The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Monday, June 29, 2020

COVID-19 Bible Study Reflection #9: A Prayerful Attitude

In our last reflection (#8), we took a brief look at the Book of Psalms and its place in our spirituality as a source, a starting point, for different forms of prayer. In today’s reflection, I hope to focus on a prayerful attitude, the state of mind best suited to mental prayer, or meditative and contemplative prayer. (This, too, will be no more than a brief introduction.) 

Such prayer is really a wonderful way to enter into the kind of personal relationship with God that He desires for each of us. In a very real sense, mental prayer becomes a pathway to the joy that comes from this relationship, enabling us to "taste and see that the Lord is good" [Ps 34:9].

So then, how do we prepare ourselves, how do we develop the attitude of prayer that opens us to be receptive to God’s prayerful grace? Why not begin with the words of Our Lord? In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus instructed His disciples:
"When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" [Mt 6:6].
In saying this, Jesus wasn’t telling us not to engage in communal or liturgical prayer; not at all. Indeed, Jesus often encouraged communal prayer, and the “Our Father” is, in fact, a beautiful example, one of the reasons the Church includes it in its sacramental rites. We also find Jesus praying with His apostles and calling them to communal prayer. Just read the final words of His last discourse as described in the Gospel according to John [Jn 17] and you will encounter a prayerful Jesus who, by His words, teaches the apostles how to pray. And Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us how Jesus concluded the Last Supper with a hymn, which is simply communal prayer as song.
“Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” [Mt 26:30].
And what prayer could be more communal and liturgical than the prayer of those gathered in the New Jerusalem in heaven:
“Then I heard something like the sound of a great multitude or the sound of rushing water or mighty peals of thunder, as they said: ‘Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign, our God, the almighty. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory’” [Rev 19:6-7].
No, Jesus wasn’t discouraging communal prayer. His concern was for those who prayed only to be seen by others, for whom prayer was a means to glorify themselves rather than God. By praying “to your Father in secret,” you avoid this form of hypocrisy. 

Perhaps we can begin by saying what mental prayer isn't. It's not the result of technique; it's not something we do. Rather it's a gift; it's something God does for us.

This, then, is our first truth: mental prayer is, quite simply, a grace.

Among other things, this is what separates Christian mental prayer from such Eastern meditation methods as yoga or Zen. We make a serious mistake when we try to reduce everything to technique, when we try to make life, even our spiritual life, into something to be manipulated at will. Mental prayer is not Christian yoga. Mental doesn't rely on human effort. There's certainly room for initiative and activity on our part, but we must understand that the foundation of a life of prayer is built on God's initiative and grace, on God giving of Himself freely.

Since we needn’t worry about mastering techniques, let’s focus instead on the necessary conditions, the dispositions of heart, for receiving the gift. Understanding this is critical since one of the temptations of the spiritual life is to rely on our efforts and not on God's freely given mercy.

St. Teresa of Avila gives us our second truth: the entire edifice of prayer is founded on humility. Teresa stressed that Mary’s humility is the perfect model: a humility not only capable of receiving God, but of holding Him, and safeguarding all received graces. Growth, Teresa, added is “not concerned with receiving graces, but of becoming capable of not losing them.”

St Peter also stressed humility when he instructed the early Christian community:
“…clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: ‘God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble’” [1 Pet 5:5].
In other words, we ourselves can do nothing, and it is God alone who produces good in our souls. True mental prayer is, then, abandonment. (You might want to revisit our Reflection #6 on this subject.) 

Unlike community or liturgical prayer, when we’re immersed in solitude and silence before God, we find ourselves unsupported, alone with the reality of ourselves and our poverty. Jesus reminded us of this spiritual poverty when He instructed His apostles:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” [Jn 15:5].
If we allow these words to sink in, we come to appreciate three things: (1) that God’s greatness is beyond our imagining; but that (2) He wants to connect with us in the most intimate way; and (3) He is in complete charge and we need only accept this. 

In Reflection #6 I included Blessed Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment, but here’s another, perhaps more relevant for some people today. It was written by the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself; and that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so.
But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. I know if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Possessed of the attitude exemplified by this example of simple, humble abandonment, we can approach mental prayer in a way most pleasing to Our Lord. Our human pride might rebel at this, but such abandonment is actually liberating since God, who loves us, will carry us farther than we can ever go on our own.

