Christian Unity

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time January 22, 2023
Is 8:23-9:3; Ps 27; 1 Cor 1:10-13,17; Mt 4:17-23

It seemed like the world stopped for a moment
No one was expecting it…
It happened out of nowhere
He collapsed
A professional football player in the peak of health
Went into cardiac arrest on the football field

We stood, we sat in silence…
And there was prayer
There was prayer while the medics were working on him
There was prayer when he was going to the hospital
I saw a sports broadcaster bow his head in prayer on his TV show
The world, at least the world that followed the NFL was united in prayer
And Damar Hamlin is now in recovery
Thanks be to God…

On the night of his betrayal, Jesus prayed…
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (Jn 17:20-21)
Jesus is praying that we all might be united
We “may all be one…” (Jn 17:20)

In the second reading, we hear St. Paul addressing the church at Corinth
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (1 Cor 1:10)

The church at Corinth was divided
There were rivalries among them
Some said they belonged to Paul
Others said they belonged to Apollos
And even others said they belonged to Cepas (another name for Peter)
And finally there were those that said they belonged to Christ

I remember even as a boy 
I was hurt as I read about this church at Corinth
And I continue to be saddened as I see the divisions in the Body of Christ

Division among us comes from the evil one.
I think this quote from Lord of the Rings sums it up well.
“Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him” (Lord of the Rings, Tolkien)
The divisions that we see in the church today are a result of evil

The week of Prayer for Christian Unity began this past Wednesday 

In his opening address of Vatican II, Pope John XXII “spoke about the Church’s being a source of unity for all peoples.” (United States Catechism for Adults, p.21)

The Catholic Catechism tells us that…
“The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 820)
The Catholic Church has always desired for Jesus’ prayer for unity to be fulfilled
“The…Second Vatican Council…led the Church to participate in what is called the ecumenical movement. The word ecumenical means ‘world wide’ and, in a Catholic understanding, describes efforts ‘for the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ…. Ecumenism includes efforts to pray together, joint study of Scripture and of one another’s traditions, [and] common action for social justice” to name a few.  (United States Catechism for Adults, p.128)

I love the Church and its desire for Christian unity
I love what the Vatican II documents and Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the unity of all Christians

But I think Jesus says it best…
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)

When we here at Sacred Heart love one another, all will know that we are Jesus’ disciples
When we love others that believe differently than we do, all will know that we are Jesus’ disciples
When we love no matter what, we become lights of Christ
The light that shines in the darkness of division
The light of Christ for all to see
For when God’s people all come together in prayer
Mighty things can happen
A football player can recover from cardiac arrest
But even mightier things can happen

Can you imagine what it would be like if there were only one church in this town? 

The Church can become one, the Church can become united

So…”we place our hope ‘in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 822)
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Cordero de Dios (The Lamb of God)

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time January 15, 2023
Is 49:1-3,5-6; Ps 40: 1 Cor 1:1-4; John 1:29-34

They had been slaves for over four hundred years
But the Lord had sent them a deliverer
The Lord had sent plagues on the Egyptians
And Pharaoh's heart was hardened

The had seen the water turn to blood, and watched frogs, flies and locusts invade the earth
And now there was to be one last plague

The Lord told the Israelites to get a lamb
One for each household
They were told to slaughter the lamb
And mark the door posts with it’s blood

They were then told to roast and eat the lamb
During the night, the Exterminador would go throughout the land
All the first born would be killed
Except those that were saved by the blood of Lamb

“Egipto llevando la plaga y, al ver la sangre en la entrada, pasará de largo y no permitirá que el Exterminador entre en sus casas y los mate.” (Exodo 12:23)

This is known as the feast of the Passover
And the lamb is known as the Passover lamb

The Jews celebrated this feast every year
They would tell the story of Moses, Pharaoh, and the plagues
They would roast a lamb and eat a Passover meal
They would remember how the Lord had delivered them from slavery
They would remember how they were saved by the blood of the lamb

“Este es el Cordero de Dios, el que quita el pecado del mundo.” (Jn 1)
John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Son of God

The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus
Jesus celebrated the Passover Feast with his disciples at the Last Supper
He is crucified during the time of the Jewish Passover
Jesus is our Passover Lamb
He is spotless and free from sin
And He frees us from sin and death
We are saved by His blood

