The Original Bart

A number of “Barts” come to mind: Bart Simpson (of The Simpsons, a show, I confess, I’ve never seen!), Bart Starr (two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the Green Bay Packers), and perhaps BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Yet none of these are the original Bart.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Bartholomew, we could call him St. Bart. Bartholomew was one of the 12 original disciples, one the of 12 apostles. We are introduced to him in the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 43-51. There he is called Nathanael. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) he is called Bartholomew in the list of the apostles.

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Bartholomew is known as a “true Israelite.” Jesus himself says, “There is no duplicity in him.” What a statement of affirmation of his character! No duplicity! By definition there was in Bartholomew no dishonesty, no deception. Another way of stating it, is to say that in Bartholomew there was no double-mindedness of thought, speech, action.

Wherever the apostle went with the gospel, he proclaimed it boldly. According to tradition his passion for the message of Jesus Christ took him to India and then to Armenia. It is believed that after he preached to and converted the king of Armenia, the king’s brother fearing a backlash from the Romans against Christianity, he ordered Bartholomew tortured which included having his skin flayed from his body and then he was beheaded.

St. Bartholomew, apostle of integrity, pray for us!

The Original Bart

Animal Crackers

Yesterday I wrote about hell. Today I deal with a lighter theme: animal crackers. My earliest memory has to do with animal crackers. I was probably three years old, living with my parents and little sister in Svensen, Oregon. My dad was a pastor and on the day of my memory his pastoral duty found him perched on a tall ladder painting the side of the wooden structure that served the Pilgrim Holiness Church in that very small town on the Columbia River.

My mother had taken my sister and me to the store in Astoria, 18 miles away. There, Mom bought me my favorite treat, a box of animal crackers. I was so happy and couldn’t wait to get home and show my daddy what I had. Getting out of the car I ran toward him with my treasured animal crackers. You know the kind–with the red box showing four cages of animals, just ready to be eaten by this adventurous little boy.

As I ran I yelled, “Daddy, Daddy, look what I got!” My dad hear me coming and even though he was busy, he stopped what he was doing and looked down at me. What happened next, I can’t explain. Evidently when my dad shifted his weight to look at me, the bucket of white paint that he had balanced on a ledge, was jettisoned into the air and came crashing down on me. My father was horrified as I screamed. I was covered in paint. But that was not the source of my horror. My animal crackers were frosted with white paint and no longer edible.

Over the years I have told that story to my three children and it elicits such deep sympathy from them, and when they were young, I could almost evoke tears. I have garnered several boxes of animal crackers as compensation from them for the ones I lost as a little boy.

And now the incredible news that my animal crackers are roaming free. Thanks to PETA, they have been released from their cages. The only question I have is what happens when I open that box of free range animal crackers and once again imprison them in my mouth? I don’t know if I can handle the trauma this will cause me!

Animal Crackers

“Scaring the hell out of me”

Mother Angelica foundress of EWTN used to say, “My intention is to scare the hell out of you.” She minced no words as she spoke the truth in love.

I have my own story of  a sermon I heard at church camp when I was 12 years old. The preacher was an “old-fashioned” man of God who wasn’t afraid to talk about hell. In the message he talked about the danger of missing heaven and if one did so, the eternal destiny was hell. The central point that I remember was how he described someone going to hell for all eternity. He painted the picture of a iron sphere the size of the earth and a tiny bird like a sparrow. The sparrow began his trek of circumnavigating the world walking without stopping. The bird’s little feet didn’t make a dint on the sphere, but who knows after how many eons the sphere begins to show some wear and a little path is carved into the ball. Eons more pass and the bird has made quite a dent in the sphere. Finally the bird is able to wear a path clear through the iron ball (remember it’s the size of the earth) and it breaks into two. And then God says, “Eternity has begun!” All the time I’m sitting there trembling, thinking about the absolute endlessness of the eternal torment one would never see the end of. He scared the hell out of me!

