Archive for the ‘Gospel’ Category

Thoughts on Christmas, Fatherhood, and the Nature of God

January 4, 2013
P + A

Paul and Alexander

So now that the pine needles have settled, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on what we have experienced in the last few days.  With the arrival of the real Christmas season, as well as the beginning of  a new year, it is a good idea to take a deep breath and refocus our attention on what God is trying to share with us.

In a paradoxical way, Christmas time can be a hard time to be a Christian.  We are being bombarded by premature seasonal decorations, the spirit of materialism, and a whole host of other distractions designed to “choke the Word”, which is meanwhile silently trying to take root in our hearts.  This year, my own little family had a lengthy to-do list involving annual family parties to attend, gifts to purchase, cards to send (which we didn’t get to this year) and oh yeah, don’t forget to make some space for prayer and worship!  I myself found Christmas to be a whirlwind of family faces, wrapping paper, excited but tired toddlers, and even more tired parents.  But despite the happiness of sharing the holidays with our children and extended family, I still found that an empty space remained in my heart, making this pursuit of “seeking Jesus” all the more necessary. 

You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell from our culture’s celebration of Christmas, but the celebration of Christmas is an occasion to celebrate God’s Incarnation, “the Word made Flesh”, that mystery when God decided to enter into human history and live and die as one of us.  Naturally, Christmas is a time when we contemplate the Christ Child, usually in the arms of his loving mother Mary, with the peaceful presence of Joseph close at hand.  But where is God the Father?

This aspect of God’s fatherhood is always on my heart now, especially as this was my third Christmas since becoming a father.  Being blessed with two beautiful children,  I have found that fatherhood has been a grace-filled window in which the rays of God’s light seem to shine through with greater clarity.  In other words, I feel like I understand more about God now than I ever did when I was a self-focused single man.  I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the paternal nature of God that Jesus emphasized again and again in his teachings. 

First of all, let’s start with the basic question all over again: who or what is God?  Scripture tells us simply but enigmatically, “God is love.”  Pope Benedict XVI chose to highlight this truth of the Faith in his first encyclical with the same simple phrase,  Deus Caritas Est.  This is what “we have believed and have come to know” through our personal encounter with Jesus.  At least that is how it was for me, for I feel that I did not really know God until he shared His Name and His Face with me in the person of Christ.  But Jesus is only one Person of the three Divine Persons that form the Holy Trinity.  As Christians we believe that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But how do we relate to the Father, especially if our own earthly fathers have been absent, neglectful or perhaps just simply human while we expected them to be divine?  If you’re like me, it’s a lot easier to relate to Jesus then to the Father.  Jesus’ humanity provides me that immediate connection, since I can look at the crucifix or a statue of the Sacred Heart, or any other sacramental object that helps make him present.  But the images of the Father as an old white bearded man lead my mind to Santa and Gandalf associations that don’t help me pray. 

So what do we do?  How can we come to know this Father that Jesus wants us to know so intimately? 

In my case, God has decided to share with me some knowledge of Himself by blessing me with the chance to share in his fatherhood.  It is really true that for me, starting with the “yes” of Mary (my wife’s real name), I have been able to share in the creation of new life.  In my opinion, becoming a parent really is the best thing ever, especially since I spent many years struggling with the possibility of a priestly vocation.  As much as I wanted to serve God as a priest, the desire for a family could not be denied and so I pursued this path. Now I am a married man and  I love being a father.  I have told my wife more than once that I feel more like myself as a father, that becoming a father has seemed to open up more my sense of who I am.  And so this has got me thinking and wondering about how God loves as a Father.  

Now fathers have a lot of different tasks.  Here are some of the things I do as a father:  I work a 9 to 5 job to help pay the bills and put food on the table.  I change your dirty diaper.  I get you apple juice.  I get you more apple juice.  I console you when you fall down and bump your head.  I pick you up and carry you away before you tumble down the stairs. I put a band-aid over that tiny scratch on your crib that for some reason, scares the heck out of you.  I make you Mac and Cheese, chicken nuggets, and dance with you to “princess music.”  I read you the “Dora the Explorer” book for the 500th time.  I remind you that “monkeybutt” is not a polite thing to say in  public, while I try not to laugh out loud. 

I’m patient when you have a meltdown when I won’t let you have another piece of candy.  I take you to church even though it’s hard for you to be quiet and sit still.  I teach you that Daddy is going up to receive the “Bread of Life” and that you will also get to share it when you are bigger.  I teach you that the names of the people in the “farm” are Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  I remind you that the reason that Santa brings us presents is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. 

