Tag Archives: Church

Sunday Sermon: On the Second Coming, don’t be fooled or frightened

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David Koresh is a recent decades example of a false prophet who made Messianic claims

 

Today’s New Testament reading comes from the apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica, which is the second largest city in Greece.

Paul wrote a pair of letters to this church, the second organized Christian community which he helped to form in Europe. The two letters are frequently referred to as “epistles” in some forms of the Bible.

The first of these was written approximately two decades after the death of Jesus. It was meant to reassure that Christians who had already died would share in the glory whenever Christ indeed returned. He also encouraged them to continue working quietly as they anticipate that return.

In this second letter, which may have been written shortly after the first one or sometime within the ensuing decades, Paul includes a sort of gentle yet urgent warning in following up on this idea of Christ’s return.

This warning comes as there were already false claims that Christ had already returned, and begins a process that still takes place today in which church leaders must address the concept of false claims and teachings, misinterpretation of messaging, and outright fraud.

Paul writes in what is presented as the second chapter of this letter:

We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

In just the last century we have seen numerous claimants to being Jesus, the Messiah, the Second Coming, or some other phrase for this same concept. Examples can often prove disastrous, such as David Koresh with the Branch Davidians during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Paul’s phrasing urges us not to be frightened by false claims. During the course of his two letters he reminds Christians that by reading the Bible we can know that Jesus will not return unless and until certain specific circumstances have taken place. He also reminds us that what is important is to not be concerned with the “when”, but instead to always be prepared for Christ’s return.

In Matthew’s Gospel he writes that “…you do not know the day or the hour” in which Jesus will return. All we know for certain is that He has indeed promised to return.

As Paul tries to tell us, do not be misled or alarmed by anyone who claims to have received a vision, or who tries to teach you anything outside of what is provided by scripture regarding the Second Coming. There is never cause to be fooled, or a need to be frightened. Just simply keep yourself prepared.

 

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Sunday Sermon: God didn’t make you a coward

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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.

 

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Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

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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: 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.

 

Lenten Sacrifice

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy Christian season covering approximately six weeks until Easter.

During the Lenten season, Christians traditionally prepare for Easter through a process of increased prayer, penance, and sacrifice.

Of course, we are all supposed to be praying regularly, asking repentance and making atonement for our sins, and finding ways to sacrifice some part of our own blessings in the form of charity all during the year.

Lent is a good time to both get yourself back on track if you have let some of that spiritual responsibility slip, and also a good time to strengthen your commitment to areas of your life that perhaps need more attention.

To meet these increased spiritual goals during Lent, Christians often make what amount in the secular world to New Year resolution-type promises of change. Only these are promises to God from themselves. The promises can involve saying a daily rosary, returning to Church and the sacraments, and giving up something of importance to them.

That last part, the giving up of something important, is known as a Lenten sacrifice. Remember, the whole point is to prepare for the events of Good Friday and then Easter, when Jesus Christ sacrificed his own life for your sins. Keeping that much sacrifice in mind, how tough is your own?

Each year, I also try to make a Lenten sacrifice. I’ve usually had success in the past, but this year I am going a little more ambitious. I am personally building a number of elements into my Lenten sacrifice. Maybe one or more will inspire you as well.

First, I am actually simply going to continue a spiritual exercise which I began all the way back in November. At some point in mid-November of 2013, I began to say a full rosary each day. Somehow, I have been able to keep it up every day. I have found lately that there were a couple times where I almost just let it go. Lent will be a good time to increase my commitment to it.

Next, I am going to commit to going to Church more often. My own local St. Christopher’s Roman Catholic parish will be offering Mass on a nightly basis. I will be going a few times. I am also volunteering more in my role as a church Lector to do the readings at Mass during this period.

Also during Lent, I am going to make sure that I participate in appropriate sacraments more often. Most specifically, going to Confession, doing Penance, and sincerely attempting to stay away from the occasion of sin. I’m planning on making a Confession now, at the start of Lent, and again closer to Easter.

These things should go a long way towards meeting my goals of increased prayer and penance during Lent, and your own adoption of any would help you do the same. So now, on to the sacrifice part. What am I “giving up for Lent” this year?

First, we’ll start with the treats/goodies category. I will be giving up all cakes, cookies, pies, candy, ice cream, and other similar desserts and treats. Only exception will be for breath mints, which some might consider as “candy”, but which I slot into their own special category as someone who has a lot of dealings with the public.

Next, a bit tougher one thanks to specific circumstances. I will be giving up soda as well. However, I am giving myself a “special dispensation” on St. Patty’s Day weekend to allow for drinking soda at events surrounding that upcoming celebration. Better that than imbibe in too many “adult beverages”, especially when driving. Outside St. Patty’s weekend, no soda either.

Not just a “don’t do that” period, Lent is a time to “do”, to take action where it may be needed. I am going to begin seriously getting back into a regular physical workout routine. Starting with daily walking, and then building up to more as the Lenten season advances and I get in better physical conditioning.

And then I added on a new one this year, limiting my use of personal social media, particularly by refraining from Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media during the Lenten season with two exceptions only.

Those two social media exceptions will be this blog, where I will actually attempt to write MORE, something that I have been trying to get myself to do anyway. And also my professional Twitter account @PPDMattVeasey, where I have an expected responsibility to participate for my employer.

I have also undertaken a couple of more personal restrictions for Lent, and we’ll just keep those between me and the Lord at this point. Oh, and all of my fellow Catholics should remember to refrain from eating meat today, Ash Wednesday, and every Friday through Good Friday. Also, today and each Friday you should limit yourself to one full, large meal.

I think that if I can successfully accomplish all of that, it adds up to a solid, legitimate personal Lenten observance. Prayer, penance, and sacrifice all built into the plan. So, there’s my plan for Lent – what’s yours?