Tag Archives: Bible

Sunday Musings: Franciscans Make Me Think

Credit: Jimmy Smith

This is a new section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass.

It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

 

1. Don’t Judge a Beard by its Cover

As we sang the opening hymn, the procession passed by me. I had to do a double-take. It’s a visiting priest, I thought. Look at that beard! It’s overtaking his face. And then more thoughts: I think he missed his exit. The Orthodox church is downtown.

It turned out that he was a Franciscan friar and had the most gentle, welcoming voice, reminding me of John Michael Talbot (below), one of my favorite Christian vocalists. The beard isn’t too far off, either.

 

2. The Ambience of an Evening Mass is Better

Because of my oldest son’s birthday tomorrow, I attended the 5:30 pm Mass today (Saturday). I don’t know, but there’s something about the (lack of) lighting that made this evening Mass more intimate and special. The candles were more brightly illuminated, and there was more of a mystical feeling in the air. I loved it.

 

3. More Bible

Of course we Catholics hear Scripture readings each Sunday from the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament Epistles, and the Gospels. However, it’s great to hear a homily that is totally about the Bible (not that other homilies are bad).

The priest elaborated on the Gospel reading (Matthew 5: 17-37) and spoke in detail about how Jesus was the new Moses who taught the new Ten Commandments from the hillside (Sermon on the Mount) just as Moses received the tablets from the mountaintop. Eye opening indeed.

I encourage Catholics (and other Christians) who are reading this to delve into the Scriptures more to find these little nuggets of inspiration. It will deepen your faith tremendously.

 

4. Summarizing the Homily in One Statement

I liked how the priest today summarized his entire homily like this: “So, the word of the day is: the law of grace.” Boom. Succinct and effective.

 

5. Franciscans Always Make Me Think

There’s something attractive about Franciscans. It must be their vows of poverty and way of life. It’s so… impacting.

The friar this evening was wearing brown sandals in stark contrast to his flowing green vestments. As I watched him distribute the Eucharist, I couldn’t stop admiring his pure joy and humility.

Driving home, I usually turn on my iPod or listen to talk radio. Tonight, however, I spent the whole commute thinking about how I could be more like that kind friar. I didn’t even catch his name, but I’m still thinking about him. Wonderful.

~t


Should Christians Watch Orange is the New Black?

Credit: Netflix

I wrote this post because I typed the above title into Google the other day and got zero results. Disappointed, I decided to do something about it.

If you want to know about the latest TV shows or the hottest movies, I am the last person you should ask. Seriously. The inane garbage that Hollywood and the TV networks produce doesn’t interest me in the slightest. When my mother raved on and on in an email about the movie Gravity, I didn’t really pay attention. Sandra Bullock in a space movie. Whatever, I thought.

So, I find it ironic that I’m writing about what many people are calling one of the hottest TV shows at the moment. To be honest, I stumbled across it by accident. My sister lets me watch documentaries on her Netflix account (thanks Kay). For some reason, I’m drawn to prison documentaries like Lockup and Behind Bars. I’ve always been afraid that I might end up in prison one day due to my anger, so it’s like preventative therapy. Netflix is good because I can find obscure independent films about prison life or how ex-cons adjust to life after they’re released.

Every time I entered the keyword ‘prison’ on Netflix, Orange is the New Black always appeared in the results. With my strict diet of gritty documentaries and independent dramas, I naturally avoided Orange. Take another look at the promo pic at the top of this post and you’ll see why. The thing looks like a goofy chick-flick comedy, for cryin’ out loud.

Bored and running low on choices one night, I decided to give the first episode of Orange a try. I was pleasantly surprised at the writing and character development. And I love good writing and character development (Peter Bratt’s La Mission is a recent favorite of mine).

Let’s get back to the topic of this post. To support individual Christian opinions, we can use Scripture verses such as Matthew 15:11 (What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them) or the sin catch-all verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (Abstain from every form of evil).

A lot of gray area exists in life, though; some things are not so cut-and-dry. However, as good as Orange is, there are two main things that make me wonder if Christians should be watching it.

1. Sex, Sex, Sex

Lesbian sex scenes. Close-up photos of male and female reproductive anatomy. Lesbian sex scenes. Nude scenes. Sexually-explicit talk. Suggestive scenes…

I understand that the story takes place in a women’s prison, but are there REALLY that many lesbians in such a small area at one time?! And if so, are they REALLY that free to have sex whenever they want in showers and in the chapel?? Of course. That’s what viewers want to see. But, wouldn’t the series still be a hit without all the gratuitous sex scenes? I think so.

