Wednesday, January 03, 2018

In a Manger

Are you searching  for Peace, Meaning, Joy or Love?
Have you tried looking in a manger?

In a manger God is found. In a feed box in a dirty and deserted place our Creator, Savior and very best Friend waits for us. It’s the last place we would think to look. The last place we would search for a King, but here is where we find Him and in finding Him we find our true selves. 

Where is the manger in our life? Where is the place we are overlooking our Lord? Are we like the people of Bethlehem who had no clue what was happening in their midst? Are we so busy with things that are important today but not so much tomorrow, that we fail to see God revealing Himself to us no more than a stone’s throw away? Miracles are all around us but I think we often overlook them. We see a filthy barn and smell the stench of manure. In our mind the family standing here must have planned poorly to be in such a desolate situation. We don’t recognize God’s hand in all of this … awkwardly reaching out of a trough that cows and sheep continue to eat out of.  His hand beckons to us to come be part of the miracle and experience the peace of God with us, but we are blinded by what we think we know.

How fitting it is that we find our Daily Bread in a manger meant to feed animals … creatures so unworthy of such a gift. Just as animals find life and nourishment in the food they eat from the manger, so to do we find sustenance, meaning and eternal life by the heavenly food we find laying here. Come be nourished by Love Himself. Look in the manger.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Heaven, Hell and the Spirit of Christmas

Eternity has been on my mind lately. That’s kind of like saying that you had a fleeting thought about a classical work of literature or caught a quick glance of the Sistine Chapel I suppose. How much can we really understand about something so vast and far reaching even if we devoted our entire lives to it? Not surprisingly, my thoughts feel incomplete and a bit underwhelming, but that’s never stopped me from sharing what’s in my head before :-)

I think these thoughts come from a few quotes I read in book recently. The Book is “Looking for God in Harry Potter” by John Granger. At one point the author talks about how at the end of the first HP book, the villain’s hands and skin burn when coming in contact with Harry Potter who is protected by love. “Rowling (the HP author) tells us in graphic story form here the traditional Christian doctrine concerning God’s judgment and the nature of heaven and hell,” Granger writes. He then offers a couple of quotes from Christian theologians that I found interesting…

God is Truth and Light. God’s judgment is nothing else than our coming into contact with truth and light. In the day of the Great Judgement all men will appear naked before this penetrating light of truth. The “books” will be opened. What are these “books”? They are our hearts. Our hearts will be opened by the penetrating light of God, and what is in these hearts will be revealed. If in those hearts there is love for God, those hearts will rejoice seeing God’s light. If, on the contrary, there is hatred for God in those hearts, these men will suffer by receiving on their opened hearts this penetrating light of truth which they detested all their life.
--Alexandre Kalomiros, River of Fire (Montreal: Monastery Press, 1982), 18

God himself is both reward and punishment. All men have been created to see God unceasingly in his uncreated glory. Whether God will be for each man heaven or hell, reward or punishment, depends on man’s response to God’s love and on man’s transformation from the state of selfish and self-centered love, to God-like love which does not seek its own ends…The primary purpose of Orthodox Christianity, then, is to prepare its members for an experience which every human being will sooner or later have.
-- Ioannes Romanides, Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982), 46

I just thought these were very insightful in contemplating the concept of Hell. Basically it is misery not because God wish’s it to be so, but because we were created to be one with God’s love and if we choose to live for ourselves, apart from Him, then his love will be nothing but wasted potential. Mom and Dad used to quote Monsignor O’Brain as saying, “Love goes out” and I would that “Sin stays in.”

The kids and I just finished reading “A Christmas Carol” and of course this holiday favorite also deals with eternity and how the lives we choose to live affect our forever destiny. One part that jumped out to me was just after Marley leaves Scrooge and he looks out his window and sees all kinds of destitute spirits in the air. The book reads…

“He [Scrooge] had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Of course that book has a happy ending in which Scrooge comes to a realization of what life is about and the good we choose to do or leave undone. What’s so inspiring to read is that while he initially changes out of fear of his future, Dickens shows what a more joy filled existence he experiences once he embraces the spirit of Christmas. I’ve had small tastes of this in my life as well. In a way I think we all go through Scrooge’s story to one extent or another, likely many times in our lives and that is why the story resonates with us. It gives us hope. While the story depicts the misery that can lie ahead of an unfulfilled existence, it also shows us that Heaven and Hell aren’t realities that simply greet us when we die. We experience them right now in a way through how we live our life each day. Scrooge was miserable in the beginning and on cloud nine in the end not because of something God or others did, but simply because of the choices he made. Eternity starts now for each one of us.

