Category Archives: FAITH

Sunday Sermon: The prodigal son

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Over the years, I have written more than 130 pieces under the topic of Faith. Each of those articles are slowly being re-introduced in this newly formatted website, available by visiting that section of the tool bar.

There have also been more than 70 pieces within a special ‘Sunday Sermon’ series. Those articles specifically come out on Sundays. The most recent piece in the series and on faith topics in general came all the way back in January 2018.

Today’s article marks a return to both the topic and the series. You can look for future ‘Sunday Sermon’ pieces at least every other Sunday from here on out.

Catholics who attend Mass around the world today heard one of the most famous teachings of Jesus. Coming from the New Testament’s Book of Luke, it was the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Basically, the parable goes like this:

A wealthy man has two sons. The younger one goes to him and asks for his inheritance. The father grants his wish, and that son goes off to squander his newfound fortune by living a hedonistic lifestyle, eventually becoming destitute.

That is the very meaning of the word, by the way. Prodigal means to spend money or resources freely and recklessly in a wasteful and often extravagant manner.

In the parable, a famine hits the land. That young son, now poor and ashamed, hires himself out as a laborer. His new master sends the young man out into the fields to tend the hogs, where the young man is so hungry that he wishes he could eat at least what was being fed to the animals.

Then it dawned on the young man that his own father’s servants were treated better than this. They had plenty to eat. So, he decides to return home, beg forgiveness, and hopefully be hired as a servant by his father.

While all that was happening, the older son had remained at home, working hard to help the father maintain his estate. In fact, that older son was out working on the land one day as the younger son suddenly returned home.

As the father was informed of the younger son’s return after many months away, he ran out to enthusiastically greet his son with a warm hug and kiss.

The young son said to his father “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

But the father would have none of it. He ordered his servants to prepare a great feast for this returned prodigal son, saying “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

As the feast was taking place, the older son returns from working hard all day. He saw one of the servants, who informed him as to what was happening.

The older son then confronted the father:

All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!

The father responds:

My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

There are many lessons that can be learned from this wonderful parable. But one of the most important is a reminder from Jesus that, no matter how far away we may have strayed in our lives, our Father is always waiting with open arms to welcome us back.

In the story, this is an earthly father welcoming back his son, who had learned a difficult lesson the hard way. How many of us can fully relate? Probably every single one of us.

But more important is that you should know that, no matter how long you have been away from the Lord, no matter how far away you may have strayed, you can always turn around and come back.

The decision is yours. If you haven’t prayed in awhile, set a few moments aside, and say a prayer asking for help. If you have been away from church, give it another chance. If you have turned your back on God, turn back towards Him.

He will always be there with outstretched arms, waiting happily to welcome you back, just as that father did with his young son in Jesus’ parable.

Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

 

When it comes to their faith lives, folks with a deep conviction can be extremely defensive. I’ve even heard some go so far as to claim that those who don’t follow the same belief system and faith practices they do will even end up in hell when they die.

The fact is that neither you nor I, nor anyone else on this planet, has any idea whether any individual human being is going to end up in heaven or hell for eternity. That lack of knowledge holds for everyone from your local rabbi to the Pope. Our ultimate fate is God’s alone to know.

My own faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. I practice and celebrate that faith in the Catholic Church. That is mostly because it is the church in which I was born and raised. I went to Catholic school for 12 years as a child and teen. I even later graduated from a Catholic university as an adult.

While it is my belief that my Catholic Church is the best way to practice the Christian faith, in no way to I believe it is the only way. In the end, it’s not about the Mass or the building or the priest. The Church is none of those things.

The Church is Jesus Christ. He is not only the center, he is everything.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the famous verse of John 14:6, Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Nowhere does Jesus say that in order to get to heaven you must go to church – any church. He says that all authority is his. He says that he is truth and life. He says to follow him and his teachings if you want to be assured of eternity with the Father.

Don’t get me wrong, church is important. That is especially true of the Catholic Church. As I’ve written a number of times in the past, Jesus Christ founded His Church. It was important to him to have authoritative leadership and teaching continue.

In Matthew 16:18 we find this foundation: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus founded one Church. The word “catholic” itself means universal.

However, in John 14:16-17, Jesus said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.”

Here Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come into the world. He also states that the Spirit will not only live with us, but will live in us.
 
Jesus founded one Church, and that universal Catholic church continues today, more than 2,000 years later. 
 
