Saturday, July 25, 2015

Did Jesus really work miracles or are they just pious tales?

Did Jesus really work miracles or are they just pious tales?

In this Sunday's Gospel John 6: 1-5, we hear of Jesus feeding the multitude of 5,000 people with just two fish and five loaves of bread. If that’s hard for you to imagine, you’re not alone. Are the amazing stories we hear in scripture miracles that really happened, or are they just pious tales? 

The following is an excerpt from a segment on this very subject that I did awhile back on Living Bread Radio’s Faith with Father.

…As Catholics, we know and truly believe –and I know from within my own life, that Jesus was and IS a miracle worker. Skeptics question the multiplication of the fish and loaves; they dismiss it as symbolic, that the multiplication of the loaves and fish was really more of a miracle of people deciding to share their food. But to those skeptics, I say -and more importantly so does the Church, that this was a miracle. In fact, the Miracle of the Multiplication is an important one, with the exception of the Resurrection -it is the only miracle to appear in all four Gospels.

Aside from the fish and loaves, we see many other miracles throughout Scripture. Jesus constantly performed miracles - He healed the sick, He raised the dead to new life, He gave sight to the blind… the amazing thing is that having done all of this, when Jesus commissions the disciples to baptize He says to them, “You will do these things, and even greater things.

In fact paragraph 90 of the YOUCAT (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church), tells us that Jesus really did work miracles and so did the Apostles. The New Testament authors referred to real incidents throughout the Acts of the Apostles. Peter just walked by people and in his shadow they were healed. Why? Because he's living his life in Christ and the miracles actually become a revelation for us of knowing God.

The miracles in Scripture are to help us who are weak in faith to come to believe. Even the oldest sources tell of numerous miracles; the raising of the dead is a confirmation of Jesus’ preaching, and we hear in Matthew 12: 28 ”but if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” So these miracles are showing that the Kingdom of God IS here.

You mustn’t forget that Jesus was performing the majority of His miracles in the open. So, He wasn't just doing these by himself -unseen. They took place in public and they involved people that were known by name and by the community, and it forever changed their lives. In Mark:10, there’s the blind man, Bartimaeus, who was given sight. Even Peter's own mother-in-law was healed. There's the miracles that in some Jewish circles were considered shocking and outrageous, such as Jesus curing the crippled man on the Sabbath. Jesus performed all of these miracles and they were seen, and witnessed, and evidenced by people -they really happened, and they continue to happen to this very day.

We all experience and are witness to the Father’s miracles in one form or another. For me, I was on an eight day retreat with Monsignor Esseff (look him up, he’s got a website called Building the Kingdom of Love). Anyway, Monsignor Esseff’s spiritual director was a man by the name of Padre Pio, who was also the spiritual director for Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. So Monsignor told me on this retreat that we're to experience miracles in our lives not as something extraordinary- it's God's grace in breaking in His Kingdom, and so not only were they very real for Jesus in this time but they're real for us in our time -they still happen today.

Monsignor Esseff went on to tell us about how he got to know Padre Pio, and said that the most intimate moment he ever shared with him was celebrating Mass together. At this particular Mass, with over a thousand people in attendance, Padre Pio holds up the Body of Christ, and the Monsignor is watching as blood suddenly begins to pour from Padre Pio’s hands and drip down onto the floor. Today we know Padre Pio for this stigmata. But as this was happening, Monsignor Esseff was witnessing evidence of a miracle - from the old ladies going around with their Kleenex trying to blot up the blood, to his blood soaked Alb.

Padre Pio

Monsignor Esseff & I After Retreat

After Monsignor told us this, he went on to talk about some of the other miracles in the Gospel and how they are still relevant today. Now I was with another priest and we kind of jokingly said, “Monsignor have you ever walked on water?” And he responds, “No, but I've levitated a couple of times in prayer.” So we’re all looking at him like, “Yeah, right. ” And in all seriousness he continues, “I didn't like it, because you become discombobulated and you don't know what's going on. One time it happened in front of people, and I didn’t like the feeling, I just wanted to be normal. So I said, 'please God no more, no more, I don't want any more of this levitation!'