Well, then don’t watch it, Topaz. But I want to. Although parts of the show are distracting and tempting to my sinful nature, it’s a good, solid story. So far, I’ve been able to look away or skip past the sex. I don’t know how long I want to keep doing that. It’s frustrating and troublesome.

2. Secular Humanism

It’s obvious that Orange is targeting the middle-class secular market as most TV shows do, but there’s a difference between secularism and overt God Delusion-thumping atheism.

Yes, we know that Piper Chapman, the main character, doesn’t believe in God, but the writers still make her spew all of this:

Piper: I can’t pretend to believe in something I don’t, and I don’t [believe in this]… I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I believe in Nate Silver, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Christopher Hitchens, although I do admit he could be kind of an ***hole. I cannot get behind some Supreme Being who weighs in on the Tony awards while a million people get whacked by machetes. I don’t believe a billion Indians are going to hell. I don’t think that we get cancer to learn life lessons. And I don’t believe people die young because God needs another angel. I think it’s just bull****. And on some level, I think we all know that…

Actually, instead of being offended, I laughed out loud. Really? Is that all you got? I thought.

The main spokesperson for Christianity in the show is a character nicknamed Pennsatucky, a backwoods, uneducated, former meth user who condemns nearly everyone to hell at one point or another. The figurative triumph of atheism over religion in the last episode left me speechless. Really? I’ve seen high-school stage productions with deeper symbolism than that.

There is, however, a Catholic nun character who is locked up for civil disobedience. The few times that she appears in the show, the nun acts as a moral compass. When Sophia, a transgendered inmate, is having personal issues, it’s the nun who supports him her. It’s too bad the nun doesn’t appear in the series more.

The writers take some jabs at Buddhism as well. The inmate who teaches yoga is portrayed as a New-Agey, mumbo-jumbo space cadet. Come to think of it, isn’t yoga based in Hinduism instead of Buddhism? I suppose that, through the lens of humanism, it’s all the same thing anyway.

On a side note, the series is starting to drag midway through the season. I may stop watching because of that.

~t

Update (June 10, 2014):

I began watching season 2, but I only got halfway through episode 2 before I gave up. It appears this new season has even more nudity and left-wing propaganda. I would not recommend this series to Christians after all.

 


I’m Not Dangerous, Folks

Credit: morguefile

This past Sunday was my first time as lead teacher for Children’s Liturgy of the Word at my parish. I’m pretty sure I’m the first male to volunteer as lead teacher. In my diocese, there must always be two adults in the classroom (or one adult and two teens — according to the diocese, 2 teens = 1 adult).

I felt the calling to join this important ministry, mainly because I am an educator by trade, and what better way to teach children about Christ and His Church than to be involved in CLW.

As I led the children out of the sanctuary and into the classroom, I noticed no adults or teens in our single-file line. I felt uncomfortable enough having to stand up in front of hundreds of parishioners, so there was no way I was going to yell out for help.

When we got to the classroom, there wasn’t one adult waiting, nor were there two teens waiting for me. Rather, two teens and five adults, including one sister (nun), stood against the back wall, all seven sets of eyes staring right at me. My paranoia and anxiety immediately went into overdrive: They think I’m a big, mean pervert, and all seven of them are waiting to pounce on me the moment I make a sudden move. Sister is here so she can strangle me with her thick rosary beads.

It turned out, of course, that I had nothing to worry about. I still wonder why there were so many “chaperones” there on my first day, though. I mean, I know that my gender and size can be intimidating (6’5″/192 cm and 220 pounds/100 kg), but it doesn’t mean I’m dangerous.

I remember reading an account of an African American father who was teaching his young son about growing up in the United States. One thing he said really stuck with me: “Son, when you get older, be sure not to run into an open elevator, especially if there is a lone white woman in it.”

I am digressing a bit, but I can relate to what the father said. While I am Caucasian, I often startle people with my presence — especially when I lived in Japan.

One time I was walking briskly from a train station in a residential part of Tokyo at night. I was trying to find a friend’s apartment. However, a young Japanese lady happened to be about 25 yards (23 meters) in front of me. She took one look back, screamed, and did her best to sprint in her high heels.