“Este es el Cordero de Dios, el que quita el pecado del mundo.” (Jn 1)
“Dichosos los invitados a la cena del Señor.” (Roman Missal)

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The Real World

The Nativity of the Lord December 25, 2022
Is 62:15; Ps 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt 1:1-25

Is 62:11-12; Ps 97; Titus 3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20

Last week 60 Minutes had a segment on Lordes, France
They talked about St. Bernadette and how the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her
They talked about how when the the Blessed Virgin told Bernadette that she was “The Immaculate Conception”
And they talked about the healing waters of the spring there at Lordes

Millions of people have been to Lordes to seek healing in these spring waters
And there have been many claims of healing
The Church does not accept these miracles until they are investigated
And that is what the 60 Minutes news team was reporting on 
They explained how the Church investigated these claims of miracles
And only after rigorous investigation
And meeting of all the criteria of the Church
Can a miracle be declared… a miracle
Only 70 miracles have been confirmed at Lordes

When the reporter was interviewing the bishop of Lordes
He asked him for advice to anyone that was skeptical of these claims coming from Lordes.
The bishop said, “"be open, don't be narrow minded, be open to believe that the real world is wider than the visible one.” (Bishop of Lordes)..."

“... the real world is wider that the visible one” 

At Christmas, we get a glimpse into the real world that is much bigger that we can see
Joseph has a dream and a message from an angel
The shepherds see the heavenly host
And Mary reflects in her heart on all these things

How can we understand this real world?
This real world that is so much wider that what is visible around us? 
How can we understand this idea of God Incarnate?
God becoming man?
God living among us?

Listen to how St. Hippolytus tries to describe it:

“God was all alone and nothing existed but himself when he determined to create the world. He thought of it, willed it, spoke the word and so made it. It came into being instantaneously, exactly as he had willed. It is enough then for us to be aware of a single fact: nothing is coeternal with God. Apart from God there was simply nothing else. Yet although he was alone, he was manifold because he lacked neither reason, wisdom, power, nor counsel. All things were in him and he himself was all. At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by himself, God manifested his Word, and through him he made the whole universe.
 When the Word was hidden within God himself he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the world, God made him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered our world was made known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father.
 The Son gave us the law and the prophets, and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father’s power, they were to proclaim the Father’s purpose and his will.
 So the Word was made manifest, as Saint John declares when, summing up all the sayings of the prophets, he announces that this is the Word through whom the whole universe was made. He says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being; not one thing was created without him. And further on he adds: The world was made through him, and yet the world did not know him. He entered his own creation, and his own did not receive him.” (From a treatise against the heresy of Noetus by Saint Hippolytus, priest and martyr)
The thought of God can be hard to understand
The visible world alone can be hard to understand
Much less the real world that is much wider than the visible one
So God became one of us
He was a baby just like all of us
So we could understand him better
And His name is Jesus
May we all look to the Blessed Virgin Mary as an example
We can look
We can listen
And we can sit in the silence 
And reflect in our hearts on this wonderful mystery…

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4th Sunday of Advent December 18, 2022

Is 7:10-14; Ps 28; Rom 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24

“The LORD spoke to Ahaz saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!” (Is 7)

The Lord is telling Ahaz to ask for a sign…
But…he won’t do it

We are constantly surrounded by signs and wonders of God
Have you ever asked for God to send you a sign? 

One of the signs I am constantly seeing from God is that of a rainbow
I have seen a rainbow at many “special times” in my life
Others have shared with me signs that God has sent them
Sometimes they call them “God moments”, “winks from God” or maybe they say…
“That’s a God thing”

In 2006, I was studying for a degree in Theology
I remember when Teague asked me why in the world i was studying theology
I said, “Just for fun”
Teague didn’t understand that answer then, and I still don’t think she does…

As I began to study more theology, I became restless
And I started looking at jobs on
I was dreaming about finding a job and working for the church
I remember telliing Teague about some of the jobs I was seeing
They were in cool places like Aspen, Colorado
And I remember her saying something like…
“Are you just going to look at them, or are you going to apply?”

