Are You Being Called?

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I stopped being surprised years ago at how many protestants come to our parish on Ash Wednesday. As a convert myself, I know the appeal of those ashes on our foreheads. They say, “I’m a sinner saved by God’s mercy and without Him, I’m lost.” That’s a strong message in a few little bits of ash. And that’s the thing about the Catholic faith. We have a lot to offer. And I’ll bet, deep down, you know it, too. No matter your denomination, or even if you don’t belong to any church, there’s something about the Catholic Church that draws you in, and you want to know more, even if you don’t know exactly why.

To begin with, you love the Bible and you revere it as the inspired word of God. Yet for hundreds of years after Christ’s death and resurrection, there was no Bible. It wasn’t until the fourth century that the Catholic Church assembled the Bible into one collection of texts. Jesus didn’t leave us a book, He left us a Church and He empowered it with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

This early Church as first called “Catholic” by Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in 107 AD. It was a Church founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made up of deacons, priests, and bishops, led by the Bishop of Rome. Just as the Church today gathers to worship at the altar of God, so did that early Church. St. Peter and St. Paul were Bishops in this Church, with St. Peter being the first Pope.

Deep down, you’re drawn to the permanence and history of the Catholic Church. You know we’ve been on earth since the days of Jesus and no power or circumstance will diminish His flock. You know that Holy Communion is more than just a symbol. You can read Jesus’ own words and know that. After all, He never said, “This is a symbol of My Body…this is a symbol of My Blood.” When you see Catholics kneel and worship before the Blessed Sacrament, you know we’re kneeling before the King of Kings and not just a piece of bread. You love the reverence of Mass and the beauty of our churches. Catholics worship with our senses as well as with our hearts and souls and that seems only right. We stand, we sit, we kneel. We hear the bells and smell the incense while candles glow around us and lift us out of our everydayness. Mass means more than that and you know it, too. The Liturgy connects you to God and to heaven in a deep and profound way.

You know that Mary is important in our salvation story. When God chose her to be the mother of our Savior, He gave us the best model of the Christian life that we could ever know. Her purity, faith, humility, and trust in God shows us how to live. Mary and all the Saints are our role models because their lives reflect the light of Christ. They are our faith family, alive now in heaven and they long to pray for us, if we only ask them. You know that the Church’s unfailing defense of human life from conception to natural death is right and true and will never change. The Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman is the truth that God has revealed to us in the Bible. It’s good to know that the truth never changes, even if society wants it to “get with the times.”

So we welcome you to come and get to know us and ask us any questions you may have. Come to Mass. Or come by just to sit and pray in the presence of The Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We are all looking for the peace that only Jesus can give us. All of us know what it feels like to search for the meaning of life and our place and purpose in the world. The Lord gave us His Church so that we can know how we fit in and to help us along our journey with Christ. Open the door and know that you’re welcome here.

“One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness.”
—-C.S. Lewis

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The Garden of Lent

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It’s a bitterly cold morning here with wind chills below zero, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about spring. I love looking through seed catalogs and imagining all those beautiful flowers in bloom. And nothing warms the heart of this Southern woman like the taste of that first ripe tomato. Gardens give us new life. They sustain us, both in food and in beauty. Our gardens remind us of that first Garden, created in perfection until we disobeyed. What was once effortless in grace is now the result of toil and sweat. Yet beauty and sustenance remain for us.

Jesus spoke a lot about gardens and vineyards. These symbols were things His followers knew and understood. And those images still ring true for us. God’s wisdom places Lent at this time each year. Lent means “spring” after all. It’s that season when we take stock of the garden of our lives. Just as the gardens that we plant outside need attention and planning and pruning—so do our souls. So think of Lent as an investment in the mercy and grace of The Lord which allows our harvest of charity to increase and flourish. Let’s look at how we can use our Lenten journey to glorify and God and be ready for His great gift of Easter.

1) Prepare the soil. You can’t expect a bountiful harvest if you don’t make the effort to prepare yourself. Take an honest look at yourself. Examine your conscience. What keeps you from doing’ God’s will for your life? Name it and confess it.

