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Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

Sea of Galilee at Sunrise

Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

In Praise of Life

As I grow older, I’m valuing the gift of life more and more. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This echoes Psalm 90: “Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong….Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

The Hubble telescope that NASA gave us an awesome view of the galaxy Andromeda, the one closest to us. It makes you dizzy. Each dot is a star, many bigger than our sun. And there are billions of them. Beyond Andromeda there are zillions of other galaxies. And here we are on tiny planet Earth, just a blue and green speck in the gigantic universe. But so far Earth is the only orb that holds life. It’s a miracle!

Reflect with me a few minutes about what your life means. From all eternity God planned to create you. Then at a certain time and place he loved you into being. A certain woman and a certain man met, came together and gave you a set of genes unlike any other person’s. You are unique. And you are marvelous. Your eyes blink about 28,00 times a day to keep them lubricated and clean. Right now your stomach is digesting a meal. Put your hand over your heart. It beats more than 100,000 times a day, sending oxygen to cells to keep you alive. And all these things go on without your thinking about them.  

Because you have life, you can thrill to music—all kinds, run with wind blowing through your hair, play basketball, dance, swim, eat pizza, play the guitar, and read others’ thoughts in books or on iPads. Because you have life, you can know the satisfaction of mastering algebra and Spanish (well maybe) and learning how to cook and to build a house. You can create things: a new recipe, a song, a computer program, or art. You can imagine, remember, solve problems, and make decisions.

Because you are alive, the whole world is your playground. You are free to explore it and gaze at wonders like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and star-studded night skies. You can be astonished by exquisite flowers and enjoy animals like your pet.

You also have spiritual life and the divine life we call grace. This makes you godlike. You are God’s child with a destiny of living forever.

Do you know what life’s greatest blessing is? Love—the whole spectrum of it. You can know the love of God and the love of parents, spouse, children, family, and friends. You can also experience the intoxicating joy of loving others.

Incredibly God gave us tremendous power over these wonderful lives of ours. We can live them fully. St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” This means using all of our talents and all of our days to the utmost. We can re-gift our lives by presenting them to God. As Saint Mother Teresa urged, “Make your lives something beautiful for God.”

On the other hand, we also have power to waste our lives, ruin them, even destroy them. Doing this is like laughing in our Creator’s face.

Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. He passed his baton to his followers, us. You are called to carry on the mission of Jesus, to bring others life, abundant life. You are called to see that people’s lives are not snuffed out before they leave the womb, that refugees have a safe place to live, that the homeless find food and shelter, that the imprisoned are humanely treated, that the elderly are respected and cared for, and that all people, no matter what their race, religion, or sex, are treated equally.

What does live spell backwards? Evil. When we do not promote life, our own and others’ lives, we promote evil. If we are not life bringers, we are death dealers. We spoil God’s creation that he made good. Promoting life is a form of loving. Isn’t that Jesus’s commandment? “Love one another as I have loved you.” Protecting and nurturing life, loving, is being holy, being like God, because God is love.

Here are three suggestions for living fully: 

•  Learn something new. Tap a hidden talent: take up crocheting, learn how to play the tuba, teach yourself Chinese.

•  Foster life in others in some way. Help in a soup kitchen, participate in a protest march, or just smile at someone.

•  Plug into the source of all life, God, through prayer. Increase your prayer time by at least five minutes a day. Let God speak to you through his word in Scripture, pray a set prayer like a decade of the rosary, or just rest in God’s presence.

Your life is in your hands. So what will you do with your one wild and precious life? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the counselor dwelling within you, will help you make the right decisions.

Here is a modern song extolling life:

• What do you value most about your life?

• How have you enriched the lives of other people?

A Jesus Who Laughs

Since Jesus is true man, he must have had a funny bone. The gospels don’t record times when Jesus laughed, grinned, or even smiled. Still, it’s easy to think of his joy in certain situations.

– As a baby, he must have laughed, as babies do, when Joseph tossed him in the air or as Mary tickled him.

– Playing games with the other boys in Nazareth, he must have laughed.

Jesus must have smiled . . .

– at the servants’ amazed faces when they discovered wine in the water jars

– when he blessed the children after the apostles tried to chase them away

– as he returned Jairus’s daughter to him

– when he noticed Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree

– when the leper came back to thank him

– after he rose and surprised Mary Magdalene

Jesus was not above playing a prank on Peter. He had this fisherman find the payment for their taxes in fish.

Speaking of fish, I love Jesus’s joyful reaction in the Chosen series when miraculously hundreds of fish are flopping around in the apostles’ boats. (If you haven’t seen these movies, give yourself a treat and look them up!)

