Category Archives: Uncategorized

Our Jewish Heritage

“And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures about him.” (Luke 24:13-35)

In Luke’s narrative of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus comes up along-side of them and asks what they are talking about.  Not recognizing him after his resurrection, they describe the astonishing events of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and supposed resurrection. They wonder what it all means.  Jesus gently chastises them for being slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had said about him.     

As Christians, it is tempting for us to focus primarily on the New Testament.  Yet even the gospels in describing the life and words of Jesus, make numerous references to Old Testament events and prophesies.

In Genesis, God tells Abraham that he will be the father of many nations. (Genesis 17:6)  He tells Moses that he will raise up a prophet like him who will teach people everything God commands. (Deut. 18:18)  There are numerous references in Isaiah to the birth of Jesus, along with a description of his character and purpose. (Is. 7:14; 9:6; 40:10-11)  In Isaiah 53, the writer speaks of the suffering servant, Israel, which later becomes a description of Jesus, bringing redemption and salvation to a sinful world. 

Jesus connects us with the Jewish people and their heritage whether we realize it or not.  This heritage, which enriches the understanding of our Christian faith, is not unlike the Christian heritage provided by our parents and grandparents who leave us a legacy of teaching and example.  

Since my mother was Catholic and my father Baptist, growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s, I had the benefit of an ecumenical Christian heritage.  From my father and grandparents, I saw a steady faith with a focus on scripture.  From my mother I saw a special reverence and piety in her prayer and sacramental life.  From them flowed a conscience of right and wrong that carried me until the day I had my own personal encounter with Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit in the context of my Catholic faith.

I will never know how the prayers of my parents and grandparents influenced the course of my life, but now having the vantage point of parent and grandparent myself, I suspect there was a considerable impact. My wife would testify to a similar influence from her parents and grandparents.

Heritage is part of God’s plan for his creation — each generation passing on how they have experienced God and what they have learned from the time of Abraham 3800 years ago to the present day.  We Christians share so much with the Jewish people – the same God and father, the Ten Commandments, the Old Testament prophets, the wisdom literature, and the dignity of life.  May we one day share the same Messiah!

As Christians, do we fully appreciate our Jewish heritage?

“What is Truth?”

“You are right in saying that I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37-38)

It is ironic that Pilate’s response to this statement of Jesus was to ask, “What is truth?” when the embodiment of all truth was standing right in front of him. 

This was not the first time that Jesus spoke of testifying to the truth.  Earlier, he told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)  At the beginning of his gospel, John describes Jesus as, the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and then adding, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14)

From the beginning of human existence, people have been seeking the truth about the reason and purpose for their lives.  It is part of our created nature put there by God to facilitate our search for him.  Our souls are restless, but instead of seeking God, we often seek security in the things of this world such as greater wealth, recognition, and pleasure separated from the context of God and his creation. 

God became one of us in the person of Jesus, to help us better understand the truth from his words and example in order to free us from our sins. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)   

Conventional wisdom in today’s culture often runs counter to the truth and the ways of God.  We see the denigration of life through state funded abortion and legalized euthanasia. We see the elimination of nearly all restraints on sexual mores, and a Supreme Court overturning thousands of years of tradition and natural law in redefining marriage. 

We see people confusing tolerance for mercy.  We see increasing relativism on issues of integrity based on personal choice and societal whim instead of God’s revealed truths as set out by Jesus.

Like Jesus, we have opportunities to testify to the truth in our words and actions with the people and circumstances in our daily lives.  The more we regularly read and study God’s Word the better equipped we are to live the truth ourselves and gently represent the truth with others when the opportunity arises. 

In my first year out of law school I agreed to some changes in a contract to purchase a parcel of real estate that cost my company an additional $70,000, a sum equal to more than $500,000 in today’s dollars.  There were some extenuating circumstances, but I told the people involved that I wanted to be the one to personally communicate the mistake to the client manager.  Rather than chastise me, he thanked me for acknowledging the truth of my mistake, which built lasting credibility in our future dealings.  

Think of a time when you have had the opportunity to speak up for the truth? 

God’s Extravagance

How much wine is needed for a wedding? 

For the Wedding at Cana described in Chapter 2 of John’s gospel, the wedding party had run out of wine and the mother of Jesus asked Jesus to remedy the problem.   John reports that Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water holding 20 to 30 gallons.  He tells them to draw some out and take it to the headwaiter who tells the bridegroom, ”Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10)

This is Jesus’ first miracle, and how extravagant it is!  If we take an average of 25 gallons times six jars, we have 150 gallons of wine.  This would be equivalent to 757 bottles or approximately 63 cases. 

