Still on the early newsletter streak – one day early once again.

Be satisfied with what you have.” Our moms didn’t want us to be jealous or covetous of others. Instead they wanted to focus us on our blessings – what we have – and most especially on all that God has done and has in store for us. Good lessons for life of course given out of love. Don’t chase after empty things – focus on what is really important: faith in God Who brings all things to perfection. With Him we have family, community, true knowledge, and our work is blessed even if the world doesn’t see it. The explicit promise in our being “satisfied with what you have” is God’s provision for us. God will reach to the last grain of sand and the remotest star to bless us. I will never run away from you He promises. During this month we consider the depth of God’s provision. Even if the entire world has abandoned us, even if our mom were to reject us, God remains at our side.

Also in our newsletter, great thanks for support of our annual Basket Social, reflections and family prayers for the Year of Reverence, Mother’s Day and a very full month of activities. Check out our Holy Mass for healing, bible study, and so much more…

You may view and download a copy of our May 2016 Newsletter right here.

Who is really
welcome?

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Is the Holy Faith exclusive and unwelcoming? This is an important question and a challenge.
We know that Jesus sets forth what seems to be requirements for those who would follow Him, who would enter the kingdom. A lot of people think that makes up a list of requirements.

Let’s look at this a little deeper starting with an understanding of what requirements are. Going to the dictionary we find two ways of looking at the term: Requirement: a thing that is needed or wanted. Requirement: a thing that is compulsory or necessary.

Of course, if the Church were a social club we might have dues and membership requirements. If we were a sports club, we would have athletic skill requirements. If we were a music group, we would have talent requirements. We do not have any of those as Church.

Does the Church have things that are needed or wanted? Certainly, but that is not prerequisite. We do not screen based on needs or wants. Rather, we trust that whatever is wanted or needed will be provided. Does the Church have things that are compulsory? We might think baptism, the other sacraments, avoidance of sin. There too, they are not prerequisites. Rather, they are the means through which we grow deeper into relationship with God.

Requirements seem practical and organized. They seem to provide structure and can even be reassuring, but we would be very wrong in reducing God to a set of requirements: if you do x then you have a guaranteed ticket to heaven, paradise, etc.

Instead of requirements, Jesus spoke of love. Love changes our understanding. Love is never a response to requirements. Rather, love is a response to love. God didn’t wait for us to love him before He loved us. God’s love precedes and enables our love – He welcomes us. God then further responds to our love by entering into a unique, personal, intimate, affectionate, caring, and committed relationship welcoming those who respond to Him in love.

The thing to notice is that loving Jesus is not the same as keeping requirements (the Law as old Israel understood it). Love is an opening, a welcome. Love precedes and gives rise to a relationship that will last forever and out of which we seek to do what is asked of us: keeping the great commandment of loving God and each other. The call to feed, house, clothe, and visit.

For those who love and follow through on that love the promise awaits, the new, eternal and glorious heaven where we will live in love forever – totally welcome.

Living His
promises.

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

Christians are sometimes referred to as ‘People of the Promise.’ The Easter Season is a wonderful time to focus on what that means.

Throughout Old Testament history we hear the promises made to Israel’s leaders. God made specific promises to Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses as well as others.

Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. Jacob received a similar promise. Joseph had dreams that indicated his future ennoblement. He didn’t have direct assurance that it would happen, yet lived a life of patient endurance sustained by his belief in the promises of God made to his fathers. Even in the midst of struggles Joseph lived uprightly and he came to save his father, brothers, and his people. Moses received the promise of freedom in a land flowing with milk and honey.

These are but shadows and precursors to the ultimate promise that David would receive. God told him through the Prophet Nathan that his house and kingdom would endure forever and that his throne would be established forever.

In the coming of Jesus, the One who would did all in accord with His Father’s will we receive the finality of all of God’s promises. Jesus’ promises to us relate to the far future and to present life on earth. Some are conditioned upon our placing our faith in him and some on other conditions such as obedience, prayer, and humility.

