Wednesday, July 16, 2014

God's Existence Does Not Depend on Belief or Opinion Polls

 Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. 2The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. 3The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant. (2 Kings 23: 1-3)

 ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.(Matthew 7: 15-20)

Today’s readings speak of embracing God's ordinances and decrees. They also remind us to be on guard against false prophets and erroneous teachers. If we are to embrace God’s law, we must know it and allow it to fill our souls. Experience has taught me that while we can gather many opinions, we cannot discover the truth by taking opinion polls. When God inscribed the Law on the stone tablets and etched it upon the fleshy tablets of the human heart, He established the norms for moral living as members of the People of God. The Word of Truth is not formulated by special interest groups. Well-intentioned people may want to push their agenda but the Truth is eternal and unchanging. Consider for a moment these words taken from the Letter to the Hebrews. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” (Heb. 13: 8-9). If we are to be able to distinguish between the voice of the Good Shepherd and that of the false prophets, we must grow accustomed to the sound of His voice. The Master of the Universe is eternal and is totally self-sufficient. God's existence does not depend on our belief in His existence. God does not need our permission to be God!

The commandments and the Sacred Magisterium are given as guiding forces in our lives. The best way to honor the commandments and sound teaching is to ponder them, ruminate on them and then walk by their light. Here's the rub. There is nothing more confusing or disorienting than the smooth-talking and flattering doctrines of those who distort the truth. This is why Jesus tells us to be vigilant and alert. Our actions, our words, even our omissions need to be in conformity with the mind and will of God. We cannot speak in the name of the Good Shepherd if we do not pasture with the flock, which is the Church. As members of the sheepfold of Christ we share in the overshadowing presence of the Holy Spirit. Remember what the apostle to the Gentiles wrote, "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God" (1Cor. 2:12). Only by surrendering to the guidance of the Holy Spirit can we hope to learn how to apply the Law of The Lord to every aspect of our lives. God puts His Spirit within us. It is the Spirit that enables us to advance in faith. The promptings of the Spirit will expand our hearts so that we will be able to run the way of God’s commandments. Then we shall know the inexpressible sweetness of love. When the Lord returns in glory, may he bring us all together into eternal life.

--Fr. Jerome Machar, OSCO

God's Watering of Hungry and Thirsty Souls

 The very same power that sets the mountains on their bases, upholds the believer. The same word that stills the stormy ocean, and tells the winds to be calm, silences our fears and anxieties. The same rain and snow that makes the ground fertile prepares the seed-ground of faith that nourishes our souls. He who enriches the earth and brings forth a bountiful harvest feeds our souls and makes us children of the Kingdom. Those who inhabit the earth are made citizens of heaven where Christ “will change our lowly bodies to conform with His glorified body by the power that enables Him to bring all things into subjection to Himself” (Phil. 3:21). The rising of the Sun of righteousness, and the pouring forth of the influences of the Holy Spirit, that river of God, full of the waters of life and salvation, render the hard, barren, worthless hearts of sinners fruitful in every good work, and change the face of nations more than the sun and rain change the face of nature.

Through His holy prophet, God calls out to all hungry and thirsty souls. The prophet reminds us that we are encountering a living word, a Word that will do God's will and will achieve God’s purposes. No matter how we hear the words, they are the Word of the Lord. It is His voice that echoes within us as He speaks to us heart-to-heart. It is God who calls out to the parched and penniless soul. It is God who provides for our gnawing hunger and burning thirst. All that we need can be found in Christ Who is the Father's love made tangible. Through faith we seek Him who first sought us. True life of the soul lies in hearing the voice of the Beloved and yielding to His embrace. Having known the love of God, it is our duty to draw others into the communion of divine love. The journey to our heavenly harvest begins with the regenerating waters that bring us to newness of life in Christ. We have only to recall the words of Jesus that are recorded in the Gospel of John: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (Jn. 15:8).

God has a plan and God’s Word is the instrument whereby He intends to accomplish it. We must be attentive to the living Word of God and respond to it wholeheartedly. Because God has first called us, we have become members of the Body of Christ. As we lovingly respond to His Word, we stand in a communion of faith and love with one another. As guests of the Bridegroom, we partake of the Banquet of the Lamb and know ourselves to be heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom. Having been partakers of the Bread of Life, we must learn to walk as children of the Light. The transformation is to be so complete that we can say with Saint Paul, "I live no longer I but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). The sense of hearing cannot be better employed than when hearing God's word. Each of us should assess ourselves so as to discover what sort of hearers we are.