This story reflects the extravagant love of God in many ways.  We begin with Mary, the mother of Jesus, interceding with her son for the first time on behalf of a likely friend to save the friend’s family from embarrassment.  My wife and I have hosted weddings for three daughters, and I can certainly relate to how embarrassing it would be to run out of wine at any of their weddings. 

God’s response to this need was far more generous than required, both in the quality of the wine and its quantity.  This is emblematic of what God has in mind for people who respond to him through his son

Jesus is the new wine, quite distinct in quality to the old wine offered by the prophets that preceded him.  This new wine allows people to experience God in the flesh, up close and in person.  This new wine gives new meaning to the Jewish law, teaching and writings.  This new wine reveals the power of God over demons, illness, and the physical elements of wind, storm and sea.  This new wine demonstrates the love of God for all people by becoming one of us and then enduring torture and death to free us from sin, and leading us to a righteous life through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

My wife and I have been blessed to experience the extravagance of God’s love and this new wine through the Christian heritage of parents and grandparents, through our respective personal encounters with Jesus, and through the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit in the daily action of our lives. 

This extravagant love has been manifested through five children, four of whom are now raising Christian families themselves, meaningful work, opportunities in ministry, Christian friends, and a disabled adult daughter who teaches us each day about God’s love and ways.

We will never be able to match the extravagance of God’s love.  We cannot out-give him, out-sacrifice him, or out-love him, but we can return his love and generosity by opening the door of hearts to his gentle invitation. “Here I am,” he says.  “I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come and eat with him and he with me.”  (Rev. 3:20)

Have you opened the door of your heart to Jesus’ invitation?

Love Remains

Our daily lives are filled with many actions.  Most of them affect the current moment, some may affect the future for certain period of time, but few remain long term or have an eternal effect. 

We get up each morning, shower, brush our teeth, comb our hair, eat breakfast, go to work, attend meetings, break for lunch, come home in the evening, have dinner, read the paper, watch the news, help our kids with their homework, attend an evening meeting for some civic or church related purpose, watch some television and go to bed with the expectation of restarting a similar cycle the next morning.   On the weekend, our actions may vary to include some household chores, taking children to sporting or school activities, going to church and engaging in some relaxation. 

In the course of all of these many actions which are here today and gone tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to love and serve others. 

St. Paul has a glorious insight in his first letter to the Corinthians when talking about proper worship and the use of the spiritual gifts in chapters 11-13.  After describing how the various spiritual gifts build up the church, he declares that none of them are as important as love.  He then provides a beautiful description of love and concludes that all of these other actions will at some point pass away, but love will remain. (1 Co. 13:1-8) 

He says, “Love never fails.”  Acts of love never die.  They have a lasting quality.  They are remembered and extend into eternity. 

The committed love of a married man and woman that result in children being born in the image and likeness of God; the loving care of those children into faith-filled adults; the encouraging word to a work colleague or friend; the compassion and assistance extended to a person with a disability; being generous to a friend in need; forgiving a loved one who has wronged you – all of these acts of love have a life beyond their occurrence.  They have a ripple effect that just keeps moving outward in infinite 360 degree rings, often having impact and begetting acts of love by others that we may never know about.  

How ironic that God in his love and mercy forgets repented sin, but remembers acts of love forever!

We strive for meaning and purpose in our lives.  We seek achievement and recognition in our work and professions.  All of these actions may be worthwhile for they further God’s assignment that we “work and take care of the garden” of his creation. (Genesis 2:15) Yet, in time the fruit of that work will eventually pass. 

However, the acts of love taking place in the course of those achievements and in the context of all the other actions that make up our daily lives will not pass but will remain in the annuls of God’s kingdom.   

What of your actions have lasting effect?

Cut to the Heart

Have you ever experienced something someone says to you that “hits you right between the eyes” or “cuts to the heart?” 

This happened to the people who were in Jerusalem from many different nations to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.  While there, they witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples and early followers.  The Book of Acts reports that they were amazed to hear the disciples praise God in the many different languages that they represented.    

When they asked what this all meant, Peter stood up and boldly stated that Jesus was commended to them by God, performing many signs and wonders, but they had him crucified by the Romans.  God raised him from the dead which Peter, the disciples, and another five hundred followers personally witnessed.  God was now pouring out his Spirit just as the prophet Joel foretold and Jesus had promised.  (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:4,-5)

Peter then declared, “Therefore, let the whole House of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  When they heard this, “they were cut to the heart,” and asked what must they do?  Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36, 38)

The Book of Acts says that three thousand people were added to their number that day. 

Forty-five years ago, I had a personal encounter with Jesus at a healing mass and asked him if he would take a sin in my life.  He did, and through a subsequent prophetic word from a priest confirming what had happened, I was cut to the heart.  Just like Peter said, I received a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which became a watershed moment in my life.

