Tag Archives: FAITH

Sunday Sermon: The prodigal son

Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Basically, the parable goes like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The older son then confronted the father:

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

The father responds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

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: the Epiphany of the three Magi

Embed from Getty Images

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————————————————————————

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

The history of Thanksgiving in America

Embed from Getty Images

President George W. Bush visits the Thanksgiving Shrine at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia

 

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. As we gather to celebrate with family and friends, let me offer a short history lesson on the holiday origins in America.

In the fall of 1619 the ship Margaret set sail from Bristol, England on a roughly two-month voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Captain John Woodliffe would bring his ship with 38 settlers safely to what was known as Berkeley Hundred on December 4.

Berkeley Hundred was a land grant from the Virginia Company of London, an English stock company formed by King James I in order to fund the establishment of colonial settlements in America.

The Berkeley Hundred land grant went to a group of five men, including John Smyth, who became the official historian of the group. Over the next two decades he collected documents relating to the settlement of what would be known as “Virginia”, and these still survive today.

The land grant was for some eight thousand acres along the James River a few miles west of Jamestown, which itself had been the first British colony in the New World just a few years earlier.

The proprietors of the Virginia Company had directed in their granting of the land charter that “the day of our ships arrival…shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving.

The settlers of the Margaret did indeed keep that celebration, doing so more than two years prior to the popularly remembered landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Over the hundreds of years since, there have been many disputes as to the official beginnings of this holiday which has become formally known as Thanksgiving Day here in America. Most of those disputes have been sources of regional pride battles between Virginia and the New England area.



When he became the first President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed that Thursday, November 26, 1789 was an official “day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.

It was from this Washington proclamation that most formal Thanksgiving celebrations were celebrated on the final Thursday in November. However, it was not an official national holiday. 

Following decades of lobbying by schoolteacher and author Sara Hale of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” fame, President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 called for such an official Thanksgiving Day holiday on the last Thursday in November. However, the rancor of the Civil War caused the celebration to become delayed until the 1870’s.



The United States would then celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November until the early days of World War II. On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a joint congressional resolution moving the official celebration to the fourth Thursday in November. 


It was believed that the earlier celebration would give the nation an economic boost during the difficult war years. Ultimately, this move would lead to the modern follow-up retail shopping phenomenon known as “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving. 

Most stores had been closed on the holiday itself. They would offer many sales promotions upon re-opening in order to entice shoppers back. This began to mark the opening of the Christmas holiday gift shopping season.

Over two decades later, on November 5, 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation aimed at assuaging the hotly debated Virginia-New England origin battles. JFK’s proclamation read as follows:

“Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”

Thanksgiving now continues to fall on that fourth Thursday of November here in the United States. This means that the formal date can range anywhere from the 22nd of the month through the 28th. We continue, to paraphrase President Kennedy, to set aside time to give reverent thanks for the faith which unites us with our God.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Traditional marriage grounded at United States Air Force

USAF Colonel Leland Bohannon
Genesis 2:18-23 reads as follows:
The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.

So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.

The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man.

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman.

When he brought her to the man, the man said “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman, for out of man this one has been taken.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.

The story of the beginning of man and woman’s journey together here on Earth is a familiar one to most people, no matter their level of faith or their personal belief.

To some, it is simply that, a story and nothing more. But to myself and more than half of the human population it remains a basic tenet of faith. To most of those same people, this biblical story forms the basic foundation for the concept of marriage.

The institution of marriage has been under attack for decades from progressives here in America. They have made major inroads in their battle to bastardize these sacred unions.

A controversy in the United States Air Force highlights that the battle for marriage continues today.

Colonel Leland Bohannon was set to be promoted to the rank of one-star general. However, one of his subordinates recently filed an EO (Equal Opportunity) complaint against him.

This complaint was substantiated, and now Bohannon has been suspended from his command and is likely to never receive the promotion he earned with decades of sacrifice and hard work.

The complaint was based on Bohannon’s position supporting traditional marriage. This past spring, a master sergeant under his command was retiring. The master sergeant is gay, and has a same-sex partner.

It has become tradition to honor the spouse of such a retiree for the sacrifices they have made in supporting the retiree. That honor comes in the form of recognition at the retirement ceremony, and presentation of a certificate of spouse appreciation.

Per the website militarywives.org, during the retirement ceremony an air force wife will be called and escorted to the stage, and presented with a certificate that reads as follows:

 

CERTIFICATE OF APPRECIATION
FROM THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
In grateful appreciation,
The United States Air Force presents
this certificate of recognition to:
(Spouse Name)
for the commitment and numerous contributions
that made positive impacts to the Nation’s defense.
Thank You for the support which gave strength and
purpose to your spouse’s service

GIVEN THIS FIRST DAY OF JUNE

TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN


Holding a traditional Christian view of marriage, Bohannon refused to sign the certificate of spouse appreciation for his retiring master sergeant’s same-sex partner. He instead had a more senior military leader sign the certificate. The master sergeant then filed the EO complaint.

Per Todd Starnes, a group of U.S. Senators including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio wrote to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in an attempt to save Bohannon’s career. Per Starnes, part of their letter stated:
“Col. Bohannon recognized the moral and legal dilemma this situation presented, and to his credit, sought to carve out a solution that would affirm the contribution made by the retiring officer’s same-sex partner while at the same time allowing the colonel to abide by his religious convictions.”
What you have here is a case of the U.S. Air Force attempting to force a Christian into affirming something that he fundamentally believes to be immoral, in spite of the fact that there was no need to do so.
This is exactly what modern progressives want. They want to force their beliefs on the rest of us. If you won’t conform, you will be silenced, or bullied, or punished, or all of these. And if you are not, then the entity they want to do that punishing will be sued.
When entered into between a healthy, informed, consenting adult man and woman, marriage is a sacred union. That is what I believe. That is what Colonel Bohannon believes.
The Colonel should not be forced, when there are other legitimate options that in no way take away from the retiring master sergeant or his same-sex partner, to alter his beliefs. Nor should he be punished for holding them.
Bohannon’s beliefs are legitimate, and they should be defended by all of us who believe the same. The special union of man and woman is a gift from God. We need to be unafraid to support Colonel Bohannon and his traditional view of marriage.
Hopefully the appeals from the esteemed group of United States Senators are acted upon favorably for Bohannon. He should be fully restored, his record unbesmirched, and his promotion to General granted.