HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?

The same question Chubby Checker asks in his version of the Limbo Rock, I can ask several democratic United States governors and legislators who support and cheer for late term abortion and infanticide. This has nothing to do with politics, because I can ask the same of some US Catholic Cardinals. I watched in anger and disgust as the “catholic” governor of New York, Mario Cuomo (D) signed his late term abortion bill into law while members of the New York legislature, cheered wildly. To top this, Governor Cuomo ordered the Freedom Tower to be lit that night in pink for victory!

Governor Cuomo, who identifies as catholic, has been vocal against Church teaching throughout his career. He stated in 2014, if you are pro-life, you ‘have no place’ in New York1. Does this sound catholic to you?  If you’re not sure, ask yourself if you could imagine Jesus congratulating King Herod on the slaughter of Jewish baby boys in his quest to kill Jesus.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D), went even lower. The bill in his state included infanticide. Governor Northam explained on local radio station WTOP that under his bill a newborn baby will be kept “comfortable” while mom and doc decide if he or she should be snuffed out. How low can you go? Apparently as low as China and South Korea. Such illustrious company. Thank God the bill was defeated.

Let’s move on to the democratic ladies in white, headed by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D) California, a “catholic”, and newbie Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) New York. This block of women wore white to represent the late 1800’s to early 1900’s US suffragette movement. Interesting, since all leading suffragettes of the time, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone among others, were vehemently against abortion and considered it a tool of men to oppress women. These legislators couldn’t even stand or applaud President Trump’s comments against infanticide. Instead of white, the female democratic legislators should have worn red.

Speaking of wearing red, the color of cardinals, and I’m not talking about birds or the baseball team, I’m talking about Catholic Cardinals. Namely, Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York. When the good people of New York rose up against the horrific abortion law in their state, many turned to their religious leaders. Catholics demanded punishment of Cuomo on the grounds of his prolific, unrepentant pro-murder stance. The outcry is not limited to New York—it’s country wide. According to Pew, only 25% of US adults approve of late term abortion—many of the 75% against are pro-choice2. So what did the chief shepherd of the Diocese of New York City faithful do?  Cardinal Dolan was horrified and condemned the law. When pressed on why Cuomo shouldn’t be excommunicated he stated that excommunication shouldn’t be used as a weapon3.

OK so why do we excommunicate women who legally have the abortion and the people who legally perform them4 but not the legislator who made it all legally possible? I’m not a theologian but I thought excommunication is an agent of mercy, not punishment or a weapon. It’s meant to bring the person back to the faith through penance. If you are Catholic, you want to be in communion with the church—not against it. How can Cuomo, a man who repeatedly and flamboyantly flips his nose at our Lord, have the honor of partaking in anything sacred? He’s not sorry. He’s rubbing it in our faces.

In the wake of the current sex scandal rocking the Catholic Church, why do our shepherds keep adding fuel to the flame? In what way will this lead people to the faith? Who wants admittance into a religion where the person next to you reviles the very principle you stand for? If Governor Cuomo called a presser this morning and said he was wrong about this law, begs forgiveness, and will vote to repeal it, Catholics would accept this and welcome him back, but he’s not going to do that because we know what happens to politicians who buck democratic party lines. One need looks no further than Pro-Life Illinois US Rep. Dan Lipinski (D)5.

It’s time we tell our “shepherds”, religious and legislative, we’re not having it. When I discuss the new late term abortion and infanticide laws to friends and co-workers, many don’t know a thing about it. The media squelches the story because it doesn’t follow their agenda, but the Church should not. This should be the main topic of every homily. What are parish priests afraid of? Parishioners like Governor Cuomo.

Just last week I read a story that Bishop Hurley, Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, removed Father Edwin Dwyer, a canon lawyer, from his parish for introducing reverence and tradition back into one of his Masses6. The congregation loved it—except for a wealthy couple who reported him. He was removed expeditiously. Money is what influenced this bishop to do the unthinkable. Money and prestige influence some priests, bishops, and cardinals. Cardinal Dolan rubs elbows with the elites, attends cocktails parties and exhibits, even those that exposed sacred Catholic garments to the vile, mocking fashion of wealthy celebrities7.

