Posted in Deacon Bob

Strong in Faith

Deacon Bob’s Homily (11/28/2021)

The theme I see in today’s readings is the need to be strong in our faith, so we are always prepared for Jesus. Twice in today’s gospel Jesus says essentially the same thing:

when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads 
because your redemption is at hand.

and,

pray that you have the strength … to stand before the Son of Man.

The commentaries say that “to stand before Jesus” means to be so faithful, even in times of difficulty, that whenever He comes, we can meet Him with confidence.

One of the things that Joni and I were discussing a few days ago after Morning Prayer is how many texts in Scripture, like the end times texts that speak of trials and tribulation, and texts that plead for God to save us from our enemies, are becoming more real to us then they used to be. We just feel that our world is becoming more and more anti-Christian. A few years ago, it was a handful of bakers and florists who were tested because in their conscience they couldn’t provide their cakes or floral arrangement for gay marriages.

Today, the circle is bigger. There are at least 2 relatively new issues that are affecting many of us. One is the vaccine mandate; the other is the push to accept transgender ideology.

I don’t have time to delve into either of these issues in this homily. But I’ll be happy to talk with anyone who wants to follow up. But for now, I have to be very brief.

The vaccine is a matter of conscience. The Church teaches that we may take it, and in general if a vaccine if safe and effective, we ought to take it; but we aren’t required to take it, although if we don’t take it, we should take steps to avoid transmitting the virus to others. Some people have discerned in their conscience that they can’t take the vaccine because of the connection with aborted fetal tissue. And conscience is sacrosanct. If our conscience has been well-formed, we have to follow it. The Catechism says we hear the voice God in our conscience so to reject that little inner voice is to reject God. And for some people who lose their job, this is a big test.

[I should have added this:  This is not meant in any way to be an attack on those who were vaccinated. The Church, based on guidance from the CDF, has given us a choice and for many people, getting the vaccine was the right choice. I’m simply saying that for some, it wasn’t, and some who didn’t get vaccinated are paying a very high price for following their conscience.]

The 2nd issue is bigger in the sense that it’s not just a matter of conscience, there is a moral requirement. The issue here is that someone we work with or someone in our school wants to be affirmed in the opposite sex of what they are, and many schools and companies are now demanding that people give their affirmation. We can’t. It would be immoral to do so. And very simply the reason is because it’s a lie and we can’t lie.

This might sound harsh and even uncaring; but there is an excellent catechesis available on this issue from Bishop Burbidge, who is the bishop of the Arlington diocese. (Link to Bishop Burbidge’s Catechesis can be accessed by clicking here). It’s excellent. Very clear, very concise and it does an excellent job of explaining the issue and showing that the Catholic response to those suffering with gender dysphoria is the way of love. I strongly recommend it. I have to confess that until recently I was not aware that the Church was so clear on the morality of this issue and this coming Tuesday I’ll be meeting with my Spiritual Director, and I have to talk with him about a potential issue that I have at work.

Shortly before Karol Wojtyla became John Paul II, he made an extraordinary statement about what he saw coming. It was 1976, at a Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. He said the following:

“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church, … must take up and face courageously.”

A few years before that, in 1969, then Fr. Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) said something very similar. He said the Church is facing very hard times, and she is going to become much smaller, but also much more spiritual. He said

“What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. … The future of the Church … will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves … to the passing moment.”

We are being tested. We are being purified. You may not be directly affected by these issues, but you probably know someone who is, and look at the trend, especially from the cultural elites. It’s doesn’t look like it’s going to get easier for Christians any time soon. We can take comfort in the fact that God will not let us be tested beyond our strength. But it’s still a test.

And we really don’t have an option. We can’t just blow it off and go with the culture. In Mt 29, in the context of persecution, Jesus says

32 “Everyone … who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

On the positive side, as I mentioned at the very beginning, at least to some extent, we can identify more with our heroes who have gone before us.

The book of Hebrews is written for catechesis but also to encourage the Christians in Jerusalem to keep the faith in a time of persecution. In chapter 11, it goes through a whole list of O.T. Saints, everyone of whom was tested and was victorious. Then, chapter 12 opens with a beautiful image. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us give up all sin, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.

 And for us, 2000 years later, we have all the NT saints, the martyrs, and saints through the centuries. So, there’s a great cloud of witnesses up in heaven cheering us on, just like the crowd that cheers on a runner to finish a race. I know that some of you are really in the thick of it. In my mind, you’re with them, you’re one of them, because you’re being tested like they were. Persevere! Stay with Him.