However, the Holy Spirit did indeed come into the world and into our hearts. The Spirit has worked to inspire men and women in ways that have contradicted that universal Catholic Church over the centuries.
 
It would be dangerous, in fact totally wrong, to say and believe that any and every possible means of practicing a form of Christianity is healthy and appropriate. 
 
Misguided men have formed many harmful practices over time in the name of a church. Any honest assessment of even the Catholic Church history would show that misguided men can do a great deal of harm in the name of faith and church.
 
Many have seen the abuses within various Christian churches and decided to maintain a personal relationship with the Lord. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not preferred, and you are cheating yourself if this is your practice.
 
In Matthew 18:20 we hear Jesus make his famous church and family proclamation: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” He tells us straight out that when we pray and worship him together, he will be present with us.
 
Whatever church you belong to, and even if you choose to maintain a personal or familial relationship with him, you cannot be making a mistake if your true center is Jesus Christ and his own words.
 
The teachings of the prophets in the Old Testament are excellent for education and inspiration. The preaching of the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, the teaching of Paul, and other New Testament works are outstanding guides to follow.
 
But the fact remains that where his Word is present, there is truth. If you follow that Word, those teachings, then you are likely to end up in the spending eternity in the presence of the Father.
 
In the end, Jesus Christ is the Church. 

Sunday Sermon: the Epiphany of the three Magi

 

Any number of times over the years the inspiration for these “Sunday Sermon” pieces has been drawn from some idea put forward by the priests at my church.

Today, Father Sean English provided that inspiration with his sermon in which he spoke of the “Three Kings” in relation to today’s celebration of the Epiphany.

The Epiphany goes by a few other names as well, depending on your cultural background or the specific church to which you may belong. The most frequent are for “Little Christmas” or “Three Kings Day” celebrations.

In today’s world, when someone is said to have an “epiphany” it means that some sudden realization has come upon them. A moment of clarity in which something fundamental is revealed to them.

The “three kings” or “three wise men” or even the “Magi” as they have alternately been known through history are credited with both having and passing on such an epiphany following the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.

The word “Magi” is an ancient one. It referred to those who practiced what was known as magic, usually including incorporation and study of alchemy and astrology. These were extremely learned men, bordering on what today would be called scientists more than true magicians.

As Father Sean explained today, the Magi of Jesus’ time were not necessarily aligned with any particular religion. However, they were acquainted with all faith systems, including Judaism.

The Magi may have been followers or even priests of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. No matter, they certainly would know of the ancient Jewish prophecy regarding the coming of a Savior.

The western Christian churches, including the Catholic Church founded by Jesus himself, believe and teach that there were three of these wise Magi men. That theory was drawn from writings showing that three gifts were brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

One thing is almost certain, they were not “kings” in the classic sense of the word. The reference to “three kings” is almost certainly drawn from prophecies such as Psalm 72 which said “all kings shall fall down before him” in the Jewish Torah, or Old Testament.

The three were said to have come “from the east”, drawn by a star in the sky which their calculations led them to believe would lead to the Savior foretold in the Jewish prophetic writings.

In the western tradition, they went by the names Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, and hailed originally from Persia, India, and Babylonia respectively. Some claim that they actually are meant to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa.

As the Magi neared the end of their long journey, possibly from a home base in the Parthian Empire, the three received word that King Herod, the ruler of Judea, wished an audience with them.

At this meeting, Herod asked that when the Magi found this newborn future “King of the Jews”, that they return and let him know the location of the child. Herod alleged that this was so that he too could go and worship the child. However, his later actions revealed that Herod was actually plotting to kill the child, thus defeating the prophecy and a snuff out a future threat to his rule.

The traditional date of the Epiphany within Christianity is January 6th. However, the Catholic Church celebrates on the Sunday falling between the 2nd and 8th. It is celebrated on other dates by other Christian churches.

When you sing or hear the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas“, January 6th is that 12th day – exactly twelve days having passed since December 25th, Christmas Day.

The traditions and teachings hold that the Magi followed the star until it came to rest over the little town of Bethlehem in Judea. There, inside of what was essentially a cave-like shelter, lying in a manger, the Magi found the child.

Surrounded by the child’s parents, Mary and Joseph, as well as shepherds who had been visiting since the child’s birth, the wise men presented their gifts.

As pointed out in an article at The Telegraph, the gifts which the three Magi bore were each presented for a specific reason:

The gifts were symbolic of the importance of Jesus’ birth, the gold representing his royal standing; frankincense his divine birth; and myrrh his mortality.

