Category Archives: Christian life

A More Innocent Time

This past weekend I attended my 60th high school class reunion in Mason City, Iowa.  Mason City is a town of about 30,000 in northern Iowa, known mostly for being the model for River City in Meredith Wilson’s musical, Music Man.

Out of a class of 340, one hundred ten of us showed up from California to Virginia and Texas to Idaho.  We came to catch up with old friends, become reacquainted with others we didn’t know so well and relive memories from long ago.

What was noteworthy about our gathering was that everyone had a genuine interest in one another.  There were no agendas.  There was no competition in the sharing about family or what was going on in people’s lives.  People shared more about family than careers or past accomplishments.  There was no discussion involving politics, the public arena or world affairs.

We reminisced about a more innocent time when as children we could walk several blocks to our elementary schools without our parents and concerns for safety.  We could ride our bikes to any part of town at any time of day or night without worry of being mugged or molested.

We still said the pledge of allegiance in our schools “as one nation under God,” and we sang Christmas carols at Christmas concerts.   God was not banned from the public square and the Christmas crèche still appeared in the town’s Central Park.

We said grace at our Saturday evening dinner, and remembered the 95 members of our class who have passed from this life to the next in a beautiful slide show.

We parted Saturday evening with lots of hugs and well wishes, realizing that for those of us who came from quite a distance, it might be the last time we will see one another.

In reflecting on the weekend, what struck me was that everyone present had worked hard all their lives at whatever their occupation was, raised and loved their families to the third, and in one case, even the fourth generation.  Whatever their religious faith or background, they evidenced a belief in God.  They experienced the challenges and blessings of life, but were still motivated to do the right thing.

As the psalmist said, “You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.” (Psalm 61:4)

St. Paul may have described the situation even better when he said, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  So we fix our eyes on not what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (1 Corinthians 4:16, 18)

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Being Sent — A Broader View

In one of Jesus’ post resurrection encounters with the disciples he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  Matthew’s last words have Jesus commanding the apostles to make disciples of all nations.

Some take a narrow view that these words apply only to people who are called to religious vocations or missionaries sent off to distant lands.  But we know that the Father, creator of each of us, calls each of us back to him.  He gives each of us the opportunity to invite him into our lives to take up residence in our hearts.  Then, like the apostles, he sends us out to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.

Like the apostles, he also equips us with the power of his Holy Spirit and gifts of the Spirit to do whatever he calls us to do.

As a parent and grandparent, I had the opportunity this past weekend to reflect on the Father’s sending in my life, as my wife and I visited two of our daughters’ families and witnessed the sacrament of confirmation being administered to two grandchildren, one from each family.   We have five children including three daughters and a son who are married, raising families of their own, as well as a disabled daughter who lives with us.

Several of our thirteen grandchildren are moving into their high school years.  As we see them mature as young Christian members of our larger family, we are able to observe what a fine job our children are doing in raising them in the Christian faith and for life generally. 

After almost 54 years of marriage, I believe that God sent me to marry my wife, and raise the family he has given us.  I believe he placed in my heart the desire to be an attorney and provide legal counsel and services to a large corporation, hopefully bringing truth and excellence to the people and circumstances in my work.

In the course of our marriage he gave us five children to nurture and raise in the Christian faith and be available to God to be sent as he has uniquely called each of them.  We did this with words and example, and the help of the Church and other Christian friends.

Now, we are seeing the cycle repeated with our own children.  We meet friends of theirs who tell us about the impact they have in various ministries and activities.  We see their husbands providing well for their families and being good fathers in encouraging, nurturing and spending time with their children.  We see our son and his wife doing the same with their younger children.

What joy it brings to our hearts!

What a blessing it is to be sent!  In sending us God gives purpose and direction for our lives.  Sometimes it takes time to discern his will, but he is always there to guide us in finding what that true call is.

As Jesus said to the apostles, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”  John 15:16

“It is finished”

These were the last words of Jesus from the cross according to John.  He had done all that the Father had asked.  He submitted fully to the Father’s will.  Now there was nothing more for him to do in his human state.  Whatever was to follow was in God’s hands.  Jesus was showing his complete trust in the Father.

In the end he submitted to the Father’s will to endure the suffering of the cross even though he asked three times that he might be spared.  Whatever his divine nature was, it did not relieve him of the agony of the garden, the reality of physical suffering and the realization that he was about to carry the weight of all mankind’s sin.  I am not sure we can begin to comprehend what he was feeling.