If you’re not yet being tested, use this Advent to prepare. The goal is Jesus and growing in union with Him until He becomes our life. In his letter on the new millennium JP II said this growth is totally dependent on God’s grace and is no stranger to painful purifications. But it leads to ineffable joy.

The whole time I’ve been preparing this homily I’ve been thinking of a book, or at least the title of a book, written by a Catholic Deacon named Alex Jones. He was a Pentecostal Preacher, had his own church. He gave it all up to become Catholic, and he wrote a book called “No Price too High”. That’s my prayer and everything I’ll be working for this Advent, and I hope it will be yours too.

God Bless you!

Posted in Deacon Bob

Threat of Totalitarianism

I want to speak today about freedom in Christ. I’m going to begin with a message that I found extremely powerful from Bishop Barren in his talk “The Threat of Totalitarianism”. Totalitarianism is the dominance of the entire society by the arbitrary will of those in power.

He starts with a quote from a 20th century German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt.

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, that is the reality of experience, and the distinction between the true and the false, that is standards of thought, no longer exists.

I.e., the ideal citizen for a totalitarian ruler is a person for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, and the true and the false, no longer exists.

I’m going to look at 2 points that he makes.

The first is that the roadway if you will, the gate that opens the way for totalitarian rule is the rejection of a belief in the objectively true and good. This he argues is the biggest threat to western society today. We think that to be truly free I need to decide for myself what is true and good. Don’t try to impose your objective truths on me. That’s slavery. If I’m going to be free, I need to decide for myself what is true and good.

The reality is just the opposite. Let me give one little example.

This comes from David Currie in his great book, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic. He mentions how in college he was reading in Zechariah 12 about sacrificial worship and he knew from his studies that this section in Zechariah is describing the messianic era, and for a Protestant Christian there is no sacrificial worship after Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. So, he asked his college professor about this dilemma and his professor said, evangelical Christianity has no answer for that. Years later when he learned about the Eucharistic sacrifice in the Mass, he was ecstatic. He immediately jumped out of his chair and ran in to another room and told his wife his discovery. He saw the truth and he was enthralled. That’s what objective truth does. We discover it, we see it, and it’s like wow, this is so amazing, and we have to share it. This is liberating, not enslaving.

On the other hand, if there’s no longer a distinction between the true and the false, between fact and fiction, then you have your truth and I have my truth and inevitably that leads to a clash of wills and the most powerful one wins and imposes his truth on everyone else.

The second point is that in every totalitarian regime of the 20th century what we have seen is a strict censorship of ideas. Any thought that is not in accord with the ruling party is immediately silenced. Does this sound familiar? Any appeal to objective truth or goodness, i.e., something outside of us and above us, is a threat to their control.

Perfect example is Pope Saint John Paul II in Victory Square in Warsaw, 1979. He began speaking the truth about God, and human persons, and freedom, and salvation, and the people began chanting “we want God”, “we want God”. For 15 minutes, a million people chanted “we want God”, and it was the beginning of the end of communist oppression.

Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free”. John Paul II was asked one time that if he could pick one quote in Scripture that he wanted people to know, what would it be, and this was it.

I’d like to offer a couple personal reflections on Christian freedom.

That quote I just read from Jn 8 is speaking about freedom from the slavery of sin. Many of us know about the slavery of sin. When Joni and I went to one of our Unbound training sessions, there was a priest there who shared with us that he had a priest friend who was stuck in sin. Every week he would confess the same sin and it’s like he was stuck in a rut. This priest who was at the conference said to his friend, let’s try Unbound. So, he led him through the Unbound prayer. Two weeks later he called his friend and his friend told him that he hadn’t had any issues with that sin since the Unbound prayer. So, if you’re stuck in a rut, talk to Joni or me about Unbound. It could help.

Another thing when I think of Christian freedom, I think of freedom from fear. Heb 2 says this: “Jesus himself likewise partook of the same nature (human nature) that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”

Jesus frees us from the fear of death. Remember that everyone of your days is numbered. God already knows when He’s going to call you home, pandemic or not. That doesn’t mean we can be irresponsible, but we don’t have to fear. God’s got us.

On vacation this past August, I asked my kids, including Fr. Chris about this amazing text in Acts 4:29. It’s a prayer from Christians who are being persecuted. Saul and company are hunting them down and here’s their prayer: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness.”

