Do We value the Holy Spirit?

“’No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” (1 Co. 2:9-10 NIV)

St. Paul says that no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God, but in the Holy Spirit, we may come to understand what God has freely given us – words taught not by human wisdom, but by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 

In contrast, St. Paul also says that the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them, and they cannot understand them because they must be spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2: 14)

The Holy Spirit gives me a sense of belonging to God – a feeling of security, knowing that the God of all creation is my Father. He is not distant and out of reach.  He has made himself available to me by becoming one of us through his son, Jesus, the Messiah.  I can see how much he loves me by how he sacrificed his life for me through the tortuous death of Roman crucifixion.  His Spirit gives me the desire to overcome my selfish nature, and love and serve my wife, family and others as much as I am inclined serve myself. 

The Holy Spirit helps me to understand that I am to be a good steward of the responsibilities and circumstances in my life, including family, work, and relationships with others.  He has taught me to have courage and trust in God when faced with the life threatening illness of cancer, the family challenge of a child with an intellectual disability, and circumstances that threaten a presumed career path.

The Spirit gives us knowledge and understanding in our perspectives, conduct, and relationships.  He enables us to see the natural order of God’s creation.  Some people see conflict between science and faith, but the Spirit shows us that science is simply the discovery of the mysteries of God’s creation.

How remarkable!  Who can equal God’s love for us and the gift of the Holy Spirit which is our enabler in love, wisdom, and truth?   

I once read that the contrast between living life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and not doing so is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Jesus said, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”  (Luke 11:13)

As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost this week, are you experiencing the personal presence of God the Father and God the Son as enabled by the Holy Spirit?  If not, ask God to release the power of the Holy Spirit in you.  It will change your life. 

A Stretch Goal – Loving as Jesus Loved

“This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you.” (John 15:12)  

In business, athletics and other endeavors of life, we often set goals for ourselves that exceed anything we have done before. Whether they include increased sales or production, running faster and longer, improving our grade point average in school or job performance measures at work, we refer to them as stretch goals.

Jesus set a stretch goal for the disciples and us with the above commandment.

How did Jesus love the disciples?  He called them.  He taught them with his words, stories, and example.  He empowered them and sent them out to serve the needs of others by healing, casting out demons and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had arrived.  And in a crowning illustration of love, he freely laid down his life for us to reconcile us to the Father and provide a means to overcome sin, death and Satan’s hold on creation.

He simplified all of the commandments into the love of God and neighbor, and said our neighbor is anyone we encounter, even a stranger as in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Through the Beatitudes, he promised blessings and happiness if we are humble in heart, mourn over sin, hunger for righteousness, show mercy, and seek to be pure in heart and peacemakers. 

How do we love as Jesus loves?  The opportunities are endless.  The key principle in most situations is to think of others over ourselves.  When our oldest daughter was three or four, as I walked in the door after a long day at work, she would say, “Come on, Daddy.  Let’s play.”  I got so tired of playing the board game, “Flintstones,” again and again, but I knew that I needed to love my daughter and our other children by spending time with them. 

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)  While this could actually involve giving up our life for someone else, more often it is about laying down our will, comfort, and desires for the needs of someone else.  Some examples might be letting go of career ambitions for the sake of family; accepting that someone else’s idea is better than ours; letting love rather than judgment be our first response to another’s difficulty; or simply stopping and listening.

A few years ago I participated in a gathering where people were being prayed with for physical healing, reconciliation of broken relationships and other needs.  At one point as I was standing to the side of the room observing all that was happening, the words came into my mind, “It’s all about love.”  People were caring for one another, showing mercy, and humbly and faithfully interceding with God to be and bring his presence to bear on others’ needs.  It was a stretch goal, but that did not deter those who were praying. 

Are you called to stretch in your love for a family member, friend or colleague?

Why Forgive?

“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Mt. 6:14)

Jesus spoke these words immediately after giving the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, apparently to highlight the importance of the petition on forgiveness — “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In other words, we can’t expect God to forgive us of our sins against him and his Word if we are not forgiving others of their sins against us.

When Peter asked how many times we should forgive, Jesus said “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:22) Jesus then shares the parable of the unforgiving servant who, after having his debt forgiven by his master, did not do the same with a fellow servant. When his master learns of this he responds, “You wicked servant!  I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.  Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” (Mt. 18:21- 35)  Finally, we remember the example of Jesus’ unforgettable words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Forgiveness is absolutely essential for the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth.

