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Archive for October, 2011

Wall of Fire

The late, great Johnny Cash – and if you are too young to remember his music, it’s worth a trip to the iTunes store – hit musical heights with his stirring , drawling version of “Ring of Fire.” Sure the song has been covered many times since (most notably by Tubbs and Mathew during an unforgettable TEC skit), but no one sings it with the passion of Cash. To help young and old alike remember, the words go something like this:

I fell into a burnin’ ring of fire
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher,
And it burns, burn, burns
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

Johnny Cash sang passionately of a RING of fire; the Lord God of Host spoke passionately of a WALL of fire. Listen to God’s word as spoken through the prophet, Zechariah:

For I – Yahweh declares – shall be a wall of fire all round (Jerusalem) and I shall     be the glory within her [Zechariah 2:9].

Cash’s “ring” of fire symbolized human love. God’s “wall” of fire describes an even greater love, an infinite love, an all-purifying and all-consuming love, a love that can never be extinguished, a love that makes pure and makes strong, a love offered freely to all, a love within which the human soul can never be destroyed.

I want to be within that wall. I want to live within the Jerusalem of God surrounded in safety by his divine fire. I want to be protected from the sin and vile and horror which lies outside that wall of fiery love. I want to know the God whose glory brings light and warmth and truth to all who live within. I want that same fire to burn, burn , burn within my own heart and the hearts of all. I want the flames to go higher and higher and higher. I want to experience the love of God for all eternity.

I want to start today.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Caesar and God

Charles de Foucauld was born into a French family of wealth and influence in the late 19th century. As a young man, de Foucauld was impetuous, undisciplined and frivolous. He tried his hand as a soldier, but was hardly successful. Baptized into the Catholic Church as an infant, de Foucauld drifted from the practice of his faith and then rejected God altogether. By early adulthood he had declared himself an atheist. His major accomplishments in life seemed limited to his womanizing and his spending of money. There appeared little hope for change.

One day, though, quite unexpectedly, he found himself outside of a Paris church and decided to enter. A priest was there and invited Charles to make a confession. He agreed. His conversion was both instantaneous and complete. His life transformed, de Foucauld travelled to the Holy Land and eventually made his way to the deserts of North Africa. There, he lived a life of prayer and asceticism. On December 1, 1916, Charles de Foucauld was killed by bandits. He has now been declared by the Church to be “Blessed.” The former atheist is with God forever in heaven.

Looking back on that moment of his conversion, Blessed Charles wrote, “As soon as I believed there was a God, I understood that I could not do anything other than live for him.” Clearly, he did just that. He gave everything, his entire self, to God. In the course of our lives, you and I also try to give everything. We give ourselves to our studies; we give everything that is asked of us by our coaches and activity leaders; we sacrifice time and money for our spouses, families and friends; we even offer our all to our jobs, bosses and supervisors. But do we give our everything in living for God?

In yesterday’s Sunday Gospel, Jesus declared that we should, “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” When we study hard, rehearse well for the production, practice with the team, love our family and friends and give 100% at work – we are repaying to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And all that is good and as it should be. But as he reminded the Pharisees, so Christ continues to remind us – we must also give our everything to God. That means a time of dedicated prayer, daily. That means Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. That means loving those who are hard to love and helping those who so need our help. It means being serious about discerning our God-given vocation.

It’s ok to repay Caesar and so we must. But by giving everything for God, we become a saint. The life of Charles de Foucauld is a lesson in generously living for the One who gave us everything. His sainthood is the goal for which we all must strive.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Preaching

Most priests love to preach and I am no exception. Yes, I know that sometimes we are boring beyond belief – and I apologize – but we really are trying to share our love of Christ with you. And that is what preaching is all about. Listen to the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans:

“But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:14-15).”

This is vitally important. Why? Because there are so many people in our world who either do not know Christ, or worse yet, have known him and rejected him. Pope Benedict himself recently said that, “God is increasingly being driven out of our society.” You and I, if we claim to be his friends, must speak his name to a world desperately in need of hearing that name. Belief, after all, comes through preaching.