This really struck me because of what they didn’t pray for. There was no mentioned of being protected or kept safe. It’s like they didn’t care about that. What mattered to them was that they would speak His word with all boldness. I turned to my kids and asked them how can we be like that? I want to pray like they did.

So, here’s a couple ideas.  

First, and this ties into today’s gospel where Jesus says, if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, and so on. Sin separates us from God, so one way to think of this is to say anything that separates us from God, cut it off. For me, reading news articles that aren’t necessary and I know aren’t going to help and are just going to make my angry, separate me from God. I’m trying to cut them off. But there could be others, this I borrow from Fr. Holmer: if your eye-phone separates you from God, throw it out. If your facebook chats or entertainment or money separate you from God, cut them out. The only way to be really free is to live in Christ, in His presence so if we want to be free, we have to get rid of all these things that separate us from Him.

The second is grow our trust in Jesus. Joni says that many years ago when we first came back to Bowie, she was going through a lot of fear, and she talked with a wonderful mentor about it, and her friend gave her this advice: on your refrigerator, write the note, fear is useless, what is needed is trust. And then repeat that prayer over and over until you believe it.

I’m doing something similar. I got this from my daughter Kaitlyn. It’s the surrender novena which you can get online. I got it from CatholicExchange.com. It comes from a priest who was the spiritual director to Padre Pio. Each day, there is a brief reflection, spoken in the name of Jesus in which He describes what surrender to Him looks like. Then after the reflection, you say 10 times “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”

Jesus says to us “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

God bless you all!

Posted in Deacon Bob

Bad Shepherds

Before I get into the subject of my homily, I need to comment on the Motu Proprio that Pope Francis issued on Friday (July 18, 2021) which seriously restricts the Traditional Latin Mass. This is going to be very hard for those Catholics who are even more traditional than us and who love the Latin Mass. If you know anyone in that group, please give them some support. I talked to a young man yesterday and simply asked how he was doing, and he told me later how much appreciated my concern. They are our brothers and sisters. They love the Church, and this will make them feel totally rejected by our Holy Father. So, reach out to them.

The theme coming from our OT reading and gospel today is shepherds. Bad shepherds and Jesus, the ultimate good shepherd. Many of us are struggling with the shepherds in our Church today so I want to share my heart on this matter.

First of all, we have been very blessed here. From Msgr. Hogan, then Msgr. Parry, and now Fr. Potts, we have been blessed with good shepherds. They are all very different but each one has and is giving his all to teach, govern, and sanctify us. That’s what they’re ordained for – teach, govern, and sanctify and we’ve been blessed. Thank you, Fr. Potts for all you do as our Priest.

Unfortunately, there have been many bad shepherds, especially in the hierarchy. The abuse scandal is the most obvious and is absolutely horrific. But what I want to talk about, coming from my heart, is the silence, the unwillingness to speak the truth on the hard issues.

There are 2 issues in particular: sexual morality, and our salvation. Cardinal Dolan was very open on the issue of sexual morality. I read this in an interview that he did when he was President of the USCCB. He said that when Humane Vitae was published in 1968, it created such a large firestorm in the Church that we all decided we can’t talk about sexual issues because it creates too much anger and too much controversy. Then in the mid 80’s John Paul II gave us his Theology of the Body, and by the late 80’s and early 90’s we started to get our voice back, and then the abuse crisis broke and we said how can we preach on these issues. So, for about 50 years, while our country has been going through a sexual revolution which is killing us, the Church has been silent.

The second issue is salvation – our need for salvation and the reality of heaven and hell. There are 2 sides to the gospel. There’s the good news – heaven, and then the bad news – hell. And if all we ever talk about is the good news, then pretty soon, the good news becomes no news, and our young people leave. Why should they stay? Some will be drawn to God, and his love, and his goodness, and thanks be to God; but many will not. You tell a young self-centered guy who loves this world and the pleasures of this world, that God loves him and has prepared a place for him in heaven, and he’s really not going to care. I know because I was that guy. It has taken me many years to see the bad news, in me, in order to appreciate the good news in Jesus, to repent and to experience His mercy. I knew about hell. I was taught. But what about the young guy who doesn’t know. Many people say that we should just focus on the positive, and the good things of God. I’m telling you a person in love with this world is not going to care. But you tell him about hell, and he will care about that. He may not be drawn to heaven, but he sure as heck is not going to want hell. It’s a start. There’s some hope for him. This is where my heart is – the young people who love this world and who have left the Lord, because they don’t know.