I share the story because miracles are meant to be shared, to help us really believe that God is working and God is here. And as Monsignor Esseff said to me, “if God were to work a miracle in your life, wouldn't you want that to happen if it would bring about faith in more people - to help people believe and to believe ourselves.

Jesus worked the miracles that He did to show that He was and IS the Son of God. So not only did he speak it, but he showed it -and in these very actions, Christ reveals His power over all of creation.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Psalm 23 Meditation

Scriptural Autogenic Relaxation Based On Psalm 23

Allow the Word of God to bring your body & mind into a deep relaxed & stress free state. 

This week, I'd like to share a brief meditation based on Psalm 23, which we heard at Mass this past Sunday.

To hear the audio version of this self-guided mediation, and others like it, please check out my Autogenic Scriptural Relaxation CD!

Autogenic Scriptural Relaxation: Psalm 23 Meditation 

The following Autogenic Scriptural Relaxation is based on Psalm 23 - "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want."

Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Sit or lay down. Once in position, close your eyes and let your body relax. Now, take 3 deep breaths in -breathing in as long as you can. As you do this, bring in the Holy Spirit for a moment, and then slowly release. As you breathe out, let go of all your anxieties and tensions. Take a second deep breath, as you hold it in call to mind all worries and anxieties. Now breathe them out releasing all your worries handing your troubles over to God. Do this one more time. For the next few moments, you will be at peace -safe in the comforting arms of the Good Shepherd...

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
In verdant pastures he gives me repose; 
beside restful waters he leads me; 
he refreshes my soul.

Now imagine yourself lying out in the sun of a verdant pasture lush with green grass. You hear the sound of the water streaming beside you. You are there with the Good Shepherd. And as you lay on ground you feel at one with yourself, the earth, and our Lord.

Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, your arms, and your legs. As you lay there, imagine the Good Shepherd kneeling down next to you. He places His hands on your forehead. He is able to release any pain and tension you feel in them, and able to calm and still your racing thoughts. Imagine His hands on your forward embracing you and holding you. Your head feels warm, feel it sinking into the earth.

Now notice the Good Shepherd placing His hands on yours -they become warm and soft by His touch. Feel your hands begin to stretch out and rest as they sink deep into the verdant pasture.

And now your arms become warm and heavy as they too begin to rest. The Good Shepherd is giving you repose; He is allowing you to rest for awhile...

He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake. 
Even though I walk in the dark valley 
I fear no evil; for you are at my side 
with your rod and your staff 
that give me courage.

Now imagine, Jesus -the Good Shepherd, going down to your feet and holding them in the palms of His hands. As He embraces them, you feel warmth as the heaviness and tension in your feet release. Take solace that He will continue to guide your feet in the right path.

And He lays His hands on your knees, like the Good Shepherd that bound the broken legs of His sheep, He binds yours -taking away the aches and pains. In your knees you feel the warmth of comfort and release, as your legs begin to sink into the ground...

You spread the table before me 
in the sight of my foes; 
you anoint my head with oil; 
my cup overflows.

Imagine your whole body now being blessed by the Lord. As He does this your entire body feels at peace, allowing you to rest deeply. Your body is still warm from His comforting touch. You feel safe as it sinks deeply into the verdant pasture...

Only goodness and kindness follow me 
all the days of my life; 
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD 
for years to come.

Not only is your entire body relaxed, resting, and at peace, but your mind is filled with goodness, gratitude, and kindness -all of which will remain with you...

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. 

Finally, imagine the the Good Shepherd anointing your forehead with oil. Gently with His thumb his rubs the warm oil into your forehead; you are His anointed one, you are His beloved one.

As He continues to spread the oil across your forehead, you feel it's warmth, and you are able to take in his blessing; you are able to feel the goodness and kindness of the Good Shepherd that is with you now and all the days of your life.

Rest for a moment now in the anointing.

As you come to the end of this moment of relaxation, you once more feel your whole body relaxed. All your tensions have been released from your hands to your toes, from your back to your head, you are in perfect rest in the verdant pasture.

You feel the warmth of the son on your face, and the warmth of the anointing deep within you.

You breathe in a long deep breath, holding it for a moment before release it out.

Slowly take in another deep breath - as you do, smell the anointing of the chrism He has place on your forehead. Now breathe out slowly.

