Monthly Archives: March 2019

God’s Attending Angels

“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” (Luke 22:43)

The Gospel of Luke reports that after Jesus submitted to the Father’s will to accept the cup of his passion, God sent him an angel to strengthen him to endure all that he would be facing.

Our human suffering, however severe, may never equal Jesus’ “agony in the garden.”  Yet, how often have we seen people endure incredible suffering from a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one with determined faith, while still maintaining an unusual peace and joy that can only come from God?

Sometimes God uses one of his special angelic messengers to bring strength and consolation.  Sometimes he uses family or friends to perform this role.

This brings to mind an experience I had when I was 15 years old following surgery to correct a defective sternum bone that I was born with.  The lower part of my sternum was bent inward that had the effect of crowding the heart and lungs as I started growing in my teen years.  This apparently caused an enlarged heart, severely impacting my future health and long term survival.

We were living in Mason City, Iowa, about 120 miles north of Des Moines.  A thoracic surgeon in Des Moines had developed a corrective repair that involved splitting the sternum from the rib cage, inserting a bone strut from one side of the rib cage to the other and laying the sternum back down and wiring everything back together.

This was considered experimental surgery in the mid-1950s, when they were not quite as good at pain management as they are today.  As a result, I was in a lot of pain from the surgery and discomfort with all of the tubes continuously pumping fluids from my chest cavity.  I remember telling my parents, to their consternation, that I would not have done this if I knew it was going to be so bad.

On the fourth day, Father John from our parish in Mason City visited me.  We had become very close friends during the course of his weekly instructions for me to join the Catholic Church a couple of years earlier.  To make this visit, he had to drive two hours after Sunday morning masses from Mason City to Des Moines, and then two hours back in time to say a Sunday evening mass.

He talked with me, encouraged me and said a prayer with me.  He was like the visitation of an angel lifting my spirits.   I didn’t complain any more to my parents about the surgery, and spent the rest of the summer recuperating.  I have always remembered how his visit turned things around for me, along with the sacrifice it took for him to make it happen.

Like Father John, may we be inspired to serve as angels to others in their time of need.

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12)

What Happened to the Other Thief?

crucifixion-christ-anderson-39598-wallpaper“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)

These are words of Jesus to the disciples as they gazed on the grandeur of the temple in Jerusalem.   Jesus seems to be mixing descriptions about both the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD and his second coming at some later date.

His message to the disciples and us: Be watchful; be ready to meet him either at our physical death or at his second coming if we are still alive.   He says, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” (vs. 34)

We know neither the day of our death nor the day of Jesus’ second coming, only that both will certainly occur.  Jesus is urging us not to let the cares of the world overtake our lives and push aside God’s desire and purpose for each of us.  Since the non-physical aspect of our existence (our souls) lasts beyond our physical lives, Jesus is saying he wants us to end up with the Father and not separated from him forever in hell.

We may not hear a lot about hell these days.  It is interesting that during the apparitions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, she showed the three children to whom she appeared a short vision of hell to emphasize its horrors and the absolute necessity to pray for the salvation of souls and the direction of the world at large.  She warned that if people did not change their ways, a worse war than the present would come and that Russia would continue to spread its errors and persecution of the church.

This past weekend I attended an Arlington Diocesan Men’s Conference at which one of the speakers, Father Donald Haggerty, raised the question of what happened to the other thief at Jesus’ crucifixion.  Luke reports that he hurled insults at Jesus, mocking him and saying, “Aren’t you the Christ.  Save yourself and us.”  The so-called good thief rebuked him, and then asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.  We all remember Jesus’ response, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Father Haggarty noted that Mary, who was standing at the foot of the cross, watched the other thief die, with his soul lost forever.  Haggarty suggested that Mary’s soul was pierced not only for the death of Jesus, but for the other thief as well.  He concluded, “It is a serious thing to be aware of souls.”

With the busyness of everyday life and the distractions of getting ahead in this world, we may tend to neglect our own souls and the souls of loved ones and others.  During this lent as we prepare to give special attention to the death and resurrection of our Lord, may we renew our prayer and actions to grow closer to God and pray for the souls of others.

“Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”  (Luke 16:23)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

Being Blessed by Persecution

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41)

Peter and John had healed a cripple by the temple gates by invoking the name of Jesus. The Sanhedrin called them to account for their actions, ordering them not to speak in the name of Jesus in the future. They refused, and the Sanhedrin was furious, wanting to put them to death.  A Pharisee, named Gamiliel cautioned them that if what the apostles were doing was of human origin, it would eventually fail, but if it was from God, the Sanhedrin may find themselves fighting against God.

Then in a phrase easily overlooked because it is a part of a larger story, the Book of Acts reports that the Sanhedrin “had them flogged” before they let them go. (Acts 5:40)

Imagine!  For healing a lifelong cripple, the Sanhedrin had the apostles beaten with whips. In Roman times this was done by stripping the person of his clothes, tying his hands to a post and beating him with a whip that had leather straps and sometimes pieces of nails or other objects at the end of the straps to more deeply tear into someone’s flesh.

While we may step back in horror today at such cruelty, we are reminded of Jesus’ last Beatitude, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Mt. 5:11-12)

And what was the apostle’s reaction to being flogged?  Luke tells us that they rejoiced for having been worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.  

Several years ago at a colleague’s retirement party, I honored him for the way he treated people with care and respect.  In doing so, I told Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan who came to the aid of someone who had been attacked by robbers and left to die by the side of the road.  Apparently I unknowingly offended someone when I made reference in the story to a Levite and a Jewish priest who had passed by the person having been robbed.  The next evening I received a threatening phone call.  I was accused of maligning Jewish people and their religion, and that the caller said he would get even with me.

The caller did not allow me to apologize or explain what I was trying to say with the parable, only that I should watch out because he was going to get even.  I can’t say that I rejoiced like the apostles, not knowing how the caller was going to get even,

Of course, my small example does not begin to compare to the way Paul and other early Christians were persecuted, or for that matter, the millions of Christians that are being persecuted in the world today. Christianity Today International reports that 215 million Christians experience at least a high level of persecution.  One example cited twenty-three Christian leaders that were killed in Mexico in 2017.

While Christians in our country have not experienced persecution as in some countries, we are not immune from this concern in view of societal trends dealing with life, marriage, and sexual conduct.

But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:10)