Jesus came to save sinners. We’ve heard this many times, and it’s good news. But, he didn’t come to accompany them, he came to lead them to repentance and salvation. When the disciples were sent out to preach, they preached repentance. That’s what save us. Some people love God from the time they’re children. And that’s the best, that’s the ideal, and praise God for that. They don’t need repentance. But sinners do. When Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ house, and Zacchaeus said, I give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone, I pay him back fourfold. Jesus responded, Today, salvation has come to this house. Today, after Zacchaeus repented and changed.

The heresy of modernism, that man is the center of all things, is everywhere. It’s in the air we breathe, and it’s in the church. Much preaching today is centered on us and this world. Love Jesus because that will make you happy in this world, that will bring you fulfillment in this world. The same with your family. And that’s true, and those are good things, but if that’s all we talk about; if we don’t preach God as the center of all things, and about eternal consequences, then we are just another voice, just another talking head.

When our shepherds refuse to preach the hard truths, or worse, when they accommodate us in sin, and bend and twist God’s word so we can have God on our terms, they are, unwittingly to be sure, but in reality, accompanying us to hell.

Sister Faustina wrote a Diary on Divine Mercy. She is called the Apostle of Divine Mercy and the diary is all about the mercy of Jesus, that there is no sin beyond his mercy, and it’s truly good news. In paragraph 741 of her Diary on Mercy, she describes her visit to hell. She talks about all the types of sufferings, and then she ends with this:

I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like.

The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell.

We MUST speak!!!!

What to do?

First, pray for our Shepherds. Remember our first Pope. In Mt 16, he declared Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, and Jesus responded, blessed are you Simon bar Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father. Then, a few verses later when Jesus says he will be crucified, Peter responds, no, no, that can never happen to you, and Jesus responds, Get behind me Satan. You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as man does. He goes from hearing God and being named Peter, to not hearing God and being called Satan. We must pray for them. My son, Fr. Chris, has said that one thing that he was told when he was in seminary that really struck him is that wherever a priest ends up, heaven or hell, he doesn’t go alone. We must pray.

Second, trust Jesus. He is at work, even in this time of difficulty. Keep our eyes on Jesus. Be formed by His word, not CNN or FOX or anyone else, but His word, given to us in Scripture and the teaching of the Church. We must grow more and more to see everything in Him and trust that He is doing good even now.

Christi Gaeng shared a story with me that she said I could share with you. When Caleb went into the seminary, the day he entered was right after the report on Cardinal Wuerl and his handling of the abuse crisis was released. Christi said when they got to the seminary, you could just feel the oppression and darkness and heaviness hanging over the place. Recently, they had Fr. Carter Griffin, the rector of the seminary, over for dinner, and he told them that if everyone stays on track as they are now, Caleb’s class, which is scheduled for ordination in 2024, will be the largest ordination class in the history of our diocese.

God is at work. Praise the Lord!

God bless you all.

Posted in Deacon Bob

On Healing (Mark 5:21)

Whenever I read a gospel like today’s (Mark 5:21) with healings I always have to wonder if we (meaning my family and I) are doing something wrong. As many of you know, my wife Joni and my youngest son Eric have a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or EDS which is a connective tissue disorder and both Joni and Eric are in pain 24/7, and we’ve prayed a lot for their healing, and many of you have also prayed a lot for which we are extremely grateful. In fact I, will tell you that for several months prior to Eric’s recent hospital stay, he was in a very dark place spiritually and for the past several weeks, beginning with the hospital stay, a lot of that darkness has lifted and we are convinced it’s from all the prayers – so thank you.

But, I still have to wonder – there are many gospel passages of healing like todays and in the gospel, every time someone asks Jesus for healing, he heals them. Just yesterday morning, the gospel said,  

When it was evening, they brought him many
who were possessed by demons,
and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick,

All the sick. So, on the one hand, Jesus, God, wants to heal. On the other hand, many Christians continue to suffer although many prayers have been said. So, what gives?

