December 7, 2016

Would You Walk Away?

[This is a guest post from Norine.]


The woman serving as extraordinary minister reached into the ciborium and grabbed a host. At that moment, something white seemed to fly out. We both saw it. It flew off, falling to my left, her right. We looked at each other.
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“Body of Christ,” she said.
“Amen,” I said, and I received on my tongue the host from her hand.
We looked at each other.
Then we both looked down. We looked around our feet. Nothing. We looked at each other. Then Father, serving the other line and unaware of the flying white thing, stopped and looked at me. His eyes glared. They said, “Go!” I looked at the woman. I considered the line of people behind me.
Did I believe that wasn’t really the Body of Christ? If no, then I could walk away.
Did I believe that was really the Body of Christ? If yes, then I dare not.
 I am the bread of life.  — John 6:48
I grew up Catholic. I made my first communion in second grade with all the other kids. I remember singing the Our Father over and over for practice. I don’t remember whether we were told the bread we were getting was Jesus. I went to Catholic school in 7th and 8th grade and heard the word “transubstantiation” for the first time. I was intrigued by the word. It was long and hard to say. I think we practiced saying it. I don’t remember what the teacher said it meant. I went to Catholic high school, where we had occasional Masses. I remember a day my non-Catholic friend went to receive communion even though I knew she shouldn’t. She went because the upperclassman serving as extraordinary minister was someone we thought was really cute. I didn’t stop her.
I went to a non-Catholic college, but I went to the Catholic center where volunteers baked the communion bread, leavened and whole wheat. I remember so many crumbs.
It wasn’t until I was 24 on Holy Thursday that it finally sunk in. I thought in wonder, “I think that piece of bread is actually supposed to be Jesus. I think we really believe that.” That changed everything.
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I started to visit the chapel. I could actually pray in front of Him. Like, in person. That became real to me. I always went to Sunday Mass, even through college, but it meant something else now. I was actually with Him. He was actually there.
The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was a great consolation after I married and our newborn daughter was diagnosed as having a tumor. She had surgery and later chemotherapy. What a great gift that we were in a Catholic hospital. We often had our little one toddle with us down to the chapel, IV pole in tow. To be in His presence and plead for our daughter during treatment was extraordinary. I know He heard us.
And then, during my little one’s hospitalization for another chemotherapy, I had an allergic reaction. When her blood counts were good, I went to see an allergist, who gave me a test. I went into anaphylaxis on the test, so great was my allergy to grass. The doctor assured me anyone this allergic to grass also had an anaphylactic reaction allergic to wheat. I took all the wheat things out of my diet and tried it again two weeks later. He was right. I was allergic.
I cried at first for cupcakes and donuts, but on Sunday I realized I was also allergic to Jesus. The Eucharistic Jesus in the form of wheat.
 My Father gives you the true bread from heaven — John 6:32
This was where I really found out Jesus is in that bread. I went to the chapel and cried every day. I could not receive a low-gluten host because it still contained wheat. I could sometimes receive the Precious Blood if I was first so wheat did not contaminate the cup. If I had to sit in the back of the church for Mass, I did not receive. Most daily Masses did not offer the Precious Blood. You don’t know how much you want something until you can’t have it.
The Eucharistic Jesus, whom I could not receive, waited for me day after day in the chapel. Before the tabernacle, I contemplated why Someone so powerful would choose the form of food, why He would choose only to move when the priest or extraordinary minister moved Him, why He would choose to be bread and not popcorn or a potato chip, why He chose to be locked in the tabernacle. Jesus, meek and humble of heart.
I dove into biblical accounts of bread and wheat, farming and feasts. Jesus, our perfect nourishment to give us strength for the journey (1 Kings 19:7). Jesus, the kernel of wheat who dies and bears abundant fruit (John 12:24). Jesus, the bread from Heaven (John 6:58). Jesus, who exults and perfects the bread, which after the Fall of humankind, God said we would eat only by the sweat of our brow (Genesis 3:19). Jesus, whose Heaven is our banquet, a wedding feast (Revelation 19:9).
I have to admit, I was jealous of others who could receive Him. Did they know what they were getting? They were taking Him home and to work and I couldn’t. They could treasure Him and talk to Him all day long and I couldn’t. The Eucharistic Jesus became what I desired most.
By Summer 2013, it was five years since I found out I had an anaphylactic reaction to wheat. During a daily Mass, I begged Him to let me receive again. I heard Him say in my heart, “Come.”
I was scared. Would I need my epi pen if I heard wrong? I was alone with my daughters, one six-years old (declared cancer-free at age 4) and the other an infant. Would the girls be okay if something happened to me? I decided I heard correctly and that I would believe Him. I got in line with my girls and received my Eucharistic Lord. I returned to the narthex (where loud babies sometimes have to go) and I cried. The Lord gave me a miracle. I had no allergic reaction to Him. Not then and not ever again.
 I am the living bread that came down from heaven — John 6:51
I cherished the opportunity to receive the Eucharist after so many years of not being able. I tried to attend Mass as often as I could. During one Saturday Mass, the Lord tested me... [To read the rest of this story, click over to ATX Catholic.]