There's another wonderful, liberating consequence of true Christian prayer. Since it's not based on technique, it's never a matter of some people possessing the necessary skill while others don't. We can all partake in it. This, then, leads us to our third truth: God’s call to holiness is universal.

Holiness demands prayer, and because God's call to holiness is universal, nobody is excluded. Jesus calls every single one of us to holiness and to prayer without exception. The life of prayer isn’t reserved for some religious elite; it’s for everyone. And God will provide the graces and the strength each person needs.

Through our faith we believe that all people without exception – wise and foolish, just and sinners, well-balanced and deeply wounded – are called to an authentic life of prayer in which God communicates and reveals Himself to us. 

Just turn to the Gospels, Who is called by Jesus? The poor, the wealthy, the ill, the dying, the wise, the foolish, the blind, the possessed, the young, the old, the loved, the despised, the ruled, and those who rule…Jesus calls them all.

This is hard for some people to accept. Their faith, distorted by pride, leads them to dismiss some others as unworthy, when in truth we’re all unworthy. It’s the same pride we encountered over the centuries in all the heresies that rose up to attack the Church. In every instance heresy begins with someone believing and asserting, “I am holier than the Church.”

Each of us, then, with our different personalities, and our weaknesses and strengths, can have a deep mental prayer life by being faithfully open to God's grace. But our God sees each person uniquely; after all, He created each of us in a unique act of personal love. We should not, therefore, expect that every person will experience God’s prayerful graces in the same manner. Let God direct your prayer life as He desires.

This leads us to our fourth truth: Faith is the basis of all mental prayer.

Prayer always involves struggle; and it’s a struggle that can overwhelm us. This is why we need faith, for faith strengthens us and gives us the confidence to persevere. Indeed, faith is our capacity to act according to what we are told by Jesus Christ, the Word of God Incarnate. And God cannot lie. 

Speaking of faith, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
“This faith, however, is not a thought, an opinion, an idea. This faith is communion with Christ, which the Lord gives to us, and which thus becomes life, becomes conformity with him…Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life.”
This, then, must be the basis, the very foundation, of our prayer: to become more Christ-like, for that’s what growing in holiness is all about.

Our fifth truth is another of those wonderful revelations that should change our thinking and our lives. It states, quite simply, that God desires us infinitely more than we desire Him.

This, of course, is the essence of the Good News, the same truth that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus on that dark night in Jerusalem:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” [Jn 3:16-17].
If God desires us, and if He is omnipotent, then He must always be with us. And so, He is always present when we pray. 

No matter what I feel, or how poorly prepared or inarticulate or confused I am, regardless of my inner state, my sinfulness, God is there, listening and helping and loving. He is there not because of my worthiness, but because He promised: “…pray to your Father who is there in secret…” 

And in John 6, Jesus promises: “I will not reject anyone who comes to me” [Jn 6:37]. How often do we think about that? It should really drive us to our knees in thankfulness and joy.

Our next truth, number six, is one of those unexpected truths, but it’s the logical outgrowth of all the others: The fruits of a life of prayer are infinite.

Just consider what prayer does. It transforms us, sanctifies us, heals us, deepens our knowledge and love for God, makes us fervent and generous in our love of neighbor, and leads us to the perfection Christ wants for us
. If you persevere in mental prayer, you can be certain of this and much more. So, don’t get discouraged when you stumble or when your prayer seems sterile or arid.

People often give up mental prayer because they don’t see quick results. Reject this temptation. Make an act of faith that God’s promise will be fulfilled in His time. Remember what St. James wrote:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” [Jas 5:7-8].
Yes, indeed, the Lord is at hand. He is with you even when you seem so very alone. Remain open to His presence and He will make Himself known.

And from this, we’re led to another truth: Pray faithfully, every day, even when your prayer is poor, brief, and distracted.

Daily, faithful prayer, even when it encounters dryness or obstacles or is interrupted by the distractions of our lives, is worth more than on-again, off-again sublime prayer.

Once, years ago, I experienced what can only be described as a kind of vision, the presence of Jesus before me as I prayed. It was so real I believed I could reach out and touch Him. It was a wonderful, unforgettable encounter with Our Lord, and for a while afterwards I tried to find a spiritual path that would let me experience this beatitude once again. But I finally realized it had been a gift, a one-time blessing to strengthen my faith and lead me to a deeper prayer life. It came at a time when the need was particularly great, and for some reason known only to God, he sent me this particular grace.

