Category Archives: FAITH

What’s so funny, God?

There is a famous old Yiddish proverb that has had many takes on it over the years, widely attributed to Israel Furman in 1968, which is itself a take on the Bible’s Psalm 33:10 verse reading “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”

That saying of Furman’s? “Man plans, and God laughs.”

The actual translation of the Yiddish would be that man proposes, and God disposes. In other words, we can make all the plans that we want here on Earth in regards to our lives, but in the end it will be God’s plan that will come to pass, whether or not that coincides with our own plans, hopes, and dreams.

The saying came to me this morning as I contemplated a recent dual tragedy which has struck a family that I know personally. They suffered a sudden, recent, untimely death, and now immediately on top of that tragedy have suffered yet another major blow. Without going into details, still fresh and painful for many, there are a number of people suffering because of these twin tragedies right now, and a few whose lives have been completely devastated.

How do we possibly make sense of such apparently senseless tragedy? How can any of that be a part of God’s plan for those individuals, for that family? And what does it have to do with that old Yiddish saying that I mention in the beginning of this piece?

No matter what age, we all make plans. Young people plan on where they’re going to meet after school, what they’re going to do this weekend. Students plan on what courses they are going to sign up for in the next semester or school year. Folks make plans for with whom they want to begin or continue a relationship, how many children to have, their career choice, where they are going on vacation, what’s for dinner tonight, and much more.

But how many plans have you made in your life, small or large, only to have something intervene to delay, change, or completely thwart those sometimes well-conceived plans?
How many times did you make a wrong turn, depend on the wrong person, fail to receive some type of anticipated support, gotten sick, lost something, run late, or had any number of other scenarios occur to interrupt and disrupt those plans?

Today, the life expectancy of an average American is up to almost 79 years. For Canadians and Brits, that number is almost 81. And for the Japanese, their life expectancy is over 82.5 years of age. In China, life expectancy is almost 73.5 years, and in India the number is at almost 65.5 years.

When people look at these numbers and see disparity between a native of China expecting to live to 73 years of age, and a Japanese native expecting 83, we wonder about that decade of difference, and we rightly try to examine the many factors that go into one group of people having a longer life, and in many cases, a better quality of life, than others.

But the fact is that whether you live in India or China or the United States, those are average numbers. They are the “expectancy” based on any individual living out a full, “natural” life span. We all know that there are people who live to be 80, 82, 85 and even higher in the United States.

To keep that expectancy number at 79 years on average, there is a trade-off. For every American who lives to 85, and there are many, there are just as many only living to 73. For everyone living into their 90’s, there are people dying in their 60’s.

How about this one? You live to be 100 years of age or more! Congratulations to you, at least assuming you have most of your mental faculties and physical capacities, adjusted for aging, of course.

So you’re 100 or over? Well, there are more than 53,000 of you right now in the United States alone. 53,000 who beat the expectancy age of 79 by 21 or more years. But all that means is that there are at least as many who have died at age 58 or less.

Now that phenomenon and those statistics may not be exact, but you get the idea – there are no guarantees. You might make 79. You might make 100. You also might make only 58, or less. And there is nothing unnatural about it. In fact, it is to be expected.

Why does God allow some people to reach 100 and others to be taken from their families at birth? Why do some die quietly in their beds in their 80’s after a mostly healthy life, while others die broken and bloodied on a battlefield thousands of miles from their homes? Who do some commit murder and go on to live 50 years in prison, while an innocent 12-year old is killed riding their bicycle outside their home?

Why do you decide you want to be a priest, enter the seminary, and end up 10 years later as a firefighter, married with 3 children? Why do you look forward to celebrating your wife’s 39th birthday with her in a couple months, planning a dinner or party, only to have her die from a massive heart attack two days after you make the reservations? Why do you move your family across town to your dream house in your ideal neighborhood, only to find the home destroyed a year later by flood, fire, or storm?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Frankly, each of our lives is visited at some time or other by illness, loss, tragedy, and death. For some, it happens too early, or too often, or too close together, or too painfully or violently. Almost any time, it happens too soon. Sooner than we ever could expect. Sooner than we feel is justified by a benevolent God. Certainly sooner than we ourselves had ever planned.