The realization, the moment of clarity, the “epiphany” experienced by the Magi had come with the revelation that this child, this Jesus born in such humble circumstances, was indeed the Savior of prophecy. And this Savior came not only to and for the Jewish people, but all people.

When they had completed their visit, the Magi decided not to return to their homeland by the same route which they had arrived. This would take them past Herod, whose true intentions had been revealed to them. And so they returned to their homes a different way.

It is important that we not only accept Jesus as our personal Savior, but that we do our best to practice that faith and pass it along to our families and other loved ones.

Even should they decide not to follow our example, it remains important to continue demonstrating our faith. At some point, we changed. We accepted Christ into our lives. Our continuing example could prove to be the very thing that opens the eyes, minds, and hearts of others.

This leads us to a final important point that Father Sean made in his sermon. Each of us, having had the truth of Jesus Christ revealed to us, should return to our lives in a different way than we traveled prior to that moment. That pivotal revelation marked our individual, personal epiphany.

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NOTE: all of the prior “Sunday Sermon” pieces can be found simply by clicking on that ‘Label’ found below this piece when viewed in its web version. You can also find them by clicking on the ‘Faith’ tab in the website toolbar.

Sunday Sermon: In the end, we all become one with God

Today marks the final Sunday in the liturgical year of the Catholic Church.

Next Sunday begins the season of Advent, the four-week period leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ.
As Advent begins, the readings at Mass will begin to lead us towards that most important and holy moment in the history of humanity.

Today, however, we peer into the future, to the end of time itself.

The second reading today was from the first letter, sometimes called an epistle, written by Saint Paul to the Church at Corinth.

The Yale Divinity School calls this first letter from Paul to the Corinthians “a masterpiece of pastoral theology.” Of this important and lengthy 16-chapter work, Yale further states:

“It challenges us to think about how we relate to the wider world that we fully engage even if it does not always share our values, provoking us to imitate Paul’s pastoral logic, which probes fundamental convictions to see how they apply in difficult situations.”

Corinth today lies in south-central Greece, approximately 48 miles west of Athens. But the Corinth of Paul’s time could be located about two miles southwest of today’s city.

Paul himself founded the original church in Corinth around 50 A.D., less than two decades after Christ’s death. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written during one of his stays at Ephesus. It includes a number of important teachings, and contains a handful of famous sayings that have survived through today.

The focus of my piece today comes from near the end of Paul’s letter, and relates to the end of time. Here, Paul talks of Christ’s return at the second coming, stating that he will destroy “every sovereignty and every authority and power” before finally destroying the “last enemy”, death itself.

Paul then finishes by stating that once everything has been subjected to Jesus Christ, then Christ himself will be subjected to God. This is, as Paul puts it, “that God may be all in all.” In the end, we will all become one with God, through Christ.

You can choose to interpret the exact physical and meta-physical mechanics of that merger with our Creator in a number of ways. However you choose to do so, the fact is that we don’t know when these events will take place. Will they even take place in our lifetimes?

The more important point is that, no matter when the end times come, there is something that we can all and should all be doing right now. We should all be preparing now by subjecting ourselves to Christ.

Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Clearly the most important thing that we can do right now is ensure that we are believers. That we recognize that Christ gave up his life so that we could be freed from sin.

This acceptance, this subjecting of ourselves to Christ in accepting and celebrating his role in our lives, gives us a chance to join God as one of those “all in all” at the end.

A joyous season is about to begin. The birth of your Savior is not far off. As this holy time of year approaches, remember exactly whose birth it is that we will be celebrating.

In the end, we all become one with God. That is only made possible by the one who is about to be born.

Sunday Sermon: Giving thanks for modern religious

Another day marks the return of another regular series to my website. This time it will be the weekly ‘Sunday Sermon‘ series geared towards religious/spiritual issues.

This series is one of my oldest, beginning all the way back in September 2005. It ran fairly regularly through 2013, but then disappeared for the better part of three years.

I briefly resuscitated the series a year ago, but it turned out to be for just three installments. The last of those was published nine months ago.

Well, ‘Sunday Sermon’ is back for good now with this, the 70th installment in its history. All of the previous articles and any into the future can be viewed simply by clicking on that ‘Tag’ found immediately following this piece when viewed in its web version.

