Category Archives: Uncategorized

Battling Temptations

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.”  (Luke 4:1- 2)

If Jesus, who shared our humanity, needed the Holy Spirit to resist the temptations of the devil, how much more do we?  Certainly, our fallen humanity makes us subject to all kinds of temptations.  The list is lengthy.  St. Paul describes, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

Other sins are more subtle, such as checking our faith at the door of our workplace, not taking time to listen to someone who is hurting, or failing to be kind and respectful in our interactions with others.  These sins of omission can be just as destructive to others and us as the more obvious sins of commission.

There was a time in my life when I let my work and career take precedence over my wife and family, but fortunately, I was invited by a priest and a group of nuns from Scarsdale, New York to be prayed with for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit.  I will never forget the reassuring words of God’s love and forgiveness from Sister Pauline, one of the nuns.  Experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit in a more personal and real way opened my eyes to both the sins of commission and omission.  It changed the course of my life.

We all have different propensities to sin, but Jesus came to forgive and free us from our sins and enable us through the power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptations.  I can personally testify that Jesus can set you free of a nagging, persistent sin.  Ask Jesus with all your heart to take a sin from you, and he will do so!

The Holy Spirit gave me an entirely new perspective on how God was calling me to love and serve him through my family, work, and ministry.  Experiencing the fullness and presence of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to resisting the devil’s many temptations.   

Have you asked God to fill you with the Holy Spirit to help you resist sin?

Encouraging One Another

“Encourage one another daily, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13) 

The Gospel of John explains what “sin’s deceitfulness” means when it tells us that the devil “is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44His most prevalent lies are that we are not worthy, that we are not loved or appreciated, that what we do doesn’t matter, and that God does not really care about us or our lives.

These lies seek to oppress us.  They cause us to forget that we are God’s special creation, made in his image and likeness, with the important task of taking care of the garden of his creation and establishing his kingdom on this earth.  These lies can be disabling.  They derail us from the reason for our being. They prevent us from carrying out the work God has in mind for only us to do in the context of the people and circumstances of our lives.

The antidote for these lies is encouragement.  Psalm 10:17 says God encourages the afflicted.  We are his agents for encouragement.  It is an act of love.  One of the ways God shows his love for us is through the encouragement of one another.

When I think of encouragement, I think of my wife who constantly encourages our adult daughter, Emily, who has Down syndrome.  Up until last year Emily worked at a bakery and catering business five days a week for twelve years.  The bakery employed more than thirty people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  In March of 2020, the bakery suspended operations due to COVID.  For a variety of reasons the bakery later closed its business permanently. 

Because of the continued presence of COVID and the general lack of employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we have not been able to find suitable work for Emily.  Needless to say, she misses the routine of her work, getting out of the house, and seeing her many friends there each day. 

My wife constantly encourages Emily by getting her to help with the daily chores of making the beds, folding clothes, vacuuming, and other housework.  She develops routines for Emily to help with making her lunch and snacks, going for walks, arranging for former high school friends to come and visit, and generally encouraging her to be the joyful person she has always been — upbeat in spite of not having the work routine she previously enjoyed so much. 

Is there someone in your life who needs encouragement?

The Shepherds’ Confirmation to Mary and Us

“So [the shepherds] went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in a manger.  They made known the message that they had been told about the child.  And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  (Luke 2:16-17, 19) 

What was it that Mary was reflecting on in her heart?   Could it have been that what the angels had told the shepherds confirmed what the angel had said to her; that the son she bore was to be the savior of the world? 

How loving and merciful of God to give Mary a confirmation of her momentous decision to say yes to his plan for her to be the mother of his Son!  

God providing confirmation of important decisions is not confined to the Holy Family, but is something available to anyone who seeks an ongoing relationship with him and asks for guidance in the decisions of life. 

Let me share a story involving my mother when I was teenage boy, growing up in Mason City, Iowa.  I was born with a deformed sternum bone that was inverted inward and had the effect of crowding my heart and lungs as I grew older.  When I was 15, it was determined that it was causing my heart to enlarge with serious consequences on my future health and life expectancy.  A thoracic surgeon in Des Moines had developed a procedure where the sternum bone would be cut from the rib cage lifted out and a bone strut placed across the ribs from one side to the other and then the sternum laid back down over the strut with everything wired back together. 