There are dozens of atheist reasons against their belief in God. I am certainly not going to make these incorrect, flawed arguments on their behalf. But one of those reasons involves this issue of a loving, caring, just God allowing injustice, disaster, destruction, and even murder. Why wouldn’t such a God step in and intervene? How could He allow such pain and suffering?

And if indeed God has a “plan” for each of us, then was a part of that plan for us to be shot by a robber, or stabbed by a jealous lover, or run down by a drunk driver, or have our plane flown into a tower? If not, has that killer intervened in God’s plan, and if so, does that mean God Himself can have His plans thwarted?

And if we are all out here making plans for our lives, and those plans are disrupted by major injury, illness, disaster, or even death, was that God intervening and changing our lives? Is God actually sitting somewhere, waiting for us to make a plan for our lives, watching us, waiting for a chance to laugh on seeing our reaction as his greater destiny for us unfolds? And if so, what’s so funny about it, especially when it involves hurt and pain?

Simply, the answer is a resounding “no”, God is not really out there laughing at us, or waiting to laugh as we make plans that He knows are contradictory to His own, that He knows will ultimately fail. And God certainly is not doing so when that involves our pain and suffering.

There is a simple, although unsatisfying for some, answer as to the ‘when’ and ‘why’ of our ultimate destiny here on Earth. The fact is that we all have a “time” allotted to us. There is a day and an a hour and a moment out there which will be our last. The circumstances surrounding that ultimate final moment for each of us are different, and may seem arbitrary to us.

Why those circumstances? Why do some go with ease while others suffer? Why do some slip away over time while others are snatched away suddenly? The fact is, there are some questions that we must all learn to accept we will never, ever receive an answer to in this mortal, human life.

There is also a simple answer as to the similar question regarding the circumstances of our lives. Why do we make plans, sometimes rearranging our lives, investing our time and talent and treasure, building up hope inside, only to have sudden circumstances alter those carefully conceived ideas? Why would God not reward such dedication, perseverance, and discipline on our part?

The answer is that maybe He will, maybe He won’t – it all depends on what God ultimately has in store for you within His own plan. Perhaps you are being inspired by the Holy Spirit down the right path, and your plans will be rewarded. But perhaps you are making all the wrong plans for all the wrong reasons.

Do we not have a “free will” to choose for ourselves what is best for us? You do indeed have that freedom. However, there are ramifications for each of our choices and decisions. There is a price to be paid for everything. Which direction you drive home today, where you go for lunch, who you have sexual relations with, how many drinks you consume at the bar, what you choose to eat each day  – every decision matters. Those decisions may determine the final “where” and “how” as each of our ultimate “when” becomes imminent.

Every decision isn’t “life and death”, those are just the biggest decisions with the biggest ramifications. We make numerous small decisions each day, some of which we know are wrong, some of which may result in a mild chastisement from that loving God as a direct attempt to teach us a lesson.

In some of those instances, I can definitely see the Lord sitting back and having a little laugh at our relatively unharmed expense, especially when we do indeed learn those lessons. It is only my own personal belief, but I believe in a God with a sense of humor.

But the pain, suffering, destruction, and the death that comes naturally as a part of this human life on Earth? There is nothing funny about those things to our loving God. He suffers with us, indeed, he sent his only Son here specifically to suffer and die on our behalf. He knows our pain.

He asks that we accept Him as our God. He asks that we persevere to the end through whatever the challenge, trusting Him in all circumstances, no matter how challenging or unjust they may seem to us.

He asks that we believe in the truth that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience, knowing that any hurt, pain, sadness, and despair are only temporary. He asks this knowing that heaven is forever, the ultimate reward for those who do remain strong in the challenge of life’s pain and grief, and who choose to remain strong in their faith and belief in Him.

Christianity clearly under attack in America

When you see the atrocities taking place in Syria today, as well as in other areas of the Middle East, involving the burning of Christian churches and the destruction of entire Christian communities, it really makes you thankful that you live here, in America.

