73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God 26

This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous posts are below and in the archives to the right. This is the 26th step:

(26) Not to forsake charity.

There are times when our hearts can grow cold and we can close ourselves off from either accepting love or giving it. Often this is because of some evil that we have either had done to us or have experienced in some way.

No matter how bad it gets, St. Benedict here wisely counsels us to never forsake charity–love.

When our hearts grow cold, we need to open the door to the Lord’s love and ask him to burn away anything that keeps us from being vessels of his charity both to ourselves and to others. It is His Love that conquers all and it ultimately is His Love that heals all wounds.

If we feel at anytime that we really do not feel like being loved or loving–we need to examine ourselves and to see what has crept into our lives and is taking the place of God. A coldness of heart is always an indication that we have put something else in God’s place in our lives.

“Not to forsake charity” applies in all circumstances in life. Charity as a translation for caritas, which can also be translated “love”, is a good way to remind us that love is always requires “giving.” When we do not wish to give, it is often because we feel we have nothing to give. But if we allow ourselves to be filled with God’s love, we will always have more than enough.

One need only think of a Mother Teresa, frail and old, walking and greeting all that cross her path. Or a Pope John Paul II bent over with age, ignoring no one. It is not physical strength that allows a person to act in this manner but Divine Love.

It is available to you, in the same way as it is available to them.

Do not forsake this great gift that God wishes to give you, nor to share it with all who cross your path this day.

Keeping the “Mass” in Christmas

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The How-To Book of the Mass: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You
(Feel free to publish this in your bulletins or blogs with my by-line)

Driving around recently, I’ve seen a number of bumper stickers reminding me to keep “Christ” in Christmas—a much needed message! A recent search through Christmas cards that I conducted on shopping trip, found that out of hundreds of choices I could find only one that had an image of the birth of Jesus and it was labeled a “traditional” card, as if it were no longer relevant.

But I wonder how many of us, who do keep “Christ” in Christmas—neglect to keep the “mass” as part of our celebration. I fear, that if we do so, we are like the multitude who on that first Christmas missed the great gift that God had given to the world.

I’d invite you to turn to the Bible with me.

The Gospel of Luke begins (Luke 1,2) and ends (Luke 24:3) with a “vision of angels.” First there is the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to Zechariah and Mary. When Mary later visits her relatives, Zechariah and Elizabeth, she proclaims that God “has shown the might of his arm dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty,”(Luke 1:51-53) Zechariah at the birth of John prophesies “by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78,79).

There is a common theme hinted at in both of these canticles, the lowly understand a message that those in power totally miss, hunger is filled, and those who sit in darkness are given light. These precede another vision of angels;  in Luke 2: 8 immediately following the birth of Jesus we read about shepherds keeping “night watch” over their flocks, a people literally “sitting in darkness” have an experience of light: “the glory of the lord shone around them.”.

What is the message given to the shepherds?  ” “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;  for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2: 10-12).

We may be overly familiar with this Christmas story to notice what it might be telling us. What exactly is a sign? It is not an end in and of itself but rather points to a greater reality. What is the sign the shepherds are told they will witness? They are told that they will find an “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” A manger is a feeding box for animals. We are told that it is a “sign”, what they witness points to something beyond the experience of the birth of Christ to something else.

When the angels leave, the shepherds say, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” The key phrase here is “Bethlehem” which literally means “house of bread”. “Let us go to the House of Bread to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

All of this is how the Gospel of Luke begins, but how does it end? Here the Risen Christ has joined two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They do not recognize him and here they tell him about a “vision of angels” that the women who came to the tomb have reported to them. In response to this He opens the Scriptures to them. They invite Him to stay with them. He takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, gives it to them, and then physically vanishes from their site. Luke tells us quite blatantly, for the really dense reader, that they recognized Him in the “breaking of the bread”.

Where are we to find Jesus this day? In the bread that is broken in the Eucharist! So at Mass we sing the Gloria, the message of the angels. It is both a reminder and an invitation for us to encounter the Lord here not only on Christmas day, but we have the opportunity to receive Him everyday!

So when you wish each other a Merry Christ Mass this year—why not also invite your family and friends to do what the angels  told the shepherds to do, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Some Seed Fell… is a column of the Office of the New Evangelization and Stewardship, by the director of the office, Michael Dubruiel

We Have Seen His Star

One hears much talk these days about “orientation” an ancient term in Christianity. The early Church Fathers talked about facing the “orient,” i.e. the East (symbolic of Paradise Lost and where the returning Lord might be sought), as a symbolic way of turning toward the Lord whenever Christians prayed.