All of us will have to face God one day—including Dolan and Cuomo. It’s our job to enlighten our loved ones. You and I have a voice. I intend to use mine. I am Catholic and proudly Pro-Life. To quote gospel singer, Mavis Staples, “We go high when they go low.” Don’t be afraid of being mocked and hated. Don’t get discouraged. Be proud. Wear it like a badge of honor. Instead of dancing the politically correct Limbo, heed the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-28 and Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy! Your reward will be great in heaven.”

 

1 The Washington Times – Sunday, January 19, 2014

2  Pew Research Center, Public Opinion on Abortion, October 15, 2018

3 Relevant Magazine, NY Cardinal Dolan Won’t Excommunicate Gov. Andrew Cuomo Over Abortion Law, January 28, 2019

4 Canon #1398

5 CNN Politics, An anti-abortion, conservative Democrat fights for survival in Illinois primary, Eric Bradner, March 19, 2018

6 National Catholic Register, Nation, Saginaw Priest Removed From Parish for Traditional ‘Style of Worship’, Joseph O’Brien, February 7, 2019

7 National Catholic Register, Blogs, How the Vatican Became Enmeshed in the Met Gala, Edward Pentin, May 9, 2018

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I Can’t Get Next To You

The Temptations were once called the “kings of R&B” and ruled the airwaves from the ‘60s to the ‘90s. It’s unfortunate that most Millennials, both Generations Y and definitely Z, probably never heard of them or of Motown Records. The song is about a man who can do anything, except get close to a particular person he likes. The same can be true about the Catholic Church and Millennials. It’s not just the Catholic Church but all organized religions. Millennials, my children included, are all about technology, independence, and truth.  They are the largest demographic in the US and therefore wield an enormous amount of leverage in several markets.

As a Baby Boomer, working in a university setting, I deal with Millennials all day, every day.  I can tell you they do not think in the same traditional way that you or I do. Contrary to what is being put out there about them, they are creative, smart, and opinionated. They can be open to everything and closed to everything at the same time. They hold no loyalties, they trust no one, are in debt, but generally optimistic. They hold off on marriage, yet lead in out-of-wedlock births, while firmly believing children raised in 1-parent homes are bad for society. A recent Pew Study shows the divide.  Where 70% of past generations absolutely believed in God, only 58% of Millennials do with only 36% self-identifying as religious.1

Organized religion is low on their priority list. Many experienced “religion” from the church services they were forced to attend by their parents. They don’t like phonies and if Millennials aren’t learning or doing something constructive they are disengaged. The one truth they have embraced is Pro-Life. They are the catalyst driving the movement. Just tune in to the March For Life every January and look at the ages of those involved.

If we want Millennials to return to the Church we have to engage them. Millennials are desperate for truths and if you don’t give it to them straight, you’re out. They don’t want wishy-washy sayings or flip-flop beliefs; they want the history and the proof of who you are, what you believe in, and why. They want the blood and guts, the nuts and bolts, botta bing—botta boom.  Who was Jesus, what did He say, and what did He do?  Who are the saints, what did they say, and what did they do. Why do we have these sacraments? What do these symbols mean? Why do you do what you do?  You must be prepared with answers and fully engage them. They are interested and they will challenge you so be prepared.

In their book, The Millennials, Thom and Jess Rainer state that those Millennials who do strongly believe and identify with God “are passionate about their faith”. They want to be “radically” rooted in community, know Scripture, and love their neighbor.2 This could account for the uptick in young people returning to traditional Catholic churches.  Teach them the traditions of the church. Most Millennials have never heard of the Tridentine/Extraordinary Form/Latin Mass, Gregorian chant/Medieval sacred music/polyphonic music, and many are drawn to it.

You can’t expect Millennials to just wander into your church. You have to seek them out. They love an invitation. They are not shy about talking to older people—they like being mentored. You will have to come out of your comfort zone, though. You must make yourself available to them. If they know what you’re saying is truth they’ll return and listen for more. They are thirsty for knowledge. Be that fount.

