Archive | February, 2017

Worry not

February 24, 2017

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SermonMount

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to worry, not once, not twice, but three times (Mt 6:25,31,34).  Repetition is the key to learning and it places greater emphasis.  Jesus wants to drive a major point home.

We worry about many, many things.  Jesus mentioned some of our main worries:  our life in general, what we are to eat, what we are to drink, our body, and clothing.  The list could be expanded to include worries over family and friends, child safety, germs, a medical condition, our reputation, the burden of the workload, unfinished jobs, the house, the car, the weather, road conditions, traffic, getting to work on time, troubles at work, the economy, job security, taxes, health insurance, and the threat of terrorism.

A worrier is nervous and stressed out, anxious and troubled about this, fretting and stewing about that.  Worries can grow increasingly larger and become overwhelming.  A troubled thought can escalate into a preoccupation and then into an obsession.

Worry is not helpful.  Jesus asks, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Mt 6:27).  Worry does not add to the length of life, and in many instances may actually subtract from it.  Worry can lead to high blood pressure, circulatory problems, digestive disorders, skin conditions, and a weakened immune system.

Jesus knows that everyone worries, some to a greater degree, others to a lesser degree, but all worry.  Worry is pointless and unproductive.  It burns energy with nothing to show.  Worry poses a serious threat to a wholesome and holy life, because for the worrier, concerns for worldly things can become all-consuming while the spiritual realm receives little or no attention.

Jesus offers a three-part plan to balance our lives properly:  have faith, seek first the kingdom of God, and live in the present moment.

Have faith.  It is an act of faith to trust in God.  If God is so great as to give us the gift of our life, we can trust that God will also give us what we need to sustain our life.  God does not give and then pull back and stop giving.  God is reliable and dependable.  God gives and continues to give, and we can count on God to provide for us.

Seek first the kingdom of God.  First is the key word.  Jesus wants God to be our first thought.  If we are to be preoccupied with anything, it should be with God.  Our desire should be a close relationship with God, to learn God’s will, and then to dedicate ourselves to carrying out God’s will.  Our predominant thought should be to live a life that is pleasing to God.  When we are righteous and live according to God’s ways, peace and serenity follow, and worries vanish.

Live in the present.  Jesus wants us to focus on the here and now.  Worries are distractions.  They diminish our ability to be fully engaged in the moment at hand.  Whether it is a person, a conversation, a task, or an activity, what is happening right now deserves our full and immediate attention, and when we are alert and concentrate, when we live in the present, we are doing our best, the quality of life improves dramatically, and peace and tranquility follow.

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The Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle

February 17, 2017

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StPeter

The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter on February 22 is unique because it mentions a chair.  The usual meaning for a chair is a piece of furniture with four legs and a back for a person to sit.  This feast is not about a second-class relic, a chair that St. Peter sat upon, or any other chair.

Another meaning for “chair” is the head of a group, such as at a school, the chair of the English Department.  Peter was the chair of the apostles, the head of the Twelve, and as they accompanied Jesus, he was the first on the list and usually spoke on their behalf.

Jesus appointed Peter as “chair.”  Jesus changed his name, which was Simon, to a new name, Peter (Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14), which means “rock.”  Jesus installed Peter as chair when he declared, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18).  Jesus wanted Peter to be a firm foundation, a solid, unshakable footing.  As chair, Jesus desired that Peter would be strong but not heavy-handed or dictatorial.  He commissioned Peter as a servant leader, a shepherd, a chair who would feed his lambs and tend his sheep (see Jn 21:15-17).  Jesus conferred upon Peter the authority that he would need to serve as chair when he said, “I will give you the keys,” and added, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

The chair of an organization provides the vision, sets the direction, guides the process, and unifies the group, and Peter did all these, not only for the Early Church but for every generation to follow.  The vision is to acknowledge the true identity of Jesus, something Peter did when he made his confession of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).

In the process of following Jesus, particularly when life is turbulent, it is essential to place one’s total trust in him and keep one’s eyes fixed on him at all times, something Peter failed to do when he walked on the water, became frightened, looked away, and began to sink (Mt 14:30).  In desperation, Peter wisely cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus saved Peter that day from drowning.   On Good Friday, Jesus saved Peter from his sins.  Peter personally experienced Jesus as his Savior and Redeemer.  As chair, Peter would teach that Jesus is our salvation, and that all who accept Jesus and follow his teaching will receive the gift of eternal salvation.  His teaching is given in the first portion of the Acts of the Apostles as well as the First and Second Letters of Peter, and his instruction in Christian discipleship helped believers to hold fast to their faith, charted the path for the Church, unified it, and brought about much peace.

The chair, then, is a symbol of Peter’s office as the principal leader of the Church and teacher of the faith, and the full authority that had been given to him to serve in this capacity.

The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter was instituted in Rome during the Fourth Century, not only to honor the first leader of the Church of Rome, but also to displace a pagan celebration known as the Parentalia.  It was customary for Romans to set aside a number of days in mid to late February to remember deceased family members, especially their parents.  An empty chair would be set out to commemorate the person who had once occupied it.  Then on February 22, another pagan festival followed, the Charistia, which honored the surviving relatives.  The Chair of St. Peter offered a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities.

