Saint John Chrysostom, pray for us!

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The testimony I gave today at a memorial for the unborn…

Thank you…I know some of you have heard my conversion story before, but it best relates my relationship with my aborted daughter, so I will try and read it as close to what I wrote here as possible, so I don’t miss anything…

My conversion story is probably not like many conversion stories that you hear, because I converted while I was in college. You see, I was a virgin in high school, and at the time I thought that I was weird.   I only had one serious girlfriend in high school, and she had just had a baby and had given it up for adoption, so I was not quite in the same league as her ex-boyfriends, and I didn’t have a chance to play the confidence game on her that I was somewhat familiar with from movies and stories from my buddies that were so much more “accomplished” sexually than I was.   After graduation, I went off to college in New York.  After being sheltered in my life in a little town of Shelton, Washington, it is hard for me to believe that I boarded that plane to fly to New York at age 17.  Once I got there, I did what I always did, blended right in and made some fast friends.  Providentially, I was given a card on my first day of plebe summer, or what we called “Indoctrination”, and I had to declare what religion I was.  Since I had enough military background, both Mom and Dad were in the Air Force, and I was in a Naval Junior ROTC program in high school, I knew better than to check that I had no religion, because I would miss out on the break that Sunday Service could afford you from the constant badgering of the drill instructors during our first two weeks.  I checked the Roman Catholic box because one of the guys that I most looked up to in high school, as much as an atheist could look up to someone who has faith,  was attending the Military Academy at West Point, and he was Catholic.  I was elected as the freshman class president after our indoctrination period ended, and my name wasn’t even on the ballot.  It was at this point of my achievement of success in the world, that I started my journey to understand who God is and how my faith in him related to my life.  I was never comfortable with the person I was inside, but it seemed that everyone else thought I was something special.  Before beginning my journey to initiation in the Sacramental life of the church, I had completely accepted the lie that we are all broken sexually and there is no hope for us.  So, as far as saving myself for marriage, I had a break between my freshman and sophomore year in college.  The pressures of being freshman class president and over 20 credits a quarter, as well as all the extra-curricular activities that I couldn’t miss out on.  It all had severely affected my ability to keep my grades at an acceptable level, and the academic punishment was to set me back a year.  On returning home to Shelton, I thought I couldn’t continue as a virgin, because I had been in New York and it seemed ridiculous that I was not a “man of the world”.  So, I hooked up with an old friend’s ex-girlfriend that lived in my neighborhood, that I knew had always wanted to hook up with me.  I moved in with an old friend from school that was willing to help me find a job and he was impressed that I was this new “man of the world”, and that I was no longer a virgin and fresh from some amazing experiences from New York.  I finished my year of punishment, or regression, I like to call it becoming more and more broken, and had finally hooked up with a girl who had been living on her own since she was 16,and we made plans to start a life together when I finished school.  (I was not attending church during this time)  My first call home after returning to school, found her back dating a bunch of guys that she had put on hold while we were together, and killed the childish dream that I had, that we would ever get back together.  As for me, back at school, I struggled mightily to get my sex drive back in the bag, only to fail miserably in almost every relationship I had.  Mostly because, I did not understand the true meaning of my sexuality and temptation was just too strong for me to handle alone.

As I began my study of the Catechism and the History of the Catholic Church, with my Chaplain and Pastor, Father Leone, at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, I started to realize, by the grace of God, that there was nothing but truth emanating from the faith that was being proposed to me by the Church.  However, no matter how I may have begun to commit mentally to the truth, my physical commitment was going to take some time for me.  After I had gone on a 6 month deployment on a couple of ships out of Tacoma, Washington, I returned home to Florida this time to visit family, and I met an amazing young woman.   I was invited to escort her, as my girlfriend, to her Senior Prom.  I was working weekends to pay for my miscellaneous expenses and still got some support from Mom, who had moved to Cocoa Beach, so I agreed to make the trip down to escort her to the prom.  Once I got there, she told me that she had made arrangements to make sure her Dad was going to make himself scarce that weekend, so we could have some time alone.  In retrospect, I guess I could have been more vocal about what I was hoping for, but I was around 19 or 20 years old, and my mental commitment to the truth was still not guiding my decisions, and I think we all struggle with that even now, at least I know I do.

