Deacon’s Corner, June 24 2018

We rush to church, get there just in time for Mass, then sit down only to be distracted.  Maybe it’s something different in church, someone to talk to, or just getting the kids settled into the pew.  When that happens, here are a few simple tips to help stay focused:

 Begin to prepare before you arrive:  Drive to church in silence.  Turn off the radio.  Shut your phone off.  Leave those important conversations for after Mass.  Let the silence sink in to transition your mind from the secular to the sacred.

Get to Mass early and pray.  If praying is difficult, just sit and talk to God.  Remind yourself you are in His presence and about to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  Thank Him for this gift of grace.  The more time, the better, but ten minutes before Mass is better than none at all.

Sit close to the front.  The front pews are the best seats in the house.  But they are often empty during Mass.  Kimberly and I discovered when our kids were very young they behaved better in the front pew than the back pew.  They were fascinated to watch what was going on.  It works for adults too.

Keep your hands folded in prayer.  Posture is important.  Your body reminds your heart and mind what they should be doing.  Keep a reverent posture while sitting, standing, and kneeling.  After all, you are in the presence of the King of the Universe!

Participate in the Mass.  Mass is not a spectator sport. You are not there to be entertained.  Say the prayers and sing the songs.  Listen to the Scriptures.  Wonder how they are speaking to you.  Live in the Sacred Mystery of the bread and wine becoming the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus.  The more you stay engaged, the more rewarding Mass is to your mind.

Bring back those wandering thoughts.  Mass is the highest level of prayer we offer God.  It’s the place where heaven and earth are joined.  St Francis de Sales said if the heart wanders, gently bring it back into the Lord’s presence.  Remind yourself you are in the Lord’s presence!

Add your prayers and sacrifices to those of the Mass.  You bring your special prayer intentions and your personal sacrifices to every Mass.  Offer them up Mass.  When the priest says “Pray brethren, that my sacrifice AND YOURS may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” consciously think of what these are for you.

Ask for help.  Your Guardian Angel is always with you.  Simply ask your guardian angel, who is adoring Christ in the eternal Mass along with you, to help you pray well and stay attentive.

We live in a fast-paced world.  When we bring that world into Mass, so many things are bouncing around in our heads that we forget the most important thing happening in our world in that moment – Jesus is in the house!  May we pray to stay focused at Mass and enjoy the special time in the presence of our God.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, June 17 2018

Why do we go to Mass?  Essentially, we go to grow spiritually and worship as a faith community.  At Mass, we profess what we believe and bear witness to Christ by openly celebrating our Catholic faith before the world.  We go to Mass to share in the wonder of God’s love and be transformed by the Spirit of holiness.  When that happens, we go forward to live our faith and share with others that there is something greater in life to come.

Our Mass has not changed much over the past 2000 years.  In 155 AD, St Justin Martyr wrote a letter to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to explain and defend how the Early Christians worshiped.  St. Justin wrote: “On the day we call the day of the sun [Sunday], all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.  The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.  When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.  Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves…and for others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.  When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.  Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.  He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks [in Greek: eucharistian] that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.   When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying “Amen.”  When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the eucharisted bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.”  Ten years after he wrote this, Marcus Aurelius had St. Justin condemned, scourged, & beheaded for not worshiping Roman gods.  St Justin Martyr loved the Mass and gave his life for it.

In his book, Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly writes Catholics have lost their sense of wonder about the Mass.  He asks are we “so unaware of the mystery and the privilege [of the Mass] that we can hardly wait to get out of church?”  He says if we truly believe Christ is present in the Eucharist, then the power unleashed within us through receiving the Eucharist is “unfathomable.”  But we cannot experience this feeling if we simply go to Mass because it’s our Sunday “obligation” or someone told us to.  The only way to grow spiritually at Mass and enjoy the camaraderie of our faith community is to rediscover the same wonder those First Christians experienced celebrating Jesus’ presence among them when He said, ‘do this in memory of me’.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, June 10 2018

In the next few weeks, over 3.6 million high school students will walk across the stages in America to collect their diplomas.   Somewhere among the Baccalaureates, open houses, and commencements is the reality that change is coming for these young men and women.  Whether they continue their education, serve in the military, or join the workforce; they will encounter new people of all backgrounds, religions, lifestyles, beliefs and worldviews.  No matter the role we play in their lives, we can pray for them as they begin this new journey.  So, let us pray…..