John saw the promise of the kingdom, what it would really be like for the faithful. This isn’t a promise given to everyone, but to those who are the baptized faithful, the ones who stand strong in doing Jesus’ will. For those who, even in the struggle, keep their focus on God. We can rejoice in that promise. That beautiful kingdom, that New Jerusalem, is ours in the ages to come.

The key is to keep our eyes on the prize, on the promised Jerusalem (not the earthly one). Jesus left us with the command (one which can be a struggle). That is, we are to love one another as He loved us. It can be difficult at times, it can require will power and the courage to forgive – but in the end His promises are so well worth our effort.

Who is the
shepherd?

“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.

In the Old Testament Israel is at the center of the stage. Everything we read about is focused on Israel. There is a similar focus in the New Testament. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews.” As he sent out the seventy-two to spread the Gospel He told them “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Yet there are examples throughout both the Old and New Testament of salvation and glory coming to those who were outside Israel. In God’s kingdom all found welcome. Those examples were given through strangers and outsiders who encountered God’s people – Israel. As such, we see Israel as being key to God’s salvific work. Israel, the nation that came from the loins of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was to be the light to the world. It was meant to show the way toward God.

John saw the great multitude that is to surround God’s throne. People from every nation, race, people, and tongue will be with God forever. How does that come about?

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” That is what He meant, that we have gifts and joy to share. Following Him does not mean that we remain mere sheep. As Israel was to step up and act as light and shepherd to the world – and fell short in doing so at Antioch – so we now have the chance and opportunity. Our destiny is laid out for us. Once we hear His voice, and allow it to touch us and change us, we follow in being His shepherds.

Jesus, of course, is our Chief Shepherd. He is the one we all follow. What we have to resolve to do is to be practical shepherds, spiritual leaders, and Christ following examples every day. We need to lead those who are lost and in need. We need to lead people to God, not by taking control from God, but by sharing His joy, the promise of eternal life.

In the Old Testament Israel was at the center of the stage. Someone still has to point people to God, has to offer them the gifts that we have been given. As New Testament people, people of the Gospel, let us be the ones to shepherd and spread His gifts around.

Witnessing to Jesus
without fear.

When the captain and the court officers had brought the apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.

Last week we heard of John’s witness. His witness to new life in Jesus was recorded near the very end of the apostolic era. Today we see a glimpse into the beginning of that era.

The apostles had recently experienced the infusion of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They never asked – What was that? The first thing they did was to stand on a balcony and proclaim the coming, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. They spent the weeks and months ahead preaching, not to gather followers, but to share the saving work of Jesus. They wanted everyone to know about God’s wonderful gift of freedom and Jesus’s glorious gift of friendship, the very same friendship He offered to them at the seashore. The apostles did not preach themselves as some sort of new leadership. They did not point to themselves as having anything to offer – they offered what they had – their witness to Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and ascended.

Today we will welcome Vincent John into the family of Christ. What we hope and pray is that in his life he will see each of us witness strongly to Jesus crucified, raised, and ascended. Hopefully, he will never see any one of us putting ourselves before the proclamation of Jesus. Hopefully, he will see and find in the Church his new and eternal family. Hopefully, he too will take up the mantle of witness so that his children and his children’s children will know Jesus as friend and savior – the One Who offers complete freedom.

Together with Vincent we have this great opportunity, but it comes with what might be seen as a problem… Jesus’ witnesses will not go without worldly assault. There is a cost to accepting Jesus. This arrest marks the third time they had been apprehended. Soon Stephen would be chosen, would proclaim and witness, would be arrested and would be martyred. The apostles’ greatest witness is that opportunity in Jesus is greater than any challenge. It is why they lived fearless lives.

Vincent, as we have all done, takes on the opportunity and challenge. His is the call to witness to the promise of God’s friendship and freedom, which is greater than any fear. That is the real glory isn’t it? The reward is that all of us have complete power and assurance in Christ. No fear in us because of Him. Ours is fearless life forever!

Witnessing to Jesus
without fear.

He touched me with his right hand and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.”