Today we are apt to hear the word “orientation” used to reference someone’s sexual preference, as though this life is all about sex. 

It is a sobering thought during this Season of Advent to reflect on what our life is directed toward—as an indication, I suppose, of what it is that we place all of our hope, i.e. what we think can save us and bring us happiness both in this life and in the life to come.

Children, mine at least, seem oriented toward some toy that promises to bring endless hours of happiness. Of course, the pile of past toy gifts remains untouched and are apt candidates for Rudolph’s “Island of Toy Misfits.”

We adults can be a little more sophisticated in what we think will bring us happiness, but in many ways we still are children—falling for the same tricks of thinking that more wealth or fame are all that lie in the way of us experiencing eternal bliss. The sad tales of those who have wealth and fame that often make up the nightly news and gossip tabloids never seem to convince the most rational of us, that this obviously isn’t any more the solution to our quest than the perfect “toy” was back in our infancy.

Where and who can we turn to? Or in the words of Saint Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) 

The Psalmist captured this cry, something echoed in the Night Prayer of the Church every Saturday: “’What can bring us happiness?’ many say. Let your light shine on us, O Lord.” (Psalm 4:6-7, Grail)

The Magi, in the Gospel of Matthew, mysterious in many ways, appear in Jerusalem claiming:  “we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) 

It is time to re-orient ourselves, to observe his star in the East, and set out to worship Him.

 

Some Seed Fell… is a column of the Office of the New Evangelization and Stewardship, by the director of the office, Michael Dubruiel

 

Watch

            If you pray with the monks at the Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, you have to rise early—in fact, most would consider it still the middle of the night. Vigils are at 3:15 A.M. (That’s 2:15 A.M. Alabama time). It is dark, and cold in the winter, hot and humid in the summer.  However,  night in and night out the monks arise to do what Our Lord commanded all of us, his followers to do—to keep vigil (watch).

            Visiting the monastery some years ago, I managed to make it to one of the “Vigils.” I struggled through the prayer period, then went back to sleep, missing the next hour of prayer “Lauds” (Praise) which occurs every morning at 5:45. The monks, of course, did not go back to sleep, but prayed silently in between the two periods.

            Keeping “watch” is not easy, even for one night.

            Years later I experienced a different sort of night watch or vigil, when my wife and I were awoken to the cry of a hungry baby in the middle of the night, right around the time that the monks of Gethsemane would be gathering for their Vigils. Again, I went back to sleep after my short “awakening,” while my wife remained awake, silently feeding the child.

            On the night before he died Jesus took three of his disciples with him to pray; only he didn’t tell them to “pray,” but rather he told them “Remain here, and watch with me,” (Matthew 26:38).  I relate well to what Jesus found them doing a short while later: “he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.” (Matthew 26:40)

            Advent is a time to keep vigil—to watch. It is not a time to watch those old Christmas reruns that we’ve all seen a hundred times, nor all those commercials for the latest gadgets, but a time to watch for the Lord’s coming. Perhaps as we begin this season we can recapture this sense of alertness, awaiting the coming of Christ by fostering quiet in our homes; turning off the television, the computer, the cell phone—while listening and watching for the Lord. Then as we go out into the day, let us continue to watch and search for His presence; in our spouse, our children, our coworkers, the strangers who cross are path, all the time remembering His words to us: “Watch therefore–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep,” (Mark 13:35-36).  

            Now is the time, during Advent, to awaken to His presence, so that when Christmas comes He is the present we will share with one another.

St. Paul and I Agree

Thanksgiving

My son Joseph, now seven, started praying the Blessing Before Meals at dinner in our home about four years ago, right after he learned the prayer at his Catholic preschool. Back then, when he first prayed it, he would say:

 “Blessed O Lord and these my gifts which we are about to receive from my bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

 He had a little problem with the “us” and “Thy” which he conveniently glossed over. It took a good year to convince him that his “my” should be “Thy.”

 

His slip was due to his age, but I know that even if I know enough to say “Thy”, I often act as though it is all about “my” and “mine.”

 I remember an episode of the Simpsons where Bart Simpson echoed a similar sentiment, after saying the Grace Before Meals, Bart said: “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing,” Again, the modern cartoon reflects a modern problem—people have ceased believing that everything we have is from God.