I’m not saying all of them will listen. There are several who, like some of us, are jaded or firmly held in their beliefs and not open to other opinions. Many were raised in a secular home. As one Millennial put it, “I pray all the time but who am I praying to?” They are hungry for answers. Others are taught religion is a bad thing—guilt laden, judgmental, and close minded.  We need to show them that’s not so.

Don’t expect Millennials to come running to a “young adult” group meeting at the church. The first thing you should do is avoid the young adult moniker—they hate it. Go to them on their territory. Remember Theology on Tap? Why not host a short, engaging, lecture at the local coffee shop or art center? After the lecture open the floor to discussion.  Keep it fast-paced and make sure the topics are rooted in Scripture and relatable to today’s society. Explain what we can do together for others in our neighborhood.

Millennials want to change the world and make it a better place. Ask for their help organizing church/community events, teaching the youngsters and the oldsters the fundamentals of computers and safely navigating the Web, hosting a Millennial Bible Study, coordinating a food pantry day, neighborhood cleanup, or painting or remodeling for a neighbor in need, anything where they can lead the way and make a difference in their community—all in the name of being a good Christian. Include them in church services as lectors or ushers. Millennials are the most educated generation…utilize their skills and include them in parish councils. Millennials love social media.  You want to reach them, make sure your website is up to par and you must have an active Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc. And who best to be in charge of your church’s social media?  A Millennial of course.

Lastly and most importantly, when they see a parish community actually living their faith, knowledgeable in its teachings, knowing God and His Law, and loving each other, you will capture their hearts and souls. Who doesn’t enjoy being with people of all backgrounds and ages who love their Lord and their neighbor?  Isn’t that what living Catholic is all about? To get Millennials to the Catholic Church we need to change I Can’t Get Next To You to Come Together.

 

1 Pew Research Center, Social & Demographic Trends, Millennials in Adulthood, March 7, 2014 www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/

2 The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom S. Rainier and Jess Rainer

 

DAUGHTER

The song by the same name was performed by Pearl Jam and is about a child with a disability.  Usually my articles and the titles of the songs by the same name have nothing in common, but this one… If you follow the news like me you may be aware of the Bonnie Liltz story.  Actually, the real victim of this story is not Bonnie but her late daughter, Courtney. You see Courtney was adopted by Bonnie at the age of 2.  Courtney had cerebral palsy and had to have 24-hour care.  However, the young woman was thriving. Speaking, when doctors said she wouldn’t, feeding herself, and using a computer. According to Bonnie Liltz, “she was a happy girl”1.

On May 27, 2015, after twenty plus years of caring for Courtney, Bonnie decided Courtney’s life must end.  She came to this conclusion because she, Bonnie, was battling cancer and other health issues.  Courtney had no say-so in the matter.  Bonnie mixed a cocktail of several drugs and fed it to her daughter, Courtney. She then attempted to take her own life, but was unsuccessful.

Bonnie Liltz, who is still ill, and very much alive is upset because the Illinois courts think she should—I don’t know—go to jail for murdering her daughter.2 You see Bonnie doesn’t want to go to jail.  She is now asking for “mercy” from Bruce Rauner, the governor of Illinois.  It also appears that because Bonnie is so ill the state jail just can’t seem to take good care of her.  Hmmm. Now let’s think back.  Isn’t it ironic that it was for this same reason that Bonnie decided to kill Courtney? Yes, you read that right. Bonnie worried that she couldn’t care for Courtney if she was too ill and she didn’t want to subject Courtney to state care because it wasn’t adequate—so, she killed her out of “mercy and love”. That’s amazing.

Also amazing is how many times Bonnie Liltz refers to God and the “gift” she received from Him when she adopted Courtney, and how “all life is precious”.  Really, wow!  So being Courtney was a gift from God how does Bonnie reconcile that she, not God, would decide to snuff out that gift?  And now that she is the ill one who cannot receive individualized care, it becomes a whole different story?