The human heart without God's Word is very much like the earth without rain -- barren and fruitless. In his poetic way, Isaiah reminds us of the power of the Word to do what it says: comfort, heal, challenge, encourage, guide and surprise us. He calls us to love beyond ourselves into the great expanses of the universe. Even though the heavens are lofty and beyond our reach God uses them to produce rain and snow. The moisture that falls from the heavens provides seed for the sower and bread for the eater. As the rain softens the earth and allows it to bring forth a rich harvest, so the Word softens the human soul and allows it to live an abundant life. The Word of The Lord softens the human heart and makes it capable of receiving the seed of the Word, whereby it becomes fruitful. When all is said and done, the bountiful love of the human heart must be ascribed to God, Whose blessing causes the implanted seed to put forth its shoot. Something to think about: when speaking about the good soil, Jesus never said there were Christ does not say that were no stones or no thorns in it. He only said that nothing could hinder its fruitfulness. As we acknowledge God's bounteous grace to us, the greatest act of gratitude we can offer Him is to hunger and thirst for more.

Prayer of World Youth Day 2016

“God, merciful Father, in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman”.

We entrust to you in a special way young people of every language, people and nation: guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.

Heavenly Father, grant that we may bear witness to your mercy. Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt, hope to those who are discouraged, love to those who feel indifferent, forgiveness to those who have done wrong and joy to those who are unhappy.

Allow the spark of merciful love that you have enkindled within us become a fire that can transform hearts and renew the face of the earth. Amen.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

The Doctor Insists on Terminating a Pregnancy--A Penitent's Response

We just received an urgent prayer request duplicated below:

One of my dearest friends from high school (not Catholic, but does believe in God) is pregnant with her 4th baby.  She went in for a routine appointment and she was told that because of too much scar tissue, the baby likely won't make it through the 2nd trimester.  She also has an infection in her uterus which further complicates issues.  She has been told that terminating the pregnancy is "a must."  She has an appointment on Monday for a D&C.  Please storm heaven.  It sounds like her Doctor is being very pushy about it and not giving her any other options to explore. 

Those who have no faith in God would put their faith in the doctor and figure whatever doctor says must be right. Of course, none of us have ever heard of a doctor being wrong, have we? Or have we?

Let's examine this note.

1. The woman is pregnant with baby number 4. Some people believe that two kids are plenty. Three are too many. Four are just plain irresponsible. The woman writing this prayer request is young--in her twenties. That means her high school friend must be in her twenties, too, in all probability. Now take a doctor who thinks four is irresponsible, has a twenty something woman in his office who is expecting number four, and who has a uterine infection and scar tissue. It would take a generous character to help this woman have this child for a person who thinks she's over populating and will likely go on to have God knows how many MORE kids before menopause. So tell her she has scar tissue and the baby won't make it. Scar tissue does not go away. So if this baby won't make it, neither will babies 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and so on. Stop her from having this baby, then tell her she should get her tubes tied, and you've stopped her from reproducing. This is the way human minds work.

2. The woman has a uterine infection. What if the baby does not die but is harmed by the infection and the woman sues the doctor for not treating her properly? If she terminates, that is HER decision and no risk to the doctor because of her free choice.

What can we do in the face of pressures like these? We can pray for our friends. We can try to help them seek alternatives. For any serious surgery, most people will get a second opinion before undergoing surgery. Why not get a second opinion in this case, but don't tell doctor number 2 what doctor number 1 said. In fact, the best place to get a second opinion is through a doctor recommended by prolife pregnancy help agency like Birthright (call 1-800-550-4900). These doctors will do whatever they can to help a woman through a pregnancy and give birth to her baby, and many will give a free consultation.

The bottom line is that penitents need to remember that GOD and not the DOCTOR is in charge of life. We let Him call the shots. We don't second guess or predict what is going to happen with a life. We let what happens in God's hands and we engage the doctor to assist the Lord in saving life until a natural death occurs. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to "Pray for the living and the dead." We are living until we are dead. We preserve life and pray for one another until we are all safely in the arms of God.

