The parish I want to be apart of!

The Milwaukee basilica of St. Josaphat always captivated me, not simply because of its impressive size and wonderful architecture; but because of the story that lies behind the huge stone edifice.  You see St. Josaphat was a mission formed of Polish immigrants back in the early 19th century in the city of Milwaukee.  Their numbers grew, then their church burned to the ground.  The congregation obviously needed to move, but where?  They were a large congregation but had little means; the parish was made up of mostly labor class and the poor.  They saved and collected their resources and hired an architect.  About this time, they heard of a Chicago post office that was decommissioned by the government.  There was a huge cost savings to be had by buying that building, deconstructing it, loading it on 500 rail cars, and rebuilding it on their site, with a few marked changes to make it a church.  This was a great idea, and all were for the cost savings, but there was one catch, getting the building from its current lot in Chicago to the rail cars, then getting it from the rail cars to their site in Milwaukee.  The parishioners solved this problem, they would do it.  So, after a long day of manual labor, they all met, at first journeying to Chicago, and then finally in Milwaukee, to load and unload trucks.  Day after day, week after week, month after month of labor.  Can you imagine?  I work inspecting homes and making roof estimates, a far cry from heavy labor, and I cannot imagine giving up my evenings lifting building materials.  This they did, for their community.

 

We do see a few stories like this today, but mostly we see flashy pastors creating a shallow cult of personality that thrives for a time, then dies when the pastor moves on.  Or, more frequently, we find the program church that has a little for everyone but nothing that really takes us deeper into the reality of God.  Could we find the spirit of those immigrants of St. Josaphat today?

 

We are told in scripture that if we have faith, we can move mountains, St Josaphat certainly did that!  Faith is the belief in the unseen.  We know that God wishes for us to know Him, so we study.  We study scripture, we study the saints, we study theology.  This is a great start for our walk with Christ, as faith is that which gives us knowledge of God present in His sacraments.  Living a sacramental life, full of study and contemplation provides Christians with the knowledge that God is real, and present in our lives.  In my year in the Catholic Church, I have found many that love a sacramental life, but I have found many more that come to mass, and that is it!  Open the newspaper and see reports of Catholics in public office supporting abortion minutes before (and after!!) birth.  Instead of building the Church these people are tearing it down, brick by brick, and we can lose hope.

 

Hope is the ability to reach for what lies ahead, even if the going is tough.  We take the time to teach our children because we have hope that they will grow to be God fearing productive members of society.  If we had no hope of this, we would likely still house them, but we certainly would not nurture them.  This is the reality of so many in our society today, hope is gone for a good life for parents and they project that upon their children, not taking the time to teach and raise their offspring simply for lack of hope that any good will come of their labors.  Without hope we become self-centered and materialistic.  We lack love.

 

Love is a word with many meanings these days.  I am afraid in many churches today it means giving each other a hug and saying, “God bless”.  Paul speaks in first Corinthians 13 that without love we are loud clanging symbols, among other things.

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [1]

 

Paul says love is above both faith and hope, as without it you can have neither faith nor hope.  Seems that we should study this word “love” closely, because if it does mean “give a hug”, then I had better start to hug everyone I see!  (the spectre of me hugging everyone I meet should tell us we need to go deeper for the true meaning!)  The Greek word used for “love” in that section of Corinthians is transliterated “agape”.  If you have been around the Catholic Church for any time at all you have likely heard the word.  There are many words for love in Greek, philio, is brotherly love, pragma is a long-standing love such as you would have for a longtime friend, there are more, but you get the idea.  Agape is the love Jesus gave us on the cross, it is sacrificial love.  If Jesus could have given us a hug and said, “God bless”, instead of being crucified, believe me He would have!  Jesus loved us so much that He died for us.  This is agape love.  To be patient and kind is at times a sacrifice, not to be jealous or boastful is a sacrifice…again, you get the idea.

 

Parishioners of St. Josaphat had faith, they carried tons for God, knowing He wanted them to build a church.  This was not a shallow faith that would go transfer with their pastor, this was all in faith.  They had hope, they could see the beauty they were constructing piece by piece.  They had hope for their children, building them a place to be raised and educated in the Catholic faith.   But most of all they had agape love; sacrificial love.  Sacrificing night after night to carry block after block.  They did it for love of God, they did it for love of community, which they were apart, they did it for love of their children who came after them and centered their life around the building they built.  It took years, many did not live long enough to see its completion, but they prevailed.

I want to be part of that church!  One where everybody carries the bricks!  One where everyone sees a job and asks how they can help.  One that is a community built on mutual help, like the one in Acts 2.

