Gird Your Loins

Do what? This morning’s Gospel reading in the Mass is taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition and uses terminology that is not common in our everyday vernacular. When was the last time you “girded your loins?”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12:35–38 NABRE)

Still not sure what it means? I took at look at other translations and found these options:

  • “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (NRSV)
  • “Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit” (GNT)
  • “Be ready and keep your lamps burning” (CEV)

That helps, doesn’t it? Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and that includes us. He is speaking of a future event, particularly of his Second Coming. He will come unannounced. He will not send a two-weeks’ notice. He will appear suddenly, and therefore he is cautioning us, instructing us, even warning us to be ready.

Jesus says we should be like servants that are awaiting the return of their master. In Middle Eastern world in which Jesus lived, it was not appropriate for a master to arrive home and have to wake up his servants in order for them to serve him. Their responsibility was to be alert and ready at a moment’s notice to open the door and let him in and wait on him. Jesus says that the servants who are vigilant for the return of the master are to be blessed.

If Jesus is speaking to us, how are we to be vigilant for his impending return? At least seven times in the New Testament we find the answer to this in a three-word phrase: “Watch and pray!” Another five times we are told to “be alert.” How are we doing? It seems Jesus was concerned about our tendency to nod off and get distracted. In Luke 18:8 he asks this question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (NABRE).

We don’t know when Jesus is coming; that’s the point of this teaching. We do know that Jesus will return for a second time “coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30 NABRE). We should also know that Jesus could come for you and for me at any moment. Will he find us ready?

As a life-long evangelical and now Catholic convert I look our readiness from an interesting perspective. I grew up in a church that gave great credence to the Second Coming of Jesus. Perhaps that is why we were “busy” with the things of the Lord. Part of our practice as Christians was to be in church every time the door was open: Sunday school, morning worship, evening service, midweek prayer meeting, monthly missionary service, reading Scripture and family prayer. Little by little though those practices became cumbersome and even a little “legalistic.” One by one these expressions dropped off until we were focusing solely on a Sunday morning worship celebration with lively music and well-honed sermons. Now we ask why people are not engaged in Scripture and why the lives of so many evangelicals resemble the lives of the pagans around them.

I have learned that there have been many changes in the Catholic Church as well. I have written about some of these in earlier blogs. In the Catholic Church, as well as in the evangelical communions, the past fifty years have been lean in spiritual expression. For Catholics there has been a precipitous drop off in Mass attendance, in participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), praying the Rosary, and in many shortcuts and “modernizations” of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The St. Michael prayer was placed on the shelf by many American churches in the 1960s, and only recently is being prayed again as we find ourselves in the worst crisis American Catholicism has ever faced.

And we wonder, Christians of all stripes, why our culture has lost its way and has become so opposed to true Christianity! Jesus’s words ring in our ears today: “Gird your loins and light your lamps!” “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

And what will Jesus do with those he finds watching and praying? “Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.” Wow! and Amen!

Advertisements
Gird Your Loins

From Satanist to Saint

2011074059bartolo_longo_1_inside

This is not your typical story of a saint. This account takes us way out of our comfort zone, to the point that we have to confront the reality of Satan and the demonic and the battle against the souls of men and women.

Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) was born in Latiano, Italy. His father (both parents were devout Catholics) died when he was 10 years old, a loss that greatly affected the boy. Not only did he lose some of the stability of his home, but his homeland was undergoing turmoil as many changes were happening in Italy to begin to make it the modern state it is today.

Bartolo studied law at the University of Naples where many of his professors were ex-priests who “preached” hatred against the Church. Later he would write: “I, too, grew to hate monks, priests and the Pope and in particular [I detested] the Dominicans, the most formidable, furious opponents of those great modern professors, proclaimed by the university the sons of progress, the defenders of science, the champions of every sort of freedom.”