America, where Christians are safe. Not only safe, but where Christian ideals are front and center, a difference maker, a vital, indispensable part of our founding principles. You know, America, the protector of religious freedom.

 The nation founded by leaders such as George Washington, who once told the Delaware Indian chiefs “You do well to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.” Such as Thomas Jefferson, who said “I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.” Such as Benjamin Franklin, who said “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.”

The United States of America, a nation clearly founded by Christian men and women, and clearly built up over the centuries by many more of the same, such as Abraham Lincoln: “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.”

Yet it is here, in that very America, where a large, increasingly hostile, increasingly antagonistic segment of society is actively moving on the attack against Christian morals and ethics. I believe that we are seeing the beginnings of an attempt to erase the practice of the Christian faith itself in America and around the globe. If it falls here in the United States, what other nation can hope to keep the faith standing?

As reported by Todd Starnes with Fox News, the Christian Service Center has been providing food for the past 31 years to the hungry in Lake City, Florida with no problems. But suddenly, the USDA has told the group that in order to continue receiving the government food which the group dispenses, they must remove portraits of Christ and pictures of the Ten Commandments from their facility, remove a banner that reads “Jesus is Lord“, and must refrain from their practice of giving out Bibles to the needy.

In Burleson, Texas, as Starnes reports, the ‘Retta Baptist Church’ recently produced a motion picture titled “My Son”, about a young woman who with her small child moves in with a young man and finds happiness, only to find the newly forming family caught up first in a custody battle, and ultimately in a hostage crisis. The intention was to market the film to Christian churches and communities around the nation.

The problem? The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) slapped an ‘R’ rating on the film, saying that was due to violence and drug use in the film. The ‘R’ may be a death stamp for the film, as many Christian congregations and movie reviewers will refuse to recommend any movie with that rating to it’s viewers. So while the MPAA gives more ‘commercial’ films such as “World War Z” and “Jobs” ratings of PG-13 despite killings and zombies and drug usage, it slaps a Christian film with the ‘R’ rating.

These are just two of many, many subtle and overt attacks that have begun to take place against Christianity itself, and the people and organizations that support the faith in America. Emboldened by success in court cases, the antagonists keep pushing their agenda of a faithless society, one where anything goes.

Christianity is clearly under attack in America and around the world. This is apparent to anyone who opens their eyes and minds, puts forth a little effort, does just a little bit of research into the phenomenon. The millions of American Christians need to begin to stand together, and to fight back for our faith, for one another, and on behalf of Jesus Christ himself, the savior who gave his life for us.

Pray for peace

Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation.

Today, Pope Francis called on all Catholics, in fact all people interested in peace, to pray for Syria in the wake of the terrible atrocities and death that have visited this cradle of Christianity and which threaten to explode even further in the coming days and weeks.
Those three words: forgiveness, dialogue, and reconciliation are what the Pope said today are the necessary ingredients for true peace. This is true in Syria, the whole Middle East, throughout the world, and in our own individual lives.
Forgiveness is the beginning. Who has hurt you in your life? Everyone has been hurt, and some of that pain has left long-lasting scars, sometimes even open, festering wounds. How do you even begin to consider ever forgiving anyone who has hurt you so deeply?
Consider this: God created you in His image and likeness. He loves you unquestioningly. Yet you still sin. You still deny him, or ignore him, or place your desires above his. He sent his own Son to us, and allowed him to suffer and die for those sins. In doing so, he forgave it all. His only Son paid the price for you.
If God can forgive you after all your sins, and can take such a drastic measure to ensure your redemption, how can you not forgive another weak human being who has fallen short and hurt you?

