Category Archives: Christian Living

A Cat In A Dog Show

I’m beginning to think that someone will eventually file and win an anti-discrimination lawsuit that allows a cat to be entered in a dog show since the cat is, “after all, an animal with rights and it behaves so much like a dog.  The cat should be given the chance to prove itself and the owner should be permitted the unalienable right to pursue happiness by entering it in the show.”  Not all discrimination is bad or unjust, but I think we’re being conditioned to believe that it is.

Looking Up, Not Down

The moment I place myself “up here” and someone else “down here,” lower than me, I have denied my faith.  When I look upon any other human being with contempt, I have denied my faith.  Regardless of what another’s sins may be, I have my own to repent of.

I must look up to everyone from a lower position, because I must see Christ in them.  If I look down on them, I look down on Christ.  Pride destroys the soul.

I must judge behaviors, for I must know right from wrong in order to strive for holiness.  But I cannot judge souls.  Only God knows the hearts of people.  Only God judges the soul.

God does not raise us up by looking down on us.  He raises us by lowering himself and looking up at us with love.  This is what the Christian is called to do, because we are called to follow Christ.

Faith does not last.  In Heaven we won’t need faith, for we will see everything.  Hope does not last.  In Heaven we won’t need hope, for we will have arrived.  Only charitable love lasts forever, for God is love.  Faith, hope and love; the greatest of these is love.

I cannot look down on others from a genuine vantage point of faith and hope.  I can only look up to them in love.  Otherwise, my faith and my hope are phony imitations.

Going Directly To God

Catholic prayers, liturgies and Sacraments begin and end with the sign of the cross and the words, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen (so be it).”  We do not simply tack these words on for dramatic effect.  They indicate that we live and move and have our being in the Holy Trinity.

The claim that Catholic Christians somehow circumvent Jesus or do not go “directly to God” is a myth spread by ignorance of Catholicism and sometimes overt, anti-Catholic sentiments.  Even when we ask Mary and the saints for intersession, we are only able to do so through the one mediator, Jesus Christ.  We (including the saints in Heaven) boldly approach the throne of the Almighty Father through the mediation of the Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Facebook And The Refrigerator

Yesterday I was on a men’s retreat at my parish.  During lunch break one of the guys was looking at his phone and scrolling away.  I asked him if he was looking at Facebook.  “Yeah,” he said, “just killing some time.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said, “Facebook is kind of like standing in front of the refrigerator.  You open it up and scan through it to see if anything looks good.”  I laughed in agreement.

His comment reminded me of a talk I once heard from a priest who was teaching a class on Catholicism.  The priest was introducing the idea that all of us have a built in longing for God, but we seek things other than God to appease that longing.  He quoted St. Augustine as saying that “our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in you.”  Then, he shared his own experience of something that is familiar to most of us.  It is the tendency to open the refrigerator door and stand there looking for something, even when we’re not really hungry.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “Every man who ever knocked on the door of a brothel was looking for God, but he just didn’t realize it.”  Whether it is the brothel door, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the log in page of Facebook or any number of endeavors, we all look for something besides God to appease our longing for God.  Actually, it’s not something but someone we are seeking.  It is a longing that can only be satisfied by a relationship with God, for only God can provide the pure, unconditional love that we crave.  If we seek that relationship in anything or anyone other than God, we will eventually find ourselves unfulfilled, frustrated or disappointed.  We may even find ourselves addicted, constantly returning to that which can never fully satisfy, and that which ultimately leaves us empty and restless.

Close the refrigerator door.  You’re letting all the cold air out.

Mary: More Than A Part In A Christmas Play

I know why it bothers people when Catholics make such a big deal about Mary.  It used to bother me, too, even as I was being raised Catholic.  God sent Jesus to take away our sins.  Case closed.  Why bother with anything else?  So, Mary got picked out of billions of women to be the mother of Jesus.  That’s why all generations are supposed to call her blessed, right?  It’s like winning the lottery or something.  “Wow, you’re so blessed to be chosen!”  That was the end of it.  Turns out that’s just part of the reason.  There’s a lot more to Mary than a part in a Christmas play.

There are a lot of theological and scriptural implications about Mary that I simply did not know about.  Learning those “technical” aspects of Marian doctrine really opened my eyes.  Becoming a parent changed my outlook as well.  I can only imagine being a mother, but being a father was enough to give me a greater appreciation for Mary’s role as a loving, sacrificial, devoted, holy parent.

