Blog--Click here for Fr. Perry's introduction..."I am hoping that you will find a way to share your wisdom with me and others who may read this column. If we all contribute what we know, treasure and value others might become more wise as well." To share your wisdom: firstname.lastname@example.org
May 23: A PIECE OF WISDOM: There’s always more to God
The president of a community of religious sisters had finished her term of office, and some of her community members gathered for a party. They gave her a present in the form of a decorated big box. When she removed the colorful wrapping and opened up the box, she found a large suitcase. She was about to thank them when the sisters said: “Open it up – there’s more.” When she did, with a puzzled smile on her face, she found a medium-sized suitcase. She was about to thank them when they said again: “Open it up – there’s more.” Inside, she found a carry-on case. Before she could begin her words of thanks, the sisters shouted: “Open it up – there’s more.” Inside the carry-on piece of luggage she found an envelope, and when she opened that up, she discovered a wad of cash, $2,000. Each of the 200 sisters had contributed $10 so that the president could take a long vacation.
When Catholic Christians celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity they are expressing their belief that the God they have come to know has more depth than any human can understand. Every time they think they have understood God, they always find there is more to God than they realized. The way that they express it is God is more than one Person; God is actually three persons while still being one God.
They have come to this realization because of what has been taught them in the Bible. They’ve come to know of the God who created the world, who chose the Jewish people to be the carriers of His teachings, who came to know Him as Creator, Savior, a God slow to anger and rich in kindness -- a Father. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God the Father in human flesh: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). But there was still more to God, as Jesus revealed: “I have told you this while I am still with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have told you” (John 14:25-26). God is Father, Son and Spirit.
God is more than anyone could realize on their own. Indeed, God is a mystery. How there are three persons but still one God we can’t explain adequately now, and it is probably something that we will marvel at forever in heaven. That God is Father, Son and Spirit helps us to understand God, but there is always more to God than these words describe. That’s why Christians are never satisfied with what they know about God.
Do you desire to know God more?
May 20: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Resurrection means that we too will live after death
Because death seems to be the complete end of human existence, it seems also to be a natural instinct to avoid death at all costs. We rebel against the thought of death for ourselves personally and for our loved ones. Is it a futile hope or a frustrated wish to live forever?
Christians understand that what God has done for Jesus by providing Him with a life beyond the grave is also a promise that God has made to us who are joined with Jesus through our common dedication to the God who sent Jesus to us. If we are joined with Christ by living and loving like He did, then we know that God will treat us like He treated Jesus after death. We too will live.
The great preacher and writer, St. Paul, testifies to this truth in many of his writings. “Indeed, we know that when the earthly tent in which we dwell is destroyed we have a dwelling place provided for us by God, a dwelling in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). “We believe and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us up along with Jesus and place both of us in his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). “If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also, through his Spirit living in you” (Romans 8:11).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it in philosophical terms: “The risen Christ is the principle and source of our future resurrection” (No. 655).
What life after death is like no one really can describe accurately. When the apostles experienced Jesus alive after his death Jesus was similar to who and what he was before but he was also quite different. Eventually they recognized him although initially he appeared very different – like a gardener (Luke 13:37), like a stranger whom they met on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-32), like another stranger standing on the shore who gave them instructions on how to catch more fish (John 21: 1-14).
Our only conclusion is that after our death we too will live, but while being ourselves, we will be quite different from the way we had been on earth.
Do you trust that there will be a life (same but different) for you too after death?
May 16: A PIECE OF WISDOM: If no resurrection, then disaster! If resurrection, then glory!
The resurrection of Jesus has taught us that life does not end with death. God had the power to bring Jesus from death into a new life. Jesus did experience death and but he came out of it on the other side. If God could do that to Jesus, so God can do that for us believers too. St. Paul taught the early Christians of Corinth: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the first-fruits; then…those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).
That people, even those who believe God worked in Jesus, completely adhere to a belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not a sure thing. Even among the Corinthians were some who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and Paul tried to demonstrate how disastrous this disbelief would be in (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). in summary Paul says if there is no resurrection from the dead then (1) preaching the message of Jesus is senseless, (2) faith in Christ is useless, (3) all the witnesses to the resurrection are liars, (4) no one could experience the forgiveness of their sins, (5) Christians are the most foolish people on earth, (6) and all former believers who had died have perished forever.
It may be difficult for us to imagine how there could be any type of bodily existence after death. But St. Paul attempts to help us to understand how a body, even buried after death, can come to life again in a new form. He compares the burial of our body to the burial of a seed in the ground. The old life-form of the seed is lost as it decays in the ground; but a new life emerges, the life of a plant, from that same seed. He elaborates further: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It (the body) is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak, it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). The only body that we know of that has already been raised was that of Jesus as described in the Gospels. Indeed, his body appeared glorious, powerful and spiritual. So, too, will ours be at our own resurrection.
Do you realize that without the resurrection of Jesus being true, all of our faith is useless?
May 13: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Because of his resurrection, Jesus is never absent from us
A spiritual writer, Anthony de Mello, who reflected often on the wisdom he learned from his own Indian background, wrote this fable in Song Of The Bird: “Everyone became alarmed when they saw Mullah Narrudin, astride his ass, charging through the streets of the village. ‘Where are you off to, Mullah?’ they asked. ‘I’m searching for my ass,’ said Mullah as he whizzed by.”
Those we came to the tomb where Jesus had been buried panicked when His body wasn’t there. But it wasn’t long after that they learned that they did not have to go looking for Jesus, He was right there, with them. Happily, too, they learned that we would never be absent from them.
The resurrection accounts of Jesus are full of the suddenness of His presence: “And, suddenly, coming to meet them was Jesus” (Matthew 28:9). “It happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near…. (After the shared meal)…he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:15, 24:31). “And, suddenly, Jesus stood among them and said: ‘Peace be with you…It is I myself’” (Luke 24:36-39).
The followers of Jesus were much like Mullah looking for his donkey. They thought they had lost Jesus. But they learned through His resurrection appearances that he was never absent; he was with them just like he used to be when he walked the roads of Galilee with them, although now in a new way.
Do you believe that Jesus is really with you, or are you like Mullah looking for what is already there?
May 9: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Rewarded!
When I finished a 20 year ministry providing the first year of training for those wanting to join the Capuchin Order I was feted at a meal in a fancy restaurant in Milwaukee by fellow Capuchins who were my partners in this type of ministry. It was a wonderful meal, of course, full of recollections about our common experiences. At the conclusion of the meal, the friars provided a signed card with some money in which they said: “Thanks for your service. Enjoy the use the money to do something good for yourself.” The meal and the gift was a simple expression of gratitude for work well done, and was a heart-warming event for me. After the meal, and looking back on the 20 years with its joys and difficulties, it seemed to be all “worth it”.
On the feast of the Ascension, the letter to the Ephesians gives us a vision of what Jesus experienced as He finished His work on earth and was received by His Father who raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in the heavens. If we would ask Jesus, now seated upon His throne in heaven “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:20-22) if it was all “worth it”, He would certainly say: “Yes”.
There is no doubt that all of us struggle to be true to our religious convictions, faithful to God and to the teaching of Jesus and His church, working hard to raise children, serving the civic community, and caring for our neighbor. But it can help us to resist the temptation to give up to remember that one day, if we can remain faithful to it all, we too will be able shout that it was “worth it” from our place in heaven. St. Paul also reminds that helping us at difficult moments “…is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His might which He worked (also) in Christ… (Ephesians 1:19).
Can you imagine yourself in heaven saying it was “worth it” because of your faith and the power of God which was working in you?
May 6: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The importance of the resurrection for Jesus
There are many reasons why Christians believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a big deal!
First of all, while Jesus had a body after he rose from the dead, his body no longer limited him. Prior to his resurrection, Jesus could not be in more than one place at a time; his influence could reach only as far as his body would allow. Now his body, a glorified body, no longer limited him. He seems to come and go as he willed, for example, simply appearing to the apostles in a room even though the doors were locked (See John 20:19).
Secondly, the resurrection of Jesus was an assurance to him and a sign to all of us that Jesus was sent by God. Although the powerful preaching and miracles of Jesus indicated that he was a man like none other, a counter message rose because of the manner of his death. Death by crucifixion was thought to be evidence that the man so killed was cursed by God, as was stated in Deuteronomy 21:23: “Accursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree.” The manner of his death demonstrated that he was not only displeasing to God but even rejected by God.
But the resurrection of Jesus counter-acted the catastrophe of the cross. While God allowed Jesus to suffer a terrible crucifixion, God did not allow Jesus to undergo the normal corruption of His body in a grave. God intervened to do something that was never done before to any human being by raising him from the dead. The death of Jesus on a cross was not a curse but part of God’s plan, as St. Peter preached: “He (Jesus) was delivered up by the set purpose and plan of God” (Acts 2:23). Through the resurrection of Jesus, God demonstrated to all that Jesus was the Divine Messiah, the Savior God had sent, an obedient Son of God His Father.
Finally, the resurrection of Jesus showed the whole world that Jesus is the Son of God. St. Paul writes: “Because of this (the death on a cross) God greatly exalted him (through the resurrection) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by the Resurrection. He had said: ‘When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you know that I am he’ (John 8:28). The Resurrection of the crucified one shows that he was truly ‘I AM,’ the Son of God, and God Himself” (No. 653).
Do you believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a wonderful event for Him?
May 2: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Saying goodbye
Recently I came across the lyrics of a song by James Stewart, a musician from South Africa, in his song of “The Meaning of Goodbye.”
“There’s a hole left inside me / a broken heartache souvenir. / Filled with memories you left behind / to remind me you were here. / There’s no point in holding back the tears / so I won’t even try. / Cause now I know the meaning of goodbye.”
Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things to do especially if the leave-taking will place great distances between loved ones or friends: the first child going off to college in a distant city, a friend moving to the other side of the country, a son or daughter soldiering off to Afghanistan. We want our last words to be very meaningful: “I’ll text you every day.” “I’ll fly out to see you at Christmas.” “I love you,” as we hug for a long time. It might help to simply say “goodbye” and mean it the way it was originally said: “God be with ye.”
It is surprising how long it took for Jesus to say goodbye to his disciples in the Gospel of John. It takes four chapters in the Gospel of John (13:31-17:26). He uses many words to ask them to love each other, to believe that the Holy Spirit would be given to them, to not let their hearts be troubled, to have faith in God. He could have simply said “goodbye” or “God be with ye”.
When you wave some off on a journey, does your “goodbye” also mean “God be with ye?”
April 29: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The resurrection of Jesus created the Church
Once Jesus was raised and could send the Spirit of God upon people, the church could begin. The people who believed in the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus, those who experienced salvation of the forgiveness of their sins and their adoption as children of God, now had the joy and enthusiasm to proclaim to others the Good News of the plan God offered by sending Jesus. The people so affected and changed became the community of believers.
Three of the four Gospels relate stories of the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection in which he appoints them to share the good news with others. Matthew (28:18-20) offers what has become known as the great commissioning: “Full authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth; go, therefore and make disciples of all nations…. Teach them to carry out everything that I have commanded, and know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” St. Paul taught that because Jesus was with the believers, they were the “body of Christ” which had many members (1 Corinthians 12:27) and that Jesus was “…the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18).
That the resurrection brought the beginning of the church does not mean that it immediately created the institution that had a hierarchy, sacraments and a long list of truths to be believed in creeds. All of that was developed later. But an enthusiastic core of believers was prepared for bold preaching, willing to suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus. As their numbers grew, much thought had to be given to organizational questions which were not solved easily (if Jewish converts could continue their Jewish religious practices, whether or not converts who were not Jewish had to practice the retained Jewish customs, who could lead the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, how to appoint the leaders after the apostles died, etc). But these believers knew that the same Holy Spirit that gave them the experience of salvation would also give them the wisdom to solve these issues, as Jesus promised, saying that the Spirit would guide them to all truth (See John 16:23), and that Jesus would be with them until the end of the world (See Matthew 28:20).
Does the teaching Jesus created the Church by sending the Holy Spirit help you to understand the importance of participating in a community of faithful believers?
April 25: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Loving one another by saying “Yes”
Jesus spoke a number of times about loving our neighbor. “Love…your neighbor as you love yourself” (Luke 10:27) and “I give you a new commandment, love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
Trouble is, we think that Jesus means loving another like he loved – by dying for us. That is love, probably the highest form of love. But love starts out much more simple than that.
Loving begins by following also a teaching of Jesus: “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1). Daily we make many judgments that quickly influence our behavior: “I don’t like the way she talks.” “He smells like he hasn’t bathed in a week.” “He seems so old.” “Just like all young people, she’s got a smart mouth.” “Those young people are so loud.” “If that person really wanted to live here she should speak English.” “Poor people should get a job rather than rely on handouts.” We quickly label, categorize things and others as good or bad, all according to our own standards. But we can’t understand others or care for them if we start with: “No.”
The first step in loving is to start with acceptance, a “Yes”. This person may be quite different from me and acts differently from what I prefer but I will never come close to loving them if I don’t first affirm some goodness in them. I need to say: “because you are, you are good. There is goodness there somewhere.” As Richard Rohr, a Franciscan writer has said: “We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see.” If we begin with a “no” we will probably see nothing of value and receive a “no” in return. If we begin with a “yes” others will perceive it and we are much more likely to receive a “yes” in return.
So many people who come to the House of Peace for help appear different from those of us who work there. To some we must say “no” because they are drunk or can’t follow the rules. But to most others, saying “yes” mentally to them allows us to see the goodness and strength they have. Love begins by saying “yes”.
Do you have someone in your life with whom you frequently say “no” to in your mind? How does that influence your behavior? What would happen if you said “yes” instead?
April 22: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The resurrection of Jesus enables him to send the Holy Spirit
When the disciples began to sense that Jesus was going to be killed, and that Jesus was, in fact, going to leave them, they were scared and saddened. Jesus tried to help them understand that his leaving would be good for them. He said: “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate (that is, the Holy Spirit) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16: 7).
The sending of the Holy Spirit, the very spirit of God, brings us the actual experience of salvation. The Spirit helps us to understand the truth of the power of the death of Jesus to forgive our sins: “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13). When that Spirit came upon a group of people listening to St. Peter preach, he said: “This Jesus God has been raised up and we are his witnesses. Exalted at God’s right hand, he first received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father, then poured that Spirit on us. This is what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:32).
This same Spirit gives to us as well the assurance that we no longer are separated from God because of our sins, but now experience ourselves to be God’s beloved children, as St. Paul preaches so powerfully: “For those who are lead by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you…received the spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” And this Spirit helps us to know in our own spirit that we are really beloved children of God (See Romans: 8:14-17).
Even more! “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8: 17). So, that which was given to Jesus – life after death, eternity in heaven, sharing the in very life of God -- now rightly belongs to those who have received the Holy Spirit.
The resurrection of Jesus empowered Him to send us the Spirit of God which gives us the experience of salvation and offers us the promise that what Jesus experienced after death will also be ours. Is it any wonder that Christians love to sing “Alleluia!” during the 50 days of Easter?
Has the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit changed your experience of your relationship with God?
April 18: A PIECE OF WISDOM: God speaks to us who are nervous wrecks
I was a substitute chaplain at Ramsey Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, agreeing to be “on call” while the normal chaplain went on vacation. I had never been a hospital chaplain before, and I was uncertain what to do, especially in case of an emergency. I carried a beeper at the time, but I had to stay within 20 miles of the hospital to receive a notification that I was needed.
I was nervous in the early part of the week until I shared my fears with one of the friendly nurses. Her simple words to me calmed me down. “Father, you’ll do fine; trust your training; just go with the flow.” She was the voice of God to me.
When Catholics attend Mass this weekend they will receive assurances that the resurrected Jesus still speaks. Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). The Jews and Gentiles to whom Paul and Barnabas preached heard “the word of God…and the word of the Lord was carried throughout the area” (Acts 13: 44-49).
During the 50 days when we celebrate Easter we are being assured that God is always with us, even as Jesus continued to be with his disciples after his resurrection, often speaking to them in their moments of trial. Today Jesus is speaking to us when he assures us of his protection as a good shepherd: No one (no terror, either) shall snatch them (the faithful sheep) out of my hand (See John 10:28). As the nurse assured me, so God speaks to us in our times of worry and nervousness. I was glad I listened to her.
When you are nervous or worried are you open to hearing God’s words assuring you of his presence?
April 15: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Like the resurrected Jesus, believers too are ok before God
In 1967, Thomas Harris, MD wrote a self-help book that became a best seller with over 15 million copies. Its title simply stated: I’m Ok, You’re Ok. It really helped a lot of people accept themselves and others even though they may not meet all the modern standards of goodness in weight, sexuality, family background, education, salary, etc. In effect, it helped a lot of people stop judging themselves negatively.
How does God think of us? St. Paul reminds us that if we believe in what Jesus did for us, then we are ok before God too. “Our faith will be credited to us if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, the Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised up for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25).
That word, justification, is a technical term that refers to the judgment by a judge in a trial in which a person is found to be not guilty. When God raised Jesus from the dead it was a sign of God’s approval of all that Jesus was in himself (e.g. Son of God), all that he taught, and all that he did for us by his suffering and death. Jesus said that he would die for our sins (“My blood…will be shed for the forgiveness of sins” --Matthew 26:27-28). In the resurrection of Jesus God vindicates him, telling us all that Jesus was right in all that he taught and all that he did.
Paul continues to say in Romans that Jesus was raised not just for his own vindication, but for our justification. If we believe in Jesus, then we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). If we are in Christ , we too, have received the verdict of justification -- Now – even before we stand before God as our judge at our death. God has already declared us to be justified! We, too, are ok before God-- now!
Naturally, being justified before God is not something believers can take for granted and coast along without living morally and uprightly. Sadly, we can lose faith and fall into immoral behavior. But another chance is always given to us.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, do you feel ok before God -- now?
April 11: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Kissing the frog
Once upon a time there lived a young prince who was destined to become a king. But a wicked witch cursed him, and the prince turned into a frog. A beautiful princess who hoped to marry him was sad when her prince disappeared. One day she noticed a frog by the side of the road. The frog crocked loudly, and she thought she heard the frog say, among the “ribbits”, that if she kissed the frog, she would discover her prince. The princess gazed upon the slimy creature with its bulging eyes and webbed feet, and hesitated. But, wanting to believe the words of the frog, she kissed it on its forehead above its bulging eyes. Immediately, the prince emerged and they kissed. Eventually they married and lived happily ever after.
The devil had been working on Peter, the disciple of Jesus. Once Jesus actually called Peter “Satan” for trying to change the decision that Jesus had made to go through His suffering and death. Peter even denied three times knowing Jesus. But after the resurrection, Jesus met Peter at the seashore. We can imagine what words we would have said to Peter for being such a failure as a faithful member of Jesus’ band.
But Jesus held back all his harsh words because He seemed to see the possibility of greatness in Peter. He decides “to kiss the frog.” He provides breakfast for Peter and his companions who had just been fishing, and then after a full meal asks Peter three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me.” Peter answers three times: “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” And each time Jesus says: “Feed my sheep (lambs)” (See John 21: 15-18). A new Peter emerges, one now determined never to deny the Lord again, one who would preach fearlessly even when threatened, with the motivation “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Jesus taught Peter that if he, who once was a person who denied the Lord, was presented a second chance, so Peter should also give other disciples who failed another chance as well. Peter needed to learn to kiss the frog too, hoping that a better disciple would eventually emerge.
Can you celebrate that God has kissed you? Is there a frog in your life, ugly to you, yet who needs to be kissed and given another chance?
April 8: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The death and resurrection of Jesus saves us.
It is the fundamental belief of Christians that the death of Jesus brings us the forgiveness of our sins. The scriptures speak of this clearly: God “loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Jesus came “to give his life in ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). And Jesus informs us that the shedding of his blood forgives our sins: “Then he took the cup…saying “Drink from it all of you, for this is my blood…which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27-28). St. Paul also states this belief: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
But if the death of Jesus saved us why wasn’t that the end of the story? Why did God bother to raise Jesus from the dead? Was the resurrection simply a reward for Jesus for being the good Son whom the Father sent to die for our sins? Or was it the plan of God that the resurrection of Jesus be essential for us, something added for us beyond the death of Jesus?
St. Paul thought that the resurrection of Jesus was an essential element to our salvation: “Our faith will be credited to us if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, the Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised up for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). The resurrection of Jesus was one of the most important teachings of St. Paul: “And if Christ is not raised, then empty is our preaching; empty too is your faith…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; your are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14-17).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states succinctly: “The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death Christ liberates us from sin; by His resurrection He opens for us the way to a new life” (No. 654).
Exactly what the resurrection of Jesus did for us, over and beyond what the death of Jesus did, will be part of my reflections next week. This is also why it takes a good 50 days to reflect on the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus!
Have you thought about why it is important to believe that you are saved by the death AND resurrection of Jesus?
April 4: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Celebrating for 50 days
Most of us spend a great deal of time preparing to celebrate a significant day – whether Christmas, a birthday, an anniversary, Easter, or a welcome home to a soldier. But after the day has come and gone, almost immediately the elements used in the celebration, such as banners, lights, the Christmas tree, colored eggs, all come down or are stored. When the day is finished, so is our celebrating.
But Catholic Christians don’t celebrate Easter that way. They celebrate Easter for 50 days! As a matter of fact, they spend 40 days preparing for it during Lent and then 50 days singing “alleluia”. Lent –Easter is a 90 day affair! So, on the Sundays after Easter Catholics continue to celebrate and try to unpack the meaning of Easter for their daily lives.
On April 7th Catholics reflect on how scared the Apostles were, having locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. Afraid of what? Probably afraid that if the political authorities could capture and crucify Jesus and kill Him, they could do the same to His followers.
In their midst suddenly Jesus appeared, saying: “Peace be with you!” as He showed them His crucified hands and lanced side. A second time he said: “Peace be with you!” As they looked at His wounds and saw that He was alive (although in a new way), they realized that He had great power. He went through the most fearful of all situations --human death-- and still survived. We are told then: “At the sight of the Lord, the disciples rejoiced. ‘Peace be to you, He said again.’“(John 20, 20-21). This all-powerful One was at their side.
The message of peace that Jesus offered to the disciples is the same He offers to us. The all-powerful One is at our side too. He is stronger than anything or anyone that we fear, even death. That’s one of the truths we can celebrate for 50 days!
What fear do you carry in your heart? Can you hear Jesus saying to you: “Peace, I am with you!”
April 1: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Breathing in God and others
We have many different ways of breathing. Normally a person at rest takes approximately 12 to 17 breathes a minute. The rate is higher for infants and in states of excitement for adults; it is lower in sleep and when depressed. It deepens with relaxation or pleasure. A rhythmic wave can be felt to ascend and descend through the whole body in the process of inhaling and exhaling. Breathing easily and fully is one of the great pleasures of being alive.
We live in an ocean of air, the same air that is breathed by other humans, animals, trees and plants. Breathing teaches us that we are not alone in our world; we all need the same air.
Some scholars believe that when we breathe air it is also like we are breathing in God. The most ancient Jewish name for God was Yahweh. Although it was never spoken, when God’s name appeared in their sacred texts, the words Elohim or Adonai were spoken in its place. God’s name was sacred and mysterious, as God told Moses “I am who am…. This is my name forever, this is my title for all generations” (see Exodus 3:14-15). However the word Yahweh (yav he -- if it were pronounced) has the same rhythmic movement as breathing – yav on the inhale, he on the exhale. (Try it now, say yav as you inhale, he as you exhale!)
The one thing that we do every minute is breathe; the one thing we can do every day of our lives is to speak the name of God, even though we are not conscious that we are doing so. If we become conscious of our breathing we can become conscious of God’s intimate closeness to us, and the intimate connection we have with every living thing on this earth. If we become conscious of our breathing, we can even become aware that the elements we breathe come from the stardust of the original Big Bang, taking us back to the beginning of time when God said: “Let there be…” (See Genesis 1:1-51).
Try to be conscious of your breathing (with ya he). Do you sense your unity with God and all that is? Do you sense that you are praying?
March 28: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Easter celebrates another way of living
Everyone lives in their mother’s womb for nine months or so even though there is little awareness on the part of the fetus of what is going on. Our life as a fetus goes through tremendous changes, yet monitors and ultra-sounds leave no doubt that a real live person is there. As an infant in our mother’s arms, no one doubts that this child is a lively individual even though it spends lots of hours sleeping or simply looking around.
The “terrible two’s” tell us that this child is developing its own individuality. When I was in grade school my mother would tell others that I should have been born on Halloween, rather than on All Saints Day, because I was more like a little devil than any saint! We finally come into our own personality after we weather the teen years and find our way into adulthood. But even in old age, although many of our powers have dwindled, we are still very much ourselves and, hopefully, wiser.
What makes us think that death is the complete end of living? Isn’t death simply the occasion for another change in our way of living?
Easter celebrates the fact that life goes on even after death. This way of living is different than what we are used to, but it is still we who are living. Jesus demonstrated that!