November 9, 2016

Okay Jesus, are you a Democrat or a Republican?

[This is a guest post from Norine.]

I have spent a lot of time of my life following politics. I was a rare 12-year old when I started reading newspapers, watching TV newscasts and listening to radio news. After getting a degree in broadcast journalism, I became a news reporter. And working at a radio station in Austin, Texas the late 1990s and early 2000s meant covering some state news from the Capitol and some national news with a president who was the former governor.

Leaving news for stay-at-home motherhood, I stopped following politics to follow my child. But politics never left me. People frequently told me their political viewpoints, often tagging their comments with the idea their party was the true party of the Gospel.

To be a good Christian, some would say, was to be a Democrat. Democrats care about the poor, education and civil rights, they said. Jesus would vote Democratic.


To be a good Christian, some would say, was to be a Republican. Republicans care about the sanctity of human life, the dignity of work and the rule of law, they said. Jesus would vote Republican.


These are certainly things found in the Gospel. But it was weighing on me how often people were “sure” Jesus backed their party and not the other. How could two very different and sometimes opposite viewpoints claim to have Jesus in their corner?


In 2011, I was on a retreat. I was there for other issues I needed to take to prayer, but the question of politics was still in my heart. Sitting directly in front of the Eucharistic Jesus in the monstrance, I finally asked, “Okay, Jesus. Are you a Democrat or a Republican?”


I don’t know if I actually expected Him to talk. And if He was going to answer, I didn’t know what He would say. But I believe He did answer.


As I looked at the Eucharistic Jesus, it seemed as though the host became larger. It didn’t, but I felt as though it did. I heard Him speak in my heart three words: “I am life.”
I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly. — John 10:10

“I am life.” That was all He said to me. But the rest of the communication came in a kind of mental experience, a kind of understanding. I had an awareness that “I am life” encompassed every human life of every kind and color, every age from the moment of conception to natural death, the creation of that life, the preservation of that life, the giver of gifts and talents for each life to share with others, the taking of that life from earth as only He had the right to decide, the education and cultivation of that life, the giver of all rights to that life in freedom. He is life.
For I, the Lord, do not change. — Malachi 3:6

Then I felt as though I were taken outside of time and space. The definition of what it means to be a Democrat or a Republican is not the same as it was five years ago. Or ten years ago. Or 50 years ago. Or 100 years ago. What people think about being an American today isn’t the same as it was when the United States was founded. The borders of all countries have changed over the course of human history and so have the borders of political thought. Political thought changes. But God doesn’t change.

After this experience in prayer, I was given to understand that no political party, nation or any other human institution could offer the perfect plan for humanity that God offers. Jesus is bigger than politics...  [To read the rest of this story, please jump over to ATX Catholic.]
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November 8, 2016

The Best Source for Election Day Healing

While election enthusiasts and political pundits continue confabulating about the most bizarre presidential campaign season in U.S. history, my biggest election day influence comes from a higher authority.



Only the Lord himself could have worked it out that the first reading from daily Mass on election day is so apropos:
Beloved:
You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine,
namely, that older men should be temperate, dignified,
self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance.
Similarly, older women should be reverent in their behavior,
not slanderers, not addicted to drink,
teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women
to love their husbands and children,
to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers,
under the control of their husbands,
so that the word of God may not be discredited. 
Urge the younger men, similarly, to control themselves,
showing yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect,
with integrity in your teaching, dignity, and sound speech
that cannot be criticized,
so that the opponent will be put to shame
without anything bad to say about us. 
For the grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of the great God
and of our savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good. -Titus 2:1-8, 11-14
Amen.
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October 31, 2016

A Random Act of Voting Booth Kindness

I witnessed a brief moment of panic while waiting in line to vote last week, but there was a happy and heartwarming ending.