¨ Pray for wisdom and guidance so they know God gives them a godly purpose.  Pray they will trust in the Lord.  Pray they will seek to know and do the will of God and follow Christ fully (Proverbs 3:5–6).

¨ Pray they develop good and godly habits.  Pray they make good choices.  Pray they connect with a local parish and be involved in serving Christ on and off their campus or workplace.  Pray for friends who will encourage and support them; friends who will lift them up and not drag them down.  Pray they are not deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

¨ Pray for their finances.  Pray they will be responsible for credit cards, student loans, travel, clothing, entertainment and personal expenses.  Pray God will provide for their needs. Pray they will spend wisely and give generously.

¨ Pray they remember what they learned at home and in church as they face new temptations, hardships, and dangers.  Pray for their safety.  Pray they will be witnesses for Christ in the way they speak, serve, love, and live.  Pray they be an example in faith, purity and devotion to God. “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

¨ Pray for their teachers, professors, counselors, and bosses.  Pray these people will build them in strength of character and ability to think and act in a way that pleases God.

¨ Pray for their parents and siblings. Pray family ties remain strong and that these young adults will continue to honor their parents and love their family.

¨ Pray for their witness.  Pray our graduates become influencers, leaders and missionaries on campuses, in the market place, and workplaces. Pray they receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be bold, confident and eager witnesses sharing their faith wherever they go.  (Acts 1:8).

Today’s graduates are the next generation of workers and leaders, spouses and parents, to navigate an unbelieving world.  May we pray for them to be up to this challenge and never forget their Baptism and Christian walk.  May they grow in the peace and love of Christ to become the person God wants them to be.

Adapted from a June 3, 2018 Fox News commentary by Prof. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church and the host of PowerPoint Ministries.

 

Deacon’s Corner, June 3 2018

Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered Purgatory and how our soul leaves the body as soon as we die to be immediately judged by God.  Based on this judgement, our soul will go directly to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.  This is called the “Particular Judgement.”  Our soul is reunited with our body during the “General Judgement” when Christ returns at the end of time.  This week let’s cover Hell and the “General Judgement”.

Jesus tells us there is a Hell and it is eternal.  He says it’s a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, where condemned souls are tormented, and the fire is not quenched (Matthew 13:50, Mark 9:48).  Hell is a state of everlasting suffering and separation from God.  God does not condemn anyone to Hell.  Instead, He invites everyone to choose the path of love and holiness over the path of greed, selfishness, and sin.  God gave us a free will and respects the choices we make.  People end up in Hell because they deliberately cut themselves off from God during their life on earth.  So, people choose to go to Hell and God lets them go.   We must recognize that Hell is a very real possibility.  To deny Hell exists is to deny a truth of our Faith.

The Church has declared some men and women to be saints in Heaven.  But, she has never stated that any particular person is in Hell.  No notorious sinner, murderous tyrant, or scandalous heretic has never been declared by the Church to be among the damned.  That’s because the Church simply does not want to presume anyone is in Hell.  That’s for God to decide.  But, that doesn’t mean Hell is empty.  It only means we cannot be certain who is there.  It would be dangerous to presume that Hell is empty, non-existent, or temporary and everyone is eventually saved in the end.

We pray in the Creed, “Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”   This is the General Judgement (or Last Judgement, Final Judgement, or Universal Judgement) – the Second Coming of Christ where God’s eternal plan of salvation is fully revealed.  At this time, God’s majesty, wisdom, justice, and mercy will be seen as everything that happened throughout human history will be unveiled.  General Judgement is not a “retrial”.   It’s a time when Particular Judgements are revealed for all to see.  Purgatory will cease to exist.  There is no opportunity for the souls in Hell to repent as they have already made their eternal choice.  After the General Judgement, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul (Catechism 1042-43, 1 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1).