 It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are self-sufficient, especially when everything is going well in our lives.

But wait till things turn bad: suddenly we find ourselves unemployed or are diagnosed with a terminal illness, or something horrible happens to a loved one—then the realization hits us that everything we’ve ever had and will ever have has been a gift. Only God can save us from death.

 Monsignor Muller when he was preaching on the annual Catholic Charities drive at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish had a placard hanging from the ambo. The sign read:

 “Don’t Give God What’s Left, Give God What’s Right.”

 That simple message hasn’t left me since that Sunday back in September.

 One of the real blessings of this year, for me, has been Bishop Baker’s challenge for us in the Diocese of Birmingham to read through the Letters of Saint Paul during the Year of Saint Paul. I’ve greatly benefited from this exercise.

 Saint Paul frequently in his letters will tell us to “give thanks” to God—not just in the good times, but at all times. In fact it is a consistent message of Saint Paul’s that we are to live our lives while “giving thanks” to God at all times. The Greek word for “giving thanks” that Saint Paul uses over and over is well known to us Catholics— it is Eucharist. If you listen at Mass, the Eucharist, you’ll hear the priest praying “we give you thanks” for all of us to God the Father. I have tried to do this in my life and found it to make a remarkable difference. When you give thanks to God at all times, you start to see the reality of the present moment in an entirely different light.

 

Let me give you a simple example. I travel on a horrible road every morning, and I’m frequently stuck in traffic. All the hand gesturing and cursing isn’t going to make the traffic move, but thanking God for that moment can change my entire attitude. I come to appreciate the slowing down of my hectic life. I often notice things along the route that I would otherwise have ignored. 

And perhaps that is what is missing from modern life, we have become so preoccupied with my plan that we don’t have time to notice God’s plan for us. I think one of the reasons for this is that we fear the real world and try our best to avoid dealing with it.

 

This Thanksgiving, let’s truly be thankful for all God has given us, all that God has entrusted us with, and commit to doing what Saint Paul proclaims to us: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Then let’s keep thanking God at every moment for the rest of our lives!

 Some Seed Fell… is a column of the Office of the New Evangelization and Stewardship, by the director of the office, Michael Dubruiel

Joy

 

On all Hallows (All Saints) Eve, more commonly known as Halloween, I found myself in the presence of a likely saint. Mother Elvira Petrozzi, the founder of the Comunità Cenacolo, was in town looking at possible sights for another house of her fledging community. The Comunità Cenacolo is an international community that Mother Elvira founded in Italy, that reaches out to youth overwhelmed by drug addiction or the cares of the world. The community serves those who are “searching for joy and the true meaning of life.” The success of Mother Elvira’s communities in not only assisting young people in overcoming drug addictions, but in turning their lives around completely to the Lord is nothing short of miraculous.

            Meeting Mother Elvira, I think I got a glimpse of why—she is filled with joy!  One cannot be in her presence for long and not experience this, it is contagious. It is the joy that Jesus promised his followers, it is the joy that Saint Paul constantly proclaimed should be the hallmark of a Christian’s life. At one point during her visit there was a man present who was looking rather glum, and Mother Elvira stopped what she was doing and went right over to him and asked him (in Italian),what was wrong. He did not speak Italian, but he was soon smiling.

            During an interview that will be aired on EWTN at some future date, Mother Elvira said that the reason there is so little joy in the world today is because people are living false lives, they are not true to who they are, and therefore they are unhappy. They search for what they think will make them happy: riches, drugs, pleasure, etc.—but none of these are what they were made for, it is only when they find God that they can truly feel joy.

            Mother Elvira’s visit came at a time when personally I have felt that many of us are losing sight of who can save us and what can bring us joy in this life.

             The Psalmist warns “Put not your trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3) but rather that “Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign for ever, thy God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 146:5-10).

            Say a prayer that Mother Elvira may find a place for her community to reside in our midst. We need the witness to the joy of those who trust in the Lord to remind us that he alone can save us.

Having the Mind of Christ

Saint Paul’s definition of a Christian is a “being in Christ,” a term he uses 164 times in his letters. His point is clear, we who have been baptized have been grafted into the Body of Christ—the Church. The life we live is no longer our own, but “Christ” living in and through us, (See Galatians 2:20). Our Faith is centered on Jesus Christ, the “way, the truth and the life,” (John 14:6). The Church presents the teaching of Christ and we the members of His Body are called to both live and evangelize the world with the Good News of Our Lord.