An older woman a few spots ahead of me in line had just checked in when she realized that she forgot to bring her glasses with her. She feared that she would not be able to read the ballot nor would she be able to leave the polling place to get her glasses because she had already signed in.

One of the poll workers stood up, pulled the glasses off her own face and said, “Here, try these.” The woman put on the stranger’s glasses, looked around and said, “These will be perfect.” 

And off she went to vote. 


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October 12, 2016

A Hat Tip to the Holy Ghost Writer

If you like this story, you can thank the Holy Spirit. As I’ve learned so many times since discovering my faith 11 years ago, there is no such thing as a coincidence.

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Whenever my monthly deadline to write for ATX Catholic approaches, I frequently turn to the Holy Spirit and the daily Mass readings for inspiration. But alas, I did not see or hear anything clearly for today, October 12, 2016.

So I considered writing about a funny story from my secular childhood and wondered if there was a spiritual lesson I could apply retroactively.

I grew up in south Florida, and my parents had a pool in the back yard. One summer day (actually, many summer days) my brother and I were roughhousing in the pool and splashing quite a bit of water out of the pool. My father was lounging in a chair nearby, smoking a cigar (Don’t try that at home; smoking’s bad for you.) and reading a book. He wasn't planning to swim, so he wore regular clothes.

He was rightfully getting annoyed that we were wasting so much water, so after a prior warning he more forcefully admonished us to stop. I was generally a good kid, but in the heat of the moment I turned into a smart aleck and thought it would be funny to ask a daring question.

“What are you going to do, jump in here and spank us?”

He immediately dropped his cigar and book, jumped up out of the chair and took a flying leap into the pool!

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I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I imagine just the fear alone was enough to convince me to correct my behavior in the future.

As a wondered how I could work this experience into a religious blog post, I considered the topic of discipline. The Bible is packed with lessons on how the Lord disciplines us like a parent disciplines a child. But I still could not come up with a refined theme.

I took the matter to prayer and heard quite clearly that I should focus more on the topic testing the Lord. There are many lessons in the good book telling us not to test God. But I remained uninspired to look up scripture and try to tie this into the pool story.

Then a few days later, I received a very unexpected call. Someone asked me to take on a major role helping to lead a ministry event next March. I felt overwhelmed and unworthy for this endeavor. So before a gave an answer, I grabbed the Bible.

The ministry event concludes with Mass on Sunday, March 5, 2017. This passage from the day’s gospel reading practically screamed at me:

Jesus answered him, "Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test."

The Lord sure is sneaky! I had been thinking about this very topic and then suddenly I was asked to lead a large ministry event on the same day that Jesus reminds us in the Gospel reading not to test God.

[To read the rest of this story, please click over to ATX Catholic.]

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September 14, 2016

Be Like Jesus: Ask for Help

[This is a guest post from Norine.]

School is very helpful. Kids learn stuff. They make friends. And their moms are suddenly free to do things without them.

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I was dreading the end of school last spring and eager for the start of school this fall because I was going to have a lot of meetings that I couldn’t bring the kids to. I was going to have to ask for help.

Maybe there are people who find asking for help easy. I’m not one of them. I’m usually caught in the idea that I shouldn’t ask.

I was going to procrastinate about asking for help. I had to take it to prayer. I had to pray about whom to ask. After working up some courage, I did find one person who was eager, but then we hit a snag. On the day of my meeting, poor thing, she forgot all about it. She couldn’t do it anymore. And it was only a few hours before my appointment.

We were at church. I looked over at the tabernacle and asked the Lord, “What are you doing? I thought you were going to help me get someone to watch my kids. I need people today and all summer.” He said to my heart, “I’m answering your prayer.”

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After 20 minutes of phone calls, trying to find someone to help in this emergency situation, I got six new people who couldn’t help right then, but would be willing throughout the summer. What a bounty! He was right; He was answering my prayer, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. The person who forgot was actually a great blessing!

Armed with a new list of people who gave me permission to ask, you would think I would have been all set. But I still felt guilty. Wasn’t I imposing? Wasn’t I being a burden? Aren’t I supposed to get along without bothering people? There are so many things that went through my head.