Being a husband also contributed to my appreciation of Mary.  One learns much about a spouse by getting to know one’s in-laws.  Becoming part of a new family is life changing.  As the saying goes, “You don’t just marry your spouse; you also marry your spouse’s family.”  Knowing your spouse’s family contributes to knowing your spouse.  It just makes sense that knowing the mother of Jesus would help a person know and love Jesus better.  That’s how families generally work.  No one lives in a vacuum.  We all impact each other’s lives.  The Church is a family, after all.

I understand my Protestant friends’ fear of idolatry, and I greatly respect it.  I used to share it.  The focus has to be on Jesus.  I agree.  It took me a long time to grasp the concept that devotion to Mary does not take anything away from Jesus.  Indeed, Mary is the perfect model of complete devotion to Jesus.  There is no other reason to acknowledge Mary except for the fact that she points us to her Son in all that she says and does.  She is everything a disciple of Christ is supposed to be.  She accepted Christ into her heart (and her body, thus becoming the Ark of the New Covenant) from before his birth until after his death and resurrection.  She never left him.  Her whole being is wrapped up in her love for Jesus.  She is “full of grace.”  She is what we are supposed to be.  Her focus is always on her Son, Jesus.

Christians are supposed to love Jesus and follow Jesus.  No human being ever loved Jesus more or followed Jesus better than Mary.  That’s why Catholics have a devotion to her.  It’s not because we think she can do something that Jesus can’t do.  It’s not because we think she is equal to Jesus.  It’s because we want to be as close to Jesus as possible, and she shows us how it is done.  Can we be close to Jesus without getting to know Mary?  Sure, but not as close.  Mary is Jesus’ own flesh and blood.  You can’t help but draw closer to Jesus by getting closer to Mary.  It’s not an act of idolatry to talk to Mary.  It’s not adding something “extra” to a relationship with Jesus.  It’s being part of Jesus’ family.  It’s about learning to know and love Jesus within the context of a family.

Incidentally, I have a great app on my phone that explains a lot about the Catholic perspective of Mary.  If you have even the slightest interest in learning more about Mary, check it out.  It is very comprehensive and easy to read.

The Religion Of Personal Preference

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m looking for a good church,” or, “We’re church shopping.”  I’ve said these things myself in the past.  There is much “between the lines” of such statements.  Overall, I believe those words often reveal a “religion of personal preference.”  That is, we seek God under the condition that God will make us comfortable and happy.

People “shop” for churches that appeal to them.  I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I chose this church because it made me feel so uncomfortable.”  The ironic thing is that, although God calls us to peace and joy, he doesn’t call us to “comfort,” at least not in the sense that most people perceive comfort.  The Holy Spirit is “the Comforter,” but that doesn’t mean he provides padded pews and nice feelings all around.  It means we can have spiritual peace and guidance even in the midst of our greatest trials.  Many trials are a direct result of following God.  In fact, Jesus told his followers to expect suffering.

The thing we tend to forget is that  Jesus calls us.  We’re not supposed to “shop around” until we find our preferred selection on a spiritual menu.  How arrogant and self-centered we can be!  Think about famous people in the Bible that were called by God.  Abraham, Moses, Jonah, all the prophets, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, the Apostles, are just a few examples.  None of them were “comfortable” being called.  They were afraid, reluctant, confused, angered, blinded, knocked to the ground, swallowed by fish, etc.  None of them said, “Wow, this just feels right.  What a warm welcome!”  On the contrary, the calling was not what they were “shopping for.”  It did not suit their preferences.

Why, then, do we insist on shopping for a church that suits our preferences?  We’re not supposed to search for a church that we “like” or create a church that we “like.”   We’re supposed to answer the call of the Church established by Jesus, like it or not.  The Church is Christ on Earth.  It is through his Church that Jesus calls us.  It is “right” even if it doesn’t always “feel right” because it is truth.  Truth does not change with our whims and our feelings.  Truth unifies.  Feelings tend to divide and confuse.  Jesus calls us to unity through truth.  The Church is not a product to be marketed.  It is the truth to be lived and shared.

Pope Francis has captured the attention of the world, not by creative marketing, but by being a disciple of Christ.  He is, as he says, “A child of the Church.”  This is what we are all called to be.  This is what Catholics are supposed to be like.  He is leading by example.  He is the pastor of the entire Christian Church.  He is our shepherd.  He takes his orders from The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  Like it or not, there is no other “church” to shop for.