Yet, sadly in our times, we often treat the Good News, the teaching of Christ as though it were one philosophy among many, rather than the saving truth of God. We tend to accept Christ’s teaching partially, accepting only what is not a personal challenge to ourselves.

Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians asked: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13), to a community fractured by division. The lack of unity that we often show in living and proclaiming the Gospel to those in our midst weakens our witness to the power of that same Gospel.

 Is it not time for all of us to turn once again our gaze toward Christ, to seek his forgiveness when we fail to embrace the Gospel entirely and to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit to empower us in our weakness and ignorance? Is it not time to turn our gaze toward Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar to adore in him the Son of God who deigns to come to us and to feed us with His Body and Blood to unite us ever more intimately with Himself? Is it not time for us to turn our gaze toward Christ “wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence” (See Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II)?

How many times a day do we miss an encounter with Jesus today? How often do we pass Him by on the streets, nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons,—not realizing that we are passing by the Son of God? How often do we spend time with him, praying before his presence in the Blessed Sacrament?

We who are “in Christ” need to once again turn our gaze towards him in our midst. We cannot stand by idly as he suffers his passion anew in those who suffer hunger, those who are strangers in our land as immigrants or the unwanted child in its mother’s womb, those who suffer illness and disease, those imprisoned—whether guilty or not—every created person is precious in the sight of God and God through the Body of his Son—the Church, holds out the hope of salvation to all, without exception.

We who are “in Christ” are called to champion their cause, to bring the Gospel to them and to all, to proclaim the Good News “in season and out of season,” to “ convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching,” (2 Timothy 4:2). For as Saint Paul wrote to Timothy, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths,” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). 

Pope John Paul II pointed out in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae that “we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life’. We find ourselves not only ‘faced with’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life,” (Evangelium Vitae, #28). It is time for all of us who are “in Christ” to be unconditionally pro-life—to take a stand for Our Lord, to make our voices heard.

            It is time for all Catholics to be of one mind and heart—the “mind of Christ” (See Philippians 2:5) and His Sacred Heart which beats with love for all of his children.

 

Some Seed Fell… is a column of the Office of the New Evangelization and Stewardship, by the director of the office, Michael Dubruiel

The One Thing Necessary

I was speaking in California about a year ago, and after my talk, an older couple came up to me with a question: What book would I recommend they give their adult children, all of whom no longer practiced their faith? They wondered if The How-To Book of the Mass, a book that I had authored might win them back to the faith. Although tempted to recommend my book, I realized right away that what their adult children needed, was not a deeper understanding of the Mass, but a deeper relationship with the one who instituted the Eucharist and founded the Church—Jesus Christ. So I highly recommended to them, Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth.

In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict reintroduces us to the Jesus who has inspired millions to leave all and follow him. Somehow this Jesus often gets lost in our popular culture and sometimes even among those who claim to be his followers. Everything that we Catholics do only has meaning if we remember who it is we are following. Young people and old who leave the Church, often do so, because they have forgotten Jesus Christ, and sometimes even those who don’t leave the Church can forget that the Church is all about Christ, because the Church is the Body of Christ.

I confess that I am one of those people.

Last week I was in Chicago attending the International Catholic Stewardship Council’s annual conference. At that conference attended by Catholics from around the world, I was in a conversation with a pastor of a large church, over a morning coffee when a new insight hit me.

The pastor was sharing his frustration with the diocesan mandated programs for couples preparing for marriage in his diocese. Essentially he had an ideological problem with the content of the program, a view point that I didn’t share. But listening to him, a revelation of sorts came to me: When we have the opportunity to win people, whose faith isn’t the strongest, back to Christ and the church, namely when they come to the church seeking the Sacrament of Matrimony for themselves or the Sacrament of Baptism for their child, what do we present them with at that moment?

Is it Christ?

There are many things engaged couples need to hear, but what they need most of all is not a “thing” at all, but a personal relationship with Jesus. A young family seeking the baptism of their child needs to recall why baptism is so important to them and be coaxed to look at their relationship with Christ again.