This summer, the Lord told me what He thought while I was at Mass. I was watching as the deacon poured the Eucharistic hosts evenly into the ciboria. This didn't take a long time, but I was filled with questions.

Why does Jesus come as bread? Why does He become inanimate? Why does this God who made planets and mountains and wild animals need a deacon to pour Him into bowls? Why does He wait for the extraordinary minister to distribute Him to His people? Why does He wait for a priest before coming down into bread and wine? This God who doesn’t need any help asks for help.

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I pondered all this, watching the Eucharistic Jesus fall into bowls at the implied command of the deacon. “You need His help," I told Him. "You are submissive to Him. You are dependent on Him.”

Jesus said to my heart, “Be like me.”

[To read the rest of this story, please click over to ATX Catholic.]

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August 17, 2016

A Laborious Lesson in the Vineyard of the Lord

On the advice of counsel, I hereby withdraw the labor grievance I filed more than 30 years ago. The expert with whom I consulted comes highly recommended and works pro bono. I am sure you have heard of him. His name is Matthew from the firm of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, LLC.
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Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 20 is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The landowner hired laborers throughout the day. When it was time to get paid, those who worked for a shorter amount of time received the same wage as those who were out in the fields all day.
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No fair! Shouldn’t the guy who clocked in at 8 a.m. make more than someone who did not start working until 3 p.m.? Oh, the injustice. That’s exactly what I thought when I was a kid and it was time to collect my allowance for doing chores around the house. The details are hazy after all these years. But my brother and I had some household tasks that probably included taking out the trash, setting the table, doing the dishes and more.

We always received an equal allowance for completing our tasks. But that was not good enough for me. With entrepreneurial instincts, I had what seemed to be a brilliant idea one day: if I did more work I would get more money. So without my parents knowing, I quietly did a load of extra chores around the house. I went on a rampage and cleaned and organized things that I never even knew needed cleaning and organizing.

When payday rolled around, I told my parents about all the additional chores I had done and held my hand out expecting a heftier payoff. To my shock, my allowance was the same as it had always been. I probably did twice as much work as my brother, but he received the same amount of money that I did. I was angry, whined and plead my case to no avail.
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My parents thanked me for the extra effort but explained that my previously established allowance was a just wage for helping around the house. (Of course, I really did not file a labor grievance, and I have not been holding a grudge all these years.)

I have read the parable of the workers in the vineyard many times. But the other day was the first time that this reading reminded me of the allowance incident all those years ago. It is one of the joys of the Bible that you can read the same reading over and over and learn something new every time.

God’s love and invitation to salvation cannot be measured or calculated. He holds the doors to heaven open for everyone. But it’s up to us to accept Him, His teachings and His offer of eternal life.

As Christians, everything we do should be focused on the same goal: heaven. This parable is a good reminder to take a look at our lives and make sure we are on the right path. But the point is not to compare ourselves to others as we strive for eternal salvation.

Are you doing a better job getting to heaven if you spend twice as much time volunteering for the church as someone else is? It is not our business to draw that comparison.

Had I received a bonus in my allowance during that week when I did so much extra work, I am quite sure that I would have waved that cash in my brother’s face and gloated. I did better than you and got a bigger payoff, I would have thought.

[Click over to ATX Catholic to read the rest of this story.]
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July 20, 2016

What Kind of Sower Are You?

[This is a guest post from Norine.]

It seems like a waste of seed to throw it on a walking path that’s frequented by birds. I bet a real farmer wouldn’t throw seeds where the ground is rocky or full of weeds either.

That was the thought that ran through our minds as my husband and I pondered the Gospel reading today, the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9).

If it shows you I thought about it a lot, I actually decided to do some math. I don’t go out of my way to do math, so I hope my nine-year old daughter’s math teacher is proud. It sounds like one of the word problems in her math workbook:

If you need about 45 pounds of wheat seeds for an acre of farm land and the average farm is 441 acres, how much money will the average farmer spend if wheat seeds are $5.70 per pound?

I’ll save you the multiplying and tell you my calculator came up with $113,116.50.

Seeds cost a lot just for the good ground. So why would a farmer waste money tossing additional seeds on places we all know the seeds wouldn’t grow?

Jesus makes a point to say the sower in the story broadcast seeds in four different places – the path where birds would steal the seeds away before they ever hit the ground, the rocky soil where the seeds would sprout but quickly dry up, the thorny place where new seedlings would be choked out and the good soil, well-tilled, where fruit would be 30-, 60- and 100-fold.