So, I began to send our my resume 
And nothing happened…

Months later, I received a call out of the blue on my cell phone
Reid and I were headed to the farm to get a tractor going
It was a priest named Fr. Timothy. 
He was from Flint, Texas, which is the diocese of Tyler
And he had received my resume, and wanted to visit with me about it.
So, I talked to him while Reid and I got the tractor ready to go

A few weeks later, I was invited to the parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Flint for an interview as a Youth Director
It was all very exciting…

I remember when I was driving to Amarillo to get on the plane
Thinking to myself
Thinking about all the things that might happen
I remember wondering if God might send me a sign
I remember thinking, “God will you send me a rainbow?”

I got on my plane 
Found my seat
And the plane took off and was flying through the clouds
I looked out the window…
And there it was…
A double rainbow…

There are signs all around us… everywhere

“The Church celbrates the liturgy using an abundance of signs, symbols, and rituals. We celebrate the Sacraments with scriptural readings, homilies, music, processions, blessings, bread, wine, oil, arms outstretched in prayer, gestures of peace, bowed heads, kneeling, standing, sitting, incense, holy water, flowers, candles, colors, ritual vestments, choirs, and musical instruments.

We do this in a holy environment in which architecture, sculpture, paintings, icons, and stained glass lend an ambience that speaks of the mystery of God and divine transcendence on the one hand, and the unity of God with the worshiping community on the other. Since the Son of God honored us by becoming incarnate-- the true visible image of the invisible God-- we use these signs and symbols to help us experience God’s invisible prescence.” (United States Catechism for Adults, p 171)

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.” (Is 7)

The Blessed Virgin Mary…
A sign sent from the Lord…

But Joseph didn’t recognize this sign
He was preparing to divorce her quietly

And and angel appears to him in a dream
There are many examples in the scriptures of God speaking to people through angels and through dreams
Joseph listened to the angel in his dream
He changed his plans
And when he, “awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him
and took his wife into his home.” (Matt 1)

St. Joseph is a model for all fathers.
He placed his trust in God
He accepted all that happened to him

He was the leader and protector of his family. 
He was a man who listened to God
Four times he was given heavenly instruction in a dream.
He did not question.
He listened.
He listened to God.

St. Joseph was the spiritual leader of his family.
He took his family to the temple
He prayed.

St. Therese of Liseaux describes the Holy Family like this:
“What does me a lot of good when I think of the Holy Family is to imagine a life that is very ordinary.” (St. Therese of Liseaux from St Joseph by Louise Perrota)

Families are ordinary, but they are so special
In a way the family itself 
Is like a small church
Catholic teaching refers to the family as the Domestic church (CCC,1655-1658)

The father is the head of this family church
Just as the priest is the head of Sacred Heart
And the bishop is the head of the Amarillo diocese
And the pope is the head of the Catholic Church
And Jesus is the head of the Universal Church
The father is the spiritual head of the family

So men…
You are responsible for the spiritual well being of your family
You are responsible for protecting your wife and children 
From the evil of the world

I encourage you fathers
Not to shirk from this responsibility 
For it is a matter of life…
And death…

To be a father is not for the light hearted
You must be brave
You must be courageous 
You must be strong
You must be the protector of your wife and children

Fathers are on the front of the battle lines
So men…
Arm yourself with the armor of God
Gird your loins in truth
Clothe yourself with the breastplate of righteousness
Pick up the shield of faith and the sword of truth,
Which is the Word of God

And pray…
Pray for your family
Pray with all your heart, mind, and soul
For it is with prayer that the battle is won
The battle against the evil one.
The evil one who wants to destroy and kill your family.

St. Joseph the earthly father of Jesus
Is a good example for us
Notice that the scripture does not record a single word of St. Joseph
I picture him as the strong, silent type…

“Scripture does not report a single word of his.
Silence is the father of the Word.” (Paul Claudel, from St Joseph by Louise Perrota)

St. Joseph’s actions speak much louder that any words.
God is speaking to us all in the many signs and symbols around us
But we need to listen in order to hear
To hear, we need quiet
We need silence
It is only in the silence that we can truly listen…
Listen for God

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I am the Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary December 8, 2022

Gn 3:9-13, 20; Ps 98; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-28

Her family was poor
She had been sick much of her life
And had missed a lot of school
She couldn’t read very well
She had even missed her First Communion