As tempted as I am to suggest this solution or that to all that ails us as a church, I realize the only solution is my relationship with Jesus, as the “one thing necessary” in life. Once I am rooted in Christ, all that he teaches through his church makes sense to me—but as he told his disciples “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I need to be reminded of that often, are you like me?

“Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou”

michael dubruielOne hundred and fifty years ago, a young woman asked a lady who appeared to her, who the lady happened to be. She received the answer: ”Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou,” spoken in the local dialect of the girl (neither French nor Spanish, but Provencales), that translates “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Yesterday I stood with hundreds of pilgrims at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels in Hanceville, under a beautiful replica of the grotto at Lourdes where Saint Bernadette first heard those words of Our Lady spoken to her, and where these words are engraved under the image of Our Lady at this newly dedicated Shrine.

There is something about these outdoor shrines that calls to mind a great reality, namely that when God wants to reach us, God sends His messengers, whether an angel or the Blessed Virgin Mary to wherever we are at the moment. We encounter God in Church, but we can encounter God outside of the Church as well—for “God is everywhere” as we all learned as youngsters from the Catechism. But there is more, and the shrine in Hanceville by imprinting the words “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou,” under the image of Our Lady in the Lourdes grotto, reminds us that when God has a message He wants delivered to us it is delivered in our own language.

Amidst the intermittent rain and sunshine, we pilgrims joined Bishop Robert Baker in prayer as he consecrated the altar at the Shrine. The many young people in attendance reminded me of the young St. Bernadette who was graced with the heavenly visitation of Our Lady. The many young religious present, even further brought home that point to me. The Liturgy of the Word called to mind the manifestation of God to Jacob, and the first instance of a shrine erected by Jacob to commemorated God’s visitation at that spot, the Gospel recalled the annunciation and Mary’s “how can this be?”

Indeed, how can this be? On this day, in forest,  on the banks of the Black Warrior River, I receive the Blessed Sacrament—the Lord Jesus Christ, at this newly dedicated shrine of Our Lady. God comes to us where we are at the present moment, God speaks to us in our language–no matter how simple we are, because God loves us.

I have been to the beautiful Lourdes grotto at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN many times. I believe it is the most beautiful spot on that lovely campus. There is a sense of quiet and prayer that pervades that spot, no matter what is going on a few feet away at the busy University. The heat of candles lit, warms you as you approach—making you mindful of the many prayers that have been left behind for God to answer.

Now, in rural Alabama that same sense of prayer and presence is here—where Our Lady points to her Son and tells us to “Do whatever he tells you.”

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The Life You Save May Not be Your Own

Lynn was born one day before me in 1958. Our mothers were in the small hospital together, and Lynn was one day old, when I came into the world and joined her in the nursery. When we started school together, I was the youngest member of the class, by that one day–something Lynn reminded me of often as we made our way through twelve years of school.

I thought of Lynn on Respect Life Sunday this year.

You see shortly after graduation, we lost touch. She went to college up north, I went to college down south. It was years later, when another of my former classmates wrote me to tell me some tragic news-Lynn had taken her life. It didn’t seem possible. She had been the valedictorian of our class, a good person, someone who always seemed to have a smile on her face.

My friend told me that drugs were involved. But there was more–she was pregnant when it happened. Some years later Lynn’s sister and I happened to be in the same airport and I asked her about her sister. She filled in the missing years, the troubled pregnancy, and the rest of the story.

You see when Lynn had committed suicide, the doctors kept her on life support, because her child was still alive, and it was only after the birth of her daughter almost three months after she had taken her life that Lynn was finally taken off of life support and died. Her daughter was adopted by her brother and his wife, raised as their own child.

The sad state that Lynn must have been in when she decided she could no longer go on, was not a state of mind that her unborn daughter shared–in fact, the fact is that her daughter wanted to live, and does today. The life that Lynn conceived in her womb, was a new life, a separate life, not her own life. The medical staff realized that when they received Lynn’s body and did everything they could to save her daughter’s life.

So when I heard a homily on respecting life today, I thought of Lynn and her daughter. I think real people make the issue of respecting life more real and less abstract.

I try to say a prayer for Lynn, whenever she comes to mind, I commend her to God’s mercy and love which is so much greater than the world’s. I’d ask you to pray for Lynn and her daughter. Say a prayer also for all those young people who struggle with drug addictions and depression–reach out to them if you cross their paths.

As for me, I remember Lynn laughing, when we both were young and I think about how her daughter probably looks a lot like that now.

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