2) Choose your plants. Where do you feel called or gifted to serve God? Maybe you’re an encourager or a mentor. Perhaps you have a gift for music or writing or organizing. Where can you put your gifts for His good purpose?

3) Get planting! It’s easy to think about doing something, but we’re called to follow Jesus and not just think about following Him. Commit yourself to daily prayer and reflection. Fast. Go to Mass and Adoration as often as possible. Be kind to one another. Bear your crosses with joy and thanksgiving.

4) Feed your garden. Frequent Holy Communion is nourishment for your soul. The Bread of Heaven is our hope and our sustenance. Receive Him worthily and the treasury of God’s grace will fill your life to overflowing.

5) Weed your garden. Form good habits that replace your bad ones. Turn off the television and pick up a good book. Pick up THE good book. Are there people in your life that are stumbling blocks to your spiritual good? Spend time with folks who encourage you and build you up in your Lenten journey.

6) Watch your garden grow. Take time to rest in The Lord and reflect on what He is revealing to you. Walk with Him in the cool of the day, like Adam and Eve did in that first, perfect Garden. Don’t neglect the peace of a Sunday afternoon spent in the presence of God. There is great growth in these times given over to Him.

7) Harvest and share your bounty. Easter will be here before we know it. Your Lenten garden is your gratitude to God for His great gift of the Holy Cross and our salvation. When we grow in Christ, we’re called to share the Gospel with others. Start with loving and caring for your family and ask The Lord to show you where He needs you most. Your mission has just begun.

“In simply humility, let our gardener God landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.”
—James 1:21

Looking Home

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The older I become, the more time I spend thinking of my past. I guess middle age has that effect on some of us. My grandparents did it and my parents did it and now it’s my turn. I can be driving down the highway reviewing my plans for the day when a song comes on the radio and instantly, I’m seventeen again without a care in the world. Or I smell a distinctive aftershave and I’m immediately a little girl, sitting in my daddy’s lap as he works on the newspaper crossword puzzle. Memories. The veil that separates today from all those yesterdays seems to be getting thinner and thinner. I think a lot about my childhood home. I hear the cows mooing in the backyard pasture. I taste a salted tomato, still warm from the sun. I see my mom cooking our supper or my brother tossing his football.

These kinds of memories are often called “nostalgia.” This is a Greek word that means “longing for home.” That rings true for me, as I was blessed to come from a loving home. Maybe for others, that nostalgia may be for whatever time or place in their lives that represents a safe and accepting place to them. Memories like this are often most aching when we experience the death of someone we love. Standing at my mother’s graveside the past, the present and the future are all together in that one spot. I remember her from the past. I miss her now. And I anticipate seeing her again in heaven. I am nostalgic for that moment. God has designed us to have that homesickness for heaven because that’s why we were created. I suppose I’m thinking of heaven more these days because as I age, more and more of my family and friends have already made the journey. Sorting through my mother’s things after she died, I came across her address book. Most of the names in it were crossed out. As we lose the ones we’ve loved in this life, our eyes and our hearts turn ever more often to those distant hills that shelter our forever home.

I think the saints are consumed with that yearning for heaven. Their lives are extraordinarily fixed on the eternal presence of The Lord. Like St. Paul, they feel that powerful pull to the home they’ve never seen. He wrote about the Jewish saints like Sarah and Abraham and Noah saying, “…they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one”(Hebrews 11:16). But so many of us have an impoverished idea of the reality of paradise. Who among us longs for an eternity of playing harps on fluffy clouds? Surely the earliest Christians did not die as martyrs for this boring reward. No, we can see what they imagined heaven to be from the paintings they left for us on the walls of the catacombs. Their heaven was a beautiful garden, filled with children and animals playing together, with parties and banquets and feasting and singing. It was a real, living Garden of Eden. Heaven was their home and they were willing to lay down their lives to go there. In St. John’s Revelation, we can see what The Lord showed to His beloved disciple. “I saw an angel standing in the sun. He cried out in a loud voice to all the birds flying overhead, ‘Come! Gather for the great banquet of God’ “(Rev. 19:17). It’s a party alright. One filled beyond our knowing with an over-abundance of joy and love: with our Lord. We’ll be with our loved ones and with new friends, with the angels and the choirs. And there’ll be surprises, because our God is a god of surprises, after all. We’ll be free of sin, which is everything that has limited us on earth. As Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, “Jesus is our best indicator of Heaven.” What a wonderful place to live! No wonder we long for it so deeply. He is our beginning and our end, our Alpha and our Omega. “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together”(Colossians 1:17). That includes you and me. As we journey through Lent this year, let’s focus less on giving something up and more on loving and serving Jesus and the people in our lives. Let’s keep our hearts moving to our heavenly home, with joy and gratitude.

