Category Archives: FAITH

Sunday Sermon: A city set on a hill

The ‘Sermon on the Mount‘ was delivered by Jesus Christ shortly after he had chosen his original twelve apostles and begun his public ministry. It is covered most famously in chapter five of the Book of Matthew within the New Testament of the Bible.

One of the most influential, inspirational speeches in the history of mankind is widely believed to have been delivered at or near what was once known as Mount Eremos, a hill located between Capernaum and Tabgha in northern Israel.

During this speech, Jesus delivers three of the most famous teachings of his life: the ‘Golden Rule’, the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father), and the Beatitudes.

Another key element of what I personally believe to be the greatest speech ever given is a section that has become known as the “Similes of Salt and Light”, which appears at Matthew 5:13-16.

The simile of light section specifically reads as follows:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

On January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Farewell Address to the Nation. In it, he famously referenced this passage as it had been adopted by John Winthrop.

Winthrop was one of the key figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the second major European settlement in New England after Plymouth. He also served as the colony’s governor over four separate terms.

When his group of pilgrims to the New World had set out, Winthrop described their goal: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

The ‘Similes of Salt and Light’ section from the Sermon on the Mount was the subject of the gospel reading and homily at today’s Mass in our church.

In delivering his homily, the priest referenced the current political climate in the United States, particularly as it relates to the issue of immigration.

Father did a fairly good job of walking a hazardous tightrope, considering that he likely had folks from different political viewpoints sitting in the aisles of the church.

But the primary message that he was trying to convey is a valid one, no matter which side of the aisle you sit politically. As Christian Americans, we are called upon to rise above rancorous political discourse.

On this issue of immigration, all too often some members of the media and of certain political persuasions seem to want to paint conservative political thinkers as “anti-immigration”, which could not be further from the truth.

The majority of us are the product of immigration to the United States. At some point in the last century or two, most of us had ancestors who stepped off a boat and onto the shores of America. Like most of today’s immigrants, they were hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families.

It is important to remember that we are not at all “against” immigration. Instead, we are against unchecked, unvetted, uncontrolled, and illegal immigration.

In our efforts to better secure our country, we also need to remember that legal immigrants should be welcomed with open arms. Many people lawfully and properly enter our country and become citizens. Those people deserve our full support as first generation Americans.

As polarized as today’s society has become, it is far better to be “for” something than “against” anything. We are not against illegal immigration. We are for a lawful, orderly process, and a secure America for all of our lawful residents and visitors.

We need to remember, in our tone and our tenor, that we have to be better than the divisive politicians and professional agitators who thrive on driving us apart. This is particularly so when remembering that we are Christians in addition being Americans.

As good, law-abiding United States citizens and followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to stand up and ensure that our nation always serves as that city set on a hill. As a blessed people, we are called to shine the light of freedom before all others.

And all the while, we must keep in mind the last three words of the ‘salt and light’ section of Jesus’ timely message: “glorify your Heavenly Father.” Whatever we do, if we are doing it for God’s glory, then we will continue to be blessed as a nation.

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NOTE: this is a continuation of the long-running ‘Sunday Sermon’ series. All entries can be viewed by clicking on that link in the below ‘Tag’ section.

Sunday Sermon: Are Catholic Schools ‘Better’ Than Public?

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See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ” ~ St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (New Testament, Colossians 2:8)

It’s a question that does not have a simple answer: are Catholic schools “better” than public schools here in the United States?

You will hear and read many Catholic school parents and students make the claim that they are indeed better in every way.

But you can also find many proponents of the American public school system who will claim that there is nothing inferior about the education they provide.

There have been a number of formal studies made on the issue. Mai Miksic with the CUNY Institute for Public Policy took on the question in his June 2014 piece “Is the ‘Catholic School Effect’ Real“?

Miksic’s piece concludes that “there is no lack of rigorous research…indicating a possible Catholic school advantage.”

However, Miksic also correctly points out that many proponents of Catholic schools point to simplistic statistics such as higher standardized test score results achieved by their students.