Talking about death and judgement raise the ultimate questions of our existence.  We may fear the unknowns of death and eternity.  But we can console ourselves by trusting what God has promised to the faithful who die in a state of grace is something far more wonderful than any of us can possibly imagine.

Deacon John

Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” by Rev. James Socias

 

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 27 2018

 

My dad, and my good friend Bob, had a big influence on my life.  Both are home with the Lord.   Both were men of character, real gentlemen, and devote in their Catholic faith.  Both were part of the Greatest Generation we all owe so much.

Dad was 19 and part of a landing craft crew when he landed on Utah Beach the morning of D-Day.  As they hit the beach, his landing craft was disabled.  Under heavy fire, they abandoned their craft, hastily picked up whatever equipment they could find lying in the sand and joined an Army recon unit fighting their way off the beach.  For a month, he fought to liberate French towns in Normandy before returning to his ship.  When he did, he discovered half of his crew did not make it off the beach that morning.  Dad died suddenly almost 10 years ago, never really talking much about his war experience.

Bob was also a Navy vet and crewed a landing craft.  He was 18 and halfway to Japan for invasion of the mainland when the war finally ended.  Bob provided security for the USS Missouri as the Japanese signed the surrender document aboard it.  He remembers sailing into Tokyo Bay immediately afterward, wondering if it was all really a trap.  Bob spent the rest of the war as a first responder clearing the rubble from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bringing food and water to Japanese citizens who survived the devastation.  Bob died 2 years ago when his heart was too tired to pump anymore.

A month before he died, our son wrote Bob a letter which said, “instead of me saying ‘thank you for your service,’ I want to say thank you for putting your life on hold 70 years ago to preserve our nation’s freedom and fight tyranny abroad.  Thank for your ensuring evil will not triumph or reach our nation shores.  Few people know the unique feeling of signing your life away for a cause greater than one’s self.  Few people know what it is like to raise your right hand and take an oath.  Few people know what it is like to put your life on hold and go to a foreign country to fight, knowing full well that a living, breathing, thinking enemy is waiting for them when they get there.  Your service to our country meant the preservation of our freedom for many years to come, and your sacrifices for our nation will never be forgotten.   Respectfully, Major Justin Amthor USMC.”

While speaking at a memorial service after the war, General George Patton said, “let’s not ask God why these men had to die. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”  As we kick off the summer this Memorial Weekend, may we pray for the men and women who sacrificed their lives to fight evil and protect freedom.  May we never forget them – and thank God that they lived.  May perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Bulletin Article, May 20 2018

Over the last two weeks, we talked about Pope Francis telling Emanuele “God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven.”  The reality of death reminders us our days on earth are numbered.  Therefore, we should strive to make the best of our time here using our God-Given gifts to do His will and receive His grace.  To die in the grace of God is called a Good Death.  The surest way to die a Good Death is to live a good Christian life so God, in His mercy, may judge us worthy of entering His Kingdom.

When we die, our soul leaves the body and is judged immediately by God.  At death, the possibility of merit, demerit, or conversion ceases.  The soul will go directly to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.  This is called the “Particular Judgement”.  Our soul is reunited with our body during the “Final Judgement” when Christ returns at the end of time.  (More on Final Judgement and Hell next week.)

Purgatory comes from the Latin word purgare, meaning “to purify.”  Our belief in the soul needing purification after death to enter Heaven is rooted in ancient Jewish thought and strongly implied in Scripture.   Purgatory has been part of Sacred Tradition since the Church’s beginning.  Evidence of Purgatory is found in the 2nd Book of Maccabees (two centuries before Christ).  Jewish militants led by Judas Maccabees returned to a battlefield to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades only to find them wearing tokens of a pagan idol –  a clear violation of God’s 1st Commandment.  Judas Maccabees and his soldiers offered prayers for the dead so their sins may be forgiven.  They took up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem as a “sin offering” (2 Maccabees 12: 43-45).  Praying for the dead implies their sins may be cleansed in the next life.  That’s why we pray for the dead today.

