53:12

Lu 23:34

His Death

Isa 53:12

Mt 27:50

That a bone of him should not be broken

Ex 12:46 Ps 34:20

Joh 19:33,36

His being pierced

Zec 12:10

Joh 19:34,37

His being buried with the rich

Isa 53:9

Mt 27:57-60

His flesh not seeing corruption

Ps 16:10

Ac 2:31

His resurrection

Ps 16:10 Isa 26:19

Lu 24:6,31,34

His ascension

Ps 68:18

Lu 24:51 Ac 1:9

His sitting on the right hand of God

Ps 110:1

Heb 1:3

His exercising the priestly office in heaven

Zec 6:13

Ro 8:34

His being the chief corner-stone of the Church

Isa 28:16

1Pe 2:6,7

His being King in Zion

Ps 2:6

Lu 1:32 Joh 18:33-37

The conversion of the Gentiles to him

Isa 11:10 42:1

Mt 1:17,21 Joh 10:16 Ac 10:45,47

His righteous government

Ps 45:6,7

Joh 5:30 Re 19:11

His universal dominion

Ps 72:8 Da 7:14

Php 2:9,11

The perpetuity of his kingdom

Isa 9:7 Da 7:14

Lu 1:32,33

Kelly makes some great points about the power of the Word (pg 211). If we actually truly believed some of these points we would be changed. One of my favorite is Hebrews 4:12For the word of God is alive, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart´

Yes the world of God is alive and breathing! The Word (Logos) is God himself (Jn1, Heb 1:1-3).

In the section “Stories” Kelly reminds us of the purpose of the written word which reminds me of 1st Cor 10:6&11 Now these things were done in a figure of us…Now all of these things happen to them in figure: and they are written for our correction. Kelly refer to this as looking into a mirror and seeing our self. James says it best in James 1 But prove your selves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

On page 218 Kelly states “I often hear his call in the moments of the day. I find myself wandering from the path, and he calls to me, “Where are you” I pray you too can learn to hear his gentle voice in the circumstances of your daily life” One of the ways God speaks to us is through his word. The Psalmist said “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I may not sin against thee” God’s challenge to us is “Let not this book of the law depart from thy mouth: but thou shall meditate on it day and night, that thou may observe and do all the things that are written in it: then shall thou direct thy ways and understand it” Josh 1:8

Well I won’t comment on the “Dad, if you really love me story.. other then my son said it made no sense and my wife thought it could be a parable about the pearl of great price.

I would like to share one more of my favorite verses. It’s a 3:16 verse, Can you guess what it is?

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2nd Tim)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chapter 14 - The Mass

I had never attended mass before November 2009. My first experience was with my dear friend who showed me the way "home to Rome". I didn't really understand what was going on most of the time, but I was surprised by the things I did know -- the Apostle's creed, the Our Father, and some of the "old-time hymns" that cross denominational barriers. I had been studying some of the Jewish liturgy and it was intriguing to me to find out just how many of the Catholic rites are rooted in Judaism. It seemed like the deeper I dug in, the more layers I found, each more beautiful than the last.

As a convert, I think it is easier for me to have a deep appreciation for the mass than a cradle Catholic. It's kind of like the difference between being born in America and coming here from an oppressed or impoverished country. We truly take our freedoms and our wealth as a nation for granted as opposed to a refugee from Haiti or China who finds New York City the most amazing and magical place, appreciate freedom and liberty for what they truly are, and understand that with hard work and perseverance
anything is possible in this country.

Mr. Kelly laments the cries often heard about church (and protestants say the same things). Here are some of his and some that I have heard myself over the years (modified to fit the current audience, of course): The service is too long. I never get anything out of the homily. It's too boring. The songs are too old. The songs are too new. They need more instruments. They should go back to organ music. The mass form is too dreary. The mass form is too contemporary. The priest hurt my feelings. The priest is too conservative. The priest is too liberal. The people there are not friendly. The people there are too friendly (bunch of fakers).

