Friday, December 30, 2011

Mary, Mother of God--and Teenager?

As Catholics we have a strong devotion to Mary.  We believe that she was an amazing woman.  As the mother of Jesus--who is God--she is in turn the "Mother of God."   And as adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus, she is also our mother.

God must have also thought that Mary was an amazing woman.  Of all the women in the world over the centuries, He gave Mary the task of being the mother of Jesus.   I'm not sure we really appreciate what an amazing woman she must have been.   I was sitting contemplating Mary and wondering that.  What was Mary like?  Loving? Compassionate?  Funny?  But I know lots of people like that.  Why was she so special?  We are taught she was without sin.  That had to be interesting right?  But . . . why Mary?  And then I started to think.

I have been a catechist for teenagers for over ten years now.  I've helped teach hundreds of teens and I really enjoy it.  I also have a daughter who is a sophomore and a niece who is a junior in high school.  This all means that I have been around a whole lot of teens in my life.  Have you ever walked around a high school filled with a bunch of teens??  I think they can be compared to aliens.  They are a unique bunch.  Remember the bus scenes in great teen age like "Sixteen Candles" or "Ferris Bueler's Day Off."  Teen agers are goofy!  I love being involved in youth ministry.  I love teaching teens.  But. . . they are goofy.  Maybe that's why I enjoy it because I'm pretty goofy myself.

Now think of this.  Bible scholars think Mary was about 15 or 16 years old when she gave birth to Jesus.  Mary was the same age as my daughter.  Now I love my daughter.  I'm not biased at all and I feel it's safe to say that my daughter, Emma, is one of the smartest, prettiest girls, funniest girls alive on the face of the Earth.   I trust her to babysit.  But to be made the Mother of God?  Oh heck no!  No way, I would trust her to hold God in her arms and to raise Him.  It would seems like some sort of weird sit-com.    And that's my daughter, who I love and adore and think the world of.

But two thousand years ago, a little girl, the same age as Emma, was picked by God to be the God Bearer.  She was asked to bring God incarnate into the world.  And to raise Him. To feed him. To change His diapers. To teach Him.  This scared little girl--was asked to flee into another land in order to keep her son safe.  And chose to do so.  She chose to stay by His side when His friends didn't.  She was at the foot of the cross when her son was persecuted and died.

It was through Mary that Jesus entered the world.  Jesus entered the world through Mary and He saved us.   Yeah.  She must have been an amazing woman.    I wish I had a devotion to Mary.  I wished I honored her like I should.   What about you?  Do you have a devotion to her?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Well Done, Good Job

I just read a report of two officers who, while on routine patrol, observed a guy breaking into a car.   They pulled him out of the car and then located the owner who was grateful that nothing had been taken.  There have been a lot of car break-ins in this part of town and I'm sure that not only did the officers prevent this car owner from being a victim but they probably prevented several other people from being victims.   I thought the officers did a great job so I wrote them up for a "Supervisory Notice."  It's nothing big.  It's just a piece of paper from a supervisor that goes into their personnel jacket.  It's not like they are getting a medal or a certificate or anything like that.

I really don't know who will appreciate the Supervisory Notice more--the officers or me.  It was really nice to give the officers a pat on the back---an atta boy.  Sometimes, I feel as a supervisor that I spend too much time being negative, despite my best efforts to be positive.  It gets tiresome to be critical of someone because they aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing or not working hard enough.  It's much more fun to be complimentary.

I have to wonder if that is what God feels like when we do what is right and pleasing to Him.  When we DON'T sin.  I wonder if he feels the joy and adulation that I do when I see my people working hard and making good arrests.

I can see several parallels.  For instance, I can see how it is easier to sin and not to be pleasing to God.  After all, it's easy to sin.  Sin is fun.  Many times there doesn't seem be any punishment for not sinning.  It's difficult to see the rewards.

In the same way, I can see how it's easier not to work hard.  Officers who work hard are more likely to get hurt and more likely to get complained on.   You are less likely to get in trouble if you just do the minimum.  You don't get paid more for working hard.  It's difficult to see any rewards.

I think in both circumstances, you have go beyond physical rewards and punishments.  In order for us to want to be pleasing to God and in order for us NOT to want to sin we have to have a lot of faith.  We have to develop a relationship with God and break the chains of sin.  In order for us to want to be good workers and develop a nature of working hard, we have to take pride in what we do for a living.  We have to enjoy what we do and really see the big picture.  

I know for me, I like to get atta-boys.  I like it when people acknowledge that I've done a good job.  But, lets face it--no award or certificate is going to compare to hearing the words from my Father, "well done, my good and faithful servant."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Three Prongs for Confession

Here's the deal.  I'm just a guy in the pews.  Most of what I know about Catholicism is self taught.  I have no degrees in theology so everything I have learned has been from books, CD's or retreats for the most part.   So, I'm no expert by any means.  But, I think I'm right when I say the sacrament of reconciliation is fabulous and is too under used and unappreciated--in my little opinion.  Furthermore, I think one of the reasons that it is under used is because Catholics don't understand it and they don't understand it because it's not taught like it should be in most parishes.  I get frustrated because I know what it means and I know what it can do for a person.  I have a passion for the sacrament of reconciliation.  Yet, I see parishes that get more excited about a parking lot than they are about a reconciliation service.

I firmly believe that reconciliation should be used by everyone and used often.  So, here is a three pronged plan on how to expand the use of confession.
  1. Teach/Preach Sin--I don't think we really understand what sin is and what it does to our soul.  I wouldn't be surprised if many people don't think the sin at all.  I don't think that people know what mortal sin is and what it means to be in a state of mortal sin.  I think if people knew that being in mortal sin means death and separation from God they would do whatever they need to do to get into a state of grace.  But, to teach about sin is scary and we don't want to scare the kids.  Preaching about life and death and the possibility of Hell seems to be frowned upon.   There is a way to preach about sin and Hell and eternal damnation though, without preaching fire and brimstone.  After all, through Jesus, we can break the chains of sin and escape the fires of Hell.  But, if we aren't taught we don't know that.  It is much more loving to teach truth and about sin and Hell than it is to cover it up so we don't know about it.
  2. Teach/Preach Confession--I believe another reason people don't go to reconciliation is because they don't understand it.  They think that they can just go to God in prayer and be forgiven for their sins.  They don't understand that we are only fooling ourselves when we do that.   Jesus gave us the sacrament because He understands that we are human and that we need to humble ourselves, and get our sins off our chests.  It is through reconciliation that we are given the grace to not sin.   People don't understand that we should go to confession at least once a year and definitely when we are in a state of mortal sin.  I heard a story a while back of a youth minister who sent out emails reminding the teens that confirmation was soon and they should go to confession.   She was contacted by a parent who told her that her teen had already gone to their first reconciliation.  (The key word is "first"--which means there should be a second, and a third etc etc)   We need to teach how to go to confession so that people will be more comfortable. Heck, just go to where I posted how to go right here.  It should be preached to us in the homilies how important confession is.
  3. Have reconciliation--I heard someone say once that if you are only offering confessions once a month then you are not really offering confession and I find that very true.  If a parish only has a confessions once a month then I feel they are telling their parishoners that confession isn't that important.  I have seen with my own eyes that parishes that offer confession often have lines to the confessional.   Once a week is good but even more often than that is better.  I think it would be fantastic if parishes would have daily confession like they have daily mass.   I've seen lines to confession with people of all ages, young and old, men and women at parishes that have daily confession.   I think daily confession is a blessing to any parish that has it.
I don't think these things would be very difficult to do.  I think the most difficult thing to do is to change the mindset.  No, every homily should not be fire and brimstone.   Every class should not have confession shoved down their throats.  And I understand that priests aren't able to always have daily confession.  But let's start somewhere.  We are to spread the Good News and part of that is to spread the word of God's mercy.  We receive that mercy through reconciliation.   We are supposed to be saving souls.  We don't do that if we downplay sin and the need for confession.