Bonnie, who is currently out on bond, didn’t like state sponsored jail life and is now asking for clemency to spare her from the horrors of it.  The Illinois Department of Corrections (state) just can’t provide the (individual) healthcare that Bonnie is accustomed to. You know, eating what she wants, taking her medications, and good quality physical and mental care.  She lost 14 pounds in jail! This is the same argument she made for taking Courtney’s life.  The state could not take care of her in the same manner that she, an individual citizen, could.

So far the courts are having none of it. She was sentenced to 4 years for involuntary manslaughter, which is a far lighter sentence then the one she bestowed upon her daughter.  It’s becoming the norm for judges to sentence killers of the innocent to lesser stints in jail and it’s wrong.  There is that slippery slope that pro-life advocates keep spotlighting. If abortion is legal, why stop at the fetus just before it’s born? Why not after birth and maybe up to say, 2 years old or older? And what about the disabled? That leads to the elderly. We’ve already started legalizing suicide for the sick, so why stop there?  You know, all in the name of “compassion”.

Thanks to abortion (the proverbial foot in the door), we are seeing this happen all too frequently. Mothers who no longer want to care for their child will kill them, out of mercy of course, and judges pass on lenient sentences. The child doesn’t have to be ill, just inconvenient. Some cases are more heinous than others, yet it’s difficult for Americans to wrap their heads around a mother who can kill her own child. This must stop or it will end with infanticide and worse.

Christians are taught that all life is precious from womb to the tomb. We are against capital punishment as well. It’s a hard sell when you look at some of these horrific serial offenders.  God teaches us that everyone can change. We must forgive.  St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans 12:19 that vengeance belongs only with God.  However, God never said there should be no justice for the innocent and oppressed.  In fact that very thing is mentioned quite often in the Bible.  Jesus summed it all up in one sentence: love your neighbor as yourself. If you follow that golden rule you’ll never go wrong.

Back to Bonnie Liltz.  I’m sure Bonnie was a selfless mother at one time.  She cared for her disabled daughter for over 20 years. Being a mom is a thankless job on a good day. One may have looked at her and thought her a saint at one time. I agree with her thinking that the state could never take care of Courtney like she did. She was worried about her daughter and what would become of her once she was too ill or dead.  However, her end game was all wrong.

It’s very easy to feel compassion for a mother with a very ill child. How can that be murder? The mother thought the best place for her daughter was with God in Heaven. She didn’t stab or shoot her. She just went to sleep and never woke up. There was no pain1. Tell that to the millions of mothers who have and still are caring for their sick children.

Answer me this, would you feel comfortable with another person making the decision to end your life? What happens when you’re too old or too sick to take care of you? If this becomes the norm it will eventually make its way mainstream and come for all of us.  Eugenics is making a comeback.  It seems that the more we forget our history the more it just keeps circling back.

Bonnie Liltz references God so often that I wonder if she belonged to a church or a support group. If she did, she could have talked to her pastor or friends who could have reached out and got her the help she so desperately needed. She was overwhelmed, distraught, ill, and confused. Someone could have counseled her and this tragedy would never have happened.

If Governor Rauner has an ounce of sense, and I’m not sure that he does since he lied to his constituents and just made Illinois the most abortion friendly state in the union, he will uphold the Illinois courts and keep Bonnie Liltz in jail.

 

1 Suburban Mom Who Killed Disabled Daughter in Botched Murder-Suicide Speaks Publicly for 1st Time; Carol Marin and Don Moseley, NBC 5 Carol Marin Reports, August 31, 2016.

2 Bonnie Liltz initially was charged with murder but plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Sugar Shack

The song by the same title was performed by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs way back in 1963.  The lyricist simply told a tale about a coffee shop.  Not so for the “controversial” movie The Shack, based on a novel by the same name by author, William Paul Young.  I try viewing as many faith-based films as I can.  Sometimes I just can’t find a theater nearby.  I had no problem as The Shack is playing everywhere, most likely because Octavia Spencer and Tim McGraw are starring in the film.

