Tag Archives: Saint Paul

Sunday Sermon: In the end, we all become one with God

Today marks the final Sunday in the liturgical year of the Catholic Church.

Next Sunday begins the season of Advent, the four-week period leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ.
As Advent begins, the readings at Mass will begin to lead us towards that most important and holy moment in the history of humanity.

Today, however, we peer into the future, to the end of time itself.

The second reading today was from the first letter, sometimes called an epistle, written by Saint Paul to the Church at Corinth.

The Yale Divinity School calls this first letter from Paul to the Corinthians “a masterpiece of pastoral theology.” Of this important and lengthy 16-chapter work, Yale further states:

“It challenges us to think about how we relate to the wider world that we fully engage even if it does not always share our values, provoking us to imitate Paul’s pastoral logic, which probes fundamental convictions to see how they apply in difficult situations.”

Corinth today lies in south-central Greece, approximately 48 miles west of Athens. But the Corinth of Paul’s time could be located about two miles southwest of today’s city.

Paul himself founded the original church in Corinth around 50 A.D., less than two decades after Christ’s death. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written during one of his stays at Ephesus. It includes a number of important teachings, and contains a handful of famous sayings that have survived through today.

The focus of my piece today comes from near the end of Paul’s letter, and relates to the end of time. Here, Paul talks of Christ’s return at the second coming, stating that he will destroy “every sovereignty and every authority and power” before finally destroying the “last enemy”, death itself.

Paul then finishes by stating that once everything has been subjected to Jesus Christ, then Christ himself will be subjected to God. This is, as Paul puts it, “that God may be all in all.” In the end, we will all become one with God, through Christ.

You can choose to interpret the exact physical and meta-physical mechanics of that merger with our Creator in a number of ways. However you choose to do so, the fact is that we don’t know when these events will take place. Will they even take place in our lifetimes?

The more important point is that, no matter when the end times come, there is something that we can all and should all be doing right now. We should all be preparing now by subjecting ourselves to Christ.

Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Clearly the most important thing that we can do right now is ensure that we are believers. That we recognize that Christ gave up his life so that we could be freed from sin.

This acceptance, this subjecting of ourselves to Christ in accepting and celebrating his role in our lives, gives us a chance to join God as one of those “all in all” at the end.

A joyous season is about to begin. The birth of your Savior is not far off. As this holy time of year approaches, remember exactly whose birth it is that we will be celebrating.

In the end, we all become one with God. That is only made possible by the one who is about to be born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Sermon: Intercessory prayer

Welcome back to the “Sunday Sermon” series, a former regular feature here, yet another that was allowed to drift by the wayside. Previously, the series was the one time each week where I was sure to post something of a spiritual nature.

Beginning with today’s post on “intercessory prayer”, these weekly featured posts will become more focused. Each Sunday, opportunity allowing, I will be writing on a specific element of the Christian faith experience.

There are few better places to begin than that most basic element, something that should be a part of every Christian’s regular lifestyle, prayer. In particular, I want to examine “intercessory prayer”, those times where we pray on behalf of others.

Is intercessory prayer effective? Can you really pray for someone else? Where does that idea, that tradition come from, and is the idea supported by the Church? If intercessory prayer is both accepted and effective, for whom should I be praying? Don’t I have enough going on in my own life to pray for – why don’t they pray for themselves?

To speak of intercessory prayer we must first define prayer itself. While there are many forms and functions of prayer, the Church teaches that vital to the prayer experience is attentiveness of the heart. One needs to be entirely submissive to the Word, willing and able to be obedient to God. With a right heart, prepared to accept whatever is God’s will, you begin your prayers.

The Christian begins his or her prayers, in fact will begin each activity, their very daily life, by making the Sign of the Cross. As you enter into the form of your prayer, let God know that you come to him, not for yourself, but for another or others, in prayer humbly and fervently.

Let him know that you are fully repentant in the knowledge that you yourself are a sinner. Also, you are willing to accept whatever His plan will be, even if that should be something other than what you hope to see as a result of this prayer.

Then tell God plainly what it is that you request: healing for a sick loved one, guidance for a wayward child, wisdom for a life or work partner, success of your team or group, peace on Earth among nations. This can be a quick process undertaken in seconds. It can go on for any length of time that you choose, and can incorporate formal prayer such as the Our Father, or the rosary.

For the source in authority on the validity of intercessory prayer, you need turn only to the Bible and read the stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and many more, who regularly prayed such prayers. In the New Testament’s ‘Acts of the Apostles’, it is said that while Peter was in prison, the church made earnest prayer to God on his behalf. Paul consistently asked the church to pray on his behalf, that the doors to men’s hearts might be open to his teaching.

Throughout the New Testament we read of the Holy Spirit as an intercessor. It is always appropriate, if one wishes, to pray for the Spirit to intercede on our behalf with the Father, knowing that the Father and the Spirit are actually One. The Church also teaches that we may pray for our Blessed Mother, Mary, to intercede with Jesus on behalf of our intentions. The same with the saints and other holy deceased.

Some have a problem with this idea of praying to Mary or a saint. This is a complete misunderstanding on their part. No one prays “to” Mary. All prayers are directly to God, or to Jesus Christ, the only true intercessor directly to God. Our prayers of intercession, whether by ourselves on behalf of another human, or calling on Mary or a saint or a holy person in heaven on behalf of our intention, are always directed through ourselves or that spiritual intercessor to Christ.

So who can and do we pray for, and what are the limits of effectiveness to our prayers? Those are actually the easiest questions to answer. The “who” of your intercessory prayer is individual and personal to you: who or what is so important to you, so vital, so beloved that you are driven to prayer on behalf of that person or cause? Fervent prayers on behalf of an ill or injured loved one are something recognizable to every Christian.

