Thursday, December 7, 2017

What Advent is All About

In today’s secularized society, I wonder how many Christians are fully aware of the significance of Sunday, December 3, and of this month of December up to Christmas Day, December 25.  I’m thinking of the Season of Advent and what it is all about.  Last Sunday, December 3, was the First Sunday of Advent.  It was the first day of the Church’s liturgical year … the Church’s New Year’s Day, if you will.  It began a four-week period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you are thinking about the secular world and what preparations are taking place there right now.  Yes, we are preparing for “the holidays,” buying gifts, setting up a Christmas tree, decorating inside and out, thinking about the menu for the Christmas meal, sending out Christmas cards, thinking about what relatives are coming to our house and when or about what relatives’ houses we will visit and when.  What else is there?  I think you probably see what I am getting at … the real meaning of Christmas and the preparations for that.

So, back to Advent.  I’m sure you understand this “real meaning.”  We celebrate birthdays nonstop throughout the year.  Facebook reminds us daily what friends have birthdays that day and gives us a convenient way to wish them a happy birthday.  But in this living, breathing, holy season in the Church, the birthday of the God-man takes center stage, so much so that we have a four-week period of preparation.  So what does the Catholic Church say that we should be doing during these four weeks?  We should be ramp up our psyche, our spiritual lives, our religious devotions, so that we see clearly what is really occurring on December 25.  We will celebrate the birth of this divine person that has saved mankind for all eternity from all the sinfulness since the beginning of the human race … a most momentous, major event in human history.

Some suggestions:  1) the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  As a Catholic, when was the last time you went to Confession?  If it has been years, or even just months, now would be an excellent time.  2) Attend Holy Mass.  If you’ve been missing Sunday Mass, please renew your faith and come to Mass.  If you’ve been attending Sunday Mass, you can ramp up your spiritual life by attending weekday Masses.  Attend Mass tomorrow, December 8.  It is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Holyday.  The Church says you commit a mortal sin if you don’t attend Mass on this day.  Besides, the Eucharist awaits.  3) Increase your prayer life.  Pray the rosary a few times, daily would be good.  4) Pay attention to the poor in your community.  Increase your contributions to charitable causes.  Better yet, help them by physically going to the local food bank or to your local church to help with what is going on there in terms of the poor.  5) Place a nativity scene in your yard, or, at the very least, in your home, as a constant reminder of what is coming.  6) Read and meditate on Scripture passages relating to the holy birth.  I’m sure you can think of many other things.  You will feel much better about yourself on Christmas morning!

The best of luck with your preparations and have a blessed Advent Season!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Eucharistic Ministry at the Mayo Clinic


My home in Rochester, MN, is, of course, near the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.  The clinic was started by a pair of physicians, the Mayo brothers, Charlie and Will, and others in 1889, but the history goes all the way back to Civil War times.  The history also includes the Sisters of St. Francis, a teaching order centered in Rochester.  The superior in 1889, Sister Alfred, actually asked the Mayo family to build the first hospital.  St. Mary’s Hospital was subsequently built.  Today, this hospital is one of two major Mayo Clinic hospitals in the city, the other being the Methodist Hospital.

The Mayo Clinic is on my mind today because my wife and I have become Eucharistic minister volunteers at Methodist Hospital, which is the one closest to our house.  One day each month, Lois and I, working as a team, bring the Bread of Life to approximately half of the Catholic patients in this hospital.  The entire operation actually involves quite a number of volunteers, since it is done every day at both hospitals, and is overseen by two Catholic chaplains (priests).  It gives us much satisfaction to be involved in this way because the people we serve are so happy to be receiving Our Lord that they are sometimes on the verge of tears.

Yesterday, for example, when we arrived at a patient’s room, he was in the bathroom and said could we please wait or come back later.  Talking to him through the closed door, I told him that there would be another volunteer that would come by the next day.  This is what we had been trained to say in a situation like this because there are so many patients to see and it is easy to lose track of which patient in which room made this request to “come back.”  But he was so persistent that we decided to wait for him.  I’m glad we did, because he seemed to be so “on fire” for the Eucharist.  After we completed our prayers and after giving him the host, he was tearful in thanking us.  Many of the patients we see seem to have this kind of faith.  They are so grateful for the opportunity to be fed by Christ’s body while in the hospital.

As you might expect, the Mayo Clinic has strict hygiene rules.  At the very least, the volunteers must use hand sanitizer both before entering and after leaving a patient’s room.  In some cases, we must wear gloves.  In still other cases, we must don a hospital gown and this gown must be put on correctly with the gloves so that no skin is exposed.  Sometimes, we must wear a face mask.  When finished, we must clean the pyx (the small hinged metal case by which we transport the hosts) as well as the folder containing the list of the floors and sections to be visited, using the hand sanitizer gel.  It is easy to see why the Mayo Clinic has the reputation that it has.

There are other details that I could describe, but I think you get the picture.  The Catholic Faith is alive and well in this city, and our experience as Eucharistic Ministers attests to the fact.  It is a wonderful thing to be part of the whole operation.  My prayer for today:  Lord, your people are so aware of your love for them.  Please, in your holy name and in your great compassion, grant your grateful people many blessings during their time in the hospital so that they and their families may continue to be “on fire” with love for you after they are discharged.  Amen.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Should He Be Thanked?


Today, on Thanksgiving Day, I’m thinking about the circumstances for which a person giving a gift or performing a charitable work should be thanked, or whether they should expect to be thanked.  President Trump expected to be thanked after the UCLA basketball players were released from prison in China and allowed to fly back to this country following a shoplifting incident and the President’s apparent intervention.  A grandmother writes in to a newspaper columnist to ask whether she should expect a thank-you note from a grandchild after sending him/her a birthday gift. 