St Paul writes upon our death that the work we do will be tested by fire.  If the work is good, we survive the test and are rewarded.  If not, the work is lost, and we can only be saved through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).  In speaking of the resurrection, St Peter writes “we may have to suffer various trials, so the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).”  Fire is a biblical symbol for purification.  Being saved through fire after being judged for our life’s work means we can undergo a purification process after death.  This purification takes place in Purgatory.

Our Catechism says “On the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love (CCC 1022.)”  Therefore, we should strive to live a good life in God’s grace so we can die a Good Death.  Always remembering “God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven.”  Deacon John

Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” by Rev. James Socias

 

Deacon John Bulletin, May 13 2018

Last Sunday, I wrote about a little boy named Emanuele who asked Pope Francis if his nonbelieving dad would go to Heaven.  After hearing what a good man Emanuele’s dad was, Pope Francis said, “God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven.”  This Sunday I thought I would take a look at the old question that never seems to go away – “Do unbaptized babies go to heaven?”

Limbo used to be a popular notion among Catholics to explain what happened to unbaptized infants who die.  Limbo, however, was never an official teaching of the Church.  It was simply a theoretical solution to the question of what happens to such children after death.  The question comes up because all people are born with Original Sin which is washed away with the sanctifying grace received through the Sacrament of Baptism.   However, very young children are not able to sin because they have not reached the age of reason.  But nothing impure can enter heaven.  So, does that mean they are to be condemned to Hell?  Limbo was an attempt by theologians (not the Church) during the Middle Ages to explain how unbaptized infants might be sent to a state called “Limbo” which derived from the Latin word “Limbus” meaning “border”.  Namely, they are neither in Heaven nor in Hell.

While Jesus didn’t reveal what happens to unbaptized infants who die, the Church’s official position is that Sacred Scripture and Tradition provide plenty of reason for us to hope that those innocent children enjoy the full happiness of eternity in Heaven.  Regarding children who die without Baptism, our Catechism says the Church can only entrust them to the great mercy of God who desires everyone to be saved (1261).  Jesus showed his tenderness to children when He said “Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them.” (Mark 10:14)  His words provide us hope there is always a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.

So, with all that said, do unbaptized babies go to Heaven?  It really doesn’t seem fair if they don’t. And I do like what Pope Francis told Emanuele – God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven.  As I wrote last week, I think if we really believe in God’s love, we can trust him to do the right thing.  

Deacon John

Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” by Rev. James Socias; and the “International Theological Commission – Hope of Salvation for Infants who Die Without Being Baptized”, www.vatican.va

 

 

Deacon John Bulletin Article, May 6 2018

While answering the usual questions asked by reporters, Pope Francis spotted a little boy named Emanuele a short distance away crying and wanting to ask him a question.  He called the boy over and embraced him.  With their heads touching, Emanuele told Pope Francis his father passed away a little while ago.  He said his dad was a nonbeliever but had all four of his children baptized.  Emanuele said his dad was a good man, then asked, “Is my dad in heaven?”

Pope Francis replied to the crowd, “How beautiful to hear a son say of his father.  He was good.  And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us.  If that man was able to make his children like that, then it’s true, he was a good man.  He was a good man.  That man did not have the gift of faith.  He wasn’t a believer.  But, he had his children baptized.  He had a good heart.  God is the one who decides who goes to heaven.”

Then Pope Francis asked Emanuele to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has.  He said, “What do you think?  A father’s heart.  God has a dad’s heart.  And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptized his children and gave them that bravura [great understanding], do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?  Does God abandon his children when they are good?”  The children shouted, “NO!”   Pope Francis turned to Emanuele and said, “There, Emanuele, that is the answer.  God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier to be a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer.  Surely, this pleased God very much.  Talk to your dad, pray to your dad.”