Or, as Mr. Kelly pointed out... perhaps most church-goers have missed the point altogether. The mass is not about me or you or the priest or the music, it's about our Savior, and being in His presence is NEVER a waste of time. For me, believing in the Real Presence in the Eucharist has been life changing. I am filled with awe and wonder every time the priest elevates the host and I hear the bells ring. I hear the words "This is the New Covenant in My blood" and my heart stirs within me knowing that I am finally part of that covenant! There have been times I wish I could prostrate myself before the host (I believe that may be a little too "charismatic" for my current parish; however, I did get that opportunity at Adoration once and it was
amazing). Sometimes I think "I can't believe I believe Jesus becomes bread and wine!", but like another convert I know, I believe He became dust, so is it really that far of a stretch?

I think sometimes the excitement of new converts or returning Catholics who have fallen away is actually offensive to some (or maybe it's actually convicting?). It's as if they are thinking, "Yeah, they're all excited now, but just wait, in a year or two, they'll be dead like me." I encountered this attitude myself as a new convert. So many times when talking about ideas or passions, I heard things like, "No one around here would be interested in doing something that." or "People around here are just too busy to take on one more thing." or "You can try, but I don't think you'll get any response." or "We used to do that, but we don't anymore, there just wasn't any interest."

So negative. So apathetic. So boring. So defeated. Just how our enemy likes us to be. Ouch.

So how
does one stay excited about going to mass?

My husband and I have been married almost 15 years. There are days when married life is not very exciting and days when it is. I believe that staying in love with the Eucharist is the same as staying in love with your spouse. I could be married to my husband for 100 years and still not delve all the depths of his thoughts or emotions, and yet even today, I can finish his sentences for him because I know him intimately (and vice versa). The subtle nuances and meanings behind every prayer, every gesture, every scripture in the mass could take a lifetime to explore, and yet, we could go to a foreign country and still worship with our brothers and sisters because we know the mass intimately. It takes effort, it takes commitment, and it takes time. Instant gratification is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, no matter how much we wish it was.

I had read, some years back, about how, in the most intimate relationship between a husband and wife, the "seed" from the man is eventually absorbed into the bones of the woman through her uterus, thus providing her with nutrients she needs to prevent bone loss, releasing certain hormones to combat depression, and even preventing cancer... and in turn, she ends up absorbing his pieces of his DNA... literally becoming
"bone of [his] bone and flesh of [his] flesh". (Ever wondered why happy old couples look so much alike?) You may be wondering, "What has that got to do with the mass?" Well, consider this... by our belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and by taking our Savior's flesh and blood intimately into our body where it is absorbed and metabolized, in like fashion, we too can transform quite literally in His likeness by absorbing His DNA every week.

Let that sink in a minute.

If Christ can quite literally become a part of you through the intimacy of the Eucharist, what things in your life have the power to prevent you from moving heaven and earth to get to mass and your Savior every week? Would you treat being with your spouse with the attitude as you approach being at the mass? Would you come to the marriage bed with the same attitude as you have when coming to mass?

To hear complaining about not getting anything out of mass reminds me of what my grandmother used to say at her heavy-laden dinner table, "If you don't get enough to eat, it's your own fault!" We receive Jesus in the flesh at every mass!! How can we
NOT get something out of it!

As Mr. Kelly says, the mass is a gift... we should embrace it with gusto. So, what's REALLY keeping you from being excited about the mass and being intimately connected your Savior?

I will leave you with some ponderings that touch on some of the other issues Mr. Kelly takes to task in this chapter:

  • Funny how $20 looks so big when we take it to church and so small when we take it to the store.
  • Funny how long an hour or two in church seems and how short those same 60 to 120 minutes are when spent playing golf, eating out at a fine restaurant, or watching a movie.
  • Funny how difficult it is to read a chapter in the Bible and how easy it is to read 500 pages of a best selling novel.
  • Funny how we believe what newspapers say but question what the Bible says.
  • Funny how we can't think of anything to say when we pray and don't have any difficulty thinking of things to talk about to a friend.
  • Funny how we need 2 or 3 weeks to fit a church event into our schedule, but can adjust it for a social event at the last minute.
    Funny, isn't it?