Helpful online books:

My Child, My Gift: A Positive Response to Serious Prenatal Diagnosis

Having Your Baby When You (Or Others) Say No!: A Complete Guide to Overcoming Your Fears about Having Your Baby

--Madeline Pecora Nugent

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bonadventure -- Good Fortune in This Life and The Next

July 15 is the Feast of Saint Bonaventure, great Franciscan Doctor of the Church perhaps best known for his definitive (at the time) biography of Saint Francis of Assisi. His names mean "Good Fortune" or, we might say, "Lucky", supposedly given to him as a nickname when he, as a child in danger of dying, was healed by the prayers of Saint Francis of Assisi. Was he healed by luck or by prayer? We who trust in God know there is no such thing as luck, be it good or bad. All happens with the will or permission of God.

On the feast of Saint Bonaventure in 2014, I attended two Masses. The first, at 7 a.m., was a Mass of reception for Sister Anna Doctor into the postulancy of the Franciscan Sisters Minor. The reading prior to her reception was Thomas of Celano's account of Saint Francis relinquishing everything in this world to follow God and his giving all possessions back to his father before placing himself fully into the arms of God. Sister Anna did that very thing. What joy in such surrender!

Sister Bernadette, Mother Colette Marie, and Sister Anna of the Franciscan Sisters Minor on the day of Sister Anna's entrance into postulancy, July 15, 2014

Then, at 10:30 a.m., I attended a second Mass, this one a funeral Mass for Justin Seyfert, age 23 (close to the age of Sister Anna), who died from a tragic motorcycle accident only five days previously. Justin is the nephew of Sandy Seyfert, Minister (president) of Our Lady, Cause of Our Joy Chapter of the Confraternity of Penitents in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Justin had graduated from Ball State School of Architecture in 2014 and was active in construction trades while working toward his Master's Degree.  At his funeral the family had displayed his notebooks, blue prints, and architectural models. Justin had been an organ donor, and many of his organs were harvested and used to bring new life to others whose organs were failing. This donation of his, made by his free decision long before his accident, was part of the selfless nature of who Justin was. His friends remarked that he never left your side. His aunt said he was always smiling. A friend recalled that, when she had no date for the prom, Justin invited her to go along with him and his date--hence, he escorted two women to that special dance.

Justin's funeral was in his parish, Saint Vincent De Paul, in Fort Wayne. The huge crucifix behind the altar is made of twined vines and Christ suspended on it looks as if He is in agony but then also, with His arms uplifted, in praise. It is as if the agony of suffering is a praise of God's mercy and love, with the interwoven vines reminding us that He is the vine and we the branches--we are to offer our suffering up for others out of love.

Justin Seyfert

Father Andrew Budzinski who offered the Mass said that people who are grieving do not remember funeral homilies but they do remember who was there for them. Jesus is always there for us--He does not leave our side. He gave Himself totally to us to renew our lives. We have new life because of Jesus' death. Moreover, He is preparing a house, a dwelling place for us in heaven, and Justin, by his selfless giving, will participate in these preparations with Him Who was also a carpenter.

Justin gave of himself to others. Sister Anna will give more fully of herself to others through her life as as a religious. Justin's work will continue from eternity (do pray for his soul and may he pray for us as well) and Sister Anna will work here in this life until God calls her, too, home to Himself. In order to enter a new way of living, we must be reborn and leave the old behind. Justin left behind this world to be reborn into eternal life. Sister Anna chose to leave behind her former way of life and enter a new existence as a religious. Both were not "lucky"-- they experienced the Good Fortune of following God wherever He took them. May we do the same by giving ourselves to the world as Jesus did. If we put ourselves at His disposal, He will do it.

--Madeline Pecora Nugent,CFP

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Monsters in the Soul and a Life of Penance

Recently I had a curious dream in which I was in a movie theater watching a monster movie, yet I was also in the movie. While I knew this was a movie, I, nevertheless, was a clueless actor. I didn't know where monsters lurked or what they were.

