Monday, October 21, 2019

Having a Conversation with God

(Originally written for Church bulletin)

In our Gospel for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells us “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” What is this calling out that Jesus is telling us to do? The answer is prayer.

We communicate with God through prayer. When there is communication between two beings, a conversation is taking place. When we pray, we are conversing with God. Conversation is how we grow in knowledge; it is how we learn about others and it is how we fall in love. These are all the things Jesus desires us to do with his Father. Honest prayer will keep us grounded in humility as we acknowledge our weaknesses. Prayer will build us up in faith as we allow God to work through us in our humility. God is waiting to hear you call out to him through daily prayer. You will be blessed by many graces when He answers your call.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Does Social Media Manage my Time?-Updated

I have been bothered lately by my social media usage. The problem is not the posts, the pictures or even security issues. Most of my family and friends post news about family events, beautiful family pictures and inspirational reflections. As to security concerns, it is too late to worry about that. We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can control our privacy.  My social media problem is me.

I do not post that much on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms but I still try to stay current with family and friends by reading their posts.  Whenever one of my family or friends posts something, a little circle appears on the appropriate social media icon. This circle will contain the number of new post since I last opened the app.  My curiosity will usually get the best of me and I will open the app to read the new post.  This habit is starting to make me feel uneasy.  It is as if my time is being managed by social media.

Today’s Mass reading crystallized my thoughts on this unease.  The reading is from the First Letter to Timothy.

Do not neglect the gift you have,
which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the
imposition of hands by the presbyterate.
Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them,
so that your progress may be evident to everyone.
Attend to yourself and to your teaching;
persevere in both tasks,
for by doing so you will save
both yourself and those who listen to you.

This reading brings up some questions I must ask myself.  Am I using my time wisely? Have I neglected the gifts God has given me?  Should my time be used for things more conducive to my spiritual well being?  These are just some of the questions we can all ask ourselves.

Maybe it is time to for us to evaluate our own lives and how much social media effects it.  Do we let social media comments influence our decisions?  Does social media determine how we feel about ourselves and others?  Are we using our time on social media wisely and for the greater glory of God?  One thing we can all do is evaluate our social media usage.  Are we managing our usage of social media or is social media managing us?

I will continue to use the various social media programs I have joined but I want to cut back on the time I use these programs.  One way for me to do this is by deleting these apps from my phone.  If I need to use social media, it will require the deliberate act of me signing in on my laptop.  No more app opening just because I have been shown something new has been posted.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I have discovered you can turn off those little notifications that show up on the app icon.  I have done this and it has made a world of difference.  I do not look at Facebook nearly as much as I did in the past.  Do I miss some of the wonderful things you share? Yes and I regret not sharing in your excitement but now it is my decision when I look at Facebook.  As each day passes, Facebook becomes less and less of a part of my life and guess what?  I still feel connected to the world.

Friday, December 21, 2018

When Christmas comes, are you ready?

(Updated version of column for church bulletin)

I enjoy reading, so much that I remember having to be told not to bring books to the dinner table when I was a child. Today my reading interest varies depending on the mood I am in. Subjects can range from history, religious and biographies to best selling fiction.  Sometimes I will let the book I read effect my mood. I remember the first time I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was so sad when I finished the last book. The characters of the books had entered my imagination and become real. We shared grand adventure, become friends; protected each other and now all at once and very quickly they were gone, never to live again unless I read the books again.

Our holidays can be like that sometimes. The memories become alive just like the characters in the books we have read. We may feel that with each passing Advent and Christmas season something has been lost. Memories and feeling have been made that we may never have again. Luckily the unique sights and smells of the holidays draw us back to our own memories. The sweets that are baked and the scented candles we burn all help us remember our own family memories. We recall our childhood and the excitement we felt at this time of the year. We want to remember our past but also create new memories with our own family and friends. We recall the past and use those memories to build on the future.