Education is, in the end, about much more than test scores.
And a system that works for one student is not necessarily going to work for another. One thing that we know about our kids is that they are not cookie cutter products.

No matter what argument that you want to make for or against Catholic schools, there is one area of education that is far greater in those institutions. One area that the vast majority of Americans agree upon.

In a June 2016 survey by the Gallup organization, a full 89% of Americans said that they believe in God. If given the choice of “not sure”, the figure remains overwhelmingly high at 79% who are believers.

In research conducted by the respected Pew Research Center, their “Religion Landscape Study” found that over 70% of Americans today still identify as Christian.

If your kids attend Catholic school, they are going to learn about God, about Jesus Christ, and about a whole host of other Christian ideas.

Gaining a respect for the truth that God exists is vital for a child’s appreciation of his or her special place in the world. Learning the teachings of Jesus Christ in a proper setting provides an introduction to foundational principles to guide them through life.

Public schools in today’s America are allowed to teach about religions, but they are not permitted to teach religion. They begin from the false premise that all religions are the same or equal, and that to teach one as more “true” than others is prejudicial at best, and simple indoctrination to fantasy at worst.

This is not the way that it always has been here in America. There was a time – a long, long time – when teaching the precepts of the Christian faith was a vital part of every American child’s education.

Only in the previous century, when so-called progressives began to gain control of American academic institutions and made inroads into the court systems of our country, was God largely banished from public classrooms.

No matter what is taught in schools, a sound religious home life is important for children. It is the parents responsibility to educate their kids from the youngest age. That education must include a strong faith component.

We all come to our faith at different times and in different ways. Despite my own Catholic education through the entirety of grade school, high school, and even college, my faith was not an important part of my life until recent years.

There are no guarantees. Just because your child attends Catholic schools does not mean that they will become a model citizen. It does not mean that they will automatically make all good choices, that they will never sin.

It certainly does not mean that they are “better” than kids who attended public schools.

But on the whole, the numbers don’t lie. Your kids are generally going to be better and more fully educated at a Catholic school.

National test scores, high school graduation rates, college acceptance and attendance, and a variety of other educational areas all favor a Catholic education for your kids.

There is, of course, a cost for this education. Catholic schools are not free.

Tuition is high in many cases. That can be a challenge for many families who would, except for this one major drawback, prefer to send their kids to Catholic schools.

This is one reason that school choice is such an important issue, and that the area of school vouchers is such an important one for folks to educate themselves on.

This is the beginning of Catholic Schools Week. The theme this year is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service.”

All during the week, schools and parishes across the country will be involving their students and communities with activities in this theme.

If you are the parents of a child preparing for their school years, or the parents of a child who is currently attending public school, take the time to look into the possibilities offered by your local Catholic school.

I have personally had the experience of attending Catholic schools, and of sending my children to both Catholic and public schools. There have been good and bad experiences at both. In my opinion, the good of the Catholic school experience far outpaces the alternative.

Sunday Sermon: Our responsibility in the New Covenant

The sermon that I heard delivered at church this morning included an interesting line. It was delivered by Rev. Dennis O’Donnell, who said that “many Catholics today are actually very good Jews.

What he was referring to, as he went on to explain, is that in his experiences in talking to many Catholics, it seems to be their opinion is that all they need to do is to follow the Ten Commandments.

You know the Ten Commandments: Keep Holy the Sabbath, Thou Shalt Not Kill, Honor Your Father and Mother, and all the rest? Ten rules given by God to Moses, the “Old Covenant”, written down clearly on stone tablets, passed on to the Chosen People, and then to all of us down through the millenia.

Keep the Ten Commandments, and go to heaven when you die. So what’s the problem? The problem is that makes you a good Jew. Nothing wrong with that at all…if you are Jewish.

But if you are a Catholic, which makes you a Christian, then more is expected of you. You see, Christians are expected to follow and as best as possible emulate the teachings of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained in 2 Corinthians, Christ’s message is written “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.


This “New Covenant” has at its center the fact that Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and his people. And at the center of Jesus’ teaching is a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

I know many agnostics, even atheists, who follow Jesus’ new commandment better than many Christians.