Although his disciples put Him into a tomb, were they ever surprised that they kept meeting him! He was different, for sure: the apostles thought they were seeing a ghost (see Luke 24:38-41), Mary Magdalene initially thought he was a gardener (see John 20:16), the two disciples walking to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus as He began to walk with them (see Luke 24:13-34), the Apostles at the seashore did not recognize Him either (see John 21:7), and Jesus was able to come and go as he wished into a room even though the door was locked (see Luke 24:31). Yet, Mary Magdalene recognized his voice when He called her name (see John 20:16), and this “new” Jesus had the same wounds as the “old” Jesus who was crucified, and after experiencing this “new” Jesus many times Peter preaches that the Jesus who he met was the same Jesus who was crucified (see Acts 4:10).
No one could completely explain how this Jesus could be really alive in a new way except by saying that this old Jesus was “resurrected.” He had been changed just like a seed that is buried but springs to new life as a plant—and is now incorruptible, spiritual and glorious. Paul writes: “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what rises is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength rises up. A natural body is put down and a spiritual body comes up.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
From our very first moments of our existence to our last breath, we are alive…very different from what we were before, but still us! Easter celebrates that although Jesus died and was buried, He also rose to a new way of living – hard to explain, but nonetheless real. Easter is also our celebration that I and all my loved ones will have a new way of living after death—hard to explain, but nonetheless real!
No wonder the response to all this is what Christians sing frequently during the next 50 days: Alleluia!
Do you believe that death leads to another way of living?
March 25: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Eucharist and us: God’s new skin
A four year old girl began to develop a fear of the dark. While she was sleeping, she had nightmares. It came to the point that the child would resist the mother’s attempts to put her into bed to go to sleep. Her mother tried to help by assuring the girl that she would stay in her room until the girl fell asleep. Once when the mother thought the girl had fallen asleep she began to leave, but her rustling movements woke the daughter. When the daughter protested, the mother said: “I can’t stay with you all night. Remember, God is with you. God will take care of you as you sleep. God will see that nothing bad happens to you.” But the child replied: “I know that, Mommy, but I want someone with skin on.”
No matter how old we are we too would like to have some assurance that God is present with us. We know by faith that God is present everywhere, but it would sure help to have a concrete expression of the presence of God. Jesus was that for the people of his day. The bread and wine that we consume in the Eucharist is that concrete expression in our own day. It is the skin of God for us: “This is my body…given for you. This is my blood…shed for you” (Luke 22: 19-20).
At the first celebration of the Eucharist Jesus taught his disciples to be his human skin for others by washing their feet. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done you should also do” (John 13: 15) Service to others is our way of assuring them that God is with them in their fears and troubles.
How have you been God’s skin recently?
March 21: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Doing nothing to my palm branch
At Sunday Mass this weekend, Catholics will be given palm branches which are blessed and held during the reading of the Gospel that recalls Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, with the crowds welcoming him with the words “blessed be he who comes as king in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38). In many ancient lands, it was customary to cover in some way the path of someone worthy of the highest honor, as three of the four Gospels recount that the people did, placing their garments on the ground for Jesus to cross. Two of the four Gospels add the detail that the crowds waved branches, or palm branches from the trees along the road; a third Gospel mentions reeds instead of branches. Catholics don’t attempt to place their clothes on the ground today, but they do follow the tradition of holding palm branches as the Gospel is read, welcoming Jesus in a parade of faithful and the priest as they walk by.
No one knows all the historical details, but I’ve often wondered if the same people who waved the palm branches in welcome also were the ones who shouted “Crucify him” a few days later. If so, didn’t the waving of the palm branches in an affectionate welcome mean anything to them? Did they throw away their palm branches as they sensed the popular tide turning against Jesus?
Many Catholics tie their palm branches into crosses and other religious symbols. But I always leave the branch as I received it, often placing it behind the crucifix in my room. I don’t want to change anything about the palm since I want it to remind me to be as loyal to Jesus on the way to the cross as I was on the occasion of welcoming him in his triumphant procession. Welcome and loyalty, that’s what the palm branch means to me, and I don’t want to change it to make it prettier in any way.
What do you do with your palm branch?
March 18: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Shame and guilt
I read a story in the newspaper many years ago that haunted me. A former school teacher, a lonely old guy (as he was remembered), became a suspect in the crime of sexually attacking a 10 year old girl many years previously. It became known that he was a person of interest (in legal language) and the police interviewed him. But before enough evidence could be collected to arrest him, he locked the doors of his garage, sat in his car, turned on the ignition and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He left no notes behind, but it was presumed that he actually committed that horrible crime. Everyone thought that the guilt and shame were too great; the future was hopeless for him. He hadn’t talked to anyone about it, except to the police who interviewed him. A lonely old man with guilt and shame…and so, suicide.
That the lonely old man had not been given the opportunity, apparently, to hear the Good News of the Gospel was what haunted me. If he had, would things have ended up differently? Wasn’t forgiveness possible, even for a child molester? Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11); couldn’t the lonely old man have experience forgiveness too?
The comparison is complicated by the fact that the old man’s crime was never proven. And while the offense of committing adultery is much less harmful and serious than a teacher sexually attacking a young girl who placed her trust in him, nonetheless wouldn’t God’s forgiveness still be possible if the crime was admitted, forgiveness asked from the girl and God, the punishment demanded by the law given, and appropriate future safety standards observed so that this crime was never committed again? While Jesus would have probably cried for the pain of the 10 year old girl and would have been very stern with the old man, wouldn’t Jesus offer even him the Good News of forgiveness expressed in the simple words: “Nor do I condemn you…but from now own, avoid this sin” as Jesus did to the woman caught in adultery? Isn’t forgiveness of every sin possible? While Jesus seems to exclude the sin against the Holy Spirit (confer Matthew 12:31-32) from the possibility of forgiveness this too is complicated because, among scholars, there is no agreement about what Jesus meant.
The prophet Isaiah offered the words of God previously to the Israelites who had broken their covenant with God many times by saying: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new” (Isaiah 43: 18-19), words that Catholics heard announced as they went to Mass last Sunday.
I feel awful for the young girl so brutalized. I hope that people more wise than me offered her the words and hugs of God that she needed. I wonder how she is today.
I wish that some other wise person had had the chance to offer the Good News of God to the lonely old man before he shut the garage doors. He could have had a better way of handling his guilt and shame.
Has the Good News of God’s forgiveness helped you with your guilt and shame
March 14: A PIECE OF WISDOM: God’s strange mercy
In the book, Brighton Rock, Graham Greene writes: “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” We have an example of that in the story of how Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11).
There wasn’t any doubt about what the woman had done, according to the Scribes and the Pharisees, as they made her stand before Jesus and the crowds whom he had been teaching: “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery” (John 8:4). Many thoughts would have come into my mind if I had been there, such as: Where were they when this act was going on, looking through the woman’s bedroom window? Why were they doing that anyway? Where’s the guy? Did they know him and simply let him go? Did they demand or accept a bribe for his freedom?
Jesus knew right away that these men were scoundrels. Although they could recite part of the words of Moses that said adulterers should be put to death (confer Deuteronomy 22: 22), they comfortably ignored that the law said it was only a betrothed virgin that should be stoned to death (see Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Besides, the only real reason the witnesses didn’t kill her right away was because they wanted to use this as part of their web of conspiracy to destroy Jesus, that is “to test him so that they could have some charge to bring against him” (John 8:6) for disagreeing with the Jewish law.
What did Jesus do? He didn’t dispute the charges against the woman but asked all who were there to consider their own guilt: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). When the crowd disappeared one by one and no accuser remained, Jesus simply said: “Neither do I condemn you, go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).
God’s mercy does not suggest that the guilty are not guilty. It recognizes the guilt but does not demand satisfaction for the wrong. Only, don’t do it again! How incredibly strange is God’s mercy…, yet we all experienced it, haven’t we?
What’s your story about the appalling strangeness of God’s mercy?
March 11: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Incredible luck, again
While the story of the Prodigal Son (See Luke 15:11-32) tells us about the incredible luck of the younger son being welcomed home by his father and restored to his previous role as rightful member of the family, there is much to learn about the father from the actions and words of the older son.
The older son may have been glad that his younger brother took off with half the family possessions since now everything left would become his when his father died – no messy arguments of what belongs to whom after the father was buried! Probably he and his younger brother had bitter fights when they were together since, when he thought about his younger brother, he judged him to be doing the worst thing: having fun with prostitutes (a detail not found in the story – was he wishing he could do that too?) The older son thought he was always obedient to the father (a statement that the father ignores) and he thought his obedience should have been rewarded with a party with his friends. Simply enjoying the good life of being in a loving family was not good enough for him, as the father implies: “you are with me always; everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31). And when the younger brother returned we are told that the older brother was angry and wouldn’t even enter the home to welcome him back. And why should he? Now he would be getting only half of the property when the father died instead of all of it!
How incredibly lucky the older son was to have such a father! When the older son refuses to go in, the father comes out to him. The father does not order his deviant son to get into the house, rather he pleads (Luke 15:28) with him to be compassionate. The father tries to get his oldest to appreciate that the younger son is still his brother (see Luke 15:30) and not just the father’s other son. He tries to show how far the youngster had fallen and how lucky they both were that he came back (“…was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” --Luke 15:32).
We are not told what the older son decided to do. I imagine that the father stayed with his oldest for a long time with pleading-yet-understanding eyes as the party inside the house continued. What an amazing father he was!
Have you experienced God patiently staying with you until you decided that God was right?
March 7: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Our incredible luck
Often we marvel at the good fortune people have when they tell us of their winnings at the casino or their success at a raffle. We wish that we could be as lucky as the individuals who win a fortune in the lottery or the Publishers Clearing House. Maybe we even complain by saying “How come I never win anything?” That’s why we need to study the story of the Prodigal Son (See Luke 15: 11-32).
What’s so shocking about this story is how bad the younger son acted. He was greedy and couldn’t wait for the inheritance that would be rightfully his when his father died. He dishonored his father by, in fact, wishing he would be dead now instead of later. By demanding his money now, this son put his father, his older brother, and all those hired on the farm in jeopardy because half the money would be gone. When he got the money, he spent it all quickly, on having fun. It was only when he ended up in the worst possible shape (so hungry that he wanted to eat pigs’ food) that he decided to go back home, and start his life over as a working servant on the farm.
What incredible luck he had! His father, unknown to him, had been watching and waiting for him to come home all the time he was gone. His father had not brooded over the great loses the young son inflicted on the family or the inevitable scoffs of the neighbors on how the father failed to raise a good son. Nor did the father spend time contemplating the types of punishments he would inflict on the son if he ever returned. When the father saw the son coming up the road, he did a most ungentlemanly type of thing by actually running to greet the son. And before the son could tell the father how sorry he was, the father did everything possible to restore the privileges of the son: to wear the finest robe in the house, with a ring to show he belonged to this family and shoes (much better than the sandals worn by the common people). No servant was he, but a son again!
Christians are invited, of course, to see themselves as this young son. We have been given life without asking for it, we have been baptized and became a child of God (many of us as infants and without asking for it either), becoming the very holiness of God (See 2 Corinthians 5:21), given all the advantages of being a member of God’s family. Every time we decided to strike out on our own, leaving behind all we were taught, we hardly even thought of how our lives were affecting God or others, so absorbed were we in what we wanted to do. It was only when our lives hit bottom that we began to reconsider what we lost. In deciding to return to embrace again the spiritual wisdom originally given us, we were met by a God who almost couldn’t wait for us to return to restore us again to the family. What incredible luck we had!
How have you experienced the incredible luck offered by God?
March 4: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Born into eternal life
This is the week that my Mother died three years ago. We held the funeral on her actual 95th birthday. While there was sadness in our hearts at her passing, we all felt that she had been blessed with a long life, good health most of her life, and a lot of faith. A couple of years before she died, she and I worked out where she wanted the funeral to be held (in her home town, not the town where she lived in a nursing home), who she wanted to be the readers at Mass and speak the eulogy, be the pall bearers, and where she wanted to be buried (next to my Dad, of course).
The time of her dying was almost pre-planned by her. Her three adult children came from great distances to be with her in anticipation of the celebration of her birthday so we were all with her when she died. Years ago when she moved into an assisted living residence she had down-sized all her possessions so only minor decisions needed to be made by the family about what to do with what remained. After her death and burial no travel plans had to be changed. She died, was buried, and her goods were distributed within the window of time that everyone had planned to stay with her to celebrate her birthday. Could it have been better planned?
At her funeral Mass we sang “Happy Birthday” to celebrate her birth into eternal life. At the luncheon, the guests ate her birthday cake from her sister-in-law and we sang “Happy Birthday” once again.
Have you ever thought of your own death as a birthing into eternal life?
February 28: A Piece of Wisdom: “Warning! God’s Compassion has limits.”
Christians are used to hearing the Good News that God acts loving towards us (as in Psalm 103: “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness”). We have been told that Jesus suffered and died for us to demonstrate God’s loving forgiveness of all of our sins. We believe that God’s love is without end.
But less we sink into complacency and think that our failings and sins mean nothing to God we need to hear a message that comes from Jesus Himself in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 13:1-9. We are told a parable about a man who had planted a fig tree in his vineyard, an unusually privileged place. Fig trees could grow almost anywhere. Grapevines needed special soil, so the fig tree was given the best soil of a vineyard in which to grow and produce. Normally a fig tree needed three years to become productive, so the man didn’t bother to look for any fruit. But on the third year, the owner came looking for figs, and found none. We are told that he let the tree alone for three more years and found no fruit. He told the worker in the vineyard to cut it down because, after six years, it was obviously fruitless and was taking up precious space. But the worker asked the owner to be patient for another year so that he could give it special care by cultivating and fertilizing the ground around it. If it didn’t produce fruit then at the end of the seventh year, he would certainly cut it down.
We know that God is patient with us, even if we do not show signs of changing our lives from our sinful habits to fruitful and virtuous living. But this parable also contains a warning: our lives will not continue endlessly. One day will be our last day. If we have not repented, even though God has given us many opportunities to do so, we will face the judgment of God. From the light of God’s radiance, we will see how far we are from what we could have been, and we will concur with God’s judgment upon us.
If this was your last day, what would you change in your life?
February 25: A Piece of Wisdom: Suffering does not disprove there is a God
Many people have difficulty believing that God exists simply because an all-loving God would not allow suffering, just like a loving parent would not allow suffering to come to its child if it could prevent it. But this statement misses the Christian view of things.
In our human world we need to work out complex problems with the best explanations possible. Belief in the existence of God is fundamental to the Christian view of life, even if there are some loose ends, and even if our beliefs do not completely explain everything we experience. Even the natural scientists work under the knowledge that theories are useful, even if they don’t explain everything. Such was true for Darwin’s theory of natural selection to explain many features of the natural world even though it didn’t seem to explain everything. Einstein’s general theory of relativity was thought to be a brilliant explanation, even though part of the theory was not able to be proven (until much later). So, although suffering is a difficult topic for all Christian believers, it does not disprove to them that a loving God exists.
Christians say that suffering wasn’t God’s plan; rather the world fell away from its God-given goal, and all kinds of things crept into the world that messed it up. A good world went wrong. Although the story of how Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace in the Garden, which we find in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis and which need not be understood as historically true, we still understand it as an attempt by the ancients to explain how the world got messed up.
We are not much better in explaining how suffering entered into our world, but we know in our hearts that suffering should not be. In our genes we seem to understand the way the world should be, and it does not include suffering.
Christians also take the long view. God does not want suffering, and God will eventually eliminate suffering as a scourge to humanity. There will eventually be a new heaven and a new earth with no more tears and no more suffering (See Revelation 21:3-5).
We also believe that God wanted us to know that we are not alone in our suffering. God’s Son, Jesus, suffered a protracted and painful death, crucified on a cross. This form of public execution was designed to humiliate as much as punish with pain like no other punishment could in the ancient world. God sent us a message in the suffering and death of Jesus that God is still lovingly with us. In the resurrection of Jesus God lets us know that pain is not the final sentence in the story of life; rather a new and improved experience of life awaits us.
Until the final conclusion is reached, Christians understand suffering as a primary motivator for compassion. When we suffer, we understand on the inside what so many others experience. Just like we need others to come to our aid when we suffer, so we come to the aid of others because we know how wonderful it was to have someone help us too.
Does suffering destroy your belief in the existence loving God?
February 21: A Piece of Wisdom: Divine Assurance
I was speaking to a fellow Capuchin about a decision I needed to make regarding a job I was offered that would require me to move from Wisconsin to the state of New York. This job would take me away from family and friends, and require me to live and work with Capuchins who were strangers. This fellow Capuchin listened as I spoke about all the worries I had and some of the benefits from accepting the position. In the end he simply said: “I would be proud to have you represent us Capuchins from the Midwest to those in the east.” With that, it felt like all my worries crumbled and I knew in my heart that I should accept the job. Reflecting on it later, I believe God had assured me through the other Capuchin that I should do this.
There are many examples in the Scriptures of God assuring individuals that they are on the right track. There is the example of how God assured Abram that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars and will find many blessings in the new territory where he and his clan would settle after leaving the land of Ur of the Caldeans. Assurance came to him when he fell into a deep sleep and a flaming torch descended on his sacrifice (See Genesis 15:7-21). Assurance came to Jesus on a mountain when in prayer, Moses and Elijah appeared to him and spoke with him about his journey to Jerusalem, assuring him that the terrible happenings awaiting him were part of God’s plan. Assurance came to the lukewarm disciples of Peter, James and John who heard a voice identifying Jesus as God’s Chosen one, and that they should listen to him (See Luke 9:28-36).
Christians believe that God is never absent from their lives. Christians know that God can communicate with them whenever God chooses, and people of faith are open to his message. Preachers have heard many times that God touched people through their words and their interpretation of the Word of God. My mother told me that before she married my dad, she prayed that God would cause them to get into a fight and break up if God did not want them to marry. They never fought! Sometimes God assures us that we are on the right track when the worse never happens!
How has God assured you recently?
February 18: A Piece of Wisdom: Standing on the side of the poor--a prayer
Here’s a prayer I found that came from the Mission Education Office of the Missionary Society of St. Columban:
“Lord, you have given us a world filled with enough for all, yet so many people throughout the world are living in poverty. They do not have enough food to eat and access to clean water. They do not have sufficient shelter to protect them from winds and rains. Our faith calls us to respond to those in need, but sometimes we are so busy that we do not see the needs of those around us. Help us to open our eyes to the realities of the world that need our help. Help us to learn to live more simply and use fewer of the earth’s resources so that there will be more for others. Forgive us for the times we are unwilling to share. Forgive us for our selfishness which leads us to think only of ourselves. Forgive us for not recognizing our brothers and sisters in the faces of the poor. Give us the strength to open our eyes and see you in their faces.”
This prayer focuses on the worse situations of poverty where people are either starving or are food deficient , who lack clean water and adequate housing, some 1.1 billion people (according to Global Issues: “Poverty Facts and Stats”). In the US, our standard for poverty is a financial one – if a family of four has less than $22,350 in income they are considered by the federal guidelines to be poor. In the state of Wisconsin 13% of its citizens are poor, including 236,730 children, according to the information released by the US Census Bureau for 2011.
Some people are wonderfully generous in helping the poor in the Milwaukee area. About 4300 people give a regular donation to the House of Peace to help us distribute pantry food. 200,000 pounds of used clothing last year was donated to be shared with the poor.
How do you help the poor?
February 14: A Piece of Wisdom: Boxing with the devil
I’m embarrassed to admit that I like to watch boxing matches on TV. Most of the people I admire tell me that boxing is an immoral sport since the primary desire of the fighters is to hurt, knock-out or disable their opponent for the sake of money or fame. But I like to watch boxing because it keeps me on the edge of my seat. Unlike any other sport, the fight can be lost or won in an instant. One quick punch or a combination punches can end the fight quickly. Or, it can also last 10 to 15 rounds. The unknown result excites me when two fighters, both well trained and usually highly motivated, do battle with each other.
Christians have heard and read the story of the temptations offered by the devil to Jesus after He spent 30 days in the desert (See Luke 4:1-13). I imagine it to have been something like a boxing match between two highly motivated opponents for three long rounds. In each round the devil presents his best punches to Jesus when it appears that Jesus is at his weakest point from fasting and prayer. The devil cleverly disguises his punches, offering them as food (bread), power (kingdoms), and false trust in God (jump from the temple top). At each punch, Jesus offers a counter offensive based on the word of God. The Gospels acknowledge Jesus as the victor; but notes the devil will be back for another fight: “he (the devil) departed from Jesus for a time” (Luke 4:13).
I like the analogy that Lent is the time for us to box with the devil. I don’t mean that we will see the actual devil; rather we need to confront our own demons – the thoughts, words and actions that are “devilish,” contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus: selfish actions, the desire for pleasures not good for us, the need to be better than others, the need to have the last word, thoughtlessness about the needs of others, complaining over the difficulties in our lives. We must smartly look at all of our opponents and offer counter punches of good thoughts, words and deeds. We have five weeks (or rounds) in which to do battle with them. We may not be able to knock these opponents completely from our lives, but at least we can attempt to weaken them until another opportunity comes for another fight. Having won the first fight, hopefully we will be more powerful at the next one.
What devilish deeds do you want to box out of your life during this Lent?
February 11: A Piece of Wisdom: Boiling slowly
The boiling frog story is an anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive, and goes something like this. If a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated it will not recognize the danger and will be cooked to death. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like us in a hot bath. Biologists do disagree that a frog would not recognize the slow moving danger. Nonetheless the story is often used to describe how people are unable to recognize significant change that occurs gradually like climate change, population growth, or increased drinking of alcohol .
Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee describes his deep awareness of how the culture has changed, even though many of us hardly perceive it. “(I)t seems at times to me that I have just dropped into another world. The culture has shifted so dramatically, that it is hardly recognizable. This is certainly not the world or society of my youth; the values we cherished have changed. The language we once used has taken on new meaning, and traits we would have thought admirable, demeaned.… Whether on television or at the movies, we rarely ever see families or people going to church, let alone offering prayers before meals…. While there are numerous TV shows and films dramatizing the final days before devastating storms or meteor strikes, we hardly see anyone praying before the disasters strike” (Confer his weekly column, Love One Another”, July 17, 2012).
Many of us may not see what Archbishop Listecki does. We may simply be lulled into a new normal. Archbishop Listecki names it secularism, where God and the values of God are nowhere to be seen or promoted. Everyone seems to get along quite well without religion or religious practices. This is the slowly boiling water in which we live, tranquilizing us. Unless we are very careful and make conscientious efforts to become aware of it by the open and vibrant practice of our Christian faith, it will kill us.
Do you agree that secularism is slowly killing us?
February 7: A Piece of Wisdom: Religious experience changes lifestyles
Jonathan Chatsworth, a parish priest of the Church of England, is also a university chaplain and a lecturer in Ethics. He researched extensively what people dubbed their religious experiences. His general conclusions (which can be found at www.datworthy.org/religiousexperience.html) are that (1) large numbers of people have them, (2) people who have them are convinced that they have experienced another reality different from everyday happenings, (3) the religious experience leads to changes in lifestyles.
The Bible offers many examples of this as well. When Isaiah “saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne” and the Seraphim shouting “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” he was filled with a sense of unworthiness. When the voice of the Lord asked “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responded: “Here I am…send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8). When the three fisherman, Peter, James and John saw the great catch of fish they made after Jesus told them where to cast their nets (even though they had been casting all night) “astonishment at the catch of fish” seized them to such an extent that, returning to land, they “…left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:1-11). St. Paul writes that the Risen Jesus was seen by Peter, the twelve apostles, James, and five hundred others. But then, recalling his trip to Damascus, Paul records that the Lord “appeared to me…I am the least of the apostles, because I persecuted the church of God.” Since his experience of the Lord “I have toiled harder than all of them…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). All, after having a deeply religious experience, were compelled to change their lifestyles.
As a teenager, after I confessed that I often imagined myself in wild, sexual situations, the priest told me to simply remember that God loved me just as I was. He suggested I find my way to a statue of Mary, the Mother of God, and humbly pray for her help. As I did so, it felt like Mary was embracing me for a long time, surrounding me with her blue mantle. The experience of her acceptance of me with my embarrassing thoughts gave me one of the first memorable experiences of God’s love for me. I’m convinced that this experience gave me courage to follow through on my reflections about whether or not I should join the Capuchin Franciscan Order.
Many people have had religious experiences, what are some of yours? Did the experience change your life?
February 4: A Piece of Wisdom: Don’t always tell the truth!
Christians know that telling the truth is a serious obligation, remembering what Jesus said: “on the day of judgment day people will render an account for every careless word they spoke” (Matthew 12:36). But God will not simply examine whether or not our words actually matched the reality we were attempting to describe, God also will also look at both our intention for speaking as we did and the circumstances in which it is done. So, we might tell the truth, but our words might still displease God; we might speak a falsehood, but God also reads our hearts and will not judge us badly. How so?
We all speak falsely when we tell a joke, a tall story or exaggerate our descriptions of a previous incident (and usually everyone else knows not to take us seriously). While the one who hears the story could comically respond “Liar, Liar, your pants is on fire,” no one would actually accuse us of speaking falsely. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that we would not be guilty of a lie if we were actually trying to save a person from injury or ward off a thief. The Catechism of the Catholic Church agrees: “No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it” (#2489). In neither case are we attempting to harm someone. Everyone understands that the intention and the circumstances make a big difference in what is rightly labeled a lie.