In the case of President Trump, politics and arrogance are part of the equation.  Mr. Trump is known for self-promotion and arrogance.  It would have been an act of humility for him to say nothing and then let journalists discover his act of kindness apart from any personal statement he might have made.  But, no.  He wanted to be sure that everyone knew about the gesture and that he wasn’t thanked.  And the grandmother?  Though she might be a humble person, it is reasonable for her to want to know that the gift had been received and “not lost in the mail.”  Aside from that, it is a matter of common etiquette to thank anyone who gives you a gift or performs an act of kindness for you.  I believe most people understand that.  And it is not like a journalist is going to discover her kindness and report it in the newspaper as might have been the case with the President!

What would Jesus do or say?  There is a perfect example in Sacred Scripture (Luke 17:11-19).  Jesus met up with ten lepers who asked Him to “have pity on us.”  He told them to go and show themselves to the priests.  On the way, they noticed that they had been cured.  One of them returned to Jesus and glorified God in a loud voice and thanked Him while falling at His feet.  But then Jesus said in reply “Ten were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?  Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  He clearly expected to be thanked.  Was this a case of self-promotion, or arrogance, or an expectation of common etiquette?  One could argue that He expected common etiquette … an expression of thanks.  But I think there was a larger message.  It was an act of God that cured the lepers.  The proper response to almighty God?  The one grateful leper “returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.”  This profound gratitude and act of sincere worship are the proper responses.    

So where God is concerned, it is important to express our thanks for his many wonderful gifts.  And, indeed, there are many.  I think it would be good to sit and ponder that for a few minutes today … God’s many gifts.  And then, return to Him to show our profound gratitude and with sincere worship.  For He indeed has done many, many wondrous things for us.  Amen.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Repulsiveness of Current Events vs. Perfume of Nature


Every day I try to think of holy and wholesome things.  But I also like to listen to and read about current events.  So, I turn on the television every morning and watch CNN.  I don’t know why I do that exactly.  Maybe I’m just a glutton for repulsive punishment.  I could turn off the TV and, instead, read the paper or go online to satisfy my passion for current events.  But I see the same things there.

A man is running for the U.S. Senate to fill a seat left vacant when the former senator moved into the President’s cabinet.  Suddenly, I see and hear about all this dirt and trash that is being dug up about this man’s distant past.  I don’t know if any of it is true.  If it is, shame on him.  If it isn’t, shame on the people who make the claims.  Shame on the media for their biases.  But, shame on all sides for doing and saying and for wanting to perform these perverted acts, or for even having these things in their heads!

Then, to make matters worse, those who support this man remind us of the repulsive acts of people on the other side … things that happened also in the distant past.  It never ends.  It’s one man’s repulsive act after repulsive act in graphic detail being brought up followed by repulsive act after repulsive act on the other side.  And then more similar accusations repeated for others on both sides.  It’s getting to be so gross.  And just when I thought it couldn’t be any worse, I read about two more Catholic priests from a monastery in Minnesota who it is now believed abused young boys long ago.  For someone like me, who would prefer the wholesomeness of Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons, or who would prefer to read about saints and their virtues, it is painful to watch and read about.  But it is there before us.  What is a person like me to do?

OK, here we go.  1)  Go to daily Mass and pray earnestly for our culture and what it has become.  2)  Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in a Catholic Church and pray for the conversion of sinners.  3) Pray the rosary daily for the Blessed Mother’s intercession for our country and our world.  4) Do not play the same games yourselves, but rather take the high road whenever possible.  5)  Pray, pray, pray!  St. Paul said it well:  “See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good both for each other and for all.  Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything; retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil.”  (2 Thess 5:15-22).

I have an idea.  Spend some time in the natural world admiring God’s handiwork and pondering his goodness.  Better to fill your head with the perfume of nature than with these evil and revolting stories.  God bless you.  Amen.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

They Lowered Him Through a Hole in the Roof

Did Jesus have a sense of humor?  While other human traits and emotions were on display at various times in his life, I can’t come up with any story in which the evangelists said that he laughed, or that he even smiled.  I guess you have to read between the lines, which is something I like to do, as you probably know.  I don’t mean to suggest that he didn’t have a serious mission to accomplish, i.e., that of the eternal salvation of the likes of you and me, but it is difficult to imagine his messages being conveyed without some humor at times.

One example in which he must have smiled and laughed is when he asked his disciples to “let the little children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  (Luke 18:16).  I can imagine that he said this with a huge smile on his face and that he played and laughed with the children. 

Another example is the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).  Zacchaeus was a short man (imagine being maybe only five feet tall).  Jesus was passing through the town of Jericho and Zacchaeus wanted to see him but Jesus was in the middle of a crowd of people and Zacchaeus could not see over them.  So he climbed a sycamore tree that was in the street ahead so that he could see clearly.  This got Jesus’ attention and maybe even made him laugh.  Jesus said “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house!”  Luke then writes “And he came down quickly and received him with joy.”  “Came down quickly” may mean that he nearly fell out of the tree and “with joy” may mean that the entire crowd, including Jesus laughed heartily.  It must have been funny to see him in the tree and then to "come down quickly!"

Then there is the story of the paralytic who was lowered on a stretcher through the roof of the building in which Jesus was preaching so that he landed directly in front of Jesus (Luke 5:17-26).  Imagine the crowd, and Jesus too, smiling and laughing at this spectacle.  Jesus said, perhaps while still chuckling, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”  The laughter probably didn’t last long, because the Pharisees that were present thought that it was blasphemous for him to forgive his sins.  Luke says that Jesus added fuel to the fire by telling them that “the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.”  He then healed the man and told him to get up, pick up his stretcher, and go home.  So the mood went from laughter, to accusation, to a solemn rebuke, to astonishment.