Rejecting his faith and the Church, he sought something to fill the void and began to visit mediums and was introduced to the occult. As those who have engaged in the occult  know, you cannot dabble and stay on the fringes. His thirst for more to fill the void led him into outright Satanism. He engaged in a period of intense study and rigorous fasting, to the point that he was no more than “skin and bones.” It was then that he was consecrated as a satanic priest and dedicated his soul to a demon. As a satanic priest he presided over “black masses” and preached boldly against God and Christ’s Church, calling them the true evils.

His family never stopped praying for Bartolo; they tried to talk him out of his error, but he would not listen. The family sought help from a professor from the university, Vincenzo Pepe, a devout Catholic. He met with Bartolo and after several encounters challenged him with these words:  “Do you want to die in an insane asylum and be damned forever?” Professor Pepe, through the power of the Holy Spirit, struck a chord in the darkened soul of Bartolo. He agreed to meet with a Dominican priest, Alberto Radente, who after three weeks of continual conversations welcomed Bartolo back to the Church and give him absolution. He also introduced him to the Rosary. Longo was 24 years old.

For two years he was in constant company with the Dominican priest and other dedicated Catholics. They provided him cover from the onslaughts of the evil one and offered him accountability in his long road to restoration from the demonic. At the end of this time he became a third-order Dominican. He began to serve the poor and downtrodden in the area of Pompeii.

Yet Bartolo was plagued with nagging doubts. He wrote: “One day in the fields around Pompeii, I recalled my former condition as a priest of Satan… I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity. So, despite my repentance, I thought: I am still consecrated to Satan, and I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in Hell. As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘One who propagates my Rosary shall be saved.’ Falling to my knees, I exclaimed: ‘If your words are true that he who propagates your Rosary will be saved, I shall reach salvation because I shall not leave this earth without propagating your Rosary.’”

Bartolo spent the rest of his life propagating the Rosary and living out the Mysteries of the life of Christ contained therein. He helped to build the famous Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Pompeii, he “founded elementary schools and orphanages, inaugurated a print shop and technical school to give the children of convicted criminals the chance of a better life. He wrote books on the Rosary, composed novenas and prayer manuals. The former Satanist eventually became a friend of Pope Leo XIII, who had a great devotion to the Rosary. From Pompeii he also began the popular movement that led to the solemn dogmatic proclamation of the Assumption in 1950.” (Dominican Friars Foundation)

A little known fact is that Blessed Bartolo Longo was the source of inspiration for Pope St. John Paul II who introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary that deal with Christ’s public ministry to the Catholic world in 2002. The pope beatified Bartolo in 1980.

Our saint’s life is a reminder that no one is too far gone. God’s love, mercy and grace reaches to the depths of our sin, cleanses us and puts us on the way to heaven.

Blessed Bartolo Longo pray for us!

From Satanist to Saint

An Object in Motion…

SEPTemberdaysPriestly Fraternity of St. Peter

There seems to be a spiritual application to Newton’s First Law of Motion. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

I see personal application to this in my own spiritual journey. I have known times in my life that there was little discipline to get up on time, and what I read was the news or sports stories or social media, and while I may have filled my mind with current events and other facts, it didn’t do anything to move me closer to God. So in this case my body at “rest” stayed at “rest” and the “rest” was not good for my soul. I can look back to those times and lament how much time I wasted being passive in my spiritual life.

Conversely, when I am actively engaged in my spiritual devotion, my spiritual life and fervor stays in motion and is fueled by the motion to continue to be in motion. For example, getting up at 5:00 a.m. and getting right into spiritual disciplines, followed by 6:45 a.m. Mass, praying the Rosary on my way to work, and sprinkling prayer throughout the day keeps me connected to the Source of my spiritual life. Motion begets motion and generates a daily commitment to stay in motion.

The turning point that changed the direction of my life was when I became structured and disciplined in my spiritual practices. I wasn’t Catholic yet, but I can’t help but believe that it was one of the portals God used to lead me to the Church. As I stated in an earlier blog it was a commitment to daily lectionary readings that gave me a foothold in the spiritual disciplines.