The battle to be faithful is not easily won, especially since Satan wants to keep you from daily prayer. You see, Satan knows that one who is faithful in daily mental prayer has escaped him. It is faithfulness alone that enables the life of prayer to bear its wonderful fruit.

Finally, truth number eight: Mental prayer is no more than an exercise in loving God. This, then, must be our intention. Faith and fidelity are important, but without purity of intention, our prayer has no life in it. How did Jesus put it?
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” [Mt 5:8].
Who are the pure of heart? The sinless? No, not at all. The pure of heart are those who are inspired in all they do by a sincere intention of forgetting themselves in order to please God, living not for themselves but for Him. They are those who truly love God.

Pure love doesn’t seek its own interests but seeks only to give joy to another. And so, we pray to please God simply because He asks us to do so and we want to please Him.
This purity of heart, this self-forgetting and loving intention, doesn’t come easy. It takes time, and for most it is never fully attained. But God is pleased that we’ve simply undertaken the journey, so long as we strive to realize in our hearts an ever-purer love for God.

Once again, Satan will try to discourage you by demonstrating how weak and self-seeking you are. Ignore him. God wants only your effort. Tell God, very simply, that you want to love Him with a pure love, and then abandon yourself totally and trustingly to him. He will purify you.

As I said earlier, these truths are dispositions, and form the foundational attitude necessary to deepen your life of prayer. I hope they will help you as they have helped me. I’ve learned most of them the hard way, through constant spiritual struggle. And I still struggle, and will no doubt continue to do so until my last breath. But, believe me, God will hold your hand and lift you up as you progress. He’ll be there with you always, in the easy times and the hard times.
God’s peace…

Here are a few books I have found helpful when it comes to prayer (with Amazon links):

von Balthasar, Hans Urs – Prayer

Bouyer, Louis – Introduction to the Spiritual Life 

Daniélou, Jean – Prayer, the Mission of the Church

Dubay, Thomas – Prayer Primer, Igniting a Fire Within

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald – Knowing the Love of God (Ch.12-15 on prayer)

Graef, Hilda – The Commonsense Book of Catholic Prayer and Meditation

Merton, Thomas – Contemplative Prayer

COVID-19 Bible Study Reflection #8: Prayer in the Psalms

Note: This reflection was originally written on June 20. I simply neglected to post it here on the blog. I trust you will find it of some value in your prayer life.

Once again, I offer another reflection, one I hope will help us – and I include myself as well – get through these challenging times. As always, we ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide and inspire us. That’s important because without the Holy Spirit, we can do little indeed. 

Today we’re going to look at prayer, the Spirit of prayer, especially as it’s found in Sacred Scripture, remembering that it’s only through the Holy Spirit that we can “pray as we ought” [Rom 8:26].

I’ll begin by saying I’m not an expert on prayer. Indeed, my own prayer life, my own time with God, is sometimes pretty messy. I think of all the fits and starts, the spiritual dead-ends, the dryness, the challenges – and all of it so often focused more on myself than on God. How, then, can I talk with you about prayer when my own prayer life falls so short of the mark set by the saints? Well, I actually prayed about this and decided that maybe the Holy Spirit wanted me to share those problems with you too. Maybe He knows how these same things trouble your prayer life, and that you’re not alone. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit’s a lot smarter than you and me. And as Luke tells us, Our Lord Himself promised His disciples:
“…the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” [Lk 12:12].
So, let’s just agree that the Holy Spirit is the source of any good resulting from this reflection, and that all the not-so-goods come only from me. With that we can press on and open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit.

Here we are, in the middle of Ordinary Time. Lent and Easter are behind us, and Advent and Christmas still far ahead of us, so perhaps this might be a good time to reflect on how we’re doing. The Church, of course, knows that Ordinary Time can sometimes seem...well, so very ordinary. And so, during this quieter liturgical time, it repeats many of the Lenten readings. It wants us to know that prayer and fasting and almsgiving aren’t just Lenten practices…no they’re Christian practices, and should be an active part of our ongoing, daily spiritual lives. The practices of Lent, for example, should result in permanent change; they should bring about our continued spiritual growth. 

Too many of us, though, tend to spend much of our lives drifting to and from God, as if our spirituality is a kind of seasonal thing, not realizing that God wants constant spiritual movement toward Him. Yes, He wants us to do extraordinary things even in Ordinary Time, and it’s all wrapped up in God’s call to love Him and each other. How did St. Paul put it?
"If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal" [1 Cor 13:1].
Wow! …So, our prayer and all we do mean little if they’re not grounded in love. Let me read something else Paul wrote, in his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians:
“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing”  [2 Thes 1:3].
Now, out of all the verses in the New Testament, why do you think I chose this one? It was the words: “…because your faith is growing abundantly.” It’s all about growth, isn’t it? It’s all about growth in faith, growth in prayer, and growth in love. In other words, it’s about growth in holiness. But how do we measure it?