I had never been so insulted. Could I blame her, though? Should I have placed myself in her situation? I guess so. But still

The Children’s Liturgy went well. The children, between 4 and 9 years old, weren’t the least bit afraid of me. I taught them about the parable of the mustard seed from that Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 17:5-6):

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

I probably learned just as much about this passage as the children did. Children’s Liturgy of the Word is great because it’s broken down in a way in which kids can relate. I talked about how faith is a gift from God, and that faith enables us to believe in Jesus and in His Church.

If we start out with just a tiny bit of faith, we can ask God to make our faith grow, and He will do it. Our faith can also grow when we obey our parents and teachers, and when we help others who are in need.

As I led the children back into the sanctuary after the priest’s homily, I stood proudly as I waited for the children to disperse and find their parents in the pews.

I was happy, but mainly I was relieved: not because it was over, but because everyone was assured that I was not a menace to their children.

I’m just a giant teddy bear on steroids.

~t


The Joyful Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I started yesterday with some good prayer, and the night before, I studied some uplifting passages in the Scriptures. However, it was a typical Monday for me once I got to work: I was unable to fully wake up, and my students gave me an especially hard time because I handed back the final drafts of their essays which never seems to go well.

I tell you, college students will argue ’til the cows come home in order to get me or my colleagues to reconsider their grades (I usually don’t).

In typical fashion, my focus was no longer on God but on my workday and on everything that needed to be done. By the time I got to my car in the evening, I was feeling pretty guilty about pushing Jesus aside the whole day. It really pained my heart. I needed to get my focus back and put the day’s events (and failures) behind me.

I have iRosary which is an app for my iPhone. I used to use it in order to learn the structure of the rosary and the prayers. Now, however, I seem to use it only to find out what the mysteries are for a certain day.

So I was instantly comforted to know that yesterday was the day for the Joyful Mysteries. God always knows what I need!

I have written some thoughts that I had during my praying of the rosary yesterday. I hope you are able to find some encouragement from them.

1. The Annunciation – Fruit of the Spirit: Humility

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord may not be sending angels to let you know that change is coming, but He works in ways which we may not realize.

Because of His grace, God enabled me to reach out to Him in distress; he answered me by moving within my heart and assuring me that He blesses a humble spirit. God doesn’t want many eloquent words; He works best with a humble and contrite spirit.

You don’t have to be a canonized saint or the Mother of God for Him to speak to you. Just start with prayer and ask Him to help you and show you the way to His Son.

2. The Visitation – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of Neighbor

Gabriel visited Mary, and then Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John, the one who would baptize Jesus at the beginning of His ministry.

It’s been said that Mary was the first missionary, bringing Jesus to her cousin. The Scriptures say that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped with joy when Mary greeted her.

The fruit of the Spirit, love of neighbor, spoke to me the most regarding this mystery. I had just finished a stressful day with students and colleagues, and praying for and loving them were the furthest from my mind; another example of how God urges us and helps us!

3. The Birth of Jesus – Fruit of the Spirit: Poverty

Everyone knows about the nativity; we see it every December. As a result, when I pray this mystery, I try to meditate on something that isn’t ingrained in me like images of warm-and-fuzzy manger scenes on Christmas cards.

I once heard an Evangelical preacher on the radio say that he wanted to design a Christmas card image that reflected his own perspective on the nativity: a disturbing image of Mary on the ground drenched in blood, screaming in agony while giving birth.

The purpose of the preacher’s controversial idea, which may or may not have come to fruition, was to “tell it like it was” and shake people up. Although I’d rather not go to that extreme, I focused on poverty while meditating on this mystery and how God loved me so much that He allowed His Son to be born into a poor family. That little baby in a Bethlehem stable would definitely shake people up one day.

4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – Fruit of the Spirit: Obedience

This particular mystery was a breath of fresh air for me yesterday. Our Heavenly Father wants our obedience because that is the only way He can help us. When we surrender to God and His will, we are like baby Jesus in the arms of Simeon, receiving a blessing in the Lord’s very own temple. It is quite an amazing image that  brought tears to my eyes.

You may feel that you are worthless and that nobody loves you. Maybe you’ve been told this so many times that you have started to believe it. Take another look at the image above and see how proud Mary, Joseph, and Simeon the priest are. God and all of the angels and saints in heaven are just as proud of you.

Do some studying and find out about God’s image of you. He created you, so believe Him instead of mean-spirited people in your life.

5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple – Fruit of the Spirit: Joy in Finding Jesus

Joseph and Mary had been looking for their Son who they thought was in their group as they made their way back home. After three days of searching, His parents were filled with joy when they found Him.