I share all of this to draw an analogy. As I have delved deeper into Catholic spirituality I am discovering that there are many practices and disciplines that once were commonly practiced among Catholics. For example, there were more holy days of obligation, fasts, Rogation Days, Ember Days, etc., and many of these things including the changes in the Mass go back to the years following Vatican II. For some reason, in the United States especially, the tendency was to deemphasize certain disciplines and decrease the frequency of others. My wife’s experience pre-Vatican II was going to confession every Saturday before Mass on Sunday. “But now only 2 percent of Catholics go regularly to confession, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Georgetown University—and three-quarters of them never go, or go less than once a year.” And now some are putting it as low as 25 percent!

In 1955, 75 percent of Catholics attended weekly Mass. That number has dropped to 39 percent in the period between 2014-2017. Why are we surprised that there is little distinction between Catholics and the general population when it comes to marriage and divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality and conduct in general? We also shouldn’t be surprised at the current state of affairs in the Church relating to sexual behavior in the clergy and the laity.

The theory of expecting less from the faithful and hopefully opening the door to those who were outside the Church was ill-conceived and now seems to be an idea hatched in hell. Thousand and thousands of people have left the Church, given up on the Church or never entered in because they were not challenged with a life-changing message and something worth giving up their lives for. Inside or outside, it pretty much seemed the same.

Thank God for faithful bishops, priests, religious, deacons and laity who over the past 50 years have carried the torch of spiritual life and discipline for the rest of us. May their number increase! May we take our place alongside of them! What can we do?

Pray the Rosary daily. Find an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel and spend time there. Make a commitment to go to daily Mass as often as possible. Read the Sacred Scriptures. Pray. Fast. Go to confession at least once a month or even twice a month. Observe Ember Days.

Okay! What are Ember Days? Check the link above. The September Ember Days are Wednesday, September 19, Thursday, September 20, and Saturday, September 22. These are ideal days to abstain from food, not a full fast, and pray for our Mother Church and our Holy Priests. And pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Let’s turn the tide. Let’s be “objects in motion” that will remain in motion for the glory of God. Amen.

An Object in Motion…

I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You

When we were first married, my wife used to ask me to “whisper a prayer” whenever a situation would arise. At that time I thought her expression was quaint, maybe even lacking a degree of seriousness. However, it was not like her to not take prayer seriously. In those years of our marriage when prayer was struggle for me, Charlotte was steadfast and committed to “whisper up” a prayer that always seemed very effectual.

My track record with prayer was somewhat spotty. My reputation on prayer was “when all is said and done, more is said than done!” In seminary I took a class on prayer with a requirement to write a final paper. I didn’t get the paper in, but my professor gave me the grade anyway. He retired at the end of the semester. When I confessed the paper fail to his successor, he told me to write the paper and get it to him. That was 36 years ago!

I’m not saying I didn’t pray. I did, probably not as consistently as someone in ministry should have, but I prayed. And it always felt like a burden to pray for everyone I should pray for, and it took a lot of energy to state to God how those prayers should be answered. I am being a little facetious, but pastors are good at framing prayers to either instruct the listeners or give coaching hints to God on how everything should come down.

I dabbled in all kinds of prayer techniques and programs: “Change the World School of Prayer,” praying for the “10-40 Window,” “Freedom in Christ” prayers, “Concerts of Prayer,” 24-7 prayer, prayer retreats, all good in and of themselves, but after a while I would have to move on to something else.

Over many years, and especially in the last five, I have learned that the key components to prayer are first, making time for it, second is a commitment to pray for specific people, specific needs and specific causes, third is the commitment to spend that time with Jesus. A growing conviction in my life has been the challenge from Jesus himself, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41, NRSV).

For me it started by incorporating a daily prayer guide. I started with Phyllis Tickle’s multi-volume Divine Hours. From there I moved on to the Book of Common Prayer. And as I was journeying into the Catholic Church and to the present I have made the Divine Office: Liturgy of the Hours my daily companion. I couple that with the Saint Paul Daily Missal that incorporates the readings and prayers of the Mass.