Finally, take in one last deep breath -all the way in through your nose, filling your lungs. Hold it in for a moment, before you release.

Now repeat with me...

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. 
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. 
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. 

Slowly open your eyes and begin to awaken your body. As you move forward in your day, know only goodness and kindness will follow this and all the days of your life!

I hope that you enjoyed this meditation. If you'd like to listen to more guided meditations like this, please check out my Autogenic Scriptural Relaxation CD.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Vocation Within Vocation

The Call Within a Call

God calls each of us...

What is the call that God is giving you that no one else in the world can possibly fulfill?

The most important day of my life was June 24, 1979. Can you guess what day it was? It was not the day I was born, it was the day I was baptized. It is the most important day of my life because I gained eternal life (although my mother tells me the most important day of my life was the day she was born). It was the greatest gift that God could give me: Eternal life. For all of you, the most important day of your life is the day that you were baptized.

"Why", you ask?

On the day you were baptized, you received your primary vocation, your first vocation. Does anybody know what vocation you were given on the day that you were baptized? You were called to be what? I'll give you a hint: a four letter word (a good word) that starts with "H". Yes, "Holy." On the day that you were baptized, you were given the call to be Holy. I looked this up in the Catechism. You are called not only to the vocation to holiness, but to be on a mission of evangelizing the entire world (I actually learned something new!) On the day that you were baptized, you were called to be holy and to go on mission and evangelize -to give the gospel of Jesus to the entire world. That is your primary vocation. It was given to you on the day that you were baptized.

Our secondary vocation is what all of us live at some point in our lives. There are four of them. What are they? This is the clue for the first one, it's my vocation -my vocation is to priesthood. A second one would be marriage, the third one is single life, and the fourth is religious life. 

Within our primary vocation, we are called to be Holy. Out of that, God calls us to a particular vocation. That particular vocation could be marriage, it could be the single life, it could be religious life, or it could be the priesthood. It is important that all of us find our particular vocation. How is God calling us to live out that holiness in the world? 

In Amos 7:12-15, Amos is being called to be a prophet. He is not understanding this, and neither is Amaziah. Amos says, "I was no prophet nor do I belong to a company of prophets. I was a shepherd and a dresser of sheep and sycamores. The Lord took me from the following flock, and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to Israel.'" And then we hear in the Gospel canticle from Ephesians, "May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of your hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call." That we may all know what the hope is that belongs to our call.

And finally in the Gospel (Mark 6:7-13), "Jesus summons the twelve and begins to give them authority, and sends them out two by two."  He summons them. I looked up "to summon" in the dictionary, it means: to authoritatively or urgently call someone to something to be present. So we all have our primary call; Baptism is to be Holy. We all have our secondary call, which is our call to the priesthood, to be religious, to be single, or to be married. But the amazing thing is that once you find your particular vocation, the work is not over yet!

Mother Teresa said that we have a call within a call. Within the priesthood, within married life, within single life, within religious life, -within that call, we have a very particular call that we can live in a way that no one else can live. God has given us each unique charisms to live out our call.

Mother Teresa was born on August 26, 1910. She was baptized several days later and received her First Communion at age five and a half. She was Confirmed in 1916. At Baptism, she received her primary call to be Holy. However, from her First Communion Day, she had this other call, this special call to religious life.

Mother Teresa was eight years old when her father died. This changed a whole dynamic in her family. It opened her up to entering into religious life at a very young age. At 18 years old, she entered the convent and went into religious life. Her original name, by the way -- Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. That was her original name before she entered into religious life. When she entered the convent, they gave her the name Sister Mary Teresa after Thérèse of Lisieux. That is how she became Mother Teresa.

When she took her final vows in 1937, she made her final profession -she journaled that she now was finally the spouse of Jesus for all eternity. She found her vocation and she lived this religious life. She went on to serve the community, and she loved it.  Then something very interesting happened to her. About 10 years later, she was making her annual retreat. Every year she would take a train ride and she would make a retreat. And on this train ride, she received a very special calling from God. She actually heard a voice in her head, and she wrote this in her journal, "Come be My light".