Like any effective speaker, Jesus used humor when he preached. Can you visualize a camel going through the eye of a needle—especially if it had two humps? Or can you picture a log in your eye? The Pharisees straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel? A burning oil lamp placed under a bed?

Jesus’s rural audience must have roared at the silly farmer who strewed precious seed on paths, rocks, and thorn bushes. And the idea that seeds would produce a hundredfold was outrageous.

Jesus teased James and John by calling them Sons of Thunder.

God’s Sense of Humor

We, who have a sense of humor, are made in God’s image. It follows then that God has a sense of humor.  God’s humor is obvious when you consider some of his creations:  a giraffe, a hippopotamus, a platypus, a kangaroo, and a two-year-old.

The god Dagon

In the Old Testament we see God making Sarah, an old woman, pregnant.  Then there was the time the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and set it across from their god Dagon. The next morning, Dagon had fallen face down. The Philistines propped him up again. But the next day he was face down again, and his arms were broken off. Also there was the day a boy killed a giant with a slingshot.

I’m sure that sometimes God orchestrates things in your life that are downright funny.

Our Sense of Humor

Clearly humor is a godlike quality. You can show it in many ways like . . .

– telling jokes

– playing a prank

– telling a funny story about yourself

– sending a humorous greeting card

– watching a comedy series or a funny movie

– reading a joke book or cartoons

Here are a couple cartoons for you:

Some saints were known for the humor. Most outstanding is St. Philip Neri, who acted like a clown. St. Lawrence is another one. While being roasted to death on a gridiron, supposedly he said, “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.” And as St. Thomas More was being beheaded, he moved his beard aside away from the ax’s blow and quipped, “This hasn’t offended the king.”

Laugh freely and heartily. Enjoy a good belly laugh. It’s good for the health of our body and our soul. Laughter is contagious.  Making others laugh is a work of mercy. Bishop Anthony Pilla once said we ought to practice “the diaconate of humor.”

On YouTube there are videos that teach yoga laughter.  Here is one of them…

• Look for funny things that happen in the course of a day. What made you laugh recently?

God’s Forgiveness & Our Mercy

This week on Wednesday evening all churches in the Cleveland Diocese will be open for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a Lenten tradition. No matter how sinful, a person can experience the mercy of God. During Holy Week we will ponder the climax of God’s mercy: washing everyone clean by the blood of his Son.

Years ago, wearing my black habit, I sat on a window ledge in Chicago, waiting for a bus when an elderly gentleman sat beside me. He introduced himself as Herbert and told me he was a former gangster who had been at the Valentine’s Day massacre. “But as a kid, I went to Catholic school,” he said. When the bus arrived, and I was about to deposit my fare, Herbert pushed my hand away and said, “I’m paying for you.” He sat beside me on the bus and asked if I had eaten. I said I had, even though my meal was a faint memory. At Herbert’s stop, as he walked down the aisle, he turned back and said, “Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison”!  (Greek for “Lord, have mercy.”)

Herbert was proving that he did go to Catholic school. I’d like to think that this was his heartfelt prayer, considering his past life. If so, he was like the crooked tax collector in the parable, who could only pray in all humility, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This man trusted in God’s mercy. And Jesus assures us that he would be made right in God’s eyes and exalted, not the self-righteous Pharisee.

Looking back over our lives, we see things we are ashamed of: bad choices, mistakes, and yes, sins. We wish we could delete them from our life story. But there they are—permanent. God knows our weakness. He knows our sins and loves us anyway. God’s mercy is greater than our sins, it is infinite. Theologians say that mercy is God’s most stupendous quality—not his omnipotence, omniscience, or other perfections.

Jesus is the incarnation of mercy. You might say his middle name is mercy. Consider people Jesus forgave: The man by the pool who was sick for 38 years, the paralytic brought on a stretcher, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the good thief, the apostles who deserted him. Jesus told parables about God’s mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

The Hebrew word for mercy, is rahamim. It comes from rehem, which means a mother’s womb. God’s mercy then has a maternal warmth about it. It is unconditional, intimate, and flows from a nurturing love, symbolized by a mother’s womb.  We are safe with God. He regards us the way a mother regards her infant. With tenderness. A mother can always make excuses for her child.

Our Call to Forgive

We are to let mercy flow onto others. We are to be the face of God’s compassionate love. Jesus repeated this lesson relentlessly.

• “Be merciful as your heavenly Father.”

• “Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

• “Pray… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

• Forgive 7 x 70 (unlimited times).   

• He gave the radical instruction: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.”

• Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

When we are harmed, our first instinct, our gut reaction, is to retaliate.  Eye for an eye.  Watching movies, we want the bad guys punished. Christians however look at things differently. They forgive from the heart. They let it go and do not punish.