That is great! But how do I pray effectively for the concerns that I have, the people who ask me for prayer, and the burdens I sense from the world around me? Over time I have developed quite a list of prayers and pray concerns. There are prayers that I pray every day, prayers have a specific day focus, and even a monthly focus. I incorporate well-known prayers from the Church as well as ask for the intercession of my patron saint and other saints who are known to have specific concern for marriages, different illnesses, and world affairs.

I would be remiss if I did not mention again the important place the Rosary has played in my devotional life and growing discipleship. Who better to guide and instruct us in prayer than the one who knew how to ask of her Son, and then who tells us “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5 NRSV). Another great gift to prayer is spending time in the Adoration Chapel. There, as I sit or kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I can wait before Him, open my heart and leave with Him the concerns that He wants me to share. I have been privileged to spend specific time there praying for my bishop, my priest, my loved ones, my friend who is soon to announce his resignation as pastor to come into the Catholic Church and many other things to come.

I love to pray, now! I haven’t written that paper, but Jesus has been writing it on my heart. So, “I’ll say a little prayer for you!”

I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You

Called to Be Holy

On this final Monday before our televised interview with Marcus Grodi on the “Journey Home” program that will air on EWTN, Monday, September 10, at 8:00 p.m., I want to address another topic we discussed that led me into the the Catholic Church: A call to be holy!

fullsizeoutput_a

“Becoming Catholic is not a rejection of my Wesleyan roots nor of the wonderful years of exciting ministry with Trinity Grace Church. My discovery is that this is the next step of many years of desiring to know God better and longing to live a life of holiness” (July 25, 2015)

Looking back on the statement I wrote a little over three years ago might seem that my desire was misplaced, dear reader, in light of the current turmoil in the Catholic Church. You might ask how one finds holiness in the midst of all that is happening.

I have to back up and explain that I had the privilege of growing up and ministering in a tradition that over its history, beginning in 1844, emphasized the message of holiness that John Wesley proclaimed. I must honestly say that I had a lot of misconceptions of what this message of holiness actually was and how it would manifest itself in my life. I saw it more as something that would happen at a specific time–a decision of surrender like conversion–that would take away my predisposition to sin. I can’t blame anyone but myself for a defective understanding on the Wesleyan doctrine of “entire sanctification.”

So what is there in the Catholic Church, in spite of the flaws of clergy and laity alike, that draws me to holiness? For me it is a way of life. It involves surrender, for sure, but also discipline, realizing that without the work of God in my life I cannot live a holy life. It leads me to get up on time and spend significant time in prayer, in reading the Bible, in devotional reading, and daily Mass. One of the disciplines that I never imagined ever in my life is learning about holiness through the ministry of the Blessed Virgin Mary in praying the Rosary. That practice has honestly revolutionized my life.

The following quotes are a few I came across in my journey into the Church.

“Christian ‘perfection’ is not a mere ethical adventure or an achievement in which man can take glory. It is a gift of God, drawing the soul into the hidden abyss of the divine mystery, through the Son, by the action of the Holy Spirit.” — Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness

“The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2015

“O holy redemption, it is you that prepares the way for God! O perfection! O boundless submission, it is you that draws God deep into the heart! Let the senses feel what they may, you, Lord, are all my good! Do what you like to this tiny being, let it act, be inspired, be the object of your purpose! I have nothing more to see or do, not a single moment of my life is in my own hands. All is yours, I have nothing to add, remove, seek or consider. It is for you to direct everything. Sanctification, perfection, salvation, guidance and humility are your responsibility. Mine is to be content, dispassionate, passive, leaving everything to your pleasure.” — Pierre-Jean de Cassaude, Abandonment to Divine Providence

I look forward to sharing more with you next Monday on EWTN.

Called to Be Holy