 

Acts 2:41-42 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [2]

 

A community of faith hope and charity.

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 13:4–7). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

[2] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ac 2:40–42). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus-surrounding us

What do we mean when we speak of the Person of Jesus Christ?

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. (i)

 

When we speak of the person of Christ, we must have a knowledge of God, and His love for His creation, or else we will misunderstand the Person of Christ, along with His purpose in coming among us.  Christ did not come among us to find out what it is to be human, nor did He come to us to temper an angry God, He came as the one promised, the one that would bring the kingdom, the one who would repair the separation between creation and creator, the one who would create a Church for all, and finally the one that would mediate God’s presence to all creation.

As the poem that founds the hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate shows us clearly that Christ is all encompassing.  This speaks to God’s wish to be with His creation.  God is love, and He made creation to share that love.  This is an absolute, and must be the basis for all theology, otherwise we slip into heresies too many to count.  Love is the reason, all starts with love, and all ends with love.  As we study the beginnings of mankind, the garden, man’s relation with God, and finally man’s disobedience, we see a God that acts with love in every action.  From the moment of the expulsion from the garden, man lamented his sinful action, and yearned for God.  This was not an unrequited love, God yearned for humankind.  God would not leave His creation; Jesus in the Old Testament times is the promise that once again mankind would walk with God.  Jesus was hope for redemption found in the Word of God, and in the mouths of God’s chosen prophets.  Jesus, prior to the Incarnation, was the Logos who was comfort to all that sought God, He was the lighthouse to a ship lost in a storm.

Before the Christ event, man was most formal with God, not even speaking His name.  God set rules for His creation and it was man’s obligation to follow.  Breaking commandments was a grave offense that could not be corrected, only appeased through sacrifice.  The idea of a personal relationship with God was foreign to most at the coming of Christ.  This fact unfortunately bred a rote adherence to God’s law, obeying to obey, not for love of the law giver.  This view of the law brought demigods, who would punish those who were outcast or less fortunate

The person of Jesus at the incarnation was the embodiment of change and reform.  All creation would receive a stark reminder that God was love, and in love He sent His only Son.  Eternal as the Father, second person of the Trinity humbled Himself to be born of a virgin, virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ by divine miracle.  Jesus was fully man and fully God, a hypostasis that to many would seem impossible, but the incarnation truly showed to all the power and love of God.  Jesus was self-aware as divine and would herald the coming of the kingdom of God, setting a table of love in the face of hate.  Jesus from the beginning of His earthly ministry would show solidarity with those who were outcast, in prison and sick.  Mankind was not created as Narcissus, to gaze at his own beauty, instead God created us with love in order to share that love with all.  This means sharing love with the one without a cloak as in Luke:

Luke 6:29-31 To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.  And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. (ii)

As well as a different type of love found in Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat. (iii)

Love is not simply a hug or a kiss, it is indeed a true way to deal with all facets of life, this was Jesus as He lived and taught on earth.  Here we must stop and understand that Jesus was not a pacifist, though He did instruct us to always discuss our problems before taking up arms.  Augustine, and later Aquinas would take up this teaching and show that Jesus found love in many forms, some gentle, some not.  The person of Christ in His incarnation was the picture of family, of solidarity with the poor, of protector of God’s creation from those who would exploit it.

The person of Jesus was sacrificial.  The wages of sin was death, and that could not be undone.  But through the Divine plan of salvation Jesus would repair the brokenness of humankind and allow God to once again come close to His creation.  Though death remained, the power of God through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling would allow mankind to begin the restoration of all of creation in cooperation with God.  This salvation, brought through a loving sacrifice, was and is available to all mankind, bringing salvation to all in whatever state they find themselves.  This free gift is the most powerful proof of God’s love for us that mankind has ever seen.  Open to all is the opportunity to be lifted out of darkness and sin and be in an instance transformed and healed.  Though salvation is a free gift, it is only applicable to those who believe and actively practice their faith.  Those who do not believe or chose to turn their back on the Church have the freedom to reject this great gift.

Love cannot operate from a distance.  Once Jesus had left the earth for the right hand of God, mankind would again be alone.  God knew this from the beginning, and Jesus before He left would create His Church.  The person of Jesus is found in the Church.