The world was amazed when Pope John Paul forgave his would-be assassin. In an Amish community in PA a man shot 10 girls, killing 5. Then himself. The Amish visited his widow, went to his funeral, and raised money for his family. Someone commented “Because they hold no grudges, they can concentrate on their own healing.”

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.”      We need super grace to forgive. Especially to forgive those who don’t ask for forgiveness.

The Works of Mercy

Last week there was an uproar in Geauga Country. A man had successfully opened a rescue home for men. He and my community hoped to open one for women on our property. At an open meeting, some people opposed the home so loudly and rudely that sadly the proposal was withdrawn. I can imagine Jesus shaking his head in disappointment.  

Jesus spelled out how to be merciful to the needy in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The corporal ones come from the parable about the judgment at the end of the world. The king will say to the sheep on his right:  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then to the goats who did not do these things he says, “Depart from me into the eternal fire.”

Here are people who showed mercy:

•  McDonald’s employee helps elderly disabled man with his food.

•  Heart surgeon calms weeping 2-year-old girl before heart operation.

•  Entire neighborhood secretly learns sign language to surprise deaf neighbor.

•  Turkish bride and groom spend their wedding day feeding 4,000 refugees.

•  Mom adopts all four of her best friend’s daughters after she died of brain cancer.

•  The young guy was struggling with his tie when the older gentleman without hesitation gave him a step-by-step tutorial.

•  Man has heart attack while moving lawn; firefighters finish mowing lawn after saving him.

A Brief Prayer for Mercy

An old prayer you might adopt as a Lenten practice is the “Jesus Prayer”:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  

This prayer is a mantra, which means we pray it over and over. A mantra is a simple way to pray. Some people like to pray the first half of the Jesus Prayer as they inhale and then the second half as they exhale.

An unusual song about God’s mercy:

•  When has someone forgiven you?  How did it feel?

•  What act(s) of mercy can you perform during Lent?

A Rest Test for the Stressed

Some (or most) days do you feel trapped in a hamster wheel? Your to-do list is a mile long. Taking a break, a rest, or, horrors, a nap seem out of the question. You are depressed, anxious, and feel an ulcer coming on. You don’t remember when you last laughed, had a good time with friends, or dabbled in your hobby. Beware! Rest is as essential as food and exercise. It keeps you energized, productive, creative, healthy, and happy. Henry David Thoreau said, “The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.”

Genesis reports that even God rested for a day after the work of creation, and all he did was say, “Let it be.”

Jesus: A Balanced Life

            Jesus had a full schedule during the brief three years he had to save the world. He had to teach throngs of people including his sometimes slow-witted apostles. He was expected to help the hundreds of hurting people who clamored for healing. He cast out evil spirits. He preached in synagogues. He traversed Israel from town to town. You would think that a sense of urgency would make him forego rest. But not so.

            In Mark’s Gospel Jesus carries out a jam-packed ministry. Still “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Later when because of the crowds, he and the apostles had no leisure even to eat, he invited, “Come away … and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). In a boat with the apostles, he lets himself fall asleep!

            Jesus invites you too:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11: 28).

A Parable

Two woodsmen were engaged in a contest to see who could chop the most wood. Periodically one man would walk away for fifteen minutes. “Aha,” thought the other, “I’m sure to win.” But at the end of the contest, he was shocked to find that the disappearing competitor had chopped far more wood than he. Puzzled, he asked, “How could this be?” The other man replied, “Every time I walked away, I sharpened my ax.”

Resting is a way to “sharpen” yourself. Once rejuvenated, you can accomplish far more and be in better spirits. You probably don’t really need to accomplish all that you think. At the end of your life, your achievements, your awards, your gold watch, won’t mean as much as who you’ve become as a person. You may ask, But what about my work? Don’t worry. God will take care. My friend says that some days she thinks God stretches time for her, so she manages her tasks well.

So rest from time to time. Don’t feel guilty. You are probably innocent of the sin of sloth! A wit remarked, “Those who don’t come apart for a while might come apart”! Recreation (re-creation) times make for a richer life.

A Test

Your answers to these questions will reveal if you are taking good care of yourself and enjoying the precious life God gave you.

• When is the last time you took a vacation?

• How often do you spend quiet, alone time with God?

• Do you suffer from insomnia because of thinking about all you must do?

• What do you do for fun? When was the last time you did it?

• Do you take afternoon naps?

• Is your first thought on waking “Yay, another day!” or do you recall jobs you must do?

• How is your blood pressure?

• Are you depressed?

• Do you pride yourself on being a workaholic?

• Have you been cranky and snapping at people?

• Do you bite your fingernails?

• Do you have digestive problems?

• What do you do on Sundays, our “day of rest”?

• Have you made a retreat or a day of recollection recently?