Without God’s grace, our nature is not to forgive. We hold a grudge or seek revenge for wrongs committed against us, “an eye for an eye.” But unforgiveness is like a cancer.  It gives rise to anger and resentment, robbing us of our peace and affecting us as negatively as the original wrong that may have been committed against us. This effect applies to groups, tribes and nations as well as individuals, and has led to a never ending cycle of violence throughout human history.

Many years ago a friend and I joined the music group playing our guitars for a Saturday evening mass at a small parish in New York. After a couple of months we were abruptly asked to leave without any explanation.  We were naturally angered by this summary dismissal. We brooded for several months.  At a Christmas Eve mass during the sign of the peace, I walked over to the music group and offered the sign of peace to the leader, which led to an embrace. The leader and I became close Christian friends, and even though we no longer live in the same locality, still stay in touch. My guitar playing friend continued to brood.  That was more than 40 years ago.  

Are you brooding over a past hurt or wrong that God is waiting for you to forgive?

“To Whom Shall We Go?”

“Jesus then said to the twelve,Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.’” (John 6:67-68)

The Gospel of John reports that at one point many of Jesus’ followers started to grumble about some of his teachings and stopped following him.  Jesus asked the twelve whether they wanted leave him also.  Peter answered with the above statement. 

With our fractious society today and its many competing agendas, where do we go for truth, moral guidance, and peace?  We have Covid related mandates vs. constitutional freedoms, the right to life vs. abortion, and concerns for the environment vs. the economy. We have the challenge of managing illegal immigration with compassion; public schools being closed during the past year, and a media that is not always objective, to name just a few examples. 

Many are looking for meaning and purpose, but the world tosses us to and fro like a small boat in a stormy sea.  Everyone seeks peace, but few find it without God becoming a priority in their lives.

In our early 40’s while our children were still young, my wife and I faced a decision as to how we wanted to live our lives as a married couple and family.  We each had experienced a spiritual renewal with the aid of the Holy Spirit, but how were we going to live as a family?

We believed that God was calling us to put him at the center of our marriage and family.  We thought of the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” Looking back after many years, I would attribute a number of blessings to this decision:

  • Two more children added to our existing three daughters, including a son, and a daughter with special needs; the daughter has taught us so much about God’s love and ways;
  • Career choices attempting to follow God’s will that allowed for more time with family and him while still providing for us;
  • Four married children who are now raising Christian families themselves;
  • Thirteen grandchildren to love and pray for;
  • Involvement in Christian ministry.

Of course, we have made mistakes and there have been our share of challenges along the way, but God has remained absolutely faithful in his care and provision for us. 

To whom do you go for answers to the questions of life?       

“Do You Love Me?”

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?’  He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’” (John 21:15)

If Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved him in order to redeem the three times Peter denied him, how many times would Jesus need to ask us?

Most Bible commentators seem to confirm that the threefold challenge to Peter was designed to counter his threefold denial.   With the third time, Peter protested, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus did not mince words on this subject. “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.  But whoever denies me before others, I will deny him before my heavenly Father.” (Mt. 10:32-33)  

Denial can take a variety of forms.  There is the direct denial like Peter’s, when we deny our Christian faith or that we are followers of Jesus Christ.  While this is not a circumstance that most Christians have had to face in this country historically, this may change in the future. 

There are the more subtle forms of denial such as failing to speak up when our Christian beliefs are challenged or when explicit anti-Christian conduct by others is taking place in our presence.  When I used to attend receptions and dinners following day-long company meetings or conferences, the conversation during cocktails could often get a bit raw with off-color jokes, and stories of various exploits.  After experiencing a renewal in my relationship with Jesus Christ, I started to quietly walk away these conversations.    

Another form of denial may be the times when we fail to live up to Jesus’ commandments of love of God and neighbor.  While I hesitate to think how often I have failed to love according to this standard, we can thank God that we have just celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, and the promise of life with him forever.      

While we may not reach perfection in our love for God and the people he puts in our lives, we should still strive for it, so we can say, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  

“It’s the Lord!”

“Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not recognize that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4)

The Gospel of John reports that seven of the disciples went fishing on the Sea of Tiberias sometime after Jesus’ resurrection, but they did not recognize him as he called out to them from shore.  It was only after he suggested they cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they caught 153 large fish, did John say to Peter, “It’s the Lord!.” (John 21:7)

During the days following Jesus’ resurrection, most of his closest followers did not recognize him in their first encounter. 

Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener and did not recognize him until he said her name, “Mary.”  The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus even after he spent considerable time with them explaining what all of the scriptures had to say about him.  It was only at his breaking of the bread while dining with them that they recognized him.

How often do we fail to see the risen Lord in our lives?  Like Mary Magdalene, he may be calling us by name.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he may be opening our minds to the meaning of some scripture.  Like the seven disciples fishing, he may be suggesting we take an action that will have a surprising (miraculous) result.

Today, as I am writing this blog, we will soon be celebrating the 35st birthday of our daughter Emily who was born with Down syndrome.  At the time of her birth I did not recognize the presence of the risen Lord in our midst.  Later I came to see Jesus in her big beautiful smile, her purity of heart, and her natural inclination to love and hug the people she meets. 

While we may not always recognize Jesus in the people or circumstances of our lives, the apostle John in his first letter says that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

Wherever there is love, Jesus is present.  Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, I was ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt. 25:35-36)  Jesus is telling us that when we love others through our actions, we love him and he is present to us. 

 In the musical Les Miserables, ValJean’s closing words are:

“And remember

The truth that once was spoken.

To love another person

Is to see the face of God.”

Let us offer love and receive love, so someone can say, “It’s the Lord.” 

Do you recognize the risen Jesus when you see him?  

Hearts Burning within Us

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke with us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)  

These were the words of two disciples after encountering Jesus on the day of his resurrection.  They were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing the events of Jesus’ death and the surprising reports that he had been seen alive.  Jesus comes up alongside of them, though they do not recognize him, and enters into their conversation. Jesus then begins to explain what Moses and the prophets wrote about him.  He observes how slow of heart they have been to believe all that was written.  

They subsequently recognize Jesus when he breaks bread with them at supper, as he then disappears from their sight.  They make the above statement as they return to Jerusalem to report that they too, had seen Jesus. 

Has your heart ever burned within you by something someone has said, a scripture that leaps off the page, an extraordinary act of love from another person, or the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit? 

Many years ago after the burial of my father, I was riding out of the cemetery with my mother and brother back to town, and I started to have this overwhelming sense of joy.  It was in the middle of January, on an overcast, cold day.  The snow drifts along the road were covered with soot from the windswept plowed fields of northern Iowa.  It was a bleak dreary scene. 

Yet, here I was, inexplicably experiencing this heightened sense of joy.  I said to my mother and brother, “I know this sounds odd, but I have a great feeling of joy.”  They both looked at me as if I was crazy, but said nothing, not understanding how I could possibly feel joyful.  The next morning while I was praying in my father’s bedroom, the following words came into my mind,“The reason for your joy yesterday was because your father is with me in heaven.” 

My heart burned within me as I heard those words and recalled the joy from the prior afternoon.  It was the Lord, and I wanted to hold onto every word I heard.  I shared it with my mother who cried with joy as well. 

Has your heart ever burned within you from something you have heard or experienced?  

Going with the Crowd

“’Crucify him.’  Pilate said to them, ‘Why?  What evil has he done?’ They only shouted louder, ‘Crucify him.’”  (Mark 15:13-14)

If you were present at Jesus’ trial, where would you see yourself?  Would it have been with the disciples who were absent out of fear?  Would it have been with Pontius Pilate who found no basis for the charges brought against Jesus, but did not have the courage to resist the crowd?  Would it have been with the crowd shouting, “Crucify him?”

If I had never met Jesus, I might have been with the crowd.  Have I not demonstrated my lack of support for Jesus in my sins?  Have I not denied him in my failure to love and serve others on various occasions? 

Even if I had met Jesus, I might have been no different than the disciples who were hiding, or like Pontius Pilate, going along with the crowd.  How many times have I failed to speak up for Jesus or my Catholic faith in a hostile environment? 

Unfortunately, the crowd seldom gets it right.  How often do we see conventional wisdom that is not wise, popular opinion that does not reflect the truth, and consensus that leads to the wrong result?  

Lest we think that the opinions of the crowd are not becoming more hostile to our Christian faith, a study by the Barna Group last year found that sixty-six percent of pastors considered the “culture shift to a secular age” as their most important concern.   

So, how do we resist the crowd of our culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to the practice of our Christian faith?  Acknowledge and repent of our sins, commit or recommit our lives to Jesus Christ, and seek the release of the power of the Holy Spirit received in our baptism. 