So, any priest who is reading this---please--start somewhere.  I'll start by offering my prayers.

Monday, December 26, 2011

My Faith and My Family

Last week, my wife and I went out to dinner and to see a movie.  It was our first date night in awhile.  Sadly, I had almost ruined it by being a butthead earlier that morning.   But we had a great time and later that night on Facebook I posted, "Great date night with my beautiful bride. I don't show my appreciation as much as I should. I love you, Abby. Im nothing without you. :-P."    

I got a few favorable responses about it but I got a couple of smart alec comments from some guys.   That probably shouldn't come as too much of a shock.   After all, when you make as many smart alec comments as I do, you tend to invite them back towards you.  Secondly, guys also tend to give other guys grief when they openly display affection.  So calls of man-card revocation should be expected, especially after posting something like that on Facebook, huh?

I realize that comments like I made that are frowned upon in public displays.   Some people may thing that telling my wife that I love her is something that should be reserved to quiet times between her and I, when we are alone.   Abby is kind of shy, so she may actually agree with that statement.   But I am one who tends to be open about what I like.  I wear my identity on my chest.  I have a ton of t-shirts with my favorite sports teams on them.  I have another ton of shirts with "Police" on them and a half ton with  "Catholic" slogans on them.    If I can wear a Kansas City Royals shirt with pride, I can certainly feel comfortable telling my wife that I love her on Facebook, can't I?

Here is the problem.  My faith and my family should be the most important things in my life.  And they are.  And it's easy to say I love God in a blog post or that "my wife is beautiful" in a Facebook status.  But I do not always treat them like they are the most important things in my life.   At the top of my list any time I go to confession is, "I've failed to keep God first in my life."   I've also put less important things, such as work and friendship, as priorities over my responsibility of being a good husband and father.  

This is dumb, I know.  I am fully aware that God and my family will still stick with me when everyone else has abandoned me.  I know that I can't be wrong if I always put God first and my wife and kids next.  Granted, I have to leave home to go to work so that I can take care of my family.   But there are too many times when I pull extra off duty shifts so I can buy me something I want or there have been times I haven't prayed so I can spend time with friends.  Those are examples of putting myself in front of God and in front of family.

Priorites . . . will I ever have them in the right order?  Nothing should come before God.  My vocation is being a husband and a father.    They should always come before work and friends.   

How do you keep your priorities straight?  Is there something you try to do every day?  Do you have people to keep you in check? Will your wife smack you upside the head when you aren't spending time in prayer or paying attention to her?  Or, ironically, do you have a friend that is a role model who keeps you straight?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Manger Scene

Every year about this time we start hearing about the "war on Christmas" and we complain about how commercialization is taking "Christ" out of Christmas.   I read an interesting article over at Aggie Catholics and it made me think of about the real war that is occuring at Christmas time--spiritual warfare.   In their post titled, "Christmas and the Drumbeat of War," they talk about:
When we view a nativity scene, we generally think of a baby born to a virgin in a manger. We think of peaceful animals, a humble St. Joseph, and of a bright star. But, something is missing.
It is the drumbeat of war. It is the spiritual battle that rages in places we cannot see with our eyes or hear with our ears. It rages in our hearts.
Even in the peaceful image of Jesus being born, we need to see God warning His people to prepare for war. The victorious king has entered the fray and he calls us to take up our weapon.
I encourage you to read more here.

I think even as Christians, who are trying to focus on Jesus, it is difficult to imagine what is going on . . . what we are trying to remember.   We focus to much on the simple story of Mary giving birth to Jesus in a feedbox but something so much more than that is going on.  We are remembering that the God of the universe.  The God who created everything---from the tiniest atoms and molecules to the biggest galaxies--became man.   God, who is everyone, became incarnate.  He decided to humble Himself and became the created.  He became that tiny baby in the manger.

When we think of "the shot heard around the world" we think of shots fired at Concord during the American Revolution or of Bobby Thompson's game winning home run that clinched the pennant for the 1951 New York Giants.  But the ORIGINAL shot heard around the world was the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.   Because it was through the birth of Jesus and his eventual sacrifice on Calvary that Satan loses the spiritual war.   It rages on today as the Devil continues to try to ruin souls and it is up for us to pick the correct side and to take up arms against the Devil.  As Marcel says in Aggie Catholics, "Pick up your cross - it is your weapon against the enemy - and follow The King of All into battle. He is about to be born as a poor babe to a virgin.

Working on Christmas Eve

This was passed on to me from another sergeant in an email:

Working on Christmas Eve On Christmas Eve in 1977, I learned that blessings can come disguised as misfortune, and honor is more than just a word.  I was riding one-man patrol on the 4-12 shift. The night was cold.  Everywhere I looked I saw reminders of the holiday: families packing their cars with presents, beautifully decorated trees in living room windows and roofs adorned with tiny sleighs. It all added to my holiday funk.  
The evening had been relatively quiet; there were calls for barking dogs and a residential false burglar alarm.  There was nothing to make the night pass any quicker. I thought of my own family and sunk further into depression. 
Shortly after 2200 hours I got a radio call to the home of an elderly, terminally ill man. I parked my patrol car in front of a simple Cape Cod style home. First aid kit in hand, I walked up the short path to the front door. As I approached, a woman who seemed to be about 80 years old opened the door. He's in here she said, leading me to a back bedroom. 
We passed through a living room that was furnished in a style I had come to associate with older people. The sofa has an afghan blanket draped over its back and a dark, solid, Queen Anne chair sat next to an unused fireplace. The mantle was cluttered with an eccentric mix of several photos, some ceramic figurines and an antique clock. A floor lamp provided soft lighting. 
We entered a small bedroom where a frail looking man lay in bed with a blanket pulled up to his chin. He wore a blank stare on his ashen, skeletal face. His breathing was shallow and labored. He was barely alive. The trappings of illness lay all around his bed. The nightstand was littered with a large number of pill vials. An oxygen bottle stood nearby.  Its plastic hose, with facemask attached rested on the blanket. 
I asked the old woman why she called the police. She simply shrugged and nodded sadly toward her husband, indicating it was his request. I looked at him and he stared intently into my eyes. He seemed relaxed now. I didn't understand the suddenly calm expression on his face.  I looked around the room again. A dresser stood along the wall to the left of the bed. On it was the usual memorabilia:  ornate perfume bottles, white porcelain pin case, and a wooden jewelry case.  There were also several photos in simple frames. One caught my eye and I walked closer to the dresser for a closer look. The picture showed a young man dressed in a police uniform. It was unmistakably a photo of the man in bed. I knew then why I was there. 
I looked at the old man and he motioned with his hand toward the side of the bed. I walked over and stood beside him. He slid a thin arm from under the covers and took my hand. Soon, I felt his hand go limp. I looked at his face. There was no fear there. I saw only peace. 
He knew he was dying; he was aware his time was very near. I know now that he was afraid of what was about to happen and he wanted the protection of a fellow cop on his journey. A caring God had seen to it that his child would be delivered safely to him. The honor of being his escort fell to me. 
When I left at the end of my tour that night, the temperature had seemed to have risen considerably, and all the holiday displays I saw on the way home made me smile.  I no longer feel sorry for myself for having to work on Christmas Eve. I have chosen an honorable profession. I pray that when it's my turn to leave this world here will be a cop there to hold my hand and remind me that I have nothing to fear. 
I wish all my brother's and sister's who have to work this Christmas Eve all the Joy and warmth of the Season. Working on Christmas Eve for the cops or former cops and the members of their families, you will understand the memories. For those of you that haven't spent Thanksgiving or Christmas working the streets this will give you some insight to the life of a cop. 
Richard Valdemar, Sergeant LASD (Retired)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Four Theresas