St. Frances of Rome

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chapter 13: Contemplation

In this chapter, Kelly explores his second pillar of Catholic spirituality: contemplation. It might have been entitled "Contemplation and Prayer," but I like the emphasis on contemplation (and quiet) as a starting point. "Be still and know that I am God" - Psalm 46. With reference to the Catholic aspect of this pillar, we have an especially rich tradition in this area, with the examples set by many saints, monastics and popes. (Pope John Paul II began each day at 0530 with over an hour of private prayer).
Kelly's first important theme in the chapter is "thought determines action." In order to live a "Christ-centered life" we have to put Christ and "the Good" in the center of our thoughts, as outlined by the quotation from Philippians. As these are not the typical things we're bombarded with each day in our culture, what can help us focus our thoughts? "The Classroom of Silence." I agree with Kelly that this silence is crucial to our spiritual life. He makes two promises: that in the silence we'll find God and ourselves. Importantly, though, he emphasizes that these discoveries will not be epiphanies. It will be a gradual process that takes discipline and work.
The problem of NOISE in our lives is so difficult, and it really does not allow us to hear the voice of God. I loved the quote from Screwtape - "we will make the whole universe a noise in the end." Our "inner noise" is as much a problem, though, as the external noise of our culture, and this is especially true for me. Much of the inner noise (duties, tasks, figuring out my responsibilities as a Catholic citizen in the political and cultural battles) has its importance, but must be regularly set aside for quiet listening to God.
Kelly suggests a starting point to try and do this - his "ten minutes a day."
(His CD "A Call To Joy" is the very entertaining story of his spiritual journey that started in this way.) I sort of do this at home each morning, but would like to do it as he suggests in a quiet church. I envision the big cathedral that's always open. What time does OLM open its doors in the AM? There is a chapel at Memorial Hospital that I may try. His comments on the role of Eucharistic Adoration are appreciated.
From this starting point, Kelly says that we can then begin to answer the big question of the mission that God has chosen for us, of finding our holy vocation for which we were created. He then talks of the problems of "action without prayer." Our works must have as their foundation the TRUTH of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, and seeing Christ in those around us. We keep this focus, and gain our strength, through constant prayer. "The measure of your life will be the measure of your prayer."
To close, I will quote from what my daughter's fourth grade class had to learn just this past week (she doesn't remember the author): "Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny."
- John Paul

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chapter 12 Lost Without a Plan

Now we're getting into the meat of the book. As a relativly new Catholic I admit that my protestant background influenced me into thinking that asking forgiveness from God, bypassing the priest seemed logical and acceptable. In order to grow closer to God it's necessary to examine and acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses. Confession as my good friend continues to tell me is one of the forgotten sacraments. It's not a sign of weakness but strength when we come to confession. The author likens regular confession to washing your car. (Mine's dirty) The less you wash your car the greater the tendency to let it become a wastebasket for trash. After a while you don't even notice that it is a mess.

We all are sinners. We all are lost without a plan. How can we change direction or become the "best version of myself"? Kelly suggests that "reconciliation is the perfect spiritual tool to re-ignite our passion for excellence in the spiritual life".


Chapter 12 The Beauty of Confession

The first time I heard Matthew speak on the Pillars of Catholic Spirituality, it surprised me that Confession was the first one. The more I think about it, the more I understand why.

Many doctrines and disciplines separate Catholics from Protestants in the practice of faith, but this one is huge. It’s a rare convert who doesn’t have a bit of anxiety about confessing sins to another living, breathing person, even when he sits in the place of Christ. It is a lot more comfortable simply to visit one’s sins in one’s own mind and ask forgiveness of a real but unseen Christ. I found when I went to confession for the first time that the very act of pronouncing my sins out loud, so I could hear my own voice accusing my own self, was powerful. Once said, there’s no escaping the reality of what I have done. Once said to another, there’s no way I can ever deny I did them.