It was about a month or so after the prom; I got a call from her, telling me that she was pregnant.  Personally, my emotions were all over the place, and I honestly did not know what I was supposed to think or say, because this was supposed to happen after we were married.  She told me that she was scared and her neighbor had told her that she would take her to the clinic the next day to talk to someone about it.  My thoughts were centered on the fact that my career in the military was probably over, but it didn’t concern me too much, because I did have a sense that God was going to work all things together for good. Now I know from Romans 8:28, We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose.   I discussed the proper next move for me with my sponsor in the church, Mike Dalton.  Who, by the way, is now the only friend I am still in contact with from college, and he said that I need to make sure she knows that I am willing to be there to support her and the baby.  I assured him that she knew that I felt that way, but I was afraid of the decision that she might be convinced to make, by this neighbor friend.  I am pretty sure he took me to the chapel and we prayed, but I remember he took me to the chapel to pray a lot, so I don’t necessarily remember this particular time in prayer specifically.  So, I received a call the next day, or the following week, the timeline is blurry because I spent a lot of time trying to block the memory out of my head.   She said the neighbor had convinced her that she would not have a life if she kept the baby and she needed to just have an abortion and be done with it.  I tried to console her over the phone and tell her that I knew that it was a hard decision for her to make.  She became immediately distant, as if to say, she was trying to put distance between me and her, so that she wouldn’t have to remember what happened.  We lost contact over the next few months as I finished my sophomore year of studies, with passing grades…At least enough to keep me out of more trouble, academically.  I visited her, on Summer Break that year, because I just wanted to see if there was anything that I could do to salvage our relationship, of course.  However, she met with me for the sole purpose of telling me that the abortion experience was a severe darkness that she was sure that she would be dealing with for the rest of her life.  I heard some time later, from my sister, that she did end up getting married and having children and I hope and pray that she does not still struggle with this darkness overshadowing her life.  As for me, I started out praying for the baby that we lost to the abortion and ended up years later, getting some consolation in knowing that the baby has probably been praying for me.  I have been given the baby’s name, but it was only for the purposes of praying with her one time, and the name has not come back.  Even early this morning as I thought about giving this testimony, I could only think of my girlfriend’s name, and it was as if my daughter was telling me to pray for her.  Oh yeah, I was given the consolation of knowing that she is a girl.  Thanks be to God and His infinite mercy, I was able to see His love in the acceptance of the church, even with the knowledge of the tragedy that my personal life had become, the church got me started on the road to complete my healing, from the beginning of my life in denial of God, and sexual brokenness, to a growing wholeness when I rest in Him.

Since we live in a broken world, I hope that my healing and the healing of all of us continues today and for the rest of our lives here on earth, through the power of God, until we are called home to spend eternity with all of God’s children…Especially those that never got to see the world in this life.  You see, I hope to see my baby again and with the grace of God, she will recognize me for the man that the prayers of all the communion of saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary have created me to be in heaven…(This is where I stopped my testimony this afternoon at the memorial!)

Thank you and God bless you!

During our Memorial celebration at Saint Mary Catholic Church today, I cut off my testimony in the middle and added this from Saint John Chrysostom…

Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!

Saint John Chrysostom, pray for us!

He continues here , under the tab Office of Readings, but I heard the Holy Spirit telling me that it was enough, so I stopped there.  Please feel free to leave any comment here.  In addition, I have put the rest of my testimony under the title, “Should we cut out our eyes?” and you can find it there…

The Virgin Mary is God!

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I have to admit, as this title came to me this morning, I had to spend some time discerning if it was coming from the Lord or some other place that was not of God.  However, after going to Confession this morning and doing my penance, I was left with the overwhelming urge to post this with the title that you see above.  This is a comment that I put on an article where someone complained about a tweet that was posted by Pope Francis last week…

(Beginning of comment)

How is marriage consummated? It is through the marital act, by which God may see fit to bring forth life from the union of man and woman. In the marital act, man and woman become one flesh. In the case of Mary, she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, who is God, and become one flesh with God, and for that reason alone, I would call her my mother, in a similar way that I would call God, my Father. However, it wasn’t that alone that we are left with to know that Mary is our Mother.  It is the Word of Jesus from the cross that says that as He died, that Mary was now the mother of John and by extension, our mother, as was John the son of Mary, and by extension we are her children. (John 19:26-27) I stop short of referring to Mary as God, because there is only one God, but I can’t imagine a human being more intimately connected to God than Mary.  Therefore I agree with the Pope when he says that we are orphans, if we don’t consider Mary our mother. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!  

(end of comment)

Here is the tweet that Pope Francis tweeted last week…

The Christian who does not feel that the Virgin Mary is his or her mother is an orphan.