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And later He tells us the seeds aren’t really seeds. They are messages of the Good News of salvation (Matthew 13:18-23).

I think for many of us, we don’t want to spread the story of Jesus where we judge the soil of the recipient’s heart to be the path, rocky or thorny. If we decide to share the story of Jesus in our lives at all, it’s easier to wait until we are in a safe place, with hearts we judge as already well-tilled and ready.

But I think Jesus knows we aren’t very good at judging. I think it’s part of the reason He told us not to judge (Matthew 7:1).

How do we know whether someone is ready to hear the Gospel? How can you tell? Is it by the person’s demeanor? Is it by the clothing? Is it the haircut? Is it by the kind of car the person drives? Is it by the bumper stickers on that car? The Lord knows we are prone to look at the outside, while He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Would you share the story of Jesus with a guy who liked to steal stuff for no reason, had frequent contact with women outside of marriage and wasn’t very nice to his mom? 

[To read the rest of this story, click over to ATX Catholic.]

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June 22, 2016

Mango Ministry: Fruitful Lessons from a Family Tree

Everybody gets a mango! Today’s gospel reading from Matthew reminded me of the huge mango tree that was in my side yard when I was growing up in South Florida.

Family mango tree
Family mango tree circa 1979
Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20
Sometimes this mango tree bore good fruit. Actually, great fruit. In fact, too much fruit! Some years, the only way for my family to try to keep up with how much fruit the tree produced was to offer fresh mangoes to neighbors, family and friends. And yet that still wasn’t enough; there was much fruit left over. A flock of wild parrots and a pack of neighborhood squirrels were keenly aware of this fruitful food source, meaning we would have to clean up many partially eaten mangoes off the ground before they rotted.
one mango
Suddenly, one day early in the spring we noticed that something drastic had happened. The tree was still alive and well, or at least that’s how it looked. But it no longer produced fruit. What happened? In our spiritual lives one of the best ways to produce good fruit is to put the teachings of Jesus into action.

So what is it that would stop us as sons and daughters of God from bearing good fruit? Trauma can certainly be a major impediment. In the case of our family mango tree, I recall that there was a particularly hard freeze, a rare occurrence in that part of the Sunshine State, during the previous winter. So perhaps the trauma of the winter weather blocked our tree’s ability to be fruitful. 

The years passed without any more mangoes, although the tree still stood proudly and thrived in the yard.

Years later once my parents became empty nesters, they sold the house and moved elsewhere. The house changed hands a few times. When driving by one day for nostalgic purposes, my family noticed that the mango tree was gone. 

I suppose the owners decided that because this tree was not bearing fruit, it was of no use so they had it removed. That prompted me to think about another fruitful story from the Bible:
The next day as they were leaving Bethany [Jesus] was hungry.
Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went over to see if he could find anything on it.
When he reached it he found nothing but leaves;
it was not the time for figs.
And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”
Early in the morning, as they were walking along,
they saw the fig tree withered to its roots.
Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look!
The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  -- Mark 11:12-14, 20-21
If we know people by their fruits, then what is good fruit? If the old mango tree’s job had been to produce mangoes to feed people and animals, then it makes sense why the owner wouldn’t want it anymore.

But what if the tree’s job had been to produce shade and oxygen for people and animals? In that case, it was still being very fruitful.

[To read the rest of this story, click over to ATX Catholic.]
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May 25, 2016

Spiritual Lessons From a Lake Travis Tragedy

[This is a guest post by Norine Shaivitz.]

Ten years ago today, I opened the newspaper and saw the story I had very briefly covered the day before took a turn I wasn’t expecting. Back then, I was a news anchor at a radio station and the day before had been busy. The few reporters we had were off covering other stories when I got notice someone had been killed in a jet ski crash on Lake Travis.

Lake Travis

I made some phone calls and got the preliminary story, but news reporters at the scene were able to find out an important detail I couldn’t by phone: The man who had been killed in the crash was a Catholic priest. Father Todd Reitmeyer was a priest serving in South Dakota and he was in Texas visiting family. My heart ached for this loss. When you are a Catholic, every priest is your father. So, I lost a father too.

