Monthly Archives: May 2023

Putting Jesus’ Words into Practice

At the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he challenges us to put his many words into practice. (Mt. 7:24) We are to love, to forgive, to care for those in need, to be generous, reflect the Beatitudes, seek God and his kingdom, and trust in God in all things. (Matthew, Chapters 5 – 7)    

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, of course, is Jesus. 

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

I have friends who have been volunteering for Special Olympics for over 40 years.  In addition to Special Olympics, they were instrumental in starting and funding one of the first special education programs in a Catholic high school in the U. S – St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly, Virginia. More than a dozen students with intellectual and developmental disabilities have enrolled in this program each year since 1998, including our daughter, Emily.  More than a hundred students from the general student body volunteer each year 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. 

These same families joined with others to establish Porto Charities, a non-profit organization to raise funds to support inclusive education and employment in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.  Today, with the support of Bishop Michael Burbidge, there are special education programs in all four of the diocese’s high schools and sixteen parish schools.  Twenty-seven young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are employed in the diocese’s offices, schools and parishes.  

On June 24, Porto Charities will hold its 1st Annual Advocacy Awards Dinner, beginning with mass celebrated by Bishop Burbidge, followed by a reception and dinner.  Advocacy Awards | Porto Charities

The families involved may not talk a lot about their faith, 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)

How are you putting Jesus’s words into practice in your life? 

Maintaining the “Wow!” of God

If you ask someone how they are doing, they will likely tell you how busy they are.  And it’s true.  Most of us are on the go all of the time.  Both parents working demanding jobs, getting kids off to school, attending children sporting events, preparing meals, volunteering for various activities – all contribute to a feverish pace that can crowd out our focus on God’s place in our lives.  Our cell phones make us available 24/7 to bosses, customers, family and friends.

 While we may believe that our modern life has become more hectic than prior ages, the erosion of our focus on God is a condition Christians have faced from the very beginning.  In the Book of Revelation we read of Jesus criticizing the Church of Ephesus for forsaking its first love of God.  He chides them for how far they have fallen and tells them to “repent and do the things you did at first.”  (Rev. 2:5)   To the Church of Laodicea, he complains, “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16) 

After experiencing a reconversion of my faith in my mid 30’s, a certain “wow” factor seemed to pervade everything.  God seemed so present to me through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Prayers at mass took on new life.  Words seemed to leap off the page of scripture with new insight and meaning.  Recently, I got out the Bible I had begun reading back then and was surprised at all the handwritten notes I had made in the margins recording various insights at the time.  I also found a couple of letters from two of our daughters that I had stashed away.  Each of them had commented on the impact they saw that the Lord was having on their mother and father and our family.

Forty years later, I wonder if my zeal and enthusiasm has waned a bit.  Yet, I know that God has not changed.  Nor has the need changed for us to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives. 

In today’s Liturgy of the Hours, Cyril of Jerusalem says, “The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console.  The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.”

In the midst of life’s daily cares, how do you retain the “wow” of your faith in God?

Faith’s Impact on Family

“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” (Acts 16:30-31)

These are the words of St. Paul to the jailer when he asks what he must do to be saved after an earthquake had caused the doors of the jail imprisoning Paul and Silas to fly open.  The jailer, thinking everyone had escaped, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.  Paul shouted, “Do not harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer fell trembling before Paul and Silas and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They responded with the above words. 

Because of the practice of holding jailers responsible with their lives if prisoners escaped, the jailer may have been thinking about how he could save his life.  Paul was intent on saving not only his life but also his soul and the rest of his household.

We may not fully appreciate the impact that our belief in the Lord Jesus has on the rest of our family and members of our household.   I thank God for the Christian heritage that I received from my mother and father, my grandparents and those who went before them.  I believe that there is a certain grace that flows from such a heritage that nurtures the gift of faith God desires for each of us. 

While the heirs of such a heritage are free to reject the gift of faith, a heritage of faith enriches the soil into which the seed of faith is planted.  The greater the example of a life lived by faith on the part of the parents, the more fertile the soil in the children to receive the seeds of faith, and for those seeds to grow and mature. 