Since this was in the 1950’s and the surgery was considered unusually invasive and experimental, my parents agonized over the decision to proceed.   After seeking second opinions, deliberating extensively and praying, they decided to go forward with the surgery. 

The Sunday before we were to travel to Des Moines for the surgery, my mother was earnestly praying at mass, asking God for some kind of assurance that they were making the right decisionAs she was praying, she felt a hand on her shoulder.  It was distinctly physical.  She paused, looked behind her, but there was no one there or anywhere nearby.  She knew it was a confirmation from God of their decision to go ahead with the surgery.  Sixty-seven years later, I am still here to share the story.

“All who heard [the angels’ message] were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:18)

Has God given you a sign or assurance with a difficult decision?

An Incarnation Analogy

Do you ever struggle with grasping the full meaning and purpose of God becoming one of us in the person of Jesus Christ? 

For many years radio commentator Paul Harvey shared the following story at Christmas to help us understand.

—————-

The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man; generous to his family, and upright in his dealings with other men.  But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time.  It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.  He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man. 


“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.”  He said he’d feel like a hypocrite.  That he’d much rather stay at home, but that he would wait up for them.  And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall.  He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper.  Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…then another, and then another.  Sort of a thump or a thud…at first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow.  They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony.  That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.  Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.  He opened the doors wide and turned on the light, but the birds did not come in.  He figured food would entice them.

So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable.  But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.  He tried catching them…he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm lighted barn. 

And then he realized that they were afraid of him.  To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…that I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them.  But how?  Because any move he made tended to frighten them and confuse them, they just would not follow.  They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language.  Then I could tell them not to be afraid.  Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn.  But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”  At that moment the church bells began to ring.  The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind.  And he stood there listening to the bells, listening, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.  And he sank to his knees in the snow.

____________________

May you and your loved ones have a blessed Christmas!

Freedom to Choose – God’s Gift

“May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, we see that God did not force his will on her.  We may tend to take her decision for granted, but it was not automatic.  However holy and righteous Mary may have been, it was still within her power to decline the role God desired for her.  He gave her freedom to reject his invitation, but she chose to say yes. 

Even Jesus had the freedom to choose when he prayed in Gethsemane that the cup of torture and death he was facing be taken from him, but then he submitted. “Yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) 

Like Mary and Jesus, God has given us the freedom to make choices.  When I was in my mid-40’s, I was offered a promotion in my work that would have required our family to move. Everything in my work experience was calling out to me to accept this apparent advance in my career, but we had three teenage daughters and a young son at the time.  My wife and I discerned that under the circumstances it was not in God’s will for us to make this move. We will never know what might have happened had I accepted the assignment, but we do know what did happen – an apparent initial sacrifice was transformed into a cup overflowing with a multitude of blessings.  Since that time God added another special child to our family.  The first four children are now raising Christian families of their own, adding 13 grandchildren to our overall family. 

How precious is the gift of freedom which God gives to each of us!  He preserved it even in the midst of his most important act after creation – his intention to become one of his created in the person of Jesus in order to overcome evil and save the world from sin and death. 

We honor and revere Mary for her decision of faithfulness and obedience to God’s desire.  As we read the Gospel of Luke, we may tend to gloss over all of the real and practical complications, second guessing, and judgments Mary must have endured in saying yes to God’s messenger.  Even Joseph intended to divorce her until God spoke to him in a dream.    

Without this freedom to choose, love, faithfulness and obedience have no meaning.  A coerced love is no love at all.  Freedom is a precondition to love.  It’s the way God set things up, and Mary illustrates it perfectly in agreeing to be part of something that had never happened before in human history. 

Do we appreciate the gift of freedom that God has given us? 

An Important Announcement

“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Mt. 3:11) 

In today’s world if we had an important announcement, we would likely hold a press conference at a noteworthy location such as the nation’s capitol, with various news reporters and TV networks beaming the message across the land, coupled with postings on all of the internet social media.

God took an entirely different approach in announcing that he would become one of us in the person of his son, Jesus.  First, he speaks through the prophets in sometimes obscure ways hundreds of years in advance to people who could not possibly be alive when the event takes place.  Next he takes a more direct, but very private approach, by sending angels to speak personally to Mary and Joseph. 