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is it's diversity.  If you don't like a particular devotion then then you can keep looking looking for a devotion that works for you.  You are sure to find one out there for you.  And saints--boy do we have them.  There is a saint out there for anything and everything that you can think of---police officers to bee keepers.   And there are a bunch of books about saints out there too.  They usually have half a page to a full page talking about each saint.  They give you just enough to want to explore more.   I read "The Four Teresas" by Gina Loehr and published by St. Anthony Messenger Press that gives an interesting took into four saints.

In "The Four Theresas," Ms. Loehr lets us look into the lives of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.   The four women are as different and as diverse as four people can be but are similar in their love for Jesus and the ways that they can all be models for us.   Maybe Therese of Lisieux doesn't touch you Teresa of Avila calls you to deepen your spiritual life.  Maybe thinking philisophically like Teresa Benedicta of the Cross did isn't for you but giving aid to the poor and less fortunate is something you are passionate about.   We can explore each of their lives and learn from it.

Each of the Teresas is given a whole chapter in the book.   The chapter explores their biography and then talks about each of their lessons.  Finally, it delves into how we can each live each of the lessons.   I find this is a good layout.  We are able to understand why each one teaches what they do because of their personal history and background.  We then are able to look at what each Teresa teaches and finally, how to apply that in our personal life.

Overall, I liked the book.  I like reading about spirituality and I find it very interesting how each of these saintly women got to where they were in life.   We are all called to be saints and if I can get some tips and tricks of the trade from actual saints, you can bet I'm going to take it.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Four Teresas . They are also a great source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I went to mass on Sunday at one of my favorite places and at one point it struck me why I enjoy going to mass there.   Now, I don't profess to be any type of liturgist but you'll excuse me if I give a little bit of advice to all of the liturgist out there (I realize that probably none are reading this but, oh well)   I feel like too often the mass becomes more about the liturgist that the liturgy.   I don't know if they feel like they have to prove their worth but they spend so much time decorating the church or preparing the music that they forget where the focus should be.   They forget that the mass is very beautiful because of what it is and not because of any floral or musical arrangements.   When the mass is focused on Jesus and the Eucharist and we are allowed to recall that He is truly present then the glory of the mass is more likely to shine through.

My humble advice as a person in the pew is K.I.S.S.----just Keep It Simple Stupid (I stole that---I didn't make it up)   Yesterday was the first time in advent that I was some place that had said the new confetior (that prayer that starts off with "I confess, to all mighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters) and the first time that I had said the new Nicene Creed in all of it's consubstantial beauty.   But it just flowed easily.  Although, I was three for five in the "And with your spirit" scoring.

The music was simple and easy to sing.  The Holy Holy Holy and the Lamb of God was in Latin so I was comfortable with it.  There weren't all sorts of Christmas decorations up.  There are a lot of statues but they help you focus on God.  Even though I was not at my own parish nothing was out of the ordinary.  Even. though I had to beat my children like twenty times (they were being well behaved) I was able to focus.  Heck, even my son was singing along to the music.  He did have some choice words and gave me a weird look when the priest said in his homily that Mary was the Mother of God as well as our spiritual mother.  I guess we get to have to have a little theological disussion.  But that's okay.  He heard something in the homily that we can talk about.
taken from

The second piece of advice is "Say the Black, Do the Red."   In the Roman Missal, everything that the priest is supposed to say is in black.  Everything the priest is supposed to do is in red.  If you do everything the way it is supposed to be and don't feel like you have to add anything then you won't get in the way.  True, the focus won't be on you, but you will look like a genius.

Just simple advice---do what you are supposed to do and keep the mass focused on Jesus.   Not that anyone is going to listen to me.  After all---you know the old joke.  Do you know what the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist is?? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jamie's Yes

I'm very busy.   It doesn't seem like I have a lot of downtime.  I work, fit in sleep somewhere, work off-duty jobs, get kids ready for school, do my laundry, load/unload the dishwasher.   I have to post witty comments on Facebook, keep up to date on reading what's going on in the blogosphere, read my comics.  Oh, yeah, and don't forget playing Sims Social on Facebook.   I really don't know where God expects me to find time for prayer, or reading the Bible, or reading and learning about my faith.  I'm busy!   After all, I have three unwatched episodes of The Office and 2 of "Holmes on Homes" on my DVR!   I just can't be expected to do that.  AND I'm supposed to go to mass for a whole hour a week?  Seriously?

I expect, on average, I tell God "no" to simple tasks about 150 times a day.  Not just in the making time for Him category but doing acts that would be pleasing to Him.  How am I supposed to not gossip when I've got a juicy tidbit to share about Officer Soandso.   How can I not complain about things when my department just . . . well, don't get me started.  I think St. Augustine said it best when he said, "Lord, make me chaste.  Just not yet."  No. No. No. No. Noooooooo.  Not now.  Maybe later but probably not.

Yet, this weekend at mass, the 4th Sunday of Advent, when the angel Gabriel says to Mary, "Mary, you are so awesome that you are going to have a baby who is going to just knock it out of the park."  And you remember that Mary points out the difficulty in that since she hadn't been "intimate" with a guy and Gabriel assures her that the Holy Spirit is going to take care of everything.   Mary doesn't chime in and ask what she is going to tell the people in her family, in her village, or to Joseph.   She simply says, "Yes.  Let it be done to me according to your word."

And we sit back in our seats and think, "Yeah, that sounds about right."  It makes perfectly good sense.   The fact that she said yes seems as natural as can be when we've told God, "no" several times just since we've walked into church.   After all, in my mind, it's okay to be judgmental about the people talking loudly, or peeking at the nice legs of the lady in the short skirt the next pew over or to roll my eyes at the liturgist because he is playing this hokey music.

No.  I need to stop.   I need to be holy like Mary was holy.  I need to say "Yes, Lord!  Transform me.  Make me pleasing to you.  Remove any and all obstacles to you."    I need to make time for God--in prayer, in reading, in studies.  I need to act in a manner pleasing to God.

Yes, Lord---but if you'll excuse me----I see I have (3) Facebook messages pending.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Priorities and Obstacles

There are several things that I can nearly always take to confession.  Things like gossiping, frustration, pride, lust and not putting God first in my life.   Ironically enough, if I did a good enough job at putting God first in my life then I probably wouldn't have to take all of the other sins to the confessional.  Wouldn't it be great if I just put God first all of the time and let Him guide me like I should?  The problem lies in the fact that I have too many other things I think I need to be doing.  Too many obstacles.

I'll give you this, I've never really been a good person at prioritizing things.   If I did so I would be plucking those obstacles right out of the way and would be much more efficient.  I should probably use those lessons I learned at the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" class that work sent me to.    I would probably be better off financially because I'd do a better job at saving money and not have to rely on credit.  I would be in better shape because I'd be working out and eating better.  And I definitely would be better off spiritually because I'd be praying like I should.

