Deacon Corner, August 5 2018

In the 5th Century B.C., the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after captivity in Babylon only to find their temple destroyed and the city’s walls in ruin. They immediately rebuilt the temple, but were then faced with the challenge of no fortified wall around the city for protection.   They were defenseless against enemies, wild animals, weather, and anyone who could easily enter and cause great trouble for the people.  But, there is more to this story than just the safety and protection.

According to a report received by Nehemiah, the King’s cup bearer, the people of Jerusalem were shamed.  A city with broken walls meant it was a city of defeated people.  They felt both unsafe and humiliated at living in a destroyed city (Nehemiah 2:17).  So, God called Nehemiah to lead the people not just in rebuilding the walls, but to a much bigger project – restore Jerusalem after laying in ruins for 150 years.  Nehemiah told the Jewish leaders, “Rebuilding the walls would show God’s blessing on His people again (Nehemiah 1:9).

Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was an important sign to the enemies of Israel.  Doing so would show God’s blessing again and let them know that God was with His people (Nehemiah 1:9, 2:20).  As Nehemiah led the work to rebuild, the people experienced mockery, attacks, distractions, and temptation to sin.  Even so, God equipped them to stand firm and be determined in their efforts.  The result was completing a daunting task in just 52 days (Nehemiah 2:3-5,12; 4:3,8; 6:10-12.)

Sometimes, we face challenges that leave our life seemingly in ruins.  With our temple destroyed and our “protective walls” torn down – we can feel afraid, humiliated, and defeated.  Even so, it’s important to remember that God has a plan for our life, and to overcome these feelings requires much more than personal desire or reaching a goal.  In the midst of the ruins, Nehemiah was driven by an understanding that God appointed him to the task of rebuilding.  When God charges us with a task – whether to repair a relationship, refocus our life, or share our blessings with others – He gives us whatever skills and strength are needed to continue doing what He’s asked no matter what challenges come our way.

What kinds of challenges do you face this week? How has God equipped you to overcome them?   May we pray for the grace to persevere through our challenges and finish the tasks God gives us.  May our labors always bring Him glory.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner Bulletin, July 29 2018

The past 2 weeks we’ve been discussing the 8th Commandment which says “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” It’s all about speaking the truth.  But, sometimes speaking the truth can be hurtful.

Our Catechism teaches witnessing to the Gospel “is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known (CCC 2472).”  But witnessing the truth of the Gospel can be very difficult, even dangerous.  Many Christians have chosen martyrdom rather than reject the truth of God.  But what if speaking the truth can harm others?  What if giving my truthful opinion leads to hurt feelings, animosity, or break up a relationship?

Jesus showed us the pursuit of truth must include the virtue of charity.  That means speaking the truth in a humble and loving manner.  St Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to speak “the truth in love”- with sincerity, compassion, and understanding (Ephesians 4:15.)  We witness the truth in sincerity and love in 3 key ways:  by taking up a matter with someone privately with great delicacy and diplomacy; by simply acting in a manner consistent with our intentions (don’t say one thing and do another); and acting with sincerity and humility (be aware of our own faults when pointing out the faults of others.)  No matter how we speak the truth, we must make sure our own pride does not make us eager to point out the faults of others.

Our Catechism says charity and respect for truth should dictate our response to every request for information or communication.  That includes those times when we must not divulge the truth – like keeping a secret to protect someone or being held to a professional oath of confidentiality.   The Catechism says it’s OK to withhold the truth, or use discrete and evasive language to avoid it especially when the good and safety of others, respecting privacy, and the common good are involved.  No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who has evil intentions if the truth is known or has no right to know it (CCC 2489.)  St Raymond said in situations like this, if our conscience justifies lying to protect someone, then we may do so.  St. Augustine wrote that if our mind justifies a lie is the best answer to give in these situations, then we are not in violation of the 8th Commandment.  Of course, both would say for a very good reason.  An obvious good reason would be lying to the Nazi SS squads while hiding Jewish families in the attic during WW2.

We must always remember the Truth is Sacred; and Christ, who is the truth, expects us to testify to him by the truthfulness of our lives, our actions, and our words.  We do this by being His humble, sincere, faithful followers; always showing mercy and compassion for others.  In short, we do what Jesus would do; and treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Deacon John

Adapted from an “Introduction to Catholicism” by Father James Socias

 

Deacon’s Corner, July 22 2018

Last week, we talked about how gossip and rumors violate the Eighth Commandment.  They distort the truth about people which is hurtful and destroys that person’s dignity.  This week, let’s take a look at the virtue of “truth”.

The Eighth Commandment says “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  It obligates everyone to seek the truth.  The virtue of truth is all about sincerity and can be expressed in three ways: sincerity in ourselves, sincerity with others, and sincerity with God.  Sincerity with ourselves requires we acknowledge the truth about our own conduct, intentions, thoughts, feelings, and never ignore or fear the truth.  Sincerity with others is the ability to speak the truth so others can trust us.   If we lack integrity, our word is not reliable.  Sincerity with God means God can neither deceive nor be deceived.  It requires us to humbly examine our conscience and be honest with Him when confessing our sins.  The virtue of the truth is vital to our relationships with others.  Whether those relationships are among two people, members of families, within our community, or span across society; truth in speech, writing, or every form of communication and media, truth is what makes trusting human interaction possible.