It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us, gives us the courage and the power to resist both the crowd and sin.  It wasn’t until I personally experienced the renewal of the Holy Spirit in my life that I was given understanding, motivation and power that makes it now possible for me to resist the crowd.  I am still capable of stumbling if I don’t stay close to Jesus in daily prayer, the sacraments and surround myself with other like-minded Christian brothers and sisters.  But with God’s grace and mercy through the Holy Spirit, I am better equipped to say no to the crowd and yes to Jesus.      

The crowd yelled, “Crucify him!” But the crowd got it wrong.  God redeemed the wrong and took the cross, a symbol of Roman cruelty and oppression, and transformed it into a symbol of love, sacrifice and hope.

What person would you be at Jesus’ trial?

Washing One Another’s Feet

“’No, said Peter, you shall never wash my feet.’  Jesus answered, ’unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” (John 13:8 NIV)

It is so hard for us to accept being served by someone in authority, particularly when the service involves a menial task.  It upsets our paradigm.  A servant serves his master.  An employee serves his or her boss.  Jesus, the master and teacher, was turning that paradigm upside down.  Peter was the first to proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God.  How could he allow the Son of God to wash his feet?  Unthinkable!

From earliest childhood, we are taught to be self-sufficient.  A young child proudly proclaims, “I did it by myself.”  One of the challenges of a disabling illness or injury is having to depend on someone else to do things for you that you would ordinarily do yourself.  It can be humbling when a disabling condition makes us dependent on another.

Several years ago our family was traveling from New York to the Midwest.  We alerted a former law school friend and his wife that we would like to stop by to see them.  They expected us to stay with them overnight, but we decided to check into a motel, not wanting to impose upon them.  They were offended, interpreting our decision as a rejection of their offer of hospitality.  To use Jesus’ words, we were rejecting having a “part” with them.

Like so many of Jesus’ words and actions, his example offers multiple lessons for us.  While we need to be willing to receive service, it is even more important for us to serve.  As Jesus later explains, “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)  

In David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, he tells the following story.  At a special reception Truman held for Stalin and Churchill at the Potsdam Peace Conference near the end of World War II, Sergeant Eugene List, an American concert pianist, played a Chopin waltz.  List asked if someone in the audience would be good enough to turn the pages.  Truman jumped to his feet, waived off another volunteer and did the job himself.   In a letter to his wife, List later wrote, “Imagine having the President of the United States turn the pages for you!” 

Are you willing to be served by another, and to serve another as well? 

Peter Wept

“The Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’  He went outside and began to weep bitterly.” (Luke 22:60-62)

We may be familiar with Peter’s denial of Jesus following his arrest – a denial which took place only hours after Peter had proclaimed that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison or death.  Peter’s failings included pride in his proclamation, fear of being associated with Jesus after his arrest and deceit in his response.  It is ironic that Jesus chose a symbol of pride, a crowing rooster, to humble Peter and make him aware of the extent of his failure. 

No doubt we have all regretted something we have done or said.  It may be an emotional response, lashing out in anger to a word or action of a loved one or friend.  It may involve giving into a temptation or weakness.  It may be a careless word offered without much thought.  It may be an action lacking courage and taken out of fear. 

The positive thing about regret is that it is the first step toward repentance.  In weeping bitterly, Peter reveals a repentant heart, which leads to God’s forgiveness.  Scripture tells us that Jesus did appear to Peter after his resurrection. (Luke 24:34)  I am sure Peter sought and received Jesus’ forgiveness.

In fact, seeking forgiveness is one of the best antidotes for regret while also helping overcome the hurt and anger of the people affected by our wrongdoing.    

Over the course of my life, I have experienced both actions and words that I deeply regret.  In one such incident I didn’t even realize my failure until years later.  It involved an invitation from my father’s boss to attend a dinner in Iowa to honor my father’s retirement from his company after 40 years of service.  I had just been transferred to New York to take on a new position and had a conflict with the date of the retirement party. At the time I thought the conflict was a meeting critical to my new job, but today I can’t even remember what it was about. 

To use today’s language, I was “clueless” about the Fourth Commandment’s call to honor your father and your mother, to say nothing of the excessive self-focus that dominated my life at the time.  My father died before I realized my failure.  Like Peter, I regret and weep bitterly over my actions.  

While a word once spoken or an action taken cannot generally be taken back, we can take solace in the words of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “And yet, knowing all, the Son of God made Peter, who knew sin, the Rock upon which he built his church that sinners and the weak may never despair.”

Do you have any regrets about actions taken or words spoken now or in the past?