Those are all examples of things fathers do to care for their children.  I enjoy all those tasks even when sometimes they are unpleasant, inconvenient, or try my patience.  But do you know what is the one thing that I enjoy most about being a father?

Adoration. 

If that makes you think of Eucharistic Adoration, you’re on the right track.  The most joy-filled moments in a father’s life is to simply be in the presence of his child.  In those moments the father can look at his child’s face, his eyes, his hair, his little hands and feet and simply wonder in the beauty of his creation.  That is what I love best about being a father.    And I believe that God the Father felt the same way.  He was not content to stay remote and distant from his creation.  He longed to be close to his children…very, very close…

It’s no mistake that one of the most powerful means of prayer that the Church recommends is Eucharistic Adoration, since that is the  way to experience the REAL PRESENCE of God.  As Jesus said, “whoever sees me, sees the Father.” 

Now when you look at the Christ Child, know that you are seeing the Father who longs to be present to you.  He longs to be in your presence, and longs that you be in his presence.  I have a written a song for my next album called “The Dream of Joseph” which includes the following lyrics:

From highest heaven, to lowest earth

God has come down to dwell,

His Real Presence is the Gift the Father gives –

He is Emmanuel.

Emmanuel – God with us.  Christmas really is about God being with us.   The best gift that a father can give his children is to be present to them.  And often times, that presence means even more than what the father does for his children, because as earthly fathers, there are natural limits to what we can give.  But our Heavenly Father really desires to give us all and everything .  As my patron saint said, “He who did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not along with him give us everything else?” 

God the Father loved you into being.

He longs to be in your presence. 

This holy longing will make you ache to be in His presence.

His greatest joy is in adoring you, as you share in the joy of living, moving and having your being.

So, in this Christmas season, let yourself be adored… and come, let us adore Him, for He is Emmanuel!

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The Patience of God

November 6, 2010

Recently at work I was annoyed, repeatedly.  I drove across town on two separate occasions for an important meeting, and each time, one of the people who was supposed to appear failed to show, meaning we would have to reschedule the meeting.  I wasted valuable time driving as well as waiting in the lobby for this person.  A third meeting then needed to be scheduled, and of course I was annoyed and irritated.  Inside I felt inclined to write this person off, and say “I’m done” dealing with him.

It is in these common daily moments that the Lord may be trying to teach us something.  So, while waiting in the lobby I took some time to reflect on this unique kind of suffering.  You may recall that the Latin word for suffering is “patiens”, from which we get the word “patient.”  It is fitting because to be patient is a type of suffering.  While I waited angrily in the lobby, I stopped to consider how often I have turned away from God despite knowing full well what He has asked me to do. The Lord is actively waiting for me to turn away from sin and choose to follow Him.    Does the Lord say about me, “this man that I have created and redeemed by My own Blood, continues to sin repeatedly, deny me and place other things above Me. That’s it! I’m done with him!”

No!  “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion.” There are so many scriptures to remind us of this.  Some I have mentioned in past posts.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

“You shall call him Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.”

“I have come to call sinners, not the righteous.”

How patient God is with us.  While I was ready to dismiss someone after two failings, God is ready to forgive me again and again, and again, and again and again and again.   It’s interesting – when I left the office that day I left with a feeling of joy.  This was odd, as I had just been reflecting on my own sinfulness.  But in fact, recalling our sins can actually be a way to bring us closer to the Lord.  You remember of course, that a man who is not sick has no need of a doctor.  And a person without sin has no need of a Savior.  If I am not calling to mind my sins, I am then tempted to believe that I am “better than” those people who appear to have more flaws than I do.  I will be tempted to believe that I am acting righteously, when in fact, “my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51).

Reflecting on our sinfulness can be a way to experience God’s love.  And the only reason this can be is because Christ is our hope.  He is the one who brought reconciliation with the Father.  He is always ready to forgive.  If we are enslaved to sin with no hope of forgiveness, then yes, we would be the most hopeless, dejected people of all.  But in truth, we are the most joyful, hopeful people of all, because God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Rejoice, repent, rejoice!

 

A Matter of Life and Death

July 23, 2010

Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

The important thing to consider here is the seriousness of what the Lord is proclaiming.  We have corporal needs, but we also have spiritual ones.  Today while reflecting on this passage, I heard them more as a warning, a caution about grave danger at hand.