As a result, God and his Holy Spirit gave me a new thirst for reading and understanding scripture.  He gave me a desire to be reconciled with anyone I might have offended.  He gave me a new love for my Catholic faith.  His presence began to impact all areas of my life including my work life. 

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our wrongdoing and opens our eyes to the truth.  Jesus called the Holy Spirit our counselor and advocate, and the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16) Peter told the crowd on Pentecost that the promise of the Holy Spirit was for them and their children and “for all who are far off.”  That’s us. (Acts 2:39)

If you are not experiencing the fullness of God’s presence in your life, ask the Father for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a prayer he is sure to answer. (Luke 11:13)

Mysteries Revealed

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:9, 11) 

This statement of Jesus was made in response to a request from Phillip, one of his disciples, that Jesus show the disciples the Father.  Jesus is basically saying if you see me, you see the Father.  St. Paul later says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1: 15) 

God is not this obscure, remote presence, hanging out in the clouds.  He is a person, made known to us in the human person of Jesus at a given time and place in history.  Jesus is God’s presence in both the physical and in the spirit.  We therefore can see God in Jesus — in his words and actions, and through the Holy Spirit. 

St. Paul reveals one additional mystery. He says, “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations…is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:26-27)

So, we can see God in the person of Jesus.  When we accept this and love him, acknowledge him, and obey his teaching, Jesus and the Father come and make their home in us. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14:23 NAS)  Amazing!

The result: Christ is in us!  We can be and bring Christ’s presence to the people and circumstances in our lives! 

When we take time to listen to a loved one or a work colleague and offer encouragement and support, we are being Christ to that person.  When we refuse to shade the truth for economic advantage or career advancement, we are being Christ by bringing truth and integrity to the situation.  When we are generous with our time, talents and resources with the less fortunate, we are being Christ in our communities. When we are doing our very best in our work, we are being Christ in the workplace. 

Let me share an example of a good friend who owned an insurance agency.  His office manager was no longer able to speak clearly after having surgery for cancer of the tongue.  She asked my friend if she would be let go because of her inability to talk with customers, which was one of the most important parts of her job.  She only had a year until her retirement and stopping work one year early would be highly prejudicial to her retirement income.  My friend personally took the time to call over eighty of his customers to let them know of the office manager’s condition and ask if they could work with her under the circumstances and pray for her as well.  Cards, letters, flowers and gifts started pouring into his office.  As a result of his love and extraordinary efforts, his office manager was able to work until her normal retirement.    

When we follow Jesus’ example of love and sacrifice, we are revealing the mystery of who God is and his plan for us to bring his presence to bear on a world in desperate need of his grace.

Have you experienced the mystery of God’s presence and brought that presence to others?

Humility Trumps Good Works

“God have mercy on me a sinner.”  (Luke 18:14)

These are the words of the tax collector in Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. 

It’s a parable about prayer, self-righteousness, humility, and justification. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee prayed about himself.  “’God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me a sinner.’”

Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified before God, but not the Pharisee. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14) 

This parable challenges us as Christians, who attend church every Sunday, generally follow the rules, don’t regularly commit significant sins and lead a fairly decent life.  Like the Pharisee, it is so easy to let our pride sneak in and become self-righteous, justifying ourselves by comparing our actions to the apparent sinful ways of others. 

I say to myself that I don’t steal from others nor do them physical harm.  I don’t commit sexual sins. But yet, right below the surface is my tendency to be critical and judgmental of others, get angry over some personal slight, and seek recognition for my self-perceived accomplishments.  

Jesus asks, “Where is your heart?” When we lose sight of our dependence on God and grow proud of our accomplishments, we become like the Pharisee.  We stumble in our journey toward God and open ourselves to the very conduct we proudly claim we are avoiding.

Even St. Paul had to acknowledge the sinful nature that hovers right outside our daily lives when he said, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)

Only by acknowledging our tendency toward our sinful nature are we able to maintain a humility that recognizes our dependency on staying close to God and receiving his grace.  “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

What actions help you to remain humble?

Paradise for a Thief and Us

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23: 43) 

Quite a remarkable promise by Jesus to a thief as they both hung on a cross!   

While nearly all who stood by and watched the crucifixion of Jesus were ridiculing, mocking and challenging him, only the good thief acknowledged who Jesus was, came to his defense, and asked to be remembered in his kingdom.  Church tradition tells us his name was Dismas.