When we wonder if the truth should be told, the Christian theologian William Barclay suggests we ask ourselves a couple of questions. The first is: Is it necessary? If the truth serves no good purpose, it shouldn’t be said. Another theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer, once said: “truthfulness does not mean uncovering everything that exists.” We all have experienced how the news media pursues the indiscretions of public officials and celebrities, and makes them headline news for no other purpose than to garner more attention to itself. Before we communicate what we know, we should ask what good will it serves to expose this person’s faults or mistakes. If the truth isn’t going to help anyone, we should “put a lid on it.”
The second question we should ask is: Is it kind? Often the intention behind the news we speak is to make us look good with being “in the know” or to make us look better than the person whose name we are sullying. If the truth is so important that it must be said, then the teller must use tact. St. Paul reminds us not to speak foul language “but only such as is good for needed edification” (Ephesians 4:20). What’s edifying about knowing another person’s mess?
Do you believe every truth should be told?
January 31: A Piece of Wisdom: What to do when life turns hard…
Recently I spoke to a donor of the House of Peace who described the tough two weeks she experienced last summer. She had a bladder infection and had to spend three days in the hospital to get rid of it. When she returned home in which she lived alone, she discovered that her pet dog had died. When her family gathered to bury the dog, she picked up rocks from her lawn to cover the grave so that no other animal would dig up the dog from its burial site, only to have bees swam out from underneath a rock and bite her 20 times on her arm. After that, her sewer backed up into her basement, and she had to pay $1100 to repair the damage. But after the so-called repair, it backed up again. Talk about troubles!
Troubles hit Jesus one day too when he went into the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth (See Luke 4:21-30). People were first amazed at the “appealing words” he spoke. He realized though that they wanted more than words, but also prophetic deeds like miracles and healings. He knew that they would not accept his words or his deeds because they only understood him to be the native son of a carpenter, and “a prophet is not accepted in his native place.” They got mad at him, of course, and they forced him out of his home town and even tried to throw him off of a high hill. Talk about trouble!
We aren’t told what Jesus motivated Jesus to keep going when the people closest to him rejected him. Perhaps he recalled what happened to other prophets, like Jeremiah for instance when he experienced troubles from others, when God told him: “They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you…” (Jeremiah 1:19). Whatever he thought, it gave him unusual strength because Luke tells us: “he passed through the midst of them and went away.”
When life turns hard, can you still believe God is with you?
January 28: A Piece of Wisdom: The Eighth Commandment: Don’t tell lies
The wording of the Eighth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor” comes from the procedures in the courts of law in the Israelite society. Hebrew jurisprudence placed great emphasis on the testimony of witnesses in which the testimony of two or more witnesses could condemn a person, serving as the final judgment of a trial (See Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:5). If one of these witnesses was found to give a deliberate false testimony, especially in a capital crime case, the bearer of the false testimony could be sentenced to the same judgment which the falsely accused would have suffered, even if that meant being put to death at the city gates (See Deuteronomy 19:16-19). Testimony given in public was a serious business with serious consequences. Slowly, as the Israelites were more frequently taught the mind of God by the prophets the commandment against false testimony was also interpreted to include speaking falsehoods and uttering deceits to each other (See Isaiah 59:3), in other words, telling lies.
Christians know that lies about Jesus brought him condemnation and death. The whole governing body of the Sanhedrin (the supreme council and court of justice among Jews) busied itself in trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus (See Matthew 26:59). Since the witnesses actually failed to produce corroborating testimonies (See Mark 14:56-59) the high priest resorted to trumping up a charge of blasphemy against Jesus (See Mark 14:64). Lies crucified the one sent by God to bring truth.
Christians value truth. When speaking the truth they demonstrate that they are godly (like God/Jesus), and they understand that the truth will set them free (See John 8:32). They also understand a lie to be the telling of something which the speaker knows to be false with the intention of deceiving. When we do it, Jesus reminds us, we are ungodly, actually doing the work of the devil: “You are of your father, the devil, …there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (See John 8:44). While rash judgments spoken about others, flattery and boasting are minor offenses, the most serious of lies are those that destroy the reputation and honor of others, technically named detraction and calumny. Reputations destroyed are seldom completely recovered because lies can circulate without end.
Can you think of a time when you told the truth even when it was hard (being godly) or when you lied (and did the work of the devil)?
January 24: A Piece of Wisdom: Taking a stand
On October 31, 1517 in the town of Wittenburg, Germany Martin Luther nailed to a church door a paper on which he had written 95 points about the church that he believed needed reform. He challenged anyone to argue these points with him. These 95 points were his convictions. “Here I stand” he said.
Jesus did something similar. The Gospel of Luke (4:14-30) tells us how Jesus went to pray in the synagogue in Nazareth and selected a portion of the prophet Isaiah to read to the worshipers: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring glad tidings to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord…he sat down…and said to them: Today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Like Martin Luther Jesus was saying: Here I stand upon this Word of God. I am the Servant of God. I will spend my life healing all human ills: physical, emotional, spiritual. I will go to the brink to fulfill these convictions.
Working at the House of Peace it has been my joy to know many donors and volunteers who are standing and acting on the Word of God which asks that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, and welcome the stranger (See Matthew 25:31-46). They are acting on their convictions, sometimes at considerable expense.
As someone who believes in God and the teachings of Jesus, upon what do you stand?
January 21: A Piece of Wisdom: How coveting and stealing go together
I invite you to consider a time when you stole something.
When I was about nine years old I often rode my bicycle with other neighborhood kids who had bikes as well. We traveled all over the little town in which I lived. For a reason uncertain to me now, one of the cool things to attach to a bike was a radio antenna from a car – the type that could be shortened or extended. Attached to the rear of a bike, an extended radio antenna could whip around in many directions as the biker accelerated or braked, turned sharply to the left or right. It may not have seemed cool to others, but it made us feel like we had arrived in the bike world.
Where does a nine year old get an extendable radio antenna? It could be purchased, but where would a nine year old get $12 to $15 dollars to buy one? Easier to steal one from of a car in a used car lot, which I did at night as a crept between cars in a dimly lit lot, bending it from the front fender of a car until it broke off.
Coveting led to stealing! Prior to my immoral act I saw how cool it was for other kids to be admired by their peers while they peddled down the street with the attached antenna bending backwards. I wanted to be admired too by my peers. I counted out the change that I had from the money I earned from mowing lawns, but my total was a long ways away from $12. For many days I wondered how I could get an antenna. After staking out the used car lot, I saw what I wanted, and a few nights later I turned my coveting into stealing. (Perhaps I remember this so well because, when asked by my mother where I got that antenna, I confessed, and she marched me back to the used car lot with the antenna in hand and made me confess to the owner what I had done. In a negotiated agreement, I promised to make regular payments from my lawn mowing until I had reached the total of $7.)
When you stole, was it a result of coveting too?
January 17: A Piece of Wisdom: Like changing water into wine
Water is one of the best things on earth. Trees, plants, crops, humans need it to live. Many of us enjoy being around large bodies of water, swimming in them, fishing in them or boating on them. We especially appreciate water when we are thirsty or the land experiences draught. But the taste of water is so ordinary, and varies little. Wine, however, can have almost an infinite variety of smells and tastes.
In the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus changes water into wine. This is more than a story about Jesus helping out an embarrassed newly married couple whose wedding reception has run out of wine. The writer John tells this story nearly 90 years after it happened, and offers us a meditation on what Jesus can do for us. Life is like water, very ordinary. But when Jesus comes to an ordinary scene and ordinary people, He can change ordinary water into luxurious wine , “choice wine” as the headwaiter says. His mother, Mary, knew that Jesus could make things a lot better for the couple and all the guests because, when she realized that all the wine had been drunk, she reminded Jesus of the need, telling the servers “Do whatever he tells you.” By now the disciples realized what Jesus could do because they had begun to gather around him and even accompanied him to the wedding. The symbol about what Jesus can do is even highlighted to an extravagant degree by the amount of wine that Jesus can make out of water – six stone water jars full – about 90 gallons. No wedding party could drink that much especially after drinking all the previous wine.
John, the writer, is telling us that people can experience a new richness in their lives when they allow Jesus to be their savior, teacher and friend. Christians can experience a new vibrancy when they move from fear of God (worry about what God thinks of them) to the realization that God loves them, accepts them, and cares for them even more than Jesus cared for the embarrassed newly-married couple.
Have you experienced the “choice wine” that Jesus can offer?
January 14: A Piece of Wisdom: Coveting violates the Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Commandments
It may seem unusual to bundle the 7th (“You shall not steal”), the 9th (“You Shall Not Covent Your Neighbor’s Wife”) and the 10th commandments (“You Shall Not Covet your Neighbor’s Goods”) together. While there is much wisdom in considering what God commands in each of them, I believe that they all begin with the desire of wanting something or someone which is not mine to have.
The ancient Israelites saw the immediate connection between coveting and stealing. To them, coveting meant that the plot to steal was already in the making. In coveting the act of stealing was already half accomplished since it was as if the person coveting was merely waiting for the propter time to steal what they were hoping to have. Even before they had it in their hands, they were enjoying its possession in their minds. The prophet Micah recognized how coveting and stealing were connected when he condemned the actions he witnessed around him: “Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches; in the morning light they accomplish it when it lies within their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and they take them; they cheat an owner of his house, a man of his inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2). Micah probably knew of men who also planned and managed to take his neighbor’s wife as well.
To the Israelites, the coveter and thief not only offended their neighbor but also insulted God. There was much evidence in their historical and personal lives of God’s generosity. If a person of faith needed something other than what fell into their hands, they were to work for it. If work didn’t produce what was needed or wanted, there was prayer. With prayer, what was needed would certainly come. There was no need to covet or to steal.
Jesus taught the same. He invited us to often consider the generosity of God when he reminded us of how God takes care of the birds, and the grass of the fields, so “If God clothes in such splendor the grass of the fields…how much more will He provide for you, of weak faith…Stop worrying…Your Father knows that you need such things” (See Luke 12:38-30). He also said: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you” (See Luke 11:9).
So the 7th, 9th, and 10th commandments can be reduced to a few simple, yet positive, truths. God loves us and we should trust God’s providence. If we love God in return and seek God’s reign over us, we will lack nothing that we really need. Coveting and stealing are not needed for success or happiness in this life.
Do you think coveting is the beginning of stealing?
January 10: A Piece of Wisdom: Jesus, one like us
In a newspaper there was a picture of a young man sitting on school steps. He was bald, and all around him were his classmates, about 25 of them, some wearing school jackets, others in t-shirts, their heads bowed towards the camera – and they too were bald. The headline read: TRUE BLUE PALS and the caption said: “Mark Busse, 16, of Reardon, WA poses with classmates from his high school…His friends shaved their heads to show support for Busse after his hair fell out following chemotherapy for inoperable lung cancer. His buddies said that they didn’t want him to stand out in the 180 student high school.”
Despite his cancer, Mark Busse is a very lucky young man. He has the best kind of friends for although they are not sick and have no reason to shave their heads, they want to identify with him. In a way, they want to walk in his shoes. They are showing him that he is not alone.
At the River Jordan stood John, known as the Baptizer, the who preached the need that all people have for repentance, the need that all people have to be washed clean from their sins. In the middle of the crowd stood Jesus. He did not have a halo around His head nor handlers demanding :“Move out of the way, let the Messiah through.” He had no need for repentance or for baptism, yet he stood amidst the crowd like an ordinary person. Why then was He there, if not to say to us that He understood the heavy burden of sin that engulfs us?
When John saw Jesus standing next in line to receive the washing, John protested saying that he should instead be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus responded by saying that this must be done to fulfill God’s demands.
Like the friends of Mark Busse, Jesus lets us know that we are not alone. He understands and identifies with our burden of sin. Jesus demonstrates that He is our weak brother. This is one of the reasons why the Father sent Him.
Do you believe that Jesus is your brother in your common weak humanity?
January 7: A Piece of Wisdom: Knowing our assumptions; facing our irritability
All State Insurance produced an advertisement in which two men were having a conversation right after a minor car accident. The young man had a beard, long hair, was wearing a stocking cap on his head and somewhat funky clothes. The other man, older, balding, was wearing a grey suit and tie and looked like a professional. As the conversation begins, the younger man says: “My bad! But I’ve got insurance,” and hands the older man a card from All State. The older man says: “I thought you would have one of those cut-rate insurances. I’ve got All State too.” As they continue they realize that they both have the same insurance agent. The young man says: “It’s like we are connected.” “No we’re not,” replies the professional. After another “yes” “no, we’re not” the younger man just looks at the older man with his head tilted and smiles.
The older man had a hard time releasing his assumption that the funky young man had any connection at all with himself, even though they had the same All State insurance agent. But, don’t we all have many assumptions about others although we may not always be conscious of what they are?
We can learn of our assumptions when we find ourselves becoming irritable. Our irritabilities inform us that what we assume is supposed to happen is not happening.
When we are irritated, we can continue to let it dominate us, or we can reflect on the assumptions behind the irritation, mentally hold the assumption for awhile, and consider how we ever arrived at that assumption. Like the older man we may have the assumption that all young people are irresponsible (“have cut-rate insurance”). Further reflection on our irritation can teach us that our assumption is not true (at least in most cases) and we can arrive at a new level of appreciation of how others (young people with cars) are mostly like us.
At whom or what do you easily become irritated? Ponder what assumptions you have!
January 3: A Piece of Wisdom: On our knees
Seldom do we get on our knees in front of a person. A man might do it in proposing marriage; we might do it when we want someone’s help. Catholics do it often, especially at a time of prayer. When it is done, it signals a very special occasion and reason.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the “magi from the east” (Matthew 2:1) brought gifts and wanted to offer homage to the recently born king of the Jews. They were following the common belief that a special star would appear at a new ruler’s birth. When they finally found him in Bethlehem, “they prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Matthew 2:11). Why did the magi get down on their knees? Because instructively they knew that this little baby was significant for the whole world.
Christians are invited to get down on their knees before Jesus because He can do for us what no one else can. He is the sign of God’s personal love for each of us; He is given to us to show us how to live in harmony with God and each other; He teaches us how to deal with our problems, even with death itself; He teaches us how to receive forgiveness of our sins; He gives us hope for a life that will never end although it will be transformed; He gives us an experience of God’s own Spirit so that we know ourselves to be God’s daughters and sons; He inspires the community of faith to arise so that we may have companions on our journey and a group willing to preach His message, acting out of charity and justice.
The magi from the east have also been known as the wise men. Certainly their act of prostrating themselves and offering homage to Jesus offers us wisdom to live by.
Do you get down on your knees before Jesus?
December 31 A Piece of Wisdom: We are one
I couldn’t find any better thought with which to begin the New Year than the words of Pat Bergen, CSJ. She writes: “I will never forget that moment in 1967 when, sitting in front of the television set, I saw the image of our beautiful blue-green planet projected on the screen from outer space…. In an instant, my world-view changed. I thought ‘We are so small. Space is so big. I thought we were separate. There are no lines! We are all connected.’”
As we consider how to begin a new year with new resolutions, wouldn’t it bring a huge change in each of our lives if we could concentrate on how everyone, every neighborhood, every city, every country is connected? Sadly we are often more aware of how we are separate or different, holding beliefs and values alien to others. Pat Bergen, CSJ quotes the verses of a song written by Kathy Sherman, CSJ entitled A Language of the Heart:
“I do not speak your native tongue. I do not know your ways. Your customs, your creed, the things that you believe, I have never learned. Your skin is a different color.
But then I saw you smiling as the sun rose in the sky, and I saw the tears you wept as I watched your loved one die.
And when I heard your children singing, they sounded much like mine. Somehow I knew we weren’t that different after all.
There is a language of the heart we all can understand. That reaches cross the boundaries of all people and lands.
The deepest thing we know by heart when all is said and done. It’s a language of the heart can make us friends, can make us one.”
Can we begin the New Year by deciding to contemplate how one person, with whom we are having difficulty, is similar to me in more ways than we are different?
December 27 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The family as teacher of wisdom and grace
Once I helped my Mother remake the bed in her room after a night’s sleep. After putting on the fitted sheet, I instinctively tucked in the corners of the top sheet in such a way that there was a nice fold at the corner. My Mother did exactly the same. I said: “Mom you make a good bed – just like me!” She replied, “Where do you think you learned how to make a bed? I taught you that before you went away to high school.”
In the Gospel of Mark (6:1-3) when Jesus entered a synagogue to teach, the crowd – amazed at his words – asked: “Where did he get all this? What wisdom is this that has been given him? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary..?” Christians believe that Jesus was both divine and human. Some of his wisdom was prompted by the Spirit of God within him. But the questions from those in the synagogue partially contained the answer that his wisdom came also from his parents.
When Catholics celebrate the feast of the Holy Family they celebrate how God helps every human to grow in wisdom and grace through the teachers given them in their family. When we celebrate the Incarnation – God becoming human in Jesus – we celebrate also that Jesus entered into a process of learning like all humans did. He was cared for, corrected, disciplined, trained, challenged, encouraged, played with, and taught to walk, talk, and eat by his parents. It was thus that he grew in wisdom and grace before God and others.
When you think about what your parents taught you, what comes to mind?
December 24 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Christmas as a lonely time
Everything tells us that Christmas must be a joyful happy time – a time of love, peace, contentment. But many people also feel it as a time of loneliness, sadness, and worry especially if they are missing someone to celebrate with, especially if they are alone.
Now and then I wonder what Mary, the Mother of Jesus, must have felt when she celebrated her son’s birth after his death and resurrection. She was alone, without her husband who had died many years earlier and now without her famous son. No doubt she had many of her relatives and friends in Nazareth around her, and she probably had the presence of the disciple John with her after he took her into her home as Jesus had told him to do from the cross. Many of her acquaintances had come to believe that God had done something special through Jesus and they rejoiced in God’s love for them. Some people felt a new excitement and purpose in their lives because of Jesus. But it wasn’t the same for Mary as when Jesus was actually there for her and them.
This must have been a wintry time of faith for her. She had always believed that God had a special plan for her and her son, but it seemed harder to believe as the years rolled by. She must have spent many hours alone, simply reflecting on how life turned out for her.
Have you had lonely days during Christmas? What did you do with them?
December 20 A PIECE OF WISDOM: God works through the ordinary
Samantha Smith was an eleven year old school girl with a bouncy personality and lively smile. Her class was given an assignment to write a letter to someone: a rock star, a governor, a sports hero, as a way to practice English composition.
Samantha decided to write a letter to the Premier Andropov, the head of Russia, and shared her worries that the Russians and Americans might someday begin a war that would kill many children of both nations. Much to everyone’s surprise, Samantha received a return letter from Premier Andropov inviting her and her family to visit Russia at his expense. She was well received by the Russian children she visited who expressed their desire for peace between Russia and America as well. I suspect that Samantha was an instrument of God, helping Russia and the United States to inch closer to a peaceful co-existence.
God has a habit of using ordinary people to do His mighty work. When Catholics worship together this weekend they will hear how God used the small town of Bethlehem-Ephrathah to be the birth place of the Messiah, a town so small that when the officials counted the clans of Judah, Bethlehem-Ephrathah was overlooked. They will also be introduced to an old, sterile woman named Elizabeth whom everyone thought was cursed by God since she couldn’t have any children, only to give birth to John the Baptist, the greatest of all the prophets. Then there is Mary, who would probably have been only 5 years older than Samantha Smith, who called herself a servant girl and who was betrothed to a simple carpenter, the one who became the mother of the Savior.
Do you see a pattern here? It is through the ordinary people that God advances the divine plan for our world. This includes you and me, of course, but also those other ordinary people in our family, neighborhood and with whom we associate with at work or in many other social settings. If we looked at these people suspiciously, wondering how God is using them to change our world, wouldn’t we have much better relationships with them?
Whom do you know, like Samantha Smith, whom God has used to make a small difference in our world?
December 17 A PIECE OF WISDOM: I’ll be with you!
William Shakespeare, in his work Romeo and Juliet, wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Parents often choose a name for their child because it is popular or because they like a movie star. However, biblical names are often rich in meaning. In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (verses 22-23) the angel announces that “the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel which means ‘God is with us.’” In the last chapter of that same gospel, the risen Jesus says to the disciples: “…behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
When I needed surgery three Capuchin friars I live with volunteered to be with me during the procedure. It meant a lot to me that they were willing to share my time of difficulty by caring for me in that way, taking four to five hours out of their already busy lives to be there for me and with me. When my sister heard of the day of my surgery she regretted that she lived 400 miles away, but said that she would go for a walk at the time of the surgery and mentally hold my hand. Her words comforted me.
Anytime we need to endure a difficult situation (like a surgical procedure, a court appearance, a funeral) it means so much to have someone say: “I’ll be happy to be with you.”
At Christmas we celebrate our belief that God has decided to be with us – God is Emmanuel. At every part of this day, God is with us. Can you imagine God being with you right now?
December 13 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Joy is better than happiness
Bobby McFerrin is famous as a one-hit wonder for the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He sings: “In every life we have some trouble / when you worry you make it double / don’t worry, be happy. Ain’t got no place to lay your head / somebody came and took your bed / don’t worry, be happy. The landlord say the rent is late / he may have to litigate / don’t worry, be happy. Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style / ain’t got no gal to make me smile / don’t worry, be happy.” The only reason Bobby can give to be happy is that “it will soon pass.”
These lyrics may sound like the words of the Scriptures that are proclaimed in Church on the Third Sunday of Advent, such as: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart” which we hear from the book of Zephaniah (Chapter 3: 14), and “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again. Rejoice! Dismiss all anxiety from your minds!” which we hear from St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians (4:4).
The big difference between the “Don’t worry, be happy” and “Rejoice” is the foundation of each. Bobby says we can be happy because the difficulties we are in will pass; the Scriptures tell us to be joyful because “The King of Israel is in your midst” and “The Lord himself is near.” Bobby wants us to be happy because life will move on and things will likely become better; the Scriptures invite us to be joyful because Someone loves us and is here to “remove the judgment against” us and to “renew (us) in his love.” This Someone is “the Lord”, the “King of Israel”.
Happiness is good. Joy is better! At Christmas we celebrate the good news that God has decided to be with us as one like ourselves. And God will never go away!
Are you joyful at this good news?
December 10 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Difficult moments for Joseph and Mary
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was conceived in Mary under the influence of the Holy Spirit (See Matthew 1:18). This unusual experience initially brought misery into the lives of Mary and Joseph. In their day, Jewish marriage involved two steps. The first was the betrothal which took place when the girl was 12 or 13 years old before two witnesses, and was often arranged through an agreement between the parents of the bride and groom. After the betrothal, the bride legally belonged to her husband although she still lived with her parents. The second step was the actual marriage when the bride was taken into the groom’s family home amidst much festivity.
The Scriptures tell us that when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was discovered to be pregnant. Knowing that the child was not his, Joseph could have had Mary legally stoned to death by the men in the village. But, because he was a righteous man Joseph did not want to have Mary killed, and decided to divorce her quietly (See Matthew 1:18-19).
Imagine all the feelings of confusion, betrayal, and anger Joseph must have had? Imagine the confusion, worry, and the fear of death that Mary must have felt? Before this marriage actually began divorce was already decided! Can you imagine a worse scenario for any young couple about to marry? Thankfully an angel intervened to inform Joseph that the child conceived was of the Holy Spirit (See Matthew 1:20).
What do you think Joseph and Mary did in the midst of their difficult moments? What would you have done?
December 6 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Things that matter
Have you ever been in an airplane when it encountered turbulence? If you are a passenger you may think that increasing the speed is a good strategy because it will get you through the turbulence faster. But pilots know that planes must be kept at a certain optimum speed to minimize the negative effects of the pitching, yawing and rolling. Most of the time, this means reducing the speed. You save a lot of negative effects on your car and your body when you encounter speed bumps on a road.
Slowing down is beneficial even psychologically. As Catholics gather on Sunday to listen to the Word of God they are told by Paul to “learn to value the things that really matter.” (Philippians 1:10) As we begin to approach Christmas we would be well served if we would slow down to consider what really matters in life. Many people are forced to do this when a tragedy hits: a sudden illness, financial failure, a broken relationship. But we can choose to slow down now in preparation for the celebration of Christmas rather than wait until tragedy strikes.
The author Ira Byock entitles his book “The Four Things that Matter Most”, and he lists the following sayings: “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.” All of them have to do with relationships. Ask any person who is being wheeled into transplant surgery or facing chemotherapy for the third time what’s on their minds and the answer will probably involve the people they love.
As we come close to Christmas this year, we are being asked to pause and consider what things really matter to us, who are the people most important to us? Let’s not pass up another opportunity to get our priorities straight. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier has written: “For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!” Let’s not have any regrets this Christmas.
What is or who are most important for you?
December 3 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Blue Marble
The Blue Marble is one of the most famous photographs of the earth, taken on December 7, 1972 by astronauts of Apollo 17 28,000 miles above the earth on their way to the moon. While perfectly aligned between the Earth and the Sun, the astronauts snapped the picture that placed Africa and the Antarctica in the center of the most famous photograph in the world. Back in 1948 the English astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle said: “Once a photograph of the Earth taken from outside is available, an idea as powerful as any in history will let loose.”