And how about the wedding feast at Cana.  Jesus was having a good time celebrating with his friends (which alone must have included smiles and laughter) when Mary told Jesus that they had run out of wine (John 2:1-12).  Jesus answered “Woman, how does your concern affect me?  My hour has not yet come.”  I can imagine Jesus wanting to work miracles often while growing up in Nazareth, but Mary always telling him “Your hour has not yet come.”  Now the tables were turned.  Here was Mary asking to effectively work a miracle by turning water into wine.  And now here is Jesus, seeing the irony, flashing a big smile and telling her now that his hour has not yet come.

Part of the attraction to Jesus, aside from his solemn messages of repentance, forgiveness, beatitudes, crucifixion, resurrection, etc., was his humanity.  His sense of humor must have been on display at times.  His disciples were his friends (John 15:11-17) and friends have good times when they are together.

The photo is of the hole in the roof of the Pantheon in Rome.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Protestantism vs Catholicism: 500 Years Later


What do you remember about events that occurred 500 years ago?  Of course, everyone would have to respond “nothing.”  That is because no one alive today was here then.  To know anything about that era, or any other past era, we must rely on historians.  The one exception is the Bible.  All Christians believe that the text of the Bible was divinely inspired and therefore can be believed 100%.  But how is it that we know so much about what occurred 500 years ago at the time of the Protestant Reformation?  One would have to answer that we know what we know because historical documents uncovered and books written about that period.  But, how reliable are these things?

Some people say that Martin Luther was deranged; that he was confused; that he translated the Bible from Latin into German adding to and subtracting from the text so as to better serve his own personal beliefs and interests.  Others say that he a very intelligent man; that he was ahead of his time; that he saw the errors of the Catholic Church and sought to make reforms to more accurately follow the teachings of Christ.  How many of these are true?  I don’t know.  What we do know is how his teachings differ from Catholic teachings today.  And then, if we are concerned about our eternal salvation, we need to make a definitive study of both, pray about it, and then judge of ourselves.

So what are the facts?  Christ said that he will build his church “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  (Matt 16:18).  Catholics believe that yes, Christ did indeed build his church and it survived the Reformation and all other heretical movements to this day.  Protestants believe that the Catholic Church needed to be “reformed” and that the Protestant view is the correct one.  Does this mean that the netherworld prevailed?  Catholics believe that the gates of the netherworld never have prevailed, as Jesus promised, and the Catholic Church continues on as the true church founded by Christ.  Christ also said that the Father will send the Holy Spirit who “will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you.”  (John 14:26).  Catholics believe that this was Christ’s promise to us and that the Holy Spirit keeps us on the straight and narrow, especially through the challenge of the Reformation.  Protestants believe that Luther and the other reformers were guided by the Holy Spirit and that, again, the Protestant view is the correct one.

What are some of the disputed teachings?  The list is rather long and there is not sufficient space in this short essay to go into much detail.  Some of the major ones are the following.  1) the authority in matters of Scripture interpretation.  Protestants believe that each individual is free to interpret Scripture to his/her own personal satisfaction.  Catholics believe that the Church is the authority.  2) what is required for eternal salvation.  Protestants say faith alone.  Catholic believe that true faith, faith that results in love of God and neighbor, and the sacraments are all important.  3) Papal authority.  Protestant believe that a pope is not needed and that papal authority and apostolic succession is not scriptural.  Catholics believe that Christ authorized apostolic succession, meaning that the Pope is St. Peter’s successor and the Catholic bishops are the apostles’ successors.  4) The Eucharist.  Protestants believe that the eucharist is merely symbolic and that Christ’s teachings were metaphorical.  Catholics believe that the Holy Eucharist, consecrated at the Holy Mass, is truly the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ and that we eat and drink according to his commands.

Sometimes I wish that Luther were here today so that we could have some town hall meetings!  My prayer:  Lord, you begged for the unity of all your followers.  Please give all of us your grace to see the full truth of your teachings and become one even as you and the Father are one.   Amen. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Baseball and Religious Faith


Like a lot of other people, I am glued to the television watching the World Series this time of year.  Baseball is something I grew up with.  It has been my favorite sport ever since my brother and I bought, sold and collected baseball cards back in the 1950s when I was barely out of the “toddler” stages of life.  For example, I remember vividly when Don Larson pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series (when I was 8 years old).  The scene where Larson struck out Dale Mitchell to end the game and Yogi Berra stood up from his position behind home plate and ran out toward the mound to meet him and jump all over him lives on in my mind.  I’ve been addicted ever since.

Today, I’m thinking of the two books I possess that make a connection between baseball and faith.  One is Baseball as a Road to God:  Seeing Beyond the Game by John Sexton and the other is And God Said, Play Ball:  Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Baseball by Gary Graff.  Knowing me, as you do, having the modern-day compulsion that I have toward religious faith, now also knowing that I have a modern-day compulsion toward baseball, you can understand why I am interested in books with such titles. 

Here is an example from Graff’s book that makes me proud to have these compulsions.  Graff mentions the last words of Jesus from the cross as a reason for hope in our lives, saying “By listening to Christ’s words from the cross we learn everything we need to know to be saved:  forgive others, take care of one another, thirst for spiritual union, trust in God.  By being blessed by the Lord’s resurrection we are given the one thing we need to see us through our darkest days.”  And the parallel with baseball?  He says this:  “Hope abounds every spring with players, coaches, and fans alike look forward to a new season, with all errors and failed opportunities of the past erased with renewed opportunity to reach the Promised Land.” 

And Sexton, who served as president of New York University from 2002 to 2015, teaches a course on the connection between baseball and religion.  One quote from near the end of the book especially caught my eye.  “In our times, it is fashionable to force a choice between science and religion, of the mind and the soul.  Either/or.  This, in my view, is a false dichotomy – and perhaps this collection of baseball stories analyzed through a lens (and intellectual tradition) usually reserved for a study of what are obviously religious experiences can cause some to see why.  I embrace enthusiastically the joys of intellectual life, but I reject the notion that, as a consequence, I must forfeit the wonders of a deeply transformative religious life.”  In other words, one should never reject religion just because of advances in scientific knowledge. 