The film opens with a troubled young boy, named Mack, who lives with his mother and abusive father.  Not many people in his small town acknowledge the abuse, except for one black neighbor, played by Octavia Spencer, who comforts him with her home cooking. When home life becomes unbearable, young Mack, who feels deserted by God, makes a horrible decision.  We quickly fast forward to the present.  Mack is now a man, living with his deeply religious wife and their three children. On a camping trip his youngest daughter is kidnapped and murdered.  The film does not dwell on this so don’t be put off thinking it will be bloody because it’s not.

Mack blames himself for his daughter’s death and cannot shake his depression.  He receives a letter from “Papa”, his wife’s name for God, inviting Mack to meet at the very shack where his daughter was killed. Mack decides to go and is shocked to find “Papa” is the same black woman who consoled him in his youth. Papa explains that Mack couldn’t accept a father figure at this time.  He meets Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit, a beautiful Asian woman.  Towards the end of the film Papa decides Mack needs a father to take him through the rest of his journey of forgiveness and Papa becomes a mature, Native American man.  Again, the viewer knows exactly why God chose this form.

It’s this portrayal of the Holy Trinity that has several Christians upset.  I accepted God’s explanation of why He appeared in these forms.  Mack despised his father and couldn’t forgive himself for not being there for his daughter. He did not have a father figure he could rely on.  The Holy Spirit is portrayed as an attractive, soft-spoken, attentive Asian gardener.  Many Christians associate the Holy Spirit as a dove, ray of sunlight, a spiritual counselor and consoler.  Anyone who gardens knows how devoted you must be to your plants and flowers.  You protect them from predators and the elements as well as nourish them.  The same as the Holy Spirit is in her garden of souls.  All three display the wounds of crucifixion…something I’ve never seen before but makes perfect sense.

More importantly, The Shack is a story of forgiveness and how God loves ALL his children—the good and the bad.  It also emphasizes our free will to make our own choices.  Mack thought God had deserted him when he was a boy, but he comes to learn God was with him every step of the way, even when he made the wrong choice.  God never forgot about him and never stopped loving him.

I would definitely recommend this film not only for its message of forgiveness but also for showcasing the relationship individuals have with God.

 

New Year

The group, This Beautiful Republic, recorded a song by the same name.  The song is about someone going through a lack of trust with a loved one.  The lyricist tells the person to put his or her trust in Jesus and begin a new life in the New Year.  Good advice!

The New Year exemplifies new beginnings and along with it comes the infamous New Year’s resolutions.  You can’t turn on your television without seeing countless commercials for weight loss systems or products to help you stop smoking.  Sale flyers are offering great deals on work out wear and exercise equipment.  Fitness centers and gyms across the US are signing up new customers by the droves.

Ads run non-stop to help you organize everything from your closet, your home, and your life. Last night I saw a commercial that floored me.  A client wrote a professional home organizer that she didn’t didn’t know what to do now that her whole house was organized. The home organizer told her they could remain friends.  The client’s solution, however, was to buy a new and larger home so the organizer could organize it. Wow!  Even the organizer was stunned.

Exercising, losing weight, stop smoking, removing clutter, among others are all wonderful resolutions and will definitely help with lowering stress levels and improving your physical health, but have you ever thought about your spiritual health?  I guarantee you’ll never see a celebrity pitching a spiritual diet of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and good works.  No special plans by Jenny or a pitch from Marie or Oprah on how a daily dose of talking to God will improve your overall wellbeing or how a daily act of simple human kindness can improve another’s life as well as your own.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people suffering from poor spiritual health, and I’m not talking about atheists.  There are many believers who know something is missing in their lives and they don’t know what it is or how to find it.  For many the cure is to keep buying and spending their way to happiness, yet that doesn’t seem to fill the void so they keep searching for the newest widget or trend (much like the woman who bought the bigger home so the professional organizer could keep coming).  For others it’s much worse.