The Jersey Devil, Champ and the Chupacabra Monster Reproduction from The Monster Project by National Geographic.
I was in a comfortable but untidy house, similar to ones of my family and myself, I must admit (no one in my family has ever received a Good Housekeeping award). The house was lived in and would have been very non-threatening except that monsters lurked throughout it. I would suddenly confront one--a grotesque face when I opened a closet door. Or one would appear around a corner and accost me. The house faced the sea which was wildly and beautifully turbulent but which also harbored monsters, I knew. I just didn't see them. I was not very far into this movie dream when I awoke, and, when I did, I seemed to be in an alternate place psychologically, as one generally feels when awakening from a vivid dream. The peace and comfort of my bedroom had dissolved and had been replaced by a sense of unbalance and a feeling of being out of sync. I was not afraid--I knew I had been dreaming--but my sense of reality was skewed. I went back to sleep as if to continue the dream, which did not happen, and when I awoke the second time, all felt back to a peaceful normal.

The dream made me think, because God does not send these sorts of dreams without a reason. Two things happened the previous day with the Confraternity of Penitents that I think played out in my dream. First, I had been corresponding with a person who had been in and out of the Confraternity many times and who was now leaving again. I think that correspondence sparked the dream as well a revision of the CFP Handbook, advised by a psychologist, who stated that convicts who apply to the CFP need to tell the leadership their crimes and make restitution for them as much as possible before going into formation.

What do convicts and the wavering penitent have in common with one another and with my monster dream? I think that both the penitent and the convict have untamed monsters in their past which are making their lives of penance difficult because they are living in an alternate reality. Untamed monsters rob us of the peace we need to persist in a life of conversion because we never know when they will leap up to startle or attack us. The monsters in our past put us on edge, and being on edge is contrary to being peaceful. Peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and only those at peace in their lives can embrace a life of honest penance (conversion).

So what is peace? You can be at peace if the world around you seems to be falling apart but you know Who is in control. Trusting that God knows exactly what is happening, and that nothing will happen without His express permission, is the source of great peace. Giving everything to God so that He can take what He wants, give what He wants, do what He wants with your life is the source of great peace. You don't have to be perfect to have this peace. You have to be humble and childlike and trust your Daddy.

Monsters make it difficult to trust Daddy. We know Daddy is here but we keep side stepping the monsters.What are these monsters that derail the spiritual life? Crime. Guilt. Shame. Abuse. Feelings of worthlessness or unworthiness. Anything that makes us feel bad about ourselves consistently is a monster. This is not to say that we are all good. It is to say that, if we are emotionally healthy, we will own up to our sinfulness and our bad judgments and our stupidity and give them all to God because we are only toddlers who do stupid things and run out into the road when our parents tell us not to and who stomp around in the mud and get soiled when Mother had us dressed for Sunday Mass.  As adults, we are more responsible than toddlers, but who of us really know how much sin offends God? Who of us really know how much love God has for us--much more love than Mom has for the muddy toddler whom she has to clean up before heading to church (and being late getting there, by the way, and absorbing the grimaces of prim Mass attenders who think--"She should leave earlier--she knows she has children.") God takes the blame for our stupidity and defiance, too. People have no idea what He puts up with from us because they have no idea how deep is His love.

When someone wishes to embark on a life of penance (conversion), the first step is not to send in the Confraternity of Penitents Inquirer Application. The first step is to flush out the monsters from their hiding places in the soul and either slay them or tame them. It is difficult to slay them because of our memory. But we can tame them. We can grow to be at peace when we remember our abortions. We can forgive ourselves for the nasty way we treated someone who was, after all, a child of God just like us. We can repay that money we stole from our employer when we used his paper and copy machine. We can look that self loathing in the face and say directly to it, "I did not deserve that abuse. I am a child of God. I am worthy. Leave me, Self-loathing, because God loves me."

All of this monster taming requires guidance of a Monster Tamer who can be a priest, spiritual director, trusted friend, psychologist, teacher, spouse, parent, or even an adult child. But the monsters need taming. The reality of your existence needs to expand without the monsters. You will not be successful in attaining the peace of conversion until those monsters are no longer threats. I was able to go back to sleep and wake up and find my peace restored. You will have to be awake and look those monsters square in the eye and accost them until they have no control over you any more. Pray for your healing from these. Then, leaning on the grace of God, do what is needed to achieve that healing. That is the first step of a life of penance.

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP