Faith Without Works

As we approach and now begin the season of Lent, we pray to the holy spirit: guide us. We are reminded in the readings from Scriptures (from James) that “faith without works” is dead. Similar to what we find on the streets today, two thousand years ago there were plenty of people who “talked a good game.” They would profess their faith, but would pass by others who were poor, hungry or tired, on their way to get to the front pew on Sunday.

Know anyone like that?

It’s one thing to believe in something. We all need something to believe in. But having faith… without LIVING the faith, is really a useless exercise.

For just as a body without a spirit is dead,
so also faith without works is dead.

Said a simpler way: actions speak louder than words. Abraham took his only son, Isaac to the mountain, following the angel’s command. Abraham had waited and prayed his entire life for a family, this was all this man ever wanted. And when he was finally granted one child — ONE — he was instructed he must offer his only son as a sacrifice to God.

You want faith? Abraham took his only gift (or so he thought) and prepared to offer him up to God as a sacrifice, following his faithful command. How many people do we know who would exercise that kind of faith?

Sacrament of Reconciliation

He said “I don’t remember.”

I heard some great content — right from the pew “at the 7” this morning.

In Sunday’s first reading, Isaiah wrote about remembering your sins no more. Let it go, I am doing something new (things of long ago, consider not!). “It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.”

This lead to the topic of today’s homily.

This is a story I heard years ago, but did not recall it until I heard it again today. In the Philippines, there was a Catholic priest who carried a sin from his past. Apparently, the priest committed a sin way back, while in the seminary.

Yes, this priest had since repented a long time ago.

But the priest continued to carry the sin with him to the present day.

Carrying a sin beyond the confessional walls is such a needless burden.
Along the way, this priest met a woman who claimed to have visions of Christ, and said she would speak with God.

The priest asked the woman, “The next time you speak with God, ask Him what sin I had committed while in the seminary.” A few days later, the priest ran into the woman. And the priest asked, “Well, did you asked God what sin I committed in seminary?”

“Yes, I asked Him.”
“Well, what did He say?”

“He said, ‘I don’t remember.'”

Look, if God can forgive us and leave it all in the past — and cannot remember sins we seem to dwell on —

why do humans have such problems with forgiveness?

As we begin the season of Lent this week, the topic of forgiving others — as well forgiving ourselves — needs to be a topic to focus on. Why do you feel we have so many issues centering around “forgiveness?”

Saul of Tarsus: Conversion of Paul

Today, January 25th, we celebrate the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. Paul originally was known as Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a bad guy. He was a real persecutor, even a murderer, of those who believed in Jesus Christ. He was a ruthless soldier, determined to eliminate those who believed.

Saul of Tarsus was not a guy to mess with.

The conversion of Paul is one of my favorite stories. On his way to Damascus, Saul was struck down off his horse by a bolt of lightning, and blinded. He heard a voice calling to him. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The voice said to him, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”

Saul was instructed to continue to Damascus and to pray. Jesus sent Ananias to find Saul and help him with his conversion. Ananias restored his vision and told him “God has designated you to know his will, to see the righteous one, and to hear the sound of his voice. For you will be His witness before all to what you have seen and heard.”
(And here’s the best part)…

Ananias told him “Now, why delay?”

Saint Paul - Saul of TarsusWith that, Saul became a ruthless warrior for Jesus Christ. Talk about a 180 degree turnaround! Some of Paul’s letters that we read in the Liturgy carried the deepest meaning and the greatest thoughts. What God was able to see in Saul was his tireless ambition and drive. Until his conversion, Saul was using that ambition and drive in the wrong direction.

The message I take away from Paul’s conversion is that:
Anyone can have their eyes opened,
Anyone can still learn a new thing or two, and
Anyone can still come to believe in the hope in Jesus Christ.

It’s never too late to become a warrior for God.

Newark, NJ and St. Francis de Sales

What does Newark, New Jersey and St. Francis DeSales have in common?

Today, January 24, we celebrate the feast day of St. Francis DeSales.  At Mass this morning, we heard the story of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey.  I have never been there, but I heard the story how the pulpit in the Cathedral is surrounded by two statues: one of St. John Chrysostom, and one of St. Francis DeSales.

St. Francis de Sales

Patron Saint of Schools

As the story goes, St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of schools and of wisdom.  St. Francis DeSales is also known as the doctor of the Church Lectionary.  And St. John Chrysostom was known for his homilies — and his brevity.  Our priest this morning was kidding about how most of the homilies he heard there were neither wise nor brief!

I’m sure he was kidding when he said that.

St. Francis DeSales is also the patron saint of writers and journalists.  In the 1600s, St. Francis DeSales was having a tough time dealing with those Calvinists.  When St. Francis DeSales was the Bishop of Geneva, he gained quite a reputation as a preacher.

Here is a wonderful series of photographs of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey (found on Flickr)

Book of Samuel: Dare To Be Different

This past week, we have been reading from the book of Samuel. If you are not familiar with the stories found in Samuel, please take some time to read Samuel. If you went to Catholic School, you heard these great stories — perhaps a long time ago. But they are so vivid, the minute you begin to read them, you can likely finish telling the story to everyone around you.
OK, well, that’s the impression these stories had on me.

In Friday’s reading, the people approached Samuel and said, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not wish to take your place, please choose a king for us.”

Samuel asked why. They replied, “we wish to be like other nations. We want to have a king to lead us, and to guide us in battle.”

Samuel was very unhappy to hear this. But God told Samuel, “Do what they ask. It is not you the people are rejecting, Samuel — it is Me they are rejecting.”

Samuel gave them “the low down” on what the future would look like with a king. Ehhh, not very nice.
Essentially, they would lose all of their possessions and become slaves of the new king.

Even still, the people approached Samuel and demanded. “Please choose a new king for us.”
later, in speaking with God, Samuel said. “I tried to tell them what would happen, but they would not listen.”

God said, “then give them what they desire.”

Even as far back as 2000 years ago, people had the overwhelming raging desire to “fit in.” They wanted to be like everyone else — they wanted to be like other nations. They wanted to be essentially, led by a slave driver and suffer mightily and have all their possessions taken from them. This included their children taken from them and turned into slaves as well. Butt-heads!

It must be something in our human nature to want to “fit in.” To wear the same clothes, the same designer glasses, the same cars, the same houses… the same life! What Samuel was trying to get across to his people is they did not need to be like other nations. They did not need an “earthly ruler” to overpower them. Samuel was trying to get across the idea his people were unique — they were special. They did not need to look like the others, or fit in.

Yet, vanity ruled their decision-making process. And they paid the price. But we do not have to pay the same price and make the same mistakes.

We ought to “dare to be different.” It is completely okay to take risks, and to follow a different path. What stops us from taking a different path?

More about Silence

I just read a post by a young woman talking about the “quiet” of the Catholic Church as opposed to the Presbyterian church she recently visited in the South.

One of her comments really struck me. She said “I think if we actually believed that Christ was there, all our attention would be focused on Him”. I don’t think she meant this to be a question of Catholic teaching, it was a personal question for us to consider invidually. Our Catholic faith tells us HE is really there. We know this and it’s the reason we offer the sacrifice of the Mass to Him. I admitted I would remember her comment the next time I felt the urge to be “chatty” (see my previous post) in church.

My children attend Catholic Grammar School and families join them for First Friday Mass each month. It’s so exciting as the children enter the church, there are hundreds of smiles, giggles, feet stomping, kneelers falling and a restlessness you can actually feel. There is quite a bit of “Shushing” going on too. The entire Student Body is then reminded that they are in the presence of our Lord and should remain quiet and in prayer. I think that might be what has gotten lost over the years, prayer before Mass begins. Mass was not intended to be a place to “catch-up”. We come to church to give thanks to the Lord and participate in the Eurcharist.

Catholics are often considered “unwelcoming” to other Christians and maybe that’s because we do behave differently while at Mass. It’s wonderful to see the groups of people gathered outside the Church after Mass saying hello, shaking hands even giving one another hugs. We are friendly. We are supportive of each other. I won’t include those that almost run you over getting out of the parking lot to be first in line at the bakery (that’s where I assume they’re headed anyway).

Does your parish have a gathering center that people meet after Mass? My parish hosts Hospitality Sunday gathering once per month but I bet there are some that do this weekly? Would you like your church community to offer something like this?

I’m thankful that I was given this rather gentle reminder to reconsider my reverance while in the church, both before and after Mass. I hope this might be an Advent reflection for you as well.

Silence Doesn’t Always Mean Somethings Wrong

Why, when my husband tells me that when he’s quiet doesn’t mean somethings wrong, don’t I believe him?