I allow obstacles to be thrown in my way though.   Sometimes it looks like Normandy Beach because there are so many obstacles in my way.  There is barbed wire, landmines and other beach obstacles.   Sure, sometimes they are high priority things that need to be done but too often they are things that just waste time.  I'd give examples but my wife reads my blog sometimes and I don't want her throwing things back into my face.

It's difficult to get rid of obstacles and to get your priorities straight.  Sometimes it can be painful because they are things you really enjoy doing.  Sometimes it's painful because those obstacles are people that you like.   But no obstacle is worth you getting stuck on the beach when the goal is Heaven and being with God.

Here is the secret, you don't have to do it on your own.  God will help you.  Throughout your day, ask God to help you remove any and all obstacles that are getting in your way of getting closer to Him.

Just because I won't share my obstacles doesn't mean you can't.  What are things in the day that keep you from prayer.  What are sins you can't seems to shake that are obstacles in your spiritual life?

Monday, December 5, 2011

We Are Not Alone

Why does things that are good for you have to be so difficult?  Why can't greasy hamburgers and fries clear out  cholesterol instead of cause it?   Why does going to the gym have to be so painful?  Why does sin have to be so much fun?   Yeah, I realize that if these are the horrible problems we have to suffer through in a first world country then we don't have a lot to complain about but it's my blog so I can ponder them if I want.

I don't think life is ever really perfect.  It may be stable but we always seem to be facing some sort of tribulation.   If we aren't, then are we really pushing ourselves towards perfection?  Maybe today it's something small like pushing away a piece of German chocolate cake because you've already had a piece or having to study for a test instead of watching something on Hulu.  Maybe it's something bigger like separating yourself from a friend because you know they aren't good for you or maybe it's not knowing if a meeting you are going to is going to change your life.  Hopefully, it's not something huge like a death in the family or a painful disease.

Big or small . . . life is never perfect to us in our Earthly state.   And it's okay to be concerned.   It is important to realize that we are never alone.  God loves us and is always with us and as long we long that God's will is done we will reach that perfection.  That is God's will---that we reach perfection and are able to be face to face with Him in heaven.  So, we suffer through tribulations in order to make sure that we are where God wants us to be in life because we know He will take care of us and if we are blessed, we can help others reach that perfection.

Nope.  We are never alone.  Not only is God always there but as members of the Body of Christ we have others to help us.   We have family members to support and help us.  We have friends who are there not only to listen and give moral support but to serve as models to strive for.  We have the Saints and a giant cloud of witness cheering us on in this crazy race.  And we have others that need our help.

It's all about reaching perfection.   It's never easy.  To do so we have to break the chains of sin that is gluttony and sloth and anger and lust.  God is there to give us the grace we need today.  Our friends and family are there to support us.  We are not alone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Notes on Mass

I am not much of a note taker.  How I made it through college, I'll never know.  Maybe that's why I started in 1992 and finished in 2005.   Training sessions at work are the worst.   They will give you all this paper so that you can refer back to it at a later time.  I hate to tell them that I won't.  I will be polite and not throw it away on my way out the door.  After all, I am grateful for the paper to doodle on during their lecture.  But I'll be honest.  It will end up in the floor of my car,  get stepped on and muddied.  And about six months down the road, I'll clean out the car and throw said paper into the recycling bin.  I'm just not the type of person to take notes and definitely not the type of person to take those notes and store them in some place to refer back to at a later time.

An interesting thing has happened though.   In September, 2010, I attended a Cursillio weekend.  During the sessions of the Cursillio they have you take notes and then you go over your notes with the other people at your table and discuss the session with them.  I still have my notes.  It's been several months since I've looked at them but I truly treasure them because there are some good nuggets of wisdom in there. 

A couple of weeks ago, when I went to the National Catholic Youth Conference, I took a friend's advice, and took a notebook with me and took notes during the key note speeches and break out sessions.  The kids looked at me like I was a total nerd.  Granted, they normally look at me like I'm a total nerd, but this was on a whole new level.   In the last couple of weeks, I'm really glad I did.  I've looked back at the notes and recalled what was said.

In his talk, "The Seven Pillars of Catholic Spirituality" the Catholic author, Matthew Kelly recommends taking one item from a weekend homily on something that they took from the homily that will help them become the best person that they can be and recording in a journal.  He says that after a year you will have a very powerful book on spirituality.  He knows human nature well enough to realize that most people will buy a journal, take his advice for one Sunday and then put the journal in a "safe place" and forget all about it.

So, I've been thinking.  Since I've discovered that I enjoy taking notes over spiritual discussions--it helps me focus and recall the information later on, would it be disrespectful or sacrilegious to take a notepad into mass with me and take notes while father is giving his homily?  After all, mass isn't a  revival or a lecture.  It is something higher than that.  It is sacred.  At the same time, if it helps me retain what father is preaching and helps me take some his sermon outside of the mass is it a bad thing.  I'll be honest with you, I don't know.  I do know that 95% I don't recall what the homily was about after mass, much less the next day.

What do you think?  Have you tried this?  Do you think to do so would be wrong?  Why?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Five Cool Catholic Apps

It is no secret to my closest friends and relatives that I am a geek.  Granted, I'm not a super smart geek or else I'd be making a lot more money than I am.  But I've always enjoyed technology.  I've always liked computers.  I am a genuine text addict and it is seldom that I don't have my Droid X in my hand.  I'm also pretty geeky when it comes to Catholicism.  So, I figured, I would combine the two and write about my favorite Catholic apps.   There aren't a lot out there but here are five good Catholic apps.  

1) Confession---It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone who knows me that a confession app would be my favorite.  This one got a lot of publicity when it came out about a year or so ago.   For all of you who think it means you don't have to tell your sins to another person then you are going to be disappointed.   It does not replace the sacrament.  It simply takes who you are, you sex, your age and your vocation and comes up with an examination of conscience for you.  You do the examination of conscience and then it walks you through the steps of confession.   Then, after confession, all of your sins are erased and it only leaves you with the date of confession for your next time.   It is very simple.  Very easy to use.  The only problem I've had with it is that it keeps logging you off so you have to log back on right before you go in if you wish to use it in the confessional. People may also look at you awkwardly for looking at your phone while in line.

2) iBreviary---You don't have to carry around your breviary with you any longer.  This simple app holds all of your daily readings so you have them with you no matter where you are.    It's very nice to have but I have to admit---there is something about having the actual book of Christian Prayer there and moving the ribbons around.

3) CatholicOne--I don't think this app had gotten the press that it deserves.  I love it!  In one little app it has daily readings, the rosary, stations of cross.  Dozens of prayers in English and Latin, a link to iCatholicMedia (an app that I havent' gotten a chance to explore yet but looks interesting) and not one--but two on-line Bibles. Yes, it has both the New American Bible and Douay-Rheims Bible.  The prayers are even divided into different types such as Eucharistic, Marian, novena etc etc.   If you are Catholic then you need this app.  It's fantastic.

4) Sirius/XM--I am including this app even though it is not necessarily "Catholic" because I use it to listen to The Catholic Channel when I'm not in my car or away from the computer.   It's great for listening to The Catholic Guy Show while I'm driving at work.

5) Ingnio---This app is available for the Android market but after talking to one of the designers at NCYC I downloaded it to my iPod Touch.   Sadly, I don't have anyone to light my flame.  :-(   The basic idea is that we need help from our fellow Christians.  Our "candle" is lit by someone and you develop a small circle of friends that help keep you on task.  Every time you pray or read scripture you push a button and your candle stays lit.  If you go awhile without praying or reading the Bible your candle dwindles and is eventually extinguished.   You are only allowed 12 friends which is perfect--because it's not about social networking.  It's about having a few great friends who will keep you on the right path.  I'm really looking forward to using this app because I need some close friends to keep me on task.

What about you?  Do you have any apps that you like?  I saw some interesting ones on iTunes that I wish were in the Android Market.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Eyelash to Eyelash With God

I have a confession.  My favorite sacrament, ironically, is the sacrament of reconciliation.  I know . . . I know. . . the Eucharist is the top sacrament.  It is, after all, the source and summit of our faith.  But, I really love going to confession.  Well, let me add in a caveat . . . I would much more prefer it if I never ever had to go to confession again but, I know that I am a sinner.   I recognize that I sin and that the only way to get rid of that sin is by going to the confessional.  I know that "confessing my sins to God directly" doesn't cut it.   It's not the way that God intended it to be.  It's too easy.  It doesn't take any humility.  People who do so are fooling themselves and are missing out on the closeness to God that comes with confession.

I was never able to describe how going to confession feels adequately.  Not until I heard Mark Hart's keynote speech Friday morning at NCYC in Indianapolis last week.   The morning session is below.  Mark's keynote starts at about the 54 minute mark and the portion that hit me like a ton of bricks starts at about the 82 minute mark---but watch it all.  It is worth it.

I really encourage you to watch the video because I am just going to butcher the explanation.   Mark talks about how people walk with their heads down because they are embarrassed.  They are ashamed of their sins.   He then describes what "cilia" are.   They are little hair like things on cells that help them move.   He continues saying that God, in His infinite wisdom gave humans cilia also.  He says that our eye lashes are like cilia.   And when we go to reconCILIAtion we are brought back together with God.  It is an eye lash to eye lash encounter with God.  He lifts up are chin and makes us new again.

Just that idea--that metaphor sends shivers up and down my spine. To sense the spiritual side of reconciliation and imagining being eye lash to eye last with God during confession stirs something inside of me.   It gets me choked up.  To think that God, the creator of the universe, not only is willing, but desires for me and all of mankind to be reconciled with him.  That He wants that type of intimate encounter with me and is willing to wipe away all of my sin in order to be with me.  

I went to confession the day after Mark's speech and  that visual image struck me as the words of absolution were spoken by the priest and I could barely say my Act of Contrition because I felt God's love.   I felt him lifting the yoke of sin and taking that burden off of me.  Words cannot describe it. I'm truly not worthy but it doesn't matter.  God loves me and wants to forgive me.  He loves you too.  And He wants to forgive you too.   So, if it's been awhile since you've been to confession find out when the next one is and go.   Have that eye lash to eye lash encounter with God.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fifteen Amazing Things About NCYC 2011

We got back home from Indianapolis where I participated in the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference.  This was my third NCYC and they have all been simply amazing.   After the 2009 NCYC, held at home here in Kansas City, I posted a blog titled, "Fourteen Amazing Things About NCYC."   Truth be told, I had difficulty stopping at fourteen so, I figured I would add on this year and rewrite it to make it applicable for this year.   So, here is the 2011 edition of amazing things at NCYC.  Some of these are taken from last years because there is just no way to leave them off any list but I did try to make new items.

  • Number 15---Lucas Oil Stadium.  This was a fantastic location for the general sessions.  I really think that with the large number of people there, you need to have it in a football stadium.  When you are in an arena, like it was last year at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, you had to make sure to get to the arena early in order to get good seats or else you would be in the "nose bleed" sections.  At Lucas Oil, even if you were late, you could get great seats and feel like you very close to the action.  (I would still recommend getting there early so you don't miss out on the warm-up bands.)
  • Number 14---All of the Religious People  Everywhere you looked there were priests and nuns having a good time.  Heck, one night I was walking back to my hotel and walking next to me was a bishop--a successor to the apostles standing next to me waiting for the traffic signal to change!  This is incredible to me.  I think it is great for the teens to see these religious people as people just like them.  People who enjoy having a good time.  I also think it's good for the priests and the nuns and the bishops to see the young people loving their faith.
  • Number 13---The Food.  Some attendees may be thinking I am crazy to list food considering the lines to some of the food places.  Yes, it can be difficult but it can be done.  With pre-planning and reservations you can find some great food.  Thursday night we had diner at Buca di Beppo before the general session and we were in and out in 45 minutes.  Friday night we had great pizza at this hole in the wall pizza shoppe that was so secluded that it was like finding Diagon Alley.  (We are going to back in 2013 so I'm not giving up where it is)  Finally, our diocese had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe on Friday night.  A great opportunity for kids from different parishes to meet and interact.
  • Number 12---Everything is Just Right.   I'm not sure there is room for growth at NCYC.   Well, sure, there is, but I don't know how.  After all, a million people descended on Madrid, Spain for a week in August.  I think that is extreme though.  Twenty-three thousand Catholics is a lot of people and there are times when places are cramped. Yet having that many people just intensifies the excitement and adds a sense of awe.  Three days is also a long time to be jam-packed with that many people.  After that and I think people would start to get testy.  Any shorter than that and it's just not the same.  I think the size and the length of NCYC is just right.
  • Number 11---You get to miss school/work.  This has two advantages.  The first one is---you get to miss school and/or work!  I don't think I need to expand and that.  The second is that it gives you an opening to share your faith.  You've missed two or three days and you come back and people are sure to ask where you've been or what you've been doing.  At the same time, you are still all jazzed up and excited.  What a perfect opportunity to share Jesus with someone.
  • Number 10---Positive Attitudes.  Imagine 23,000 people in one space for 3 days.  You would think that tempers would be flaring.  Yeah, there are times when people get frustrated but it's short lived.  That type of attitude just doesn't survive in the NCYC environment.  So many people being happy and excited for their faith and negativity just doesn't have a chance.
  • Number 9---The Quotes.  There are so many great speakers and so many great things being said.  I took some advice from a friend and took a journal and took notes during some of the sessions so I can remember them (great idea for youth ministers---make your kids travel journals so they have a place to put their memories)  I'm now able to remember that Mark Hart told me that "Prayer IS our relationship with God."  Or Mike Patin telling me, "Be who you are called to be and we will set the world ablaze!" (Okay--he quoted St. Katherine of Sienna---but he still told it to me in a great session)  Or Fr. Tony telling me to "Don't be Stupid!"
  • Number 8---The Expo Center---WOW!!  Areas for vocations, areas for eating, people selling Catholic books, jewlery, tee-shirts.  Areas for universities.  Areas for HUMAN FOOSBALL!  Being able to meet your favorite Catholic celebrity.  Fun fun place to be.  
  • Number 7---It Just HAS to Bother Satan.  The Devil is the big loser in all of this.  People who are already in love with Jesus have that love set on fire.  Those who have let that fire dwidle get reinvigorated.  Those who done really know Jesus, get to know him.  Sin is talked about.  Hell is talked about.  Evil is brought into the light.  The Devil hates that.
  • Number 6--It is pleasing to God.  It would have been interesting to be in Heaven when 23000 people  are reciting the Hail Mary or when thousands of people receive the sacrament of reconciliation.  People singing His praise and offering themselves to Him.  Surely He had a smile.
  • Number 5---Knocking out the cell network two times in one day.   At the Saturday morning session, Mike Patin had the kids take out their cell phones and at the same time send someone back home a texts saying, "I care for you.  I'm praying with 23,000 other people for you."  That night at mass, Bishop Coyne again had everyone take out their phones and send out a text, a tweet or a status update saying, "We are called to glory!"   I'm sure that many texts or tweets going out at the same moment just had to wreck the cell network---even if it was just for a second.
  • Number 4---The universality of the Church and NCYC.   Several of the sessions were streamed on the interwebs.  So, while there were all these people watching mass from Lucas Oil Stadium there were thousands of others watching on their computers from crazy places like the Vatican and China.   This shows that the Catholic Church truly is Universal.  It is all around the world.
  • Number 3---Youth Ministers.  This could not have been done if it wasn't for all of the hard work done by youth ministers back home.   I know they start recruiting people to go and planning over a year in advance.  Travel arrangements, food arrangements.  I can't imagine how many hours goes into organizing a group to go.  My parish, Holy Family, is blessed to have the best youth minister in the world--Heather Neds.  She makes the whole weekend end appear seamless and ensures that everything runs smooth so that the kids have a great time.  
  • Number 2--Reminders from God that it doesn't End.  We loaded on the bus Saturday night thinking we were a short sleep filled 10 hour bus ride from home.  We thought we'd be getting in Sunday morning as people were filing in for mass.  Not so fast.  We had a slight mechanical difficulty with the bus and had to sit at a truck stop for a couple hours before limping to a motel in order to get some sleep and a shower while they figured out what to do.  About 1pm Sunday afternoon, another bus came and picked us up to take us the rest of the way.  Twenty-one hours after we left Indy, we pulled into Holy Family.  God granted us a 12 hour extension to NCYC.  And the kids kept a great attitude through it all, even though they were tired and had homework to do.  I hope they realize, NCYC doesn't end there---they have to take what they learned with them.
  • Number 1--My Daughter.  This is my third NCYC and my 11th year being involved in youth ministry as a catechist.  It is my first time my oldest, Emma, has been involved and it was great to spend time with her.  We went to one break-out session together.  We spent time in line for reconciliation together.  Time here, time there.  Lots of valuable bonding time and I treasured every minute of it.
Well, I thought I would have to repeat things from my last list, such as the mass or reconciliation.   I could go on and on and list many other things that are incredible about NCYC.  I simply love going there.  It's like a great big CatholicCon for a Catholic geek like me.  Hopefully, I'll have a repeat after the 2013 NCYC, which will be November 21-23, also in Indy so I'll put them there.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Headed to NCYC