We might take issue with the preacher’s tactic, but I will tell you I am thankful! I learned that day there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. During the 30 plus years that I served as a pastor I preached my share of sermons, but I never preached one like that, perhaps to my shame. Hell was not something we talked about in “polite company.” We tend to focus more on God’s love, but to be honest, we don’t talk much about heaven either. Our focus seems to be more on making the world a better place. Now there’s nothing wrong with that—that too is our call as Christians. But unfortunately, that’s only part of the story—eternity is a long, long, long…

Jesus talked about a lot about heaven, but he talked even more about hell. The fact that there is more to life than what we know in the present helps us keep perspective. At the end of our life we will either spend eternity with God or separate from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this biblical truth:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

I believe when we lose the vision of eternity, or believe that it really doesn’t matter how we live now, we lose our moorings, we lose restraint, and we decide what is right for us. Proverbs 29:18 says,

Without a vision the people lose restraint;
but happy is the one who follows instruction.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gives that instruction that will make us truly happy.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

I venture to say in light of our current challenges in the Church there is a need to recover the teaching on eternal destiny—that there is something that follows our life here. I can’t help but think that when we have a healthy fear of hell, it will also increase our love for God and for the promise extended to those who love and serve Him.

You know what, I am thankful for the preacher that “scared the hell out of me!”

“Scaring the hell out of me”

I’ll take “Quotable Quotes” for $100

I am a fan of the TV show Jeopardy, although I don’t see it as often as I used to. One of the categories that has stood the test of time is “Quotable Quotes.” It’s probably right up there with “Potent Potables.”

Whenever I come across a meaningful quote that speaks to me in my spiritual journey I write it down in my journal or put it in the Notes app on my phone. Allow me to share some of these quotes with you and I trust they will be an encouragement to you.

  • Holiness is not the privilege of the few: it is the simply duty of each of us. — St. Teresa of Calcutta
  • He who has himself as spiritual director has an idiot for a disciple. — St. John of the Cross
  • Commitment is doing what you said you would do, after the feeling you said it in has passed. — St. Camillus
  • Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them, every day begin the task anew. — St. Francis de Sales
  • Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength. — St. Philip Neri
  • For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. — St. Therese of Lisieux
  • Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious. — St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. — St. Catherine of Siena
  • While the world changes, the cross stands firm. — St. Bruno
  • Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world. — St. Ignatius of Antioch
  • All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. — St. Francis of Assisi
  • Let us never forget that if we wish to die like the saints we must live like them. — St. Théodore Guérin
  • All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way’. — St. Catherine of Siena

It’s hard to stop, but I must. Another reason why I love the Catholic Church and her saints!

I’ll take “Quotable Quotes” for $100

“One—that the world may believe”

I postponed this post from last Monday due to more urgent topics. Over the next several Mondays I want to focus on some topics that were key in my journey into the Roman Catholic Church. Three weeks ago today Charlotte and I were interviewed by Marcus Grodi for the “Journey Home” program that will air on EWTN, Monday, September 10, at 8:00 p.m. “Desiring unity in the Body of Christ” was one of the things I talked about.

Unity in the Church, I now realize, was an underlying theme throughout much of my life. Two weeks ago I mentioned the book How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps by Christian Smith that I picked up and read at least three times. In February 2015 I continued to respond to his points: “Start to notice church fragmentation and disunity.” On February 16 I wrote the following in my journal:

I am a third-generation Pilgrim Holiness/Wesleyan. Most likely due to a song I sung as a child “The Happy Day Express” I had the idea that all Christians were a train that had Jesus as engineer and the closer the many churches were to the Bible, the closer they were to him in the engine. In my mind my denomination was right up there next to the engine. I felt sorry for people who were born into other denominations and were further back on the train.

As a young teen I wasn’t too worried about church fragmentation and disunity because my denomination was the product of a series of mergers, the most notably taking place in 1968 to form The Wesleyan Church. The theme of the merging conference which served as the logo of the church for years was “One: that the world may believe.” I took great pride that my denomination was playing an important role in answer to the prayer of Christ that we all be one.

At the age of 30 I found myself in Spanish language school with my family preparing for missionary service in South America. This experience brought me into contact with missionaries who were Christian and Missionary Alliance, Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, Fundamentalist Baptists and even Oneness Pentecostals. We were able to have fellowship together, but we were always aware of our differences  and tried not to talk about them. This became more pronounced as we interacted with some on the mission field who held us at arm’s length because of the differences we held over eternal security. That my denomination believed that “there is no height of grace from which we cannot fall,” cast doubt on the validity of my Christianity.

Some of the best years of our lives are those we have been experiencing most recently, being part of a non-denominational network of churches that for the most part seems to have captured the spirit of first-century Christianity. Yet even in this idyllic setting we have the challenge to bring people together from various backgrounds, experiences and denominations. So often we are trying to go back to see how Scripture can hold us together as we deal with the realities of doing church 15 years into the 21st century.