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My small newsroom couldn’t send a reporter to the funeral. I covered it remotely and found out the homily for the funeral Mass in Buda would be posted online. In that recording, I listened as a priest told the story of Father Todd, a man who decided to live his life always ready to die in a state of grace. Father Todd had said death could come suddenly, so it was important that he go to confession. He went at least once a week, sometimes more often. He wanted to go straight to Heaven.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 - For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
In Catholic theology, friends of Jesus don’t always go straight to Heaven. Revelation 21:27 says, “Nothing unclean will enter.” So if you are a friend of Jesus and there is a sin on your soul, we believe purgatory is the place to get cleaned up before the “wedding supper (Revelation 19:7).” Father Todd wanted to skip purgatory and go straight to the party. He was living his entire life for Heaven. In fact, he had been to confession the day before he went out on Lake Travis, “just in case” something happened to him.

That next Lent, I made the effort to examine my conscience and go to confession once a week.  At that time, I was aware that Catholics are required to make at least a yearly confession. But going once a week made me realize something: I sin. I sin a lot. There was not a week during which I had nothing to confess. When you don’t go to confession as often, you aren’t very accountable. You hardly notice that you sin. When you confess often, you realize you sin a lot.

[Please click over to ATX Catholic to read the rest of this story.]

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April 27, 2016

Don't Forget About Tomorrow

Something really important is happening tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. A sneaky question in a priest’s homily a couple of weeks ago ties in perfectly with today’s Gospel reading.

It was a first communion Mass for an enthusiastic group of second graders on a Saturday morning. During a wonderfully interactive homily, the priest asked a trick question: “So, when is your second communion?”

There was a little bit of mumbling among the students until one little second grader blurted out with concern, “We don’t have one!” The priest playfully replied, “Oh yes you do. You just failed second grade!” Because the next day was Sunday, he explained that their second communion was going to be tomorrow.

First Communion

In the story of the vine and the branches, we hear that faith is indeed an important first step toward salvation. But it is not the only step. Through faith we also need to bear fruit through our actions and our deeds.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. – John 15:2
Pruning Shears

Receiving a sacrament is powerful and amazing whether it’s a major milestone like baptism or first communion, or the regular (and no less powerful and amazing) encounter with Christ through communion every Sunday. But the Lord expects us to do more than that tomorrow and beyond.
Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.
– John 15:4-6
Sometimes it is really easy to live in the present and forget about tomorrow. The question in that homily reminded me of my own first communion which, along with my baptism and confirmation, took place eleven years ago at the Easter Vigil.

During a dress rehearsal the day before, the pastor and I were standing in front the full-immersion baptismal font where he would soon be dunking me, and he said, “You’ll have to be holy now.” I replied, “That’s the plan.”

The Easter Vigil Mass was the culmination of a lengthy process: a lifetime mostly without faith followed by a roller coaster ride towards God. The previous year going through RCIA was both exhilarating and exhausting, all in anticipation of that big night.

Receiving the sacraments at the Easter Vigil in 2005 sure felt like the celebratory end of an unfathomable journey. But in reality, it was just the beginning.

[To read the rest of this story, please click over to ATX Catholic.]

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March 30, 2016

Your Flight to Emmaus Is Now Boarding

It’s a long road to Emmaus. I walk it each and every day. Like the two disciples in today’s Gospel reading, I would love to run into Jesus during my travels. But I fear that as Celopas and his friend did, I won’t recognize Jesus.

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I was thinking about the story of the Road to Emmaus as I traveled back to Austin from Florida at the end of spring break a couple of weeks ago. Did I encounter Jesus on the way home but did not realize it? Perhaps Jesus could have been any one of these strangers I ran into along the way:

  • The airline employee who though not particularly friendly, tagged our checked luggage efficiently.
  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent who randomly selected me to swab my hands for explosives.
  • The other TSA agent who said, “Come here, princess” to encourage my three-year-old daughter to walk through the metal detector by herself.
  • The airport store cashier who very slowly helped us purchase two very expensive bottles of juice for my daughters.
  • All the men in line for the next available toilet in the airport bathroom.
  • The airline agent at the gate next to ours who had to explain to his customers that their flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico was going to be delayed.
  • The flight attended who had a hard time demonstrating how to use the life preserver because the straps were tangled.
  • The strangers, presumably a husband and wife, sitting next to me on the plane who cuddled each other to sleep after the plane took off.
  • The flight attendant who gave my wife and daughters, seated across the aisle from me, a few extra bags of Doritos because my kids are addicted to them.
  • All the passengers who complained because the airline’s satellite TV system was malfunctioning.
  • The pilot who safely navigated us through a roller coaster of turbulence over Louisiana.
  • The snuggling passenger next to me who, upon waking up, rang the flight attendant button to ask for a bottle of water and a cup of coffee.
  • The flight attendant who forgot to bring that cup of coffee.
  • The woman who let me go ahead of her while exiting the plane because I was carrying my daughter.
  • The passenger at baggage claim whom I accidentally bumped with my backpack. I said sorry; he didn’t reply.
  • The long-term parking lot shuttle driver who cracked jokes and put a smile on the faces of many tired travelers.
  • The parking lot cashier who said nothing to me other than “$35.”