This is what Advent should be for all of us. We should be looking back at the birth of Jesus, recalling all the events surrounding it and also looking forward to the opportunity the birth of Jesus will bring to us. It is fitting that today’s Collect helps us to look both in the past and to the future. We pray that through the Incarnation of the Son of God, made known to us through the message of the Angel, God’s grace may be poured forth into our hearts. This grace will help us prepare for our own eternal salvation that is shown to us by the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel tells us that the child Elizabeth was carrying leaped for joy when hearing the voice of Mary, causing Elizabeth to cry out: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” We too must be ready to leap for joy when the birth of Christ comes. Our savior wants us to say “Yes” to the salvation he will one day offer to us which begins with his birth. This is not just something from the past, a memory that only lives when we read or think about but an offer of a future eternal life. Advent has helped us to recall the past and to prepare for the future. When Christmas comes may you too be blessed for having believed the message spoken to Mary “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent: a Time for Traditions

(Updated version of column for church bulletin)

Each family has their own traditions for the holidays. Think back a few weeks ago to the Thanksgiving holiday. You probably ate the same food and did the same things you do every year. Maybe after dinner you played games together, shared family stories or just stood around in the kitchen visiting with each other as everyone helped to clean the dishes. There is nothing wrong with tradition especially if it brings us together in love and comfort. Our hectic lives could be causing us to slowly lose some of our traditions, especially during the Advent season. Our schedules have become so busy and diverse it is hard to find the time for family traditions. Traditions can build up the family through love and sharing so they are worth keeping despite the effort they require.

My wife and I both had the same tradition when growing up.  Each of our families would gather around the television to watch some of the Christmas shows such as The Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was a time before DVDs, video recorders and multiple playing of the same show. If you did not plan to watch a Christmas show, you could miss it and would have to wait another year for the chance to see it again. There was comfort in the knowledge that you, your mom, dad, brothers and sisters took the time to come together to enjoy the same show and share laughter, comments and jokes. Though it was not spoken at the time there was a love felt by all by just being together.

Today we should be lighting the second candle of our Advent wreath. I know that not everyone has or uses a wreath during the Advent season but it is a tradition my wife and I have always liked. When our children were young, it was very easy to bring them together for the lighting of the advent wreath. There is something about the lighting of the candles, praying together and anticipating the birth of Christ that they all seemed to enjoy. The Advent wreath was also a countdown clock to Christmas for our children so I will admit that the anticipation of a visit by St. Nick probably played a role in my children’s enjoyment of this daily advent tradition.

One thing my wife and I would do each night when we gathered to light the Advent wreath was to make sure not as many lights were on around the kitchen table. Our children would notice this darkness around the kitchen table.  It was their visual reminder of not just how close Christmas was but also of the darkness the world was in before the birth of Christ. The lighting of an additional candle each week would make the room brighter. Each week we knew it was a little closer to the light of Christ coming into our earthly world.

There are many other Advent traditions that can be done; the blessing of your Christmas tree and nativity scene, Advent countdown calendars, the Jesse tree, fasting, attending daily Masses and meditating on the great "O Antiphons" of Advent are just a few. Advent offers us many traditions for preparing for the birth of Christ. Find that special Advent tradition for your family or for yourself and start it today.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Preparing for the Birth of Christ

(Updated version of column for church bulletin)

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This is the Collect for the today’s Mass; the First Sunday of Advent. We are called to run to forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds. Advent is a time of preparation. We are to prepare for the coming birth of Christ by our righteous deeds. How well we prepared can be shown by how well we wait.

When I was younger, there were three types of waiting I did for a parent. The first was with trepidation. There was a feeling of apprehension; I knew something was wrong. The problem was this feeling was brought about by my own mistakes. I had probably disobeyed either a parent or teacher and did not want to face the consequences. I hoped my mistake was forgotten or not known. Neither was usually the case.

The second type of waiting is with indifference. I just did not think about when my mother or father would be home. I may not have done anything wrong but neither had I done anything outstanding. There was no reason to anticipate their arrival. I was too wrapped up in my own thoughts, plans and desires.

The third type of waiting is one of joyful anticipation. The anticipation is not in an opportunistic way as if waiting to proclaim personal accomplishments but one of joy as one waits to see a loved one. It is the joy that comes from knowing that you wait for someone who desires to see you as much as you desire their presence.

The Advent season gives us a time to prepare for the coming birth of Jesus. We must decide now how we will prepare during this time. Is it with indifference; not giving any thought to how the birth of Christ effected us? Will it be with the trepidation of knowing that we could have done more to better appreciate what the birth of Jesus means to our salvation? Will it be with joyful anticipation that comes from the knowledge that we have truly taken the time to prepare for the birth of Christ?

