Monday, May 22, 2017

Astros Baseball, Technology and Our Prayer Life

I grew up listening to the Houston Astros baseball games on the radio.  This was a time before cable or satellite television. It was before Internet streaming and the MLB At Bat app.  I remember walking around the house carrying my little transistor radio tuned to the game.  When the Astros played on the west coast, the games would not start until after 9:00 pm so I would tie my radio to the bed rail.   I could not stay awake for the whole game and was afraid my radio would fall off the bed.

Over the years though the radio broadcast of the baseball games were either dropped or carried by a station whose power output at night was so weak I could not pick up the games anymore.  Then the MLB At Bat app. came along.  For one small yearly fee I could again listen to the radio broadcast of the Astros.  Technology kept improving to the point I was then able to receive televised broadcast of all the Astros baseball games. It was offered through the digital television provider I was using.  I was now able to watch every Astros baseball game on television.  That first year I watched every televised Astros game except for the few day games that were played during the week.  Everything was right in the world of baseball.

This past winter though I switch my digital television provider.  It was just better for me and my family.  The drawback: no more Astros televised baseball games.  I went back to using the MLB At Bat app. and listening to the radio broadcast of the games.  Do I miss watching the games?  Yes.  I miss not seeing the great catches, the homeruns and the multiple reply angles that are shown.  What I do not miss was the feeling of being tied down to the television.  I felt if I moved away from the television I could miss some exciting moment of the game.  By listening to the radio broadcast I "see" the game in my mind as I did when I was a little kid.  I am free to move around more and do other things as I listen to the game.

What I have learned from all of this is that sometimes we do not need everything we think we do.  If you feel your spiritual life waning maybe you do not have the prayer life that is best for you.  I did not give up on the Astros just because I could not watch their games anymore?   No, I found another way to keep them part of my life.  God is calling us and wants to be part of our lives.  If one form of your prayer life is not working, find one that keeps God as the central point of your life.  We are all different and so is our prayer life.  What one person may praise as a wonderful form of prayer may not be the best form for you.  There are millions of people following the game of baseball but not every one of them is an Astros fan.  They all though have ways of keeping their favorite team part of their lives.  That same effort should be part of our prayer life.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Use Lent to Spend Time with God

My wife and I are opposite in many ways. Some differences are larger such as our hobbies while others are just normal day to day things like when we wake up in the morning. I wake up early while my wife sleeps a little later. I will wake up, make coffee and say my morning prayers. My wife wakes up later and does not drink coffee. She will start her day with prayers, while I may be checking on things around the house or catching up on the news. God does bring us together though. As the morning slowly slips into the work of the day, our lives will come together. We will start the activities we planned on previous days. This could be a trip to the store, some special cleaning project around the house or babysitting some our grandchildren while their parents work. It does not always involve work though. Many days will include a movie we both want to watch. It could be listening to an audio book over a few days or weeks. The whole point is that we always come together. Though we have our own habits, wants and needs, we make sure we have time to spend with each other. It is where we learn more about each other and ourselves. It is where we let go of past hurts and ask for forgiveness of our transgressions. This time together is where we grow closer.

We should also have this type of relationship with God. The responsibilities of our family, our occupation and to our self will always be part of our lives. Our relationship with God should be our first responsibility. We should always have a time to sit with God. It is through this relationship that all other relationships are governed. This same relationship we should have with God is brought forth to the elect in the RCIA through the scrutinies. The elect will receive the second scrutiny today, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Part of the exorcism prayer that is said over the elect asks that the Father free them from false values that surround and blind them. We need a relationship with God to understand his desires for us. Without a relationship with God we will have false values that separate us from God. These false values will blind us to the true journey God wants us to take.

The prayer of exorcism in the three scrutinies ask that the elect be freed from the influence of the devil. It asks for strength of the elect, so they may continue their spiritual journey. The scrutinies help the elect to open their hearts to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. During this purification and enlighten phase of RCIA the elect spend time with God. They have been taught that to have a relationship with God means they must devote time to Him.