Let’s stop shopping for churches.  Let’s quit trying to turn the Church into a “product” that competes for the attention of fickle consumers.  Let’s dump the “religion” of personal preferences.  Instead, let’s answer the call of the Church.  Let’s allow Jesus to step into our boats and rock them.  That’s what disciples do.  Disciples follow their leader, not their own preferences.  Let’s show the world Jesus Christ.  He is what they long for.

Another Look At Old Blue Eye’s Song

Frank Sinatra often gets picked on by preachers because of his song My Way.  The song is used to point out that Christians are supposed to be doing things God’s way, not their way.  So, as a Christian, it seems I have two options.  I can do things my way or I can do things God’s way.  The contrast between the two options seems pretty straight forward.  But, is there another way to approach the issue?

Some folks see two options.  Option one is to exercise my freedom by doing things the way I want to do them.  Isn’t that what freedom is for?  Option two is to give up my freedom and surrender it to a God that has lots of rules.  Who wants a bunch of “dos” and “don’ts” to take away their freedom?

What if I allow myself to be transformed by God?  When I am transformed, I become something different than what I was before.  The transformation allows me to see life from a different perspective.  God’s way becomes my way, too.  Then I can say, “I did it my way” without opposing God.  Isn’t this really the goal for a Christian, anyway?

Real freedom does not consist of “doing what I want.”  Real freedom is found by being what I am created to be.  Sin creates bondage.  The more I choose sin, the less free I become because sin is not the condition I was made for.  Therefore, I can be an unrepentant sinner and make all kinds of “free choices” without really being free.  But, if I am transformed, I am rightfully aligned with my Creator, and I am released from bondage to be who I was created to be.  I am set free.

The mistake is to see sin as “freedom” and transformation as “bondage.”  So, when untransformed people say, “I’m doing things my way,” they are actually playing into the hands of the slave master.  When transformed people say, “I’m doing things my way,” they are exercising true freedom.  Both have free will, but one is choosing slavery while the other is choosing freedom.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  A free person follows God.  A free person’s way is the same as God’s way.

Rebel Without A Cause And Fatherhood

Last night I was channel surfing and trying to dodge commercials by flipping between shows.  It usually doesn’t work very well since every station knows to play commercials at exactly the same time.  (It’s a maddening conspiracy, I’m sure of it).  Then, I came across Rebel Without A Cause on PBS.  It was right at the opening credits.  Although I had already seen the movie piecemeal over the years, I couldn’t recall ever watching it all the way through from start to finish.  Here it was commercial free and I didn’t have to rent it.  If not now, when?

It’s hard for me to watch Rebel without thinking of Mr. Magoo and Gilligan’s Island thanks to the pop culture contributions of Mr. Jim Backus.  Nevertheless, it is a good, classic flick.  James Dean never loses his coolness factor in the passing of time.  It sure paints a stark contrast to the Happy Days portrayal of the 1950s.  Between Happy Days, American Graffiti, Rebel Without A Cause, and Grease, it’s not easy to discern what the 50s were actually like.  (I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, although I really like a lot of 50’s music).  In any case, being an adolescent can be tough no matter what era one lives in.  As Judy’s mom said, “It’s the age when nothing fits.”

No doubt Rebel Without A Cause has been analyzed into the ground over the years, but it gave me my own impressions.  The biggest thought it left me with is the importance of fathers.  Fathers are important to the formation of daughters and sons.  It’s just part of how we are designed.  Mothers are important, too.  Since I am the father of a son and a daughter, the movie spoke to me mostly about that.

I don’t have statistics to present here.  But I believe it has been well established how important fathers are to families.  The first step is for fathers to actually stick around and not abandon their families.  Plato’s father did not stick around (nor did his mother).  The fathers of Judy and Jim were present, but unbalanced in their approach to fatherhood.  Judy’s father was strong, but was at a loss when his daughter needed his tenderness.  Jim’s father was tender but lacked strength and decisiveness.

The movie reminded me that my family needs my presence (physical and emotional), my strength and my tenderness.  Jesus and his family are models of presence, strength and tenderness.  The Holy Trinity is a model of presence, strength and tenderness.

My daughter and my son need their father in similar yet different ways.  Every day I have to resolve to step up to the plate and give it my best shot with the help of God’s grace.  Even as I write this, my kids are beckoning me to play a game with them.  Time to step up!