So where to begin?  Believe it or not there are many people who do not know how to pray.  As with all resolutions it’s best to start simple.  Start with a daily Lord’s Prayer, add a Hail Mary or pray a daily Rosary.  They claim if you do something daily for a year you’ll keep with it.  Once you have a set routine add something new.  It doesn’t have to be a standard prayer.  Share your day with Jesus.  Tell Him your problems.  Share your dreams.  Ask for His help.  Pray for others.

Need help starting a prayer life?  Talk to your pastor.  I’m sure he has a starter plan for you.  Another recommendation, see the film The War Room.  No, it has nothing to do with traditional war but a great deal to do with spiritual warfare and the power of prayer.  Write down your prayers.  Go to your quiet place and talk to God about them.  You will be surprised how the stress of the day lifts away.

If you don’t attend Sunday service, start—this Sunday.  Excuses like I don’t have time, or I have to work, just don’t hold up anymore.  Catholics have services on Saturday afternoon or evening.  On Sunday you can attend very early morning, mid-morning, or late morning Mass and some parishes offer a late afternoon Sunday Mass for people who party hardy on Saturday nights.  You can usually find a Mass that meets your schedule.

If you feel like the parish you’re attending doesn’t suit your style, then perhaps your New Year’s resolution is to search for one that does.  Some of the best advice I received was if your priest is not teaching scripture and church doctrine, get up from the pew, walk out, and find one who does.  While the elements of the Mass are universal, every parish has its own character.   If you’re “old school” then search for a church that offers a weekly Tridentine High Mass or Latin Mass.  From huge pipe organs, pianos, and guitars to orchestral choirs to children’s choirs, music at Mass is the same yet diverse.  Traditional to modern—cathedral to tiny church on the prairie—God is present.

Another aspect to improving your spiritual health is connecting with others, and I don’t mean on Facebook.  There is nothing like interacting with real people.  Every parish is made up of parishioners.  The people in your community have much more to offer and they usually come from all walks of life.  Some may share interests with you while others do not—variety is the spice of life.  Chances are you could share a pew with a bank executive, a janitor, a school teacher, or a truck driver.  Everyone is equal in God’s eyes; and all agree that Jesus is their Lord and Savior and the parish is the heart of their community.

Along with connecting to other humans is the rewarding aspect of giving them a hand up when they’re down. This is not exclusive to folks in your church but to anyone in your community.  From buying a police officer walking the beat a cup of hot coffee to volunteering at a local food bank to shoveling snow or mowing the lawn for an elderly neighbor, or driving a cancer patient to their doctor appointment, it doesn’t cost much to do something nice for someone else.

All this takes me back to that client who felt a void after her home was completely organized.  Instead of checking her spiritual gauge to fill the gap, she bought another home just so the organizer could stay in her life.  That person is looking for something, somebody who doesn’t leave when one job is done.  That someone is Jesus.

Last Christmas, my daughter gave me a small box.  It wasn’t expensive but inscribed on the top it read, “Mom, Pray More—Worry Less”.  Inside the box was a tiny notepad and pencil.  The plan is to write down every worry I have on the notepad, leave it in the box, and pray on it.  What a great way to start a spiritual health plan.  The best thing about it is you don’t have to wait for anything to be delivered, no sweating or starving involved, and no monthly membership.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish

I was watching AD the Bible Continues, a fabulous series on NBC this spring, produced by Roma Downey, a devout Catholic and her husband, Mark Burnett.  AD dramatizes the first half of Acts of the Apostles.  It’s gritty and extremely well done.  If you’re a Christian and want to grab the attention of millennials used to watching TV shows such as Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, AD is the way to do it.  The show prompts you to pick up the Bible and read it for yourself, which is awesome.