It fascinates me that anyone I run into on any given day could be Jesus. But it saddens me that I might not recognize him.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. Luke 24:15-16
[For the rest of this story, please fly over to ATX Catholic.]

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March 2, 2016

A Fast Food Lesson in Prayer

“If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.” This old adage from the restaurant industry is frequently attributed to managers at McDonald’s. The idea is that if you are a fast food employee and are not particularly busy at the moment, then instead of just sitting around – or leaning – grab a broom, mop or washcloth and start cleaning something. In a restaurant things can get dirty in a hurry so you constantly need to clean up.

Cleaning
"If there's time to lean, there's time to clean."

You can apply this to your spiritual life too. Unless you were born without original sin – and nobody reading this can make that claim unless your name is Jesus or Mary – then your sole constantly needs cleaning too. The phrase “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean” definitely applies. Or you may prefer this variation that I’ve been thinking about lately: “If there’s time to stray, there’s time to pray.”

A priest once told me in confession to think about prayer and sin on a scale.

balance-154516_1280

His point was that if you pray more, you’ll sin less. I think my response was something along the lines of, “Wow, you’re right!”  Take a moment to ponder what your scale would look like.

Just think about all the times throughout the week when your mind strays. And it doesn’t just mean you’re straying from the Ten Commandments or having sinful thoughts. It may just be idle times when you aren’t thinking about anything in particular. Or maybe you should be thinking about your responsibilities like work or school but your mind keeps getting distracted. Why not fill at least some of those moments with prayer?

In some ways, prayer is similar to exercise. Unfortunately sometimes it can be far too easy to make excuses not to do either of those. You know that you’re supposed to exercise (and pray) regularly, but you just don’t have the time because your life is too busy. Or you don’t feel like exercising (or praying) because you’re just too tired. The excuses go on and on.

Snap out of it! If there’s time to stray, there’s time to pray. No matter how busy life seems to be, there is always time if you make an effort to find it. 

Think about all those mundane tasks during which you could get in some prayer time:

[To read the rest of this story, please click over to ATX Catholic.]

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February 5, 2016

7 Quick Takes - Vol. 119 (Driveway dancing, lost luggage, stumbly stool and more)

It's been a while since I've done a 7 Quick Takes Friday post. Here goes.

ONE: Last month I spent the long MLK weekend in Florida too see a Florida Panthers hockey game and for a quick family visit. This was the first NHL game I've been to in about 20 years, so I was long overdue. 


TWO: I've lived in the Austin area for about 17 years, but I had never heard of the Austin Vipers minor league football team until I was on my flight from Florida back to Texas.The team was on my plane after winning its league championship game in Miami. The trophy had its own seat in one of Jet Blue's "Even More Space" section where it was securely fastened:

Here's the flight attendant who had a good time serving the team:


I happened to be sitting right behind the team owner. I was grateful that he did not recline his seat.

THREE: After grabbing my suitcase from the baggage claim carousel, I quickly scurried off to catch the shuttle bus to the long term parking area. It wasn't until I was about to board the bus when I noticed this hole near the bottom of my suitcase:


FOUR: When I got home I filed a damage claim with Jet Blue. They agreed to replace the suitcase and said the new one would be delivered to my house the next night. To provide good fodder for future "the airline lost my luggage jokes," the courier dropped off the suitcase on my neighbor's front porch.

FIVE: Is there still a need for phone books? I found this one on my front doorstep the other day and immediately tossed it into the recycle bin (after taking a quick photo):



I guess phone books will be around as long as people are willing to pay to put advertisements in them.