“Oh my delight, Lord of all created things and my God! How long must I wait to see You?”
—St. Teresa of Avila
(1515-1582)

A Stubborn Old Heresy

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Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that our loving God would let any of His children suffer an eternity in hell. Just the idea of it seems to go against the merciful Creator Who healed the blind man and cured the leper. We remember how Jesus cried over the death of His friend and Whose love called Lazarus back to life and out of the grave. This God surely wouldn’t allow anyone, especially a “good person” to end up in hell. It’s hard for us to imagine that and so we don’t think about it very much. We surely don’t want to hear it preached to us on Sunday morning. On Sundays we want to hear music and sermons that make us feel good. We want to leave church in a good mood. Many churches go to great lengths to never speak about hell or the judgment of God. When someone dies, there is never any consideration of the state of their soul. You never hear hell mentioned at a funeral. Everyone goes to heaven, right?

But this is not what God has told us. The Bible is the story of how much God loves us and desires that we be saved from our sins. If we didn’t need to be saved, then the Lord would not have left heaven to become one of us, to suffer, and to die on a Cross. The entire story of Jesus would be reduced to a fairy tale about a nice guy. Yet many people who claim to be Christians believe that good people who are kind and merciful will enjoy God’s eternal presence. You may hear them say, “I’m a spiritual person, but I’m not religious.” Translated, this means, “I think I can get to heaven on my own. I don’t need the Church that Jesus founded.” This kind of thinking is especially attractive to us modern folk because concepts like independence and hard work are dear to us. We think we can do just about anything if we set our minds to it. I can save myself by being kind to others, by worshiping God in the beautiful outdoors, and by leading a “moral” life.”

Sound familiar? It should. All this “do it yourself” Christianity has been around since the 4th century. A medieval thinker named Pelagius started it all. He denied original sin. That is, Adam and Eve sinned against God, but the rest of us didn’t inherit that wound. We’re born good and we can stay in that good state so long as we are moral people. Pelagianism denies our need for God’s saving grace. That’s why the Catholic Church condemned it as a heresy around 1500 years ago. Catholicism teaches that the only path to heaven is by the unmerited grace of God through the sacrifice of Christ. We can do nothing to save ourselves. We’re born with original sin which is our natural state. The grace of God in Baptism cleanses us of this sin. Faith is a gift God freely gives us, but we can’t earn faith through good works. Without God’s grace, we are headed for hell. It’s that simple. And that gloriously beautiful.

Unfortunately, this old heresy is still with us today in varying degrees. Churches that believe that Baptism is a symbol of spiritual rebirth or that don’t believe Baptism is necessary for salvation are Pelagian. If your pastor isn’t teaching you about original sin, you’re in big trouble. If you believe that you can “self-help” your way to God, that you needn’t rely on God’s grace—you’re in big trouble. Faith isn’t a choice, it’s a gift. You can’t be a good ol’ self-reliant American when it comes to your salvation. That’s why this heresy is so rampant. It agrees with our politics. But grace isn’t political. God calls us, we don’t call Him. There are 613 rules under the Jewish law and obeying each one of them perfectly won’t get you one step closer to paradise. Just ask St. Paul. We don’t come to Christ unless we’re first called by Him. We don’t “make a decision for Christ.” Christ makes a decision for us. Love is beyond our choice or decision. We are “in Christ” just like we are in love—head over heels and beyond our control. So un-American. And so perfectly Catholic. Take that, Mr. Pelagius.

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”
—John 15:16