John 3:16 says: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The Blue Marble concentrates our thoughts on the people of the continent of Africa and the scientists stationed on Antarctica, people we don’t often think of when we reflect on the words that God so loved the world….
Our Christmas celebration of God’s love for the world by sending us his son is not so far away. While we certainly hope that God’s love for the world includes us, it would help us recall that God’s love includes all the peoples of the world, all those living on that blue marble suspended in space.
If God loves the peoples of Africa and the scientists on Antarctica, do you?
November 29 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Confidence in the midst of scary stuff
Recently I had gall bladder surgery (and happily, it was successful). I was told by the physician that it would be done as an out-patient, and through a procedure called laparoscopy – that is through four incisions in my belly with the gall bladder being removed through one of them. I would only need two days at home for a recovery, with no noticeable changes in my future eating habits. He made it sound so easy and professional that I didn’t worry about it. That is, until I began dreaming about those four incisions in my belly. In my dream the instruments became huge monsters invading my stomach while I was unable to do anything about it because of the anesthesia I was under. The dream made me realize that I needed to do much more praying for God’s help to guide the physician’s instruments, and trust that God would be with me even under anesthesia.
Nobody likes scary stuff when it seems to be aimed precisely at them. Nobody likes to hear scary stuff in church, especially about the end of the world. But that’s precisely what Catholics will hear when they go to Church this Sunday. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of freight in anticipation of what is common upon the world…” (Luke 21:25). Both Luke, the writer, and the Church do not intend these words to be taken literally, and they are not meant to be understood as the way things will actually happen at the end of the world. These words were taken over from Jewish thought about the day of the Lord, a time calling for great change as the prophet Jeremiah hinted at: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise made to Israel…” (Jeremiah 33:14-16). The day of the Lord was an event when God would act even though it was a time when people would experience difficulty.
Scary stuff that happens to us and our loved ones invites us to remember that while our world is imperfect and often full of suffering, God is still in charge. If we can move beyond just being fearful, we may also be able to hear God reminding us that this unwanted circumstance may also be a calling to us to have greater faith and trust. Maybe it can open our eyes to ponder what it must be like for others to experience this as well, as I did in seeing all the others at this surgical center who were having a scary surgery as well. If I had not had my own surgery I would have never thought about – and prayed -- for their successful surgery as well.
Have you found something good in your own scary situation?
November 26 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery
It is surprising that Jesus did not have more to say about the misuse of our sexual powers in and outside of marriage. He accepted the value of the sixth commandment (See Matthew 5: 27-28) and he included adultery among the many sins that demonstrate a heart deformed (See Mark 721-23). When religious leaders intended to stone a woman caught committing an act of adultery and brought her to Jesus to test what he would say about her sin, Jesus was quick to point out that the religious leaders had also fallen into sin, and simply allowed the woman to go free if she promised not to sin in this way again (See John 8:1-11). In the mind of Jesus, adultery was one of the many ways the human heart could seriously go astray. Like many other sins, those practicing it were far from the kingdom of God as Paul says in Ephesians 5: 3-7.
The award willing Italian author, Natalia Ginzburg, said: “No adultery is bloodless.” I suspect Jesus would agree. When married persons satisfy themselves by having sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse a terrific amount of pain is created in others. When discovered by the married person’s spouse a huge crack is started in the commitment made to a life-long partnership with that person’s spouse. The door of marriage as a safe-haven for sexual play and communication is quickly slammed shut by the offended spouse. The parenting role of the offending partner is questioned, if not withheld, by the pained spouse. Often the adulterer is forced to abandon the home leaving children bewildered and confused.
What is so painful to Christians about adultery is that it ruins what could have been one of the clearest signs of how God loves us. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul addresses husbands (but the same could be said to wives): “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her to make her holy” (Ephesians 5:25). In the love and commitment that spouses show each other we have a glimpse of what Jesus did for us and how Jesus loves each of us. Adultery shatters one of the images of how God loves us.
Loretta Lynn, the country singer, demonstrates the anger that people have towards those who have betrayed the trust they gave in stating their vows to be faithful until death: “My attitude towards men who mess around is simple: if you find ‘em, kill ‘em.” If God gave the Ten Commandments as a warning what we must avoid, Loretta Lynn shows us why. Indeed, “no adultery is bloodless.” It only brings pain.
What do you imagine would happen to the lives of a married couple when one learns that the other has committed adultery?
November 22 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Jesus Christ is my King
At a July 4th fireworks there are many explosions of color and sound that bring out oohs and ahhs from those watching the display. But none can compare to the last volley which is the most colorful and loudest, and inevitably leads to a round of applause for the pleasing show.
The Catholic Church does something similar as it brings the church year to a close. It ends on a note of triumph by celebrating the feast of Christ the King: Jesus is King of the universe, King of heaven and earth. The church proclaims scripture passages that celebrate the glory of Jesus now in heaven: “When he reached the Ancient One…he received dominion, glory and kingship…” (Daniel 7:13) “His dominion is an everlasting dominion.” “(He is)…the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who is to come…” “(He is)…the almighty” (See Revelation 1:5-8).
Catholics are invited to acknowledge in gratitude all that Jesus Christ has done for them personally and as a community of faith. He has saved us by being obedient to God. He has made it possible for us now to experience the Spirit of God in our hearts. He has given us hope in God’s plan for our salvation, a plan being worked out right now. He has given us reason to hope that when this life is over we will join Jesus, His Mother and all the saints in the blessed happiness of heaven.
The Book of Revelation describes the response of those who are already in heaven: “Praise and honor and glory and might, to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (of God) forever.” (Revelation 5:13)
When was the last time you thanked God for what Jesus did for us?
November 19 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Finding a reason to be thankful
As we approach Thanksgiving Day this year we would not be surprised if we read a newspaper editorial proclaiming: “Thanksgiving is cancelled this year due to lack of interest. Few Americans feel that there is much for which to be thankful. Who wants to give thanks when every day the value of the dollar shrinks and the weekly trip to the grocery store becomes a sour lesson in our economic woe?” Yes, if we only concentrate on the headlines in the newspaper and our economic situation, we probably won’t find much for which to be thankful. So, if we are to be thankful this year, we need to become more reflective.
To be reflective means to look backwards, to look at our lives differently. This year it may be helpful to look at our family, friends, material goods and our health differently. Imagine what it would be like to NOT have them!
My aunt and uncle gave birth to ten children, and they had many economic struggles in trying to raise them all. My aunt once said: “It was hard to raise a large family, but I wouldn’t want to give up any one of them.” Imagine what it would be like to not have a family or to be without even one of them. Imagine how we will grieve when one of them passes into the next life. Each family member has faults, and there are days when we would gladly trade them for another individual. But, they have brought us moments of joy too. Imagine life without them.
Imagine what it would be like without all those things which help give us a sense of security: a home, a car, a job. In the larger cities frequently you’ll see men appealing for money with signs: “Homeless, no job, hungry. Please help! God bless!” Imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes.
In this time when so many are being economically squeezed would any one of us trade our legs, our eyes, our kidneys for a hundred thousand dollars? When I visit someone in a skilled nursing facility, I often walk away grateful that I can walk, am aware of my needs, can communicate them well, and am able to feed myself. G.K. Chesterton said: “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met someone who had no feet.” On this Thanksgiving in order to be grateful for something or someone, imagine what it would be like not to have them in your life!
Who or what would bring great sadness to you this Thanksgiving if they or it would not be present in your life?
November 15 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The end of the script
The actress Deborah Kerr was staring in a movie about the emperor of Rome who destroyed his enemies by placing them in the coliseum to be killed by lions. She was asked if she would be afraid when she was facing the lions in her role. She replied: “No, because I know the end of the script.”
In the Book of Revelation and in the Gospel of Mark we are given some information about the end of the world and what the details might be like. These types of descriptions are named “apocalyptic,” biblical language that is very concrete. But it should not be taken literally since it tries to be as colorful, poetic and dynamic as possible, such as: “…the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed its light, stars will fall out of the skies, and the heavenly hosts will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24)
The message that Jesus is trying to convey in this passage is the world will someday come to an end. How and when no one knows for sure, “only the Father” (Mark 13:32). We don’t know the details, but we do know the important parts of the end of the script. Jesus will return in glory to hand everything over to His Father, us included. Then a new heaven and a new earth will begin. We need not worry about it because we know the happy end of the script. But we also know that until then, we should never forget that the end is coming. We need to remain as faithful as we can, doing our Christian vocation of spreading the good news about Jesus as he asked us to.
Do you believe the gospel script that tells us about the end of the world?
November 12 A Piece of Wisdom: The Fifth Command and Sports Violence
I like almost all forms of sports: football, basketball, and baseball. Although I never played sports like boxing, hockey, track and soccer, I appreciate the athletic skills involved. I know that occasionally athletes suffered injury and on rare occasions even died, and I know that boxing is an inherently violent sport. But it never occurred to me until recently that sports violence could actually be a violation of the Fifth Commandment.
What got me thinking in a new way was an editorial (Aa piece of wisdom@ in my words) in the February 20, 2012 issue of America magazine. It recounted a long history of how athletes died playing sports, even recently when a 16-year old defensive tackle on a high school football team became the 13th high school player to die on the field since 2005. In 2010 the National Football League began an investigation against the coaches and players of the New Orleans Saints in a reported bounty scandal in which players earned bonuses for inflicting injuries on opposing players that forced them to leave games. It found evidence that between 22 and 27 players were involved which lead to suspensions of coaches and players, heavy fines to the Saints’ organization and lose of future draft choices.
In 2012 it was reported in the New York Times how a particular hockey player was known as an Aenforcer@ who was hired, not because he could play hockey well, but because he could start fights and smash faces. It is well known in hockey that enforcers exist on other teams as well. The America article concludes: AToday professional hockey has moved beyond the tolerated violence in other sports; it is the only sport that deliberately sanctions fights, by using enforcers. That violates the Fifth Commandment.@
Do you think some sports players actually violate the Fifth Commandment?
November 8 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Giving all she had
Janet was a woman I met at a funeral of an elderly lady named Mary. From her speech and actions I thought Janet was intellectually challenged. She asked me: “Father, what do prayers cost.” I said: “Nothing.” Then she asked: “How much does a Mass cost?” “Well,” I said, “people usually give five or ten dollars to have a Mass prayed for their special intention.” Janet dug into her change purse and counted out the coins. “All I have is 59 cents. I don’t have a job now. Would you offer a Mass for Mary for 59 cents? Maybe your prayers will help her get to heaven sooner.” What could I say to this woman of faith but, “of course, Janet?”
In the Gospel of Mark (See 12:38-44) Jesus points out to his disciples the action of the widow who placed two small copper coins in the temple treasury as an offering, like Janet did, giving everything she had.
When we think about our generosity, do we act in a way that calls for real sacrifice on our part? Would it be true that our generosity often comes from our surplus, from what we won’t really miss if we give it? No one need give everything that he/she has; but do we give so much that others might say we are being a little imprudent? Do we give because others need it more than I do? Do we give believing that we can trust in God to provide for us in the future?
Am I like the widow who gave the two copper coins, or am I like the person who gives only a little, knowing that I will have a large surplus still left over?
November 5 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Fifth Commandment and Self-Defense
There is very little said in the Bible about whether self-defense is permitted. One situation allows for it, but another does not as in Exodus 22:1-2: If a thief is caught in the act of housebreaking and beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt involved… But if after sunrise he is thus beaten, there is bloodguilt. At night the householder would be justified in killing the burglar outright, but not so in the daytime, when the burglar could more easily be caught alive. The Bible records many situations in which the Jews carried swords, spears and other armaments, presumably to be used in defense of their community and themselves.
In the Gospel of Luke there is a statement by Jesus saying that, in the time of crisis one who does not have a sword shall sell his cloak and buy one (Luke 22:36). Jesus must have allowed a disciple to carry a sword to the Garden of Gethsemane where he used it to strike the servant of a high priest and cut off his ear (Luke 22:50). Jesus ordered him to Stop, no more of this! (Luke 22:51) and he healed the victim's ear.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the wisdom of the Catholic Church's teaching on self-defense: The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. ... Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow. Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or the state (See numbers 2263, 2264, 2265).
There is a deep-seated instinct that we all have to protect ourselves and those we love. While we may destroy a human life in the process, God, who is saddened at all loss of life, seems to honor the instincts we have to protect those we love.
Have you ever instinctively reacted to protect yourself or a loved one in a moment of perceived danger?
November 1 A PIECE OF WISDOM: What’s really important?
Once I was listening to a group of women talking about the hectic life of their family members. They described how difficult it was to have time for a family meal. Because family members had such different schedules (after-school activities, meetings, sports programs, etc.) it felt like the supper meal was more like eating in a cafeteria from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm where family members ate singly. Another lady said: “I wish I could find a small village on a mountain where we all could slow down and have some peace.” While children get bored when there is nothing to do, adults often yearn for simpler, quieter times when we can tend to a few important things.
Once Jesus was asked the question about which was the most important commandment (See Mark 12:28-34). In the time of Jesus the Jews knew that there were not only the ten commandments given to Moses by God, but their teachers also determined that there were 613 other commandments in the Bible given by God – 248 of them telling the Jews to do something, 365 of them telling them to avoid something. Who could remember them all? Which of the 613 commandments was the most important? They too yearned for simpler things.
Jesus responded by saying that, of all the commandments, two were the most important: loving God with your whole heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. This can help us during the day if we pause and think about it: Is what I’m doing now somehow connected to loving God or neighbor? If so, then Jesus assures us that we are not far from the kingdom of God (See Mark 12:34).
Remembering that there are 72 books in the Bible, each of which is God’s Word to us, what is the most important teaching you find there?
October 29 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Saints, like the stars of heaven
I vacationed once on the north shore of Lake Superior in a rented cabin. When I arrived it was time for my evening meal, and when I finished I decided to take a walk through the woods to the lake. It had become dark so I took along my flashlight, shining the beam of light ahead of me to illuminate the rugged path to the shore. When I got to the lake and looked out over it, I was in for a double surprise.
A full moon was right in front of me, trailing its beam of light seemingly for miles across the lake. Then I saw the stars, thousands of them, maybe millions, each like a shining diamond in the sky. I’d forgotten how numerous were the stars because, living in the city, its lights often clouded out the stars. But even on the nights in the city when I would look up, the stars were still actually there even though their lights were obscured by the artificial lights of the city.
Catholics celebrate the feast of All Saints at this time of the year. The Church has declared that at least 6,000 men and women are saints (through a process of canonization, or listing outstanding individuals in its canon of saints). But there must be a “gazillion” of them in heaven, since the Book of Revelation declares that there were 144,000 people standing around the throne of God (See Revelations 7:4). This number is symbolic, the square of twelve multiplied by a thousand to represent the new People of God. So, there might be 144 “gazillion” of them there.
They, like the stars in heaven, are always shining around the throne of God, giving thanks to God for God’s saving work in their lives through Jesus Christ. But they are also shining down upon us, as the stars do, pouring down their concerns, their wisdom, their example so that we might know how to live faithfully as they. Catholic parents usually choose a name of one of these saints as their child’s personal protector, now called the child’s patron saint.
Do the night stars remind you of the saints, especially your personal patron saint?
October 25 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Walking with Jesus, telling others of blessings received
In driving around Milwaukee I have noticed men standing at a stop light holding a sign that often says: “Homeless, hungry, please help! God bless!” Most of the time I ignore them because, besides feeling conflicted about whether I should help them or not, I don’t approve of them being at a place where traffic needs to keep moving.
The Gospel of Mark tells a story about a blind man named Bartimaeus who was begging along the side of the road near Jericho (See Mark 10:46-52). Like most beggars he probably was shouting out to the people on the road to Jerusalem “In the name of God, help me!” We are not told if anyone gave him a few coins but we can guess that in those days, like today, people learned how to not see unpleasant people whom they prefer to ignore.
When Bartimaeus is told that in the crowd walking by is Jesus of Nazareth he changed his tactics and shouted out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” These words caught the attention of Jesus, who stopped, called him over, and asked what he wanted. When the blind man said “I want to see,” Jesus healed him, saying: “Be on your way! Your faith has healed you.”
While we would naturally presume that Bartimaeus would go back to his family, neighbors and friends to share his excitement of now being able to see, we are surprised to hear in the text that Bartimaeus “started to follow him (Jesus) up the road.” This is Mark’s way of telling us that Bartimaeus became a disciple of Jesus, joining the twelve disciples on Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem. Although we are not told what happened to Bartimaeus we can presume that, as he walked with Jesus for the next 15 miles to Jerusalem, he listened closely to the teachings of Jesus and shared with anyone who would listen the blessing of sight that Jesus gave him.
When you received a blessing from God, did you decide to walk with Jesus, listen to him, and tell others about what God has done for you?
October 22 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Fifth Commandment and War
It would seem that the most obvious violation of the commandment which says Thou shalt not kill is war, the point of which is the killing of the enemy. The present stance of the Catholic Church follows the words of Pope Paul VI when he addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1965: No more war, war never again! However, at the same time the Church understands that a nation has the right to defend itself against an unjust aggressor, and the evaluation of whether or not a nation goes to war rightfully belongs to the public authorities who are responsible for the common good (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.2309). However, a decision to go to war by the heads of governments is often shrouded in secret, following a political philosophy that may be questionable, and difficult to evaluate morally. Individual soldiers who chose to join the country's armed forces truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2310); but those who follow their conscience and refuse to participate in war are to be respected too (Gaudium, et Spes, Nos. 78, 79).
The standards for evaluating the morality of war are also made difficult because the Old Testament records that it was common for God's people to be at war with others, and there is no direct teaching against war in the New Testament. Jesus did tell us to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:26), to turn the other cheek when someone slaps you (See Luke 6:29), as well as telling us blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). While Jesus did not explicitly forbid war, he certainly did not encourage it either. Theologians like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas both thought that war could be a just response to an unprovoked aggressor.
But the awful realities of World Wars I and II brought the official teachers of the Church to call for an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude (Gaudium et Spes, No. 80) since the horror of war was magnified by the possible use of atomic bombs as in the bombing of Nagasaki (which killed at least 50,000) and of Hiroshima (killing at least 100,000). The Church officially condemns acts like these: Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation (Gaudium et Spes, No. 80).
What leads up to war and what happens in war is a complicated affair and is difficult to judge whether a particular nation or an act of a particular soldier is a violation of the Fifth Commandment. But the Church officially teaches that war is a scourge and never an appropriate way to resolve problems between nations. War is always a defeat for humanity bringing unbearable sadness into the lives of families of soldiers and civilians killed or maimed. To avoid breaking the Fifth Commandment the Church urges all of us to keeping working for peace, to understand that humans are brothers and sisters to each other, to act justly in all our undertakings and respect the rights of others. War...never again!
What is your perspective on war?
October 18 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Serving those in a bath of pain
For a number of years I enjoyed giving myself a treat of a long hot bath on my day off. Usually, when I wash up, I’m all business, cleaning up as fast as I can in a shower. But when I have no reason to hurry I enjoy a prolonged soak until my fingers and toes become wrinkly.
Jesus told his disciples once that he would endure a bath of pain as he felt disappointment at the seemingly failure of his ministry when he was crowned with thorns, scourged, and nailed to a cross. Obedient always to His Father Jesus believed that His Father in turn would not abandon him during his bath and eventually reward him. When the disciples wanted to share in Jesus’ reward of sitting on his right hand in the kingdom (See Mark 10:35) Jesus asked if they could endure a bath of pain similar to His. They glibly said “yes” without realizing that the bath of pain was one of service like His own, since “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark: 10:45)
Once when I had surgery, as I was coming out of effects of anesthesia, a nurse came into him hospital room and began telling me all about her recent divorce, her financial troubles, and the difficulties her children were having because of the divorce. I really was in no condition to listen to her troubles. She should have been listening to my worries about the results of the surgery. She was of no service to me. Sadly we often bungle the occasion of being of service to others when they are in their bath of pain. Too easily we are concerned about our own bath rather than theirs. Jesus reminds us that there will be no reward for us in His Kingdom unless we are willing to be present to the bath of pain that others are experiencing.
Whose bath of pain were you present to recently?
October 15 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Fifth Commandment and Capital Punishment
The Catholic Church has changed its teaching about capital punishment. At one time it was seen as a permissible action by the state. Now it is not.
At one time the Church pointed to the teachings of Scripture regarding Aan eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth@ found in Deuteronomy 19:21 as justification for the state to take the life of a person who took the life of another. In Romans 13:4 Paul says that Ait is not without purpose that the ruler carries the sword; he is God=s servant, to inflict his avenging wrath upon the wrongdoer@ meaning that in executing dangerous criminals the state was only carrying out its responsibilities given it by God. But the Church=s understanding of Scripture has grown. It now understands that the purpose of the teaching of an Aeye for an eye@ was to restrict indiscriminate vendettas, preventing the punishment of the guilty by plucking out both eyes or doing something even worse. When Paul wrote that the ruler is God=s servant he was telling Christians that their faith also commands their obedience to just rulers. The reference to the sword carried by the ruler is not the kind used for execution but the kind worn by the police who accompanied tax collectors. Besides all this, the Church has come to understand that there are many references in the Old Testament calling for the death penalty which no Christian today considers the will of God: priests drunk on duty (Lev 10:8-11), cursing one=s parents (Exodus 21:17), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), sexual intercourse during menstruation (Leviticus 20: 13), a bride falsely claiming to be a virgin (Deuteronomy 22: 13-21), etc.
Well-known teachers of the past, such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III and Pope Pius XIIl, taught that capital punishment by the state was part of its responsibilities in order to protect the well-being of its citizens and safeguard the common good. The view that capital punishment was legitimate was clearly dominant in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
But within the past 50 years the Catholic Church has moderated its stance on the morality of capital punishment. It began with a renewed appreciation that all human life is sacred as evidenced in the teachings of recent popes (Mater et Magistra, Paccem In Terris) and the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes), and the desire that every evil person be given a life-long chance to repent, something removed if he/she is executed. Pope John Paul II taught Athere is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that the death penalty be applied in a very limited way, and that it be abolished completely A(The Gospel of Life No. 56). And finally, the Church declares that the state can still have recourse to the death penalty if that is the only possible way to defend the public against someone who will harm another. But since the state has other ways of preventing this sort of harm, like life-long imprisonment, Athe cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent@ (The Gospel of Life, No. 56).
Do you believe that capital punishment should be allowed to continue as it is today?
October 11 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Asking for wisdom
Many of us can recall reading or seeing a cartoon on TV about someone who discovers an old bottle. Upon rubbing it, a genie pops out, informing the character that the genie will grant him/her one wish (or three wishes depending on the storyline). The rest of the story is about the problems or joys that the character experiences as he/she makes decisions about what to ask for.
We are told in the First Book of Kings in the Bible that God did something similar to Solomon (see 1 Kings 3:4-13). Shortly after Solomon became king of Israel God appeared to him in a dream and offered to grant him one wish. He could ask for a long life, riches, death of his enemies. Instead he asked for an “understanding heart…to distinguish right from wrong.” And God granted his one wish.
In the Book of Wisdom (7:7-11) Solomon reflects, after a long life, on his request for an understanding heart, or wisdom. He said: “I preferred her (wisdom) to scepter and throne and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her. Because all gold, in view of her, is…sand.” In his own mind, Solomon made the best request when he asked for wisdom.
If God appeared to you in a dream, promising to give you whatever you wanted, for what would you ask?
October 8 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Fifth Commandment and Abortion
On July 7, 2012 a small article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caught my eye.
The number of abortions performed in Wisconsin dropped by more than 7% last year. The Department of Health Services reported that there were 7,249 abortions in 2011. That is down from 7,825 in 2010 for a drop of 7.3%
I believe along with the official teachers of the Catholic Church that an abortion is a violation of the Fifth Commandment. Pope John Paul II helped Catholics review most of the teachings and rationale for why an abortion is a moral evil in his encyclical The Gospel of Life in 1995. In it he also reviews all the possibilities when actual human life begins and concludes that the only safe understanding is that it begins at the moment of conception since Ait would never be made human if it were not human already.@ He also reviews many possible reasons why an abortion could be desired: health of mother, inability to afford another child, the conception as a result of rape, a severely impaired fetus, etc. While these naturally weigh heavily on the decision of the parents, Ahowever serious and tragic, (these reasons) can never justify the deliberate ending of life of an innocent human being.@ With this as a background, while I am happy that abortions in Wisconsin are down by 7.3%, I feel a great tragedy that the state where I live has allowed 7,249 humans to never experience life as God intended.
I believe that abortion is a violation of the Fifth Commandment. I know that abortion has been legal since 1973 when the Supreme Court made its ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade. I know that women now feel more protected and in charge of their ability to have children since the Court ruled that a woman=s right to privacy allows her to make a decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. I tend to agree that for most women, the decision to have an abortion is heart-wrenching and often full of grief. It is rare for any woman to proclaim publically with pride that she aborted her fetus. But when I think of it, I feel a heavy sadness that our United States has lost over 40 million humans, many of whom would have been talented and creative individuals, all because of abortions.
I pray that we can find a way to understand the value of human life and commit ourselves to respect, protect, love and serve every human life.