Good stuff!  I am so happy I discovered baseball early on in my life, but even happier that as I grew from that day in 1956 to the present day, I have simultaneously discovered my transformative faith.  God is so good!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lambs Among Wolves


Today, I’m thinking about the Scripture passages that discuss the commissioning of Jesus’ disciples to evangelize and the reference to them as “lambs among wolves” in this process.  (Luke 10:1-20 and Matt 10:5-33).  In Jesus’ time, it appears that the idea was to spread the faith far and wide by moving from house to house talking about the Good News of salvation, saying “the kingdom of God is at hand for you.”  (Luke 10:9).  Some would receive them in peace and some would not.  Jesus warned that those that would not receive them in peace (the “wolves”) may hand them over to the courts and scourge them (Matt 10:17-18) or turn them in to “governors and kings” for judgement (Matt 10:18).  Jesus also said this:  “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.  Whoever rejects you rejects me.  And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”  (Luke 10:16).  Through all of this, Jesus tells them repeatedly to not be afraid.  (Matt 10:26, 10:28, 10:31).

Today’s secular world is the same in many ways, but also different in many ways.  There are those who evangelize as the disciples were requested to do, but there are also those who are just trying to practice their faith as authentically and devotedly as they can.  Through all of this, we are lambs among wolves.  Who are the wolves in the modern world?  Just as in Jesus’ day, they are those who oppose Christ’s Church and her teachings.  But, they are also those who would kill.  They are those who would rape.  They are those who would physically abuse innocent people.  They are those who would sexually harass people.  They are those who would pass laws that go against what we believe.  They are those who reduce human dignity to nothingness.  They are those who support killing the unborn.  They are those who bully people.  On and on.

What should our response be?  We must know our faith.  We must remain true to the practice our faith against all odds.  We must not be afraid.  We must evangelize when given the opportunity.  We must lead by our example.  We must support our faithful Church leaders.  We must love our fellow man.  On and on!  Above all, we must pray. 

Here is my prayer.  Lord, help me to not be afraid.  Help me to remain true to you.  Help me to give good example to my friends and relatives.  Help me in my opposition to modern-day wolves.  Help me to love you above all things and my neighbor as myself.  Amen.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

This Welcoming Church


I’ve heard it said that the reason some people no longer attend Holy Mass on Sunday is that they don’t feel welcome in the Catholic Church and that a Catholic church is a cold, uncomfortable place.   Some parishes have tried to solve this “problem” by having faithful parishioners stand in the vestibule of the church on Sunday mornings and personally welcome the people to the church by opening the door of the church for them and by providing a warm, friendly greeting, such as “Good morning!”  I have no problem with that. 

However, some parishes have taken this one step further and made a very public statement, saying that they are “a welcoming Catholic community,” even apparently using this as a sort of “motto” for their parish.  This bothers me.  It implies that other Catholic parishes in general are somehow not welcoming.  Of course, that is not true.  The focus of any Catholic Church should be on the Eucharist … the Real Presence of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.  Hence the atmosphere should be one of quiet reverence, love for God, and prayer.  People should always feel welcome in any Catholic church at any time because of this Real Presence.  I fear that it is more a faith issue than a “welcome” issue, and a sign of the secular times we live in.  It seems that some people think a Catholic church should be a place of social gathering rather than worship.

Perhaps in some people’s minds this perception (that of a Catholic church being unwelcoming) stems from the Catholic stance against divorced and re-married Catholics receiving Holy Communion.  Perhaps it stems from the Catholic stance against gay marriage, cohabitation before marriage, premarital sex, artificial means of birth control, etc., etc.  Of course, this bothers me too!  I believe that Christ instituted our beloved Catholic Church to assist us on our journey toward our eternal salvation.  This means that it must take a public stance against serious sin and provide the means of repentance instituted by Christ.  We must not think of the Church’s stance in these matters as a sign that we are somehow unwelcome or unwanted.  Quite the opposite!  We rather must think long and hard about how the Church’s stance protects us against sin and then take advantage of God’s mercy and love through his Church.  Our eternal salvation depends on this. The Church has your eternal welfare in mind!

So, if you feel you are at odds with the Catholic Church for whatever reason, please please, please … come into any Catholic Church near you and kneel and pray before the Real Presence.  The Church, this welcoming Church, and Christ himself, in his divine mercy, are there for you.  Amen.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

St. Francis of Assisi

Every October 4, the Catholic Church celebrates the life and holiness of St. Francis of Assisi.  I had the privilege of spending some time in Assisi last fall during a wonderful pilgrimage to Italy.  Except for modern day automobiles that line some of the streets during the day (see photograph), the city in general appears ancient, perhaps just as it was in the time of St. Francis.  Francis was born in 1182 and died in 1226, living a life of only 44 years.  The city sits on a hill.  On one end sits the huge basilica, the Basilica of St. Francis.  At night this basilica is lit up from one end to the other (see photograph), making it quite a sight to behold.  On the other end is the Basilica of St. Clare, who was one of Francis’ contemporaries and early followers.  In between are the ancient buildings and narrow streets (see photograph).

Most people are familiar with St. Francis because he was the founder of a religious order known as the Franciscans.  But there is so much more.  He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant and, early in his life, was known for his love of parties and good times.  He was enamored by the glory of knighthood, but in his pursuit of such fame, was taken prisoner of war.  After his return from war and while praying in the small chapel of San Damiano (see lower right in photograph), he is said to have heard the voice of Christ asking him to rebuild his Church, which eventually Francis interpreted to mean living the simple gospel life of extreme poverty, in imitation of Christ himself.  In 1209, Francis sought and obtained the Pope’s approval of the “Rule of St. Francis” and thus began the early days of the Franciscan order.