I have great love and deep respect for all that I received from my roots in The Wesleyan Church and also the fresh breath of the Spirit that I experienced in the non-denominational church we served with for eight years. One of the strong impressions that Jesus laid on my heart from the age of 12 was a desire to see his prayer answered, that his followers would be one so that the world would believe that the Father sent him. I came to recognize that that would not happen through either one of the wonderful church experiences I had been privileged to experience. This could only happen through the Church that Jesus founded. It came down to me being obedient to Jesus. I had to obey in answer to his prayer.

“One—that the world may believe”

Good News: The Lord is King!

It’s been a difficult week! Next week may not be much better. In fact, as the saying goes,  it always gets darker just before the dawn. But today I want to rejoice! Why? The Lord is King. The book of Hebrews tells us that this is a truth we can bank on, yesterday, today and tomorrow. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NABRE).

Yesterday I went to confession and I so appreciated that my priest heard my sincere confession, offered some counsel and in the Name of the Holy Trinity absolved me of my sin.

I was able to spend 90 minutes before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel afterward, and then another two hours at the beginning of this day, subbing for my wife who is out of town. How precious to pray, to intercede, and to lift my intentions and burdens to Jesus in the intimacy of that chapel!

I am also encouraged with the letter that His Excellency Bishop Robert Morlino shared with the Madison, WI diocese. You can read it here. Tomorrow a letter from our bishop will be read at Mass by our priest.

The Lord is King! He is the Lord of His Church. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church. As my priest told me today, Jesus is purifying His Church and that will be painful, but oh so necessary!

Let us pray together on this day that we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.

Good News: The Lord is King!

Is this enough?

I have been waiting for a statement from my bishop about the current crisis/scandal in our beloved Church. As I stated in my “Open Letter to My Bishop” in this blog on August 13, as a faithful son of the church I want to know that my leaders are giving spiritual leadership to the flock that they have been entrusted to their care. Cardinal Raymond Burke in a recent interview calls this the greatest crisis the American Catholic Church has ever faced!

So three days ago this joint statement was issued by Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, and the four bishops of Trenton, Paterson, Camden and Metuchen. You can read it below. But in case you don’t get through it, allow me to say that this statement is well crafted and sound like it’s coming from corporate headquarters regarding a potential recall. What we don’t see here is a call to prayer and fasting. Was this just an unfortunate circumstance that took place in neighboring Pennsylvania, and we’re good in New Jersey?

Again to quote Cardinal Burke (and our Lord), this demon can only come out by “prayer and fasting.” The faithful of New Jersey love our Church. With all due respect to your offices that has been entrusted to you, we plead with your Eminence and your Excellencies to lead us into righteousness through confession and repentance.

Saint Joseph, patron of the Church, pray for us! Saint Peter Damian, reformer of the Church, pray for us! Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

Newark  Trenton  Paterson  Camden  Metuchen 

August 15, 2018

New Jersey’s Roman Catholic Bishops acknowledge that media accounts of the details contained in Pennsylvania’s grand jury report show a heartbreaking departure from our fundamental belief in the dignity and value of every child.  As a Church, our calling remains unchanged – to help children in our care encounter leaders who exemplify God’s commandment to love and protect the most vulnerable.

As Bishops, we hold that every parent and every child deserve a safe environment to learn and explore their faith.  Every space where teaching, worship, and ministry take place must provide this safe environment. There must be no compromise on this principle.  The children entrusted to our care are treasures.

We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we shall remain vigilant to ensure that not one child will ever be abused on our watch.

New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses have conducted some 380,000 criminal background checks of all diocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors.  In addition, all Catholic dioceses have integrated a comprehensive program of reporting abuse to civil authorities, compensating and counseling victims, and implementing rigorous protocols and training for more than 2.3 million clergy, employees, volunteers and children.

We thank law enforcement agencies, child protection advocates and victims themselves who have helped us move beyond compliance to creating the safest environments for learning and worship.  We are deeply thankful for those who have joined our efforts to extend both healing and hope to every victim and their family.  We renew our commitment to foster healing and seek forgiveness.

We urge anyone who was abused by clergy to come forward to civil authorities.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop, Archdiocese of Newark

Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop, Diocese of Trenton

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan
Bishop, Diocese of Camden

Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli
Bishop, Diocese of Paterson

Most Reverend James F. Checchio
Bishop, Diocese of Metuchen

Is this enough?