She said about this call, "It was a vocation to give up even Loreto, where I was very happy, and to go to the streets and to serve. It was on this day in 1946, in that train to Darjeeling, that God gave me the call within the call to satiate the thirst of Jesus by serving Him and the poorest of the poor."

On that day she was given a call within her call. She actually had to ask the Bishop permission to leave the order that she had been with for 10 years in order to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta. She found this vocation within a vocation. She still was a sister, but she found a special way of living it out. And before she knew it, all these people wanted to help her. And now, years later, we have the Missionaries of Charity. They are in every country of the world, and there are about fifty thousand nuns in the order. We also have Saint Mother Teresa, and it is all because she discovered her call within a call.

And the truth is, each and every one of you has a call within a call. Firstly, the call to become Holy and to evangelize the world, which you received at Baptism. Secondly, if you are married, single, religious, or a priest, you received that secondary call. That is a call that you never have to discern again. It is for life. And finally, there is a call within a call. There is a way that you are going to live marriage that no one else will. There is a way that you are going to be a wife or a husband that no one else will. If you are single, there is a way that you are going to live your single life that no one else will. And if you find your call, it is going to change the world.

I want you to think about that for a moment.

What is your call within the call? What is the call that God has given you that no one else in this world could ever possibly fulfill? Because He calls each of us, not only to be Holy into a particular vocation, but He calls us and gives us this call within a call to truly reach out to the rest of the world. And sometimes that may mean doing very different things than we ever thought we would do!

Just as Amos said, "I was no prophet nor do I belong to a company of prophets. I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from the flock, and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'" Ultimately, we all have this call within a call. And when we discover it, our lives will be even more joyful and wonderful than we can ever imagine. Not only will it transform our lives, but when you find your call within a call, it is going to change the entire world!

I invite you to pray about that and to ask Jesus what He is calling you to do within your life, with your vocation, and with your call within the call.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Got a thorn in your flesh? Bet you'd like God to remove it... here's why He doesn't

“The Thorn in the Flesh” - What the Mystics Teach Us

After St. Paul not only had an amazing conversion where he literally went from killing Christians to becoming one himself, We read that he was also taken to the summit of the mystical life of prayer where he was caught up to paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.” But even after all this he reveals that a thorn in my flesh was given to me.”

For over two-thousand years scholars have all asked the question: what was the thorn?  Was it physical, was it spiritual, or was it moral?  We are in fact left no description… and in the end it probably doesn’t matter WHAT the thorn was, but WHY he was given the thorn.

Every one of us has a “thorn in our side”.  It is probably different for each of you and chances are we would all would probably prefer it be something, somewhere, or someone else, but we all have a thorn.  We, just like Paul, have probably asked and begged God over and over to get rid of it, take it out of us, make it better.  You probably have a “thorn” too,  right?

Well the real importance is not really what the thorn is, but why has He allowed it to remain?  Why doesn’t God just remove this “thorn from our side?”

God gives Paul the answer!  And He gives us the answer too…

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” This is a very clear and simple answer.  Yet it is probably one that we don’t want to hear.  Paul for some reason is brought to great peace when he hears this response from God.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What allowed for Paul to be so content with all of these difficulties? The thorn… and trusting that God’s power was working through it.

Think for a moment about the “thorn in your side.”  What is your thorn?  What is that struggle that you haven’t been able to get rid of?  Maybe it’s physical.  I think of people that have struggled from

birth with a disability.  Maybe it’s emotional.  I was just talking to someone who said that they have never struggled with anxiety their whole life and now are struggling with it… she said “if nothing else, it’s helped me to be more compassionate and loving to others who do.” Maybe it’s depression, bi-polar, or some other psychosis.  It could be an addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or a sexual addiction.  It may be a part of your personality that is difficult for you or others to deal with.  It could be someone in your life… it might even be your spouse or one of your children.  Maybe it’s even a moral failing… a sin that you have tried so hard to eradicate from your life… some struggle their entire lives into their 90s with the same sins they struggled with in puberty.  It could be a chronic condition or pain.

The point is we all have our thorn.  Now, why hasn’t God removed it?  It’s important to remember that Paul was given this clarity after having a deep mystical experience of God.  He was brought to peace with this thorn through this encounter with God speaking to him in the depths of prayer.