In the Night Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours there’s a point at which we are asked to make an examination of conscience, to review the day and our place in it. It’s a wonderful habit to develop and practice. Just take a few moments at the end of each day to call on the Holy Spirit, asking Him to remind us of how we journeyed through the day – what we have thought, and said, and done. It’s a prayer in which we place ourselves at the feet of Jesus and lay bare our soul in repentance and thanksgiving.
What did I do today to advance God’s Kingdom on earth?
Was I a willing ambassador for Christ in my interaction with others?
Did I see the presence of Jesus in all who crossed my path today? 
Did I submerge my own needs and wants and focus instead on helping them?
What I said and did today – did it lead people to salvation or turn them away?
How will I do things differently tomorrow?
Honest answers to these and other questions help us focus on our spiritual growth. The direction we’re heading becomes either painfully or gratefully obvious. We can then ask the Holy Spirit to show us the best path to spiritual growth and let Him lead us. 

Maybe this would be a good time to pause for a moment, turn to the Holy Spirit, and reflect on our personal growth in holiness. Like St. Paul, let’s set high expectations for our growth in holiness, and continually thank God for the grace He mercifully provides.
Holy Spirit, clear my mind of everything but Your love for me and my love for You. And in that love place before me that which You call me to do, that which will help me grow in holiness.
A few years ago, in a course for catechists and Catholic school teachers, I asked the participants write down an answer to this question: “When, outside of Mass, do you most often pray?” 

The most common answer? When I ask for God’s help in times of trouble or in solving some problem; in other words, Prayers of Petition.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with asking God for something, so long as it’s not something bad for us. But if that represents the full extent of our prayer life, we really don’t have much of a prayer life at all. 
Jesus and the Apostles Singing a Psalm
So, let’s look at prayer in many of its forms by turning to the Bible. Interestingly, virtually every form of prayer can be found in the Bible’s own book of prayer, the book we call the Book of Psalms. In each of the following I have offered only a single example of each type of prayer, in most instances just a single verse. But the Book of Psalms is filled with prayers and I recommend reading and praying with this wonderful book daily. 

Prayers of Petition – God works wonders for those He loves:
“Know that the LORD works wonders for his faithful one; the LORD hears when I call out to him” [Ps 4:4].
Prayers of Adoration, Praise, Blessing – We bless and praise God, not just once in a while, but always:
“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth” [Ps 34:2].
Prayers of Thanksgiving – We offer God an endless proclamation of Thanksgiving for all that we have, even our very being:
“Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his mercy endures forever!” [Ps 107:1]
Prayers of Longing and Yearning – We yearn for God just as the deer yearns for the running waters of a stream:
“As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?” [Ps 42:2-3] 
Prayerful Suffering – We express our sorrows, our pains in the light of God’s will, and unload our burdens on Him:
“Listen, God, to my prayer; do not hide from my pleading; hear me and give answer. I rock with grief; I groan… My heart pounds within me; death’s terrors fall upon me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me; shuddering sweeps over me” [Ps 55:2-3,5-6].
Prayers of Repentance – In a spirit of conversion we renounce our sin, express sorrow, and return to the Father, the only one who can heal us:
“Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me. For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me” [Ps 51:3-5].
Prayers of Marvel and Wonder – Ps 104:1-35 – We marvel at the glories of God’s creation and celebrate with joy all that He has done:
"Bless the LORD, my soul! LORD, my God, you are great indeed! You are clothed with majesty and splendor, robed in light as with a cloak. You spread out the heavens like a tent; setting the beams of your chambers upon the waters. You make the clouds your chariot; traveling on the wings of the wind. You make the winds your messengers; flaming fire, your ministers" [Ps 104:1-4]. 
Meditative Prayer – The very first two verses of the Book of Psalms are designed to lead us to meditative prayer:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” [Ps 1:1-2]
In the same way, Luke offers us the example of our Blessed Mother: 
“…Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” [Lk 2:19]
Contemplative Prayer – Loving contemplative immersion – Christ-centered contemplative prayer is a divine gift, a gift of growth in mental prayer, given when we are ready, not before. Through loving contemplative prayer, we “Taste and see that the LORD is good” [Ps 34:9]. In other words, we experience for ourselves the very goodness of God.

Both St. Peter and St. Paul tell us that when we pray so deeply, words are not only unnecessary but unable to describe what takes place. Here's how St. Paul described it to the Romans:
“…the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” [Rom 8:26].
Prayers of Delight and Joy – We delight in the Lord, in His goodness and His works, and take joy in His love for us:
“I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous deeds. I will delight and rejoice in you; I will sing hymns to your name, Most High” [Ps 9:2-3].
Prayer in Song (Hymns) – Most of the psalms were written as poetic hymns; they were the songs of a people to their Beloved. This is why the Church has given music such a key role in her liturgy, particularly when it comes to the Psalms:
“Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name; make known among the peoples his deeds! Sing praise to him, play music; proclaim all his wondrous deeds! Glory in his holy name; let hearts that seek the LORD rejoice!” [Ps 105:1-3]
Indeed, the last thing Jesus and the apostles did at the Last Supper before going to the Garden was sing:
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” [Mt 25:30].
Jesus and the Apostles had just completed the Passover Meal, which traditionally was concluded with the singing of Thanksgiving Psalms; e.g., Ps 114-118. 

Prayer of Amen – The prayerful affirmation of God’s will in all things. Here we say
“Yes!” to God and for all that He does – just as Mary said “Yes” to the archangel Gabriel and Jesus said “Yes” to the Father in the Garden. St. Paul’s famous instruction to the Romans is, in a sense, a trusting “Amen!” to our God:
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” [Rom 8:28].
Consider, too, the Great Amen we sing at Mass in response to the Final Doxology prayed by the priest: 
"Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever…AMEN"
The word “doxology” literally means to speak of glory, to openly praise God’s glory. And so, we shout, “Amen!”, as an affirmation of our complete Faith in God’s goodness.

Liturgical prayer is the prayer of the Church – the Mass, other sacramental prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, and other liturgical rites. It is the Church’s prayerful communal worship, the ecclesial prayer that the Lord Himself established. And not surprisingly our liturgies are filled with prayers from the Book of Psalms. 

That’s quite a list of prayer forms, isn’t it? And so, don’t hesitate to turn to the Psalms in prayer when you need some inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that He inspired David and all the other authors of these sacred hymns – living proof that He understands our needs even better than we understand them ourselves. 

Perhaps I’ll expand on the subject of prayer in our next reflection.

God’s peace.

Videos -- COVID-19 Bible Study Reflections 6 and 7

This morning two videos of my COVID-19 Bible Study Reflections were posted on the parish website (and YouTube site). Reflection #6 is on "Abandonment" and #7 is entitled "Love One Another." 

I have embedded both videos below. If, however, you prefer to read rather than watch these reflections, you can find the texts here:

Bible Study Reflection 6: Abandonment.

Bible Study Reflection 7: Love One Another

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Happy Birthdays

Today is my mom’s birthday. Martha Catherine Cavanaugh was born on June 28, 1909 in Fairfield, Connecticut. My dad, John Joseph McCarthy, was born on July 24 of the same year in Springfield, Massachusetts. Both, then, were born within a few weeks of each other 111 years ago. Although Mom died in 1977 at the age of 67, Dad lived for many more years and died in 2005 at the age of 95. So, it's only fitting I wish them both a Happy 111th Birthday. 

Mom and Dad enjoying a beer in the 1950s
I don't know why, but there's something about 111 that seems rather special to me. I've always liked numbers, so I suppose it just the repeating 1s. Of course, having parents who were born 111 years ago also reminds me of the fact that I'm getting on in age. Indeed, as I recall my own life I think of those birthdays that have special meaning.

As for my childhood birthdays, I don't recall any being very memorable. But my 16th birthday was different. With it came the ability to apply for the sought after driver’s license, bringing mobility and freedom, along with enhanced dating opportunities. 

Turning 18 meant only two things in suburban New York back in 1962: I could buy a beer for 15 cents at McGarvey’s, a local pub, and I could now drive in The City. The former was pretty cool but the latter was something only a fool would do. 
By the way, McGarvey's was actually just a bar, but some of us thought it would be much classier if we called it a pub. 

I suppose the 21st birthday is special in another way. On that day the child suddenly considers himself an adult, even if he prefers not to act like one. And in New York back then, you could drink a beer at 18, but had to be 21 to vote. Now the opposite is true. I prefer the former.

Actually, my 23rd birthday was rather special because I first met Dear Diane just three days later on a blind date. Hard to believe that happy day was almost 53 years ago. I took her to a football game, with the Navy Pensacola team, the Goshawks, quarterbacked by Roger Staubach. We then went to a rowdy party and I didn't get her home until waaaay to late.

The 30th, another of coming-of-age birthday, marks one’s arrival at an age that separates youth from all the rest. Yes, indeed, once you’ve joined the over-30 crowd, there’s no going back. By then, however, Diane and I already had three children and I was enjoying my career in the Navy. My youth was long past. 

When I reached 40, I tried to ignore it, but my friends threw a surprise birthday party simply to remind me of the arrival of middle age. As I recall the party had an almost funereal theme, lots of black decorations and stupid gag gifts.

But there’s something very real and slightly ominous about turning 50. I suppose it’s the half-century thing and knowing that the larger part of one’s life is in the past. 

I was too busy during my 50s and 60s to pay much attention to birthdays, although I’ll admit 75 came as a bit of a shock last year. It just crept up on me and took me by surprise. 

I haven’t a clue how many birthdays I have left, but it’s not a big number. Birthdays are like reverse milestones: we know how far we've gone, but have no idea how far we've got to go. I'm certain of only one thing. Like my parents I won't live to 111. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Homily: Monday, 12th Week in Ordinary Time

If you would like to view a video recording of this morning's Mass, click here: Monday, 12th Week in Ordinary Time.

The following is the text of my homily.

Readings: 2 Kings 17:5-8,13-15; Ps 60; Mt 7:1-5 

Back in high school, so many years ago, our chemistry teacher, Fr. McGowan (or was it Fr. Kane?…Well it was a long time ago) often begin chemistry class with a brief reading from the Sermon on the Mount.

I suppose, at first, we listened a little, but every day we listened a bit more…until finally we realized that Jesus was telling us to do a lot of things the world didn’t especially like. I’m sure it had a lasting effect on some of us, and others? Well, some reacted as many Christians still react to the Sermon on the Mount.
Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean all that…or…He was speaking allegorically…or Jesus was just exaggerating to make a point…and on and on we go…
Yes, we love to change Jesus’ words, to water them down, to qualify them. It makes us feel much better about our unwillingness to listen and obey. Instead of beginning with God’s Word, we begin with our own beliefs, and bend the Gospel to make it fit and support our particular agendas.

Consider today’s passage on judgment – it’s always made me feel more than a little uncomfortable. How often do I judge people? I can’t count the ways…and on such trivial things.

The driver who doesn’t notice the light’s turned green. 

The person in line at the supermarket who can’t seem to find her credit card.

The clerk in the department store who ignores me and continues his conversation with a coworker.

Yes, I judge them all. And who’s at the center of all these judgments? Why me, of course. I'm at the intersection; I'm in the checkout line; I'm waiting to be served. Of course, other judgments are not so trivial… 

The celebrity who flaunts a pornographic lifestyle, influencing millions of young people.

The Catholic politician who consistently and publicly opposes Church teaching.

The child abuser…the drug dealer…the terrorist…

Oh, I judge them all. Convict them. Condemn them. I watch the evening news, I read the newspaper, and I make judgments about others. Here, too, I place myself at the center. I decide if they merit forgiveness. I decide if there’s a reason for them to take up space in the world…in my world. And yet Jesus tells us:
“Stop judging that you may not be judged” [Mt 7:1]
Now, Jesus isn’t saying that if we stop judging others, they’ll stop judging us. Not at all. No, He’s telling us the only judgment that counts is God’s judgment. 

You see, when I judge others, I assume I’m the all-knowing, infallible judge. I try to make myself God. I suppose that’s the biggest beam in my eye.

We cannot define ourselves as judges and at the same time really believe in our deeper identity as sinners needing forgiveness and redemption. We go to confession, and say the right words, but do we believe what we say? Yes, sometimes we seem to be testing God, to see how far His forgiveness extends. 

Jesus had just told his listeners: 
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5:48].
By refusing to judge others we allow God to teach us one of His perfections, that of mercy.

Refusing to judge doesn’t mean I abdicate my responsibility as a Christian. Far from it! Because where our neighbor is involved, we Christians can never be indifferent: We can judge, or we can forgive; we can exclude, or we can love. What other choices are there? 

In our humanity, we might object! 
I just want to do good. I want to help others overcome their faults. I want to heal others, to fix others, to go out into the world and contribute to its welfare.
Once again, the focus is on me, isn’t it? We judge and then we inject ourselves into others’ lives, assuming we possess God-like knowledge:
“Yes, I’m here to help. Let me remove the splinter from your eye, so you’ll be better, like me.”
We not only judge. We move right in don’t we? And we feel so good having helped  as a superior to an inferior, out of a pleasant sense of condescension – all the time forgetting that any real healing, any fixing, is done not by me, but by God. 

So, what’s the cure?

Quite simply, we must learn to serve one another as fellow patients afflicted with the same malady – the wounded helping the wounded.

We must learn to put on the mind of Christ, to see through the eyes of Christ, eyes that radiate love and forgiveness. Indeed, the greatest act of Christian charity is forgiveness.

But if I lead a life of forgiveness, as Christ did and taught, it’s not because of my own goodness; rather it’s because I am conscious of being continually forgiven by God. Instead of judging another, I can give thanks he or she is there to receive from me the pardon I’ve received from God.

The alternative? How did Jesus put it? 
“...the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” [Mt 7:2].
Measure for measure…

VIDEO - COVID-19 Bible Study Reflection #5: To Be a Disciple

Our pastor has asked me to record videos of several more of my COVID-19 Bible Study reflections, so the other day I took an hour or so to record three reflections:

#5 -- To Be a Disciple
#6 -- Abandonment
#7 -  Love One Another

I have embedded the video of #5 below. Krysten, our parish's wonderful IT guru, has also posted the video on the parish's YouTube site. It can be accessed there, along with the parish's recorded Masses and musical reflections: Bible Study Reflection #5: To Be a Disciple

The others -- #6 and #7 -- will be posted on the next two Mondays.

Just an FYI: This video is almost 19 minutes long, so if you'd rather just read it than listen to and watch it, the text is available here: Bible Study Reflection #5 Text.

God's peace...

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Revisiting the Past

Way back on June 28, 1968, as a student naval aviator, I made my first carrier landings in an old North American T-28C Trojan. 
T-28C Trojan

T-28C Carrier Landing

This morning I collected a few videos (below) which brought back a lot of memories. Flying the T-28 with its big radial engine was like flying an old WW2 fighter. The engine, a Wright R-1820, generated 1,425 hp and gave the T-28C plenty of power. 

Anyway, I thought some of you might like to see what it was like to land on a carrier in those days. It's really not much different today, even in high-performance jets. The carrier landing pattern is pretty much the same, and although the speeds are higher, the modern aircraft have many helpful systems that we certainly lacked. 

Believe me, it was very exciting for the group of us who "carrier qualified" that day. You really didn't feel like a naval aviator until you had made those first carrier landings.

The first video, which two friends pointed out to me a few days ago, is obviously recent and shows a typical F-18 carrier approach pattern and landing. Other than the higher speed and slightly longer final approach, it really isn't much different from the pattern we flew in those old T-28s. After landing the F-18 is then taxied out of the landing/take-off area, maybe to await a catapult launch or simply to shut down. The below diagram shows you the pattern flown by the F-18 in the video:

The second video is a vintage Navy training film of the kind I sat through many times. Don't you just love the opening music! It's a bit longer -- 12+ minutes -- but gives a pretty good picture of what it was like on that day we first landed on an aircraft carrier. It always looked so much easier in the film than it actually was. Fortunately, we had been doing field carrier landing practices (FCLPs) for many weeks before we went out to "hit the boat."  You also get to see the take-off. When you took off from a carrier in the T-28 you didn't catapult off, but performed what was called a deck launch or run -- just flying off by adding full power with, you hoped, lots of wind over the deck.

The third video, made in the 1970s, is a clever and fairly realistic animation and is also a bit longer -- 13+ minutes. It shows a single T-28C aircraft flying out to the carrier from Saufley Field in Pensacola. It makes a single landing and then a non-catapult takeoff.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Homily: Monday, 10th Week in Ordinary Time

I've embedded a video of this daily Mass here -- a video which includes the homily text posted below.


Readings: I Kgs 17:1-6; Ps 121; Mt 5:1-12

How many times have I preached on the Beatitudes? And how many homilies have you heard addressing these wonderful words with which Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount? I’m guessing… a lot.

Anyway, I thought I’d spare you another and preach instead on today’s first reading. Actually, my homily really addresses only the first verse of the passage. 