Dialogue is the next requirement. Once you have decided to truly in your heart forgive someone, you must sit down with them. Let them know just how they hurt you, let them know that you have forgiven them for the pain that you suffered, and tell them that you want to ensure that such hurt and pain never again touches your relationship.
The length and depth of that conversation depends on the closeness of your relationship in the first place. But in some way or form, you must sit down, face directly, and try to communicate personally with the person who hurt you.
Finally, you will truly need to reconcile with that person. You need to be able to walk away from the conversation with the full knowledge that you have fully forgiven them, have expressed the entire situation to them the best you could, and have given them every chance to communicate with you on the issue.
Forgiveness. Communication. Reconciliation. There is a chance that it will be a one-way street. There is a chance that the other party won’t acknowledge you, or their actions, or themselves as the cause of your suffering. That’s not great, but in the end, that can’t be your final goal.
You are the one who needs to forgive. You are the one who must try to communicate, to reach out first to your antagonist. You are the one who needs to be reconciled, both to the other person and their actions, and to yourself.
If you truly forgive, make every effort to communicate, and then find a way to reconcile the relationship, at least in your own heart, then and only then will you have a chance at peace within your life, within your spirit. The same goes for nations.

You are worthy

One of my favorite things to do over the past few years has been serving my local Catholic parish church, Saint Christopher’s, as a lector. I get to utilize the gift of public speaking that was given to me by God in presenting his Word to my community of believers. That is, quite frankly, a humbling honor.

In doing so, not only do I read something out loud, but I also am reading for myself. It is not only an exercise in dramatics or presentation meant to inspire my fellow parishioners and visitors to our church, but also a learning exercise, an educational and inspirational one, for me as an individual.

The topic of the readings at this week’s Sunday Mass services were, as they frequently are, tied together in a theme that is very appropriate for both the time of year, but also one that presents a message of importance for every human being alive today.

The message is that God believes, no matter what your actions, your thoughts, or your current state of belief, disbelief, or practice, that you are worthy of his love.

In the first reading, taken from the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah tells the story of a vision in which he is presented with God sitting on his heavenly throne, and then of angels appearing to him.
His home shakes and fills with smoke, and he trembles as his unworthiness engulfs him: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips” thinks Isaiah.

Isaiah feels that he is unworthy of being in the Lord’s presence, unworthy of his love. But one of the seraphim approach and shows him the Lord’s power of forgiveness. The Lord then asks aloud, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah immediately responds, “Here I am, send me!

In the second reading, taken from the New Testament, Saint Paul speaks of the ultimate Truth: that “Christ died for our sins..was buried..was raised on the third day” and then Paul goes on to recite as proof the appearance of Jesus to Cephas, and then the twelve disciples, and then to numerous other believers, many of whom were still alive. The Lord then appeared to James and all the apostles. And then Paul recounts his personal meeting with our Lord.

Last of all..he appeared to me..for I am the least..not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul was lamenting his past in that brief moment. A lamentation that today holds many back from fully embracing their true path. Paul’s story is the ultimate one of good triumphing over evil, of man’s ability, with God’s loving grace, to overcome even his worst sins.

For those who do not know Paul’s story, I will try to paint a quick picture. Born as Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen, he was about a decade younger than Christ, and he grew to become a zealous persecutor of the nascent Christian church. He had or helped get early believers imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. He was as vocal and active an anti-Christian as one could possibly become.

One day while traveling along the road to Damascus on a mission to bring some believers to Jerusalem for punishment, Saul was met by the resurrected Jesus, and he underwent a conversion experience that would change both his life and the history of the world. Taking the new name of “Paul” given him by Christ, he became one of the two greatest apostles in the history of early Christianity.

In recognizing the overcoming of his early sins against the church at the completion of this week’s reading, Paul, after his self-admonition of being unfit to be called an apostle, went on to speak confidently of his current state: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”

There are many out there who may believe that they are too far gone to even seek God’s forgiveness, let alone to expect to receive it. Some may even have publicly denied Jesus, spoke of him in folly, made fun of his followers. They may feel a desire inside, but fear to be shunned as hypocrites, or worse, as idiots by their friends who feel as they have in the past. None of that is important, and none of that has anything to do with ultimate truth.

No one, not the worst sinner, is too far gone from seeking God’s forgiveness. No one is too far gone from embracing fully the Word and the Truth of Jesus Christ. All you need to do is embrace that Truth and begin to commit to a deeper understanding of it, and also to begin to fearlessly go public with your belief. You may lose friendships. You may be scorned and ridiculed by non-believers. But you will be gaining everything important in return.