Back to AD the Bible Continues…a few weeks ago viewers were introduced to Saul of Tarsus.  Saul, a devout Jew, wasn’t taking the “blasphemy” of the new believers in Jesus lightly.  He was intent on tracking them down like animals.  He was there when the first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death and he reveled in the bloodshed and thirsted for more.  His plan was to murder every last disciple.  After going house to house in Jerusalem and pulling out every man, woman, and child and throwing them in prison, Saul finds himself on that road to Damascus committed to find any believers who had scattered after his attacks.  However, things didn’t go as planned.  Instead of Saul finding the followers of Jesus, arresting them, and dragging them back to Jerusalem, Jesus finds Saul and everything changes.  Saul went from being the hunter to the hunted and from persecuting believers to becoming one of them—and not just any one of them.  Saul, or as we know him, Paul1, became the energizer bunny of evangelism.

Out of all the people in the New Testament, I find St. Paul to be one of the most fascinating.  The apostles knew Jesus.  He was their friend.  They lived with Him for three years; they were there through His many miracles, teachings, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and His Ascension.  Paul, like us, did not know Jesus in the physical sense, and like us, he was blinded from the truth.  His letters to the early churches are deep.  How many of us listen to Paul’s words but never truly grasp their meaning?  If you’re lucky to have a pastor who explains in detail or a teacher who has great knowledge of the Bible I can guarantee Paul’s message will leave you speechless.

Paul’s message is great, but what of his life after meeting Jesus?  It was a tremendous journey filled with peril, sacrifice, torture, imprisonment, and the joy of spreading the word of Jesus Christ and converting the Gentiles, and ultimately ending in martyrdom, which he knew he would face.  He knew his mission and he went after it with a zeal matched by few.  Even when his worldly life was coming to a close he kept his eye on the prize, as summed up in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight to the end, I have run the race to the finish, I have kept the faith.”  How many of us at the end of our lives can say that?  St. Paul began his life as a not such a good person, but he finished as a rock star.  It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Speaking of television shows, there is a new one premiering this summer called Proof.  It’s very similar to its predecessors; They Came Back, Resurrection, and The Returned.  All are fantasies about “life after life.”  Unlike AD, which is Bible based, Proof is based on an actress portraying a doctor who has gone through the fictitious death of her son, a fictitious divorce, and a fictitious rift with her fictitious teenage daughter.  An actor portraying a billionaire with fictitious cancer, who is facing fictitious death, hires her to find answers from psychics, ghost hunters, and people who have experienced near death experiences2.

Yesterday I read that researchers at the Mayo Clinic believe they’ve “cracked the code” to happiness3.  Do you know what it is?  The research shows the biggest hindrance to being happy is too much thinking about one’s self.  Really?  Jesus said that over 2,000 years ago!  Love others as you love yourself.  People in the US are screaming for truth.  They are yearning for God; they are looking for answers but instead of seeking Him, they rely on supernatural fantasy put out by Hollywood because somehow that’s more believable than the Bible?  They’ll take the word of fiction writers over that of God?   I keep hearing about the new evangelization.  How and when do we begin?

The problem is we can’t evangelize unless we actually stand for something.  We can’t preach the Word unless we live it.  You can’t succeed with a church full of “cafeteria-style” Christians and expect to show the world this is what it means to be Christian.  This little light of mine can’t shine under a basket.  You can’t pick and choose the laws that are to your liking.  Several churches that bend to the pressure of the culture find that out the hard way.  Their numbers go down instead of going up.  I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.  It does not mean I hate gays.  I believe in the sanctity of all life, including life in the womb.  It doesn’t mean I hate women who’ve had an abortion.  Nobody wants to offend anyone.  I certainly don’t.  St. Augustine said, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”4

In order to evangelize you must believe in something—I mean really believe.  Stand strong in it so firmly that you would die for it because you know it’s true.  I recently heard a story about a father in the Middle East who was given the opportunity by ISIS to spare his children if they converted to the Muslim faith.  He went to his priest for guidance who told him to go ahead.  God will understand if they converted.  The man rushed home only to find ISIS asking his children who they believed in and before the father could intervene the children shouted “Jesus!”

My journey and yours is not yet over.  For years it’s been relatively easy in the United States to be Christian.  Not so any more and I fear it’s going to get worse.  In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.”  It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Will you fight the good fight?  Will you finish the race?  Will you keep the faith?