But oh! The relief—the joy—when I first heard the words of absolution. To this day, I am anxious when I go to confession, and that feeling would be enough to keep me out of the confessional if it were all I experienced. But it isn’t. I unload my burdens and I hear them taken away. If the anxiety before confession might keep me away, the grace of the sacrament received, which is real and palpable, keeps me coming back.

Confession is the natural bookend to Communion, to receiving the Eucharistic Lord into our lives. In earlier times, the Church emphasized this in discipline and lines for confession were long every week. After Vatican II, when the discipline was left to the faithful in the pew, we succumbed to the “I’m OK-You’re OK” mood of the times and confession became the forgotten sacrament. I think it is time to reclaim our patrimony and enter fully into the graces that confession provides. If we, the faithful, begin to go to confession, great things will happen…. in us, and in our parishes.

Confession is so mysterious to a convert! I remember wishing I could tag along and watch someone else go through it so I would know what to do. That, of course, is impossible, just as it will be impossible for me to watch anyone go through the particular judgment before I go through it myself.

One wise confessor once told me that confession should be entered joyfully (not happily—that is something different) because it is an opportunity to rehearse the time we will stand before Christ without the priest as intermediary. Modern man tends to forget—the last things are real: death, judgment, heaven and hell. And because they are, Christ instituted the sacrament of reconciliation to help us through by preparing us on earth, and giving us the grace to repent, return, revive and move closer to the person God intends us to be by seeing where we have fallen short and asking help in renewing our lives.

Most of us go to confession too infrequently—certainly I do, and it’s often because I don’t have a good sense of the ways in which I am out of step with God’s will in my life. Not having a real sense of where I fall short has a way of making confession difficult…

It took me a while to develop the habit of regular examination of conscience. Some of the great saints performed this twice a day—I am lucky to get to it twice a week. But when I do, it recollects me and focuses me on where I can grow in my relationship with God. Far from making me a neurotic mess, it has begun to allow me to see clearly where God is still working on my life.

Over the years, I’ve encountered a few tips about confession, which I will share:

(1) Understand that the seriousness of the sin is not in what we do, it is in Whom we offend. There’s a real tendency to rationalize our common sins as not significant (“God won’t mind if I sleep in and miss mass just this one Sunday…”), but the reality is—that’s often what it is. Rationalization. Be clear minded, and go to confession when you need to. Keep this in mind—all of the most recent popes have gone to confession at least every other week…….we under-utilize this powerful sacrament to change our lives. Many modern advisors (Kelly included) suggest that monthly confession is something of a minimum. (For the record, I am not there yet…)

(2) Understand that without involvement of the will, there is no sin. Not everything we do that is wrong is a sin….sometimes we just “blow it” in good faith. God helps with both, of course, but the essence of sin is setting our will against God’s.

(3) Don’t rationalize and don’t ramble. It’s enough to name my sins without explaining how or why I was involved in them. Most of the time, that’s rationalization again. It’s an amazingly liberating (though very difficult) thing to simply state “I accuse myself of blasphemy…or anger against my husband…or theft…or lying…” without trying to make it look better than it is….God knows the details; He has the videotape.

(4) Don’t turn confession into a counseling session. Confess sins, listen to the priest’s counsel, make a good act of contrition (memorize one) receive absolution and leave to do the prescribed penance as promptly and devoutly as possible. Sometimes the discipline of listening to counsel without giving in to the urge to comment is not only good discipline, it is spiritual growth.

