We Have Been Given a Trust

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where yesterday’s reading left off. Jesus tells a parable about a home invasion. He says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:39–40 NABRE).

Then Peter, speaking for all of us, asks, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus then teaches an important truth that is universal for all of us: the more we are entrusted with from God, the more is required of us. In fact, he says:

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).

At this point we can echo Peter’s question: “Lord, is this…meant for us or for everyone?” I know my mind went immediately to those in Christian ministry, especially after spending more than 30 years in evangelical pastoral ministry. In my present circumstances I think of my priests, the bishops and cardinals, even the pope. They are the ones who have been entrusted with much and even still more.

Let me pause here for a moment and say that it is incumbent upon us to pray earnestly for those who are responsible for our spiritual care. There is a string of passages in Hebrews 13 that speak to this:

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a clear conscience, wishing to act rightly in every respect. 19 I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.

At the same time that we pray for our spiritual leaders, we have to recognize that we too have been entrusted with much: life, health, talent, treasure, family, time, and especially as Christians, the call to make a difference with our lives. How are we stewarding that trust?

A. W. Tozer, an American evangelical pastor of the past century was fond of challenging his listeners and readers to “live with eternity’s values in view.” I quote him:

“The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served. And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him. No man can become spiritual by himself. Only the free Spirit can make a man spiritual.”

I know of no better way to recapture eternity’s values than participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as in that moment in time we on earth are united with heaven celebrating the timeless sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out:

“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”

The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13–14 NABRE)

With a full and grateful heart join with the angelic chorus today! You have been entrusted with much!

We Have Been Given a Trust

The Worship Wars: 2.0

In early part of the twentieth century the world came together to participate in a very devastating war that was in that era called “the war to end all wars.” Such was the magnitude of warfare and the loss of human life that it seemed humanity would learn a vital lesson and never repeat such a travesty. However, one hundred years later, that war is not now called by the phrase coined at its conclusion, but rather we know it as World War I. We all know what happened. Within twenty years of the armistice signed on November 11, 1918, the prelude for what we now call World War II was playing out on the world stage. The second war was even more devastating and deadly than the first. And in many ways the world has not fully recovered from its ravaging effects.

The bottom line seems to be that humanity does not learn from experience or from history. Even when we see the devastation of power mongering and false ideologies we have the naïve impression that this time it will work. Someone has said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Many of you dear readers will remember that I spent nearly 60 of my tender years in the protestant evangelical tradition of Christianity. In my early years worship was what we would now call “traditional.” What that meant is that we would sing from the hymnals and be accompanied by an organ and piano, or in smaller churches by only a piano. If a church was big enough it would have a choir and those choir members would wear choir robes, unless it was too hot, in the days before air conditioning.

Then somewhere in the 1970s the “war” began. We called it the “worship wars.” It started as we truly believed there was a “generation gap”, like the one that the general culture had been talking about since the 1960s. So we (my generation—late baby boomers) began to sing choruses, play guitars, clap, and if we were really daring, raise our hands in worship, not in the main service, but in youth services or conferences or conventions. And as those late boomers began to move into leadership, we decided that we probably should have two services, a traditional one for our parents and grandparents, and a “contemporary” one for us and our kids. That contemporary service has morphed down through the years to include drums, bass guitars, strobe lights, and smoke machines. The hymnals were forgotten as we started using overhead projectors and finally PowerPoint. We have arrived and our hearing is shot.

Yet so many of our young people are turned off by the “contemporary” scene and they are looking for roots, quietness, tradition, liturgy, “smells” and “bells” and something of substance. Many of these young people have found themselves in Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic churches to recover the traditional worship.

I have been in the Catholic Church since March 2016, and in that short time I have grown to deeply love the worship in the Mass. Thank God I have never experienced the abuses in worship after Vatican II which took place here in the U.S. I have heard horror stories of “hootenanny” Masses and celebrants dressed as clowns. May God forgive such sacrilege! Yet, I also know we have lost something as we turned away from the Traditional Latin Mass and its incredible history and glory.

That brings me to the Youth Synod currently underway at the Vatican. Over the past year young people have been asked what they wanted to see in the Church. It seems that many of their concerns have been substituted for an agenda held by “progressive prelates” who didn’t get enough at Vatican II. The youth show, that they like their counterparts in evangelicalism, they long for the history and richness of the Mass. Young people, couples, families and singles show up at the Traditional Latin Masses. They are not asking for the Mass to be modernized or “protestantized.”

And yet we hear from Paolo Ruffini speaking for some of the Synod Fathers that we need “a Liturgy that is better suited to present times, more participatory, more understandable, otherwise the youth might consider it dull…” In response to this a Catholic priest on Twitter who goes by the handle “Father V” wrote: “It’s almost as if the higher-ups have developed amnesia about the net effect of felt banners, guitars, insipid music, and burlap bag vestments. Mass attendance plummeted and continues to fall everywhere.”

Lord have mercy! Keep praying for this synod that continues through the month of October.

The Worship Wars: 2.0

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…

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!

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“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

The Curé of Ars

One hundred twenty-three (123) weeks ago today my wife and I entered the Catholic Church. This past Monday we traveled to Zanesville, OH, to tape our story for the television program “Journey Home” that airs on the Catholic cable station EWTN.

When we first entered the Church there were many questions about our journey and I tried to answer some of them through this blog. About 15 months ago I made the last entry. I don’t know how many times since that I have thought about taking it up again, but didn’t.

It seems appropriate on this day that Catholics celebrate the life, ministry and sainthood of Fr. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, that I would return to this and recommit myself to this mode of communication.

John Vianney lived in France from 1786-1859. He was four years old when the French Revolution forever changed the face of France and altered drastically religious life for the French. It was a time when priests had to go into hiding and put their lives in danger to serve and administer the Sacraments to their parishioners. John felt the effects of this turmoil; it hindered his education, to the point that when he later entered seminary to prepare for the priesthood he struggled due to a subpar educational preparation.

Eventually as a priest he was assigned to the small village of Ars where he spent 40 years as the parish pastor. John dedicated himself to the renewal of spiritual life of those in his sphere of ministry. Daily he would spend 11 to 12 hours hearing confessions. By 1855, 20,000 pilgrims traveled annually to Ars to be ministered to by Fr. Vianney. When he died over 300 priests and 6,000 people attended his funeral.

As Catholics we believe that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith. In a world that is constantly shifting, even as our faith and our Church is challenged on a daily basis, we can receive graces and strength from receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus, even daily, in the Mass.

St. John Vianney said, “If we could comprehend all the good things contained in Holy Communion, nothing more would be wanting to content the heart of man”.

This morning at the Mass, as in every Mass, after the celebrant declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of Lamb,” we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Jesus in the Eucharist–there is nothing more needed to content our hearts!

The Curé of Ars