Miscommunication – especially in the case of a direct lie, evasive language, gossip and rumors, or intentional withholding of the truth – creates mistrust within relationships and sows the seeds of scorn and hatred.  True peace, whether between individuals or nations, cannot be reached in an environment of distrust and falsehood.  The Eighth Commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth.  Offenses against the truth, either by words or actions, show others our refusal to commit ourselves to moral decency.  They are fundamental infidelities to God which undermine our relationship with Him – leading us into sin (CCC 2464-2469).

St Francis de Sales said, “Let your words be kindly, frank, sincere, straightforward, and true…remembering…it is never allowable to oppose the truth.  Make it your rule never knowingly to say what is not strictly true, either accusing or excusing, always remembering that God is the God of truth.”  

God is the source of all truth.  His law is truth.  May we pray this week for the grace to live the truth.

Deacon John

Adapted from The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2464-2469); and “Introduction to Catholicism” 

 

Deacon Corner Bulletin, July 15 2018

Gossip or Rumor?  What’s the difference?  Is there a difference?  The Oxford Dictionary defines “gossip” as “a casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”   A “rumor” is defined as “a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.”  So, what’s the difference?  Gossip is talking about someone with other people.  A rumor is spreading specific information about someone.  Both have been around forever, but that doesn’t mean they are acceptable behavior for God.  That’s why He gave us the Eighth Commandment which says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”   The Eighth Commandment requires we speak the truth and forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others.

One of the biggest things that separates us from other animals is we are made in the image and likeness of God with the ability to ask questions and seek knowledge.  As children of God, we are called through our Baptism to pursue the truth and share it with others.   So, we are bound to a moral obligation to seek the truth.  Spreading gossip or rumors, especially with the intent to harm someone, defames that person’s dignity with an unjust attack against their reputation.  Gossip and rumors are called Calumny which is a doubly malicious sin because it offends both truth and justice.

What is the difference between gossip and rumors?  Does it really matter?  St James warned early Christians to guard against the great evil of speaking falsely and warned of its serious consequences.  He wrote “The tongue is an unrighteous world among our neighbors, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.  For every type of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature, can be tamed…by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. (James 3:5-8).” Gossip and rumors leads to hurting other people.  Both can lead us into sin, especially when we influence others with our negative thoughts to sin.

As disciples of Christ, we are called to seek the truth and allow it to govern our lives through His grace.  That means we are obliged to speak honestly to honor the good names of others to uphold their dignity and protect our own dignity.  Truth is sacred, and Christ, who is the truth, expects us to testify to Him everyday by the truthfulness of our lives, our actions, and our words.

Deacon John

Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism” by Father James Socias

 

Deacon Corner, July 8 2018

 

America’s 13 original colonies met in a hot room in Philadelphia and decided to break ties with Britain.   Signing the Declaration of Independence was an act of treason.  They knew full well the penalty would be death if captured.  Of the 56 original signers, 5 were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.  12 had their homes ransacked and burned.  2 lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.  9 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.  So, who were these men who signed and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor?

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy farmer and trader, saw his ships captured by the British Navy.  He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.

Thomas McKeam was hounded by the British and forced to live on the run with his family in hiding.  McKeam served in the Congress without pay.  His possessions were taken from him leading to a life of poverty.  Soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson saw British General Cornwallis take over his home for a headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire on it.  Nelson’s home was destroyed and he died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The British jailed his wife and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste.  For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.

During a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina this past April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Our [Country’s] Founders recognized that religion and religious people play a key role in strengthening our society. They feed the hungry, heal the sick, and comfort the grieving.  They teach right behavior and give meaning to life. They are present at birth and at death….That’s why the Founders gave the public expression of religious belief a triple protection in our Constitution by protecting the “free exercise” of religion—not just worship in secret, [but] banning an established religion and ensuring the freedom of speech…Our Founders reserved a space for people of faith in the first lines of the First Amendment…ensuring that people of faith can find have a fair shot at finding space in every town and every city in America.”

As we return home this weekend after celebrating the birth of our Country, let’s remember that religious freedom was something the Founders of our Great Nation fought hard and gave their life for.  We can honor their sacrifice by exercising that freedom every day – by going to church, voting our faith, fighting for the rights of the unborn and the oppressed, and openly praying in public that God continues to bless our nation with prosperity and freedom for all.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, July 1 2018

At the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry shouted to his colleagues “Give me liberty or give me death!”  It was the dawn of the Revolutionary War.  The following year, the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the rest is history as we celebrate the birth of our nation this week.

The founding fathers of our great nation did much more than put up a good fight to win the freedoms we enjoy today.  They relied on God for guidance and protection to build the nation we live in.  Patrick Henry spoke for only about 8 minutes.  At the end, he called on God saying “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” 

Just about all our founding fathers were Christian.  They had a Biblical worldview of how a government is subject to Divine Providence to govern their affairs.  Although they knew that the Church and State must be separate, they also knew prayer, worship, and faith in God was necessary to guide the young nation so its people could govern themselves.   I often wonder what they would say to us after seeing the headlines lately – activist groups openly bullying and threatening public officials, legislative deadlocks over how to treat human beings, government agencies conspiring to overthrow our government, disrespect for our flag, and a society so polarized between liberals and conservatives that it’s hard to talk about anything but the weather at a social gathering.  Over the past 242 years of independence, our self-government seems to have moved from faith in God to ignoring God altogether.

George Washington said, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor.”  In short, if we don’t consult God in everything we do to govern our self, then we fail miserably by creating a society which ignores human dignity, disregards human life, and goes against the plan God has in mind for us.

This week, as we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in our Great Country, let’s take a moment to pray about how we can put God back into our government and our society, so that, as Abraham Lincoln said this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Deacon John

 

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