Tonight, myself and thirty-two other adults and teens are leaving Kansas City and headed to Indianapolis for the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference.   This will be my third one and I am pumped and excited.   There isn't much that I look forward to more than NCYC.  I'm really hoping to see Fr. Tony this year.

Why do I love it so much?  I wrote a post after the one in 2009 titled, "Fourteen Amazing Things About NCYC" that does a pretty good job explaining it. 

I'll try to keep you updated of what's going on here or at my Twitter--@JamieMc4525.  If you are there tweet me and maybe we can meet up.Or, you can watch along by going to (was taken?)  The following sessions will be streamed.

Thursday, November 17th
beginning at approximately 8:00 PM EST
General Session

Friday, November 18th
beginning at approximately 9:30 AM EST
Morning Session
beginning at approximately 11:30 AM EST
Parent Mega Workshop, "The Gift of Parenthood"
beginning at approximately 1:30 PM EST
Parent Mega Workshop, "Stories of Faith and Family"
beginning at approximately 3:45 PM EST
Parent Mega Workshop, "Talking with Teens about Taboo Topics"
beginning at approximately 8:00 PM EST
General Session

Saturday, November 19th
beginning at approximately 9:00 AM EST
Morning Session
beginning at approximately 11:30 AM EST
Parent Mega Workshop, "The Family that Prays Together"
beginning at approximately 8:00 PM EST
Closing Liturgy

Monday, November 14, 2011

Don't Let the Devil Win in KC-St. Joseph

God is in constant battle with the Devil.  God wants us to be with Him and He loves us so much that He gave us free will so that we will freely choose Him.  The devil wants us to be separated from God and he tempts us so that we will sin--which is separation from God.  God snatches victory from the devil when we do sin by forgiving us for that sin and reconciling with us.  And we help defeat the devil when we forgive others when they harm us.

The devil has been winning some major battles in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.  First, the devil caused Fr. Shawn Rattigan to sin by possessing child pornography and possibly taking inappropriate  photographs of children.   Bishop Finn and the diocese then sinned by not fully protecting the children that they are supposed to protect by not turning over the information promptly to the proper authorities.  The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is now in turmoil because of those sins.   

The people in the diocese are hurting.  They feel like they have been betrayed by Bishop Finn.  I have heard rumblings of people asking whether or not they can allow their teen to receive the sacrament of confirmation from "that man."  Others have asked if the confirmation would even be valid. [it would be--the validity of a sacrament does not rely on the holiness of the priest] People are mad and angry at the man who is supposed to lead them.  They do not trust him and having trust is at the core of good leadership.
Bishop Robert Finn

Bishop Finn immediately came out after Fr. Rattigan was arrested and stated that mistakes had been made.  He stated, "Things must change.  I also have to change."  He employed the law firm of Graves, Bartle, Marcus and Garret, LLC to conduct an investigation and to recommend changes to the policies and procedure of the diocese.   He apologized for the mistakes that the did make.

For healing to start, it is now up to the community of the diocese to forgive Bishop Finn and the other leaders of the diocese for the mistakes they made.   And Bishop Finn does not deny that mistakes were made.  I get frustrated reading how some organizations, such as the Catholic League, have tried to down play the mistakes and make it sound as if everything that the diocese was okay.  I spent several hours reading the Graves report. [I have several thoughts that I'll bring up in another post] The report comes to the conclusion that the leaders of the diocese erred. So don't down play it.   Just like we should not rationalize our sins, we should not rationalize the mistakes of the diocese.  Let them admit their errors so that they can learn and grow from them just as we learn and grow from our mistakes.

We must forgive and start to move on.   I'm not saying forget.  We must ensure that changes are made so that mistakes do not happen again.   But don't let the devil win. Don't let him shake your faith.  I know forgiveness isn't easy.  Especially when you are mad.  When you are angry and when you feel betrayed.  But we must forgive in order to let go and to heal.  We must forgive in order to defeat the devil.  Yes, Bishop Finn made big mistakes but so are we when we do not forgive.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Love of Jesus

Recently, I went to reconciliation and the priest gave me an odd penance.  The priest told me to go to adoration, to sit in front of the blessed sacrament and ask for Jesus to show me the love He has for me.  It was definitely an "outside of the box" type of penance.  I'm used to throwing out some Hail Mary's or Our Father's and being done with it but this one went a long way with me.  

It seemed very weird.  Why should I pray for Jesus' love?  I know Jesus loves me.  It's probably one of the first things I learned in my life.  Heck, it's in the children's song, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."    The fact that Jesus loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us is what our faith is built around.  He gave His life for us.  If there is anything I'm sure of in life it's that there is a God and that He loves me.  So what is the point of this penance?? 

The Holy Spirit was working through that priest it turns out.  This may sound totally insane, but even though I know Jesus loves me, in some weird place in my head I had doubts have doubts that Jesus really does truly love me.  There is some portion of my brain that can rationalize that Jesus loves everybody--except for me.  I mean if Jesus knows everything about me how can he possibly love me through all my faults.