Lent and Rest

Lent is a time of transformation. This year you can aim to be a better, truer version of yourself by treating yourself to enough rest. Farmers let fields lie fallow for a year because they know that letting the soil rest will yield better crops the next year. Tend the soil of your soul. Read a novel, go on a hike through the woods, listen to music, paint a picture, crochet. Take a break from social media.

This week’s Time magazine carried an article titled, “Rest Actually Takes Hard Work.” It concludes, “In today’s always-on world, few things are harder to do than rest. But few things are more worthwhile.”

•  What is the best way you’ve found to rest?

• What is your hobby? Your favorite pastime?

Here is a peaceful, calming hymn for you:

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Today in honor of Valentine’s Day I’ve assembled a collection of quotations about God’s love for us. These are from my book A Love Affair with God, Twelve Traits. This February 14 is also Ash Wednesday. We are on the threshold of Lent, a season when we prepare ourselves to commemorate God’s stupendous act of love on Calvary and in the garden tomb.

May you take time to ponder and relish the following reflections on God’s love and the love we reciprocate:

Advice from the outstanding Catholic author and philosopher G.K. Chesterton:

Let your religion be less of a theory

and more of a love affair.

Observation of the beloved former superior general of the Jesuits Pedro Arrupe:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,

   i.e., falling in love in a quite absolute final way.

What you are in love with,

   what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed

   in the morning;

   what you will do with your evenings;

   how you will spend your weekends;

   what you will read; who you will know;

   what breaks your heart

       and amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love. Stay in love,

   and it will decide everything.

St. Augustine of Hippo is the source of the saying, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” He bemoaned in his book Confessions, “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient and ever new.” Through the unfailing prayers of his mother St. Monica, after a sinful life, he finally acknowledged:

To fall in love with God is the greatest romance;

to seek him, the greatest adventure;

to find him, the greatest human achievement.

St. Catherine of Siena, wise Doctor of the Church and my baptismal patron saint, prayed:

O unutterable love, even though you saw all the evils your creatures would commit against your infinite goodness, . . . you set your eye only on the beauty of your creature, with whom you had fallen in love like one drunk and crazy with love.

Seventeenth-century mystic and German priest Angelus Silesius said,

There is nothing here more beautiful than I am,

because God, beauty itself, has fallen in love with me.

My own words about God’s love from my book:

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Love is nourished both by the presence of the Beloved . . . and by the proofs of love that he gives us.” God continually orchestrates “lovebursts” for you, surprises that take your breath away and prove that he loves you. Your divine Lover has a habit of romancing you through surprises and melting your heart.

You need a piece of information, and a book falls open to the exact page that bears it. You lack money to cover a certain expense, and the identical amount unexpectedly comes to you. A stranger you encounter at an airport gives you good advice. A valuable item you lost shows up in the oddest place. Walking through a forest, you “chance” upon two fawns resting in the grass. You glance out the window just in time to see a shooting star. To your delight, a special plant that you assumed was dead displays green shoots. God “winks” at you more often than you know. You might record such magical moments in your journal before they fade from your memory.

God’s Love Words in the Bible

Scripture has been called a love letter from God. Here are a few reasons why that is true:

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

    yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)                                                                  

I have taken you by the hand and kept you. (Isaiah 42:6)

I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you. (Isaiah 43:4)

I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.                                                                 (Isaiah 54:10)

We Attest to God’s Love

Your steadfast love, O LORD,

   extends to the heavens. (Psalm 36:5)

You, O God, are my fortress,

the God who shows me steadfast love. (Psalm 59:17)

Your steadfast love is better than life. (Psalm 63:3)

When I thought, “My foot is slipping,”

    your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. (Psalm 94:18)

The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love. (Psalm 119:64)

Sharing Love in Lent

St. Teresa of Kolkata said,

“When you know how much God is in love with you,

then you can only live your life radiating that love.”

Lent is the perfect time to let love flow out from us to other people, especially the homeless, the hungry, the marginalized, the sick, and the depressed. Love shown to them is love shown to Jesus. He said so.

May you have a fruitful Lent and grow two ways: realizing God’s tremendous love for you and spreading love to those around you and those you can’t see.

  • When do you become most aware of God’s love for you?
  • When has God’s love been channeled to you through another person?

This hymn celebrates God’s love:

           

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Meet Sr. Kathleen

Jesus depends on us to spread the Good News of God’s love, offering the world hope and joy. Mary Kathleen, a Sister of Notre Dame from Chardon, Ohio, responds through writing, speaking, giving retreats, and teaching. Her motto, adopted from Eddie Doherty’s gravesite, is “All my words for the Word.”

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A warm welcome to Catholic Faith Corner! May my reflections help you know and live the Catholic faith, inspire you, and touch your heart. I hope you subscribe here and occasionally comment on my posts.

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