When she was fourteen years old
She was sent with a sister and a friend to go and gather firewood
While she was gathering the wood
She saw a lady dressed in blue and white in a cave
The lady had a rosary

Others could not see this lady
Only Bernadette could see her
The lady appeared to her eighteen times

The recurring message from the lady was
“Penance, Penance, Penance…”
She had also asked Bernadette to dig in the cave
When she dug water began to surface

Bernadette lived in small town
Some of the people believed that this 14 year old girl was lying or hallucinating
Some of the people believed that she was seeing a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary

During one of Bernadette’s visions, the lady asked her to go to the local priest and ask him to have a chapel built at this cave, also known as a grotto
The priest told Bernadette to ask the lady her name

When Bernadette asked her name, the lady wouldn’t answer
Finally after asking three times, the lady said,
“I am the Immaculate Conception”

The year was 1858
Pope Pius IX had proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception four years earlier in 1854
Bernnadette didn’t know what the Immaculate Conception meant when the lady told her.
Her family, friends, and even her priest testified that she would have never even heard of the term “Immaculate Conception”
Bernadette lived in Lordes, France
The place where she dug is now a big spring of water
There is a chapel there
And millions of people have made pilgrimages there to seek healing

The story of St. Bernadette just blows me away
Some of it is hard to believe
And then some of it is so amazing!

You can’t make this stuff up!

St. Aquinas said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

The dogma or doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is often misunderstood or not understood at all.

Pope Pius proclaimed it this way in 1854:
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (CCC, 491)

So, when Mary was conceived in the womb of St. Anne, she had no sin.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception says more about Jesus than it does about Mary

Notice in today’s gospel
How the angel greets Mary
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
“Alégrate, llena de gracia, el Señor está contigo.”

This also happens to be the beginning the Hail Mary or Dios Te, Salve, María 

“Hail Mary, full of grace
the Lord is with thee”

“Dios te salve, María 
llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo”

“To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role” (CCC, 490)
“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed the moment of her conception.” (CCC, 491)

St. Anselm explains it like this
“To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.” (sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop, Office of Reading)

For me, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is one of the most beautiful teachings of the church.
I enjoy reading and studying the theology behind it.

But, I realize a fourteen year might have other things to think about
And might not be able to grasp it all

But, a fourteen year old can have faith
Faith like St. Bernadette
Faith does not confine itself to age
The faith of a child can be greater than that of his parents

Faith is all we need
Like the faith of St. Bernadette

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Or even better…
We could have the faith of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Who completely surrendered herself to God
When she said “yes”...
When she said “yes” to God… 

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Getting Ready

First Sunday of Advent November 27, 2022
Is 2:1-5; Ps 122; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44

My Mom and Dad loved to go to the lake
They loved camping and water skiing
Our family had a “Boat Club”

I was about six years old when I was first learning to water ski
I remember the first time I tried to get up on skis 
I didn’t know that if you fell you were supposed to let go of the ski rope

On my first try, I told my Dad to “hit it” 
That’s what my Dad always said, so I did too
Dad gave the boat some gas, and it started to pull me
Almost instantly, I fell forward, but I didn’t let go of the rope
The boat was pulling me through the water
I was holding my breath and had my eyes open…
Soon, I had to let go.
I remember my Mom and Dad laughing…

Mom and Dad liked to go water skiing when the lake wasn’t crowded and there wasn’t much wind
So, If it was a nice day…
And Dad had his work caught up on the farm
He might show up at the house any time and say…
“Let’s go to the lake”

And Mom had us ready
She had a list made out for me, my brother, and sister
My job was to put ice in the cooler for cokes
That was back when you didn’t just buy ice at the store

We saved our half gallon milk cartons
Filled them with water and froze them 
I would get a hammer and break the ice and load the cooler with cokes

But, we had to be ready when Dad showed up at the door
So, we didn’t miss a moment of lake time

The season of Advent is upon us
It is a season to prepare
To “get ready” 

The Lord told Noah to build an Ark 
So, Noah would be ready for the flood when it came
Noah had faith in God
“By faith Noah, warned about what was not yet seen, with reverence built an ark for the salvation of his household.” (Heb 11:7)
Those that were not prepared perished in the flood.