As a parent, I can imagine their joy and relief. Like any good mother, though, the first thing that Mary did was to admonish her Son for not keeping up with them.

Despite what the fruit of the Spirit says, I saw this in the opposite way: I was lingering behind, doing my own thing, and my spiritual family, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and all the saints in heaven, celebrated and embraced me when I rejoined them.

Final Thoughts

God is nothing like my earthly father: staring at me with a critical eye, waiting for me to mess up so he can hit and berate me. Glory be to Christ that I have a loving Father who longs for me to wallow out of my sin and come back each time I mess up.

As I smiled and praised God for turning my sadness to joy yesterday, I thought of all the individuals in the world who have been hurt by religion or who don’t know the joy and love of the faith. I pray that others can find that bright pearl of Christ in their own lives.

~t


Do You Want to Get Well?

When we give ourselves and our problems over to God, He is faithful and will help us.

Yeah, right.

During the years that I was a church-hopping Protestant, I would hear personal testimonies about how God miraculously helped someone become a brand-new person in Christ. The Bible talks about this in several places; for example, 2 Corinthians 5:17 (RSV) says: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

I used to read about all the men and women in the New Testament who were changed like this: Paul, Mary Magdalene, Peter, etc. I listened to individuals stand up in front of churches and give testimonies. I would see people in church and wonder how they had their lives changed by Christ. Was it because they naturally had outgoing, ambitious personalities? Was it due to their being on a spiritual high every Sunday? How come God didn’t change me? Was it because I was a self-doubting introvert? Then there was no hope for me. I resigned to the belief that it just wasn’t part of God’s will for me to be a new creation. Maybe the Calvinists were right. I was starting to fear that Unconditional Election was indeed true.

I remember watching Pat Robertson on The 700 Club or other televangelists who would look into the camera and tell me that my life would be transformed and I would be a new man, able to flippantly dismiss sin as a king shooing away a servant.

There was something wrong. It was looking more and more like the Bible and Christianity were only for “winners” who already had positivity beaming out of their orifices like rays of sunshine.

Yelling and forcing did nothing. I didn’t last very long at non-denominational denominations because I had absolutely no interest in emulating the fake smiles and loud, obnoxious good ol’ boys who were “on fire for Jee-zus.” It just wasn’t me.

So, I figured I had two choices: 1) give up and become an atheist or a neo-pagan; or 2) pray like crazy.

I chose the latter because I still had a mustard seed of faith and, darn it, I was bound and determined to have this Holy Spirit live in me.

Matthew 16:25 says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Sorry, Jesus. That’s too cryptic for me.

There is a hymn that I remember from my college days that goes, “…we must die to ourselves and live through Your death.” What the heck does that mean? I have to give up everything and be a monk? That was a pretty scary thought.

So I prayed and prayed. I read everything that I could find about what it meant to surrender to God. I listened to religious call-in programs. I was doing and doing and doing.

I was thinking, I’m doing everything right, so how come I’m not growing in my faith? How come I’m not getting closer to God?

And, wouldn’t you know it, I took an inventory of my life one day and it dawned on me. I was going through the motions of being Catholic, but at the same time I was looking at Internet porn whenever I felt like it, listening to Satanic metal, masturbating regularly, using my illness as an excuse to be down, neglecting my family, and so on. I either had to do something drastic or remain miserable. I was like the invalid in the story from John 5: 1-9 (emphasis mine):

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

It was incredibly hard to cut off social media contacts with all of the negative influences in my life. I quit drinking (because it would sometimes lead me to sin), I stopped looking at porn, I stopped masturbating, I quit whining about being in a sexless marriage — basically I did some major spring cleaning.

That made all the difference.

What about you? Do you want to get well? Tired of being miserable year after year like the man in the above story? You gotta get the sin out of your life and turn to God.

And, yes, it is as hard as it sounds, but it’s what you need to get well.

~t

(photo by Topaz)


The Luminous Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday was a challenging day. The beginning of the semester is always hectic, and I end up running on just four or five hours of sleep each day. Not even a Starbucks triple espresso could help me much this morning.

Driving to campus, my anger, fatigue, and frustration from work and other life events became too much. What to do?

I tried spontaneous prayer, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Someone told me once to recite the Our Father or Hail Mary prayer in such times. The key to recited prayers is to say it with all your heart, though — “say it like you mean it.”