What are your feelings, thoughts or convictions about abortion?
October 4 A PIECE OF WISDOM: God provides partners
In the creation story of the Book of Genesis we find a marvelous message about our God and about us. We first hear that God understands our need for intimacy and companionship: “It is not good for man to be alone” and we hear God say, “I will make a suitable partner for him.” Why God did not do immediately (create woman) what he did later is somewhat of a mystery. God should have known that wild animals and birds of the air would not “prove to be a suitable partner for the man.” But at least God was making an effort to remove the loneliness the man was feeling!
After God created the woman and presented her to the man he immediately felt a deep satisfaction: “This one, at last…” is my equal: “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”
I find a couple of lessons here. First, God understands our deepest desires, hopes and dreams. Our sense of loneliness is well-known to God because God, in creating us, also created this great drive that we have to share our life with someone who is our equal and complimentary to us. Our desire for intimacy has been given us by God. Second, when we find that special person who becomes our spouse, our best friend, our partner I believe that it is not simply good luck or fate; rather the finding of our partner is the result of the goodness of God who brought the person to us. Our partner is God’s gift to us to take away our loneliness, to experience a sense of equality with another who is quite different from us, and to offer a chance at receiving the deep intimacy with another that is one of our greatest desires. If we have a best friend, a spouse or a partner we have been blessed by God.
Do you have such a blessing in your life? If so, have you thanked God for him/her recently?
October 1 A PIECE OF WISDOM: An Instrument of Peace
There is a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), called the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. It is appropriate to pray like he would as we honor him on his feast day October 4th.
Make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, life;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
What have you done recently to be an instrument of peace?
September 27 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Applauding goodness wherever it is
Some of us can recall the time when musician and singer Quincy Jones invited forty-five rock stars to come together to record a song whose profits would be given as aid to the starving peoples of Africa. Quincy Jones told the group that they “had to leave their egos behind” if this song was to be a success. The song that was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, “We Are the World,” became the fastest selling American pop single in history. The records and the videos that sold garnered over 63 million dollars in humanitarian aid for Africa.
It was hard for some of us “righteous” people to appreciate the efforts that these 45 stars put into the recording and the results. After all, weren’t these the folks who often used drugs, had multiple marriages, and who weren’t known to share their wealth with others? How could they produce anything worthwhile? To use the words of Nathaniel when he learned of Jesus’ home town: “Can anything good come from Nazareth” (John 1:46)? We are often astounded at what God and people of good will can do.
Hilaire Belloc, an English writer, author, poet, and a man of strong faith captured the same sense of astonishment when he considered the chosen people of God: “How odd of God to choose the Jews!”
The Gospel of Mark records a conversation between John, the disciple, and Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-39).
Jesus seemed to be of the opinion that the Spirit of God blows where it will, creating good things through people who were less than righteous. He recognized where the goodness came from, and he applauded it.
Even though you do not like certain people who still do good things, can you still applaud the good work?
September 24 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Fifth Commandment: thou shalt not kill
It may surprise us that Jesus has no direct comments on the 5th Commandment. Jesus presumed that this commandment would be observed if one wanted to live a godly life. When the rich young man asked Jesus what he must do, Jesus replied “You know the commandments: you shall not kill...” (Mark 10:19), and then recounts five other commandments. He said that he had not come to abolish the commandments (Matthew 5: 17-19), but to fulfill them.
His method of fulfilling the 5th commandment was to teach about what was needed to avoid violating it: anger (Matthew 5:21), retaliation (Matthew 5:38), judging others (Matthew 7:1-5) , and what to do instead: reconciliation with those who hurt you (Matthew 5:23), loving one’s enemies (Matthew 6: 43-48), showing compassion like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), even being willing to lose one’s own life in order to be faithful to the way of Jesus (Matthew 10:37-39). Jesus himself tried to fulfill this commandment when he told Peter, who wanted to defend Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, to “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). And we know that Jesus did nothing to defend himself against the violence being done to him even though he could have had twelve legions of angels come to his aid (see Matthew 6:53). Just before he died he followed his own teachings on mercy and ask God to forgive his executioners (Luke 23:34).
In the mind and heart of Jesus, God is the author of life and life must be preserved until God decides to end it. Jesus taught that those who attempt to preserve the life of another will be blessed now because “they hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) and will be blessed in eternity because they came to the aid of “one of these least brothers of mine” (Matthew 25:40) when they were hungry, thirsty, naked, ill or in prison. God is the lord of life. To be godly and a follower of Jesus, we need to love life, our own and that of others.
Do you love life?
Sept 20 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Ruby, the just one
Few people have heard of Ruby Briggs. She attained some notoriety in 1960. She was then six years old, and was the first black child to be brought into an integrated school in South Carolina. Each day she was picked up at her home by federal marshals and escorted by them between the lines of people jamming her approach to school. On some days she was spat upon. Every day she was yelled at with racial slurs: “You’re less than an animal..!” “You don’t deserve to live,” and other words that white people commonly use when describing African Americans.
The news clips often showed Ruby as she turned to the crowds as if to speak to them. Later she was interviewed and asked what she said to the crowds as she passed through. She said: “I wasn’t speaking to them, I was praying.” “For yourself?” came the question from the news anchor. “No, for them. That’s what God would want me to do.”
The Book of Wisdom relates how a just person responds to “revilement and torture” that puts “the just one to the test.” (Wisdom 2:19) The just one does not turn the tables and do the same or worse to the revilers. Rather, the just one realizes that “God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him” (Wisdom 2:23), and tries to help the reviler to see as God sees. Ruby prayed for the protesting whites that they might see as God sees.
Jesus often told his disciples that the just One, “the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him...” (Mark 9:31) Judas became the instrument by which the suffering and death of Jesus began but Jesus did not return Judas evil for evil. Peter would deny Jesus three times, yet Jesus said that “I have prayed for you that our own faith may not fail... (Luke 22:32).
When people treat you unjustly, do you give back what you have received, or do you pray for them?
Sept 17 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill
In the two places (Exodus 2:13, Deuteronomy 5:17) where the list of the Ten Commandments is given, the fifth commandment is worded in the same way: "You shall not kill." Of all the commandments this one seems to be unnecessary since to kill elicits equally strong condemnation from both secular and religious communities. All people are shocked by the taking of human life. It is so brutal and final.
There is no motivation given for obeying this commandment in the listing of the Decalogue itself. But motivation can be found in the words God used in giving a covenant to Noah when God speaks of shedding the life blood of a person: “I will demand an accounting for human life...For in the image of God has man been made” (Genesis 9:5-6). Human life was created by God in God’s own image, so it could only be ended by the One who gave it. But God allowed the taking of human life when the person violated God’s own law. In this case, those who ended human life were doing so with the permission of God to act against such evils as the killing of another (Deuteronomy 19:16-19), kidnapping (Exodus 21:15; Lv. 20:9), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), incest (Leviticus18:6-18), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:15-16), and desecration of the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14).
In the mind of the Israelites of old, life had meaning only if one was acting according to God’s plan, design and will. If one violated the will of God he or she was as good as dead by voiding God’s intentions for human life. If one lived in defiance of God’s law, that life was worthless. Besides, in violating God’s law others who were created in the image of God suffered intensely as well by losing a loved one. Nothing was higher than God’s law, not even human life.
We moderns know from experience that killing of another becomes common when people live with no reference to God, for God’s desires for us, and lack respect for the image of God in others.
Why do you think that killing is so common?
September 13 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Modulating our first impressions
Some people have an ability to accurately access another through their first impressions. They seem to instinctively know the type of person the individual is, and know whether that person would be good or bad for them. That’s not true of me. My first impressions are often wrong. People I thought I would like, with more contact, I realize that I don’t like them at all. Others with whom I thought we had nothing in common when I first met them, I later find quite attractive as I get to know them better.
The gospels inform us of the first impressions that people had of Jesus. He was perceived as a good preacher, a miracle-worker, a fire-brand who challenged the teachings of the Jewish law, and one close to God like John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the other prophets. Peter had gradually gathered the impression that Jesus was “the Christ” or the Messiah. But his notion of Messiah did not include the awareness that the Messiah had to suffer, because when Jesus began to rebuke him in response: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus turned to the crowds and said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:33-34).
Those of us who know Jesus Christ, have learned of him as one who can do miracles, have felt his saving power in our own lives, often still have to go deeper than these first impressions. Jesus was also one who was completely faithful to the plan of God, even though it meant great suffering and difficulty for him. The Gospel writer Mark is trying to help all of us realize that if we are going to follow Jesus we must expect to find crosses, difficulties in which we must be faithful to our beliefs, strong in our love, and steadfast in our hope.
The first impression that we have of difficulties often tells us to run from them. But Jesus did not try to escape from his cross. He saw in it a way to bring life to himself and others as part of God’s design. He has shown his disciples the way, the truth and the life.
Have you seen changed your impressions of Jesus and of difficulties in your life?
September 10 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Favoring the famous.
I once met Stephen Spielberg, the famous movie producer when I was living at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, MI. The meeting was quite unexpected as I walked out of my private room into a corridor and practically bumped into him as he was being given a tour by another Capuchin friar. When I was introduced to Mr. Spielberg I didn’t recognize his name at all even though the friar explained that Mr. Spielberg was curious if the monastery could be a setting for a future movie. It was only later that it dawned on me whom I had just met. As I told other friars about it I proclaimed: “This hand just shook the hand of Stephen Spielberg. Don’t touch it! I’m not going to wash this hand for a whole week! But to the friar who gave the tour to Mr. Spielberg I had offered no praise even though this friar had to find time in his busy schedule to show off the monastery.
We live in a world which caters to celebrities, whether they excel in the field of music, arts, sports, politics, movies, finances, business, or religion. These people create a sense of awe in us. Some of them have expanded their talents to outstanding heights and deserve our applause for doing so well. If we meet one of them, everyone soon learns of our good fortune.
But the great danger arises when we honor only the rich and famous, giving no account to ordinary folks like my fellow friar or the poor. The Apostle James tackled this same problem in the early church. “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” When a rich person with gold rings and fine clothes comes into the church, he or she is treated with honor and is told “sit, here please.” But if a poor person “in shabby clothes” centers he or she is told to “stand there” (rather than be shown a chair) or sit on the floor “at my feet.” (See the Letter of James 2:3-5)
There is nothing wrong with praising the rich and famous. Most of them worked incredibly hard to hone their talents, and many of them have enriched our culture and life as well. But we need to learn how to shower our praise on our family members, neighbors who also have honed their talents after working hard. We also need to become more aware of how many of the poor have overcome incredible odds to also be productive in the lives of their families and neighborhoods.
We need to learn how many people of color, for example, have faced extreme social injustice, unfairness and abuse, to rise above these conditions and succeed beyond anyone’s expectations. Many people did not allow the events in their past lives to kill their motivation and rob their ambition, determination and perseverance. In spite of it all, they made a difference not only in their own lives, but in the lives of countless others.
A grace for me while ministering at the House of Peace has been to meet these people, often in shabby clothes, at whose feet I need to humbly sit as I admire them too. It helps to counter my worldly instinct to treat the donors, who have money, better than those who have run out of money and come for grocery items for themselves and their families.
Do you recognize in yourself the instinct to honor the rich and famous while considering others of lesser importance?
September 6 A PIECE OF WISDOM: People who impersonate the Saving-God
When I was pastor of a parish a real tragedy unfolded. A husband and wife, parishioners who lived a few houses away from the rectory, sat down to eat supper with their oldest son. While eating, the husband collapsed and fell to the floor. Immediately they realized he was seriously ill and needed more help than they could give. The son ran across the street to get the help of a neighbor who was an EMT. When the neighbor arrived, he checked the husband’s pulse and immediately telephoned for an ambulance, which arrived a few minutes later. A neighbor saw the commotion and ran to the rectory to get me. Grabbing the oils for the Sacrament of the Sick, I ran to the house, and quickly anointed him. But as the husband arrived at the hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival.
While this event was an obvious tragedy for the family, friends and neighbors of the deceased, I was later able to find grace in it. I’m sure that as the husband was lying on the floor, there was only one thing on the mind of the wife, the son, the EMT neighbor, the neighbor who ran to get me – to preserve the life of the husband. Everything else had been forgotten. I believe that these people offer a striking image of God. The prophet Isaiah announces: “Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; God comes with vindication; with divine recompense God comes to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4-5) And we see Jesus in the New Testament scriptures constantly attempting to help people: the blind, the deaf, the lame, those unable to speak, the sick, the lepers, even preaching with passion to change hard hearts. God rushes to help. It’s in the nature of God to want to rescue us, like God did in asking Jesus to go through his passion and death for us and for our salvation.
Followers of Jesus are those who feel impelled to help those in need. It’s probably the primary indicator that we have the Spirit of God within us. I feel so blessed to witness the many volunteers who come to the House of Peace to help those in need who come to us, and to know the many donors who choose to share their wealth with us instead of buying extra luxuries for themselves. They are an image of the saving God for me.
When someone helps you do you see them as being like the saving God?
September 3 A PIECE OF WISDOM: the Fourth Commandment
Like all the Ten Commandments, the fourth was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai by Moses after they had wandered through the desert as nomads for 40 years. They had a hard life as they moved slowly with their herds of animals from water hole to sparse grazing grounds. Traveling on foot they had to be hardy, although most of their belongings were carried by pack animals. Those who were sick or feeble became an extra burden on the group. The temptation was great to leave the elderly to their fate as the rest moved on. So, the commandment, “Honor your father and mother,” was first addressed to adult children who were to never abandon their parents.
It is noteworthy to recall that the fourth commandment does not call for obedience to parents but honoring of parents. Parents were to be given respect, be highly prized and made to feel important. Adult children must treasure their parents and to give them a special place in their lives no matter what their physical or psychological condition.
Honoring parents is akin to honoring God. Both parents and God are sacred, because parents, in cooperation with God, gave life. Parents are our closest image of God, the creator; God creates, parents procreate. Overtime this commandment focused more on children who were commanded to obey their parents and other authority figures. While this remains true, the force of the commandment is really on adults to honor and demonstrate care for their elderly parents.
Grandchildren watch how mom and dad treat their grandparents too. There is this tale from the Brothers Grimm. Grandmother became feeble and frequently broke a dish while eating. So her daughter gave her a wooden bowl out of which to eat. When the inquisitive granddaughter asked why grandmother no longer ate from a plate like they do, the girl’s mother replied, “Because she is old.” The child then told the mother that the wooden bowl must be saved when grandmother dies. When asked why, the child answered, “For when you are old.”
It is not easy to care for elderly parents. Adult children are caught in a web of responsibilities that can become overwhelming with caring for their own children while working and having community responsibilities. Many adult children do not have the emotional strength to deal with the dependency of their once-strong parents. But in the midst of our busy lives, God commands us to never abandon elderly parents; we must work out solutions (in cooperation with the other adult children) that continue to give them the care, love, honor and respect they deserve.
What’s been the hardest thing for you to do for your parents?
August 30 A PIECE OF WISDOM: No thanks!
An acrobat decided to attempt to walk across the Niagra Falls on a high wire, pushing a wheelbarrow. He began to practice in an empty lot and word spread of the feat he was going to attempt. Many onlookers scoffed at him, others shouted that he was crazy and would lose his life. One woman, afraid that the scoffing would cause him to lose his nerve, began to encourage him: “I’m convinced you can do it. I believe that you will push that wheelbarrow across the falls.”
The wire-walker looked down at the woman, and said: “Thank you, madam. I’m glad someone believes in me. By the way, I’m looking for someone to ride in the wheelbarrow – how about you?” “Ah, no thanks,” she replied. Words of encouragement are one thing, commitment to be really involved is another.
On-lookers at the time of Jesus often encouraged him and were glad that he was healing people, putting the religious leaders in their place, drawing crowds by his preaching. But then he started talking about, as we hear about in the Gospel of John, eating his flesh and drinking his blood and that his words “are Spirit and life.” (John 6:60-69). That was too much for “...many of his disciples (who) returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (John 6:60-69) In other words, “thanks, but no thanks!”
Many of the teachings of Jesus about God’s love for us, about not worrying because the Father cares for us, about asking the Father for anything and it will be given to us are easy to hear. When he talks like that we want to shake his hand and stand right next to him. But when he speaks startling words like eating his body and drinking his blood, or challenging commands to take up our cross to follow him, or when he asks us to serve the poor, the hungry, the naked, the prisoners, the sick – “thanks, but no thanks!” can be the words on our lips as we too choose to no longer accompany him.
But hopefully, recognizing our own weaknesses we can still find the courage to say with Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69)
Have you ever felt close to giving up on your commitments to God, spouse, family or religion?
August 27 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Third Commandment, again
I’ve said in the previous posting that one of the reasons God gave us the Third Commandment was to invite us into the feeling of rest, serenity and peace which is nearly impossible to do if we are working all the time. The Scriptures remind us that God rested on the seventh day; so should we.
But God also gave a second motivation: “For remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt, and the Lord, your God brought you from there with his strong hand... That is why the Lord, your God, has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Dt 5:15) The seventh day was to become a day when the Jewish people remembered all the ways God had loved them, been with them and saved them. Each Sabbath was to be an anniversary celebration of the blessings of God.
Christians gather at church on the Sabbath to remember and relish all the ways that God was active in their lives during the previous six work days and also to celebrate all that God has done for us through Jesus’ death, resurrection and the sending of His Spirit to us. We did nothing to earn the salvation Jesus won for us. It was and remains God’s pure gift to us. So, we remember, celebrate and claim in faith all that Jesus did for us. Hopefully we carry the spirit of celebrating throughout the whole day, not just during the time we are in church.
In his book, The Sinai Myth, Father Andrew Greely says: “The appropriate question to ask ourselves on Sunday evening is, do I approach the beginning of a new week with more serenity, tranquility, joy and faith than I was conscious of last Friday evening? If the answer to that question is not yes...then religiously speaking the weekend has been a waste....”
What’s the primary reason you go to church, and how do you try to keep that spirit alive on your Sabbath?
August 23 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Eating Jesus, really?
The Gospel of John contains a passage the meaning of which people have argued over for centuries. Jesus says: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you...for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink....” (See John 6:51-58) At first reading the statement of Jesus seems undesirable and smacks of cannibalism.
Christians agree that these passages can at least be taken figuratively. If we take Jesus into our lives completely like we do with food we will have eternal life. If we accept in faith that he comes from God, that he teaches us the way of God, that his way should be absorbed into our lives, that he is acknowledged as Lord and Savior, this will lead to life after death. In this sense we take him personally, whole and entire, into ourselves, eating his body and drinking his blood.
But should this passage also be taken really, literally? Roman Catholics say “yes” because of our belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When the Jews heard Jesus speak this way, they thought he was speaking literally and rejected it: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). Even some of the disciples of Jesus found this to be too much for them and they walked away from him. (See John 6:66)
Catholics argue that the simple fact that Jesus did not attempt to corral those who walked away from him or try to say:”Wait, you are misunderstanding what I am saying – I didn’t mean those words literally” – proves he meant just what he said. Granted, the Jews or Jesus’ disciples at the time would have no idea that there would be a way to do this literally through the celebration of the Lord’s supper, nonetheless Jesus’ words remain true. By the time John wrote this Gospel (year 85 or later) Christians were doing precisely what Jesus said as they “...devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles...to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) The early Christians believed they were receiving the body and blood of Jesus really, truly, but in a way that was full of mystery. They could not completely explain it, but they knew it to be true.
Centuries later those believers who pondered this mystery understood it as a sacred action, a sacrament, one in which God’s Spirit was at work, providing a personal experience of receiving the benefits of the saving actions of Jesus when believers ate the bread and drank the wine. It was so personal that it could only be explained that one was eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood. It was literally true!
Do you believe that Jesus meant his words literally?
August 20 A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Third Commandment
The way that we remember the Third Commandment is: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” This is stated in the Book of Exodus 20:8-11 where it adds the motivation for why God gave us the command: “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested.” Sabbath, in Hebrew, means to cease or desist. God worked for six days, then God rested on the seventh day. What God did God also commanded us to do.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in his book The Sabbath, notes: “Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha was created on the Sabbath.... Menuha, which we usually render ‘rest’ means here much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain or activity of any kind.... What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.”
Ideally, the Sabbath should be a day when we don’t work. But in a busy culture, often people are robbed of a needed day off and are required to work. Sunday becomes a time to do all the activities that we couldn’t cram into the first six days, or a time to get ready to go back to work.
If we are going to experience the values of tranquility, serenity, peace and repose, it seems to me that we have to at least try to make the seventh day of the week really different from the other six. On each Sabbath we need to tell ourselves “since today is a day of vacation, I will do only what helps me to relax.” Or, “I resolve to do everything today at a much slower pace so that I can let my mind and body relax, remembering especially today that God is in charge of my life and the lives of those I love.”
Do you practice a Sabbath day each week?
August 16 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Jesus, food for the journey
Elijah was a prophet attempting to do God’s bidding, and was written about in the Scriptures in the book 1 Kings. His preaching angered King Ahab who ordered him killed. So Elijah escapes, leaving his town, his home, his family and friends. As he travels into the desert, he realizes his life is in shambles. He becomes sick and tired, depressed to such a point that he says to God: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life...” (1 Kings 19:4)
After he fell asleep, God sent and angel who woke him up and told him to eat the hearth cake and drink the water he brought. Again Elijah slept and was eventually awakened by that same angel who told him to get up. Refreshed, he was able to walk for 40 days and 40 nights without interruption.
Being depressed, sick at heart, unable to function, discouraged, caught in the mire of difficulties, feeling like we just can’t go on is a common human experience. We can find help from compassionate friends, favorite meals, professional counselors and some good nights of sleep, Christians also know that they can turn to Jesus who said “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) Prayer to Jesus and trusting that he is our companion for the journey can give us the strength to carry on in difficult situations. This becomes more than a hope when Jesus is received in Holy Communion. He becomes really there for us.
What or who helped you the last time you were discouraged?
August 13 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Looking Jesus in the eye
A pastoral minister was leading a prayer exercise with a group of university students. She told the students to take a period of prayer in which they imagined that Jesus stood right in front of them. Her advice was: “Look Jesus in the eye.” After the time for prayer she invited the students to share what the experience meant for them by asking: “what was it like to look at Jesus face to face?” One student replied that she couldn’t do it. When asked “why not” the student replied, “oh, I’m not worthy.”
Surprised by the response, the minister looked around the group only the find the rest of the students shuffling their feet, looking at the floor or heads nodding. They all felt that way.
Feeling unworthy is part of our DNA it seems. Each of us has done enough shameful things that we wonder how anybody could like us if they really knew us and what we have done. Certainly college students can wonder how Jesus would want to stand right before them without condemning them since they are all too aware of their flaws from their wild moments, away from parental influence, when they might drink to excess or fall into hooking-up. All of us have sinned.
But feeling unworthy is not the totality of being human. A new sense in living can be experienced when we become aware of God’s forgiving love won for us by the death and resurrection of the One who stands in front of us. All of us need to be told what the author of spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing realized: “It is not what you are, nor what you have been, that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.”
God sees our failures, yes. But God also sees our deepest desires and hopes, all of which are positively beautiful. Experiencing these moments of truth, it is much easier to look Jesus in the eye as he looks at us.
Can you look Jesus in the eye?
August 9 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Jesus, the bread of life
In the Gospel of John 6:35 Jesus boldly proclaims: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” If we ever learn it at all, it seems that we only learn to believe in these words of Jesus after we have tried to reduce the hunger and thirst for a full life in all sorts of other ways.
In 1919 Jack Dempsey won the heavy weight boxing title, defeating Jess Willard. It was a very difficult fight for Mr. Dempsey who said: “I was afraid he was going to kill me. I wasn’t just fighting for the championship, I was fighting for my life.” But the night after winning the boxing title, Mr. Dempsey woke up at two o’clock in the morning, feeling terribly empty inside. He said later: “Success didn’t taste the way I thought it would. I’d won a world’s championship. So what?”
Jesus knew what Jack Dempsey and others need to learn: the human heart has a hunger and a thirst that nothing on earth can satisfy. Jesus said: “Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6: 27) To satisfy our hunger we need to make room for the person and message of Jesus and to commit ourselves to both in trusting faith.
How do you satisfy your deep hunger and thirst?
August 6 A PIECE OF WISDOM: Daily bread
At the House of Peace we have a bread table with many high quality loaves of bread that anyone in need can take home for free. This bread is brought here by volunteers who pick up bread from various stores, Pick N’Save, Panera, local bakeries, which are unable to sell it by the expiration date.
Prior to the recent recession the House of Peace staff would often have to discard the bread on the expiration date because only a few people needed bread. But now, almost always the bread disappears each day. In the month of January of this year 481 people took bread home, a strong indicator of the growing need during this recession. Luckily the United States at this time is not experiencing starvation that other countries do because of civil wars, violence in many forms, and inhumane living conditions, but the need for bread is growing.
Most of us are able to purchase bread through our income and savings. We can even afford to purchase specialty breads without worrying how to pay for them. But because of the recession, many people have begun to realize that they are three or four paychecks away from being in financial difficulties. If one of the two breadwinners was laid off, funds would become tight. If another tragedy struck – lose of insurance, major car repair, a breakup of a marriage, a serious illness – ordinary people would have to cut back on the food budget, including specialty breads.