On the day of the grand event – the birth of his son, Jesus – he sends a group of angels not to the temple in Jerusalem to speak with the leaders of the Jewish faith, but to a group of obscure shepherds in the remote hills outside of the small village of Bethlehem.   While Luke reports that the shepherds made known the message they were given, and “all who heard it were amazed,” the number of people who heard this news from these unlikely heralds had to be minimal. 

Any reputable public relations firm today would consider all of this a complete communication failure. 

But God was not done.  He still had John the Baptist, whose initial effort was not so much involved with announcing the coming of Jesus as it was in preparing people’s hearts for the coming.  He was calling people to repent of their sin.  Instead of John going to where the people were, he went out to the desert along the Jordan River and the people came to him.  Mark reports, “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” (Mark 1:5)  

Think of how powerful the Spirit of God must have been working in John to cause people to make the strenuous journey, walking for a day or more over rugged roads from Jerusalem and other parts of Judea to the Jordan River! Then, after they got there, he asked them to confess their sins and be immersed in the river.  Even the Pharisees and Sadducees made the trip.  What a revival it must have been!

God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” (Is.55:8)  We see a foretaste of the power of Holy Spirit working in John which he says Jesus will pass on to us. 

Come Lord Jesus!  Come Holy Spirit!  

Exercising Faith on Another’s Behalf

A few years ago a close friend who had been battling cancer for more than four years had a massive brain hemorrhage.  He could not pray for himself or take other action, but his family and friends gathered around his hospital bed praying with him and for him, singing his favorite hymns, reading his favorite Bible verses and leading him into the arms of God the Father who was waiting for him.  Instead of lying in a comatose state indefinitely after years of suffering, his family and friends escorted him to the Father.  He had led a long and fruitful life loving God and serving his family, friends, and others.  What a glorious day it was for him AND us who were privileged to be present exercising our faith on his behalf. 

The Gospel of Luke reports the story of some friends of a paralytic who were trying to bring him to Jesus on a stretcher so that Jesus could heal him.  When they arrived at the house where Jesus was teaching, they could not get in because of the crowd.  So they took him up on the roof, removed the tiles and lowered him down on his stretcher into the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  When Jesus saw the faith of his friends and the extraordinary effort they went to get him in front of Jesus, he both forgave the paralytic his sins and healed his paralysis.  (Luke 5:17-26)

Luke’s account of this event indicates that Jesus did this not because of the paralytic’s faith, but the faith of his friends and the extreme efforts they undertook to get him to Jesus.

This is a good example of how we can exercise our faith on behalf of another to bring the Lord’s presence, healing and forgiveness.  Sometimes a person cannot act on his or her own faith, or take the kind of action that may be necessary.  While we don’t know anything about whether the paralytic had faith in this story, it does not appear that he would have been able to act on this faith without the help of his friends.

Jesus healed others on behalf of the request and faith of family and friends.  He healed the servant of a centurion who believed that Jesus could do this simply by saying the word without even coming to pray over the servant. (Mt. 5:5-13)  Others were healed based on the faith of a parent — Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43); and the royal official’s son in Capernaum. (John 4:43-54)  We should never underestimate the power of our faith to bring God’s presence to others.

Is there someone in your life who needs you to exercise your faith on their behalf?

Belief in More than Ourselves

On a cruise vacation a few years ago, my wife and I visited the Island of Gozo, part of Malta, where we toured the Ggantija Temples dating back to 3600 BC.  This makes them older than the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge in England.  Eighteen hundred years before Abraham, these ancient ruins reveal the human heart attempting to acknowledge a cause, force, or person larger than itself to explain our existence.  

The psalmist announces, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour fourth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2)

God created us with a desire to seek him.  It is part of our DNA.  Intuitively, we know that there is something more than ourselves to explain all that we observe in the world in which we live.  

God demonstrated his great love for us by becoming one of us in the person of Jesus, in order to bring his presence into the world in a very visible way at a specific time in history.  Jesus demonstrated his great love for us by sacrificing his life to free us from the grip of sin and Satan’s power over the world.  By the resurrection of Jesus, God confirmed the saving nature and power of that sacrifice. 

In contrast to the people of the ancient world, we are blessed to have the benefit of God’s revelation through the prophets, scripture, the words of Jesus and the teaching of the Church over many centuries.

God’s plan for creation is to dwell in us, his human creatures, who were the last act in his creation.  He accomplishes this through his son, Jesus Christ, so that we, with the power of the Holy Spirit, can partner with God in bringing his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives.