Now that is not to say that these agnostics or atheists don’t have their own problem. They do, and it’s a big one. Jesus also put it in a very straightforward message: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

For the well-meaning good-deed-doer agnostics and atheists, they will always suffer from their denial of Christ.

But many Christians, despite a heart-felt belief in Jesus as their savior, risk suffering just as much, even if they are doing their best to follow the Ten Commandments.

We are called to love one another, as Jesus loved us. How did Jesus love us? What does that call for us to do, on a practical level? That is a big question, that will take an examination of his life and teachings.

The good news is that his life and teachings are not hidden. They are not something you need to take a college course in order to learn. They are right there in the New Testament in your Bible. 

Our responsibility within the New Covenant? Pick up your Bible. Read the New Testament regularly. Learn more about how Jesus loved. And then love one another in that same way. 

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NOTE: all entries in the “Sunday Sermon” series can be enjoyed by clicking on the below Tag.

Sunday Sermon: You don’t have plenty of time

Today at our church, the pastor told the famous allegory of “The Council of the Devils in Hell” as part of his sermon.

The allegory can be worded in any number of ways to either stretch out the story or to shorten it up, but in general it goes something like this:

Satan had learned of a large spiritual revival in a community, and so he convened a council of devils to determine the best step to derail this awakening.

Three devils spoke up with a plan. The first said “We’ll simply whisper in their ear that there is no God.

Satan looked at him skeptically, saying that they would never believe it. “Too much beauty on Earth. They would simply look around at the mountains and sky, the seas and the forests, and know that He exists.

The second devil then spoke up: “We’ll whisper in their ear that there is no Hell.

But again, Satan shook his head side to side: “Never buy it. They’ll remember the most evil of men over time, and know that those men aren’t going to heaven, that there must be a place of punishment.

The devils were becoming frustrated when a third blurted out: “Let’s tell them they have plenty of time.

That’s it!” proclaimed Satan. “Go spread the word to all mankind.

This subtle yet powerful allegory should be a major warning to us all – none of us, no matter how young, healthy, happy, or successful knows how much time they actually have left in this life.

If it be God’s will that I make it that long, I will turn 55 years of age just two weeks from today.

Those years have been filled with the loss of friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and celebrities of all ages, economic situations, and levels of health and illness.

Last Saturday morning, I was the lector for an 8am Mass at church. After the Mass, I returned to the sacristy to retrieve my car keys and return the book of readings.

While back there, I ran into Fr. Michel, a 77-year old priest at the parish who looks a decade younger. He had just returned from a week vacation.

He looked great, smiling as he prepared for a funeral service. We exchanged quick greetings and pleasantries before I left.

This morning, the pastor let us know that just yesterday, Fr. Michel was saying another funeral service when he suffered what appears to have been a massive heart attack.

Kept alive by the quick action of someone present who knew CPR and the first-ever use of our church AED, Fr. Michel is now fighting for his life at a local hospital.

The pastor then told us that it wasn’t the only such incident that the priests in our parish were dealing with at that moment.

The youngest of the three assigned to the parish, Fr. Sean, lost his sister this past week. She was a 35-year old married woman, mother of two young children, and was in good health.

Her death was sudden and unexpected, and has left the family devastated and looking for answers, both physically and spiritually.

Just three weeks ago, 41-year old Philadelphia Police Officer Doug Bamberger, a 16-year veteran, married with two young children, left for a day at work.

Every police officer’s day is potentially dangerous, no matter the assignment. We all wear uniforms and carry guns, and can be called or run into a deadly situation on a moment’s notice.

But Doug’s situation was less hazardous than most. Assigned to the Court Liaison Unit, he worked inside the vast majority of the time, helping ensure the organization of officer’s needed for various court testimony during each day.

Apparently not feeling well, Doug let some co-workers know that he was going to take a break for a few minutes, and left the office.

He was found unconscious some time later on the ninth floor of the courthouse, apparently having suffered a massive heart attack. Doug was rushed to the hospital, but died a short time later.

