damn discouragement

Last night, I had a lengthy conversation with a good friend who had just relapsed.  He is in a Twelve Step program and has been for over twenty years. His experience has been bumpy with periods of good sobriety and periodic relapses.  He had been doing well recently but relapsed last night.  He was discouraged and ashamed, feeling as though he were going around in circles.  I encouraged him to acknowledge what he had done and admit his powerlessness over his drug of choice.  I encouraged him to turn himself over to God; to let go of the past and to begin anew.

God is with him in the moment, and in the moment, he can make good choices to move forward with his life.  The worst thing possible for an addict – for any of us, in fact – is to wallow in discouragement.  That is precisely what Satan wants us to do.  When we lock ourselves in the prison of discouragement, Satan has us! Damn discouragement.  It is our downfall!

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call to conversion

If I were one of the self-righteous Pharisees, I would cringe at the words of Jesus.  He comes on strong! He calls them – and us – to a radical conversion.

Matthew 23:27-32 has Jesus uttering these scathing words:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.  Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”

Jesus is calling us to conversion.  Jesus says that what we are inside must match the picture of goodness that we seek to portray outwardly.  We have a lot of inner work to do with our frame of mind, our attitudes, our likes and dislikes, our motivation, etc. We are to become increasingly like Jesus.  We have our task!  But we are not alone on this journey of conversion.  The Holy Spirit is with us.  We have but to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives each day.

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clean outside/clean inside

Today’s Gospel, Matthew 23:23-26, has Jesus challenging his enemies, the scribes and Pharisees.  The challenge is addressed not only to them some two thousand years ago but to you and me to day.

Jesus cries out:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisees, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside may also be clean.”

I suspect that most of us (I certainly begin with myself!) have a lot of inside work to do!

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Consecrated Life – The Religious Brother

Matthew 9:9-13 … “As Jesus passed by, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the custom post. He said to him Follow me! And he got up and followed him.”

Pope Francis has designated 2015 as a year devoted to Consecrated Life; a year in which Religious priests (that is priests who are members of Religious communities), Sisters and Brothers are asked to reflect on their vocation and re-commit themselves to Consecrated life.  It is also a year in which laity are asked to inform themselves about Religious life and to pray for vocations to Religious life.

Pope Francis said in his letter announcing this year:  “Jesus, at the last supper, turns to the apostles with these words:  You did not choose me, but I chose you.  They remind us that vocation is always an initiative of God.”  We heard this in Matthew’s Gospel:  Follow me!  Pope Francis continues, “It is Christ who called you to follow Him in the Consecrated Life and this means continuously making an ‘Exodus’ from yourselves in order to center your life on Christ and His Gospel, on the Will of God, laying aside your own plans, in order to say with St. Paul:  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  The Vowed Religious belongs not to himself or herself but to God and to God’s people.”  In other words, Religious life is meant to be a life of worship of God and service to others.

I want to focus in on Brothers for a few moments. Most of us know a little bit about Religious priests.  There are some men who are called to be Diocesan priests, that is to serve in a given diocese.  There are some men who are called to be priests in Religious communities like my own, the Passionists, or other communities such as the Jesuits.  We know about Religious Sisters but few know about Religious Brothers and much of what is known is shrouded in a misunderstanding of Religious life.

Example:  During the summer, the two following incidences occurred to me:

1 – I was talking to a woman.  She addressed me as ‘Father’ and then with some embarrassment corrected herself and said “Sorry that I elevated you!”

2 – A man came up to me and said to me, “I looked you up on the internet.  You are an educated man.  Why didn’t you go all the way?” 

Both showed a lack of understanding about Religious life and specifically about Brothers.  Brothers have gone all the way.  Like Religious priests, and Religious Sisters, they have accepted Jesus’ call to follow Him, to make a total life- commitment by Vow to give themselves to Him and to serve God’s people.  They do this by becoming men of prayer and developing a deep personal relationship with God.  This relationship with Jesus compels them to go beyond themselves and share this Good News with others in a life of service.  Many Brothers teach, e.g., the Christian Brothers; other Brothers are in health care or social ministries.  Some, like myself, are involved in preaching; some in administration. Brothers take the three Vows of Religion:  Poverty, Chastity and Obedience and live in community.  They are men of God, men of the Church and brothers to all people.

During this year of Consecrated Life, I ask all of you to remember Consecrated Religious:  Religious priests and Religious Sisters and Religious Brothers and to pray that more young men and women will hear the call of Jesus as given to St. Matthew :  FOLLOW ME!


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to whom shall we go?

When Jesus came on the public scene, He spoke with authenticity.  People were captivated by Him and flocked to hear Him.  Many became His disciples.  As time went on; however, and Jesus began to speak about giving them His body to eat and His blood to drink; as He began to speak about His eventual sufferings and death, many found this hard to accept and (John 6:60-69) “many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want o leave?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

We live in an era when millions of Christians have become disenchanted with Jesus.  They are no longer captivated by Him.  They find His teachings too hard or judge them “irrelevant” to their lives.  Thousands of Christians turn their backs on Jesus every day and choose to walk another path.  Jesus does not force anyone to stay with Him.  We are left with choices.  We can choose to follow the millions of unchurched or we can respond with words similar to Simon Peter:  Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  This is a daily choice.  Where are you – where am I – today!

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