I struggle with whether or not I will give you the link to the article that I commented on, because it is filled with assumptions about what Catholics believe that are not true and it assumes that scripture can explain away that truth that is revealed to the Church.  I guess you could look it up if you want to, but I refuse to advertise for it here.  The reason that I felt compelled to comment on that article was that the author assumed that it was in some way infringing on her beliefs that the Pope was calling people orphans who did not consider Mary their mother.  If you don’t consider the Pope an authority that was given to him by the Church, our Mother, and by extension Jesus Christ, who is God, than why do you care what he says on Twitter…Just a question!  

For everyone who reads the title of this post and neglected to read the whole post, I apologize for your being the unwitting recipient of the instruction that I received from the Pope when he told us to make a mess…We celebrate the birth of Mary today, and the Church in her wisdom has given us this day to remember that God’s work of salvation through Christ did not begin with his birth, it began with hers!  

Hail Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death…Amen!

The evolution of prayer…

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It was just about a week ago, my pastor and I came up with the idea of sharing our prayer lives with the youth and young adults that will join us for our youth retreat that starts tomorrow. This weekend, at the introduction to the Diaconate program in the Archdiocese of Portland, that my wife and I attended, we were given the task of writing a paper about our Spiritual Life and how it has grown throughout our life. Since my wife and I have four kids, I decided to combine both projects. For the retreat, I will focus on the fact that my introduction to the faith was through the Mass, of course, but my sponsor was very fond of devotional prayer, like the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Rosary, so they formed a good part of my initial foray into prayer. After college, I attempted to keep up with the devotional practice, but was a pitiful failure for the most part. I would still find time to pray a rosary on occasion, and every once in a while including a Chaplet of Divine Mercy after the rosary. The funny thing is that looking back on the time of my faith life that I did not have a usual practice of prayer, it was mostly because I had gotten past the novelty of the fact that focusing on God was a different experience for me a couple of years after my introduction to devotional prayer. I had not yet figured out that there was not only a purpose of praying for the intercessory power of Mary and the Saints by devotional prayer, but there was a specific instruction that goes with each prayer. Not just a history, but an actual revelation from Jesus and Our Mother Mary to the Saints that received the message of Mercy and Love in the form of the devotions that were taught to me when the faith was passed on to me by my best friend and sponsor in the church all those many years back. Rather than go into the different stories that led to my deeper understanding of these devotions, I will just say that I am thankful for the grace that gave me a chance to grasp this deeper meaning of these devotions. (I will probably go into the different revelations that I was introduced to at different times over the past 20 years in the presentation that I will give at the youth retreat, and I will add that info here and include it in my paper that I was asked to write for the Diaconate program that is due September 20th.)
A major part of my growth in prayer was my journaling project that is chronicled on this blog, as well as some hard-backed journaling books that I used before starting this project. As I began, I was moved to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to focus where I felt like God was speaking to me, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit to help me realize the ways the Holy Spirit was calling me to apply these gifts in my daily life. I would take part of the reading from our daily readings to journal on. It was a modified version of a Lectio Divina, before I even knew what a Lectio Divina was. I would finally write out a prayer that would come to me after I focused on the different parts of my journal. You can look back on the previous entries of this blog for a couple of years back to see the format. Eventually, my journaling evolved to include the Liturgy of the Hours prayers that I would also try and pray every morning. I have abandoned the old format in favor of a more spontaneous form of writing that I only do when I am inspired to do so. Unfortunately, this means I journal a lot less than I used to. As the project was evolving, I found myself finding time every day to make it to Mass on a more regular basis. I started out seeking out a Spiritual Director, to make sure I made it to the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month. I realized quickly that once a month for Confession was not nearly enough, so I have recently suspended my Spiritual Direction in favor of a weekly or bi-weekly visit to the same priest that I was going to for Spiritual Direction, but instead opting for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I will be planning on making appointments with a new Spiritual Director soon, because it is part of the requirements of the Diaconate program, but also because it would be good to meet with someone about my spiritual life, especially during times of desolation.