Francis is known for his love for God’s creation, especially animals.  One could consider him the first environmentalist.  He invented the Christmas “crèche,” the modern day manger scene depicting the birth of Christ in the stable.  He is known to have had a special love of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, unlike many of the heretical groups of his day.  Two years before he died, God blessed him with the five crucifixion wounds of Jesus on his body, the “stigmata.”  He especially loved one particular depiction of the crucified Christ (see photograph).  He was canonized in 1228, only two years after his death.  Pope Francis honored him by taking his name at his papal installation.  Remarkably, he is memorialized by several Protestant denominations, also on October 4. 

I tried to take more photographs inside the basilica, but was rebuffed by a security guard, who didn’t believe me when I told him I did not see the signs stating that photographs were not allowed in the building.  I thought he was going to confiscate my camera!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What is the "Communion of Saints?"


What exactly does a Catholic mean when he/she recites the Apostles Creed and says “I believe … in the Communion of Saints?”  What is this “Communion of Saints?”  Or, more simply, one might ask “What is a saint?”  Here are my (Thursday) thoughts on the subject.  Friends, please correct me if I say something wrong here.

Many people, I think, would respond by saying that a saint is someone who has been recognized by the Church as having attained eternal salvation and so has been given that title.  We can think of people who lived in the first century and demonstrated a special kind of holiness.  Examples are St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, St. Thomas, etc.  We can also think of people who lived during the first and second millennia and founded religious orders and monasteries.  Examples include St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius, etc.  In addition, we have people famous for their special leadership and development in Church and religious affairs.  Examples here include St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Theresa of Avila, among many others.  And there are many “modern” saints known for a special brand of holiness, including St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Pope John Paul II, and St. Therese of Lisieux.  I could list literally hundreds and, with a little bit of study, thousands.

But is that all there is?  No.  I could repeat my definition of the word “saint” by repeating the first sentence of the last paragraph and leaving out most of it.  They don’t have to have been recognized by the Church nor given the title.  A saint is anyone who has attained eternal salvation.  Period.  Now, eternal salvation, Catholics believe, is something a person will not be known to have attained until death, at the moment of judgement by God.  As such, we cannot know with certainty whether a deceased person is in heaven.  However, if this person’s life and writings are especially relevant, and, if he/she has been linked to miracles after their death, then the Church may declare them saints through a process known as “canonization.”  The idea is that if miracles can, without doubt, be attributed to their intercession, then we can be sure of their attainment of salvation and they can be canonized.

And so back to my original question:  What is the “Communion of Saints?”  The Church believes that many people currently living on earth will one day attain salvation.  The Church also believes that many people who have died and not attained salvation are in a state where one day they will be given their heavenly reward.  These are those who are in a state we call Purgatory, where they are being purged of their venial sins and/or the lingering effects of their forgiven mortal sins.  So the fellowship that all of these people enjoy together, we on earth, those in Purgatory, and those in heaven, is known as the Communion of Saints.  And as part of this fellowship, we can call upon those who are already in the heavenly state to help us on our own journey.  They can intercede for us via their prayers.  That is why we ask them to pray for us.  That is also why we ourselves can pray for the souls in Purgatory.  Most people, I think, believe in prayer.  And what better use of prayer is there than prayer for someone’s eternal salvation. 

So, as we state in the Apostles’ Creed, we do indeed believe in this fellowship, this Communion of Saints.  Amen.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Faith, Works, and Repentance


Today, I’m thinking about three passages from Scripture that appear to describe how a person’s behavior will affect how he/she will be judged on Judgement Day.  The first is a line from Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 16, which reads as follows:  “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.”  (Matt 16:27).    This appears to oppose the idea that all that is needed for salvation is faith.  It seems that how a person conducts himself in this life is also important. 

The second is the Parable of the Talents found in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25.  (Matt 25:14-30).  Here, Jesus tells about a man and his three servants, interpreted to mean God and three of his created human beings, each of whom was given gifts.  It is what these servants did with the gifts that is at issue.  Two of them used the gifts to produce more.  But the third, out of fear, did nothing except protect what he was given.  This third servant did not act according to God’s will.  While calling the first two servants “good and faithful,” the third he called a “wicked, lazy servant.”  This third servant was assigned to “the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and the grinding of teeth.”  It would seem from this that having faith but doing nothing with it is not what God has in mind for us and puts us in danger as far as salvation is concerned.

The third is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, where Paul says that God’s judgement will be revealed based on our repentance, or the lack of it.  He says this “By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgement of God, who will repay everyone according of his works:  eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness."  (Roma 2:5-8).  The point here seems to be that repentance, or sorrow and atonement of our sins, is very important for the attainment of eternal life.

So I would conclude that true faith, i.e. faith that leads to good works, and repentance are key to our salvation.  My prayer for today:  “Lord, please strengthen my faith.  Help me to act on my faith in ways pleasing to you and help me to always seek forgiveness of my sins.  Amen.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Centerpiece of the Catholic Church


Catholics believe that the bread and wine consecrated at Holy Mass are the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  That belief is based on the words of Jesus during the so-called Bread of Life discourse found in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6 (John 6:34-66), and also on the words of Jesus at the Last Supper found in all four gospels.  In addition, this belief is reinforced by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians 1 Cor 11:23-29).  Today, I‘m thinking about what non-Catholics seem to think about this belief and what might be the Catholic response.

Protestant Christians believe that Jesus was speaking metaphorically in John 6 and in the gospel accounts of the Last Supper in the same way that he speaks metaphorically when he calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12), or the sheep gate (John 10:7-9), or the good shepherd (John 10:14).  Did he speak literally?  No, it is clear that he is not a light, or a gate, or a shepherd in the literal sense … he is only speaking metaphorically.  They believe that he is referring to the bread and wine in that same metaphorical sense.

The Catholic response?  Jesus says this in John 6:  “… the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  (John 6: 51).  Jesus also says this in John 6:  “… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”  (John 6:53).  And he says this:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  And this:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in my and I in him.”  (John 6:56).  After all this teaching, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  (John 6:66).  But did he stop them?  Did he explain that he was only speaking metaphorically?  No, they walked away and returned to their former way of life.