If I stop eating and drinking, I will surely die.  That is a basic fact of life.  But if I take care of only my physical needs, I also risk spiritual death.  Only the Word of God can bring me life, a life that will persist into eternity.

I understand more deeply now how critical it is that I meditate on the Gospels and internalize the words of Christ.  It is a matter of life and death.

One thing

July 20, 2010

The most important thing in life is listening to the Word of God.

Everything else will pass and will be taken away from us, but the Word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily activity.

So said Pope Benedict XVI this past Sunday, in his reflections on the gospel account of Martha and Mary.

Do you recall how many times in the Bible God says, “This is my Beloved Son, Listen to Him!”….?

What will you have to cut out of your day to make room to listen to Him?  Feel free to make a commitment in the comments section.

New Life

July 13, 2010

Yes, this site has been largely abandoned.  But I’m still alive.  And even more joyous is the fact that my wife and I have welcomed a new person into the world, a precious baby girl.  I find myself fully immersed in the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood now, in a way that is irrevocable.  And because it can be overwhelming, even now I feel the need to get organized.  More specifically, to ensure that I stay connected to God, despite all the tasks to attend to.

I found myself re-reading some of my previous posts and it is like preaching to my self.  I am still seeking Jesus, and I’m frustrated that my communication with God is not the first priority in my life.  I want to change that.

I know I need to cut out all the constant stream of useless information and make way for the Gospel.  So that is what we will do.  I plan to return to the original aim of this blog and spend some time in reflection on the Good News.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Lord, please transform my intentions into actions!

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of heaven has come near. Repent and believe in the Gospel!

Yet That is What We Are…

August 8, 2009

Anyone who has spent time reading the Gospels will notice how frequently Jesus refers to God as Father.  It can be hard to imagine God as father when our own experience of fathers has been of flawed men who make decisions out of their own self-interests rather than meeting our needs.  Yet we should remember that we were made in God’s image, not the other way around.  So we should look to God as the prototype of fatherhood, not look to the earthly fathers we know to form our truth about God’s fatherhood.  

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? 

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

 If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,  and all these things will be given you besides.

This morning I signed a document committing me to a mortgage that I will pay off over 30 years.  That is a little less time than I have spent living my life thus far.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent over the course of my lifetime to maintain our family home.   By making this commitment, I hope to provide my wife and future children with a safe, comfortable and loving environment, in which we can grow in faith, hope, love and the knowledge of God.  This is surely a serious and momentous decision.   In light of the global economic crisis, and the fall of companies that we thought we could always rely on, we are forced to ask ourselves, “In whom can we trust?  How can I be assured that my family and I will have everything they need, despite the many obstacles?”  

Surely we cannot depend anymore on our employers, in our bank accounts, or even in the basic necessities we need to function, such as physical and mental health.  God may place these things at risk in order to get us on our knees again, because that is the posture of prayer.  And prayer connects us to God.  Our relationship with God is what makes life worth living.  I would rather spend my life living in a dilapidated shack, in the joy of God’s presence, than to live in a mansion in Beverly Hills, where my gods are money, fame, power and self-inflation.  For example, we all know how many successful entertainers struggle with alcohol, drug and other addictions.  All their material needs are met, yet they are plagued with an emptiness that begs to be filled.  They rise to the top of society’s ranks, then they fall as quickly out of fame, fortune, and public opinion.  Once that happens, their sense of self has been lost, and horrible fears of being unlovable and unwanted overwhelm them.  But ask yourself,  if you are broke, does that mean you are worthless?  If you have no home, are you not worth being sheltered? If no one knows your name outside of your family and friends, are you not special?

See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called the children of God.  Yet that is what we are.

Yet that is what we are. 

 

Goin’ to Work…

April 27, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, I am in the midst of uncertainty regarding my employment.  In order to stay in a spirit of faith and trust, I have renewed my commitment to participating in the weekday liturgies.  Due to my work schedule, the only one I can attend is the 6:30 am service.  I am not a morning person!!! I have always had difficulty getting up early in the morning.  But God makes all things new, right?  Perhaps he is trying to transform me into a “morning person.”  At any rate, I have found that this job difficulty has had the positive effect of pushing me right back into the heart of God.  Each morning a different Word sticks in my mind – I am trying to hear what the Lord is saying to me.

Today this is what struck me:

Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.

