Monthly Archives: August 2018

Imprisoning God

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation…because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

The idea that faith should be separated from living out the rest of our daily lives has become conventional wisdom for much of our culture.  We hear the phrase, “separation of church and state” and apply it to other venues such as the workplace and the public square.  We are told that that our faith should be private, not to be shared with others or manifested in our words or deeds, particularly in the workplace.

This perspective is 180 degrees from God’s intention as evidenced from the words of Jesus and scripture.  Jesus said it was not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” in worship of him who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but “only he who does the will of my father.” He expects more of us than to just worship him on Sundays; he expects us to carry his presence into all aspects of our lives.

In the Parable of the Talents, he praises the two servants who were good stewards in multiplying the talents given them. (Mt. 25:14-30)  In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, God welcomes into his final kingdom those who have provided food, drink, clothing, shelter, medical care and prison visitation to those in need of these things. (Mt. 25:31-46)

St. Paul said, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)  Paul did not intend these words only for what happens at church on Sundays, but everything we do.  Later he says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if you are working for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:23)

This is a 24/7 exhortation meant for Monday as well as Sunday; the workplace, as well as our prayer closet or church.  God created us to work and take care of the garden of his creation, including the physical world and one another. (Genesis: 2:15) This is how we make ourselves useful to one another and thus to God. It is a divine assignment.

Ever since God became one of us in the person of Jesus it has been his intention to dwell not in temples or buildings, but in each of us individually, provided we invite him into our hearts.

There have been times when I have separated my words and deeds from God’s presence because I put him in a box.  The unfortunate thing when that happens is that his presence may not then be available to the people in my life who would otherwise be blessed by him through me. 

Do we imprison God, only to be released on Sunday, or do we let him be manifested in every aspect of our lives?

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Prayer and God’s Will

“Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” (Mark 14:36)

We may be familiar with these words of Jesus which he uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was no doubt aware of what he was about to face – total rejection, false accusations, physical beatings and a tortuous death.  Some commentators say he was also feeling the total weight of all of the sin of the world, past and present.

We might take comfort that in his human nature Jesus is asking God to spare him this agony and pain.  He is showing us that there is nothing wrong with asking God to be relieved of pain and suffering, so long as we are willing to trust God for the answer.  Jesus follows up his request with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

He ended up trusting the Father that what he was enduring involved God’s plan for the salvation of the human race.

We all have or will face trials involving either physical or emotional pain.  It may be the debilitating side effects of chemo therapy, watching a child suffer through a terminal disease, or the loss of a job and our economic security.

This past week I attended the funeral of Jim, a friend and brother in Christ who died from ALS, a neurological disease resulting in the eventual loss of all voluntary muscle movement.   While Jim’s family and friends prayed for his healing, Jim submitted his condition to God’s will.  Although ALS diminished what he was able to do, he told everyone he could still pray and invited people to send him their needs for prayer. Over this past year many people sent Jim various requests, which Jim kept track of on a spread sheet as he faithfully and repeatedly prayed for each need.

We asked Jim to pray for a particular need for our adult daughter with Down syndrome. We have seen notable progress in this need both before and since his death.

Jim was Presbyterian.  He had many Catholic friends.  At both his wake and funeral the spirit of Christian unity was absolutely palpable, for what was evident to everyone was that here was a man who had truly fulfilled the prophet Micah’s entreaty, “to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”   (Micah 6:8)

Who can know the mind of God?  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor.2:9)

Acknowledging Our Need of Others

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  (Philippians 2:3)

Our human nature tends to want to give the appearance that we are strong, smart, capable of handling things ourselves and not dependent upon the help of others.  This is true in most areas of life and particularly in the workplace.

After having worked as an attorney for over thirty years for large international oil company, I was asked to take an assignment overseeing policy and governmental compliance for our environmental, health and safety operations.  The staff of this organization was made up entirely of engineers and people with technical and scientific backgrounds, a knowledge base in which I was severely lacking.

Shortly after assuming this assignment, one of our audit teams had discovered several operational deficiencies in one our African affiliates that was responsible for producing a significant percentage of our crude oil production worldwide – over 600 thousand barrels a day, all offshore.   Because of the significance of this affiliate’s operations and its contribution to the overall profitability of the company, the audit findings became quite controversial.

The management of the affiliate attacked both the findings and the competence of our audit team.

Thus, it became my role to defend the audit team and their findings before senior management involving technical engineering issues for which I had little expertise.  Acknowledging my lack of knowledge in this area, I had to ask our staff for help – to literally educate me on each of the technical issues so I could overcome the arguments of the affiliate engineers.

With the staff’s assistance, we were able to persuade management to accept the findings of the audit team and their expertise.

As a result, several changes in this affiliate’s operations were implemented that likely avoided a potential accident costing the company millions of dollars and serious harm to affected employees.  We may remember BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago, killing 11 workers and costing BP billions of dollars to appreciate the potential impact.

Ironically, acknowledging our limitations is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.  We are confessing the truth of who we are and what we are capable of doing and not doing.  As Jesus said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

When we acknowledge we need help, we are humbling ourselves before God and others.  Proverbs tells us that the Lord mocks the proud and gives grace to the humble. (3:34) Jesus says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”  (Mt. 11:29)

God, the creator of all that exists, performed one of the greatest acts of humility and love of all time when he became an embryo in Mary’s womb to become one of his created in the person of Jesus.   

Shouldn’t we be willing to humble ourselves in acknowledging our needs and seeking the help of others?

Putting Jesus’ Words into Practice

At the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he challenges us to put his many words into practice.  We are to love, to forgive, to care for those in need, be generous, reflect the Beatitudes, seek God and his kingdom and trust in God, along with the many other exhortations contained in Chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew’s gospel.

When we do these things, Jesus says we are like a man who built his house on a rock. The rains came, the streams rose, the winds blew, but the house remained and did not fall.  The rock is, of course, Jesus.

What kind of foundation is our life built on?  Is it based on the values of the world – wealth, position, pleasure and all of the things that popular culture esteems; or is it built on love and the values Jesus describes in his Sermon on the Mount? 

My friend Leo has been volunteering as a coach for Special Olympics for over 35 years.  Ironically, he began this work even before one of his daughters was born with Down syndrome.  He is one of the most dedicated advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that I have ever met.

In addition to Special Olympics, he was one of six parents who were instrumental in starting and funding one of the first special education programs in a Catholic high school in the U. S — Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia.  More than a dozen students with intellectual disabilities have enrolled in this program each year since its founding in 1998, including our daughter, Emily.

More than 1500 students from the general student body have volunteered as peer mentors to these students, assisting with their inclusion in various academic courses and school activities.  As a result, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive an education that serves their academic, social and spiritual needs in a loving and nurturing environment.

Approximately, ten years ago, Leo joined with other families to establish Porto Charities, a tax exempt organization to raise funds to support the expansion of these kinds of programs in other Catholic schools in the Arlington, Virginia Diocese.  By the fall of 2019, the Diocese will have inclusion programs in all four of its high schools and a half dozen or more parish schools.  While many others have supported Leo in this effort, he has been the driving force to support a segment of our population that is often neglected.

Leo may not talk about his faith a lot, but Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

On October 1, Leo will receive on behalf of Porto Charities and its many supporters the 2018 Seaton Award of the National Catholic Education Association in recognition for their service to Catholic schools and God’s special children.

Leo, and the many others who have joined with him, are putting Jesus’ words into practice.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)