Jesus introduced the kingdom of God on earth through his teaching, example and miracles.  He fulfilled all the prophesies about him as the anointed one, the Messiah.  He said he was the way, the truth and the life.  He said anyone who has seen him has seen the Father.  He was not only created in God’s image, he was God in human form.   He showed all the rest us what is possible if we are totally human and lay down our will to God’s.   

Like Jesus, God has a specific purpose for each of us.  We are an unrepeatable creation of God with specific attributes designated to do only what we can do with the people and circumstances God places in our lives.

Like Jesus, we need to grow in wisdom and seek God’s will in all that we do.  As Jesus told the disciples to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit so that they would be equipped to fulfill their call, he offers us a similar path with the same Holy Spirit.

As I look back on my life, that includes my wife of almost 54 years, my five children, their spouses and our thirteen grandchildren, a business career, a Christian ministry ,etc., I am still not able to say, “It is finished.”  For as long as we have breath, we have purpose.  There are still people and circumstances to serve in line with God’s will.

Jesus knew when he completed his work for the Father.  We may not be as certain.  But when it is finished, may we hear the words of Jesus, “Well done good and faithful servant!”  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Mt. 25:21, 34)

God Inhabits the Ordinary

Are we experiencing God in the ordinary events of our daily lives?

After the baby Jesus was presented in the temple, Luke reports, “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.”

How ordinary! The Son of God is born of Mary and entrusted to Joseph and her. With the exception of a few humble shepherds and the Magi, people gave them little notice.

Joseph and Mary were practicing Jews who observed the laws and traditions of Judaism. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and consecrated to God in the Temple in Jerusalem as was required for first born males of Jewish families.

The Gospels give us few facts about Jesus’ childhood other than the incident when he was 12 and stayed behind in the temple during the family’s annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The likelihood is that Jesus’ early life was very ordinary with Jesus growing up as a young Jewish boy, experiencing all of the things any Jewish boy would have experienced with family and neighbors. They would observe family traditions and the practice of Judaism in a small village. Jesus likely learned his father’s trade of being a carpenter, and was probably a carpenter himself during his early adult years.

God inhabits the ordinary. He did this with Jesus. He inhabited the ordinary in preparation for the extraordinary. He did this with the prophets that went before Jesus. He does this with us. We cannot expect to experience God in the extraordinary if we are not experiencing him in the ordinary.

The ordinary includes the daily commute to work, taking out the trash and helping our children with homework. It includes our daily contact with co-workers, standing in line at the checkout counter and the many choices we make each day, large and small.

Jesus tells us in John 14 that if we love him, the Father and he will come and make their home in us. One of his last words to the disciples was that he will be with us always. He is in us and with us if we choose to act on his presence. As a result, instead of cursing the person who cuts us off on our way to work, we bless him. We show patience to our children in helping them with their homework. We listen to a co-worker who wants to share a problem. We forbear in reacting negatively to an inattentive retail clerk.

Ninety-nine percent of life is ordinary. If we are experiencing Jesus in the ordinary, we are experiencing the kingdom of God, which Jesus says is here and now. When a need or crisis hits we can then experience Jesus in the extraordinary as we pray with a sick friend for healing, bring reconciling words to a troubled relationship or love to a forgotten stranger – anticipating that God will act in and through us.

Lord’s Prayer Awakens a Soul

When was the last time you listened closely to the words of the Lord’s Prayer?

On Sunday mornings once a month, I take communion to Catholic residents at a nearby nursing home, including a few residents in various stages of Alzheimer’s. Some of the Alzheimer residents are not able to receive communion, or are often asleep when I arrive, so I usually just say a short prayer with them.

Last Sunday, when I came to one of the women who had her eyes closed (let’s call her Alice for the sake of privacy), I gently touched her on the shoulder and asked her if she would like to say the Lord’s Prayer. She opened her eyes in kind of blank stare. I knelt down beside her, put my hand on her hand, and started to slowly recite the Lord’s Prayer. Her eyes began to open wide and she started to say the words with me. Her eyes became wider and wider as she saw herself remembering the words. A slight smile spread across her face. She appeared as if she were proud of herself for remembering the words. As we finished a small tear appeared in the corner of one of her eyes. I said, “Alice, would you like to receive communion?” “Yes,” she nodded, and I placed the Eucharist on her tongue.

This was the first time that I had ever seen Alice receive communion. It was as if the Lord’s Prayer had awakened her soul and memory, enabling her to recite the entire prayer. It made the back of my neck tingle.