The faith healers will say well it’s because you don’t have enough faith. If your faith was stronger, you would be healed. That might be true for me and maybe Eric and Joni, although Joni does have a very strong faith. But, there’s no way they can say that about the saints. Many of the saints suffered. My go-to saint is St. Teresa of Avila and she suffered a lot and yet she had a tremendous faith. In fact, with St. Teresa, near the end of her autobiography, chapter 39 of the book of her Life, she says that Jesus appeared to her one time and told her that “there wasn’t anything I might ask Him that He wouldn’t do;” and she relates how people she prayed for were healed. But she goes on to say that sometimes she wanted to pray for someone, and she was unable. She says it’s like someone whose tongue is tied. At other times she doesn’t feel much desire to pray for someone; but she finds herself praying for the person often and with great insistence. The point here is that sometimes, for some reason, God doesn’t heal.

So, probably more often than we realize, God wants to heal, and we have certainly seen that on a spiritual level in the Unbound prayer ministry that Joni and I have. But, when it comes to physical healing, it seems there are sometimes when he asks people to offer their suffering as a sacrifice.  

At least that’s our experience. One time, early in her illness, Joni was deep in prayer at Mass, and she was ready to be healed. Up until that time, she wasn’t quite ready but this time she was ready, she was convinced the time had come and Jesus wanted to heal her. She was begging, she was believing, she was trusting, and then after some time she felt him respond ‘the weaker you are, the more I can work through you.” She came home and shared it with me, and I said, yeah, that’s basically the same thing the Lord said to St. Paul. And she was ticked. Because she was ready, and she really believed He wanted to heal her.  

So, I don’t have a complete answer on healing.

But, there are a couple points in the gospel that really struck me that I want to share. The first is that very often, the people who are healed in the gospels, really put themselves out. In the first story today, the man who came to Jesus, Jairus, is a synagogue official. A synagogue official is like the manager of the synagogue. He handles all the finances and coordinates everything that goes on. It was a very high position and he’s a very important person in the community. And he comes to Jesus and falls at his feet. That’s quite an act of humility for him. In the 2nd story, the woman with the hemorrhage is unclean. Because of her bleeding, by Jewish law, she is ritually unclean. She isn’t permitted in the Temple and people would avoid her to avoid becoming unclean themselves. But she is determined to touch Jesus, at least his cloak. Her faith has convinced her that if she just touches his cloak, she will be healed, even though touching his cloak would make Him unclean. That might be part of the reason she was so afraid when He turned and asked who touched me; but Jesus wasn’t upset, he actually commended her.

Another example is Bartimeaus, the blind beggar who calls out, Jesus, son of David, have pity on me. And the people start shooshing him, but he cries out all the louder, and Jesus rewards him. Over and over, we see this in the gospel that the people who are healed are audacious, they’re bold, they go for it. They want to be healed, or they want someone they love to be healed, they know Jesus can heal, and they’re going to do whatever it takes. And Jesus loves that.

The second point is how encouraging Jesus is. When they approach the synagogue official’s home, the people come out and say, your daughter has died, why trouble the teacher any longer? He had come to Jesus believing that he could heal his daughter but now she has died and everyone’s thinking – it’s too late. But Jesus says to him, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” It’s like the time when the apostles said to Jesus “Increase our faith”, and He responded, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree ‘Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea’ and it would obey you. The point is that even a little faith can do the impossible; act on the little faith you have just like the synagogue official and God will do wonderful things. That’s very encouraging. It’s also a key to growing in faith – act on what we have and Jesus will reward us.

Testimony can also be tremendously helpful. As scripture says, faith comes through hearing. We live in a very secular world that wants us to believe there is no God, there is nothing supernatural; but when we hear that God worked through someone, our faith will grow. The more we hear real instances where God did this and God did that, the more we will believe He really is alive and active and involved in our life.

Some years ago, Joni started on a new medication and late at night she had a severe allergic reaction. She went into the bathroom, looked terrible and felt horrible, but also felt something like a wall of prayer holding back evil. She called her doctor and was saying I feel like my body wants to throw itself up and my throat is burning. And the doctor was freaking out and saying you need to go to ER and Joni said, no I can feel someone praying for me and I’m going to be okay. The next day we found out that my dad woke up in the middle of the night and felt he needed to pray for Joni and he spent the next hour on his knees praying for her at the same time she was having the reaction. My dad will be the first to tell you he is an ordinary guy, he was a Navy guy, ended up a Ship Design Manager at Navsea, a regular guy, but he felt this call to pray and he acted on it and God intervened.

I know that many of you have had similar experiences where God has intervened in your life.

So brothers and sisters, instead of beating ourselves up for our weak faith let’s act on what we have and trust Him to do great things. It’s like Dallas Jenkins, the Director of the series, The Chosen, which is a great series on Jesus. He keeps saying just bring the loaves and fish; God will do the rest.