Give up…

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How many times have we heard the phrase, “Just give it up.”  For me, when I hear it I am left with the thought of what would I give it up for.  Like, we give things up for the season of Lent, or we sacrifice by fasting to add power to our prayer, but this morning I came to the understanding that we need to give it all up, all the time.  Why?  Here is the Gospel reading for today…

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich
to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Again I say to you,
it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said,
“Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men this is impossible,
but for God all things are possible.”
Then Peter said to him in reply,
“We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

(Matthew 19:23-30)

As I listened to the homily from the Mass in Tampa, Florida this morning on the radio on the way to our communion service, I realized that the Lord is calling us to not be attached to anything other than God.  When are asked to give something up, it is just that.  We send it up to Heaven, and if it comes back to us, we need it to fulfill his will for us, but if we give it “up” and it never comes back, we don’t need it.  It seems right to re-post the First Principle and Foundation of the great Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order…

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

Lord make me into a new creation and let me let go and give everything “up” to you.

The Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary…

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We are told that if we assume anything, we should break down that word and expect the results that come from the break down of the word, ass-u-me!  Today, we celebrate that assumption that sanctifies that word and gives it a whole new meaning.  When God chose to assume Mary into Heaven, he decided to make you and me holy.  

How does this work?  In my understanding of the assumption of Mary into Heaven, it is meant to be a sign of the fact that God calls all people to holiness and much like the prophet Elijah and Enoch of the Old Testament, we could be assumed into Heaven as well.  I don’t think I am supposed to completely understand what that looks like for all of his faithful people that end their life on earth in rather worldly fashion.  Like Saint Maximillian Kolbe, who’s body was burnt after being killed at Auschwitz.  However, I know that there are signs of this promise in the preserved bodies of Saint Bernedette and Saint John XXIII.  

To me, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a miraculous sign of the glorious body that will be restored to all those faithful people that make their life a gift to God.  How that works in God’s time and space, we will not know until we get to Heaven.  It is the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel that we hear in Jesus’ words that the future that he has planned for those that eat his flesh is incorruptibility.  He says, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  (John 6:49-51)  Also, he says, “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”  

I can hear the church saying today, “What about when you see the Mother of God assumed into heaven?”  It is only necessary for us to believe that Jesus was willing to give us his flesh to eat in the form of bread and receive the free gift of grace that comes with the eating of that bread, and we can have the sure hope of being assumed into heaven at the end of the age.  What form our bodies take until then, is up to the will of God, but I will hold on to the hope that comes from the understanding of the celebration in the church today.  God wills for some of us to be assumed into heaven and to be incorruptible.

 

Why am I here?

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If I am to take seriously the First Principle and Foundation, I must accept all that this phrase means…

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

The last sentence of the First Principle and Foundation refers back to the first sentence.  I must remember that I am created to praise, reverence, and serve God and all the stuff that I have in my life will be used for that purpose, as long as I can remember that I am created for that purpose.  Also, I will not worry about the things that I think I need, because if I really need them, I will have them.  If I don’t need them, I will no longer have them.

Thanks to Saint Ignatius of Loyola for providing this understanding of the purpose of our creation and Colton Dixon for the reminder to choose more of God and less of our own will…Saint Ignatius, pray for us!

Are we counting the cost?

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In the Gospel today we recount two of the parables that we heard on Sunday.  We are reminded again that the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything, and when we find it, we will want to possess it, not sell it or trade it for anything else.  It is my hope that today, my life will be an example of these two parables.  I want to not only buy the pearl of great price, for whatever it costs, but I will gladly sell all I have to buy the field that the treasure is buried in.  I want to let everyone I meet see the pearl, and those that have never seen the treasure will most certainly be invited to the field to see where it is buried.

I think I like the treasure parable better, because it gives me a sense of security knowing that the treasure is buried and that would make it difficult for someone to come along to steal it away.  I imagine that if the merchant bought the pearl of great price, he would know where to keep it to safeguard it against robbers, as well.  I don’t believe this is the meaning of this parable, because I am meeting with the young adults from our parish tonight and I will remind them of the fact that Jesus is telling us that we must be willing to give everything to God, and be confident that he will give us stewardship over the things that he knows will benefit our lives as people of the kingdom.  However, I can’t help thinking about the way that we should safeguard the prize that is the kingdom of heaven.  For me, the idea that I believe I have been told to treasure these things in my heart, is just the safeguard that Jesus intends to insure the kingdom will not be stolen away, and it is Jesus’ heart that will daily make itself available to me, so that I will not uncover the treasure and let it be stolen away.

The title of my post today is a reference to all those people, including myself, who would worry about what I would have to get rid of, to afford the cost of the kingdom of heaven. I should not count the cost, but confidently give everything away in the knowledge that God will return to me what I need and the things I never see again, were not compatible with someone who possessed the kingdom of heaven in his heart.