And St. Paul’s reinforcement?  St. Paul repeats the words of the last supper (without having had the benefit of reading those words in Scripture, since they had not yet been written down).  (1 Cor 11:24-25).  And then he says this:  “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself.”  (1 Cor 11:29).  St. Paul thus says that he believes that the bread and wine are the literal body and blood of Christ.  And this is how it was for 1500 years until the Protestant reformers came along and made a new interpretation, telling people that it was only a metaphor … something neither Christ nor St. Paul did.

So in the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is the centerpiece.  Not the sermon.  Not the singing.  Not the personality of the preacher.  The Eucharist.  In the words of Allen Hunt, a former Protestant mega-church minister who converted to Catholicism:  “The Eucharist binds us together.  Without the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we merely have our own ideas rather than true unity.  In the Eucharist, Jesus fuels and empowers his church.  Everything rides on the Eucharist.”  Amen, Mr. Hunt!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

What Heaven is Like


People are known to wonder what it will be like in heaven.  "Will my dog be there?  Will I still be happy when I find out that my spouse didn’t make it?  What if my worst enemy is there?  Will there be pain and suffering in heaven?"  On and on.  I have some thoughts this morning about what the Scriptures say.  So let’s take a look at a few examples.

In his first letter, St. John says:  “Behold, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  (1 John 3:2).  This implies to me that we will have glorified bodies and will behold the Beatific Vision, meaning the face of God.  This is heaven.

St. John writes this in his Gospel:  “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  (John 14:2).  In other words, we will be where Jesus himself is.  There will be lots of space there; space prepared by Jesus himself for our personal fulfillment and gratification.

My favorite Scripture passages about heaven, however, are those that present the parables, especially those parables that begin with the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like …”.  What could be more descriptive of heaven than those illustrations that Christ himself gives us with that leading phrase?  See especially Matt 13:24-50.

Here is a grand example:  The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field (Matt 13: 24-30) and an enemy comes at night and sows weeds.  So we have good seed and weed seed growing together, righteous and sinful men together.  In the end, harvesters (angels) separate the righteous from the sinful, and the righteous will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.”  (Matt 13:43).

Will your dog be there?  Jesus doesn’t mention dogs or a pet of any kind.  I believe we won’t have any desire to have a pet when we are in the presence of God.  Will you care if your spouse is not there?   I believe we will have no thought about him or her because we will be staring at the face of God.  Will you care that your worst enemy is there.  If this person is there, he/she is on equal footing with you in terms of glory and righteousness and you will have no thought of your enmity back on earth.  Will there be pain and suffering in heaven?  No.  It is impossible to have pain and suffering when living in a place prepared especially for you by God.  Rather, we will be in a place where we "shine like the sun!"

So where are the people who the angels separate out due to their wickedness?  They are in “the fiery furnace where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.”  (Matt 13:50).  A place of torment.  Where would you rather be for all eternity?  Lord, thank you so much for these parables.  Amen!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Before Time Began


Most of us who believe in God believe that He is the Creator of all things and that he is the one thing that has existed forever, that there is no “Day 1” for God, that no one created God.  This begs the question “What was it like before He created all things?”  Was it just God and nothing else? 

One answer to this question is to say that time was created right along with the heavens and the earth.  If that is true, then words like “forever” and “before” are nonsensical words when trying to contemplate what was here before the beginning.  There is no answer in Scripture, as far as I know.  Chapter 1 of Genesis only says “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland and darkness covered the abyss, while wind swept over the waters.”  And it goes on from there, with God creating light on the first “day,” the sky on the second day, vegetation on the third day, the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day, etc., etc.  Obviously God existed before the beginning, but otherwise, no word about what it was like “before the beginning.”  No word about the creation of time.  It seems to me that it is one of those inexplicable mysteries that only God can answer, like the Blessed Trinity or Transubstantiation (the changing of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood while retaining the appearances of bread and wine). 

But that doesn’t stop philosophers and scientists, both atheists and believers, from speculating.   And we also have the so-called “Big Bang” theory, in which everything we see, everything that exists, began with the massive explosion.   But what was here before the explosion?  Much of modern speculation seems to be about that, as well as about parallel universes and other seemingly nonsensical things.

Well, allow me to add my two-cents worth of speculation.  The Big Bang was not the beginning of everything, but only the beginning of the observable universe.  With this comes the idea that there is much more out there.  Perhaps the cosmos is infinite.  But I’m not the first to propose that.  Perhaps the cosmos has been here all along, right along with God.  But that contradicts Genesis, does it not?  Light and “the heavens” were created on the first day and the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day.  Okay, back the drawing board.  But Genesis does say that the earth was “a formless wasteland and darkness covered the abyss …").  What exactly is/was the “abyss” anyway?

I love to contemplate these things.  I’m not smart enough to be a philosopher in this modern day and age, but I do have an imagination, just like you, and I love to read about all the speculation.  And it is great fun, this imagining and speculating.  You know what?  We’ll all have the answers when time ends.  All we can do between now and then is believe in God and live our lives accordingly.  Amen


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fire and Brimstone vs Kindness and Mercy


A “fire and brimstone” sermon used to be deemed necessary to get a person out of a sinful funk.  In other words, in order to convince a person to stop his/her sinful behavior, a clergyman would confront the person with the reality of Judgement Day and the likelihood that they would have to spend their eternity in that god-awful place we call “hell,” where the fire never extinguishes and the falling brimstone is like hot coals perpetually raining down.  And such a sermon can be effective, certainly, considering that particularly cruel condition that is eternal damnation on the horizon for this person’s soul.  As Jesus said:  “It is would be better for that man if he had never been born” or “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea ...”  (Matt 26:24 and Luke 17:2).