So, let’s do that, and when God does act, let’s share it with as many people as we can. Let it multiply so many people can be blessed.

God bless you all!

Posted in Saint Pictures and Poems

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

A lily grew among Mohawks,

a people of pagan belief,

bringing God’s love and His mercy,

by raising a saint from her grief.

When heartbreak struck little Kateri

with loss to deep to bear,

God with His almighty comfort,

gave her His own heart to share.

Small pox ravaged her family,

killing Kateri’s brother,

her dad, the Mohawk chief,

and her Christian Algonquin mother.

The illness marred Kateri’s face,

and left her almost blind.

Kateri now, an orphaned child.

had to leave her home behind,

to live with the great chief, her uncle,

who condemned her Christian belief.

Causing Kateri more heartache,

she turned to the priest for relief.

Her love for the Lord grew intensely

her sacrifice and prayers never ceased.

Kateri, became new, His creation,

when at baptism, her sins were released.

Christian life for Kateri, wasn’t easy

persecutions and threats she endured;

finally taken to Caughnawaga,

 a place where her peace was assured.

Kateri’s example of Christ to her people,

helped open their hearts to His love,

and brought many Native people,

to His Heavenly Kingdom above. 

(C) Joni J Seith, 2021

(This is one of 40 saint poems and pictures that Joni has compiled into 2 saint books, Cloud of Witnesses I and II. Please contact her at jonijseith@gmail.com for more information on these books and how to share them with others)

Posted in Fr. Chris

Do You Love Me? (John 21: 15-19)

The following is Fr. Chris’ Holy Hour Reflection on today’s Gospel, and on his brother’s current situation…

On my way to the hospital.

Yet again.

To see my brother in agony.

I think of all the times I’ve made this trip before.

All the fearful nights; all the depressing days.

And in the midst of my drive

I hear Jesus dare to ask me,

“Do you love me?”

The One who healed the sick,

The One who raised the dead,

Who gave sight to the blind,

And who has stood by

And watched my brother writhe in pain for years

Dares to ask,

“Do you love me?”

The cruelty!  The nerve!

Can it be possible?

Can someone bear to watch

A loved one suffer so

And look at the Face of God and say,

“Yes, I love you though”?

I know what I should answer;

I know what Peter said.

But it is hard after all these years to think

That I can love a God

So cold.

I finally arrive at the hospital

And walk into my brother’s room.

I see him distressed and afflicted,

Depressed by his sad state.

It is the same as always.

And yet as I look down,

Before he falls asleep,

Jesus looks up,

Distressed and afflicted yet again,

And asks from his hospital bed,

“Do you love me?”

And I, in all sincerity, 

Dare to reply,

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Posted in Deacon Bob

The Good Shepherd

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Joni showed me a video clip of a Shepherd with his sheep. He was working hard to pull his sheep out of a crevice. There was a crevice in the land where they were and his sheep was wedged in there so he’s pulling and pulling and finally, he manages to pull him out. The sheep goes hopping away happy as a lark, he takes about 3 jumps, and then boom, right back in the crevice.

(279) Sheep gets stuck in trench, jumps back in – YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f97zwQS6I4o

I’d like to talk about Jesus the Good Shepherd and share what that has come mean for me.

In our world, our worth is defined by what we can do, or how attractive we are, or how much money we have. The greater our ability, the more attractive, the more wealthy, the more important we are, the greater our worth. At work we have annual, or maybe semi-annual reviews where we are rated on our performance. The better our performance, the more money we get, the more opportunity we have to move to a higher position of greater prestige. I understand this is necessary; but, it’s sending a continuous message that our worth is tied to our ability, what we can do.

It isn’t like that with God, or at least I don’t see that. God loves each of us infinitely. St. Augustine says it is helpful for us to meditate on the reality that Jesus would die for one person as readily as die for all people because His love is infinite. Different people have different gifts, and He gives some people more grace and more ability than others; but that’s all part of his plan to make a beautiful creation. St. Therese compares it to looking at a meadow where there are all kinds of grass and different flowers and some may be more beautiful than others; but the real beauty and wonder is the whole meadow.

But this worldly mindset about our worth can affect our relationship with God. We can think we need to be good in order to earn His love, in order to be worthwhile to Him. That isn’t God. He loves us because He loves us period. It’s not because we can achieve something wonderful for Him.