Now maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Well that’s all good for you, Father, since you get paid the big bucks to be a preacher. But me, I’m just a regular person out there fighting the good fight. Preaching isn’t my responsibility.” And my answer to that is an emphatic: “Wrong!”

Preaching the name of Christ is everyone’s responsibility. Yes, it is true, preaching in the Church’s liturgy is reserved to bishops, priests and deacons, and we are specifically trained and ordained to preach in that context. But when we preach in church, most of the time we are literally “preaching to the choir.” In other words, the folks who really need to hear the name of Jesus are simply not sitting in the pews. Where are those people? They are in the gym working out, they are sitting next to you in chemistry class, they are across from you at the lunch room table at work, and they are gathered in your own backyard for a barbeque.

Many, if not most, of the people who do not know Jesus also do not know a Catholic priest. I’m not going to have the opportunity to meet with them and tell the good news of Christ’s mercy, love and salvation. But you are! And has been oft said, you may be the only Bible they ever read. You may be the only Gospel they ever hear. You may be the only Savior they ever encounter. Please do not let those opportunities pass by!

If you are a young person reading this and thinking, “I guess I’m off the hook ‘cause I’m just a kid,” let me once more issue an emphatic: “Wrong!” Listen to the words of Blessed John Paul II:

“Youth must not simply be considered as an object of pastoral concern for the Church: in fact, young people are and ought to be encouraged to be active on behalf of the Church as leading characters in evangelization and participants in the renewal of society.”

John Paul the Great, who so loved and trusted the young people of the world, makes it clear to you, mister or miss teenager or tweener – the Church needs you to preach the name of Jesus. So please do it!

Right now, think of someone in your life who does not know the love of Jesus. And today, in some way, by phone, Facebook or letter, tell them that they are loved and cherished by the God who died for them. Say a little prayer and Christ will give you the words. But be a preacher, and in the process, change a life for eternity.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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In the depths of a Colombian coal mine, researchers from the University of Florida recently discovered the fossil remains of a previously unknown species of crocodile. The croc, affectionately known as Acherontisuchus guajiraensis, was a prehistoric behemoth. This bad boy measured some 20 feet long, and suffice it to say, would be an unwelcome guest at your summer pool party.

The crocodile itself is fascinating, but so is the manner in which the paleontologists discovered Acherontisuchus. The team had to make its way into the depths of a smoke belching underground mine replete with seams of spontaneously combusting coal. The mine was hot and humid and . . . well . . . pretty hellish. It doesn’t sound like too attractive a place to be digging around. No doubt, being in that mine was pretty scary.

And in a sense, maybe that Colombian coal mine is not unlike our own hearts. You see, when we get serious about taking an expedition into the depths of our own being, there can be some real fear involved. For just like those paleontologists didn’t know exactly what they would encounter, neither do we. And if the truth be known, there are probably sections of our heart – the deep, underground, dark parts – that hold some fairly frightening fossils. That sin that we’ve always been too ashamed to confess, it’s down there. The hurt we never forgave and the generosity we failed to bestow, they’re down there too, all hot and steamy and poisonous. That portion of ourselves  that we’ve refused to give to God, yep, there it is, decaying and bone like.

But here is the truly amazing thing: even in those dark and hellish portions of our hearts, even in the midst of our forgotten sins, failed loves, and selfish desires, Jesus is there too! That’s right. Amidst the smoke and smell and scariness, Jesus is there. That’s his message of hope. In the depths of our hearts, no matter how dark and frightening it may seem, Jesus is there with his peace and his love and his mercy. He truly is.

So let’s update our passports and purchase our tickets. We’re going on an expedition. Though we never have to leave home, the trip is long. Our journey is into the very depths of the heart. I’ll travel to my personal center and you’ll travel to yours. We’ll be well equipped, for we carry the promise of Christ, the sacraments of his Church, and the love of his Father. And once arrived, we may be embarrassed by what we see. Our heads may fall in shame. But do not fear! Christ is there, Christ is there, Christ is there. We need only say, “Jesus, help me,” we need only say, “Jesus, forgive me,” we need only say, “Jesus, love me,” and it will be accomplished.

At the center of our hearts, we will find Jesus.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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