I know this is getting long but I had another question in my head that spawned from thinking about all of this and I’d love to get all of your thoughts on it as I really don’t have a good answer. If Heaven is a perfect place where God’s love is perfectly fulfilled, then how is this achieved if all of His creation is not united there together? Paul says we are each a unique and important part of the body of Christ, so if one of those parts is missing, isn’t part of God’s love less then it could or should be? I’ve never really considered this till just now and it’s a bit deep so no worries if I’ve lost you, but it’s perplexing in my mind. I suspect that the answer may be found in how our existence in this life is never everything it could be and yet God raises up what we give Him and makes it perfected. I think again Paul said something to this extent as well. Our Heavenly Father is the master at bringing beauty from ashes and I’ve seen Him do this many times. In many ways I would argue it’s the greatest miracle he could give us. Still it’s a mystery and I don’t fully understand it and thought it was something worth pondering for a bit.
Best not worry about it too long though. Today is in front of us and full of potential. Don’t wait for Christmas. Choose to live in the spirit of Christmas today and always.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Give from our poverty

Yesterday I was meditating on the gospel reading about the widow who gave two coins at the temple (should we really be surprised that a woman's two cents is worth infinitely more then whatever a man ultimately contributes ;-) 
He said, "I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood."
(Luke 21:3-4)

When hearing this reading I typically am focused on the fact that the poor widow trusted God with everything she had. Yesterday however the words, "from her poverty" spoke to me. She didn't only give everything. She gave from her poverty; her weakness, her inadequacy, her imperfect state.

I often ask myself if I am giving everything to God, but in the back of my head I'm usually thinking that some parts of me or things I posses aren't good enough to give Him. I feel I need to improve or make them better and that I'm not yet worthy enough. God doesn't just long for us to give Him the good in us though. He wants us to give from our poverty wherever that means we are at today. If it's only two pennies, it doesn't matter. He will multiply what we give Him and make our gift fruitful.

It's easy to sometimes think that when we give to God, we are adding to the goodness and power He has. We might express this as the following equation ...
o (our gift) + g (God's power) = v (end value)

But the truth is it is a multiplication expression rather then addition. Something more like this...
o (our gift) / a (all we have) * g (God's power) = v (end value)

That is how the widow's pennies are more valuable then the gifts the rich were putting in. We can never add to or improve the goodness of God. Instead He multiplies the percentage we give Him. The question is, how much of His light will we allow to shine through our life?

So what are the things I'm holding back from giving God because I don't think they are good enough for him? What part of my life am I not allowing Him to shine through? Where is my poverty? Am I willing to lay my vulnerability before the king? Do I trust that it is enough like the widow? Jesus wants our weakness...all of it. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

My Fatima Experience

One hundred years ago today, something miraculous happened in Fatima, Portugal. I was blessed as a 14 year old boy in 1994, to be part of a youth pilgrimage to Fatima with Fr Robert Fox. This experience had a significant impact on my life.

The pilgrimage really deepened my faith and revealed to me how universal our Catholic Faith is. It was so powerful to be part of the massive gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people at the place that our Mother Mary appeared. Catholics from all parts of the world, all ages and walks of life, joined together in singing ‘Ave Maria’ and created a sea of candlelight. That is something that I will never forget—the faith displayed and unity—it was beautiful. As wonderful as these large gatherings were to be a part of, I think the more profound moments of the trip were in the quieter times where our group of young men prayed together. Even the way we joined each morning in a little chapel for morning prayers and song really touched me and I found myself making my parents faith my own.

Recently I found a short paper I wrote not long after my trip (no doubt as part of a school assignment) in which I gave a reporters style perspective of one of my roommates on the trip. Following is what I wrote.

On August 2, 1994 fifteen year old Michael Englert from Bartlett, Illinois, began a trip that would change his life forever. He traveled to a town in Portugal called Fatima.  It was here that in 1917 three shepherd children Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco, were visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She performed a miracle in which a large crowd that had gathered saw the sun dance then fall toward the earth before it returned to its regular place in the sky.  Father Robert Fox led Englert and a group of other young men on a pilgrimage to this sacred spot. The message he gave to the boys when they got there, "Don't pass through Fatima, let Fatima pass through you," echoed in Englert's mind as he glanced at the hilly, rocky landscape and noticed the houses with red tile roofing.

Englert's days began at 7:00am with his counselor knocking on the door of his hotel room and saying, "Praise be Jesus Christ!" Englert would reply, "Now and Forever!"  He had forty-five minutes to get washed up and off to Morning Prayers. Each day of his nine day pilgrimage had different outings planned, yet each day had routine meals, prayers, speakers, and free time.

A place Englert really liked was the Loca do Cabeco  where an angel appeared to three shepherd children. While touring the houses where children had lived he got to shake hands with Jacinta and Francisco's brother, John, who still lives in the Fatima area.

On the 12th of August Englert helped lead the procession at the Cova. There was a tremendous sea of light as thousands of people carrying candles prayed and sang to honor our Lady. "In Portugal, I consecrate myself to our Lady and  feel I can now help spread this message of Peace," said Englert, who whether or not he is called into the priesthood, believes that this pilgrimage has given him direction for his life.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Follow me"... today I'll try

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners." (From today gospel account of the calling of Matthew in MT 9:9-13)

I once heard a priest say that a good sermon, "Comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable." That is exactly what Jesus seems to be doing in todays gospel on the feast day of St Matthew who I was named after.

I always feel that I can relate to Matthew as I am sinner in need of great healing just as he was. His story gives me hope. The great physician wants to heal me and continues time and again to say, "Follow Me." Do I have the courage like my namesake to get up from the mess I am existing in and follow? Some days I feel that I want to but when I am honest, I still hold onto so many things that weigh me down. Conversion needs to be a daily decision to follow and live life for the Lord. We'll never make it on our own but Jesus longs to heal us and give us the peace our hearts desires. So let's take courage in the fact that we have a Savior who came for us, the sick. He dines with us, invites us to walk with him and heals our wounds.