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1 God did not change Saul’s name to Paul, a popular myth.  “Saul was a born Jewish and his Hebrew name was Saul, but because his father was a Roman citizen (and therefore Saul inherited Roman citizenship), Saul also had the Latin name, Paul.  After his conversion he was determined to bring the gospel to Gentiles, so he dusted off his Roman name and became, Paul, a name Gentiles were familiar with.”  Catholic Answers To Explain & Defend The Faith.

2 TNT.com

3 CBS New York newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/6/05/researchers-cracked-code-happiness

4 St. Augustine Letter 211 (c.424)

The Holy Spirit—The Parachute

Not a song title, and yes I know it’s the Paraclete.  I remember one of my daughters coming home from school one day, telling me she learned about the Holy Spirit in religion class.  I asked her who is the Holy Spirit and what does He do?  She answered immediately and enthusiastically. “He’s a parachute!”  Each Sunday when our priest recites The Divine Praises before Mass, I chuckle to myself when he says and I repeat, blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.  I think of my daughter’s parachute.  I don’t remember if I corrected her or not but maybe in her youthful innocence she was right.

The world was amazed and awed by former President George H.W. Bush’s parachute jump last year in honor of his 90th birthday.  I must admit, for a man who can no longer walk because of Parkinson’s disease, it was inspiring.  However, he was tethered to a member of the All Veteran Parachute Team.  I’m not taking anything away from our former president because tether or no tether, it’s scary.

I didn’t think much of it until today.  Today is the Feast of the Ascension and that means Pentecost is just around the corner.   With that realization, the Holy Spirit decided to pay me a visit and that small still voice whispered in my ear, “being a Christian is like jumping out of an airplane”.

So I thought about it and as usual the Spirit is right.  Nowadays, when we step out of our comfort zone and dare express our opinions, isn’t it a lot like jumping out of a plane?  Especially if, ONE: you talk about your faith, and TWO: you actually live it.  Free speech and freedom of religion are not what they used to be.  The Founders had a reason for placing those two protections in the first amendment.  They were the very bedrock of our country’s founding and the Constitution.  It’s sad and dangerous that Americans do not know their own history and those in power prefer to keep it that way.

A couple of weeks ago, while commenting on an acquaintance’s Facebook post, ironically about past presidents, the topic came up about presidents who were born poor.   I commented that the poorest presidents in my lifetime were either Nixon or Bill Clinton.  However, two other people disagreed.  Within seconds I was labeled a racist, homophobic and a member of a hate group.  I don’t know these people so I asked them how they could come to such a hateful conclusion of me.  They both responded because of the pictures I posted and some of my likes.  The argument between these two strangers and others on the page became more heated so I exited the conversation.

Later, I went back and looked at what strangers could see of me on Facebook.  Practically all of my posts and pictures can be viewed by friends only, but there are a few that I don’t mind sharing with the public.  So what classified me to be included in those detestable camps?  I found a few pictures of Jesus, my church, and two “likes” for a pro-life group and the Catholic Church.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been attacked on Facebook.  It happens all too frequently by faceless cowards, shrouded with the cloak of anonymity.  However, I was once threatened by someone I knew, someone who I classified as a friend.  Why?  She was on Facebook spewing hate against Jews, Christians who are not Catholic, and a well-known pastor from another Christian denomination who I personally admire.  I told her I did not agree with anything she said and I had friends from those Christian denominations who live their faith.  She then emailed me.  She was furious with me, threatening me with personal harm and calling me every name under the sun.  And to make matters worse, she is a Catholic!  I stood by what I believed and I told her I’d pray for her.  To those of you who are Facebook savvy, she then promptly “unfriended” me.

Yes, being a Christian is exactly like jumping out of a plane.  I mentioned President Bush was tethered to a veteran jumper.  Like Bush, we too are tethered to a veteran, except ours is even more reliable.  Our parachute is the Holy Spirit.  Remember that when navigating the not too friendly skies of living Christian in today’s society.  And if your child comes home from school or from their religious education class and tells you all about The Holy Spirit, the Parachute, don’t correct him or her.

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