Then it hit me.  If I have trouble believing that Jesus Christ loves me then it's no wonder I sometimes have difficulty believe that those closest to me, and who know all my faults, truly love me.  After all, Jesus is full of mercy.   He desires to forgive me.  He expects me to mess up.   My loved ones??  I can't expect them to be as merciful and forgiving as Jesus is.  Can I?  After all, the depth of Jesus' mercy is like the ocean.  Seriously? I'm full of faults.  I can be difficult to get along with.  I have quirks.  I'm forgetful.  I can be needy?  Doubt me?  Ask my wife.  Ask my friends.  Ask my family. 

So, I wonder, why does my wife, my family, or my friend love me past my faults if I'm not ever sure Jesus, who is all-forgiving, loves me.   There is something irrational about that thought process though.  Why would I think that Jesus doesn't love me while I believe in His mercy?  If someone is willing to forgive you for anything you do then there MUST be love there.  If I believe in Jesus' mercy then I must believe in His love for me.  

So, it's not rational thought that Jesus does not love me.  So why do I have it?  I'd like to call it a glitch.  Just like a computer or a computer program may get a glitch in it I think there may be a glitch in me.   I am the type of person who needs constant reassurance.   When my loved one isn't around, I start to doubt their love for me.  It only makes sense, that when I haven't been with Jesus in prayer for awhile that I start to doubt his love for me.   Jesus is eager and willing to show His love for me just as my family and friends are eager to share their love for me.  I just have to be more trusting.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Catholicism Is Not a Social Group

I grew up Catholic.  I grew up proud of my faith.  I grew up ready to defend my faith.  I didn't know much about my faith growing up.  I didn't receive my first communion or reconciliation until I was in 7th grade.  Heck,  I wasn't confirmed until I was in my late twenties.  That didn't matter.  I identified myself as Catholic even though I probably couldn't tell you what that meant.   As such, I led a pretty secular life and did things that a person in my teens or twenties wanted to do.  I moved in with a girl at twenty years old.  I married her in a courthouse.  I rarely went to mass.  Confession?? Forget about it.

I was ignorant about my faith and I lived that way.  But, if anyone would have asked me---I was Catholic--and PROUD OF IT!   Here is the deal though,  I don't think I ever spoke ill of the Catholic Church's teachings.   I've always trusted her teachings as truth even if I didn't always live by them or understand them.    I don't know what I would have done if someone would have questioned me about them.  What would have I done if someone asked, "Aren't you supposed to go to mass every Sunday?"  or "Should you be having premarital sex?" or "Doesn't the Church teach against birth control?"

I recognize the fact that I may appear hypocritical when I criticize "Cafeteria Catholics."  Cafeteria Catholics are those who claim to be Catholic but pick and choose from the Catechism what they believe in or don't believe in-- as if they were going through a line in a cafeteria. I'll also be the first one to admit that I don't always live according to Church teachings today.  After all, I am a sinner and if it weren't but for the grace of God and the fear of Hell I would be a bad bad guy.

As much as I may cause scandal by being a sinner and saying that something is a sin and then going and committing that sin, I believe it is a great scandal to say that you are Catholic and then criticize what the Church believes and teaches.   Yes, there is a hell and people go there every day.  Yes, contraception is wrong.  Homosexual acts are wrong.  Abortion is wrong.  The bishop is the authority of the diocese and should be shown respect.  Masturbation is wrong.  You are supposed to go to mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation.  You are supposed to go to confession once a year.  You are supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays during lent and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Only men can be priests.  To say otherwise goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Catholicism is not a social group.   As the apologist John Martinoni has said that do so is basically taking a Catechism of the Catholic Church, ripping out pages and turning it into the Catechism of Gene. (It's been years since I've heard that talk so you will excuse me paraphrasing what he said)    Mr. Marinoni's point is that if you are Catholic then you are saying that you can pick up the Catechism and say, "This is what I believe."

If you have problems with some of the Church's teachings--which is perfectly understandable because there are many difficult teachings--then educate yourself about the teachings.  Find out why she says what she says.  Then pray about the teachings.  It may take the grace of God to get you to understand some teachings.  Then, finally, trust our Church.  Jesus gave Peter and the apostles authority and that authority was passed down through the ages.  Trust in that authority.  Everything that is in that Catechism----I believe it.

What are teachings you have difficulty with?  Which ones did you have difficulty with and how did you get over that difficulty?   Are you or have you been a Cafeteria Catholic?

Friday, November 4, 2011

You Don't Know the Hour

I have seen my fair share of death in the 15 years of having been a police officer.   Sometimes the death is expected like the incidents where the grandmother has passed away at home with her family at her bed side Sometimes the person may have lived a high risk life style where they are involved in drugs and gangs and the family members are saddened but not too surprised at the news.  More often than not though, if I am there, the death is unexpected and a shock to the family.  Sometimes it is because of an accident or sadly sometimes, people just don't wake up.

In this weekends gospel reading, Jesus tells us the story of ten virgins who go out to wait for the bridegroom.  Some of them do not take enough oil for their lamps so by the time the bridegroom gets there they don't have any light.  They are forced to go to the merchant and they miss the bridegroom.  When they go to the wedding feast they are told they cannot come in and that the bridegroom does not know them.  Jesus finishes off by saying, "stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

This is commonly meant that we do not know the time of Jesus' return to earth but, seeing death come so quickly and unexpectedly as I have, I see it as we do not know of the time or the hour that our own deaths will come so always be prepared for our deaths.

This is most important in the spiritual sense.  We should not be afraid because Jesus has conquered death.  As long as we cooperate with the graces that God has given to us then death can be a victory over sin.  If we live our lives in a manner that is pleasing to God then we are assured of spending eternity with Him. If we live a life of sin then we are probably not got going to like the outcome.  Fortunately, God is always trying to reconcile Himself to us.  He gives us plenty of opportunities for us get fix our relationship with Him---most specifically, confession.

I think there is another idea that can be taken away from this reading.  Since we do not know the day or the hour of our death--love like we never know when we are going to die.  Don't go to bed angry.  Tell our wives and our kids that we love them before we leave home.  Hug those we love.  Don't be afraid to express our affections.  We don't know if that is going to be our last hug or our last kiss.  We don't want our loved ones last memory of us to be of a fight.

I've seen too many people live like they are never going to die.  I've been on scene where the person had some terminal illness but yet had no funeral arrangements leaving their loved ones to make them in a time of grief.   Don't fear death. Don't live being worried that something bad is going to happen.  But, live the life that is pleasing to God and make sure our friends and family know we love them.  Oh yeah---and make sure that there is plenty of beer at the funeral wake.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Top 4 Favorite Souls

Like I was saying in my previous post, My Top 5 Favorite Saints, the processional song for mass last night was the Litany of the Saints.  My liturgist does something interesting with the song and he starts throwing in great people who are not cannoized saints but who are probably a good bet to be in Heaven such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Merton.  They then start reciting all the people from the parish who have died in the last year.  I have to say, I'm not sure about how theologically correct doing this is but I think it is comforting to the people who have died.

I did think it would be interesting if instead of singing "pray for us" after each name, if the congregation could some how switch to singing, "pray for him."  After all, we are supposed to offer up our prayers for the dead that they may more quickly make it out of purgatory and into heaven.  But I suppose that might be difficult.  I then thought about doing a follow up to the Top 5 Favorite Saint post for All Soul's Day  and list people who I know and love who have passed and whom I would like for you to pray for.