So what if my nickname is “Chatty Cathy” and so what if I love to chat? Well what’s wrong, as I’ve come to believe, is that you CAN’T listen and talk at the same time. I am a Master of Multitasking (in my humble opinion) but this one has me beat. To truly be present in silence is the best way to listen for God to speak to you.

Unfortunately I have always been someone who starts a sentence before the person I’m speaking with finishes theirs. Honestly I have only recently realized how often I do this. In my heart I’m not trying to be rude and I don’t think what I have to say is more important than their words, it’s just that I worry that I’ll lose what I want to say. I know that does sound rude, doesn’t it? I’m working on this. I figure if I lose my train of thought, it couldn’t have been worth much anyway. It’s kind of like the saying “If you love something set it free, if it comes back it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was!. So my ideas, thoughts, comments or whatever… if important, will come back. More importantly if I listen more intently I might not have to think of something else to say, just listen.

I have come to appreciate the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi more when he says “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words”. Whether or not St. Francis actually spoke these words doesn’t matter now, it’s the point. We do not always have to speak to preach the Gospel. It’s in our deeds, it’s in our prayers and most importantly it should be in our hearts. I need to get out of my head more as that what gets my mouth in trouble.

Do you have trouble with silence? Are you able to fully meditate and await what God might be trying to put on your heart by putting it into your head first? I’m trying, please pray for me to accept silence as the blessing is truly is.

Seeking Advent Patience

The following comes from Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas – Waiting in Joyful Hope 2011-2012 by Jay Cormier which is published each year by Liturgical Press.

I was given this little “pocket book” as an Advent gift by the Deacon that runs our Scripture class each week. This book is such a lovely way to focus on Advent and the waiting for Christmas. Each day you’re given the readings, a theme from the scripture is then reflected upon. Following the reflection Mr. Cormier provides questions to ponder (meditation) and finishes with a prayer for each day.

This little booklet has helped me in my daily prayer life as he helps you dig a little deeper into the readings for each day. Rather than try to give you the jist of the book I’ll give you a snapshot of Friday, December 9th in the Second Week of Advent. I chose this day as it touches on our daily hectic lives and how we can better accept Advent as a time of preparation and waiting.

Readings: Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19

Scripture: “(W)isdom is vindicated by her works.” (Matthew 11:19)

Reflection: We are not a very patient people. We can’t spare the time to stop and catch our breath. Quiet unnerves us; silence is a sure sigh that something is wrong; reflection and thoughtfulness are luxuries. We do not live in the moment–we live in the next moment.

We need to be constantly connected, online, and plugged in.
We are terrified of being bored.
We are in a constant hurry–and yet we do not get very far.
We struggle to walk between the austere, demanding John at the Jordan and the Jesus who welcomes and forgives all.
Too often we let our fears and doube3ts, our cynicism and fatalism, affect our decision making. We are defeated by what is not rather than inspired by what could be.
For all our technology, we are disconnected.
For all our global outreach, we know little beyond our own little plot of earth.
For all our education, we fail to realize what is good and right in our midst.

Advent calls us to patience– not patience that passively accepts without complaint whatever disappoints us, but patience that is certain in the hope of better things to come. In criticizing the fickleness of this “generations,” Jesus points out that wisdom begins with such patience: to stop, to reflect, to see what is hidden, to listen with the heart. These days of Advent are a microcosm of our lives, revealing to us the preciousness of time and confronting us with our mortality. May these days teach us to realize the sacred in our lives, to behold God’s love in the midst of our family and friends, to embrace the patience of Advent in order to see our lives and work through the eyes of God.

Meditation: What issues and concerns most test your patience? Reconsider how you respond and how you view the situation in question.

Prayer: Lord of Advent, may your wisdom illuminate our eyes and open our hearts to behold your presence in our midst. Help us to embrace the grace of Advent patience, that we may stop and behold your compassion and mercy in our days and transform our lives in the peace and hope of your dawning at Christmas.

If you are like me, the observation that some of us consider silence as a sign of something being wrong hit a chord. I am becoming more aware of the blessing of silence in that you can find peace and be open to what God could be trying to tell you if you (me) would be quiet and listen. That’s something I truly am working on this Advent. I no longer need to be talking or “plugged in” every moment that I’m awake.

I hope you enjoy this Advent Reflections as much as I have. Please share any books that you use to help with your daily prayer.

Cathi D.