Now, we have to be careful here. We have to walk a fine line because there could be a temptation to complacency which is not good.

On the one hand, God loves us as we are right now with all our weaknesses and imperfections, and on the other hand that he really wants us to strive to be as good and perfect as we can be. I have struggled and struggled with this for a long time to put these together and I feel like the Lord gave me an answer the other day which I find helpful.

Ideally, what motivates us to strive to be good is that we want to please Him. We just want to please Him. We see how good He is, what He has done for us, how many times He has touched our lives in simple ways to tell us He’s thinking of us and in our gratitude we want to please Him and love Him and that is our striving.

This is different than striving to make ourselves pleasing to Him, to make ourselves good so that He will love us. That’s the world’s mentality. That was the mentality of the Pharisees. They wanted to make themselves pure so they would be entitled to God’s blessing. That’s not what God wants. He wants to bless us, and all He asks of us is that we keep turning to Him, trusting Him, trying our best to love Him like a little child. That’s how I see the good Shepherd, at least up here, I keep trying to make that more real down here.

It’s like St. Therese on her deathbed. She is in agony from tuberculosis and death is imminent. Several of the sisters are with her and one of them said something that annoyed her, and she responded with a little annoyance, and one of the other sisters called her on it. Now, most of us would probably respond in 1 of 2 ways – we’d either be really annoyed – can you give me a break; or we’d be scared knowing we’re about to die and we messed up like that; but not Therese. Her response was: O how wonderful that I will go to God in need of His mercy. Talk about child-like trust.

We have to realize that Jesus wants to pour Himself out for us. He said, I am and the good Shepherd, and I will lay down my life for the sheep. That’s why He came.

A little while ago my son Eric came to me and asked why didn’t God just give all of us a massive infusion of grace like our Blessed Mother so we could all be perfect? He could have done that. And I think the answer is because if we were all perfect, He wouldn’t have had to die for us. Love wants to prove itself.

So, 3 quick take-aways. Things that we can do to grow in this child-like trust.

  1. Practice Praise and Thanksgiving. As St. Therese said, what most draws down graces from our dear Lord is gratitude, for if we thank Him for a gift, he is touched and hastens to give us ten more, and if we thank him again with the same sincerity, what an incalculable multiplication of graces! I have experienced this: try it and you will see. My gratitude for all that he gives me is boundless, and I prove this to him in a thousand ways.
  2. Live in Jesus. Speak with Him frequently throughout the day. Do not let yourself be formed by the world; be formed by the Word of God. Soak yourself in scripture.
  3. Be resolved to always follow Him. Be like good sheep who always follow their Shepherd. We may mess up at times but determine that He is your life and you’re going to follow Him.
Posted in Joni's Joy in Creating

Joni’s Joy in Creating

In being able to express my gift of creativity, I find much “joy which balances my afflictions.” (Ps. 90)

Wanting to share this gift, this joy with you, I have created Joni’s Joy in Creating Youtube Channel. This is where I will post videos of art pieces that I’m working on, as well as videos that share information regarding classes that I will be teaching, in person in my art room, or eventually demonstrations and classes that might help you too, to find some unexpected joy.

Please check out this introduction video and let me know what you think.

Welcome to Joni’s Joy in Creating Youtube Channel – YouTube

Posted in Deacon Bob

His Hour Has Come

His hour has come. Up until now, on several occasions, Jesus has said my hour has not yet come but now the hour of His Passion has come and he is troubled. But, this is what he came for and he gives a little parable to explain it.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

This is His life. This is why he came. He came to die for us. But, It’s not only His life; it’s the model for our life as His disciples. As St. Paul says, If we have died with Him, we know that we shall also live with Him.

How do we die with Him?

Let’s go to our 2nd reading. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

What does this mean that Jesus learned obedience and was made perfect? Isn’t he already perfect? As God yes; but as a man, he grew just like you and me and a key to his growth was suffering. There have basically been 4 responses to suffering: the Greeks saw that life is mostly emptiness and pain and the best we can do with suffering is accept it nobly. The Romans had a little more fight and saw suffering as a challenge to be conquered by stoic indifference. Ancient Judaism saw suffering as a punishment for sin but also as a means of atonement. The Christian view agrees with Judaism but also sees suffering as purifying us of our pride, our hardness, our indifference, in short, it can perfect us in love. That’s what it did for Jesus and ultimately, He was made perfect in his suffering on the cross.