So I prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. During rush-hour traffic, my mind and heart were taken away to a higher place, above the hustle and bustle of daily life. I no longer focused on being at a standstill on the highway and possibly arriving late for class. The holy power of the Rosary lifted me above all that.

I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts and meditations that I had while praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary this morning.

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1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River – Fruit of the Spirit: Openness to the Holy Spirit

This really set the tone for the Mysteries. It humbled me and caused me to examine my anger and frustration issues. Why was I letting petty things get the best of me? Don’t I have the Holy Spirit in me?

Even Jesus, the Son of God, is baptized. The Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit came down like a dove upon Him (Matthew 3:16). God was showing me that I had to let go of control; He is Lord and, until I surrender to Him, I will continue to be frustrated and angry at the little things in life — and everything is little in God’s eyes.

wedding-feast-at-cana

2. The Wedding Feast at Cana – Fruit of the Spirit: Fidelity

I particularly love this Mystery because it shows Mary’s maternal bond with Jesus. The wedding feast at Cana is where Jesus performs His first miracle of His ministry; and, at first, He tells his mother that it isn’t time yet. But, how could he refuse his beloved mother? At her request, Jesus changes the water into wine so that the wedding party could continue (because what is a wedding reception without wine?).

Interestingly, Mary tells the attendants to “do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) This opened my eyes and forced me to examine my heart. Are there any areas of my life in which sin still dominates? What do I need to do to get rid of it? Fidelity means being true to your spouse; Christ wants our full loyalty and not just part of it.

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3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God – Fruit of the Spirit: Desire for Holiness

For me, this is the high point of the Luminous Mysteries. Jesus’ ministry is in full swing, and it’s now time for Him to announce to the world that God’s Kingdom has come! What a glorious image.

One thing I love about the Rosary is that it is meditative: I can picture Jesus among the people, His dusty sandals leaving prints on the ground, the murmur of the townspeople as they marvel at His words, and the sun beating down on His flesh.

I’m reminded of the Good News of the Scriptures and how God has called me to be one of His children. I desire what The Lord desires, and we become one.

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4. The Transfiguration – Fruit of the Spirit: Spiritual Courage

This Mystery somehow reminds me of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the temple (Matthew 21:12), displaying the fire of righteous anger and zeal for His Father. When Christ is transfigured before the eyes of three of His apostles, it is a dazzling and radiant event that they would never forget.

The fruit of the Spirit compels me to view my trials and tribulations in light of the transfiguration (no pun intended). When someone opposes me or sets out to cause me harm for whatever reason, I must remember that the Devil is at war with God, and that unseen warfare also plays out in the material world. Seeing the bigger picture is comforting and takes the focus off myself.

betrayal-last-supper

5. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of Our Eucharistic Lord

What would my faith be without the Holy Eucharist: the body and blood of Christ? If it weren’t for Jesus offering Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for me, then everything that I believe would be in vain; life would be meaningless.

Christ is always present in the Eucharist and desires to help us. However, we must allow him to do so. Revelation 3:20 essentially says that we must make the decision to let Jesus heal us.

By this point in the Mysteries, my batteries are fully charged and I’m ready to stop my “woe is me” whining. Jesus came to set the captives free. Prayer and meditation on these Mysteries allow me to let Him set me free.

Final Thoughts

Of course, prayer, whether it be vocal, meditative, or contemplative, isn’t the same as chanting a magic spell and seeing the immediate effect appear before your eyes. If God doesn’t answer, it doesn’t mean He is ignoring you or is indifferent to your problems and concerns. God has a reason for everything that He does.

So, if you’re feeling F.I.N.E.* (faithless, insecure, neurotic, emotional), stop for a moment and pray. If you can’t bring yourself to pray, then at least think about everything in your life that you’re thankful for. We should all count our blessings.

~t

*title of an Aerosmith song


If I Were the Devil

Credit: Linda Lisa

If you’re like me and don’t get out much — in the cyber world or in the real world — then you might not have heard the essay by radio broadcaster Paul Harvey entitled “If I Were the Devil.” Apparently it has been making the rounds again.

I heard the broadcast for the first time on Catholic radio a few months ago and was very intrigued; it’s from 1964 and is quite prophetic.

Since the original broadcast, Paul Harvey periodically updated the text to reflect the constant changes in society. So, if you scour the Internet, you’ll run across this recording in various forms.

The following is the transcript of the original 1964 broadcast:

If I were the Prince of Darkness I would want to engulf the whole earth in darkness.

I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree.

So I should set about however necessary to take over the United States.

