Tag Archives: catholic church

Sunday Sermon: God didn’t make you a coward

Embed from Getty Images

Saint Paul in prison, writing one of the epistles

 

As most already know who follow this website, I am a Catholic. I also serve as a Lector many weeks during Mass services, which gives me the opportunity and honor of reading to our parishioners from the Word of God.

This ‘Sunday Sermon’ series dates all the way back to 2005, and is always based on a reading or sermon from the Mass on that particular Sunday.

This morning, my New Testament reading came from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy. It is one of three known “epistles” written by Paul.

Before we get into the specific message for today, a quick vocabulary lesson.

An epistle is simply a letter or series of letters. In the New Testament, they come in the form of a book, made up of the letters from a particular apostle.

An apostle is someone who has been sent to specifically spread a message or teaching. Saint Paul, also known historically as Saul of Tarsus, was perhaps the most important apostle of the first century.

In the two decades immediately following the death of Jesus Christ, Paul underwent a personal conversion and then began to spread Jesus’ teachings throughout the Roman and Jewish world of the times.

The second letter to Timothy, a segment of which made up today’s New Testament reading, is considered by tradition to have been written just before Paul’s death, sometime in the mid-late 60’s during the first century A.D.

However, there are many scholars who now believe that it was actually the product of one of his students, writing in the decades after Paul’s death. In any event, it was certainly in keeping with his philosophy.

The letter was written to Timothy, who was one of the earliest Christian church leaders. Timothy served as the very first bishop of Ephesus, located in Egypt.

In the letter, Paul writes from prison, where the Romans are holding him for the teaching of the Gospel. He writes the following as encouragement to Timothy in the latter’s role as an early church leader:

Beloved:

I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.

Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

The phrase which jumps out at me from this letter is this: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice…”

This letter is one of three ‘pastoral epistles’ written by Paul. They are considered as such because they were written to individuals with pastoral care and responsibility over a particular church, and cover issues of Christian living, doctrine and leadership.

While these epistles are clearly written to church leadership with them in mind, they are just as relevant to all members of the church.

God does not want us to live as cowards. He did not imbue us with a “spirit of cowardice“, as Paul writes.

Paul calls on all of us to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each believer, the love preached by Jesus Christ himself during his life on Earth, and the self-discipline gained during our own lifetime of experiences and failures in order to help spread the Word of God.

Stop looking to others to carry a load that you have every ability to help carry yourself. You can teach your family. You can volunteer in some way at your church. You can personally set an example by regularly attending church services and participating in the sacraments.

Far too often, far too many of us point the finger at others shortfalls, be those church leaders, politicians, any of our fellow men. We are often unwilling to look in the mirror at our own sins and shortcomings.

Have the courage to not only take that hard look in the mirror at yourself, but also to actually take some positive action regarding your faith.

Even if you consider yourself a brave Christian, we all have moments or periods of life in which we falter. Whatever your present or future attitude and situation, remember, God didn’t make you a coward. Don’t act like one.

 

More faith-related selections:

Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

Embed from Getty Images

 

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: Giving thanks for modern religious

Embed from Getty Images

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.

What is a Saint, and Who Goes to Heaven?

This past weekend, the Catholic Church enjoyed a rare celebration of the canonization of two of it’s former leaders, John XXIII (pictured) and John Paul II. In the ceremony, both men were recognized and publicly proclaimed as saints.

We understand that sainthood for an individual bestows upon them some special designation and title, but do you really understand what makes someone a saint?

Have you ever considered the question for yourself: could I be a saint? Could someone you know, or have known, in your life be a saint?

The answer to that question leads to an even bigger one, so let’s answer it quickly and get on to that bigger question. Yes, you may be a saint. Yes, you may have known saints during your life, personally and intimately. In fact, I am quite sure that every single human life is touched by saints on a regular basis.

The difference between those formally proclaimed as a “saint” by the Church and the ones that most of us encounter in our daily lives is in the process of formal recognition and proclamation, as well as the degree in which they served God during their lifetime.

Canonization recognizes that a particular individual lived life with an exceptional degree of holiness, and is thus worthy of higher honor, emulation, and veneration.

In Catholic as well as in Orthodox teaching, any Christian in heaven is actually considered to be a saint. So yes, you indeed can one day be a saint, and many whom you have loved were and are indeed saints.

What we know about those who are canonized is that careful scrutinizing of their lives revealed their holiness, and we are assured that these individuals are indeed in heaven, and thus closer to God. Their prayers on our behalf will surely reach His ears.

And there is the rub. We are now assured that both John XXIII and John Paul II are indeed in heaven, with the Lord. We know this about every other person ever formally canonized as a saint. But do we know this about our loved ones? Are we assured for ourselves that we will indeed one day also be in heaven with the Lord, living in glory as a saint?

Is every Pope who ever served the Church now living as a saint in heaven? That seems hardly likely, given any understanding of history. We know for sure that some are, but some just as likely are not. The same can be said of our own loved ones.

An honest answer to that question by any considerate person has to be “no”, there no such guarantees. Most importantly, an examination of the path to heaven, and thus the path to sainthood, leaves us with a simple but difficult truth to accept: we have no way of truly knowing for sure whether, or which among them, our loved ones actually are in heaven.