Jesus left a sacramental economy in place within His Church.  These sacraments are all very real means of and to Christ and His grace.  The Church stands as a beacon to all of who Christ is and what He did for us.  From the baptismal font at the door, reminding us of God’s salvation coming through water, to the crucifix on the wall behind the altar reminding us of the salvific act of love Jesus offered to us on the cross, the Church stands as a beacon of Christ and His love.  But a beacon only gives vision, and vision is always in some way separated from the viewer, and this simply was not close enough for God.  The Church therefore was gifted the sacraments in order to mediate God’s presence to all humanity.  Whether this mediation be through the priest “in persona Christi” or through the love of marriage or through the mysteries of the Eucharist, Jesus is truly present, and God is intimately close.  The Church is not simply a building for self-help groups, it is the very real presence of God to His creation.  As I began this section saying, the person of Jesus is found in the Church, I should end the section explaining that reality.  The Church, the people of Christ, are the bride of Christ.  In good times Jesus can be seen very clearly through gazing at that bride, but if that bride is not diligent about her prayers and disciplines, that vision glorious can be distorted.  Our assurance lies in the fact that the efficacy of the sacraments does not rely on the actions, good or bad, of the people that make up the Church.  As long as proper Holy Orders reside in the Church, God will be very real and present to the faithful, even in the worst of times.

Lastly, the person of Christ is the lasting presence that Jesus partakes in to all of creation.  Jesus showed us that God does not wish to be a distant God, He wants to be present with His creation, in a loving way.  As we look about creation, we see God’s love in every sunrise and sunset, in every infant and every act of kindness.  God’s presence is within His church certainly, but we see Christ’s presence everywhere, a lasting after-image of Jesus and His miraculous works.  An after image that is not fading but ever present and ever strengthening with every redeemed soul.

Christ, just as God, wishes to be in every facet of our lives; with me, behind me, before me, beside me, to win me, to comfort and to restore me; beneath me, above me, in quiet and in danger, in hearts of all that love me, in mouth of friend and stranger.  The person of Christ is the Person of the Divine Trinity that ensures that in all situations I am either loved and encouraged or stretched or disciplined.  The person of Christ is the very vision of the Father, showing the divine love to all who would ask.  He is the redeemer of all through His sacrificial loving acts.  He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end, and He will be our judge at the particular and general judgements.

[i] St. Patrick’s Breastplate, Charles Villiers Stanford, 1902

[ii] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Lk 6:29–31). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

(iii] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (2 Th 3:10). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

 

Seven ways to make your church better

Many of us find ourselves in churches that are not all they could be.  I remember not one but every church I pastored having a neighboring huge church.  I always wondered why they found success so vividly, while our parish was just hanging on, dreading the next parish meeting and the budget that seemed ever shrinking.  I broke through this paradigm a few times in my ministry, St. Peter by the Lake, Good Shepherd and the first year at St. Peter and St. Paul had positive growing budgets.  I am now a lay member of a Catholic Church that is growing quickly, so I have seen success from the sanctuary and now from the pew, and here are seven things that make churches grow.

 

  • Attend.  Successful churches have members that come every week.  Small churches have 45 members that come in batches of 25.  In some of my smaller missions I knew members by which week in the month they came to church!  When visitors come in the front door, they want to see a full church, not an empty one.  Full churches look vibrant, plus it is easy for a visitor to “slip in” and see what your parish is all about.
  • Be active. Successful parishes have a lot going on.  Bible studies, men and women’s groups, daily mass, daily rosary…just to name a few.  All these ministries need volunteers to lead them.  I teach 3 classes, active in Knights and serve on a core team for a men’s ministry.  This is not bragging, in fact it should be mundane; all should be at least this active in ministry in their church.
  • Let the pastor lead. The guy in the front was put there by God.  I do not over state that fact, God has called each pastor to their cure.  Why has God called them there?  Likely because he is exactly what the church needed.  This may mean change.  Upon my first Sunday at one of my cures, I had one parishioner come up and tell me they could no longer attend our church, as my voice was just too loud…disturbing even!  The next parishioner came and shook my hand and told me that he could finally hear a sermon, he loved my loud voice!  Pastors are there by God’s will, let them be who they are and make the changes they are called to make.  In two years, the budgets will tell whether they are leading correctly or not; we (laity) are to follow.
  • Don’t fight.  People come to church for solace and peace, fighting will chase new parishioners off faster than if the church building itself was on fire.  Someone moved my cushion, or is wearing shorts to mass, or took my place in the rota; don’t fight, just let it be.  If things get bad enough to where you think you are being truly wronged, then go to the pastor and let him take care of the problem and live with his decision.
  • Don’t hold a grudge, leave. A last thought on number 4.  If you perceive that you have been wronged, there are other churches in the city, sometimes twenty!  If I need to find another Catholic church, I might have to travel an extra 15 minutes, but putting miles on my car is much better than slowly rotting a church from within through seeding hatred from a grudge.  If you lose, take it like a grown up.  If you can’t get beyond it, leave.
  • Pray.  Honestly this should be number 1.  Without God and the Holy Spirit, your church is doomed.  Pray daily, go to mass as often as you can.  Pray at altar guild, pray at bible study, pray at church board meetings, pray at all gatherings.  Pray for your church, pray for your pastor, pray for your bishop, pray for the pope.  Pray for the person next to you in the pew, pray for the servers, pray for the lectors, pray for your seminarians.  Pray!
  • Welcome all. Successful churches never had a stranger walk in the front door, because everyone was welcomed as family.  Nobody should be able to come in the door without being greeted.  No visitor should be able to leave without information about all the ministries of the church, and the phone number of the pastor.  The church is not there for us, it’s there for lost souls.  To that end whatever you need to do to get more souls into the pews, as long as it aligns with Church teaching, do it!