(5) Consider developing a relationship with a regular confessor. That can help address the areas that chronically affect spiritual life. Different confessors have different styles and I have found it’s ok to find someone whose style works well with my own. And when I encounter one of those rare priests who are curt or abrasive or unsympathetic (ask any cradle about tough confessors—there are stories!), I offer a prayer for him, do my penance and I do NOT let the experience keep me away from Christ in the confessional. I try to remain centered on meeting Christ, not on the accidentals of the experience…

(6) Take advantage of travel. Confessing to a priest I will never encounter again is sometimes easier on the nerves. It also provides an opportunity to add a sacred moment to travels. I also take advantage of travel to go to mass in different parishes, Sundays and sometimes during the week, a practice that has much enhanced my appreciation of the mass. For the record, it’s made me both more tolerant of different styles of worship and more appreciative of the great diversity of my Church.

(7) Before confession, I recollect myself before the Blessed Sacrament. I go early and just sit with Jesus for a while. When I examine my conscience before the Lord, I find He gently leads me where I need to go. When I ask God to reveal to me my sins, He does, and then He helps me turn away from them. Not instantly, but with time and with work…

(8) Especially if you have a regular confessor, consider the particular examination of conscience of St. Ignaitus. This emphasizes the life-changing potential of confession, the metanoia, formation of a new mind that should be the result of the sacrament. Because it focuses on the things that separate one from God, rather than a juridical “ticking off” of sins, it is a powerful, powerful practice.

(9) Make confession a family affair. Nothing helps children understand the importance of confession more than seeing their parents go. And the same is true between husband and wife.

In His Service--Martha

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter 11: Who will be next

Chapter 11

Who Will Be Next?

Chapter Eleven contains a particularly challenging essay on the subject of who gets chosen next by God the Creator of the Universe to be used in His Plan for our fallen world.
It is bothersome because it implies that any of us might be chosen for His work in this fallen culture of death we live in. It presupposes that any one of us might be fingered to be sacrificed up, martyred, or in some way at the very least inconvenienced in carrying out His will—Heaven forbid it be me or someone I love. Could be costly. Could be dirty. Could be painful. How could it possibly be a joy?
But if not me, then who? If not my child, then whose children? Mr. Kelly offers up the idea that whatever is going to happen, it will happen with or without us. It is clear from Scripture that God wishes His plan to unfold WITH us, our hearts, our minds, our wills. But as free will denotes, that is our choice.
So, Mr. Kelly wonders, what are we willing to give our life for? What is it that makes us get out of bed each morning and begin a new day? What is it that we are willing to define our lives by?
We have been given finite time on this beautiful earth. What are we going to do with it? When our life is over, what regrets will we hold? Are our lives worth giving over to some greater cause—some cause that is bigger than any one of us? We are fast approaching the ninth anniversary of September 11th, and I defy any one to remember that day. I defy you to remember the men and women on American Flight #486 without thinking that, given the same situation, we would have the courage and virtue necessary to make the same choices those brave and honorable people made.
We must rise to the occasion whenever possible and the occasion is NOW. We are at a turning point in human history. The modern western culture is declining. We must rise up ourselves to shepherd in a new era. Where do we start?
We must embrace our Catholic Christianity. We must not exist within a lifeless set of rules and regulations. Catholicism is a vibrant way of life. To be truly Catholic, we are called first to holiness and second to express our joy and hopes by both example and stories. We must become story-tellers. We must tell the stories of our lives, our choices and the lives and choices of our families. We must tell how we love. We must tell how choose to live in love. We must tell the stories of our saints. We must tell how even in adversity we do not fear because the Lord God Creator of the Universe is the source of our life, our love, our author who writes our stories with in His love for the Son.