John, Jesus’ beloved Apostle, is exiled on a Greek island. He’d been cut off from His community. They tried to kill him repeatedly without success. If they couldn’t kill him, at least they could send him far away and shut him up. That didn’t work either. While on this far away rock Jesus comes to John. He gives him a command. Write what you see so that your witness will be preserved. The words of your mouth and the writing you undertake in my Holy Name cannot be silenced. To reinforce this Jesus showed up in the fullness of heavenly glory.

For nearly eighty years, John had traveled the world, proclaiming the saving action of Jesus. He met the resurrected Jesus on that awesome Sunday. That gave him more than just power and the ability to speak and write. It gave him the gift of joy. No matter where he would end up, no matter where he would go, he had Jesus – and a clear path to eternal life.

Many heard him. He wrote his witness and sent letters. Because of his witness some believed. They came to Jesus by faith. Many others walked away or outright rejected the message.

The question of Jesus has perplexed generations. Encountering and believing in Jesus was even difficult for the Apostles. The whole group thought that they had seen a ghost. Thomas couldn’t see it. To this day Jesus is accepted by few and rejected by many.

Jesus showed forth His power over nature, sickness, and death itself. His resurrection attests to His Divinity, and we embrace Him. Yet many are like a judge in a court who has heard an open-and-shut case and then reaches a verdict exactly opposite from the facts. Everything about Jesus was astounding, astonishing, humanly inexplicable, marvelous, superhuman, supernatural, and Divine. Many saw it all and still refused Jesus. Is it any wonder then that “Jesus marveled at their unbelief?” How can one be exposed to such an infinite number of convincing credentials and witnesses and walk away?

Like John we have the gift of faith and the power of Jesus in us. We have witnessed amazing things. Hearts and lives are changed, peace comes, healing is made real, and death is no more. The tomb is empty! Joy is ours. Jesus has changed our lives as He changed Thomas’. Like the Apostles, the sent, we have these great gifts and a heart to share them. Never fear witnessing to Him and all these amazing things. Rejection cannot overcome the joy we have. Let us remain steadfast and take Jesus’ word to heart: “Do not be afraid.”

Back on the early newsletter streak (at least one day early this time).

April and we are filled with Easter joy. But what happens when life becomes challenging, when we are confronted with something really serious and maybe even dangerous? Can we find joy there? This month we reflect on the lives of martyrs – and these aren’t just people who lived in ancient times. We have a host of new martyrs all over the world. Yet they stand strong and resolute. Not fearful, not shrinking away – but joyous because nothing the world does to them or takes from them is more valuable than the joy they have in Jesus. We have that same joy. Reflect, rediscover, and be joyous!

Also in our newsletter, important news on our annual Basket Social (note the new location), CONVO 2016, Kurs, national workshops, and ways to increase reverence in your current marriage.

You may view and download a copy of our April 2016 Newsletter right here.

Lift high
the Cross.

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.

Lift High the Cross was composed in 1916 by Sydney H. Nicholson. The lyrics used in the hymn were written in 1887. The scriptural theme is John 12:32 where Jesus says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

Regardless of the season, the cross calls us to continual reflection. It was a place of such gruesome punishment for Jesus. Yet it is also a place of glory–where death and sin were conquered forever. On this day we remember in the most particular and special way the victory of Christ over death. We rejoice in our newfound freedom and the promise of paradise reopened to us. What a profound impact this cross has had on our lives. The cross, once a symbol of horror, is now the gateway to salvation. In the baptismal rite, which we are celebrating today, we place the sign of the cross on heart and forehead of the one to be baptized. They then are called to take ownership of the cross and of its promise. Let us recognize its power in our lives.

This hymn has five verses. Let’s reflect a moment on a few of them.

Come, brethren follow where our Savior trod, Our King victorious, Christ, the Son of God. We are called to follow Jesus, to walk His way, to live as He lived in complete dedication to the Father’s will for us.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign, The hosts of God in conqu’ring ranks combine. We conquer in the cross. This isn’t conquering in worldly terms, but in eternal terms. The cross is the sign of hope and victory. We wear this sign of victory on our bodies and in our hearts as a result of our baptism.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, As thou hast promised, draw men unto thee. The cross is a draw for all people. There is no distinction or differentiation because we all are made part of His one body.