The passers-by hurled abuse at Jesus.  The rulers and soldiers sneered at him saying, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.”  Even the other thief said, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us.” (Luke 23:35, 39)

Out of this harangue and overcoming the difficulty of speaking while hanging from a cross, Dismas chastises the other thief, “Have you no fear of God?  We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.  Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”  Jesus responds with his extraordinary promise, “Today, you will be with me in paradise!”  (Luke 23:40-43)

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Life of Christ, observes that this was the only word spoken to the cross that was not a reproach.  “The conduct of everyone around the Cross was the negation of the very faith the good thief manifested; yet he believed when others disbelieved.”

If a thief, who right before he dies acknowledges Jesus as Lord, comes to his defense, and asks to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom, is promised paradise that very day, how much more should we rejoice in this same promise if we are daily repenting of our sins and acknowledging Jesus as Lord in our prayer, words, and actions!  

God’s love for us and willingness to forgive are so great that his promise of paradise extends to the very last moment and breath of life.

Are you willing to acknowledge and defend Jesus to receive the promise? 

The Alpha and the Omega

Jesus says, “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.”  And then later he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 6:43; 14:6)

It all sounds a bit circular, but Jesus is saying that our salvation begins and ends with the Father, and Jesus is the means to assist us in completing the journey.  He shows us the way, the truth, and the life in returning us to the one who created each of us in the first place.

At the same time Jesus invites us to join in the effort of outreach by the Father and him to others.  Looking back on my life I can see people who cooperated with Jesus in reaching out to me: my parents, a young priest who befriended me when I was a teenager, a church friend who kept inviting me to various spirit related events as we were raising our young family, and the Holy Spirit who broke through the distractions in my life to introduce me in a new way to the person of Jesus.   

Whether we return to God, our creator depends not only on God’s grace, but also our choices to accept the means he has provided through Jesus and others.   

The Father is the Alpha and the Omega.  Everything starts with him and everything ends with him.  He is the source of our creation.  He is the point from which we begin our journey of existence and life, and he is the intended destination.  He created our inner being before our physical being was born.  He gives us a life to live and a free will to choose whether our destination will involve returning to him for eternity or being separated from him for eternity.

Gospel singer Andre Crouch recorded a song many years ago with the chorus:

“Jesus is the answer,

For the world today.

Above him there’s no other

He’s the only way.”

Jesus says: “Learn from me.” (Mt. 11:29) “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15) “Don’t be afraid.” (Mt. 17:7) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8) “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4, 5) “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt. 4:19) “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Mt. 28: 20)

The Father is the source for all that exists, including we who are made in his image and likeness.  Jesus is the way to the source, which is our intended destiny.  So simple, but yet so profound!

How have you responded to Jesus’ invitations to the Father?

Emily’s Smile and the Face of God

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:4)

Have you ever been confronted with so-called medical facts that seem to deny a higher spiritual reality?

We had that experience with the birth of our daughter Emily, who was born with Down syndrome. I will never forget the meeting with the geneticist after Emily was born.  He spent an entire hour telling us about all the things that Emily would never be able to do, including, “She will never be able to read.”

His professional training and protocols blinded him from seeing a larger reality involving God’s perspective.  To the geneticist, Emily was imperfect, but to God she is flawless, part of his grand scheme to teach the rest of us about him and what really counts. 

Emily was born with an inclination to love.  Her first reaction when meeting others is to hug them.   She has no guile.  She is not calculating.  She is not likely to offend God as we have all done.  I have learned as much about God and his ways from Emily as any sermon, teaching or spiritual writing.

On a Sunday morning a number of years ago, I happened to be serving as a Eucharistic Minister in our church and it just happened that I was stationed on the aisle that my wife and Emily were coming down.  When Emily saw that it was I who would be serving her communion, she broke out with that big, beautiful smile of hers, started rushing toward me, cupping her hands to receive the Body of Christ, and exclaimed, “Daddy!”  My heart melted, and then I thought, isn’t that how God would like all of us to approach him – with absolute love and joy, not worrying about what others might think. 

Yesterday we celebrated Emily’s 36th birthday.  The geneticist got it completely wrong.  Emily did learn to read.  She has an incredible sense of time, remembering the birthdays of all our family — siblings, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and thirteen nephews and nieces.  She knows what day to take out the trash.  She has a great sense of direction.  If I go a different direction on the way to church or to some other place she has been before, she corrects me.  Until COVID, she worked at a bakery and catering business from 9 to 2 every day for 12 years.  

Emily was not a genetic accident.   Medical science tells us that the extra chromosome that gives rise to Down syndrome is present in one out of every 700+ conceptions.  Children born with Down syndrome are not a genetic accident.  They are part of God’s plan to demonstrate his love, humility, and purity of heart.  When I see Emily’s smile, I see the face of God.

How tragic that our culture considers abortion a solution to the extra chromosome when the extra chromosome is really an opportunity to see the face of God.

Do you look for God’s presence in all people, particularly those with disabilities?