Tag Archives: Saint Paul

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: 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.