Just last May, Pope Francis restated a very emphatic position of the Church, that all people have been redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, not just Christians. This includes atheists, radical Islamists, Jews, agnostics, cafeteria Catholics, Buddhists. Everyone. Whatever spiritual or religious label you can place upon another person or yourself. Or none. You have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ.

However, as the Pope went on to explain, whomever you are, whatever you personally believe, you must do good. In Francis’ own words: “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us.

Francis was challenged on the issue of atheists, and further responded: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” Pressed on the atheists, he continued: “Even the atheists. Everyone!” Francis is simply restating an ages old Christian doctrine. As stated by Saint Paul in his ‘First Letter to Timothy’: Jesus gave himself “as a ransom for all.

Our entry into heaven will ultimately be judged upon what we knew and what we did with that knowledge. Those who know of Jesus Christ, but choose to reject Him and live a life filled with sin have a difficult path. Those who know Him, claim to believe and follow Him, but live their lives in a manner frequently inconsistent with those alleged beliefs tred on unstable ground.

The most sure way to heaven is to accept the gift of Jesus Christ, of his sacrifice on your behalf, to believe in Him, and to then do good in your life in that knowledge. Do good as Jesus did good. Simply doing good without such belief is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. It makes your path that much more difficult.

What we must be willing to accept is that we simply do not know, and have no way of knowing while on this earth, what our loved ones did with their own lives before they left us. We do not know what they truly believed in their hearts. We do not know exactly what they did with their lives in action. We do not know what they did with their sin.

Catholic teaching tells us that sin has a life of it’s own, and may have bad effects even after the sinner repents. Such repentance includes not just sorrow at having sinned, and a desire to be free of the spiritual and emotional burdens it has created, but also true repentance includes a desire to repair the damage done by one’s sins. Whether you confessed and repented or not, what have you done to repair the damage done by your sins?

Right now, at this stage of your existence, you can do two things. First, you can change your own life. If you are reading this article, then you are aware of Jesus Christ. Accept his sacrifice on the cross for your sins. Acknowledge his love for you. Embrace your own cross. Confess your sins, do repentance, change your life, do good. Pray for your deceased loved ones, that they may reach heaven, since you do not know their ultimate fate.

We can use the lives of those who have been canonized, those such as Saint John XXIII and John Paul II, as an example of how to live our own lives. They are truly saints, with God in heaven. They not only talked the talk while here on earth, but they walked the walk. It is important that you do both, talk and walk properly in your life. That is the path most likely to lead you to heaven, to achieve your own sainthood. God bless you on your journey.

Church Matters

There are some who will tell you that they don’t believe it is important to attend formal church services, such as the Catholic Mass. They will tell you that their relationship with God is private, between them and Him, and that they talk and/or pray to Him on their own.

People who use this excuse to avoid regular church services do so for a variety of reasons. Let’s leave out the atheists and the agnostics, we already get why they don’t go to church. The people that I am most interested in addressing here are the Christians of the world who stay home on Sundays.

The church avoiders include those who believe in “something”, but feel that there are many religions around the world, who is anyone to say that theirs is the one, true church, and thus refuse to commit to any one set of beliefs, staying away from church for this reason.

The avoiders also include the obvious, the true lazy excuse-makers. They just don’t feel like getting up early on a Sunday morning, or setting aside time on their days off from work to feel obligated to give up some of that free time.

The church avoiders also include those who are angry with their church, such as Catholics who stay away because of issues such as the Church position on abortion, or gay marriage, or because of the recent explosion of priest sexual abuse scandals.

In the end, all of these people who are avoiding church, making excuses for what they feel are valid reasons or ways of thinking, are getting it wrong. In the case of the “something” believers, they are missing the Truth of Christianity. For the lazy, they are thumbing their nose at God, who asks only one hour of the 168 in your week. For the angry, they are committing the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The Truth of Christianity is found in the person and the teachings of Jesus Christ. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” is what Jesus said. You have only a couple ways to confront that statement. You call him a crazy man or a liar, or he was telling the truth.

The laziness of true excuse-makers who are otherwise believers is perhaps the worst of them. These people know they should be in church, but they would rather sleep, or go out to breakfast, or read the paper, or watch a ballgame. Again, God’s own words as given to us in His most basic commands: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath”. He asks you for an hour of your week. Christ suffered on the cross for hours for you. That is too much for you? Really?

For those staying away out of anger, you are only punishing yourself. Your anger should be directed at priests who committed these heinous sins, and at the bureaucrats who protected them. But your experience at Mass on Sunday is your chance to overcome these sins. Coming together as a community of believers in worship shows that, no matter what, you will not lay down, your Church cannot be laid low by men.

In his “Why Should I Go to Mass on Sunday?”, William J. Bradley says it well: “When we go to Mass we tell the world around us who we are and what we represent. Simply by going to Mass makes us all evangelists to our family, friends, neighbours and the community in which we live.”

At Mass we are encouraged by God’s words in the Bible, we are strengthened by our Lord’s gifts in the Sacrament of Eucharist, and we are uplifted by our fellow parishioners prayers. Find a schedule of Catholic Mass at your local church. Walk in and slip into a pew. Listen. Pray. I believe that you will be surprised at what God will open in your heart, mind, and soul.