Seven ways to help your prayer life.

Our prayer life has its ebbs and flows.  If you are normal, our prayers flourish when we are in crisis, and disappear when we are in good times.  How can we level our prayer life out so that we have a consistent, good prayer life?

 

  • Create a place to pray. Prayer does not require a “special” place, but it sure helps prayer to have a real place in our lives.  Our cars are important to us, so they have a garage, our pets are important to us, so they have mats, dog doors and all form of supplies to keep them happy and healthy, prayer is important to us, so what does it possess in our lives?  We need a place to pray.  This might be easy if you have a large house, it might be difficult if you do not.  Look for space.  It could be a spare bedroom, closet, even a portion of your dresser that is cleared off and set up as a place of prayer.  It would do well if the place was private or could be made private.
  • Build an altar in your newly created space. Seems formal?  Old Testament men and women made altars as a first order of business when they came to a new land.  Don’t just furnish your prayer space with a chair or a kneeler, make an altar, dedicate it to God.  This will be a surface to place your needs and concerns, a place to put sacred objects such as crucifixes, incense etc, a place to go to meet God.
  • Use your calendar! You put your doctor’s appointment on your calendar, so you don’t miss it, why not put your prayer time on your calendar so you don’t miss it?  Want to start out with praying once a day?  Put it on your calendar, set the alarm, and treat it as a priority, meaning don’t just dismiss the alarm, treat it as an important business meeting.  There are apps for this, I use “Universalis”, which rings the Angelus, and all times to pray the liturgy of the hours.
  • Have a prayer partner. Society has found that if they want to exercise it is easier if they have an accountability partner, someone who will make them go and run even when they don’t want to.  Your spouse or your best friend can meet for prayer once a day, and hold each other to their prayers, their study and their devotions.  This meeting does not have to be about prayer, it might just be a daily or weekly checkup to see how each other is keeping their devotions.
  • Go to church. Seems simple, yes, but have you gone during the week?  Many churches are open, most have pastors in their offices that will open the church for you if it is locked.  Go to the weekly adorations, or rosaries, and if your church does not offer them…volunteer to lead them.  If it is your responsibility to pray the rosary weekly for 1-100 other Christians, you will find that it rises in importance on your calendar.
  • Bedtime.  Yes, pray as you go to sleep, pray as you wake.  Lying in bed is a great time to pray, and most of us are there, in bed, awake, at least twice a day! (waking and going to sleep) Use the time, don’t waste it worrying about what went wrong in the day or what might go wrong in the coming hours.
  • Talk.  After all, prayer is at it’s base, simply talking with God.  When you are working, driving, playing, doing the dishes, whatever, just start a conversation with God.  Tired of your prayers, then just talk to God.  At the end of the day, God just wants the relationship with us.

Obedience

Well I have been glaring at my computer now for almost an hour.  I checked Facebook until I was tired of reading…I am still trying to decide how the Lord wants me to write about obedience.  I should, after all, write on obedience, as that was the last in my series “For Those I left Behind”.  The problem is my life keeps getting in the way of this article!  As I have read the entire internet trying not to write this, I will therefore warn all, this is likely to get personal, so if it is cold intellectualism you were looking for….. why have you ever read my blog?

 

I mean this as a witness, not a “look what I did”.  I am certain before I reach the end, I will show some good traits of mine as well as some bad ones.