The majority of us know stories like these. Someone taken young by an illness like cancer, or by an auto accident, or by some criminal activity or act of war.

We all hope to one day die peacefully in our beds at an old age while still in reasonable health, without any suffering. We hope, no matter how old we are, that the day is still decades away.

The devils whisper in our ear constantly to put things off: “make amends with your family another day”, “give up that bad habit next year”, “take your faith more seriously down the road.”

“You have time. Plenty of time.”

There are numerous stories of deathbed conversions, people who exclaimed all during their lives that they didn’t believe in God, or Jesus, but when faced with the finality of their lives gave in to the possibility out of panic, or a genuine faith experience.

Maybe that’s your plan? Coast along, act and talk tough, maybe even genuinely disbelieve. But at the end, if you really panic, well, you can accept then.

Problem is, you might not get that chance at a last chance.

You might decide that you’ll make your family amends another day, and then lose that family member to such an accident or physical condition.

You might decide to give up that bad habit next year, only to find that you don’t actually have a “habit”, but instead are addicted.

You might decide to go back to church some day, and never get that day. When that truck or bus plows into you out of nowhere, when your tire suddenly blows out and fly off the road, when you suffer that sudden, massive stroke, when someone pulls a trigger and kills you, you have waited too long.

Maybe you don’t like hearing about those things. Maybe you think I am being overly morbid. Tell that to the more than 150,000 people that those things and more happen to every single day.

James 4:14 – Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Don’t make the mistake of listening to the devils whispering in your ear telling you that “you have plenty of time.” You don’t.

 

Book Review: Killing Jesus

A few months ago, I finished reading Bill O’Reilly‘s outstanding work “Killing Lincoln” about the assassination of the 16th President of the United States and the events surrounding and leading up to that event.

The book was so well written and informative that it inspired me to purchase for my Kindle his other two similar books: “Killing Kennedy“, about the assassination of our 35th President of the US, and “Killing Jesus“, about the events surrounding our Lord’s death.

I held off actually reading “Killing Jesus” until this time of year, the time surrounding those actual events. Today is Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Tomorrow is Good Friday, when he was nailed to a cross and died for our sins. And then, of course, Sunday is Easter, when he rose again.

But O’Reilly does the subject a most honorable turn. Despite his own Roman Catholic upbringing, and that of his co-writer, Martin Dugard, he does not approach the matter of Jesus’ death, and all of the events leading up to that event, from a religious or spiritual standpoint. Instead, as with Lincoln and Kennedy, he takes a purely historical look at the events.

O’Reilly and Dugard have taken the telling of these types of important events, the untimely murder of the most important figures in history, and made them completely accessible at every level. They do this with an almost conversational tone to the story-telling, mixing in the necessary known and verifiable facts with other discernible information based on the times of the events.

The end result, in “Killing Jesus” (and “Killing Lincoln“, for that matter) is a book that is well written, easily understood, and that stands on it’s own as an important new resource for anyone that has any interest in the topic. And who can say that they have any interest in human history without being interested in Jesus?

Whether you are one of the billions on the planet who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who came to free us all from our sins, as I believe, or you are a complete atheist, one thing that you cannot deny and remain credible is that Jesus did indeed live, and that his teaching has indeed had a profound effect on human history.

As O’Reilly puts it in his introductory ‘Note to Readers’:
To say that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential man who ever lived is almost trite. Nearly two thousand years after he was brutally executed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God: That includes 77 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Gallup Poll. The teachings of Jesus have shaped the world and continue to do so.

I am in the midst of reading this book now, at Easter time, and should be finished over the weekend itself. I can already say that I highly recommend it to true believers, as well as to simple fans of history. It is, at the very least, a great story of an important world figure who lived during a most interesting time for humanity – the Roman Empire era.

I have a number of books lined up for reading on my Kindle once finished this excellent read. After his treatments of Lincoln and Jesus, I am absolutely now looking forward to reading the Kennedy book. That sound like a great one to put off, however, for the fall, as the 51st anniversary of JFK’s own assassination rolls around come November.