This is our true work: To believe in Jesus and God’s love for us.  As long as we live and breathe in this world, we will need to work to earn our daily bread; however each day Jesus is offering us Himself in the supernatural Eucharistic bread and we should never reject Him.  I will have faith that God will provide for my needs and the needs of my family.  My “work” will always first and foremost be to believe in His Word.  God’s Word is true – “He can neither deceive nor be deceived.”  DEUS CARITAS EST

Behold, I Make All Things New

April 24, 2009

“Behold, I make all things new.”  This is the Word of God on my mind and heart lately.  The reason being that there are changes being made at my place of employment that suggest I will need to find a new job within the next few months.  I am angry, confused, frustrated and sad.  I was blessed by God to find a job that was a definite upgrade from my prior job.  A generous salary, friendly colleagues, and a safe and comfortable place to work.  I thought it would be a place I could put down roots.  But now it looks like I will be uprooted again.  It is difficult to get myself in the mindset of change, but I have no choice.  Therefore, I am looking to God to help me move forward.  God makes all things new.  I believe he is guiding me and leading me.  The last time I was unemployed, I moved forward with faith that God had a place for me.  And it proved to be true.  I must hold fast to that truth anew.  Today at morning Mass the priest began the homily by asking, “How often do we place limits on what God can accomplish through us?”  The reading today was about the miracle of feeding the four thousand people with just a few loaves of bread.  I will not place limits on God.  Like I mentioned a few posts ago, “God can create light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light.  He can bring you summer out of winter, even if you have no Spring…”  Please pray for me.  May God bless you.

Darkness

March 30, 2009

“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” – from Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is the arguably the most famous and most loved of all the 150 psalms.  It is very familiar to most Christians.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, I recommend you read the whole psalm for its beautiful and timeless images depicting God’s faithfulness and love.  When I read this particular passage, some thoughts come to mind.  In this time we are all facing uncertainty, especially here in my Midwestern state.  There is great fear of financial ruin in the form of job losses, foreclosures and bankruptcy.  Things upon which we used to depend are turning out to be unreliable.  How will we cope with this uncertainty?

The psalmist’s faith shows that he had no fear, even in the darkness, because he believed that God was at his side.  Notice that he does not pray to God to take away the darkness.  That would be an understandable approach to being in such a tenuous and unnerving state.  But instead, he praises God for simply being at his side.  The presence of God was enough for him to feel safe and secure.  So, perhaps God will not alter the failing global economy overnight – to make us all “feel better”…so we can go back to seeking fulfillment in materialism and trivial pursuits.  Instead he may let the darkness remain, while we fumble around in the dark, until we finally decide it makes sense to seek out an unfailing source of light.

 Jesus spoke to them again, saying,
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”


The Door Will Be Opened!

March 5, 2009

The Gospel of St. Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

As you read today’s Gospel passage, did you find yourself reading more quickly than you normally do?  I did.  I believe that is partly because I have heard and read these words many times before.  They do not sound “new.”  And I think it is also because of my internet surfing habits – we are used to quickly scanning a page for interesting information, while trying to ignore pop-ups, advertisements, and other portions we just simply aren’t interested in.

Now is the opportunity to …s  l  o  w. . . .    d  o  w  n.   Jesus first spoke these words over 2000 years ago, but he is also speaking them to us today in the here and now.  If we skim the surface of his preaching without “plumbing the depths” we will fail to benefit.

If we are properly attentive to today’s Gospel reading, we should experience these words as a difficult challenge.  Even in our culture where we have become accustomed to instant gratification, even we recognize that we don’t always get what we want when we want it.  But here Jesus is telling us Ask and you shall receive.  What comes to mind when you consider what you want to ask of God?  If you ask, do you believe that he will give it to you? And if he does not, does that mean he does not exist?  Or does it mean he does not care about you?  Or does it mean you asked for the wrong thing? Or perhaps what you asked for will be granted, but not yet.  “God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials,” as someone once observed. 

But there is a deeper issue involved in this matter.  When we ask someone for something, it is usually someone we know and trust.  Jesus uses the image of a parent and child.  A child is totally dependent on his parents.  If his parents do not provide him with food, shelter, clothing and other basic necessities, his life will be at risk.  When the child asks his father for something to eat, the child has the belief that his father has the ability to provide what he is asking for, and will do so because of their familial relationship.  Jesus had complete trust in God, whom he frequently addressed as “Abba”, a word which is equivalent to our english word “Daddy.”  This is a word used by a trusting, dependent child.  Jesus is saying to us that God is a loving parent who wishes to give us good things, and we should have faith that He will provide them if we ask. 

What “good gifts” do you seek?