“The swelling waters increased greatly, but the ark floated on the surface of the waters…. All creatures that stirred on earth perished: birds, cattle, wild animals, and all that swarmed on the earth, as well as all mankind. Everything on dry land with the faintest breath of life in its nostrils died out. The Lord wiped out every living thing on earth: man and cattle, the creeping things and the birds of the air; all were wiped out from the earth. Only Noah and those with him in the ark were left.” (Gen 7:18-23)

I remember reading this story to the Camp Alphie kids one time
I asked them what they thought
One child replied that it was sad about the people dying
It is sad…

Jesus is telling us that His Second Coming will be similar to the days of Noah
People will be living their lives
Some will be ready like Noah
Some will not be ready like those that died in the flood

We need to always be prepared for the coming of the Lord
For it can be like a thief in the night
When we least expect it.

Advent is a time that can help us prepare
Each week as we light a candle of the Advent wreath 
We can prepare for the coming of the Light of the World

We can take this time to “wake from our sleep” 
“For our salvation is nearer now that when we first believed”  (Rom 13)

This is also a time to be tempted by the world
It’s easy to get caught up in the worldliness of the holidays

The world is not our friend
“The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you?” (St. Cyprian”)

When we give our love to Christ
We prepare our hearts for Christ
We prepare our hearts for His Coming
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Christ the King

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe November 20, 2022
2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

The Israelites wanted a king
They wanted a king, so they could be like all the other nations

The prophet Samuel warned them that a king
Would make their sons become soldiers
The king would use their daughters as cooks and bakers
The king would take the best land
He would tax the people

But the people still wanted a king
So they could be like all the other nations

There was a handsome young man from the tribe of Benjamin
He was very tall
The tallest man around
“He stood head and shoulders above the people” (1Sam 9:2)
He looked like a king
And he was anointed king of Israel

But Saul was not a very good king
He did not obey God
And Saul was rejected by God

So, the prophet Samuel was sent by God to anoint a new king
He was sent to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem
Jesse had seven sons, and one would be king
The Lord rejected the six older sons
And then came the youngest

“He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and [made] a splendid appearance.” (1Sam 16:12)
But he was just a boy
A shepherd
His name was David

“Then [the Lord} removed [Saul] as raised up David as their king; of him he testified.’I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart.” (Acts 13:22)

Today, we celebrate Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
But, he does not look like an earthly king
He is not surrounded by wealth
His crown is made of thorns
The cross is his throne

You see…
He is a king like none other
He is the king of the universe

All who follow this king, will be brothers and sisters
His kingdom has no borders
Presidents, Kings and queens. World leaders come and go
But Jesus Christ, the Son of God is with us forever

The threat of war is with us daily
Peace can only be found in Jesus

Jesus was mocked by the crowd and the soldiers
They could not believe that He was a king

But notice the sign above him states a fact
“This is the King of the Jews”

There is one person that recognizes Jesus as king
The good thief 
It is hard for the world to imagine a king that is so selfless
A king that is sacrificing himself for the world
A king that is sacrificing himself for you and me

And the good thief asks to be remembered in the Kingdom of Christ
The Kingdom that Jesus is suffering for…
The Kingdom that Jesus is sacrificing his life for…
The Kingdom that He is dying for…

When we are like the good thief, and come to our King
We too can be forgiven
We too can be a part of the Kingdom of Christ

“Among men, confession is followed by punishment;
whereas; confession to God is followed by salvation.”

The cross is His throne
Thorns are His crown
He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords
His sacrifice is for you
Because He loves you
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19th Sunday of Ordinary Time August 7, 2022
Wis 18:6-9; Ps 33; Heb 11:1-2, 32-48; Lk 12: 32-48

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)
The classic definition of faith by the writer or the letter to the Hebrews

Why do you believe what you believe? 

When I was a boy, I went to church and believed in God because my parents took me to church and my Sunday school teachers taught me about God and Jesus
As I got older, in jr. high and high school, I went to church because my family went. It was the right thing to do, and my friends were there. 
But I also had other friends that went to different churches, and we had some differences in our beliefs. 
When I went to college, I practically stopped going to church, but I still believed in God
I remember being shocked when some of my friends told me they didn’t believe in God

When Teague and I got married, we both believed in God and both our families had brought us up in Christian homes.
But we had an impasse about what church we should go to. 
So, for the most part, we didn’t go at all

When we had our first child, Ryan, I had this strong need to go to church
I had this strong feeling that I needed to pass my faith down to our children
I was responsible for them

So we took our children to church… my church
And I began to ask myself the question
Why do I believe what I believe? 