It is never easy to live through a downturn in the economy. But perhaps it is teaching us to pray with more heart the words of the Our Father “give us this day our daily bread.”
Have you given thanks lately for the daily bread you have?
August 2: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Bread from heaven
When the Israelite community was fed-up with wandering around in the desert worried that they would die of famine they complained to Moses and Aaron. But God heard their complaints too and told Moses: ?I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.? (Exodus 16:4) The next morning a dew-like substance remained on the ground that was the fulfillment of God?s promise ? manna ? bread from heaven that would sustain them in their journey to the promised land.
Bread from heaven represents for me those unexpected blessings that came in ways I never expected. I think of my life-long friends whose acquaintances began in a quite ordinary way on an ordinary day. Something clicked between us and we knew we would enjoy each other. I think of a time when on a trip through Mexico a companion needed to go to a hospital. We asked a complete stranger where a hospital might be. When he realized his directions were too complicated for us, he said he would have his eleven year old son direct us as we drove. After we arrived at the hospital, the young boy turned to begin his walk back home. I asked him his name. He replied: ?mi nombre es Jesus ? my name is Jesus.? Bread from heaven!
When friends of the House of Peace send a donation they often request the Capuchins pray for their special needs: improved health, employment for a family member, a son/daughter?s return to the practice of their faith, a lessening of violence, etc. They too are yearning for bread from heaven. On a few occasions, when they send their next donation, they let us know that their prayers have been answered. Bread from heaven!
Have you experienced an unexpected blessing which was your bread from heaven?
July 30: A PIECE OF WISDOM: People helping people
In 1964 singer Barbara Streisand recorded a song entitled “People”. It became popular for its melody and lyrics: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.... Lovers are very special people...with one person, one very special person. A feeling deep in your soul says you were half now you’re whole.... But first be a person who needs people.”
There’s a business in Milwaukee that displays a large outdoor art piece entitled “People Helping People” on its front probably as a symbol of what the business sees as its mission. It’s a modern piece, with nine colorful figures facing each other, with two hands grasped together in the center.
The House of Peace could have that artwork on its front too. Certainly donors, volunteers and staff are helping struggling people with bread, groceries, used clothing, medical and legal help. But the guests who come are also people helping people too. They offer the donors, volunteers and staff a chance to live out the teaching of Jesus: “When I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty you gave me drink...naked and you clothed me...” (Matthew 25:35-36)
Are you a person who helps people too?
July 26: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Doing my little bit
In January of 2012 the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee reported that 44% black males were unemployed in metro Milwaukee. White males were doing better, with employment being 77%. The unemployment problem as well as many other societal problems (like violence in neighborhoods, only 50% of black males graduate from high school on time, etc.) causes most of us to feel that we can’t do anything to make things better.
The House of Peace staff grieves over these problems too. But while we can’t do much about the unemployment, violence and home foreclosures we can do some things like helping people with grocery items, free used clothing, medical and legal help. None of us can solve the big problems by ourselves, but we can work together to help some of the people who are falling through the safety net. Donors and volunteers to the House of Peace often say that they wish they could do more. I remind them that even though what they are doing seem like little, with all of us working together we can still do a lot to help people.
We are like the little boy with no name in the Gospel of John who was part of the large crowd following Jesus. People (we are told they numbered 5,000) had been away from their homes for so long they became hungry. When the disciples looked for people who had brought along food, they found only one young boy carrying five barley loaves and two fish, and they said “but what good are these for so many?” (John 6:9) Once the young lad gave them to Jesus, a miracle was possible. The loaves and fish were multiplied – enough to feed five thousand people with twelve baskets of fragments left over.
We all can be like the little boy with his food. Alone what he had was not enough to solve the problem of hunger for so many. But generously given over to a cause that Jesus supports, and with the help of others, it did far more than he imagined.
Are you doing your little bit for a cause that Jesus supports?
July 23: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The Second Commandment
On May 21, 1972, an Australian tourist named Lazo Toth vandalized the famous Pieta, a statue of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He hit the statue 15 times with a hammer, removing Mary’s arm at the elbow, knocking off a chunk of her nose, and chipping her eyelid before fellow tourists subdued him. More than 400 years old the Pieta is known as the world’s most famous statue, created by Michelangelo when he was only 25 years. The shudder at what was almost destroyed was worldwide.
All of us have treasures that we hold dear such as pictures of loved ones that bring us great sadness when they are lost, or damaged. Above all we naturally curl our fists in anger at anyone who makes fun of people we love, whispers falsehoods about them or tarnishes their good name.
Saints can express well what we believe in our hearts. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) said: “Jesus is honey to my mouth, music in the ear, a shout of gladness in the heart.” Saint Richard of Chichester (1197-1253) prayed: “Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits and blessings which you have given me. Merciful Friend, Brother and Redeemer, may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.”
Anyone who abuses the names of God and Jesus or who “uses them in vain” through profanity or curses doesn’t know God in a loving way.
Do you use the name of God in vain? What do you do when others curse?
July 19: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Finding a sanctuary
Mrs. Helen Wright is married and a mother of four grade school children. When she was asked by her children what she wanted as a Mother’s Day present she responded with a deep sigh and said: “When you call my name today, please call me Mrs. Wright or Helen or even ‘hey you’. But please, for one blessed day, don’t anybody call me ‘Mom.’”
All mothers can smile with understanding at Mrs. Wright’s words because they too know that when the children cry “Mom” it is usually followed by “Can you . . . ,” “Would you . . . ,” “I need . . . ,” “I can’t . . . ” Every time a child yells “Mom” it means more work for her. Even if mothers try to be loving, they get tired of the constant demands made on them.
The Gospel of Mark tells a story about how Jesus had the wisdom of telling his disciples, after they just returned from an exhausting road trip, to “come away by you to a deserted place and rest a while (Mark 6:31). They had returned to a busy place where people were coming and going in great numbers so that they had no opportunity even to eat. They needed a break, a place that would be like a quiet sanctuary where they could find a place to rest, to enjoy each other’s company, to nourish their own spirits and bodies. Jesus tried to give them some good advice: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while,” advice many Moms wish their families would provide.
Where is your desert place, your sanctuary? How often do you go there?
July 16: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Not all prayers are answered
When I prepare a sermon or a homily I always begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit. Every time I pray this way, the main idea for my talk will come to me – sometimes in prayer, sometimes when I read an article in the newspaper or sometimes when I read. It doesn’t come immediately, but it does eventually. I can say in complete honesty that God always answers that prayer. This is proof for me that the words of Jesus are true: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
Clearly though the opposite is true. God didn’t give me what I wanted when I prayed that my younger brother would not die, when I prayed that my nephew’s marriage would hold together even amidst the difficulties he and his wife were having, when I prayed that certain relatives would return to the practice of their Catholic faith. Why didn’t God answer those prayers?
There are some who say that God heard my prayer but simply said “No.” Or that God heard my prayer but God can’t force people to do something when they didn’t want to, or that God has to abide by the laws of nature too. Perhaps these are true. We might be praying for the wrong result. The prophet Isaiah spoke for God when he said: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)
Although not all my prayers were answered in ways that I wanted, enough of them have which keeps me believing that God is indeed on my side. Even better, God has blessed me in ways that I never even consider asking for; so even if my prayer is not answered, God must have some other blessing in mind for me.
What explanation do you give yourself when God didn’t answer your prayer?
July 12: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Members of God’s family
On June 21, 1982, a baby of seven pounds one and a half ounces was born to Lady Diane and Prince Charles. Named William and titled “Prince,” he was called the most famous baby in the world, in line to become king of England, second only to his father, Prince Charles. Prince William made newspaper headlines around the world when he married Catherine Middletown on April 21, 2011. All through his life, Prince William received the benefits and privileges of being a member of the royal family. Nothing which his parents considered worthwhile was withheld from him.
As we watched his wedding to Catherine Middletown on TV, it was quite easy to become envious of all the accolades, the obvious wealth and privileges that he has. He earned none of them; they were simply given to him because he was lucky enough to be born into a royal family.
When I think of others as luckier than I, it helps me to recall the words that St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: Let us bless “...the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.... In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ....” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
We who are baptized have been adopted into God’s own family and loved like God loves Jesus. We are ever under God’s watchful eye and always under His concern. We have received from God the best God could offer: “redemption...the forgiveness of transgressions in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8) In the end, we will receive the treasures of heaven just as Jesus did. We are members of God’s family just like Jesus.
Do you believe that you belong to God’s royal family?
July 9: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Those darn mosquitoes
Summer is a time for relaxation and a time for mosquitoes! Though tiny, mosquitoes can appear to be monsters out to destroy a perfect day. Often we let them do just that. A group of family and friends can be having a perfect picnic, with the weather being warm, the mood relaxed, the food perfectly grilled, and everyone enjoying the occasion. Then the sun sets and the mosquitoes descend. A bite here and there and the mosquitoes cause everyone to lose their enjoyment, and irritation takes over. The picnic ends in ill humor because of a series of little bites rather than in happy remembrance of what a good day it was.
Headaches, heartaches, worries often descend upon us to cause us to lose joy and contentment. Some of them are major (like a death or serious illness) but often they are the little things – a careless negative word addressed to us, a fender-bender of a car accident, a lack of attentiveness by a store clerk, not receiving an invitation while others did, an unexpected bill, etc. These are not overly serious, yet they can take away the awareness we have of all the other blessings of the day.
The challenge before each of us is to be aware that mosquitoes will descend on us at sundown in the summer, but not to let them ruin the whole experience of the picnic. Minor difficulties are part of life, but so are the many blessings God gives us. We can’t let the mosquito bites ruin the
blessedness of life!
Did you get a “mosquito bite” lately? How did it affect you?
July 5: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Having a bad day
Jesus had a bad day when, in the midst of his public preaching, he returned to his hometown of Nazareth and taught in the synagogue. His childhood neighbors were amazed at how he spoke and the mighty deeds which he did. But they were not willing to give him any credence since they knew his background and family. Jesus uttered the old proverb that “a prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” (Mark 6:4) He left his hometown in sadness and went on to other villages to preach, hoping for a better reception.
Many prophets prior to Jesus experienced rejection as well. Ezekiel was told by God that the people to whom he was being sent were “hard of face and obstinate of heart...a rebellious house .... ” Jesus, leaving Nazareth, now knew what that was like. Whether he connected his experience with that of Ezekiel and the other prophets we will never know, but I’m guessing he did. It would have been the natural way for him to reflect on his experience of having a bad day.
St. Paul was having a bad day when he experienced what he called “a thorn in the flesh (which) was given to me, an angel of Satan to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) When he complained to God about it, he was rewarded with the words: “My grace is sufficient for you...” which encouraged Paul to accept the thorn because God’s love and grace would help him deal with it and experience a strength he never knew was possible.
It is inevitable that we will experience bad days. When they come, let’s hope that we will receive some strength from knowing that others before us have had them too, and call out to God, hoping that more help will be given us than we could have imagined.
What practices do you have when you experience a bad day?
July 2: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Having no other gods
I love to watch TV when the Green Bay Packers are playing their games. In a pinch, I am willing to listen to the game on the radio, but I never want to miss a chance to follow them. This gets me into trouble when some obligation that I have happens at the same time: a meeting, visiting a friend, helping someone, getting ready for a project. I cringe inside when I feel called to fulfill an obligation which prevents me from following the Packers.
The first commandment says “I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:2-3), and it continues by warning not to worship any other idol. The Israelites knew Yahweh as the God who saved them from slavery in Egypt and accompanied them through the desert, bringing them into a promised land. They also knew there were other gods among their neighbors (especially Baal and Ashtaroth) who also appeared attractive. But Yahweh-God wanted their total and complete affection over everything else, wanting to be first in everything, thus the commandment.
We believers, especially in our secular society, struggle with keeping God as a real and daily force in our lives when so many others feel that the teachings of God have no place in forming the laws and practices of our nation (separation of church and state), or feel that these teachings are simply a private matter (believe what you want). I struggle with following God’s teachings to be first when something I enjoy comes into conflict with them. And all of us are tempted to make other things our gods and pay our allegiance to them first and foremost: success, sexual pleasures, money, me-first, putting another in his/her place, allowing injustice to happen. God is trying to help us see that only allegiance to God in all things will give us lasting life. Jesus said: “Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (John 6:57). Nothing should be an idol to believers, not even the Green Bay Packers!
How do you struggle with keeping God as the only god in your life?
June 28: A PIECE OF WISDOM: After death, Jesus wakes us up.
When I was very young and needed to be awakened from sleep, my mother had a special way of doing it. She would sit on the edge of my bed, and begin to stroke my forehead. She would say: “Come on, sleepy-head – it’s time to get up”, while continuing to stroke my forehead and running her fingers through my hair. When I fell asleep the night before, it was always a great assurance to me to know that she – who loved me – would be there to wake me up.
There is a story in the Gospel of Mark (5:38-43) where Jesus tells the family of a little girl who seemed to have died: “The child is not dead. She is asleep.” Then he takes the hand of the little girl, gently speaks to her: “Little girl, get up.” Immediately, we are told, she gets up and begins to walk around.
This tells us people of faith that death is like falling asleep. As in sleep, we leave the present situation. But Jesus – the victor over death – will be right there as well, gently (as my mother did for me) calling us by name into a new way of living. The book of Wisdom tells us: “God did not make death nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living... (1:13) for God formed humans to be imperishable, in the image of his own nature he made them” (2:23).
Do you think of death as falling asleep, with Jesus there to awaken you?
June 25: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The always valid commandments
Many of us learned the Ten Commandments as children. Some of us were forced to memorize them and to repeat them to our teachers or parents in a rote fashion, without much understanding. It was hard for us to put together the religion that they represented and the life-giving words of hope and love from God that we yearned for. They seemed so negative.
Christians believe that the Bible is the true word of God which remains permanently valid. Even though the Ten Commandments were given by God in a time and place very different from our own, we believe they still are true and valuable for us too. When a young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit everlasting life Jesus said: “Keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). Jesus also taught that all the commandments are summed up in two: Loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength and loving one’s neighbor as oneself (confer Mark 12:25-31) – but he did not negate the original Ten Commandments; he presumed their observance.
Jesus did teach a new commandment. He commanded us to love as he loved: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
The Ten Commandments are always valid because they are the word of God. If we love God with our whole heart, and our neighbor as ourselves we will fulfill all the Ten Commandments. The challenge for Christians is even to go further, that is, to love as Jesus loved – intensely, completely, willing to go to his death for us. As Jesus said there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s live for one’s friends (confer John 15:13).
Does your understanding of loving God and neighbor include the Ten Commandments?
June 21: A PIECE OF WISDOM: We are important to God
Those of us who read the Bible have learned to appreciate the marvelous power of God in causing famous people to be born so that God could work through them with the gifts He gave them. We are told, for example that the prophet Isaiah was able to confidently say: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb He gave me my name.” Isaiah was also confident that God had given him special gifts: “He made me a sharp-edged sword....a polished arrow....you are my servant, he said to me.” (Isaiah 49:1). St. Paul states how “God raised up David as king” a man after God’s own heart, one who would fulfill God’s every wish (Acts 13:22). God too raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10), as well as John the Baptist who had “the hand of God upon him” (Luke 1:66). Jesus himself is announced as the “Son of the Most High,” whose “kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:33).
As we consider these great biblical persons, who are we in comparison?
But sections of the Bible are also very clear that God brought us forth too. God has a role for us and has given us special gifts. Psalm 139:13 declares: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God guides us: “If I fly with the wings of dawn (to try to hide from God)...even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:9). We are told in Ephesians 1:3-4 that believers in Jesus have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he (God) chose us in him (Christ), before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him.” In being chosen, we have been “destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11).
Paul adds that we are no shrinking violets in comparison with others God has chosen: “So then, you are no longer strangers or sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God...” (Ephesians 2:19). To each of us has been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit for some benefit to others (confer 1 Corinthians 12:7).
Yes, John the Baptist was very special to God and had something special to offer. But we too are important to God and have some unique gifts to offer others.
Do you feel you are important to God?
June 18: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The value of the negative commandments
Eight of the Ten Commandments given us in the Bible are expressed in a negative way: “you shall not” (Exodus 20:1-17). This often leads us to ignore them because we feel we need positive ideas from God on how to improve our lives. Wouldn’t we rather hear “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:28) than “you shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13)?
But negative commands are very easily understood like the sign “don’t walk on the grass” says or the words “you’d better not lift your hand to me” proves. They also tell us that its violation will put us in trouble with the one who utters it and assures us that if we do not pay attention to it, we will suffer for it.
When construction crews unearth broken water pipes they are required by law to place a barrier around the area to protect others from the dangers of an open pit. The sign says: “Do not enter.” It alerts us that those who do enter do so at their own peril.
The “you shall not” of the Ten Commandments are like fences God has placed around the pits of immorality that only bring suffering if we ignore them. They actually help us to lead a better life in relationship with God, with others, and with the common good of humanity if we do what they say. Negative, yes, but helpful like a parent who tells her child to stay away from the open flame on the stove.
Do you reject the negative commandments as being unhelpful?
June 14: A PIECE OF WISDOM: God, our soil
Many of us struggle to understand God, to get a feel and an awareness of God. It often feels like God doesn’t even exist anywhere near our human lives. God seems absent most of the time.
Jesus told a parable about a farmer who scattered seeds, day after day doing nothing else to the seeds. “Through it all, the seed sprouts and grows without his knowing how it happens. The soil produces of itself first the blade, then the ear, finally the ripe wheat in the ear.” (Mark 4:28) What causes the seed to grow and change is the soil. The seed, having no ability to be aware, doesn’t even realize that the soil is changing it, producing something quite marvelous.
I think that this is the way our God is. We are buried in God like a seed is buried in the soil. God is working on us without our even being aware of it, trying to produce something uniquely special and marvelous. In another way, I think this is what St. Paul means when he says that we who have been baptized were buried with Jesus into death so that we might rise with Christ in newness of life (confer Romans 6:3).
God surrounds us with His loving care like a seed is surrounded by the soil, or like the water surrounded us who were baptized, or even like air surrounds us when we breathe. While we are not even aware of it, God is constantly working on us to produce life, giving us something ripe and marvelous.
If God feels far away can you still see how He is near?
June 11: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Sin forgiven
There are many examples in the Bible about God’s desire and willingness to forgive sin. Psalm 32:5 says: “I confessed my faults to the Lord and you took away the guilt of my sin.” When the paralyzed man was dropped down in front of him by friends who had torn open the roof, Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven,” ( Mark 2:1-8) the same words he spoke to the sinful woman (Luke 7:48).
When God forgives sin, it doesn’t mean that God hangs onto it like a personal hurt, so that is always bothering Him. We are told in the Bible that God does everything possible to forget about it. Psalm 51 tells us that God “blots out” my sin so that it disappears; God washes me making me whiter than snow; God turns away His face from my sins so that He no longer sees them; God creates a clean heart in me so that I am now really different in His eyes. Psalm 103 proclaims: “as far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us”. Isaiah 38:17 relates how King Hezekiah uttered a thanksgiving prayer to God saying: “You have preserved my life from the pit of destruction when you cast behind your back all my sins.” “Their sins and evil doing I will remember no more” says God in Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 10:17.
Of course, to receive this forgiveness, one must be willing to honestly confess “against you alone have I sinned, I have done such evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:6) and reach out to Jesus as our Savior, “...the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36).
These Bible readings help us to remember that our sins are no longer even in God’s mind once we confess them wholeheartedly to Him. That sin simply goes out of existence like it never happened. Thus the way to inner peace.
Do you let your sin hang on in your mind or do you let it disappear like God does?
June 7: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Our life-giving God
I never will have the privilege of being a nursing mother. I know that my thoughts about a mother’s ability to give birth and to nurse her child need to be tempered by the uncomfortableness of pregnancy, the labor of childbirth and the tiring inconvenience of nursing a baby in the middle of the night. Yet, to me, birthing and sustaining life through the nourishment of a mother’s milk are marvels worth contemplating.
As Catholics gather on this Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord. We open ourselves to a life-giving and a life-sustaining God who gave us life, wants to live with us now and who promises to be with us into eternity. We try to experience once again what Jesus meant when he said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life...” (John 6:54) And “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” (John 6:56)
Mothers giving birth and nursing a child to sustain its life and to grow into its potential help me to understand a little more what Jesus was talking about.
Do you believe that Jesus can give you life now, and eternal life in the future?
June 4: A PIECE OF WISDOM: It’s Amazing What The Lord Can Do!
It’s Amazing What The Lord Can Do is the title of a new book written by Willy Thorn that captures the spirit of Brother Booker Ashe, OFMCap, the founder of the House of Peace. It was a Gospel tune that Brother Booker often hummed and belted out as he labored for the poor through the House of Peace. He himself experienced how God did amazing things during the 27 years he guided the mission of the House of Peace.
In his own words he describes how he grew up being misinformed about the type of poverty that existed in the poorest communities. But this man, at the age of 36, founded the House of Peace. He became a righteous black American, an eloquent preacher, a world-class humanitarian, a voice for the less fortunate, a powerful voice with a soft touch for people in need. He must have been amazed at how the Lord directed him.
When the first buildings for the House of Peace needed to be demolished because of the widening of the street, Brother Booker found another set of buildings across the street to established his ministry to the poor. Ten years later these buildings were engulfed in a fire that almost destroyed everything, but he was able to continue the services to the poor and enough money can rolling in to build an extension. A year later, when a truck, trying to avoid an accident, plowed into the building, tearing through the chapel and into offices, many people of good will enquired how they could help to rebuild.
Brother Booker was also amazed at how others flocked around him with their time and energy to help him serve those in the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee: donors, volunteers, youth, business people, corporate executives, politicians, community leaders, Catholic parishes and schools, board members of every kind. No wonder he loved that gospel tune!
As you look back on your life, aren’t you too amazed at what the Lord can do?
May 31: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Knowing Three Persons
Most of us have a couple of people in our life whom we really know through and through: a spouse, a life-long friend, one of our children. Most of the people in our life we only know peripherally We may know a lot about them (e.g. she is a Green Bay Packer fans, he likes to cook, etc.), but we would have to say we really don’t know what is going on in the depths of their hearts.
When we are told by the ancients of our faith that God is really three Persons but still one God we cannot help but be stumped. If we have a hard time understanding just one human person how are we to understand three Divine Persons who remain one God? Not much progress has been made in our understanding of this since the early Greek theologians gave us the Greek word that images the Trinity as Persons in deep communion with each other. The three Persons in God seem to circle around each other (the translation of perichoresis) as if they were joyfully dancing with each other. Each is equal to the others, each has influence on the others, each loves the others They only differ from one another in what they do for us. While dancing they look out at us, together loving us and inviting us to join in their dance.
We can know somewhat what it is to be like them when we are in a relational dance with another in love. When we move with the timing of the music with our loved one, we can easily get lost in the joy of the moment. That’s what God is like in the depths of the Trinity.
So, our one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To attempt to draw close to each of them and dance with them is the task of all who follow Jesus, something we do only in a stumbling fashion in this lifetime. Yet, in eternity to deeply know them in some ways as they know each other and to dance with them will be our greatest joy.
What’s it like for you to deeply know another and and lovingly dance with them?
May 28: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Loving Service
The mission statement of the House of Peace states that its ministry is based on Gospel values. If we would actually search the four Gospels we would find a multitude of values expressed there, a few of them being: sacrifice, compassion, dedication, obedience, care for the poor, need for prayer, charity or love, kindness, and lack of judgement. I think that the Gospel value most noticeable at the House of Peace is service. Jesus tells us that he, as the Son of Man, came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). Indeed, the mission statement says that the “House of Peace serves the community.”
Service begins when a guest (we try to see them as our guests rather than our clients) rings the doorbell and our receptionist/secretary greets them with “how can I help you”. Depending on their response, she then informs them about how they can receive grocery food or used clothing once a month, medical or legal help, take some free bread home, talk to a social worker, speak to a priest, or pray in our chapel. Usually a guest will have to wait a few moments to be served and so is directed to be seated in the lounge area. Staff members who walk through the lounge area will often greet the guests and have a small conversation with them. A staff member from the food pantry or the clothing center will call the names of the guests and explain what is available for them. Soon the guests leave with the provisions they came for, and often a staff member will hold the door open for them or help them carry what they received to their cars.
Service expressed in a loving way can be easily seen at the House of Peace because the staff members want to have that value in their own lives. Often that is what strengthens them to keep on going.
What Gospel value keeps you going and how is it seen by others who observe your life?
May 25: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Gifts shared for the common good
The ministry of the House of Peace is overseen and guided by a ministry council. These are women and men from different occupations, experiences, talents who advise the staff of the House of Peace how to stay focused or expand on the ministry of assisting families to remain together and to promote self-sufficiency.
They are a judge, an accountant, a lawyer, a teacher of ethics, a social worker, a nurse, two Capuchins, and an executive. Each of them is very busy in their profession and family life, yet each tries to share their abilities and talents for the sake of others through the ministry of the House of Peace. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that each of the gifts and talents we have been given are not meant for our own self-enjoyment alone. “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (12:7).