 

Obedience is something that stems from trust.  Trust and faith go hand in hand.  Trust is something that each person has to conjure, faith is a gift from God.  Faith is an anchor, one that will hold even the largest ship in the worst storm.  Faith is absolute.  Faith is the pearl of great price, it is the coin we clean the house to find.  Once found, we cannot bury it, we must share it, thus building the wealth of the kingdom of God by adding souls to the mansion prepared for us in heaven.

 

Modern society trusts no one.  How many calls have you received which promise you riches, or of late, arrest if you do not go buy two untraceable cash cards and give them the codes on the reverse sides?  I have fallen for a Direct TV scam, they even used Direct TV’s number, caller ID the whole nine yards.  My Dad sadly fell for the “sheriff” calling to inform him of his pending arrest if he did not get the untraceable cards.  We trust no one.  A modern-day victory for the devil.

 

Faith is absolute, but those confidence men, like the ones trying to play a con over your cell phone, have since Christ’s crucifixion tried to produce and sell a false faith.  I remember that moment when I figured out, I was not dealing with Direct TV, one minute elated at the deal I was getting, the next minute wondering how I would tell my wife that one month after quitting my job, I had given away $350.00 to con men.  I also remember the day I figured out the faith I had been taught since my birth was false.  I sat at my desk in Wichita Falls staring at the 39 articles, the Catechism in the BCP (Book of Common Prayer TEC), and the brand-new Anglican Catechism, all denying the Sacramental Economy that I knew was the center of the true faith.  What to do?  Stay or leave? Here was my “stay or leave” list.

 

Stay…

  1. Convert the Anglican Church to Catholicism!
  2. There are other Anglo-Catholics, band together and make the third arm of the Church Catholic truly Catholic.
  3. OK, too bold, be quiet, earn a living, then retire. Sounds like something the Vichy French would have reasoned, but who would be left to teach Anglicans true Catholicism?

 

Leave…

  1. Leave 20 years of experience.
  2. Leave the only profession I have ever felt right doing.
  3. Leave the comfort of a great career.
  4. Leave the paycheck.

 

Looking at that very sobering list, I made the choice to stay.  God had other plans.

 

I did not have the trust I needed, so God set up a very real method of showing me what turning my back on the faith looks like.  God would not give up on me.  He would not leave me to have my peaceful walk in heresy, He kept after me.  Here is what I found, finally.

 

Without faith…

  1. We are all confidence men, selling “our” faith as wares, insisting, sometimes violently, that it is truth.
  2. Nobody can be trusted.
  3. We are listless, empty, adrift.

 

Faith…

  1. Demands obedience.
  2. Demands all you have, and all you will be.
  3. Leaves you in strange places, totally dependent on God.

 

Obedience, really, is easy.  We say yes to ourselves every day.  I am obedient to a fault to my hunger.  So many wars fought, not a one could begin without obedience.  We pass out obedience like it was candy at Halloween!  Why is it so hard to be obedient to the faith?  Because you do so alone, it is a personal decision.  I quit Architecture all those years ago (1996).  Friends and family (other than my wife and kids) were friendly, but not supportive, alone with my family I went to seminary, alone I went into debt.  I paid off the final part of that debt late October 2017, almost to the day I walked out of my duties at my last pastoral position.  Alone I walked out, again to nothing.  Leaving all my employable skills behind, once again I followed God into the unknown.

 

Alone.  But not really.  Faith instructs us clearly that God is always with us.  Obedience to the faith forces us to look to God and trust He will not leave us in the pit.  How can you know a miracle if you never put yourself in the place to receive one?  I am not advocating jumping off the proverbial career cliff just to yell to the Lord “catch me”.  But what I am advocating is to first learn the faith; make it make sense to you!  The faith is simple, if your teacher/pastor/Catechist makes it difficult and confusing, find another teacher!  God wants us all obedient to the faith, why would He make that faith impossible to learn unless your IQ was 170?  Learn the faith, then look around you.  Does your church make sense?  Is it saving souls and helping the needy in real ways?  Is growing?  It is hard to be honest, but we must.  Here is what I found.

 

Catholicism…

  1. Centered on all 7 sacraments.
  2. Growing
  3.  Friendly
  4. Anxious to teach the faith, in simple terms.
  5. Helps the poor and needy.
  6. Obedient
  7. Its catechism makes sense, it works!

 

Are there areas that need reforming in the Church?  Absolutely, but the faith is the anchor that holds all ships even in the worst storm.

 

We have to trust in something, we must have faith in something, we must be obedient to something.  Don’t just lazily give your obedience to a con man.  Make the change, walk out into the unknown, you will not do so alone.  God will test you, He will stretch your belief.  But in the end, you will know God better than when you began the journey.