I concluded that I believed what I believed because of all the people I loved and trusted had taught me
But I decided that I was going to study for myself
So I began a journey…
I began to pray, read the scripture, read books about God, Jesus, and faith

I was trying to understand my faith.
“Faith seeks understanding” (CCC 158) (St. Anselm)

I have talked to parents that are concerned about their children when they question their faith
But St. Augustine says, “Doubt is but another element of faith.” (St. Augustine)

Faith is a gift from God
Many times it comes to us through our families
But we all must grow in our faith
“In the words of St. Augustine, ‘I believe in order to understand, and I understand in order to believe.” (CCC 158)

“Faith is a personal act-- the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone… The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.” (CCC166) 

We see a man of great faith in Abraham
And when we learn of the saints of the church, we are strengthened by their faith
But are we not also strengthened by the faith of our families, our immediate ancestors?

I am thankful for the faith of the ancestors and original families of this church
I am thankful that their faith was great enough to build a church
I am thankful that they passed their faith onto their children
And their children’s children

Are we passing our faith down to our children? 
It’s not the CCD teacher’s job to teach the faith to our children
It’s our responsibility to share our faith
It’s the responsibility of the parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts
It’s the responsibility of the Church

Is your faith weak? 
Pray… Ask Jesus to increase your faith
The way we pray is the way we believe 

Look to the great examples of faith in our church like Abraham and the Blessed Virgin Mary
Or maybe some who are here today
But most of all let us look  “to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (CCC 165; Heb 12:1-20)

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A month ago I was enjoying the view of the Alps, but I’m back in my own neck of the woods, the Texas Panhandle. As I walked the roads of Prayer Town, I am struck by the harshness of this place, but there is also a beauty and a grandeur in the vastness of the mesas and prairie. I’m on retreat at the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ Emmanuel Retreat Center. My Silent Directed Retreat will begin on a Monday afternoon and end Friday at noon.

On my arrival, I was met by a Sister of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. She showed me to my small apartment, and I got settled in. One room had a single bed, desk, chair, dresser, and a sink. The other was a small kitchenette with refrigerator stocked with food, table, and sink, as well as the other appliances such as a hot plate and microwave. I was set.

That evening I joined the Sisters for Vespers (Evening Prayer), afterwards I met for the first time with my director for the retreat, Sr. Catherine. We visited for about an hour and got to know one another. I told her that I was recently retired from my job, and that Teague had suggested that I go on retreat. At the end of our meeting Sr. Catherine gave me a paper with scripture passages and asked me to pick out four of them and read and pray with them. The theme of this first day was “God Provides for Me”. I walked the short trek up the road named “Holy Way” from the Mother House to my apartment. It was blazing hot, and I was pleasantly surprised that the air conditioner was keeping the place cool. I ate a little dinner and settled in.

I would normally wake up about 5:30 or so, make coffee and pray Morning Prayer, read the daily scriptures, and read the Office while I drank my coffee. Then I would take out on my morning walk. I tried to go walk before the heat took over the day. Every day I walked the “Holy Way” road up to the entrance of Prayer Town. It was about 3 miles round trip. As I walked up the road and made the bend, I could see the Cross.

The history of Prayer Town and the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is a lesson in the Providence and work of God. One afternoon, I opened the drawer of the nightstand. There was a copy of the book Laying The Foundation: A History of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ by Mother John Marie Stewart, DLJC.

I opened the book and began to read. I was enthralled, and I found it hard to put down. The religious order of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ had come out of the Charismatic movement that had begun was well alive in the 1970’s. My background is far from Charismatic, but I was familiar with many of the things in the book.

The grass land that Prayer Town sits was a gift from Mr. Oliver Bivins. The sisters have built practically all of the buildings themselves. One exception being the Chapel of St. Anthony of Padua. This building was a gift from Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, which sits right across the highway from Prayer Town. The legendary Cal Farley actually died in this chapel.