I would begin with a campaign of whispers.

With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.”

To the young I would whisper, “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “man created God” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is ‘square.’”

In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct.

And the old I would teach to pray — to say after me — “Our father which art in Washington.”

Then I’d get organized.

I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull, uninteresting.

I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies, and vice versa.

I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing, less work. Idle hands usually work for me.

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could, I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction, I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the Devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild.

I’d designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts and I’d get preachers to say, “She’s right.”

With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography.

Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress.

Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science.

If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg

And the symbol of Christmas a bottle.

If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. Then my police state would force everybody back to work.

Then I would separate families, putting children in uniform, women in coal mines and objectors in slave-labor camps.

If I were Satan I’d just keep doing what I’m doing and the whole world [would] go to hell as sure as the Devil.

Below is a video featuring an updated version from c. 1996:

~t


Pride Comes Before a Fall

Credit: David Lazar

The title of this post is a common saying. It’s so common that a lot of people don’t know that it’s from the Bible (Proverbs 16:18). For instance, this online dictionary doesn’t mention any biblical source: It’s merely referred to as an idiom in the English language.

All of the verses in the Book of Proverbs are awesome, and we need to apply them to our lives. However, verse 18 of chapter 16 (“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”) is one that I consider extremely important — a key in maintaining my faith and humility in order to stay close to God.

A minister at a certain Protestant-based church that I used to attend taught me the acronym KISS. No, the minister wasn’t a fan of the rock group of the same name (at least not that I knew of). It stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” Now, stupid isn’t a very polite word. We don’t let our kids say it. However, I’ve heard variations of it at work and even in my parish such as “keep it simple, silly” or “keep it short and simple.” (The latter sort of adds more meaning to it, so I don’t particularly like that one. But if you do, then that’s totally cool.)

I’m mentioning all this because “pride comes before a fall” is one of those wise sayings in the Bible that is in line with the KISS philosophy. And, wouldn’t you know it, those are the things that I tend to forget all about when push comes to shove in my spiritual life.

I’ve been doing well (i.e. abstaining from mortal sin, praying, going to Mass every Sunday, et cetera). So well that I actually thought that I was invincible against certain types of sin: lust, anger, and gossip to name a few.

I was under an illusion. The Evil One is always at work, scheming up ways to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). Spiritual warfare rages on every day, every hour, every minute. Angels and demons are going head-to-head right now all around me as I type (and all around you as you’re reading). This Present Darkness is a good book that illustrates this biblical concept.

I’ve finished the first week of the fall semester at my job, and, while it was hectic, things went fairly well. I didn’t realize that my prayer time was going downhill. I had been praying a little less than usual, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was still in the mindset, though, that I was winning the battle against the darkness; never mind the fact that I was becoming more susceptible to temptation and outright sin.

If you’ve kept up with my posts, you’ll know that my wife is basically a non-practicing Buddhist/Shintoist (I’ll let you think on that for a second). She’s cool with my being Catholic. The only issue that we stay away from is abortion; although we agree to disagree on this subject, it still comes up from time to time. So, like the bumper sticker says, we “coexist.”

Anyway, we were driving to the park this morning, and my wife, Ayako, was telling me about a recent situation she had with a Christian friend named Molly. They were standing near a pond, and Molly told her son to get away from the edge because she didn’t want him to fall in. Her son said, “I won’t fall in.”

Ayako tried to remember what Molly said in reply. “She said something like ‘If you’re too confident, you’ll fall in too easily’ I think.”

After a moment, I said, “Oh, you mean ‘pride comes before a fall.'”

“Yes! How did you know?”

“Because it’s from the Bible. It’s really famous.” I changed the subject to something else, quickly forgetting about that verse from Proverbs.

Little did I know that God was giving me one last chance to repent before He would humble me.

Sure enough, later in the day, my house of cards collapsed. I found myself plunged into various types of sin that, just a week ago, thought that I was above and too good for.

Broken and troubled, I turned to prayer. Not the superficial kind that I had been practicing, but the real, honest, gut-check kind.

I heard God’s whisper in my heart almost immediately: Pride comes before a fall.

Boy, does it.

How could I have been so bone-headed?

Because you’re human. Now get back up and continue the race.

I felt like I had finally pulled my head out of the ground where it had been stuck for the past few weeks. What an amazing feeling.

It’s even more amazing to be reminded about God’s love for us. He was giving me signs that I thought didn’t pertain to me. He allowed me to fall in order for me to learn my lesson. When I came to my senses, God was waiting with open arms.