SIX: Every once in a while my security cameras capture something adorable. Here's my three-year-old doing a little driveway dance:




SEVEN: I don't know how manufacturers come up with model names and numbers for their products. But I'm surprised anyone would give a step stool a model name that sounds like "wobbly."



ADDENDUM: To see other people's Quick Takes, visit This Ain't The Lyceum.

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February 3, 2016

Love Lessons: a Valentine's Quiz

It's the season of love, so let's take an early Valentine's Day quiz. But it's not like those silly social media quizzes. Even though the stores are stocked with flowers, candy, hearts, greeting cards, Cupid and more, this quiz will dig a little deeper.


Question number one: Read this passage slowly. Does it sound accurate?
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Question number two: Read the passage slowly once again. But this time replace the words "love" and "it" with "Jesus."
Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus is not jealous, Jesus is not pompous, Jesus is not inflated, Jesus is not rude, Jesus does not seek His own interests, Jesus is not quick-tempered, Jesus does not brood over injury, Jesus does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails.
Did everything sound right with this version? It matches up perfectly, don't you think?

Question number three: Now the quiz gets more challenging...

[To read the rest of this story, please jump over to ATX Catholic.]

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January 6, 2016

The Unlucky 5 for Whom the Cell Tolls

"Please silence or turn off you cell phones in the church." That's a warning you hear or see in many parishes. No matter how tightly tethered we are to our electronic devices, Mass ought to be the one place where we let go of this constant connection. Yet we still sometimes hear phones ringing in the the holiest of places.

Despite the urge to turn and stare when you hear an unexpected noise in a quiet place, I recommend a more compassionate approach. There is no need to single out the person who has simply made a mistake and probably already feels terrible about it.

In recent years I've trained myself to do two things when I hear someone's renegade ringtone during Mass. First, I think to myself, is that God on the line? Then I silently say a quick prayer for the person.

But I admit that it's hard not to look. And over the years I have noticed some common traits among those whose phones ring at church. So to provide you with a little levity while many of you are back to your regular routines of work or school after the holidays, I'll share with you my handy list of the different classifications of cell phone offenders.

With this list, the next time you hear a phone ring, beep, or play the latest pop song as a during Mass, you can think about whether the person is a Lunger, a Concealer, a Bailer, a Bumbler or an Innocent Victim.

Lunger: This is the most common type. As soon as the phone rings in church, the Lunger will immediately panic and visibly (and sometimes not quietly) lunge for wherever his or her phone is. It may be in a pocket, a purse, a diaper bag or sitting right there in the pew. The Lunger immediately realizes his or her mistake and practically dives for the phone to stop the ringing as quickly as possible. Lungers deserve credit for their rapid response, but they lose style points for causing a further ruckus in the process.

Concealer: If my phone were to ring during Mass, I would be a Concealer. That's because Concealers try not to draw any additional attention to themselves. They realize their offense but very calmly and discreetly slide their hand down to their phone and shut it off. While the Lunger attracts additional attention by moving abruptly, the Concealer is far more covert so that perhaps nobody other than those sitting immediately nearby will know whose phone is ringing.

Bailer: The Bailer is an interesting breed. As soon as the phone rings, this person will immediately jump up in the middle of Mass and head for the door. Maybe the Bailer feels it's quicker to duck out rather than turn off the phone. Or perhaps the Bailer is expecting such an important call that it must be answered no matter what. Another theory is that the Bailer's phone is dug so deeply inside a pocket, purse or bag that he or she feels it would be quicker to split rather than find the phone.

Bumbler: Bumblers are an unfortunate bunch. When Bumblers hear their phones ring, they pull them out and bumble around because they aren't sure exactly how to silence the sound. So the phones keep ringing while they fiddle with the devices figuring out finally how to turn them off.

Innocent Victim: I feel especially sorry for the Innocent Victims, and I have some anxiety that this may happen to me one day. These are the folks who are sitting next to a friend, relative or even a stranger in Mass and for whatever reason, that other person steps away for a moment, perhaps for a bathroom break or to serve as a lector or Eucharistic minister. Unbeknownst to you, the person leaves his or her cell phone near you in the pew and suddenly it starts to ring. You are the Innocent Victim because people may look at you thinking it's your phone. Then you have a quick choice to make. Do you reach for the person's phone and try to silence it or let it ring because it isn't yours?

[There's more to this story. To read the rest, please click over to Austin Catholic New Media.]
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