It’s good for us occasionally to take a brief walk through the Old Testament, and our reading from 1 Kings is really pretty special. For today we are introduced to a prophet named Elijah.

How special is Elijah? God answered that question for us when, among all His prophets – and there were a lot of them – He chose Elijah to join Moses and be present with Jesus at the Transfiguration. I guess that sums it up. Elijah was special indeed.

Interestingly, most of the other prophets, the major and minor prophets, have books of the Bible named after them: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah, Daniel, and all the rest. But not Elijah. Although considered the greatest of them all, he appears in only the last few chapters of 1 Kings and the first two chapters of 2 Kings. 

Although his story may be brief, just a few chapters, Elijah’s presence seems to extend throughout all of salvation history. Even his name, Elijah, is in itself prophetic, and means “The Lord is my God” and always reminds me of Thomas’ recognition of the risen Christ: “My Lord and my God” [Jn 20:28].

Elijah's story begins when he presents himself to Ahab, king of the northern kingdom, Israel. Who was Ahab? Well, it’s enough to know what Scripture has to say about him: 
“Ahab, son of Omri, did what was evil in the LORD’s sight more than any of his predecessors.” [1 Kgs 16:30]
Elijah confronting Ahab
Yes, indeed, Ahab, influenced by his pagan wife, Jezebel, worshipped not the God of Israel, but Ba'al, the god of the pagans. Ahab and Jezebel were a dangerous duo, not good people. But Elijah, God’s messenger, goes to Ahab without fear, speaks God’s word, and inflicts a punishment on Israel. Listen again to what Elijah says to the king:
“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word” [1 Kgs 17:1].
Elijah, you see, has presented himself to Ahab with two words: truth and service. Beginning with the truth – “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives” – he continues by declaring his relationship to God, one of service – “whom I serve.”

Truth and service. Elijah offers an example to those who follow him – a gift to all of us. For we, too, must always speak the truth, especially the truth to which Elijah points: to the living God, to "the way and the truth and the life" [Jn 14:6], to Jesus Christ. Like the prophet, who confronts Ahab, we must courageously speak the truth to the unbeliever, to those who have strayed, and to each other. But if our lives don’t reflect the truth we speak, if we don’t serve the living God, the truth will never be well-received, indeed, it will be rejected.

But the truth Elijah speaks cannot be rejected. His service to God is so apparent that he need not talk of any special command of God; he need not utter any words of proof. His mere presence is enough, for he embodies God’s power through his mission. God makes this apparent:

“…during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word” [1 Kgs 17:1].

…at my word,” Elijah can exclaim this, for God has given His power to the one He sends, to the one who serves Him. The prophecy begins with God and ends with Elijah and his word.

Israel, the nation, has fallen deeply into sinfulness. Were Elijah to preach, he would be ignored, just as Israel and Judah would ignore the many other prophets God sent to them. Israel’s sin has blocked the path to God; it has blokced "the way," and the people neither understand nor love.

Only through punishment will they learn to be open to God’s Word, a Word of both power and hope. The truth will become evident through the power of Elijah’s word – “…there shall be no dew or rain.” But then they are offered a slice of hope: “…except at my word.”

They hear the “except” – and realize it’s in Elijah’s hands, but he doesn’t tell them when and how. That will demand repentance and acceptance, but only after days and months and years, after seeing the truth of Elijah’s word unfold in a punishing drought. When they confess the truth, when they admit that God is truly the living God, when they return to His service, the mystery enfolding Elijah will be revealed.

In truth, it’s a call, isn’t it? A call to the acceptance of God’s gift of faith. The path Israel is called to follow is no different from that which lies before you and me, one that quite likely lies before many nations, including our own.

Afterwards we see Elijah acting in perfect obedience – “Leave…go east and hide” [1 Kgs 17:3] – for in perfect trust he knew God would care for him. Ravens brought him meat and bread and a stream offered refreshing drink.

Once again Elijah teaches us. His call, his mission, that which gives him power in the sight of men, strips him of that same power in the sight of God. And so, from Elijah we learn that to serve God is to obey, to abandon ourselves completely to His love, to develop an attitude of perfect submission.

Brothers and sisters, to better understand the Beatitudes, just look to Elijah. He shows us what it means to be poor in spirit – to look only to God for salvation and to trust in His mercy. Like Elijah, we become mere children in the presence of God. Like children, we own nothing, for everything comes from and belongs to God.

This is the spiritual poverty that Jesus asks of us.