Teaching Children To Fly: Parents As “Flight Instructors”

As a flight instructor, it is important for me to be aware of and make use of the four levels of learning.  It is equally important for me to set an example for my students.  The attitudes and behaviors I exhibit will impact the type of pilots my students become.  Flight instruction has similarities to parenting.  Parents are the primary instructors of life in general, and of the Catholic Faith in particular.

The first level of learning is “rote.”  Rote learning is the ability to repeat back something from memory.  I can tell a flight student how to turn an airplane.  “Apply coordinated aileron and rudder with slight back pressure on the yoke.”  If the student can repeat that back to me, rote learning has taken place.  However, this does not mean that the student can properly turn an airplane.

Next is “understanding.”  Why will the airplane behave a certain way when the student applies coordinated aileron, rudder and slight back pressure?  The student must gain an understanding of the aerodynamics of flight.  Why must the ailerons and rudder be coordinated?  What will happen if they are uncoordinated?  Understanding is a higher level of learning.  Yet, the student may still not be able to properly turn an airplane.

“Application” begins when the student is in the airplane and actually attempts to turn the airplane.  When the student can perform turns well, the level of “application” has been accomplished.  It is possible to turn an airplane without understanding aerodynamics.  However, it is preferable to have a learning process that promotes understanding prior to application.

“Correlation” is the highest level of learning.  When the student can properly perform turns while climbing or descending, for example, then correlation has been achieved.  The student has taken the skill and incorporated it into more complex maneuvers and situations.  Turning the airplane has become “second nature,” and the learning has been “transferred” to other maneuvers.

During the learning process, the instructor must instill good attitudes in the student.  If the instructor is casual or noncompliant with safety concerns, for example, the student will not learn how to be a safe pilot.  The instructor must exemplify the “culture of safety” expected from all pilots if the students are expected to be safe pilots.  An apathetic, careless instructor tends to produce apathetic, careless pilots.

Parents are the primary instructors of their children.  This includes the Christian Faith.  For example, parents must teach children certain prayers (rote), what the prayers mean and why they are praying (understanding), how to pray (application), and how prayer affects all aspects of their lives (correlation).  In order for children to adopt a “culture of praying,” they must also see their parents praying.  The parents set the example just like flight instructors.  Parental attitudes and practices regarding the Faith are very important in teaching the Faith.

One thing I quickly realized as a new instructor was that teaching is the best way to learn.  Before I could teach a lesson to a student, I first had to teach myself.  I had to make sure that I personally had achieved the highest level of learning with each lesson before teaching it.  It would be no good for me to explain to my student how to perform a maneuver if I could not properly demonstrate the maneuver myself.  It would not be helpful to insist that my student learn FAA regulations if I myself did not know the FAA regulations.  I needed to constantly be teaching and re-teaching myself in order to remain proficient as an instructor.

Parents must teach themselves the Faith if they expect to teach the Faith to their children.  Parents cannot rely solely on the Church or Catholic Schools to teach children the Faith.  If parents are “stuck” on a lower level of learning, they will not be able to teach their children effectively.  For example, if parents only have a rote level of learning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Rosary or the Mass, they will not be able to take their children beyond a rote level.  Children will not gain an understanding or be able to apply those things to their lives in meaningful ways.  The Mass and prayers may become meaningless rituals that are shed by the children as they seek meaning in the world beyond their families.

When parents accept their responsibility as teachers of the Faith, everyone benefits.  The children learn their Faith in meaningful ways that transfer to real life.  The Church and the Schools are better able to pastor and teach the children that already have a fundamental grounding in the Faith.  The parents learn and strengthen their own Faith by teaching it.  Families grow closer as they learn and explore the meaning of their Faith together.  Love, compassion, empathy, discipline, togetherness, all the things families crave are realized in living the Faith genuinely.  Society benefits from having faithful, ethical Christians that are able to live and apply the love of Christ.  Everyone wins when parents learn and teach the Faith to their children.

Parents do not need to have degrees in theology to teach their children.  There are plenty of reputable resources available through books, CDs, DVDs, the internet and Church programs.  All it takes is for parents to claim the responsibility and step up in faith.  One resource I have found is a series of DVDs for children called “Brother Francis.”  My three year olds love them and I have learned from them as well.  Just start with the basics and build upon them.  Teach yourself.  First and foremost, pray for the grace to be the loving Christian your children need to see and follow.  Any parent with children of any age can do that!  Teach your children to soar on what Pope John Paul II called “the wings of faith and reason!”

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.