It’s my belief that every Christian should be able to point to one service that he/she is doing for the sake of others if one is physically and mentally able. Otherwise how are they following the footsteps of Christ who came to serve, not to be served (Matt 20:28)? The opportunities to volunteer one’s services are endless. Some newspapers even publish notices for opportunities for “helping hands.” Sometimes we are given the opportunity to share our gifts when we are asked to join in already established efforts or asked by an individual to help out regularly.
Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund which advocates for poor and minority children and those with disabilities, writes: “Service is the rent we pay for being, it is the very purpose of life and not something we do in our spare time.”
Whom do you admire who is serving others, and in what way are you sharing your talents for the good of others?
May 21: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Giving money to a beggar
This morning when I went to Mass I saw a man walking toward me who was dressed in an unusual way – knee high rubber boots, a denim skirt (!) over his pants and a floppy cap, carrying a plastic bag full of cans. I recognized him right away as being a street person. I didn’t want to ignore him, so I established eye contact and said “good morning.” He stopped, looked a bit to the side, and asked if I would be interested in helping a homeless person. I asked if he was homeless, and he said he was. He showed me his bag full of cans and said that he was trying to earn some money by collecting and selling the aluminum cans. He also said he needed some money for food and to pay a cabdriver when looking for a job.
I’ve lived most of my life or spent a lot of time in the heart of larger cities so that having a person ask for help is not an unusual experience for me. I’ve struggled endlessly with how to respond in a way that is not only helpful to the person asking but also as a response based on the teachings of Jesus. I have in the past outrightly refused to give money since I have heard from professionals that people only use the money received for alcohol or drugs, and donating to them delays their need to enter a program for sobriety. I’ve also tried being straightforwardly honest by saying that I don’t give money to strangers; rather I give money to established charities who help the poor and homeless.
But recently I’ve decided that it is not my business to judge whether or not the person asking for money is truly in need, is an alcoholic, or is simply too lazy to find a job. I feel that anyone asking for help should receive something from me because I think that Jesus would do it that way. In my billfold I now have a special place where I store $2.00 and I give it immediately to a person asking for help.
That’s what I did this morning. When he asked if I happened to have a city bus ticket so that he could travel to apply for a job I gave one to him. (I happened to have the bus ticket in case I needed to get a ride home after one of my longer walks.) Others tell me that they never hand out money, but they will offer to go to a restaurant with the individual and buy him or her a sandwich. I’m still not completely happy with my response, but I feel compelled to do something.
What would you do if a person asked you for monetary help?
May 17: A PIECE OF WISDOM: God dwells in people of faith
In 1961 when the first Russian cosmonaut returned from space he declared that he had not seen God during the trip even though he had gone quite high into the heavens. Fr. John Shea just happened to be visiting his grandfather at the time, and his grandfather wasn?t going to let this communist tell him that God wasn?t there. He replied: ?the son of a gun just didn?t go high enough!?
Many people think of God as being ?up there? in the heavens. Some people speak of God as ?the man upstairs.? There are many references even in Scripture about God living in the heavens. We know, of course, that God is everywhere. We have been told by New Testament writers that God dwells in the hearts of those who love.
We are also told that God dwells in the hearts of believers: ?When anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God? says St. John (1 Jn 4:15). We may have been blessed to hear people say to us to ?trust in God? when things got difficult for us; we may have heard people say ?I?ll be praying for you.? At the House of Peace we often hear people say: ?Thank you, Jesus?, when they receive groceries for their families. Certainly when we go to church we see people expressing their faith in Jesus: singing, praying, kneeling, making the sign of the cross, holding hands as they pray the Our Father, humbly receiving Communion. All of these people are the dwelling place of God.
What person of faith best demonstrates the dwelling place of God for you?
May 14-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Saying the positive truth
Recently I expressed the idea that the birth of Jesus at the stable in Bethlehem, as it is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, was really a miserable situation for Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Joseph and very-pregnant Mary had to travel over 80 miles to get to Bethlehem from Nazareth because of the decree of the authorities that every male had to return to his town (for Joseph, it was Bethlehem, the town of David) to be counted there. Now, far away from their bedroom, their home, parents and other relatives, even away from a midwife, Mary gave birth to Jesus with only the assistance of Joseph. They found themselves in a barn-like structure with the smells of animal urine and manure. All they had to give Jesus comfort in the manger and Mary and Joseph some bedding on which to sleep was straw. If the birth took place in mid-December they also had to find ways to stay warm (the animals probably didn’t provide much) when the temperatures dropped to near freezing at night. This, indeed, was a reality far different than the ones pictured in our Christmas cards. This was a miserable place in which to give birth. A person who heard me speak this way responded: “Wow, I never imagined the nativity scene that way. It gives me a whole new way of thinking about it. Thank you!”
While she benefitted from a whole new insight into the Christmas scene, I benefitted from her exuberant positive comment I presume she was telling her own truth, and it really felt good to be told this so positively.
It made me recall all the times that I have expressed my opinion in a negative fashion or been politely silent when someone expressed an idea that was new to me. We certainly live in a political climate where most of the talking is a negative reaction to the ideas of others. I wonder what it would do to a child (or even an adult) if a significant person would simply say: “You are exactly what God had in mind when God created you.” If we would stifle our critical tongue (obviously no one is perfect nor is their opinion) and speak the truth positively rather than negatively, we would not only help another but also begin to see the world more positively ourselves.
How does it feel to have someone tell you the positive truth about yourself?
May 10-A PIECE OF WISDOM: God looks like love; love looks like God
Recently a friend who was seeing my sister and me together for the first time said: "I see now how you look like brother and sister." She had noticed the similar shapes of our noses, chins and shoulders. If she had seen a picture of our deceased parents, she would have seen how all of these features came from them. Children often have a close resemblance to their parents.
We are told in the First Letter of John (4: 7) that "God is love". Love is God's essence, it's what is constantly in God's heart. God can't do anything except to do it as an act of love. It's why God gave us the Divine Son in the flesh of Jesus.
Everyone who has a lot of active love in his/her life is deeply associated with God since "everyone who loves is begotten by God and has knowledge of God." (1 John 4:8) What does God look like? God looks like love or like Jesus who laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Loving human beings look like God.
Signs of God (love) are everywhere: couples holding hands, parents cradling a sleeping child, someone making a phone call to a sick friend, a donor offering a small check for the work of the House of Peace, and a staff member of the House of Peace saying "Can I help you?" to a guest who just walked in the door.
In whom have you recently seen love (God)?
May 7-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Growing spiritually by working
Most of us would say that if you want to get closer to God you should do so by religious practices like prayer, bible reading, and worshiping on Sunday. That's true. But there are other ways of growing in God's likeness. Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical entitled On Human Work. He surprised us by writing that people can come closer to God through work.
He recalls that God was a worker in creating the world, that God works continuously to keep the world in existence, and that God remains a worker by laboring within each of us to save us. God never stops working. If God did, then we would all simply disappear and we would have no way to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Pope John Paul II says because all humans work they have a natural avenue to become more God-like. God has also given us an ability to be creative like God. The Pope John Paul II says: "Man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the creator...and perfects it as he advances further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole creation." We can't create something out of nothing like God did, but we can improve things, making a chair out of the lumber from a tree, taking cotton threads and creating them into a shirt, taking beef and making it into a hamburger. We become like the creating and re-creating God when we work, especially if we think about it!
Does your work lead you more closely to God?
May 3-A PIECE OF WISDOM: God?s pruning
In the Gospel of John there are references to the need to prune the vines: ?I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower. He prunes away every barren branch but the fruitful ones he trims clean to increase their yield.? (Jn 15: 1) On many occasions I thought that?s God pruning in my life was painful: an illness, a painful loss, a failure. It made me wonder if God is responsible for the pain in my life so that I might grow spiritually and live with more faith.
Now I think about the pruning like I think about getting a haircut. Every month I need to have my hair trimmed. It?s not a painful process at all. Sometimes I actually enjoy the feel of the barber working a comb through my hair as it is being trimmed. The barber is shaping the hair to my head and making me look even more handsome than I would with longer hair!
When God prunes me, God is doing me a favor. Painful situations will be in my life, but these are not God?s doing. They?re the result of living in a human world where bad things happen. God?s prunings are really acts whereby I learn new truths that are much better for me and I am able to let the old ones drop away. God?s prunings enable me to overcome my dislike of certain persons by seeing their good qualities. God?s pruning happens when new strength is given to me to overcome a faulty habit. God prunes to give new growth, not to inflict pain.
I?ll never stop needing a hair cut. Nor will I ever stop needing God?s pruning. Thanks be to God!
How do you experience God?s pruning?
April 30-A PIECE OF WISDOM: The high cost of unemployment
In 1986 the Bishops of the United States wrote a pastoral letter entitled Economic Justice For All in which they shared their understanding of the harm done by long-term unemployment. Their words of 36 years ago can help us to empathize today with those 9% of the population who are unemployed:
“It is a deep conviction of American culture that work is central to the freedom and well-being of people. The unemployed often come to feel that they are worthless and without a productive role in society. Each day they are unemployed our society tells them: We don’t need your talent. We don’t need your initiative. We don’t need you. Unemployment takes a terrible toll on the health and stability of both individuals and families. It gives rise to family quarrels, greater consumption of alcohol, child abuse, spouse abuse, divorce, and higher rates of infant mortality. People who are unemployed often feel that society blames them for being unemployed. Very few people survive long periods of unemployment without some psychological damage even if they have sufficient funds to meet their needs.”
The unemployed do not pay taxes, and the government must pay for more assistance. They continue: “The costs to society are also evident in the rise in crime associated with joblessness. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that increases in unemployment have been followed by increases in the prison population. Other studies have shown links between the rate of joblessness and the frequency of homicides, robberies, larcenies, narcotics arrests, and youth crimes.”
CBS News told the story of a man from Ohio who had just been rehired to a job similar to what he had two years previously before he was laid off. But for this similar job he was now being paid $8.00 an hour less. In the two years without a job he lived off unemployment, but he lost his home to foreclosure, his wife divorced him, and he lived in a cheap hotel room. On his first day of work he reported that the lose of the amount of wages for similar work was not bothering him because now he had his dignity back.
How has unemployment affected the people you know and our society in general?
April 26-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Jesus is like...
A common image in the New Testament of Jesus and his role in our lives is that of a shepherd who knows each sheep by name, who is willing to risk his life against wolves that might attack the sheep, and who will search for the lost sheep and carry it home on his shoulders That may have been a powerful image to our ancestors in the faith, but it is not too helpful to us.
Other images of Jesus might be more suitable for us today. Jesus is like:
-the Franciscan priest, Mychal Judge, chaplain of the New York city fire department, who died in the 9/11 World Center collapse as he ministered to a fallen firefighter;
-June, a parish visitor to a skilled care center, who hands out the mail to the patients and who writes letters to patients who don’t receive mail;
- Josephine, Dennis and Bob who stand beside the bed of their father and husband, to assure him that he is loved and cared about as he approaches death;
-Paula who leads her Brownie girl scout troop around the parish property and demonstrates how to have concern for other peoples’ property by picking up the garbage strewn around;
-the married couple who decided that they didn’t need anything from each other for Christmas but donated the money they would have spent to the ministry of the House of Peace.
We seldom see sheep or shepherds today, but images of Jesus, images of goodness and generosity are all around us. I read recently that a loving person is the shape of God’s heart.
What image would you use today to say Jesus is like...?
April 23-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Love lights up the sky
At the House of Peace we are blessed with many volunteers who come to help. Each has his or her own reason: just because...
...I have the time.
...I want to give back.
...I want to show my children who come with me that it is good to give.
...I wanted to do something for others that my husband and I can do together.
...A Capuchin who worked here helped me out many years ago.
...after finishing my community service obligation I decided to continue since I admire the folks who work here.
The poet Hafiz writes: “Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth: ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.” For me, volunteers are people who light up the sky.
Who lights up the sky for you?
A PIECE OF WISDOM: Jesus, our Inside Man
In my family my father assumed the role of disciplinarian. Whenever I was in trouble, I often first told my mother of my dilemma, hoping that she would quickly and compassionately deal with me without telling my dad or at least talk to my father about what I did before I had to. We all take some consolation in knowing other people who have influence who can help when we are in difficulty: my son (a doctor), my daughter (a lawyer), my friend (a policeman), my cousin (an auto mechanic) or even a kind priest (“my personal priest” as others have called me) We frequently need a strong person to stand by our side.
There are images in the Gospels that tell us that Jesus will be our judge as is described in Matthew 25:31-40 when the Son of Man will judge all the nations. But in his first letter, John says that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.” (1 John 2:1) In heaven, Jesus stands before the Father interceding for us, reminding the Father that “He is an expiation for our sins, but not for our sins only, but for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
Indeed, Jesus is our inside man in the Trinity. He doesn’t need to have a lot of influence on the Father because it was the Father who sent him on his mission for us. But, it is good to know that Jesus is there – for us.
Do you believe Jesus is interceding for you all the time?
April 16-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Dwelling in gladness
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a plaque on his desk which read: “Let unconquerable gladness dwell.” One wouldn’t think that a serious politician who had to face the Great Depression and the gathering European storm of the Second World War would ever be able to keep up his spirit of gladness. Probably he had moments of depression over his health problems and his political enemies, but he may have helped himself through it all by attempting to be glad about all the good that was happening.
We all have dark times. But we need to recall simply how good it is to be alive, to have friends and family who love us, to have a roof over our heads, food on the table and money in our pockets. One spiritual director used to say: “God created us because he thought we would enjoy it.”
Is there some gladness that you can dwell in today?
April 12-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Simply showing up
Woody Allen, movie actor and director, has said “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
When Jesus appeared to the apostles the first time after his resurrection, Thomas wasn’t there. We don’t know with what he was occupied, but whatever it was it caused him to miss the greeting of peace from Jesus, the sight of his crucified hands, feet and side, as well as his gift of forgiving other peoples’ sin. When Thomas finally showed up and heard what he missed he express his complete disbelief even though they kept telling him “We have seen the Lord.” (John 20:25)
A week later, when Thomas was in the upper room with the other apostles, Jesus came again. And because Thomas showed up this time, he was granted a special conversation with Jesus, was given an opportunity to examine the hands, feet and side of Jesus, and heard Jesus invite him: “do not be unbelieving, but believe!” Finally Thomas said: “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:27-28)
So many people choose not to show up for a church celebration, whether it be on a Sunday, a funeral, a wedding, or an adult faith education event. Is it any wonder that they missed a graced opportunity – not every time, of course -- but eventually an experience that could really change their lives? We may prefer to do something else when we have an opportunity to be good to someone else – but is it any wonder that we remain self-centered?
Have you ever experienced success in some way or other just because you showed up?
April 9-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Rose petals on our heads
A young missionary priest intended to visit a distant village to offer Mass since the Eucharist had not been available there for a long time. The people of the village earned their living by harvesting flowers and carrying them to a city for sale. But he was worried about how well he would do because he had only an elementary grasp of their language. Luckily, he knew that a lay catechist from the area would preach. He left the rectory in a rush and climbed onto the back of a pick-up truck that the villagers provided. In the middle of the trip he examined his suitcase. He panicked as he realized he had the chalice, bread and wine, but had forgotten the Mass book and its prayers.
After he arrived at the village and the people had gathered, he decided he must pray the Mass without the proper book, and try to translate the English version into their language as he went along.
When Mass was over it was hard for him to imagine how it could have gone worse. He felt spent and humiliated.
As he was about to climb back on the truck to leave, an old man came up to him and seemed to say (although the priest wasn’t sure) “thanks for coming.” Then he reached into his pockets to bring out two fistfuls of rose petals. He indicated to the priest to bow his head as the old man dribbled rose petals over the priest’s head. He did it again and again as if he had an infinite supply. Tears came to the priest’s eyes as the aroma of rose petals engulfed him.
When we feel inadequate, wrong or sinful God is like the old man pouring rose petals on our heads. God doesn’t seem to know what we are talking about when we express the disappointment in ourselves. God is simply joyful that we are.
Do you rejoice that you are?
April 2-A PIECE OF WISDOM: The slow work of God
Scientists inform us that the universe began over 13 billion years ago bringing with it time, space, matter and energy. Our sun was born 5 billion years ago, and our earth 4.6 billion years ago along with our solar system. Primitive animals took shape 700 million years ago, and we, known as homo sapiens, began roaming the earth 600,000 years ago.
During all this time, God was beholding the universe and smiling at what the Divine Power had begun. The best guess that scientists have is that this universe will continue for 100 trillion years before it will begin to disintegrate.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest, a biologist, a paleontologist and a philosopher. He wrote a poem named “The slow work of God.” that came from his reflections on scientific data like the above:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of
instability that may take a very long time.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing his hand is leading you
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense
Above all, trust in the slow work of God....
Do you, too, have trouble trusting in the slow work of God?
April 5-A PIECE OF WISDOM: God fixes death and sin
In one of our old Capuchin friaries a shower began to leak and was unusable. A plumber was hired, he tinkered with it for awhile and was absent for week on another job. Then he came back, worked for awhile, and again was absent. Finally, after a month, he finished the job by laying the tile, announcing that we could use it again. But it continued to leak and it took another nine months for someone to fix it.
The human race has yearned for someone to fix what is most bothersome to us: death and sin. Since the beginning of time both have stalked humans. Death rips loved ones from us and sin makes us fear the judgement of God upon us.
On Easter we celebrate that Jesus Christ conquered both sin and death. While death still awaits us all, it is only a temporary setback. Jesus entered into death and conquered its power. After death, new life awaits us. While examples of sin still remain in our lives, we no longer have to fear the judgement of God for our sin if we attempt to repent since Jesus died for our sins. St. Peter says: “Everyone who believes in him has the forgiveness of sin through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
At Easter, do you rejoice that Jesus has fixed both death and sin?
March 29-A PIECE OF WISDOM: The best and the worst in people
Sometimes it helps to see myself in the roles that others have played in the past, as one can easily do in the Gospel of Mark which give us an account of the passion of Jesus.
Mark tells us about the people who welcomed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem with “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord...Hosanna in the highest!” But he also tells us about others who shouted “Crucify him!” He describes the actions of a woman who poured oil over the head of Jesus as he reclined at table, but also the actions of Judas, one of the Twelve, who looked for an opportunity to betray him. Peter, who ate the last Supper with Jesus is the same Peter who fell asleep in the Garden while Jesus was praying and who denied him three times. There is a nameless young man who was following Jesus at least to the garden, but who then ran off naked as the crowd armed with swords and clubs came to arrest Jesus. Many in the crowds did not want to release Jesus who simply stated that he was “the Christ, the son of the Blessed One” but these same people freed Barabbas, a prisioner who had commited murder. Soldiers crowned Jesus with thorns, spat on him and got him ready for the cross, but Simon who just happned to be walking by helped Jesus to carry his cross to Calvary. Roman soldiers crucified him, but one of them confessed: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” The crowds left as Jesus was dying, but the faithful women who had previously ministered to him stayed close by.
One of the ways of reading the Bible and meditating on the Word is to consider how I am like the characters on display there. Each of the persons in Mark’s Gospel is a little like me, and I am a little like them. I do both good and bad things. When I do the good thing, I hope Jesus says of me as he did of the woman who anointed him “She has done a good thing to me.” And when I do things that deny I even know Jesus, I hope I will be like Peter who “...broke down and wept.”
Who do you identify with in Mark’s passion account?
March 26-A PIECE OF WISDOM: God’s disapproval
Gregory Boyle, SJ was visiting a young man in prison who was telling him about his family life – about his father who never was around much, and his mother who visited him regularly in prison. The man said: “You know how many buses she takes to get here? She takes....seven...buses. Imagine.” And he began to cry. His mother never approved of the crimes he commited, but that didn’t stop her from loving him and visiting him in prison.
Fr. Boyle says in his book Tatoos on the Heart that because we have an over-active disapproval gland we imagine that God must have one too, and that God must show disapproval like we do. But God is much bigger than our image of God. We may think that God shows disapproval when bad things happen to us, but I too believe that disapproval is not in God’s DNA. God is too busy loving us to have any time left for disapproval. God is like a mother who takes 7 buses just to be with us.
Do you think God disapproves of you?
March 22-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Doing what we dislike
There is an odd passage in the Gospel of John where”some Greeks...came to Philip and asked him, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus’.” Philip told Andrew of this request and both of them went to tell Jesus. The reply of Jesus was not: “Sure, bring them over to me,” or, “No I don’t have time for them now.” Rather, it is recorded that Jesus starts talking about the grain of wheat that must fall into the ground and die before it produces much fruit. Further, he talked about losing his life in order to preserve it, and following him if a person wants to be honored by God.
It seems that Jesus was forcasting that if anyone ones to really see him, know him, or understand him, he will taking on a load of trouble (dieing, losing life, following him on the rough road).
There are some things that I dislike, watching horror movies for example, that I choose to avoid. There are some things that I disliked, like all the time I spent opening and locking doors as a pastor of a parish, or filling out endless forms for the diocese, that I simply accepted as part of my job. There are other times when I did things I disliked because I loved, like visiting my Mother in a nursing home knowing she may sleep the whole time I was there, or changing a baby’s diaper, or shoveling the snow from the sidewalks of our family home.
Jesus seemed to know that he was soon going to be faced with the his biggest problem, his death (his “hour” as John called it), and he began to share some of his own thoughts on why he will do the one thing he most disliked: so that fruit (forgiveness of sins) could be produced, so that he could actually preserve his life (resurrection). And he hinted that anyone who wanted to “see” him really had to follow in his footsteps of doing what he/she greatly disliked because of love as well.
I wonder if financial donors to charities like the House of Peace had to face something they disliked like regularly sending in money that the previously would have used for a legitimate recreation but decided to do it anyway because they loved God or the poor more than recreation.
What are some of the things you dislike that you do anyway for those you love?
March 19-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Surprise birthday planners and God
There was a priest who learned that a group of parishioners were playing a surprise birthday party for him. He told someone that he knew about the party and wondered if he should just let the planers know that he knew so they would not have to go through all the work of keeping it a surprise. But the person told him, “Look, the party’s not for you, it’s for them.” So, he continued the charade, and as he stepped into the room where the party was supposed to be hidden, he mustered up an award-willing shock, as everyone applauded, yelled, and began singing the happy birthday song. He was glad that he did because he learned that the people did not just love him, it was their joy to love him.
Most of us can acknowledge that God loves us. But we are not always sure that the “us” includes ourselves. The arms of God are fully extended to embrace the world, but we sometimes feel that we rest just beyond the reach of God’s fingertips.
At times like these we need to hear others tell us: Look, God not only loves you, God will surprise you with love. It is God’s joy to love you.
Has God surprised you recently with love?
March 15-A PIECE OF WISDOM: John 3:16
This has got to be the most well known verse in Sacred Scripture. I’ve seen John 3:16 on a sign many times being held up for the TV cameras to notice when some sports action is nearby and then folded away. I’ve seen it lettered on the back of trucks. I’ve seen it as a license plate. Of course, it is highlighted on many church signs advertizing the topic of the sermon. “God so loved the world that He gave his ony Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
It’s a great reminder for us Americans because we take pride in earning our own way, climbing the ladder of success, getting further ahead than our parents did, pointing out to others how our living in a nice home at a prestigious zip code, even arriving at stardom by writing a blog(!) was all our own doing. While we can rightly rejoice in our successes, John reminds us that we can’t take any pride in earning our own salvation.
Sometimes it can be easier for those who are poor or who have had some bad breaks in life to acknowledge the truth of John 3:16. They have no illusions that they have earned salvation. Like they needed help to get by in so many other ways they know that it was only God who could make it possible for eternal life to be received by faith. God thought it was a good idea to send His Son into our world to save it, we didn’t. All is gift.
When was the last time you gave thanks to God for his gift of salvation and eternal life?
March 12-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Taking time with God
My favorite cook book, entitled Anybody Can Cook, answers a lot of elimentary questions, such as “What does it mean to marinate?” It explains: To mariante something means to place it in an acidic liquid such as vinegar, wine, or citrus juice, oil and flavorings such as garlic, seasoning and fresh herbs. It infuses it with flavor and tenderizes it too. Less tender cuts of meat need more time in the marinade.
While certain types of cooking can be done in a flash (think microwaving), solid foods take a good deal of time, While a person can be converted to God in a flash (think of being born-again) it usually takes a long time to let God and God’s ways soak in. We need to marinate in God by regular reading of Sacred Scripture for years, long walks in nature, worshiping regularly with a community of faith (going to only Church at Christmas and Easter will keep us tough Christians), talking to God daily, inviting others to help us follow in the footsteps of the Lord.
Knowing and loving God takes time!
How do you marinate in God?
March 8- A PIECE OF WISDOM: The anger of Jesus
My predominate image of Jesus is one of compassion, safety, care, love, and forgiveness. I don’t have much room for the anger of Jesus that is shown in the Gospel of John when he goes into the Jewish Temple and cleans out with a whip all the buyers and sellers. Scholars tell us that money changers were in the front rooms of the temple. Every Jew, every year, was required to visit the Temple and to pay a tax of about two days pay. But since Jews came from every land, their coinage was Roman, Greek, Egyptian, etc. However the temple tax could only be paid in schekles, the Jewish money. It cost the foreign Jew a price to change their money into schekles, and thus the money changers had a profitable business. But it was particularly hard on the poor.