As to the limits on the effectiveness of our prayers, the simple answer is that there are none. Every one of your prayers when offered in the correct spirit will be heard by God. In fact, He will answer every prayer as well. You may not get the exact result that your human heart would hope for, but you need to accept that your prayer was indeed heard, and that God will indeed act on it as best for you as possible within His greater plan.

Who should we pray for? Pray for your loved ones in need: physical need when ill, especially when mortally wounded or deathly ill. No one will live forever. We all have a time. Our prayers should be, if it is possible in God’s plan, that our loved one be healed and returned to us, but that if God has a greater plan, may our loved one be free of pain, and if taken from us, that they be forgiven of any sins and taken into the peace of God’s kingdom.

Another important prayer of intercession is for lost loved ones. It is one of our responsibilities as a Christian to be regularly praying for those who we love who appear to have turned their own backs on the Lord. We should pray, of course, that they be inspired to return to Him, and to openly embrace the love that God wants for their life here on Earth. We should also pray that, should they be taken, their sins be forgiven, and that God might have mercy on their souls and make a place in His kingdom for them.

So pray for your loved ones, and for your friends, and for your co-workers. Pray for your fellow parishioners, your priests, your teachers. Pray for your teammates, your political leaders, your spiritual leaders. Pray for your family, your nation, the Church. It is always good and right to pray those intercessory prayers. But a final thought: pray for yourself. We all need it, and there is nothing selfish about it. In fact, it is your first responsibility, to make sure that you yourself are right with the Lord.

God bless you.

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.

Remaining thankful in the worst of times

If we live long enough here on earth, every single one of us is going to experience difficult times. Some of those are going to overwhelm us, challenging us to the limits of our ability to recover feelings of joy, peace, and thankfulness.

This coming week here in America we will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving Day, a day specifically set aside for us all to give thanks for those blessings that we have received in this life. Though it may indeed be difficult, it is important that we remain thankful in the worst of those difficult times.

As this wonderful holiday approaches, I have been reminded recently of a pair of heartening messages, the first taught by Jesus Christ and the second by the apostle Paul: “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world” and “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In the first of these statements, Jesus let’s all of us know in no uncertain terms that we are indeed going to experience difficult times in this world. We are going to experience physical illness and injury. We are going to experience other people in our lives, at times the very closest and dearest to us, letting us down. We are going to experience death, both of our loved ones and ultimately our own.

But also in no uncertain terms, Jesus declares that He has overcome the world. We have all been promised that if we remain strong in our faith, that one day we too shall overcome the world and join Him in His kingdom in Heaven.

Have you experienced the sudden, tragic death of a loved one, perhaps someone who was your best friend, your partner in life, your husband or wife? Perhaps you have experienced the incredibly tragic pain of losing a child, one whom you raised and taught and played with? Many of us have experienced the loss of a parent, a mom or dad who helped preserve our own deepest feelings of security.

I cannot imagine how those with no faith can deal with these situations and remain sane and functional as human beings. With faith we understand that all is in God’s loving hands, and that we are all offered a chance at eternal peace, health, and happiness.

We will all pass on from this earth, that is a fact. Tens of billions of people have lived on this tiny planet over the millenia. Every single one of them has died. That includes our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, his mother, Mary, and every single great or holy secular or religious leader that was ever born.

The great gift that we receive when we have faith in Jesus Christ comes in the knowledge that He died for us. His suffering and death were enormous, painful, and difficult. If you have never done so, watch Mel Gibson’s truthful, passionate retelling in “The Passion of the Christ.”

Jesus Christ experienced people turning away from Him, from the very Word of God. He experienced His closest friends denying they even knew Him. He experienced physical pain and psychological torture. He experienced public mockery and challenges to His sanity and His soul. And He finally experienced suffering and death on a cross.

He experienced all of this so that we might learn the truth that there is more for us beyond this world. He has promised us that if we follow and believe in Him, that we will join him in eternal peace and joy with God in Heaven. Every one of our friends and family members who has ever passed away has also had this opportunity.

We can be secure that those who have died believing in Him, even should that sincere belief have come in their final days or moments, are with Him now in Heaven, and that we will see them again one day. Also, those who left us as innocents are absolutely together with Him this very moment. It should be our life’s primary purpose to ensure that we accept Jesus with faith so that we can indeed join them one day.

In the second statement that I mentioned earlier, Paul implores us to “give thanks in all circumstances” because whatever it is that we are going through, if we truly understand God’s love in faith then we understand that we are never, ever alone in our difficulties.

Many of us have been given the gift of family and friends to help us through the difficult times that will inevitably visit us. These people are the ones who will stand by us and stay with us, no matter our troubles. They will be there to offer a shoulder to cry on, arms to wrap around us and comfort us, words to encourage and strengthen us.

But even if we have few friends and family, we are still never alone. Even when your friends and family are not physically there with you, you are still never alone. Even if it is that one person who seemed to always be there for you who has been taken from you, you are still not alone. In every moment of your life, God is there. You only need turn to Him and acknowledge Him.

Paul teaches that it was God’s will for you to be thankful in all circumstances, including the worst, most difficult, and most painful. He teaches that it is in Jesus Christ and His teachings and example that we are to find the ability to give that thanks.

No matter how difficult the event, no matter how painful the experience, there are others here on earth who are suffering more right now and who have suffered more in the past. Every one of us is promised that peace, joy, and love with God in eternity if we remain faithful.

As this day and season of Thanksgiving comes to us, we should always remember and be grateful for every good time that has come to us on this earth. We should be thankful for the gift of every good moment that we were ever given with every good person in our lives. But no matter what, most of all we must overcome earthly pain and loss, and remain thankful for what will last forever – God’s undying love for us.