After my morning walk, I would take a shower, eat some brunch, and go see Sr. Catherine for my 10:30 appointment. After that, I would rest. In the afternoon, I would go to the chapel with by Bible, journal, and the paper with the scriptures that Sr. Catherine had given me for the day. I would sit with Jesus. Read his Word, pray, and maybe write a reflection in my journal.

While on retreat, I also read The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago. It was written by a sixty year old man that is about to retire. It is about his journey, physical and spiritual, on the Camino de Santiago. While he was preparing and on his journey, he made some rules for himself. One of his rules was that he was not going to hurry, and during his journey, he constantly had to remind himself not to be in a hurry. Another rule was that he was going to try and notice all the little signs of God for him on the road. I have a friend that calls them “winks from God”. I decided that I wasn’t going to be in a hurry, and that I was going to try and look for God in all things.

A couple of evenings, when it began to cool down, I walked back up to the gate again. The locusts begin to sing, and the mosquitos begin to buzz, and I also saw a few deer. I counted eleven deer that I saw during my time there. Below is my final reflection on the scripture Philippines 4:8-13.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me, but lacked an opportunity. Not that I say this because of need for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.

Philippians 4:8-13

“I find it Providential that I began this retreat with this scripture, and now I end it with the same. I rejoice in your work O Lord. I have learned to be content in all circumstances. I can live with abundance, and how to live with little. The “God of Peace” is with me. He had blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. He is with me always. — I will follow you, Lord Jesus, and I won’t be in a hurry.”

I am continually asked what I am going to do now that I have retired. My answer.

I don’t know.

And I’m not going to be in a hurry.

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Mass on the farm

As we turned onto the caliche farm to market road, we had about five miles before we reached our destination. I grew up on a farm, and spent twenty-four years of my adult life farming. I still can’t help but do a little “windshield farming” as I drive along.  It was a hot day in June, the center pivots were watering the corn and other summer crops, and the grass looks like it needs a rain. We are getting close to our destination, and we pass by some cows under the shade of the trees. Teague states matter of factly, “Belted Galloways”. I’m impressed by her statement. When I met her in 1980, she was a city girl from Dallas, but she can hold her own as a country girl now.

We turned into the farmhouse on this warm Sunday afternoon, and we pull up to the what looks to be a large garage with an awning out and the doors open. There are chickens walking the grounds and livestock in the pens. Old and new farm equipment are lined up ready to use  or maybe just retired. There are a few people gathered under the shade with the fan running in the background. They were here for the Rural Life Mass. Sure enough, we were at the right place. 

I began to get things prepared for the mass. There was a makeshift altar, credence table, and presider's chair. I gathered my vestments and found a hook hanging from the ceiling and hung them there for the moment. Before long, Bishop Zurek arrived as well as Fr. Shane Wieck, they too hung their vestments from hooks hanging from the ceiling. 

As the people began to gather, I visited a little with the owner of the farm, Paul Detten. He told me that this very place was where they butchered the hogs and made sausage every winter. There is even a hint of that butcher shop smell in the air. 

Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and the vestments are red symbolizing the Holy Spirit, but the red also symbolizes the blood of the martyrs and the ultimate martyr, Jesus Christ. It seems appropriate that the mass should be celebrated in such a setting, and seeing the vestments hang from these butchering hooks only reinforces the sacrifice that will be celebrated here today. 

A good crowd has arrived. There are babies as well as those well along in years. There are many families present and children and adults find a seat. The bishop has recently been on pilgrimage to Europe, and he shares how impressed he was with the faith of the people he met there, but he also takes notice of the faith of the people present. The presence of families with children of all ages.

A small girl sings the Gloria from heart. It inspires us all. Why? Because the reason she knows this song is because she has been to mass. She has heard it so many times and sung along. It is now written on her heart. 

As the bishop presides, I can’t help but think about him presiding in beautiful European churches just a few weeks ago, and now he is presiding on the farm. I can’t help but think about this line from Ecclesia de Eucharistia, an encyclical from St. Pope John Paul II, “...even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.” Heaven and earth are being united, and the glory of God is among us. 

After the celebration of the mass, the people stay and visit. There are cold drinks and some of the good sausage and tortillas to eat. We gather our things and follow the same road home. Driving by the farms and the cattle and checking the crops as we go.
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