God never stops reaching out to us.  Like the Father of the prodigal son, he is always waiting to receive us. (Luke 15:11-32)  Even when we have turned away from him, he is still seeking us.  Like the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one lost sheep, God never stops loving us. (Luke 15:1-11)

We are incomplete without God in our life. No matter the knowledge we have gained, the success we have achieved, the fame we have experienced, the wealth we have accumulated, the friends we have made, we are not complete and will not be satisfied until we ask the God of all creation to dwell in us. 

Forgive me, Lord, for the times I have excluded you from the core of my life.  Come, dwell in my heart. 

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Is. 55:6)

Do you have a sense that there is more to life than what you are experiencing? 

Words, Faith, and Action

“I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

When I worked in the legal department of a large oil company we had an administrative assistant who was quite vocal about her Christian faith.  Her conversation was filled with references to her Christian beliefs and opinions on a variety of subjects. 

Her job performance in providing assistance to three attorneys, however, fell short of the expectations for her position.  It fell to me to counsel her about her performance.  I will never forget her response when I pointed out that her work in serving the three attorneys to whom she was assigned was not meeting the requirements for her job.  Indignantly, she retorted, “I don’t serve anyone but God!”

Clearly, her actions were not living up to the words she was professing about her Christian faith.  St. Anthony of Padua said, “Actions speak louder than words. Let your words teach and your actions speak.  We are full of words but empty of actions.” 

Bearing fruit in our lives is important to Jesus.  What kind of fruit? “Fruit that will last,” says Jesus.  St. Paul describes this as the fruit of the Spirit, which includes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)  I believe that faithfulness includes seeking to do our best at whatever we may be doing – our work, loving and serving our spouse and children, responding to the needs of friends, and growing in our relationship with Jesus.

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus has a very harsh response for the servant who buried the talent he had been given — a lack of action on his part. (Mt. 25:14-30) In the Parable of The Judgment of the Nations, Jesus condemns the people who did not provide food, drink, shelter, medical care and their time to individuals in need – a lack of action on their part.

Faith and love are not real until confirmed by our actions. When Jesus told someone that his or her faith had healed or saved them, it was usually the result of some affirmative action of the person exhibiting faith.  For example, the woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, fought through a crowd saying, “If only I can touch his cloak.” (Mt. 9:22)

This is not about whether salvation comes from faith or works.  This is about whether our actions make our professed faith and love real. 

Do your actions attest to your faith and love?

Holy Spirit Power Outage

Have you ever suffered multiple inconveniences due to an extended power outage?  The lack of air conditioning on a hot muggy night; spoiled food from a refrigerator not working; eyes straining to read by candle light; groping for clothes in a dark closet — just a few of the inconveniences we are likely experience.

In the same way an electrical power outage can make life difficult, so too will a Holy Spirit power outage be a challenge to live out our Christian faith in today’s world. 

Jesus instructed the disciples before his ascension not to leave Jerusalem until they had been “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:5, 8)

This is exactly what happened to the disciples.  They began to testify boldly to Jesus’ resurrection and experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These gifts included wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge and fear of the Lord, as described in Isaiah 11: 2-3, and faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophesy, discerning spirits and praying in different tongues, as described in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. 

Just as Jesus affirmed that the disciples needed the power of the Holy Spirit, so too, do we need this same power if we are to fulfill our calling as Christians, living out our faith in today’s world. 

While I received the Holy Spirit when baptized as an infant, it wasn’t until I seriously confronted the sin in my life as an adult and people prayed with me for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit, that I began to experience God’s presence in deeper way.  Only then did I begin to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the reality of the gifts of the Spirit.  All my priorities and values began to change.  I no longer compartmentalized my life, putting Jesus in a box, but accepted his offer to dwell in me. My objective was to bring his presence into every aspect of my life, including my family and work life. 

The Holy Spirit gives us eyes of mercy for the homeless person asking for money at a stop sign,  gives us patience to listen to a business colleague who needs to talk, and empowers us to pray with a friend for the healing or resolution of a significant need.

If you are not experiencing the fullness of God’s presence and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, follow Peter’s advice in Acts 2:38: repent of any sin and pray for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit which you received in your baptism.  Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)  All we have to do is ask.

Are you experiencing a Holy Spirit power outage?