Also, when a Jew came to the temple, they would normally offer a sacrifice of an ox, sheep, or dove as a deep act of worship. The Jew could bring his/her own animal or purchase one at a market near the temple. But each animal brought for sacrifice had to be inspected by the temple priests to make sure it was unblemished. If a blemish was found, then the priests were happy to sell an unblishmed animal for a high price. Besides these acts of extortion, a high degree of noise rose up from the bellowing of oxen, bleeting of sheet, cooing of doves and the haggling by the money changers. Who could really pray there? So, Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove all of them out.
As we mentally see Jesus storming through the temple we might applaud him. Today, if he stormed into abortion clinics, ponography studios, corrupt business offices, places of child abuse, we would probably cheer: right on, Jesus!
But if Jesus turned his steely eyes on me I wonder what he would want to clear out of me who also is a temple of the living God.
Do you ever wonder if Jesus is disappointed in you?
March 5-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Death and heaven
This is a special week for me. Two years ago my Mother died and we buried her on her 95th birthday. Unique in many ways, the funeral was also a time when we sang “Happy Birthday” to her having recently been birthed into eternal life and we ate a birthday cake as dessert at the funeral luncheon.
Now and then I ask myself what kind of life does she have right now? What’s she doing now? Of course, I don’t know but I do have four musings about her condition right now.
The first is that I will never know what she is doing; it will always be a mystery to me because my human mind is incapable of grasping such a reality as heaven or eternal life. We don’t have the words or concepts. I think it is similar to how our minds were as we were growing in our mother’s womb. Our brain had begun to grow but we had no realization at what was going on. Maybe we began to slowly process noise, sounds, warmth, cold, but not much else. We had no idea of a reality beyond ourselves, nothing about what a mother was, or what life would be like when we were told to leave this warm space. So, I doubt whether we will ever be able to have the correct thoughts about what life will be like in heaven until we get there ourselves.
My second musing is that life in eternity will really be different because we will be in God, sharing the life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It will be a whole new experience of communion with others to a zillion degrees beyond what we have experienced here on earth. We will still have our individuality, but in heaven it will be so closely united with God and with others in the communion of saints that we will have a whole new experiences of being “us” rather than “me”.
My third thought has to do with joy. I’ve had moments in my life when I was so absorbed in happiness and beauty that I almost forgot who I was and where I was, so infatuated was I by what I was seeing, like when I visited the Grand Canyon. Christian philosophers in the past described God as all-beautiful. In heaven we are going to so absorbed in the joy of being in the presence of the all-beautiful One that time will simply stop for us and that we will forget about who and what we are. Maybe that’s why the Christian Scriptures state a common refrain for those in heaven: Alleluia! Or Praise the Lord! What else is there to say?
Fourthly, is my Mother thinking about me? I doubt it. When she and Dad went square dancing and left me and my sister at home in the care of my older brother, their only thoughts were in enjoying the music, listening to the caller, keeping in step with their fellow dancers. When the dance was over, and they got into the car to drive home, they might have begun thinking of us at home. But, in heaven, it is never over!
What do you think happens to those in heaven?
March 1-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Getting stuck
A Capuchin told this story. He needed to purchase a set of clothes called cover-alls because he had a lot of dirty work to do outside. So, with another friar he went to a large department store, found a pair of cover-alls, took them into a dressing room to try them on over his clothes. He stepped into them, slipped one arm partially into a sleeve and then partially the other one, intending to shrug himself into it. But he found he couldn’t move his arms any further into the sleeves, nor could he get his arms out, covered as they were by his shirt sleeves. All he could do for awhile was dance around in circles, moving his arms this way and that. He was stuck!
All he could do was to yell out to the other Capuchin to come and help him. With a little maneuvering it was quite simple as the friar pulled the cover-all off his arms, allowing his arms to slip out.
We find ourselves in many situations like that – simply stuck in our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, fellow workers, and with God. We can’t seem to make any progress. Lent is the perfect time to cry out to God to help us get unstuck. Stuck as we are, we become open for help, open to God teaching us how life should be lived, how we need to make more room in our life for God’s activity and God’s ways.
What do you do when you get stuck?
February 27-A PIECE OF WISDOM: Getting bad news
Everybody hates getting bad news. In my Capuchin community a friar is appointed to deal with our internal communications mainly through emails, the content of which is often bad news regarding friars or others we know. Just today I received 5 emails sharing difficult information to read: surgery for a friar who has cancer, hospitalization for two brothers of a friar – one needing a quadruple bypass, another who suffered an aneuryism, the wife of an employee who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and is hospitalized for respiratory problems, another employee who has become confused and disorientated from the pain medication she needs to take in her two-year battle with cancer.
My immediate reaction is to say: “Oh, my God....” It’s hardly a conscious prayer, but instinctively I seem to know that nothing but prayer can help them. And so I do my part immediately, but then later as well as I sent a note to their suffering families that I am with them in spirit and in prayer.
"The Straight Story" was a movie that chronicles a trip made by 73 year old Alvin Straight from Laurens, IA, to Mt. Zion, WI., in 1994 while riding a lawn mower. The man undertook his strange journey to mend his relationship with his ill, estranged, 75 year old brother Lyle.
Based on a true story, Alvin Straight was a very old man with a quiet life in a small country town. When his brother became seriously sick, he decided to put away their differences and visit him after many, many years. So, alone, he began a long journey through hundreds of miles, just to see again his brother, even if it's the last thing he will ever do...
Besides leading us to prayer, bad news can motivate us to make things right.
How do you handle bad news?
February 23: A PIECE OF WISDOM: The need to re-focus
Steven Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, writes:
“Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ you ask. ‘Can’t you see?’ comes the impatient reply, ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’ ‘You look exhausted.’ you exclaim. ‘How long have you been at it.’ ‘Over five hours,’ he returns, ‘and I’m beat! This is hard work.’ ‘Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?’ you inquire. ‘I’m sure it would go a whole lot faster.’ ‘I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,’ the man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing!’”
Often we are too busy to even recognize that if we took a moment or two (but we can’t because we are too busy!) to re-evaluate what we are so busy about and how we are doing it we might be able to be more effective, productive, and happy.
This is the value of Lent for me. I try to refocus, to resharpen my saw, to get back to doing things in a few ways I know are much better for me: loving God with regular Bible reading and longer times for prayer; loving my neighbor by donating blood, visiting older relatives; loving myself by cutting back on the amount of food I eat, eliminating the calories from alcohol or beer.
How do you use Lent?
February 20:A PIECE OF WISDOM: Being loved
I like to think that God loves me, but every now and then I need a visible reminder.
When I visited my elderly Mother in a full-care facility she would not have much to converse about, but there were occasions when she would just look at me with those blue-grey eyes for a long time, with a tight grin on her mouth. It unnerved me because I wanted to have a conversation, not just a long glance.
It helped me a lot to read what a Jesuit author, Anthony DeMello, wrote about God loving us: “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.” After Mom died I would often glance at her picture that I have on my bookshelf. She gave me that picture many years before she died. It always was a good picture of her, but now I look at it and say: “There she is again, looking at me and smiling.”
Whose the one who looks at you and smiles?
February 16: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Am I blessed or not?
When I moved to Milwaukee to become the Pastoral Director of the House of Peace I needed to make a choice where I wanted to live as a friar. I had four possibilities choices for a residence. All of them seemed to be satisfactory to me, but St. Francis Friary offered the possibility of a heated garage which no other friary could offer. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but the blessing of a heated garage during cold Wisconsin winters, and better security than having my car parked outside was what tipped the balance towards St. Francis. It’s a blessing that I have immensely enjoyed.
But something more came to me than I had expected. This 102 year old friary is gradually undergoing renovation and I was asked if I wanted my own bathroom which could be provided by knocking a hole in my wall and constructing a bathroom in the large room next to mine. The job is done, and it’s an unexpected blessing.
The Gospel of Mark tells a story of the friends of a paralyzed man who so wanted Jesus to cure him that they carried him on a mat to the home where Jesus was preaching, and, being unable to get near Jesus because of the crowds, carried the man to the roof, tore it open, and dropped down the mat and the paralytic in front of Jesus. Confronted with the need, Jesus immediately acted and said: “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Forgiveness of sins was not what the paralytic or his friends were asking for. But when some in the crowd challenged the right of Jesus to forgive sins, he added another blessing: “Rise, pick up your mat and walk” which the paralytic promptly did. The paralytic was doubly blessed, unexpectedly. He must have joined the crowds who said: “We have not seen anything like this” as he used the blessing of walking away carrying his mat.
People who leave the House of Peace with some groceries in response to the question: “how are you today? say: “I’m blessed” and smile.
Are you blessed? What have you done about it?
February 13: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Hearing the voice of God, again.
Being able to respond to God’s voice because I knew I had the time, talent and resources (plus having ways to handle to presumed difficulties) came into play for me also when I was asked to become the Pastoral Minister of the House of Peace in Milwaukee. At the time I had just completed nearly 20 years of helping to train young men joining the Capuchin Order and had been given a full year to take a sabbatical, a long time for personal study and leisure.
During that sabbatical time it became evident that a friar was needed to fill the role of Director of the House of Peace because the previous Director had completed his six years commitment. Hearing about the opening, I naturally concluded that I didn’t want the job because I no desire, and not much ability, to manage and lead a large operation like the House of Peace.
After no friars responded to the request to fill the position, the provincial leadership decided to change the nature of the position. They decided to hire a lay person to administer the House of Peace and to create a new position of Pastoral Director for the Capuchin. The responsibilities of the Pastoral Director was to help the staff stay focused on Capuchin values inherent in the ministry, relate to the public, guests, volunteers and donors to help all to see that the Capuchins are very much present in this ministry to the poor. Besides all that, it was decided that the Pastoral Director would be only a half-time position.
With the new job description in place, I was asked to consider helping out at the House of Peace as the Pastoral Director. It took only one meeting with the previous Director to know that this was the voice of God addressed to me. I had the talent, the time, and the resources to fulfill the role as Pastoral Director. Plus, it had the added benefit of being only part-time, something I knew I would need as I approached the 70th year of my life.
Has God spoken to you in a similar way recently?
February 9: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Helping outsiders
Like most people, I readily show my willingness to help people I know. Unless they are a constant pain for me, I will try to be available to them and do what I can. But outsiders, strangers, people different from me in race or skin color invite me to go deeper in my charity and to overcome the instinct to ignore them or turn my back.
I can easily see how people in olden days did little for lepers except to run away from them. In the time of Jesus almost until the present day, lepers were forced to live apart from people. The Book of Leviticus gave detailed instructions on how lepers were to be seen as unclean and treated as outsiders. But the Gospel of Mark tells us how Jesus violated all the normal rules and expectation on how to treat lepers. When one came to him, asking to be cured, Jesus touched him (something no one would do since it could lead to contamination) and cured him.
It seems that many of us white people want black people to stay apart in their ghettos. We are quick to notice the tell-tale signs that others are poor: missing teeth, listless faces, street language, the color of their skin. I know that I often have to push myself to relate pleasantly and calmly with them.
I hope and pray that Jesus can give me whatever inner strength that he showed that encouraged the leper to approach him comfortably and which led Jesus to touch a leper compassionately and heal him. But the longer I minister at the House of Peace the more comfortable I have become with people who seem initially to be different from myself. Perhaps I am learning that the differences are minor, that we all lack something, and if we recognize each other as brothers and sisters, differences don’t mean anything negative.
What motivates you to help others who are obviously different from yourself?
February 6: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Hearing the voice of God, again.
While I am no expert when it comes to hearing the voice of God I think it happens to me when someone makes a request of me. It can be a simple as asking me to drive them to the airport, helping them to move a table, or asking me if I can spare some change. If I have the time, talent and resources to respond to what is requested (and can handle some of the negative possibilities or difficulties) then I conclude that this is the voice of God for me. This is really the reason why I decided to write this blog.
Over the past few years our Capuchin community has seen the need to become more involved in the prevalent and popular social media outlets: Face book, Twitter, and Blog of various kinds. We hear that people these days are aching for community, as they always have been, but in new ways made possible by the internet. Our Public Relations Director asked me if I would be willing to write a blog that would be associated with the ministry of the House of Peace. When the request first came, I told her that I would need time to think about it. I had doubts that anyone would want to read what I thought about various topics, and I didn’t think I wanted to feel the obligation of often writing hanging over my head.
But after some conversations with her I began to realize that not only did I have the time to do it, I had talent for simple writing. I also had plenty of resources of topics to write about from my experiences of preparing homilies for liturgies and from topics that I had taught during the my twenty years as one who trained young men newly entering the Capuchin Order. So, there it was – I had the time, talent and resources to respond. I also figured that I could deal with the pressure of writing often if I could create a number of articles ahead of time so that I could let some days and weeks slip by without writing anything if I had to. It also helped me to have the PR director say that if it didn’t look like many readers were following my blog then I could stop it after six months.
Is my experience similar to yours?
February 2: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Being an anonymous disciple of Jesus
Many people, in fact most of them, who change the course of history are anonymous.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision over-turned state sponsored segregation. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.
History has recorded the names of the members of the Supreme Court and the names of the leaders of the civil rights movement that led to this decision such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. But most people who aided the movement remain anonymous, yet each contributed to a changed history.
The name of St. Peter’s mother-in-law remains unknown. In Mark’s Gospel, sick in bed with a fever, she is the first person that Jesus cured. She also is the first woman to become a disciple of Jesus by “serving them”. While these words give us the idea that she served them brunch, she does the same thing that Jesus did in serving food to the hungry multitudes. She was a disciple, although an anonymous one.
Many people who help the poor at the House of Peace are also anonymous disciples. Without a splash they are helping the Reign of God become more real and concrete in our world. Fewer people are hungry, without clothes, without medical help because of their combined efforts. Although nameless to most of us, they are not nameless to Jesus: “What you have done to the last of my brethren you have done to me.” Like most of us I would prefer to be more well-known and not so anonymous. But if Jesus knows my name and sees me as one of his disciples, that is good enough for me.
Do you feel anonymous? How do you help yourself?
January 30: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Hearing the voice of God, again
As I wrote previously, the voice of God is heard when some situation arises that jives with my value system or not and I feel impelled somehow to respond. I think this is what drives people to give money to a charity or volunteer their time to help the cause of the charity. I experience it all the time at the House of Peace.
Many of the supporters of the ministry of the House of Peace are upset that so many people in Milwaukee experience the adverse effects of poverty or joblessness. Their inner value system tells that that this simply isn’t right, that no one should have to go without proper clothing, worry about whether they will have enough food to feed their loved ones, or be without resources when they have medical needs. They feel that especially when they know that four out of ten children in Milwaukee are living in families whose income is below the federal poverty level guidelines. Children should not be deprived of what they need, even if their parents have sometimes made bad decisions. They feel compelled to respond especially during the holidays. But a surprising number will continue to be helpful regularly during the whole year, for many years.
They are hearing the voice of God through their sense of common decency or common humanity with those who are struggling.
What drives you to help others? Is it the voice of God?
January 26: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Hearing God’s voice
Psalm 95 says: “Oh, that today you would hear His voice. Do not harden your hearts....” I have an idea about hearing God’s voice. But it presumes that we are aware that God’s voice is spiritual. One must have a desire to hear God’s voice, a listening prayerful heart, and a willingness to carry it out when it comes.
I believe that within every person there has been placed by God a desire and ability to live by spiritual values, and it shows up in each of us in the desire to do what is good, indeed what is the best. I think this desire begins to glow after infancy when a child, after having experienced daily the love of parents, wants to show some of it back to Mom and Dad. Of course, if this reception of goodness from another is never experienced, then a person might become a psychopath, having no feelings for another. This desire is flamed by others who model goodness, generosity, and even sacrifice, something Christian parents and teachers normally do. Eventually a whole spiritual value system begins to be formed.
I believe that this is what is meant by conscience – a value system that is formed into an instinct to do good and avoid what is evil, developed over many years. When we act according to that inner value system we are responding to the voice of God.
A group of religious sisters whom I know had a car that was giving them lots of mechanical troubles. Finally, when one of the tires fell off as they were driving slowly (thank God!) on city a city street, they decided to get rid of the lemon. Their trusty local mechanic volunteered to buy the car from them and they took the amount of money that he offered. This mechanic fixed the car as best he could and sold it. The man who purchased it, once he realized it had previously belonged to the sisters, came to their convent and gave them $3,000 dollars, telling them that the car was worth far more than the mechanic paid them for it and far more than the amount he paid to purchase it.
This man, I believe, was following his conscience; this man had heard the voice of God in and through his value system, and responded.
How do you hear the voice of God?
January 23: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Heaven, again.
I wonder what I will do with all the time I will have in heaven. Eternity seems to be such a long time, and I can’t imagine anything that will keep my attention for that long. I have a bunch of ideas, but I have never heard anyone describe heaven like the following.
I wonder if we will spend our time (if there is such a thing as time in heaven) watching movies or re-runs of every second of every persons’ life who ever existed on this earth, and learn how God was active in that person’s life every second of time. I think, for example, that we will watch a movie of the life of Abraham who lived 170 years according to the Hebrew Scriptures, or Moses who lived 120 years. Can you imagine how interesting it might be to watch a movie for 170 earth years of the life of Abraham and what God was doing to and with Abraham each and every second of those 170 years? Or Moses during his 120 years? That’s already 290 earth years of heaven!
We know very little about the lives of Mary and Joseph, the foster parents of Jesus. We know nothing about when and why Joseph died when he did, or what Mary did after he died. Why did God allow all those things to happen to them when it did? What was Mary’s Assumption all about? Imagine watching a movie of 27 years of Joseph’s life and how God was working in his life or interacting with him each second of those 27 years. That’s another 27 years of heaven when we would be confounded and surprised at what God was doing.
And how was God interacting with the universe when it was forming over all those millions of years?
Heaven just might be the time when we watch movies of each and every second of a person’s life who ever existed (yes, even Hitler’s), or the universe’s life and see what God was doing to try to help. I don’t know how long eternity is, but I can see how I would actually be interested in how God was using Divine strength, inspiration, grace, favor to help each and every person that ever lived on earth (or the universe for that matter).
As a matter of fact, I would be interested in finally knowing what God was doing to me all my life long as well. Wouldn’t learning about all these things and marveling at what God was doing be a fascinating way to spend eternity?
What do you think?
January 19: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Time
I usually think of time as just a succession of ordinary moments in a day. Nothing much special about this moment of time as I type this, I say. If I were living in the Greek culture, they would say I am experience “kronos” – just ordinary time.
But if I experienced a heart-stopping moment of time, a moment when my head swirled around to see where a loud noise came from, a moment when my heart was about to burst because of love for another, a life-changing moment, the Greeks would say that I just experienced “kairos”, a special time.
A “kairos” moment is what St. Mark announces in the first chapter of his gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” God, in the flesh of Jesus, had just burst upon the human scene. Now everything is different. Even time has changed. God has captured time to use it for His purposes, that is to build the Kingdom of God.
I spend a lot of my time acting as if I am no one special, with no special calling or responsibilities, with only ordinary time. Perhaps if I would see with different eyes that every moment is a kairos moment I would become much more excited about life. I wonder how different I would be if I saw myself as a partner with God, given special time to help build God’s Kingdom. That would be quite a switch! I probably would help the poor a lot more.
Maybe that’s why Jesus says right after “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!”
How is time for you?
January 16: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Making good use of my time as an elder
As a Capuchin I have a ministry at the House of Peace in Milwaukee. It is a job that is part-time, half the week actually. When I started the job I thought that I had fallen into hog heaven with some much discretionary time on my hands. And I thought that since I was nearing 70 years old then that I had earned the right to slow down work-wise and I would enjoy all the leisure I had. When I was in my 40's I imagined that I would be fully retired by the age of 65 and would have hobbies like growing a rose garden or making grandfather clocks. Well, I’m 70 now, and I have no interest in growing roses or building grandfather clocks.
What to do with my time? I’ve tried reading novels, reading books about the civil war, volunteering at a meal program, telling others that I am available for various preaching activities offering to celebrate Mass at different churches, or teaching material from the past. I’ve tried to take extra time to pray, to read spiritual poetry, to visit the sick or the elderly. But no one activity is a sustaining event, one that I feel regularly called to do. My family is scattered around the country and it would take a good deal of money to visit them regularly.
It’s odd to have time on my hands. I’ve invited God to intervene, to give my a sign to know what to do. Ultra-busy people could respond that they wish they had my problem! I know that I am lucky to have good health and time on my hands. There’s a temptation to get involved in unhealthy activities, like surfing the internet. I’m hoping that the writing of this blog is a partial answer for me.
What have you done when you have extra time on your hands?
January 12: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Glorifying God with my Body
Sometimes what St. Paul writes startles me as he does in his Second Letter to the Corinthians when he writes: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you...Tsherefore glorify God in your body. (2 Cor 6:19-20) It’s hard for me to imagine that myIDSbody, even though washed clean in Baptism and which has fed upon the Eucharist, is really a temple. Temples are special places, like churches and shrines. In them, one can experience the Holy One. I don’t often view myself that way.
I suppose that’s the problem. If I did, then I would act more like a the Holy One, as Jesus tried to show me while on this earth.
And to glorify God with my body would seem to mean that I need to use my body (with my time, talents, energy) as an instrument of love as Jesus did: embracing others as I forgive them, serving a meal to the homeless, gathering grocery items for food pantries, running the rosary through my hands as I pray for others, driving a relative to the doctor, donating more of my hard earned money to charity, getting on my knees in prayer.
And if my body is a temple of the holy Spirit, imagine the reverence with which we would look upon others, the sick, the broken, the addict, the AIDS patient, the prisoner, the tear-filled child, the immigrant.
Do you understand that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit?
January 9: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Heaven
I can’t prove that there is a place or a situation called “Heaven”. But I sure hope that there is.
There’s too many good things of this present life that are undone or never get completed that there must be another time or place for it to take place. I think about the fact that I never had an adult relationship with my Father who died at the age of 52 when I was only 21. We had great times together when I was a child and in grade school. I remember him teaching me how to catch a baseball, hit on the ground and catching it without fearing the ball would bounce into my face. I went away to a boarding school for my high school years, and then joined the Capuchin Order right after high school. So during the five years after I left home I only saw my Dad periodically, and often times I had too many adolescent activities going on that I never had a lot of time to associate with him.
I still want time to know him better and for him to get to know me. I think we would like each other a lot. I’m hoping that in a time and place called heaven I can do just that.
But don’t most of us have relationships and situations that remain undone, no matter how long we live? I think that our emotional emptiness reminds us that there is another time and place still to come when we can experience completeness. That tells me there’s gotta be a heaven.
What do you think?
January 5: A PIECE OF WISDOM: Jesus is my Star
Once when I was returning by airplane to the city where I lived, as we were getting closer to the land, I saw a bright light – one of those search lights which are often situated at car dealers or some other type of store trying to attract attention. The beam of light actually hit my side of the plane as we came close to the landing strip. My eyes were startled by the bright light.
In every age there are people who become bright stars: Napoleon, Marx, Franklin Roosevelt, Mohammad Ali, Michael Jackson. They attract a lot of attention, fans and followers.
The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Epiphany next Sunday. The Gospel of Matthew tells of magi from the East had followed a star which preceded them and stopped over the place where “the child” was. They prostrated themselves and did him homage, we are told.
These magi represent all who were seeking truth, inspiration and leaders they could trust. God was indicating that Jesus was their star, the one who could bring extra meaning into their lives. I am happy to say that, like them, I have found Jesus as my Star and guiding light, the reason why I am a Capuchin and serve at the House of Peace.
Many who seek the services of the House of Peace are followers of this Star as well. Often they say quite loudly “Thank you Jesus!” as they leave the House of Peace with their arms full of provisions for the rest of the month. The staff and many of the donors find the special meaning in their lives from the Star who Himself demonstrated great affection for the poor and suffering.
Is Jesus your Star?
A PIECE OF WISDOM...
from Father Perry, House of Peace
Wisdom means having both a high degree of knowledge as well as common sense.
We all probably know people whom we consider wise who have many academic degrees that provide them with multiple wells of knowledge. One like that for me is Fr. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at Notre Dame University, author, historian and regular columnist in Catholic newspapers. People with a lot of common sense, and also wise because of many life-experiences, are folks with whom I share a ministry at the House of Peace, like Gerri Sheets-Howard, Linda Barnes and Shirley Patterson-Bordeaux.
I like to think that I have some wisdom too that comes from 70+ years of living, 51 years of living as a Capuchin, 47 years of being a priest. I become even more wise as I work with the staff at the House of Peace while listening to the guests who come for our services and the donors who support the ministry. So, while I may not understand lots of things (like mathematics), I have gleaned some wisdom from life, especially from my reflections on the Bible and religious topics. In this blog, I intend to share what I have learned, offering a piece of wisdom.
But I know that you also have a slice of wisdom as well. I am hoping that you will find a way to share your wisdom with me and others who may read this column. If we all contribute what we know, treasure and value others might become more wise as well. To share your wisdom: pieceofwisdom@theCapuchins.org