But it wasn’t the physical pain that was His greatest suffering. I heard this recently and it makes sense. It was the realization that even with this sacrifice, there would still be people who would reject Him. It’s like at the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 when many of his followers left Him. They said, this is a hard saying, who can stand it, and they left, and He turned to His apostles and asked if they too were going to leave? That’s what causes His greatest suffering. As He said on the cross “I thirst”. He is consumed with love. He will suffer anything that we might have life, and it was His perfect love, His perfect obedience that broke the power of Satan and redeemed us.

Now, that’s Jesus; but as I said before, Jesus is our model. As His followers, we are called to be like Him. But, how can we possibly love as perfectly as He did?

Well, assuming all the basics like faith and His grace working in us, then we are made perfect the same way He was, through our suffering. Romans 8, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Acts 14 “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” James 1: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Suffering with Him perfects us in love.

I’m thinking of my own dad here. My dad is 85 years old and he obviously has some health issues; but, he’s relatively good. My mom has had a couple of strokes and has some dementia. Her memory has gotten quite bad and she can’t do what she used to do – she can’t prepare meals, clean, etc. My dad has become her caretaker. And he does it with my mom berating him. She doesn’t mean it; but it’s like every time she says something or asks my dad something, it’s like she’s annoyed with him. He might be preparing hamburgers for dinner and she’ll ask in a somewhat angry tone, what are you mixing in the meat? Almost everything she says to him sounds like she’s annoyed. And my dad, is not a docile easy-going guy by nature. He had a temper. But, now he says he’s convinced that this is the job God has given him. That he’s here to take care of mom for however long they live. Suffering is perfecting him in love.

My mom’s mom had full-blown Alzheimer’s for the last several years of her life. At one point they couldn’t care for her any longer and had to move her into a nursing home. My grandpa could have continued living with my parents but he basically voluntarily became a resident in the nursing home so he could be in the same room with my grandma 24/7, even though her mind was basically gone. She was his life.

Then of course there’s my wife Joni and now my son Eric who have shown me what it looks like to suffer with Jesus. Especially Joni because she’s been at it for many years now. She does everything she can to avoid suffering but sometimes nothing works and when that happens, she prays and unites it to Jesus’s suffering. Jesus makes it possible for suffering to be an act of love. We can unite our suffering with Jesus for somebody. I remember a priest saying that when he goes to a parish one of the first things he does is get in touch with the parishioners who are in chronic pain because they become his prayer warriors. When he needs prayers for someone, he turns to his prayer warriors because suffering willingly accepted and united to the cross of Jesus is powerful; but its also a lifeline for the person suffering. He said one time, he got an email from one of his prayer warriors and all she said was “I need a name”. “I need a name”. I need someone to live for.

So, our suffering with Him, our Cross if you will, makes us perfect, just like it did Him. So, are you suffering? Are you struggling with something? Do you have a cross? If so, thank God.

I’ll never forget many years ago when our kids were young and we were part of a family retreat group down at Camp Maria and Father Stack was our Priest, on one occasion we were talking about the cross and he said, we should be very wary if we don’t have a cross. It was not only what he said, but the way he said it. He was basically saying if we don’t have a cross, that’s not a good thing.

So, if you have a cross, thank God. He is working on you. You belong to Christ – you’re one of His and as Mother Teresa learned from a Priest when she was deep in her suffering, it’s Him kissing you. That was huge for her.

On Day 16 of Fr. Gaitley’s book “33 Days to Morning Glory”, he has a magnificent letter written by Mother Teresa to her sisters in which she explains her understanding of Jesus’s words “I thirst”. She says “I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus – one to one – you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel – but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus – not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you?”

We have 2 more weeks of Lent before the great feast of Easter. Let’s use this time well. Let’s intensify our prayer – really hear Jesus in our hearts and let us embrace our cross. Our cross is our salvation. When we pick up our cross and follow Him, it changes us. We become better. We become like Him.

God bless you all.  

Posted in Fr. Chris, Fr. Chris Videos

Fr. Chris’ Lenten Retreat, Leaving the World’s Cacophony and Entering the Desert of Silence with Christ

This talk was given to the members of the John Carroll Society of Washington, DC. They were kind to give me permission to post it here.

(The introduction and talk begin at the 3 minute, 14 second mark of the video.) Enjoy!

Leaving the World’s Cacophony and Entering the Desert of Silence with Christ