Pope Francis avoided placing himself above God.  He didn’t pass judgement.  Pope Francis chose to act on what he knows about God rather than limit God’s mercy.   We can argue forever among ourselves about how many angels dance on the head of a pin, the doctrine in the Catechism, or the latest debate on Catholic radio talk shows.  But at the end of the day, God is the one who decides who gets into heaven.  Not me.  Not you.  Not even the Pope. But God.

How would you have answered Emanuele?  How would you explain this to a non-believing friend?  How do we know our loved ones are in heaven?  We don’t.  But, I think if we really believe in God’s love, we can trust him to do the right thing.  

Deacon John

Adapted from “Is my dad in heaven? Little boy asks pope”, Catholic News Agency;  April 16, 2018

 

Deacon John Bulletin, April 29 2018

 

Did you ever wonder what the priest or deacon is praying quietly when adding a little water to the wine during the Preparation of the Gifts?  It is a beautiful prayer from the Roman Missal (that big red book Father prays from during Mass).  The words of the prayer are “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to celebrate the Divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”  That’s it.  Nothing concrete or absolute.  Just a simple prayer that we keep our hearts open and celebrate our life with God.  Too often in today’s world we want concrete facts and absolute answers.  But as Christians, God asks us to trust him – to take a leap of faith – that he has a plan, and the plan is good.   God’s plan is a mystery to us, as it should be, because we are only human, and that’s OK. May we pray today that we have the wisdom and patience to seek God’s plan for us and celebrate the Mystery of our life.

May you have a blessed week celebrating the Easter Season!

Deacon John

 

Deacon John Bulletin Article, April 22 2018

I seem to be getting asked a lot about “spirituality” the past few weeks.   People wondering why their spirituality and prayer life is different from others.  I think spirituality can be look at much like “personality”.  Each of us has a unique personality.  Although personalities can be grouped into “types”, for the most part, we are all different.  So, why can’t we look at spirituality way?  Just like my personality is different from yours, so is my spirituality. One good look around the church at Eucharistic Adoration shows people reading devotionals, praying the rosary, on their knees in deep in prayer, and fixated on starring at the Eucharist.  All of them are worshiping God with their unique, and very different, spirituality.  And that’s something we must respect in each other.  Forcing my spirituality on you is like forcing you to act like me.

To understand our own spirituality, we must know where we are on our spiritual journey.  It’s a journey, for the most of us, that lasts a lifetime.  It only happens when we strive for holiness and desire to be with God.  That means our hearts and minds and actions are in full union with Him every day of our lives.  Our spiritual journey has three distinct phases.  It begins with the Purgative Phase where our soul yearns for more.  We experience an awakening, a wakeup call, and begin to recognize our desires and affections are not fed by an attraction to sin or worldly temptations.  Next, we move into the Illuminative Phase where we start to grow in prayer life and love for others.  We begin to think and act differently while developing a deepening desire to be with God.  Finally, we move to the Unitive Phase where a deep union with God brings an inner joy and profound humility to be content with ourselves and seek to make other’s lives more bearable.  St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a good example of living in the Unitive Phase.  Here, we are free from fear over suffering, loss, the unknown, evil, and even death.  The Unitive Phase is what we strive for – to experience God’s continual presence in our everyday life.

Whether we know it or not, each of us are traveling on this spiritual journey.  Maybe we are just beginning, while others have finished and home with the Lord now.  What’s important is to search our hearts to know where we are at on that road and strive to make the journey.  Isaiah wrote “A highway will be there, called the holy way; No one unclean may pass over it, but it will be for his people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray on it. No lion shall be there, nor any beast of prey approach, nor be found.  But there the redeemed shall walk.” (Isaiah 35 :8-9)  As we continue celebrating this Easer Season, may we pray for courage and perseverance to travel the Holy Way to become one with God.

Deacon John