In His grip,
F of A

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chapter 10 Friends

Friendship… The first paragraph on Chapter 10 tells the story about a father who says to his son “if you find five true friends in your lifetime, you will have lived a life infinitely blessed”. Well, I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’ve been infinitely blessed.
The message on this chapter is of great importance. Earlier we discussed the concept of holiness: be all you can be. Well, it is safe to say that we can’t be all we can be if we don’t have the support system we need around us. Friends are just that… “A true friend brings the best out of her friends”. True friends “challenge us to become all we can be and encourage us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves.”
Now, where can we find those friends? I’ve been lucky enough to find them throughout my life. They are not many, but they are the kind who inspire me to become a better person every day. However, sometimes those friends are not here with us anymore. Saints and even ordinary (or should I say extraordinary) people like Mother Teresa or Francis of Assisi can be our friends. They have had and continue to have the ability to inspire people to become better-versions-of-themselves. We can learn from them, imitate them in their actions, and hope to be as humble as they were and to be able to find our purpose in life.
Let’s not forget though that we need to foster our spirit. We need to always ask ourselves “what it will take for me to become the better person I can be?” Let’s reflect every day about how can we imitate our friends and strive for holiness. Other people has been able to do it, why can’t we?


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chapter 9 Something Concrete

So what do we find here in Chapter 9? A very firm and concrete suggestion as to what we can do to further our progress along the path to Holiness. We can look dispassionately and objectively at our habits. We are challenged on page 130 to do so, and to separate them in to those that help us and those that hinder us. All of our habits are, in actuality, taking us down the path to becoming the best version of ourselves (Holiness) or down the opposite path away from God and away from what we were created to be.

What do you think of when you hear or see the word “concrete?” I think of something firm and solid, something that in this context I can hang my hat on and rely upon as true. But thinking a little deeper, it is also something that can be chopped up and removed. With enough effort it can be removed at will and replaced with something else. It is something that started out in a totally different state of being, composed of multiple elements and concrete is almost, but not quite, infinitely moldable in to most anything. Even boats have been made of concrete!

And so it is with our habits. How many of you actually took the time to “Take a few minutes right now. Put this book down. Find a piece of paper and write down a list of your habits. Think about it.”? It is a challenge, and a concrete way for us to “do something” in response to this book instead of simply reading and thinking, “well, isn’t that neat” or “I think that is true (or false?)” or simply reacting on an emotional level to what Kelly is saying in the book.

I must confess that had I not been charged with putting together the blog post on this particular chapter I would likely have read that and said to myself “well, that sounds like a good idea, I will get to it someday….” and kept reading! But I did not keep reading. I took his suggestion and put the book down, got out a pen and paper and went to work. And it was WORK, believe me! I was reminded of preparing an examination of conscience before the sacrament of Confession.

First I had to decide what a habit is, then how to organize them and then name them individually and then decide in which direction that particular habit took me. The last part was the easiest by far. I say all of this not to discourage, but to encourage you to do this for yourself in your own particular way. What worked for me will not necessarily work for you! (His suggestion to lump them in to daily, weekly and monthly was helpful though. It helps you to get a running start.) But DO attempt to get this done as soon as you possibly can, or you will never do it!

So what does this have to do with concrete? As I looked at my habits I found some interesting things. Mainly, since becoming Catholic my habits have changed! For the better! Old habits die hard, and are, like concrete, hard to remove. But they can be changed and refashioned, just like new concrete, with fresh materials in to something more beautiful, helpful and productive than what was there before! When I looked critically at my habits, I discovered that since becoming Catholic my very state of being has changed! I am working with a different, fresh set of raw materials in the Grace that comes to me through the teachings and sacraments of the Church. When I choose to cooperate with this fully, stony hard habits are transformed and molded in to something that will bear fruit in God’s Kingdom. That is an exciting prospect.

Am I therefore, by my own efforts, transformed in the best version of myself here and now? Oh my, NO. This has shown me two things. One is that, on balance, I find that I have made some minimal progress. The other is a clearer version of just how far I still have to go on this journey! I thank God that I have the entire community of the Catholic Church to uphold and support me in this journey toward Holiness.

I will close here….this has run on long enough. I will add in the comment section some specific discoveries that I made about my own personal habits, both good and bad and I hope that you will feel comfortable enough to do the same!