In the Parable of the Lost Son, Jesus tells how God will always forgive us, no matter how badly we mess up (Luke 15:11-32). After the son squanders his inheritance and reaches rock bottom, he decides to go back to his father:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

~t


The Sorrowful Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Monday was the first day of classes at my college. The first week is usually chaotic as I try to get on top of my classes, serve on committees, get late students into correct classes, and so on. By the end of the day yesterday evening (only the second day!), I was exhausted, stressed, and reeling from sin and temptation.

Even though the fall semester has started, it’s still hot as blazes here in Texas, so a lot of students are still wearing as little as possible. Needless to say, it is not uncommon for me to encounter “spiritual landmines” throughout my day: lust and temptation.

I prefer to pray the Rosary at home in a quiet place, but I decided to play the CD during my commute home. I don’t listen to the Rosary on CD very often, especially while driving, but it was one of those days. What better way to cleanse the mind and refocus on God?

The calming background music and soft voice of the narrator immediately took the focus off myself. God knew exactly what I needed because yesterday happened to be the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I prayed along with the CD, the Mysteries and fruits of the Spirit totally matched my struggles. Not only did God put the idea on my heart to pray the Rosary, He also, in His glory, matched me up with exactly what I needed to hear and pray about.

I have listed each Sorrowful Mystery below, along with my thoughts and practical applications that I gleaned from my meditation.

Agony-in-the-Garden

1. The Agony in the Garden – Fruit of the Spirit: Sorrow for Sin

Three words stood out to me on this one: agony, sorrow, and sin. As I mentioned, it was a day filled with temptation (which day isn’t?), so I was feeling really guilty and sorry for letting my mind dwell on forbidden thoughts throughout the day. Even before I started the CD, I was already asking God to forgive me for not avoiding everything that led me to sin.

Plus, the image of Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane puts everything into perspective: I’m the sinner, so I should have been the one crying out to God to “take this cup away from me.” (Luke 22:42) Instead, out of His love for me, Christ took my place.

scourging

2. The Scourging at the Pillar – Fruit of the Spirit: Purity

There’s that word, purity. The Lord was speaking directly to me. That’s God: He always knows what we need and when we need it.

While I was letting my thoughts run loose, at one point Christ was being beaten within an inch of His life. He is the essence of purity yet was treated as a common criminal for my sake. Remember, He is God in the flesh, and He stooped down to this level for me.

That’s love. Not the warm-and-fuzzy sort of love that comes with infatuation; rather, it’s the self-sacrificing kind that a mother has for her child. I know that my mother would give her life for me, just as I would for my children.

St-Takla-org--Jesus-Crown-of-Thorns-07

3. The Crowning of Thorns – Fruit of the Spirit: Courage

Of course, when the word courage was mentioned during the introduction of this Mystery, I said a special “thank you” prayer to God. He was allowing me to see the progression I was to take: be sorry for my sins, vow to be pure, and now He was showing me that I must have courage to “fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

Let me tell you, when you give your whole self over to God, he will rock your world. And it’s scary. On one hand, you know that God is with you — you can just feel it. And it feels awesome! However, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you will periodically have doubts. For me, those doubts are crippling to me because I’m now doing something totally out of character like leading a men’s purity group or helping struggling Christians regain their faith.

He-Carried-That-Cross-For-Us

4. The Carrying of the Cross – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

Okay, so you’re feeling pretty fired up and are living out your faith. That’s wonderful. Now another hurdle is in your path: patience. Just as Jesus endured the long, arduous walk to the place where He was crucified, we must also carry our own crosses (Luke 14:27). There will be times that you stumble and drop your burdensome cross due to its enormous weight; those times call for patience, a fruit of the Spirit.

Actually, even when things are going well for me, just one unanswered prayer can sink my mood and discourage me like crazy. I need to remember that God has His own plan, and it’s usually different from mine!

There may have been a time when Jesus merely wanted everything to be finished. Imagine going through a hyped-up trial, a severe beating and torture, and then, half dead already, having to carry an instrument of your own execution for what seems like miles and miles.

crucifixion

5. The Crucifixion – Fruit of the Spirit: Perseverance

Being a Christian isn’t a part-time job or hobby. It’s a lifetime commitment. So it’s not by accident that the last fruit of the Spirit of these Mysteries happens to be perseverance. God never said it would be an easy life. In fact, the Bible says to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

We must persevere and not give up because the cycle will repeat itself: commit sin, resolve to be pure, find courage, exercise patience, and not give up. Persevere because we will fall again. When (not if) that happens, we must get back up and keep trying our best.