I, too, was impacted by seeing the power of Jesus’ words on Alice, words Jesus suggested to his disciples when they asked him how to pray. (Luke 11:2) For many of us the Lord’s Prayer has become so familiar we may recite the words, but their meaning may no longer penetrate our mind and heart.

I must confess that I was impacted in one additional way. When I first started to take communion to the residents of this nursing home, I was very uncomfortable with the Alzheimer’s residents. In fact, on my second visit I skipped going to their floor. But after seeing the impact of Jesus’ words on Alice and watching how those words awakened God’s presence in her, I received a new love for Alice and all her fellow residents. God was moving in my heart as well as Alice’s. I will never skip her floor again.

Do you have a perspective on a person or situation in your life that God would like to change?

Laser Tag and God’s Design for the Family

Laser Tag

Laser Tag

Can God’s design for the family include laser tag?

Story: This past weekend, we were visiting two of our children’s families to attend the high school graduation of our oldest grandson. Following a post-graduation party and dinner, we were sitting around visiting with the two families, including our grandson’s paternal grandparents, when his siblings and cousins came up with the idea that the two grandfathers, should take the six of them to play laser tag at a local game arcade. Not only were we to take them, we were to join them in the game.

My first reaction was to decline, but a huge lobbying campaign ensued by the six grandchildren, being egged on by their parents (our children) who all thought it was a hilarious idea. Suddenly I felt the nudge of that inner voice saying, “You should do this.”

So here we were, two white haired septuagenarians and six teenagers, ages 12 to 18, driving in an eight passenger van to a local laser tag arcade. For those who have never had the experience, laser tag is a game where you put on a vest with four electronic targets located on the chest, back and both shoulders, along with a hand-held infrared laser gun. You are put in a low light room with two levels and various structures to run around and hide behind while aiming your laser gun at another person’s target areas. A hit on another person gives you 100 points and a hit on you subtracts 50 points and disables your gun for three seconds. The person with the most points wins.

Both the kids and the white haired old guys had a blast! The old guys were quite proud of themselves and will long cherish the memory. Hopefully the young folks, separated by two generations, will as well.

Reflection: God created us in his image, male and female. He said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. He put us in the garden of his creation “to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:15) The family is the natural result of this creation and all that follows. God calls us to carry forward his design from generation to generation. This is a blessed calling, ordained by the one who created all that exists. It is filled with challenges and sacrifice, but can be balanced with deep love and unforgettable blessings.

In this case, there was love in the request from the one generation, and there was love in the acceptance of the request by the generation once removed. Upon arriving back at the house there was joy among all three generations by what had taken place.

What was the source of this joy? God’s design for his creation was being lived out through three generations of family, ironically and humorously highlighted through a mundane game of laser tag.

Do you see God’s hand in the ordinary circumstances of your family?

How Do We Experience Christ’s Presence in Us?

Do you experience Christ’s presence acting in you through the power of the Holy Spirit? While we receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, many of us do not experience the reality of Christ present and alive in us as he promised. Why is this?

Personal Story

I lived my life for many years in a way that buried Christ’s presence in me rather than allow that presence to be manifested. I believed in God, attended Mass regularly and participated in the sacraments. Yet my Christian faith had become secondary to other so-called priorities, namely my career. I didn’t recognize God’s presence in my life, and no one else did either.

Because I had compartmentalized my life, the blessings of Christ’s truth, compassion and healing power were not available to the area of my life that needed them most – my work life. I put Jesus in a box and separated my professional life from the reality of Christ’s presence in me.

That all changed one evening when I met Jesus in a new and personal way in a parish Life in the Spirit program, and some people prayed with me for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit. Before that evening, the words of Jesus in John 14:23 that he and the Father wanted to dwell in me were just words. After that evening, they became real. I began to experience the presence of God and the fullness of the Holy Spirit in a new and deeper way. I stopped burying the Christ that was in me!

Pentecost

This past weekend we celebrated Pentecost Sunday commemorating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by God on the apostles and earlier followers of Christ after his ascension. Jesus had instructed the disciples, “wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-5, 8)

The same Holy Spirit that Jesus said would empower the disciples to be his witnesses throughout the earth is waiting to be released in you and me to renew our faith, to draw us into a closer relationship with the Father, and to build God’s kingdom in the circumstances of our lives.

You

Anyone can experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit just by asking for it. (Luke11:11-13) It is Jesus’ legacy to us – his means to give us his ears, his eyes, his mind and his heart. (John 14:16, 26)

I would love to hear from you about how you have experienced the Holy Spirit and God’s presence in your life.