But you never hear of “fire and brimstone” being used today.  Today, it is “kindness and mercy.”  Most clergymen today seem to want to be more “pastoral,” meaning that they act and speak out of kindness, with smiles and welcoming committees and the promise of mercy on Judgement Day.  Or, perhaps the concept of final judgement isn’t even mentioned.  They think that the sinful person is more likely to react negatively to fire and brimstone and eternal damnation and would then never be seen in church again.  And this would be a correct in many cases.  Sinful people don’t want to think about their eternal destiny.  And those persons would instead react positively to thoughts of mercy, kindness and eternal happiness.  But to me, it is still important to mention forgiveness in the same breath.  People must be made conscious of their mortal sins, of the Catholic track to forgiveness, and of the consequences of rejecting God’s mercy.  It is very important.  Eternal damnation and its opposite, eternal happiness, are not figments of someone’s imagination.  Jesus talked about them all the time.

What got me thinking about this is last Sunday’s gospel at Mass – the story of a Canaanite woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon.  Jesus seemed to respond cruelly to her, using the metaphor of food given to dogs to mean his assistance given to a Canaanite woman and her daughter.  The implication was that it would be of no use.  But she did not give up.  She said she picks us scraps of food from the table of her masters, which I took to mean bits and pieces of faith that are Jesus’ words.  Jesus was thereby convinced that she had “great faith” and he then cured her daughter (Matt 15:21-28).

I believe, then, that what it takes is “great faith” in order for us to avoid the fire and brimstone of damnation and to be kindly and mercifully welcomed into heaven.  I don’t care what your lot in life is, that is, what your sin is.  You can fill in the blank.  Everyone, please, take Jesus’ advice and go and sin no more (John 8:11).  A place of such happiness that we cannot even imagine awaits us.  Amen.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where We Got the Bible


I’m currently reading the book Where We Got the Bible by Bishop Henry G. Graham.  Graham is a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism.  The book was first published in 1911 and reprinted many times since then.  The point of the book is that the Bible is a product of the Catholic Church.  So here is a summary of the what and when of the Bible as we currently have it through the eyes of someone who is eminently unqualified … me … but derived from someone who is eminently qualified … Bishop Graham. 

Of course, the books of the Bible were written long before the printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg in about 1450 AD.  The original texts were hand-written on papyrus parchment in Greek and Hebrew languages.  This is true of the New Testament documents written by the sacred authors, St. Paul, St. John, and the others.  I understand that papyrus parchment is extremely perishable, brittle, and delicate and does not last long.  The original documents were also plundered and destroyed by persecutors of the Church in those early years.  No documents written in the original authors’ handwriting survive.  However, thousands of copies were made.  For Catholics, the fact that we don’t have the original documents to fall back on is not an issue, because our authority is not the “Scripture alone,” but the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself.  Church officials made copies of the originals down through the centuries and the originals were allowed to perish.

Catholic monks living in monasteries were subsequently charged with making the copies in their own handwriting and translating them into Latin.  This was a painstaking task and, it is thought, not without the possibility of error or the introduction of heretical words.  However, as time passes, we are assured that the Catholic Church, which was promised to be guided by the Holy Spirit, got it right.  Of course, all Bibles in existence today, both Catholic and Protestant, came through this period in history, the so-called “dark ages.”  Any changes that were made during the Reformation and later by non-Catholic individuals and groups, cannot have the assurance of accuracy since they are not from the Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit.  Examples of errors are the addition of the words “alone” or “only” that were added to the word “faith” and the removal of six books of the Bible by Protestant leaders – books that had been approved to be the inspired word of God by the Catholic leaders centuries earlier.

Today we have many different translations and versions.  The Catholic Church has its approved versions and, of course, uses these approved versions, especially the New American Bible as it is called, in the Bible readings used at Holy Mass. 

I am so happy to be Catholic and to be able to confidently read the version of Sacred Scripture that is the product of the Church that preserved the meaning and intent of the words of Jesus Christ, St. Paul, and others through history.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Our Unworthiness Before God

Today I’m thinking about this passage from Isaiah:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  (Isah 55:8-9).  The ways of God … the thoughts of God ... How high the heavens are above the earth … this is all very difficult to fathom.  It certainly brings to mind our unworthiness before God.  He is our Creator.  He is the Supreme Being who made all things.  He is in his heavenly home.  We are here on the earth where sin is rampant.  Yes, we are not worthy of him. 

St. John the Baptist said it this way about Jesus, who is God:  “I am not worthy to unloosen the thongs of his sandals.”  (Luke 3: 16).  The Blessed Mother even got into the act:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness.”  (Luke 1:46-48).  All of this makes me wonder how it is that we can even approach God, or how we can even dare to ask him for things, or how we can possibly dare to approach his altar to receive his body and blood.  He has the supreme power to reduce us to nothingness.  But he doesn’t.  In fact, out of love he has saved us from our sins if we only have true faith in him.

It brings to mind the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant in Matthew, Chapter 8:  “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.’  He said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’  The centurion said in reply, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.’”  (Matt 8: 5-8).  Jesus then said to him:  “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  (Matt 8:10).  And at that very hour, his servant was healed without Jesus even being present in the centurion’s home.

Catholics recognize the passage from Matthew 8:5-8 above because a version of it is used at Mass just prior to our coming forward to receiving the body and blood of Christ.  Talk about our unworthiness!  Consuming the body and blood of Christ at Mass is the ultimate in our unworthiness!  Here is the exact wording:  “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Even though we are so unworthy of this great sacrament, the Lord expects us to come forward, because it is an act of our faith and Christ rewards us for our faith just as he did the centurion.