I'm worried about people being offended because their loved one did not make my list s:o I'm taking off the "Top" part of my title and just listing five people in my life who have died and had a BIG impact on my life.

Why do we pray for those who died?  As Catholics, we believe that when you die you are going to either Heaven or Hell.   Very few of us are purified enough to make it to Heaven right away so, through the grace of God, we are allowed to go to purgatory first so that we may be made pure in order to enter Heaven.  That is a very simplistic explanation but we pray for those who have died that they may leave Heaven and be in God's beatific vision.

1.) Grandpa Chub: That is what all of my other cousins called him.  I just called him Grandpa.  I grew up as a single child until I was 13 years old with a single mom and Grandpa was my main father figure.  He was sixty by the time I was born and in his seventies by the time I was in my formative years and passed away when I was a teenager.  He was a printer most of his life and very involved in Cub Scouting.  I took my Mic-O-Say name from him.  He was "Black Parchment" and I am "Little Black Parchement."

2.) Grandma Margaret:  She died years before I was born when my mom was still a young teenager.  That doesn't mean she was forgotten.  I've heard so many wonderful stories growing up from her kids---my mom and her brothers.  She was from Shendoah, Iowa.  She started dating my grandpa and converted him to Catholicism.  They had six boys and one daughter.  

3) Kenny Harris:  He was my baby sitter's husband and coincidentally, his workshop was across the street from my house growing up so I spent a lot of time there hanging out.  He drove grain trucks, worked on cars and helped farm.  I got to do lots of cool things because of him--or at least cool for a kid growing up.  Like riding in a combine during harvest or riding to Kansas City in a semi-truck.  

4)  Uncle Mick:  Mick was the Chief of Police in Tarkio, where I grew up and was one of the reasons I am the way I am.  Don't hold that against him.  But, I would say he is a big reason I became a cop.  He was a contributor to my wit and great sense of humor and a leading cause for my fondness for the Beatles.  Sadly, he passed away before his time.  I was only in his mid-fifties and died from emphysema from years of smoking.  I may mention---he is also a leading factor in the reason I hate cigarettes.

5) Max and Doris--my wife's grandparents.  I couldn't separate them because they are, in my mind, forever combined.  I never met them until I was in my 20's and dating Abby and are a model for me what a happy marriage should be.   I see so much of Doris in my wife--kind, caring, stubborn and tough.   Max (who we name our son after) was one of the most kind and gentle people I have ever known.  I pray that Abby and I are as happy as they were.

So there they are.  Hopefully they are already in Heaven.  To hear my uncles talk, my grandmother was probably a straight shot for Heaven and probably some of the others.  But, pray for them anyway please.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Top 5 Favorite Saints

Last night I was at mass for All Saints Day and they started off the mass with the Litany of the Saints.  I've always enjoyed this song. Not only do I like the tune but I just enjoy listening the names of all the saints and thinking about each one, remembering their stories and reflecting on what makes them special.   Some of them I  was very familiar with.  Others, I hadn't heard of at all.  

As Catholics we hold saints up in high regard.  They are people we can model ourselves after.  Some of them seemed to be saintly from the birth.  Other's led very sinful lives before turning to God.   In 2009, I wrote a blog titled Top 5 Saints.   Looking back, I find it interesting that the who I considered my top five saints today aren't the same as I thought of back then.  I suppose that's because I'm not in the same place spiritually as I was back then (that can be either a good thing or a bad thing)  So, I thought, I would revisit that blog and update it.  So, here now are my Top 5 Saints (as of this moment):

1. St. Maximilian Kolbe--a priest who was placed into the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz and gave his life in exchange for another prisoner.  I can't say as to why I like St. Maximillian but there is just something about him that I really respect.

2. St. Therese of Lisieux--this may seem a little hokey.  I thought her autobiography was very sappy when I read it several years ago.  But, I like the story about a fellow nun that she did not like.  The nun was always mean to her but St. Therese just put on a smile and went on her way.  Finally, one day, the old nun asked Therese, "why do you love me so."   Therese didn't even really like the nun but she made the nun feel loved.   I want to be like that.  You see, people annoy me and I find that it's too easy to be mean back.  I don't want to be two-faced, but at the same time, I want to be Christ-like and make people feel loved.

3.  St. Faustina--Jesus appeared to her and showed her imaged of heaven and hell and wanted her to pass on the message of His mercy.  That's a message I like to hear because I mess up a lot. And I mean A LOT!.  It comforts me to know that Jesus loves me know matter what and forgives me.  It's a virtue that I try to carry forward and be forgiving to other people.

4. St. Michael--he is a carry over from the 2009 list but, he is the patron saint of police officers.  Plus, he is who people think of when they talk about spiritual warfare--the guy who kicked the Devil's butt.  And I recognize that we are all in a state of spiritual warfare, whether you want to believe it or not.

5. St Gianna Beretta Molla--she died in the early 1960's in order that her child could live.  She had the option of aborting her child and living or carrying her child through birth and possibly dying.  I like her because she is saint of the modern days.  She is a lay person.  And because I'm not sure I could make that decision.  Let me clarify---if it was between me or my kids then yeah--no brainer--take me.  But, if it was my wife and our unborn child--I'll be honest, I don't know what I'd do.  (close your ears Abby!)  It would be a huge moral dilemma for me and I respect St. Gianna's decision.

So, there you have it--my five favorite saints for November, 2011.  Come back in 2013 and see the next update.  Well, come back before then--I may write something good.  Probably not, but we'll see.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

You Again

A couple weeks ago, I watched the movie, "You Again."   The movie is about a girl named Marni (played by Kristen Bell) who was kind of nerdy in high school and tormented by another girl, named Joanna (played by Odette Yustman)  After high school, Marni blossomed into an handsome woman and is successful at her job.  She flies back home for her brother's wedding, only to find out that her brother's bride-to-be is Joanna, who seems to have turned a new leaf.  She is now sweet and helpful.  Worst of all, she does not remember Marni at all.

Marni, cannot seem to let the pain and suffering go though and does everything she can to show everyone that Joanna isn't the person they think she is.  To make things worse, Marni's mother (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) had been best friends with Joanna's aunt (Sigourney Weaver) until they had a falling out in high school and are now bitter enemies--despite not having seen each other since high school.

These four women spend the entire movie trying to destroy each other because of some pain or hurt cause years and years ago.  And they do everything they can to hurt the other because of hurt caused them.   The problem with holding grudges and continuing to be angry at someone is that they are holding you as slaves to them.  Your anger causes you to be held down by that other person.

This is when we should be imitating Jesus and showing others the mercy and forgiveness that He shows us.  To forgive is to show love.   There is a second reason we should show forgiveness and mercy.  We we forgive someone for the hurt they have given to us, we actually break the chains that are holding us to them.  We are no longer tormented by that other person.  They stop hurting us when we forgive them.

If you have someone who has hurt them but you can't seem to forgive them just let go of that hurt.  Forgive that person.  Break the chains.  I'm not saying you have to forget what they did to you.  I'm not saying you have to trust them again.  But forgive them. Free them.  Free yourself.

I realize it's not difficult.  Especially if that person hasn't shown remorse.  Or if they don't know the hurt they have done to you.  You may feel like you want to "let them have it."  You want closure.  You want to try to make them feel bad.  How would you feel if God did that to you every time you sinned against Him?  God loves you. He forgives you for your sins.  Love that person and forgive them for theirs.