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The Path to Spiritual Greatness

February 10, 2017

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SermonMount

Sermon on the Mount

Jesus is our Master Teacher, and his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) contains one kernel of truth after another.  He began with his spiritual ideals, his eight Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), and then explained how his disciples are salt and light (Mt 5:13-16).  The third topic of his sermon was “the law and the prophets,” the commandments, and Jesus declared, “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19b).

The Commandments.  The commandments are laws, statutes, decrees, or ordinances given by God to guide people in their relationship with God and neighbor.  The most famous commandments are the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1-17 and Dt 5:6-21).  The entire Mosaic Law is not only the Ten Commandments, but all 613 precepts contained in the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Jesus consolidated or simplified this long and detailed list into the Great Commandment, love God and neighbor (Mt 22:34-40).  Jesus commands us to obey his entire gospel which is summed up by his New Commandment, “love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).

Obeys and Teaches.  Jesus has a two-part directive when it comes to the commandments:  obey and teach, which is equivalent to good deeds and good words.  Jesus does not follow the usual order, “words and deeds,” but rather, “deeds and words” because actions speak louder than words.  Moreover, good example is easier to see and understand, and without obedient good deeds, any words of teaching ring empty.

Others.  Others are children, the impressionable, and new converts, as well as non-believers.  It includes everyone.  Jesus is concerned about our influence on others.  Our faith is supposed to be lived in a public manner.  Those who give bad example and lead others in the wrong direction are considered the least, while those who give good example, lead others in the right direction, and teach the commandments are the greatest.

Jesus and Moses.  Jesus was in step with Moses who had given a similar instruction to the Israelites.  When it came to teaching, Moses directed the adults to “keep repeating them (i.e., the commandments) to your children.  Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up” (Dt 5:7), and when it came to obedience, Moses ordered them to “bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead” (Dt 5:8).  With the commandments constantly in heart and mind, they would surely obey.

Teachers of the Faith.  It is the duty of all Christians to obey and teach the commandments, but for many Christians, to teach the commandments and impart the faith is a major aspect of their vocation:  parents with their children, catechists with their formation students, the RCIA team with the candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation, teachers or professors with their pupils, coaches with their athletes, mentors with their understudies, and priests with their parishioners.  The path to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to guide others in the right direction, to both give good example and teach the commandments.

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Glorify the Lord with me, let us praise God’s name

February 1, 2017

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Praise

To God goes the glory!  Really?  Maybe it should go that way, but there are plenty of times that it does not.  When we have done a good deed, quite often God is not the first person to come to mind.  If we are honest, we have to admit that we regularly think of ourselves first.  Our mindset is, “After all of the hard work that I have done, after all of the good that I have accomplished, I deserve some credit around here.”  It translates, “To me goes the glory!”

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Your light must shine” and “People should see your good deeds” (paraphrase, Mt 5:15,16), so we take his words to heart and put his teaching into practice.  We do good deeds exactly as Jesus wants.  It might be cooking a delicious dinner, doing an excellent job at work, getting a high grade on a test, completing a big chore at home, or offering a thoughtful gift.  It could also be a donation to the food shelf, volunteering at school or church, or helping someone who is sick.

After doing our good deed, we wonder, “Will anyone notice?”  We eagerly wait in expectation.  Our ears perk up, longing for a word of thanks or a compliment on a job well done.  We feel like we deserve some appreciation, maybe a card, a gift, or flowers.  When our good deed has been exceptional, we feel we deserve some recognition:  a favor, a privilege, an award, a pay increase, a promotion, or a bonus.  Our mental framework is:  “After all of the time and energy that I have put into this, after all I have done for you or this group, it is about time someone pays attention to me.  I deserve thanks, appreciation, and recognition.”  It translates, “To me goes the glory!”

It is very easy to be self-centered when we have done something well.  My high school basketball coach had a saying, “No matter what success you may have had, your hat size should never change.”  He would go on to explain, “If you were the high scorer for the game, named the most valuable player for the season, or selected All State, you should never get a fat head.”  It is a temptation to get caught up in our good deeds and accomplishments.  We congratulate ourselves and think others ought to congratulate us.  “To me goes the glory!”  We may not be blatant about it, but it is prideful, egotistical, arrogant, and conceited.

Jesus frames this in a way that is contrary to our human nature.  He taught, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16).  When I moved from my playing days to my coaching days, we used the words of Jesus to keep our hat sizes the same.  Many players had stellar performances.  Even more put in stellar efforts.  Their lights shone before their teammates, classmates, and the crowds.  After their good deeds, I would ask, “Who gave you your life and your health?”  “Who gave you your talents and abilities?”  “Who gave you this opportunity?”  To those with faith, it is eminently clear that it is all a gift from God.  We often turned to a quote from the prophet Isaiah, “O Lord … it is you who have accomplished all that we have done” (Is 26:12).  Once the realization sets in that the ability to do good deeds is a gift from God, Christian athletes, whether they receive accolades or not, redirect attention from themselves to God, and with humble appreciation are able to say, “To God goes the glory!”  The ideal is that our good deeds would glorify God, and that others, upon seeing our good deeds, would be led to glorify – not us – but almighty God.

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