I myself drifted from my church, drifted from God, and certainly have sinned. But I have always felt pulled back to him. I have never felt abandoned. I have ultimately turned to his good. It’s nothing you can’t do yourself.

On Wednesday we celebrate the occasion of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season known as Lent, a season of repentance that leads us up to the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in his death on the cross for you as an individual. This is a perfect chance at repentance, conversion, sacrifice, and renewal.

Never let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you or in any way make you feel that you are not worthy of God’s love, that you are not worthy to take up the cross of Jesus Christ. You are worthy, you are loved, and you are important to him. You only need to make him important to you. Begin today.

Become a beacon of light

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Genesis 1:3-4

There is plenty of darkness in the world today. Every single day you can turn on a 24-hour news network, open any news website, pickup a newspaper and read about the influence of the darkness in men’s souls.

As of yesterday there were 212 homicides committed in the City of Philadelphia alone. That’s 17 more than last year at the same time, and last year ended with 18 more than the previous year.

On Sunday, white supremacist Wade Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and shot nine people, killing six immediately. Among the three critically wounded was a white Oak Creek police lieutenant, Brian Murphy. One wonders if a white Irish-Catholic who worked every day to keep his community safe and peaceful was an intended target of Page’s particular brand of hate. One answers that it really doesn’t matter.

Page and others such as Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 13 people in their 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, and Troy West, who mercilessly beat a black female military veteran in front of her 7-year old daughter outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Georgia in 2009 are all examples that the white community needs to take to heart.

Shootings, stabbings, and other attacks in this country and around the world do not have as their common denominator the race, sex, ethnic background, or religious belief of the attackers. What they do have in common is darkness and hate. At some point in the attackers lives, they chose to embrace the darkness over the light, and as with many who make such a choice, found their lives spiraling out of control.

We can all find reasons to hate others if that is what we want. Everyone is victimized at one time or another in their lives. From events as large-scale as the Nazi atrocities in World War II or the terrorist attacks of 9/11, to something as personal as a crime committed against us by someone of another race or group, events occur out of the hateful hearts of others that can often result in some of us responding with hate of our own.

Many respond to these circumstances by taking on their own darkness and hatred within their hearts against those who victimized them. This hate festers and grows and in the end perpetuates the overall hate in the world. Often these victims pass their hatred along to their children, helping racism and sexism grow, tainting any good that the parents may also try to teach those impressionable minds, such as positive faith messages.

The fact is that we are all called on to not only continually seek the light, but to become beacons of light in the world. We are called to this not only when the sun is shining and the skies are clear and there is a song in the air. We are called to this on the worst of days, when the evil in other men’s souls causes fear and hurt and death and destruction.

In the New Testament, Matthew writes famously in his Gospel: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Good men and women understand the premise that they are called to turn away from darkness and embrace light. This begins with the things with which you surround yourself, the ways in which you express yourself, the styles and colors in which you dress regularly, the people and writings and music which you allow to become influences in your life. Embrace darkness, and do not be surprised when darkness and negativity become regular occurrences in your life.

There is a place for darkness. It is a time and place and mood to be used for peace, quiet, and reflection. But darkness is not where we should be living, only a temporary place for rest, until the light returns. John writes: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Those who choose to live in that darkness, to make it a primary influence in their lives and in their hearts, grow increasingly incapable of understanding and embracing the truth of the good to be found in the light.

Do you want people to stop beating and killing gays, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, children, women, blacks, police officers? Do you want people to stop hurting and killing one another? Then what you really want is people to stop hating one another. You can start that process, by stopping the hate within yourself. Be that “city on a hill“, that lighthouse shining in the darkness, the light breaking through the clouds.

Paul says it best, calling us in his letter to the Romans: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Love one another, forgive one another. Give peace a chance. Choose to live in the light, and to become a beacon of light in what can often be a dark world. It is where you are called to live, how you are called to act, what you are called to be and believe.