All relationships in our lives are important. Think of how you build and maintain those relationships. If a relationship feels strained, weak or non-existent then you devote time to strengthen that relationship. Our relationship with God should be the same. When we feel earthly desires pulling us away from God, we know that our relationship with God is strained. This is the very time we need to scrutinize our life. It is the time to come together with God through our prayer life. It is what is required of the elect and it should be what you require of yourself.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Scrutinies of the Elect

Those who have never been baptized before are called members of “the elect.” As with all who are baptized, these elect will “die to their old self” and rise as children of God.  They will begin what is hoped a new way of living.  Those in our Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults are now in what we call the Purification and Enlightenment phase.  This phase includes three scrutinies.  A scrutiny can be described as an assessment of oneself.  This helps the Elect uncover and heal those things that are sinful and those things which make them susceptible to evil.  The scrutinies also bring out and strengthen all that is upright and good in the elect.

On the Third Sunday of Lent the elect in the RCIA will hear the prayers of the First Scrutiny.  Part of the prayer that is said for the elect is as follows:

that they will reject the sins and weaknesses that weigh them down. Protect them from vain reliance on self and defend them from the power of evil.  Free them from the spirit of deceit, so that admitting the wrong they have done, they may attain purity of heart…

Though a beautiful prayer, it requires an honest assessment of oneself.  We can join the Elect during this Lenten Season by assessing our own life.  This is a good time to remember that the successes we have in our lives are not just of our own making, but are brought forth through the gifts and talents God has given us.  We must also protect ourselves from denial.  We must not deceive ourselves into thinking we have done no wrong.

On Easter Sunday we will renew our baptismal promises.  We will be asked if we renounce sin, renounce the lure of evil and renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin.  By letting go of that which spiritually weakens us and strengthening that which is good in us, we can make our answer of “I do” a loud proclamation of the life we live.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Advent Reflection, Fourth Sunday, 2016

Bishop Robert Barron recently wrote that if we take an honest look at the Biblical texts dealing with Christmas, we will find that they have precious little to do with sentimentality. Bishop Barron writes of the visiting Magi from the East looking for the newborn king. Their search was not met with excitement or enthusiasm. Matthew tells us: “When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”  King Herod saw this newborn baby as a threat to his position.  Herod asked the Magi to return to him with news of this newborn king, When the Magi returned home by a different route King Herod became furious. To protect his kingship, Herod ordered that every boy in Bethlehem the age of two and under be killed. Herod does not sound like someone excited about the Christmas season.

Why would a newborn be such a threat to King Herod?  The Gospel reading for this Fourth Sunday reminds us of the mission Jesus is given. The Angel of the Lord tells Joseph during a dream about the child Mary is carrying; "She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This newborn king could be the messiah who liberates the Israelites from the Romans and thus from King Herod's rule.

We have to remember that the Incarnation was just the first part of God’s plan.  The Advent season allows us the time to look beyond the birth of Jesus and make the connection to his death and resurrection. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are redeemed.

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent helps us do this.  In the Collect we pray that God’s grace be put in our heart so that through his Passion (the suffering of Jesus Christ up to his death) we will move to the glory of his resurrection. The Collect reminds us the Incarnation is just the beginning of God’s plan for our redemption.

The birth of Jesus is a challenge to each of us. It is a call to conversion and a call for self examination.  Just as Herod did, some of us may not want to let go of those things that distance us from God. That distance can keep us from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Use these final days of Advent as a time for reflecting on the life of Jesus.  Have we let go of everything that is keeping us from the saving power of his resurrection?

This Christmas celebrate the infant Jesus in the manger. Join the angels in giving glory to God. Give glory to his birth and give glory to his resurrection.

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent Reflection, Third Sunday, 2016

Today is Gaudete Sunday. We have passed the midpoint of Advent. The normal purple vestments of Advent are not worn. The vestments worn at the Mass today will be a rose color. This is a visual encouragement for us to continue our spiritual preparation for the coming birth of Jesus. This encouragement and joy is shown by the lighting of the pink candle on an Advent wreath and the Entrance Antiphon of today’s Mass.  The antiphon points us to the joy of the coming of our Lord when we sing “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.”

Why do we rejoice? First, we rejoice because the Word became flesh. We see God in the baby Jesus. We take comfort in the fact that God has not abandoned us. We were created out of love and that love for us has lead to the birth of Christ. Jesus has come so we may know the Father through the Son and by this we may know the way for eternal salvation.

In every baby we see the possibility of great things that can be. We see a child growing and the richness that their life can have. We too are like babies in the eyes of God. We have such great possibilities but we are easily turned away from the richness God has prepared for us.  Jesus is our hope for salvation. He points us to the right path for salvation. We can read of Jesus as an adult.  He fulfilled all that our own human nature can be.  It is by his birth that our hope takes root.