There will be a multitude of deeds you can do to be ready for the joyous birth we celebrate at Christmas. Participate in the opportunities your Church will offer. Journey through the Advent season using one of the many spiritual Advent books being offered. Budget your time wisely so you will be able to reflect on scripture. Visit the home-bound and those in nursing homes. Donate your time, talent and treasure to those in need. These good deeds will have you prepared and waiting for the birth of Christ with joyful anticipation.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

We are all called to a Vocation

(Originally written for my church bulletin)

A few weeks ago I was standing at the top of a hill, facing in a northerly direction.  There was a sheer drop of 30 to 40 feet just beyond where I stood. This gave me a wonderful view of a small valley that lay before me. Cattle were in the valley and they grazed on the green grass oblivious to the fog that hung around them. I could just make out the mountains that rose up on the other side of the valley. To my right the fog was slowly lifting as the sun climbed over the small mountainous hills on the southeast side of the valley. You could see blue sky peak through the fog. It was going to be a beautiful day. I thanked the Lord.

I did not thank the Lord for allowing me to see the beautiful example of His creation. I did not thank Him for the cool sunny fall morning that was about to burst forth out of the fog. I did not thank Him for the retreat that brought me to this spot. At that moment, I recalled how much my life had changed over the last 13 years; the friends that I have made and the friends I may have lost. I thought of the moments of joy I have been part of at baptisms and weddings and the moments of sadness at hospitals and funerals. I thought of all the people I have met who come from all walks of life and yet I did not thank the Lord for this either.

God calls all of us to a vocation. It has been through my vocational call to the Diaconate that I have been able to experience these things I write about. What is your vocation? Even if you have found joy and happiness, do you still feel a lack contentment or fulfillment? That emptiness could be coming from your heart. A vocation is God's invitation to love and serve him. If we do not follow the vocation God has called us to, then we will always have that feeling of emptiness or lack of completeness. 

Jesus tells us we are to love our neighbor as our self. Pope Benedict Emeritus wrote that our neighbor is anyone we can help. Maybe you have a vocation already and do not realize it. Do you check on an elderly neighbor? Maybe you help watch neighborhood children. Do you assist the home-bound or the homeless? Any of these things could be the vocation that God is calling you to. Open yourself up to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Find the vocation God has for you. It does not matter how important you think it is. If God is calling you to a certain vocation, then it is important to Him.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta is quoted as saying: "Not all of us can do great things. We can only do small things with great love." That is all God wants from you; to do what He asks of you and to do it with love. Standing on that hill, I thought of all the blessings that I have received through my vocation and I thanked the Lord. Find your vocation and you will find what I thanked the Lord for.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Thoughts on my Deacon Retreat

 Early evening at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas
My wife and I just returned from the annual Diocese of Shreveport Deacon retreat. This year we were again at the Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas. It is a beautifully place with space to walk; from a valley floor to a wonderful overlook.  The retreat allowed us time to take advantage of the grounds at the abbey, experience spiritual growth and visit with fellow deacons and their wives. Like most people we always tell ourselves that we will make more time for each other and like most people it never seems to happen. The benefit of being away from home is that we cannot attend to our normal daily duties nor address the feeling of immediacy that seems to emanate from the emails, phone calls and texts we receive.  This freed up time for my wife and I to reminisce, make future plans, examine our present lives and laugh at some of our crazy adventures.

Our retreat director was excellent. He gave us a wonderful message that I will be able to use and recall for a long time. We were reminded that all people are walking in a wilderness and to find our way through that wilderness we must trust our guide. His example was the Israelite’s journey to the Promise Land. The Israelites had to learn through Moses to trust in God. One thing I did notice was that our retreat director never spoke of avoiding the wilderness or shortcuts through it. The wilderness is the journey we take on this earth and it cannot be avoided. This retreat has been a good reminder for me to never stop prayerfully discerning where God is guiding me.

Another benefit derived from our retreat has been the chance for all of the deacons and their wives to gather together again.  It was in the relaxed atmosphere of the abbey that we shared our thoughts, our joys and our struggles. I quickly discovered that we have a very talented group of husbands and wives. There are those who can sing and others who play musical instruments. There are deacons and wives who are wonderful speakers while others have a great knowledge of Church teachings. The sharing of talents by the deacons and their wives made our retreat so much better.

The one common denominator between all the deacons and all the wives was their love for God.  It does not matter what talent God has given you, there is a common bond that unites all people.  Is this bond due to our love of God or is it the shared wilderness journey we take? Whatever the reason that unites us, I feel blessed to have shared a few days of my journey with my fellow deacons and their wives.  May each of you be blessed with others to share your wilderness journey.