I’ve heard it said that the Church uses this expression of our unworthiness at Mass so that in case we have any venial sins on our soul, we can get them temporarily forgiven prior to receiving the sacrament.  What great gifts we have in our faith and in our Church!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Basilica of St. Mary Major


This Saturday, August 5, the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.  I was privileged to see this basilica with my own eyes last fall during my pilgrimage to Italy.  It is the largest church in Rome and the only “papal” basilica dedicated to the Blessed Mother.  It is one of seven papal basilicas and one of the four “major papal” basilicas located in Rome.  Hence the name St. Mary Major.









Like all the famous papal basilicas, it is an absolutely beautiful church.  I’m not a connoisseur of art, but one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the art in this church (see photos).  The thing that I found most amazing is that this church claims to have pieces of the wooden manger in which Jesus was laid after being born in Bethlehem.  These are located in a reliquary beneath the high altar (see photo), a site that is called the Crypt of the Nativity.  This high altar has a canopy over it (see photo) that makes the whole scene simply breathtaking.  There is also a sculpture of Pope Sixtus III.  He is seen seated in a chair and facing the manger reliquary.  Sixtus was pope back in the fifth century when the original structure was built.

The original structure is said to have been inspired by an appearance of the Blessed Mother to a Roman patriarch and his wife in which she asked that the structure be built.  The exact site of the building was inspired by a mysterious snowfall in the middle of summer (August 5 in the year 352 AD).  The snow only fell on the exact area where the church was to be built.  The church was later named Our Lady of the Snows at its dedication.






Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Atheist's View

The atheist’s view is that we don’t need to believe in God in order to explain how we got here.  The atheist apparently believes that the universe has existed all along and that life simply evolved, that organic and biological substances evolved from inorganic substances … that something like lightning struck a pool of primordial soup and the first organism came to be.  From that moment, chemical reactions occurred over a period of millions of years and two- and four-legged creatures eventually came to be over that span of time, including the intelligent two-legged creature, i.e., man. 

As a chemist, I can understand how one can put forth a theory like that.  I have observed many types of chemical reactions that result in many surprising things.  I have put on many a chemical demonstration in front of fifth grade audiences over the years, and I can attest to the many “ooooohhhs” and “aaaawwwwws” that arose.  And who knows what might be possible when the timing for some selected reactions are such that millions of years are required to produce whatever?  We’ve all heard how, on the surface of the earth, conditions are just right to produce life, include the aforementioned creatures – how the Earth is just the right distance from the sun, or how the atmosphere of the Earth is just perfect, and how if there is any small variation in these conditions, life could never have developed – all things that they say are what they are in order for us to be here.

Even highly complex organisms and parts of organisms are often explained this way.  For example, the human eye evolved because there is such a thing as light, and conditions on the earth over millions of years were just right for chemical reactions to take place that resulted in the formation of an organ that is sensitive to this light and, combined with the brain, allows us to “see” and even discern colors.  Or, for example, the ear evolved because there is such a thing as sound, and conditions on the earth over millions of years were just right for chemical reactions to take place that resulted in the formation of an organ that is sensitive to this sound and, combined with the brain, allows us to “hear” and discern different types of sound.  And, the eye, the ear, and the brain are all contained in one “box,” the head, so that hearing and seeing are each processed through the same brain.  But, hold on, we also have food digestion, waste production, sexual reproduction, and all other bodily functions located within this same organism.  Okay, I get it … chemical reactions over millions of years and the adaptation to the earthly environment.

But what about other things – things that have nothing to do with the human body and its evolution – things that have helped us along and help sustain this life?  For example, crude oil and the extraction of fossil fuels and plastics, or cement and concrete and their use in building roads, buildings, and bridges, or electricity, electrical energy and its useful properties, such that we are able to have modern appliances that work for us by simply “plugging them in.”  Yes, we needed to develop our economies so that we can have a life that sustains millions of people.  Where do all these materials come from?  Even the food we eat.  It seems to me that we are surviving every day on a modern-day multiplication of the loaves.  This is where we don’t have a thing like surprising chemical reactions to explain it away.  These things are simply here for us to use.


Oh, God, help us all, in our modern world, to come to the most logical conclusion.  Help us to know that you do indeed must exist.  Amen.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear."







The picture for this week's My Thursday Thoughts is of "The Sower," the sculpture on the top of the state capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska, on the night of a full moon.

There is one well-known parable that Jesus taught that I especially like.  It is the parable of the sower that was read at Holy Mass this past Sunday.  Why do I like it?  Because the message is so crystal clear!  I also like it because after he articulates it to his disciples, he says the following: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  This simple remark tells us, I think, that the message of this parable is extremely important.  Let us briefly study it and see if we can see why. 

The parable reads as follows (Matt 13:3-8):  “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the path, and birds and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Without reading Christ’s explanation that comes next (Matt 13:18-23), I surmise that the seed is the Word of God which he is “sowing” in our hearts.  Initially, we may be open to hearing it, but almost as soon as we leave the church after Mass, or other religious activity, it takes flight; we forget all about it.  It is gone from our consciousness.  The birds are the devil and his cohorts on our life's path.  (“The birds came and ate it up.”)  Or ... we don’t believe it and the little faith we experienced as it was spoken to us is not enough to sustain it.  A little faith on top of hard-core doubt (rocky ground) is not enough.  Our secular world scorches it and causes it to wither.  Or ... perhaps we were open to it, but as soon as we hear the atheist’s argument against it (remember, we are talking about the Word of God here), we choke.  Ah, the seed that is planted among thorns!  But finally ... we have the seed that is planted in rich soil.  This is when we take this “Word of God” seriously - we take it to heart because it finds itself in an open mind - open to the Word of God!  And it flourishes!  It “produces fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”  We go through life constantly wanting to please God because his Word is in us and we are producing the fruit that God expects. 

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  Check to see if you have ears.  Then go back and read this parable again.  If you have faith that is sufficiently deep, you should see that it is extremely important.  Take it to heart.  Let if flourish!  Let it produce fruit!  You will feel better about yourself because you will be on a path to heaven.  Amen.  Alleluia!