Thy kingdom come, that earth’s despair may cease, Beneath the shadow of its healing peace. The great promise of those who live in the cross is freedom, release, and perfect healing. All that separates us and hold us back is removed.

The hymn also carries a message of baptismal action and outreach. It calls us to “lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim” so that the whole world will hear of what Jesus has done to free us.

Making
choices.

And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed.

Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week. Palm Sunday marks the start of a week in which tremendous, world-changing choices would be made and would be followed up on.

Choices big and small confronted the people we meet today. Would the disciples go and get the colt? Would the owner of the colt let them take it? Small matters, but unless Jesus arrived on that colt He could not be proclaimed the peace bringing King and Messiah of Israel.

There are those in the party of Jesus. They had made or were making choices. Peter would choose to react without thinking. Thomas would choose to doubt. John chose to stand by Jesus. After Jesus fed the multitudes Judas heard and saw Him refuse political power. Judas heard Jesus tell the crowds that He must be betrayed and must die. Judas chose to follow Jesus to Jerusalem so me might destroy Him. Jesus was not living up to the choices Judas made for Him.

The crowds appeared after they had all made their choice. They chose to cut branches and lay their cloaks on the road – honoring the King of kings. They shook their fists in the air proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” They did this right under the nose of the Roman governor and his troops. Important stuff.

St. Paul tells us “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Yet so many choose to walk away from the Name of Jesus or even to step all over it.

Jesus had to choose. We think He was on autopilot and that everything He did was pre-arranged. Not so. At the supper He had to chose to leave us a lasting memorial, His body and blood to be real and present to us so we might partake of Him. In the garden He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” He struggled and chose to accept and follow the Father’s will. He did so, not because it was easy, but because it was the ultimate act of love and surrender. Love freely given.

Each day we make good and bad choices. We live our Christian virtues and rejoice in doing so. We confront the ease with which we fall in our day-to-day choices. Who among them would do such a deed? We are weak Lord. Our deeds not yet one with You, not completely loving. Yet Your cross lifts us up when our choices fail You. Help us to choose You, Your way, Your love. “Jesus, remember me.

Getting back to
Eden.

It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.

We continue in our Lenten series on getting back to Eden.

Paul puts it so plainly. We are all on a journey back to Eden. We haven’t quite gotten there, but we press on toward that goal.

Paul cites himself as the best of examples of one who needs to keep working toward that goal, to the full maturity of faith needed to grasp onto Eden. He knew that he had faith, but he wanted it to mature, to become more and more intimate with Jesus.

The people he was writing to couldn’t quite understand that. Here was Paul, and apostle. One who met and was sent by the Lord. Here was Paul, one who had suffered in union with and for the Lord; Paul who had sacrificed so much in order to acquire justice before God. He had to be there already, hadn’t he? Paul had to be in a state of perfection. He shouldn’t have to do anything else.

Yet here is Paul clueing them in. We all need to increase our efforts to reach Christian perfection. Much remains to be done, and we really cannot rest on the merits of what has been done before.

We are all tempted to pause, pat ourselves on the back, and think we’ve got it done. Paul reminds us by saying that he must strain forward, press ahead, to what lies ahead, a continued pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

Today we have reflected on the times we have fallen short in our effort to press ahead toward Eden. We have removed the image of being all done, so we can start fresh. Our prize is not far from our grasp, we re-enter a state of sinlessness, we take hold of the promise of that beautifully perfect place, we have removed the fear caused by shame, we feel peace all around us, we re-engage in a cooperative relationship with God and each other. Eden is not far off.

Jesus is not far from us, but to reach Him it takes effort, introspection, and a commitment to developing more fully that intimate relationship that is at the heart of the Christian journey.

This is the time. If we haven’t done all we should then we need to take heart. The path is clear now and we are able to re-engage. Like the woman brought forward in that street so many years ago we hear Jesus say to us “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

Freedom is before us. Eden is close by. Wrongs are forgotten. Sin is gone. We are free. We are ready to get back to Eden. The option is to do all required to strain forward.