Over these two-thousand years of Church tradition we have had many Saints who have had this similar experience.  We can look to the Christian Mystics to give us guidance on this whole dilemma of the “thorn in the flesh.”  Maybe, we too can gain some peace, acceptance, and even become content with our weakness.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux helps us to see that “Even if we should not prove successful, at least we can grow in gentleness and humility as we bear the burden of such a continuing struggle.” (Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin, p. 110)

Frances de Sales makes clear that the process of purification will continue throughout our life, and so “we must not be disturbed at our imperfections, since our perfection consists in fighting against them.”  (Introduction to the Devout Life, pt. I, ch 5, p. 48)

St. Therese of Lisieux speaks of a “joyful resignation” to the lifetime of struggle with faults. “I learned very quickly [from the age of 13] that the more one advances, the more on sees the goal is still far off.  And now I am simply resigned to see myself always imperfect and in this I find my joy.”  (Story of a Soul, Ch. 7, p. 158)

Francis de Sales passionately cries out “in this war we are always victorious provided that we are willing to fight.”  (Introduction to the Devout Life, pt. I, chap. 5, p. 49)

Bernard in his commentary of the Song of Songs beautifully describes how a thorn can help us by causing us to lean on God.  “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, rich in grace and beauty, leaning upon her beloved?”  (Song 8:5).  Otherwise unless it leans on him, its struggle is in vain.  But it will gain force by struggling with itself and, becoming stronger, will impel all things towards reason… “surely all things are possible to someone who leans upon him who can do all things?”  (Sermon 85.5)  The good news is, the Beloved loves to be leaned on.

St. Luke proclaims: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  Acts 14:22

Teresa of Avila had to struggle to understand how it was possible that God could actually be working in her life while she at the same time still had obvious weakness and imperfections.  (Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 144)  “His Majesty knows well how to wait many days and years, especially when he sees perseverance and good desires.”  (The Interior Castle, sect. II, chap. 1, no. 2, p. 298)

John of the Cross explains that an impatient anger toward ourselves is also an imperfection that the Lord desires to deal with by leading us to greater meekness. “Others in becoming aware of their own imperfections grow angry with themselves in an unhumble impatience… they want to become saints in a day… [They] make numerous plans and great resolutions, but since they are not humble and have no distrust of themselves, the more resolves they make the more they break, and the greater becomes their anger. They do not have the patience to wait until God gives them what they need, when he so desires.”  (John of the Cross, The Dark Night, bk. I, Chapter 5, no. 3, pp. 370-371)

Catherine of Sienna simply asks God,  Why?  And like St. Paul receives an answer from God in her prayer. 

Could I and can I not make it otherwise for Paul and the others in whom I leave this or that sort of pricking?  Yes.  Then why does my providence do this?  To give them opportunity for merit, to keep them in the self-knowledge whence they draw true humility, to make them compassionate instead of cruel toward their neighbors so that they will sympathize with them in their labors.  For those who suffer themselves are far more compassionate to the suffering than are those who have not suffered.  They grow to greater love and run to me all anointed with humility and ablaze in the furnace of my charity (Catherine of Sienna, the Dialogue, chap. 89, p. 166)

Later God reveals to her how He is in face liberating her through theses struggles. 

“And why do I keep this soul, surrounded by so many enemies, in such pain and distress?  Not for her to be captured and lose the wealth of grace, but to show her my providence, so that she will trust not in herself but in me...  her concern will make her run for protection to me her defender, her kind Father, the provider of her salvation…. I want her to be humble… and to recognize that her existence and every gift beyond that comes from me, that I am her life.  She will recognize life and my providence when she is liberated through these struggles (Notice not from these struggles, but through these struggles,) for I do not let these things last forever.  They will come and go as I see necessary for her… it was not her own effort but my immeasurable charity, which wanted to provide for her in time of need when she could scarcely take it anymore.” (Catherine of Sienna, The Dialogue, chapter 144, p. 301)
So why does God not take our thorns away?  As God revealed to St. Paul and the Christian Mystics, and continues to reveal to us… “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

May you find, as St. Paul, the Mystics, and many others have… great peace and contentment as you struggle and persevere with that sacred “Thorn” in your life.