How often have we seen a rebellious son or daughter come back to the faith through a parent’s example and prayers of intercession?  St. Augustine is one of the more notable examples who returned to God through the intercession of his mother, Monica, after he had lived a rather promiscuous life for a number of his early adult years.

St. Paul tells us that an unbelieving spouse is sanctified by a believing spouse. (1 Cor. 7:14)  Our belief in Jesus and how we live out that belief is not just for our individual benefit, but part of God’s plan to spread faith in him to others, particularly our own family and household.  

How are your family and household being impacted by your faith? 

Opening the Door to God

Jesus provides a continuous invitation to us.  He says, “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

I recently came across a beautiful reflection from St. Augustine about how he had put God off for many years, and then he reflects:

            “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

            You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.

            In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. 

            You were with me, but I was not with you. 

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. 

You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. 

You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I

burned for your peace.  (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book Ten, XXVII)

While I will never attain the depth of Augustine’s spirituality and wisdom, I relate to his early struggles in resisting God’s invitations to have a personal and intimate relationship with him.  In my early adult years, while there were times when I would experience a whiff of God’s special fragrance, I kept him at arm’s length for the most part. This was particularly true when it came to moving forward in my career as a young attorney.  I allowed myself to be influenced more by the ways of the world than the ways of God. 

Then one October evening, through God’s grace and the influence of my wife and other spirit-filled Christian friends, I met Jesus in a way I had never experienced before – just the two of us in the solitude of his presence and gentle love.  In response to a suggestion from a priest who was celebrating mass, I asked him to take the sin and mixed priorities in my life, and before I could finish the request, he responded with an affirmation that words are inadequate to describe. 

It was a watershed moment.  If you ask my wife, she will tell you that from that point forward all my priorities began to change.  Jesus gave me a new thirst for reading scripture and spending time daily with him.  He gave me a new love for the Church and his sacraments, and a desire to share his presence with others.  Yes, I am still capable of failing him, but repentance follows. 

Like Augustine, we thank you, Lord, for breaking through our deafness, for dispelling our blindness and breathing the fragrance of your Spirit on us.

Have you opened the door to Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Overcoming the Spiritual Blahs

In commenting on Jesus’ commandment to “to love one another as I have loved you,” St. Augustine says, “This is the kind of love that renews us.  When we love as he loved us we become new men [women], heirs of the new covenant and singers of the new song.”

So, the lesson seems to be, if you want renewal in your life, love others as Jesus loves us.  And, how does Jesus love us?  By the greatest act of humility ever recorded, he became one of his created.  Then, after teaching, modeling, encouraging, listening, healing and serving, he laid down his life for us.  He characterizes the latter action as, “No one has greater love than this.” (John 15:13) 

If someone were keeping score, I am sure I have had more failures than successes in loving according to this standard.  Nevertheless, I am blessed with a loving family and other opportunities to love. 

One such opportunity has involved taking communion to shut-ins.  A few years ago, I had the privilege of taking communion to a lovely lady who was a 104 years young.   What a delightful person she was and what a blessing it was to listen to her share about her outlook on life and the events transpiring over a century in time.  Of her many gems of wisdom, my favorites were, “Love covers a lot of wrongs.  I am not a perfect person, but God gives me a lot of love, so I love and that makes up for me not being perfect.   I have found that it is easier to be happy than sad, and it’s also more fun.  At my age, I think only nice thoughts.” 

“Satan is always hanging around to cause us trouble, but I just tell him, “Satan, be gone!  And he runs from me.  He is very tricky.  He tries to get us to do things we shouldn’t do, but I tell him, Satan you get out of here!”  She added, “My husband wasn’t Catholic, but he always took me to church.  He waited for me outside in the car reading the funny papers.  I would be praying in church, Satan be gone.  And you know what, my husband became a convert.” 

“I had three wonderful brothers-in-law.  Two were firemen in Washington, D. C. and one was a policeman.  The two firemen were in dangerous situations.  I would pray for them all the time.  Once they were in a burning building on the second floor, and one started yelling, ‘Get out; get out!’  As soon as they got out the floor collapsed.  God answers our prayers, and he protected them all the time they were firemen.” 

In the weeks following these visits, my spirit was renewed.  My prayer time and reading of scripture took on a new vibrancy.  St. Augustine was right. 

How do you overcome spiritual dryness?