I always thought that crucifixion was an immediate death, but it’s not. The Romans perfected this method of execution to prolong the suffering of the victim as long as possible. When criminals were crucified in the first century, they most likely died from asphyxiation after hours or even days of excruciating pain on the cross. (Actually, the word excruciating is derived from crucifixion).

Conclusion

I am so thankful to God for teaching me this lesson as I calmly fought rush-hour traffic on my way home yesterday. Just typing this out helps me to recall and meditate once more upon these Sorrowful Mysteries.

I pray that The Lord will inspire me to write reflections on the other Mysteries of the Rosary as well: the Joyful, the Luminous, and the Glorious. I’m in no hurry, though, because I will wait on God to inspire me. In the meantime, I’ll be putting into practice the five fruits of the Spirit from this post.

~t


Homosexuality and Bullying

Credit: Fotolia

I have taken part in several flash fiction challenges over the years. I love writing, and writing extremely short pieces of fiction really pushes me and helps me to develop more as a writer. Hopefully at some point I can make time to continue this guilty pleasure.

I had wanted to discuss two different issues on this blog at some point in time; however, after going through my old file of stories, I found something that should really be categorized as “flash flash fiction:” The challenge was to write a story in only 100 words. 100. That is probably as long as my “About Me” page on my blog. Ridiculously brief. And that’s why I took the challenge!

What’s interesting is that the 100-word flash fiction piece addresses both of the issues that I wanted to write about. Why not kill two birds with one stone? I originally wanted to discuss each topic in separate posts, but I will attempt to merge them here and try not to bore you with an outrageously long post.

Anyway, here is the flash fiction piece entitled “Bullies and the Bullied:”

We always made Todd close his eyes in the shower after gym class.  Once, during our barrage of insults, I threw his clothes in the trash barrel.

Todd spoke softly with a lisp and only hung out with girls.  As far as I knew, he never got beat up; no guy wanted to touch him.

After that school year, we never saw him again.

***

My son’s junior high photo smiles at me from the mantle. “Of course I still love and accept you, Michael,” I say to it, wiping my eyes.

When you get home from school, I’ll tell you that, buddy.

(I wonder how many of you counted those words…? I might have been off by a few.)

The inspiration for the second half of the “story” came from a conversation that I had with my wife shortly after our oldest son (now seven-years-old) was born. I have read about quite a few parents over the years who had to come to terms with the fact that their son or daughter was gay. When I lived in Japan, I had a Canadian friend who was disowned and told to “go to hell” by his parents after coming out to them.

Of course my wife and I didn’t have to think about our response at all; we would love and accept both sons because they mean more to us than life itself. I would never have the heart to cut off all contact with my two little buddies.

Now, that doesn’t mean we would support the lifestyle. I’m sure you noticed that this blog is written by a Catholic, and I accept and believe what the Catholic Church teaches on homosexuality. But nowhere does it say that anyone should be looked upon as sub-human.

I am really ashamed to admit that the first part of my story really happened. I was young and foolish. Too concerned with trying to fit in, I joined in on the taunting and verbal abuse of my fellow seventh-grader. How I wish I could go back and shake my younger self by the shoulders and scream, “Look at yourself! Think about what you’re doing to this poor kid!”

But I can’t go back. All I can do now is hope and pray that “Todd” is safe and not going through the harassment like he did every day after gym class so many years ago.

Maybe I joined the crowd because the focus of my peers was temporarily off of my awkward, uncoordinated self. Or maybe because I had to take my frustrations out on someone more vulnerable than I; anger and hurt from my father’s continued physical and verbal abuse during my entire childhood would build up from time to time.

There is never a legitimate reason to bully or hate someone. In fifth grade, our family moved to a new city, and that meant a brand new school for my sister and me. By that age, every kid in my new class already had their social groups fixed, and they made it clear that I wasn’t allowed in. Needless to say, I was bullied and even had mud thrown at me. It wasn’t until later in junior high that I finally made a few friends: other outcasts who knew that strength in numbers would be the only way to survive the dark, scary corridors of high school.

Going back to the topic of homosexuality, the Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a sin.  Rather, they teach that homosexual activity is a sin because it goes against the laws of God.

God gave each and every one of us dignity when He created us. As a result, every person on the planet deserves our love and respect.

~t