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Archive for September, 2010

Our Masters

Because I’m a selfish sinner, I tend to act . . . well . . . selfishly. Here’s a case in point. I’m walking down a city street somewhere, kind of in my happy place, when suddenly I look ahead and notice a beggar or homeless person coming toward me. What are my initial reactions? Almost without fail, my first thoughts are curved inward toward myself: “This guy is going to bother me” or “Why did I choose to walk this way?” Next my thoughts unleash their fury on the poor person: “Stop being lazy and get a job” or “You probably just want money for drugs.” Out of shame or out of fear of God smiting me, I usually, though not always, give the person something. Then I walk away quickly. Sure, I’d like to do more; sure, I really do feel bad for the person; but to be honest, I walk away wishing the encounter had never taken place. I leave without having loved.

St. Vincent de Paul, the saint celebrated by the Church today, looked at the poor much differently. Not only did he spend much of his life caring for them, but he saw beneath their rough and even frightening appearance a person deserving of love. He saw Christ in the poor and treated them accordingly. St. Vincent gave to the poor not only an offering of charity, but an offering of his heart. St. Vincent sought to truly know the poor, to truly understand the poor, to truly love the poor. Beyond food or shelter, he gave them friendship.

You and I are called upon by God to treat the poor with a similar love and compassion. Yes, they need us to assist in providing for material wants, but so much more importantly – and please don’t miss this – they need our friendship. The poor need our love.

It’s a beautiful thing to observe a person who truly knows and loves the poor. If you’ve volunteered in a soup kitchen or worked with an inner city missionary, you understand this. Such selfless, dedicated persons call the poor by name. They know their stories. They listen patiently to their grievances. They live in their neighborhoods or villages.

Maybe such total dedication to the poor is currently beyond the scope of you or I. But maybe too, we see the poor with too narrow of a vision. The worst poverty is never material poverty, but rather a paucity of love. Remember St. Vincent: He gave soup to the poor, but he served it with love. Hunger, though always horrible, is less so for the man or woman who knows that somebody cares. And a person may have all they need of the world’s richest, but if they lack love, they are among the poorest of the poor.

We need not look far to find the poor. In the Gospel from yesterday’s Mass readings, the rich man found the beggar, Lazarus, at his very own door. So who, living in poverty, is near to you? Who, feeling unloved, is daily close to me? St. Vincent wrote that the poor “have been given to us as our masters and patrons.” We, therefore, must be their servants. And to put that service – that love – into action, I bet we won’t have to look too far.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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All for Jesus

Ronnie Lott is a name quite familiar to old school football fans. Lott, a Hall-of-Fame safety, played for the San Francisco 49ers during the team’s dynasty years of the 1980s. If you never saw Lott play, let me assure you, he was one incredibly tough football player. Lott played clean but hard. Ball carriers and receivers feared him. Lott tackled with bone-rattling, vision-blurring hits. I’m pretty sure that even Chuck Norris was scared of Ronnie Lott. Epitomizing his toughness was a decision Lott made during the 1985 season. In order to continue playing while nursing a finger injury, Lott simply commanded the doctors to amputate one of his finger tips. You heard me right, Lott chose to have a finger tip amputated. He loved football so much, that he was willing to sacrifice body parts to keep playing.

Ronnie Lott shed blood for love of a game. Others have shed blood for love of a man. That man is Jesus Christ.

Today is the feast of the Korean Martyrs, Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and their companions. Between the years 1839 – 1867, some 103 Korean Christians shed their blood in witness to their love of Christ. Bishops and priests were among those martyred, but most were men and women of the laity. The young were not exempt. No doubt these young martyrs had a zeal for life, no doubt these young martyrs feared torture and imprisonment. But because they loved Jesus so much, they were willing to suffer and die for him. And many did.

Who or what is the great love in your life? If we are honest, we might have to say that the love of our life is currently sports or music or theater. Maybe it’s that cute girl or boy in English class. Are we prepared to give it all for that activity or thing or person? It’s a tough, but important question.

Ronnie Lot was willing to sacrifice a finger tip for football. The Korean martyrs were willing to sacrifice their very life for Christ. Jesus himself gave it all for you and me. What are we willing to give for Jesus?

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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The Flow of Grace

September is definitely one of those exciting transition times. We’re back to school, fall sports are in full gear, the days are sunny, the nights are cool, leaves are showing their autumn hues – and maybe most exciting of all – it’s Cholesterol Education Month. That’s correct, it is once again time to ponder artery plaque and the wisdom (or lack thereof) of consuming too much fatty, greasy, but oh so delicious food. I can sense your excitement. Weekly message readers wait all year for Cholesterol Education Month to roll around.

But as long as we are relishing this yearly opportunity to ponder the nasty stuff blocking our blood flow, maybe we should also pause to ponder the equally yucky stuff blocking our grace flow. Grace who? You know, grace, the living presence and power of God flowing through the spiritual arteries of our souls. Grace is powerful. “Sanctifying grace” keeps us in right relationship with God, and as the name implies, makes us holy. “Particular graces” are moments and experiences in which God acts in our lives to provide strength, direction and consolation. Without grace, we would be dead people walking.

And yet, just as too much bad cholesterol can impede the flow of life-giving blood through our bodies, so also our spiritual blood vessels may become constricted or blocked. The main culprit in this spiritual arterial disease is sin. That’s right, sin. When we lie, cheat or steal – we’re contributing to a blocking off of grace. Being selfish or unchaste? Then expect some spiritual health concerns. And when we consciously miss Mass or disobey our parents or superiors . . . you betcha . . . we’re risking spiritual stroke or heart attack.

Remember Christ’s words in John 15: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” In other words, without the life of God coursing continually through our very being, we will die. Without Jesus, we can do nothing whatsoever. And just as blood flow in arteries can slowly, imperceptibly, be blocked off by cholesterol issues, so too our flow of grace is blocked off by sin. The former leads to a medical emergency, the latter to a spiritual crisis. Both may end up in death.

Is there a sin – or sins – currently impeding the flow of grace through my soul or yours? If so, the situation demands our immediate attention. Good spiritual health is at risk. But the doctors of the Church offer a sure-fire cure: See a priest in the morning for confession and add more Eucharist to your daily diet. Pretty simple, yes? So enjoy the remaining days of Cholesterol Education Month, and by all means, keep those spiritual arteries open and flowing.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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A Strong Foundation

Mother Teresa once watched as a new and perfectly constructed 10-story building was razed to the ground. The problem, it seems, was that inspectors had discovered the foundation to be faulty. Without that solid base to uphold the floors above, the building was sure to crumble. And so down it came until a better foundation could be built.

Mother Teresa related that story to her sisters as a reminder of how for the Christian, prayer must be the foundation upon which the structure above is built. If a Christian prays, that person’s foundation will be strong, and the spiritual edifice rising from it will be secure. If a Christian does not pray, that person will discover that everything they attempt to build is doomed to destruction. This is a certainty.

Are you and I building a strong foundation of prayer?

Please reflect honestly on this question. It is easy to make excuses for our failure to pray: I’m too busy, God knows I love him, I’m under a lot of stress right now, and on and on. The excuses don’t fly, though. Either we are indeed men and women of prayer or we are not. And if you or I are not spending at least 15-30 minutes of each day communing with God in prayer, then our foundation is weak and our relationship with Christ is on the verge of collapsing. This is a certainty.

So please, please, pray!

Be assured of my prayers for you,

Fr. Steve

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