So today we do rejoice! The Lord is near both in the celebration of his birth and through his salvation. His birth leads to his Passion and Death but we know it is not the end of the story. The story of Jesus continues with his Resurrection; our hope for a new life. Our story starts with our birth, continues through death and into what we hope is our eternal salvation, the salvation that Jesus won for us by his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Today Collect (the opening prayer of the Mass) reminds us of this.  We celebrate the Lord's Nativity for we know of the joy of salvation that it offers.

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Heart of St. John Berchmans

On December 8 the Heart of St. John Berchmans will be at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans for eleven days. This is a wonderful opportunity for parishioners to venerate a relic of the patron saint of our Cathedral as well for others to participate in this most reverent Catholic tradition.

Veneration has been part of our Catholic faith since almost the beginning of the Church. A letter written by members of the Church in Smyrna in the year 156 AD is about venerating the bones of St. Polycarp after he was burned at a stake. With the legalization of the Church by Rome in 312, the tombs of many saints were opened and the actual relics were venerated by the people.

Relics can include the physical remains of a saint (or of a person who is considered holy but not yet officially canonized) as well as other objects which have been by being touched to his body. Relics are divided into different classes. First class relics are the physical body parts, clothing or instruments connected with a Saint. There is also a third class of relics which are those things which the faithful have touched to the physical body parts (reliquary) or the grave of the saint.

St. Jerome reminds us to keep relics in perspective. In his Letter to Riparius, St. Jerome (d. 420) wrote in defense of relics: "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are."

This means that when we venerate a relic we are paying honor to the saints who, by their intercession and example help us to grow in our Christian virtue. Venerating the saints does not detract from God’s glory since whatever goodness a saint possesses, we know is a gift from God.

St. John Berchmans died at the age of 22 on August 13, 1621. What I find fascinating about St. John Berchmans is that he was a young man still in the seminary when he died. He lived his life in such a way that everyone around him felt a deep holiness in him. They believed St. John Berchmans would one day be a saint. This was one reason his heart was removed at his death. People were already considering this as a relic for future veneration of a saint. His body is buried in Rome and his heart is in a reliquary in Belgium, where he was born. For more information on St. John Berchmans and the Heart visit the website: http://sjbdevotion.org/

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent Reflection, Second Sunday, 2016

Have you been told that Christmas has become too commercialized? Have you been told to keep Christ in Christmas? You probably have.  Sadly this too has become part of our Christmas tradition just like using an Advent wreath, watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special or mailing out Christmas cards. You may have been told Christmas is too commercialized or Christ has been lost in Christmas as an attempt by someone to help you get through this time of the year or out of their own feelings of frustration. My thought is that if you do feel this way; it is your own fault! The main focus of businesses, including the television industry, is to make money. They will only sell what people buy and watch.

We make the choices of how we prepare for Christmas. The Advent season is one of the many things I believe the Church got absolutely correct. Advent reminds us we are on a journey. The end of this journey should find us prepared to properly celebrate the birth of Christ. The buying of Christmas presents, the listening to Christmas music and the watching of Christmas specials are not inherently bad. It is how we let these commercialized things affect us that can lead us to the possibility of a bankrupted spirituality at Christmas.

The first week of Advent is over. Take a few minutes to reflect on this first week. Consider what you have done in preparing for Christmas. You may have brought some presents, attended a party or watched a few Christmas shows. Are you humming Christmas songs throughout the day?  You may have also been frustrated by traffic around the stores you shop or the lack of service you received at a busy eatery.  If you keep all these things in the proper perspective none of them should affect your preparations for the coming of Jesus.  The Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent reminds us to let “no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son.” 


We should all know that traffic jams, busy stores, Christmas music and our own frustrations are just part of this time of the year. They will not go away.  So we must do as the Prayer after Communion tells us; we must “judge wisely things on earth”. We are to remain focused on those things that are important as an aid to our spiritual growth and let go of those things that are too distracting. We must seek the “heavenly wisdom” for making the right decisions during Advent.

Enjoy this time of the year but never forget that Christmas does not start until the birth of Jesus. Now it is Advent, the time to prepare. If you feel the distractions of the world are beginning to overwhelm you, sit with God in prayer for a few minutes. Recall the opening prayer of today’s Mass. It reminds us of the real reason for Christmas; the Word became flesh so that we may gain the heavenly kingdom.

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.