Today’s piece covers a topic of vital importance, one that speaks specifically to the Catholic Church. That would be the difficult decision made by young people in the 21st century in joining a religious order.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is currently engaged in its annual St. Charles Boromeo Seminary Appeal. The appeal is an attempt to raise money for the seminary through donations from parishioners.

There are currently fifteen young men at St. Charles who are in the midst of their studies to become a Catholic priest. They come not only from Philadelphia, but from all across the country. They entered the Seminary from high school and college, from careers on Wall Street, and from service to our nation’s military.

During today’s Mass at St. Christopher’s Parish in the Somerton section of Philadelphia, Father Sean English was the celebrant. In his homily, Father Sean spoke of his own decision making process after college. Father told of how, once he knew that he did indeed want to enter the Seminary and become a priest, the process of telling his family and friends took another nine months.

Father Sean’s last name may indeed be “English”, but he is a young Irishman through and through. There was a time when it was expected that a young man from an Irish American family would become one of three things: a cop, a politician, or a priest.

You would expect that his family might be overjoyed at having their son enter the priesthood. But it was still a difficult decision for Father Sean to tell his parents of his decision. To tell them that their son would not be having children to pass along the family name.

The Catholic Church has to be thankful that he heard a call from Christ, and had the courage to respond positively. Father Sean is an outstanding young priest. He is exactly what the Church needs more of, both here in American and across the globe.

It’s a difficult decision, surrendering yourself to a life of service to others. It is not so very unlike the calling that I felt myself at one point, to serve my community as a police officer. It is not unlike the call that many feel to serve the United States as a member of the military.

When called to a vocation, rather than simply taking a job in private industry, you have to surrender a certain amount of freedom. You must accept that you are going to help as many people as you can, under the most difficult circumstances. Not only will you face ridicule, but at times you will face outright opposition.

That call to the priestly vocation has been made particularly difficult in recent years by the priest abuse scandals which came to light over the last decade or so. Those scandals were then exacerbated by denials and cover-ups from some in the Catholic Church hierarchy.

But here is a fact. No matter those scandals, the Church needs priests. The priesthood is a vital institution for the survival of the Church into the future. The Church needs good men to step forward and become priests.

As a police officer, I have seen radicals charge that the entire profession is corrupt. There are some who believe that every police officer is racist, abusive, or both. I know from firsthand experience that is not only false, but that officers who fit into those categories are extreme rarities.

Do they exist? Yes. They exist in every profession. When those officers personal beliefs result in abusive actions, they often become newsworthy, sometimes sensationally so. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of police officers are good, decent people like everyone else. They try to help their community every single day while raising their own families.

Priests are the same. The vast majority are good, decent men just trying to serve their community and their Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I’ve said it many times regarding this issue: you cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. No one should turn away from their relationship with the Church because of bad priests.

The number of men hearing and then heeding the call to the priesthood has seriously declined in recent decades. However, the number of women heeding the call to service as a Sister or “Nun” had always remained far higher.

In his letter to our parishioners this week, Monsignor Joseph Garvin wrote of the decline in the numbers of nuns as well. Here is what ‘Father Joe’ wrote:

“As you may have heard, religious communities of Sisters are going through a very difficult time. There are few younger Sisters. There was a time that Sisters outnumbered priests five to one. Now the numbers are getting closer to one on one.”

 

Many young men and women today appear to be lost. They come out of high school and college to face a harsh, divisive world. That includes right here in the United States of America.

These young people would be helped greatly by praying on their situation. In turning our concerns, our trials, our lives over to God in prayer we can often find the answers. Unfortunately, many of those same young people just don’t know how to pray, or worse, don’t know to pray at all. They simply don’t believe.

The answer to the problems facing many of these young people could also prove to be the answer to the problems of the Catholic Church. If we can get more young people to be aware of the priestly and sisterly option, to seriously consider that option, and to pray on it, we might kill two birds with one stone.

There are three concrete things that we can do, and all of us can do at least one of these.

First, we can pray. Every Christian, and especially every Catholic, should pray for more young people to hear and then heed a call to service from the Lord.

Second, we can donate. Support the current St. Charles Seminary Appeal with a financial donation. You can do that right here, right now: DONATE NOW.

Third, we can guide our children’s spiritual development with purpose. We can further encourage our children and grandchildren to consider a life of service as a priest or nun.

This coming Thursday marks the holiday of Thanksgiving here in the United States. We should all give thanks to any young person in today’s world who is willing to take on the challenge and reap the rewards as they surrender themselves to a life of service as a priest or sister.