Category Archives: Uncategorized

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?   

What’s in a Name?

Many years ago some friends of ours prayed for healing of my glaucoma at a large Christian gathering at Shea Stadium in New York.  After a talk on healing, the speaker encouraged the audience to pray with one another for whatever needs people may have had.  The friends we were with knew of my glaucoma, put their hands on my head, and prayed in the name of Jesus that the field of vision that had been lost would be restored.    

It just so happened that the following Monday I had an annual field of vision test with my ophthalmologist.  I will always remember his words at the initial diagnosis that while we might be able to preserve the field of vision I still had, I would never be able to recover the approximate one-third of my vision that had been lost.

While he conducted the test, I heard him continue to say, “Hum.”  After about the fourth hum, I asked if there was something wrong.  He said, “Well, you seem to have a full field of vision.  I said, “I thought you told me that I could never recover the vision that I had lost.”  He said, “Yes, I did.”  When I told him where I had been on Saturday and that some friends had prayed with me for healing, he said, “Well, I will take all the help I can get.”

After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit following Jesus’ ascension, Peter and John were entering the temple one day, and Peter healed a crippled beggar.  The onlookers were astonished and everyone wondered how this happened.  Peter boldly proclaimed, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.”(Acts 3:16 NIV)

Do we treat the name of Jesus with the same awe and wonder as Peter and the early followers of Jesus?  Have we allowed the name of Jesus to become so familiar and common as to strip it of its power and majesty? 

Peter was simply doing what Jesus had instructed the apostles to do.  “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.”  And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  (John 14:12-13)

I realize that not all prayers in the name of Jesus by faithful Christians appear to be answered.  Yet, might we not take Jesus at his word, have greater awe and reverence for his name, and act with the same faith as Peter did with the crippled beggar?

When was the last time that you prayed in the name of Jesus for healing or other needs?

Being a Witness for Jesus

“You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48)

These are the words of Jesus to the disciples after appearing to them following his resurrection.  After showing them his hands and feet, eating a piece of broiled fish and demonstrating that he was indeed physically alive, he opened their minds to understand all that was written about him in the Scriptures.  He instructed them not to leave Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit, and then go and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.       

While most of us will never be preachers, we can still be witnesses to Jesus in how we conduct ourselves and live our lives. Sometimes we will have the opportunity to witness with words, but most of the time we will demonstrate our belief and faith in Jesus with our conduct – treating people with respect and kindness, being honest and acting with integrity, and being open to care for others as the need arises. 

In fact, if our witness is comprised of only words before we establish credibility with our conduct, the words may have little effect and even accomplish the opposite of our intended purpose.  There are times, however, when Jesus expects us to witness to his presence in our lives, particularly with family and friends with whom we have an established relationship.  They should know that our Christian faith is important to us and that we strive to live by that faith. 

After being prayed with to be filled with the Holy Spirit, it changed the course of my life.  I had a greater desire to pray, read scripture and be open to following God’s will in my life.  I shared my experience with a work colleague.  He seemed to have accepted  it well, and in turn shared it with one of our senior executives who I knew but would not likely have ever had the opportunity to share directly with him.  As a result my witness was able to go beyond what I was able to do myself.  God loves to multiply our witness.

A number of years later this same colleague called me one day and asked if I would come to his office.  It turns out that he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  He was very distraught and worried not only about his cancer, but also about his family and how he was feeling guilty because he had let his work take too much time away from his wife and two daughters.  We talked.  I listened, and offered to pray with him.  We prayed that God would bless him with a special peace and give him an opportunity to draw closer to his wife and daughters during his time remaining.  He died a few months later. 

How have you witnessed to Jesus with your conduct and words?

Fruit of the Resurrection

After the burial of my father, I was riding with my mother and brother out of the cemetery 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 day. 

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 this great feeling of joy.”  They both looked at me as if I were crazy and said nothing.  We drove on, but the moment of joy in me remained.  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.”  As I shared these words with my mother the tears streamed down her face as she rejoiced in knowing that her husband of 50 years was with the Lord. 

This past Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ after his tortuous and cruel death, a turning point in human history.  For the Creator of all that exists completed the loving and humbling act of becoming one of us, and then willingly sacrificing his life so that we might live forever.  I have no doubt that my father, and now my mother and brother are alive with the Lord Jesus in a way that we will never be able to comprehend fully ourselves until we complete a similar journey.   

We may remember the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus appeared to them following his resurrection.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)  Although not initially recognizing him, they said that their hearts burned within them as he spoke.  My heart burned within me as I experienced that sense of joy and heard those words, “Your father is with me in heaven.”

Praise God for his plan of redemption for the human race!  Praise Jesus for his humility, love and sacrifice! 

Have you ever experienced the presence of God or his word that burned within your heart?

Purpose Fulfilled

“It is finished.” (John 19: 30)  These were the last words of Jesus from the cross according to John’s gospel.  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 fully 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 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. Not only are our fingerprints unrepeatable, but each of us is created 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 60 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.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt. 25:21, 34)  

What purposes has God given you to fulfill?      

Good Intentions Unfulfilled

“Peter said, ‘Master, why can’t I follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you.”  (John 13:37)

We may be familiar with the story.  Jesus is trying to tell the disciples what will soon take place; that he will be with them only a little longer and where he is going they cannot follow.  Peter protests, pledging his loyalty and that he will follow Jesus anywhere, even if it means laying down his life. 

Peter was no doubt sincere in his intention.  Then the unexpected happened.  Temple guards came in the dark of night with torches, clubs and swords to arrest Jesus.   In the chaos of the moment, the disciples flee and Peter “follows from a distance.”   Later in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denies that he knows Jesus three separate times. 

How often have our good intentions been laid aside when faced with challenging circumstances or just due to procrastination from our own sloth?   We tell God or someone we are going to do something and then we fail to do it.  The examples are numerous.

Our greatest failure with good intentions may manifest itself with the sin in our life.  Many of our sins are recurring.  We confess them or commit not to do them again, and then we do.  Good intentions are also negated when we fail to keep our word.  We commit to our family that we will be home for the family evening meal, and then we let a work demand get in the way, not just once in a while, but on a regular basis.   We say to a friend we have not seen for a while, “Let’s have lunch.”  Then, we never follow-up to schedule it.  We commit to attend one of our children’s or grandchildren’s sporting events, and then let an intervening circumstance take precedence.  We commit to have a prayer time before breakfast, and then fail to get out of bed in time. 

Good intentions, like love, require action to be fulfilled.  As we know, Peter later became a bold spokesman for the early church.  Tradition tells us that he was martyred by being crucified upside down.  What made the difference?  The Holy Spirit!  After his resurrection, Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift God had promised: “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4, 8)    

The Good News is that this same Holy Spirit is available to us just as it was to Peter and the disciples.  With the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace, we too, can see our good intentions become a reality.

Are you sitting on any good intentions that need to be fulfilled?