Inside Out

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Have you ever had a set of daily readings just sing to you?  The words just leap off the page and into your heart.  That happened today to me with the set of Readings from Isaiah, James, and Mark.

Perhaps these sing to me because they reflect a greater confusion I once had on this issue when I was a protestant.  In exploring Catholicism I took a hard look at this idea of works and what that meant.  Couldn’t you just believe in Jesus Christ?  Why are works so important to Catholics? Why must they do and not just believe?

What these readings reveal and what I came to understand in appreciating the fullness of the faith is that it isn’t works in the sense of a set of chores or activities.  When St. James says; So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead, what he is describing is that you truly have faith when you allow Christ to live through you.  When your response to the world becomes “of Christ” in what you do, and not “of yourself.”   This is why the passage closes with Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

The Gospel reading from Mark included an aside that gives of a foreboding of things to come; He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise up after three days.  When reading or hearing this it’s easy to focus on Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, but did you ever ask yourself why did Christ have to be rejected by the established faith community?  Why?  Why couldn’t the sacrifice have been made through the participation of the Jewish leadership?  What was his contentious relationship with them all about?

It’s because their faith in God had become too man made.  Their rules, the law, and their contentment for others had quenched out God’s spirit. This is why Peter’s rebuke of him takes on such significance. Peter’s immediate response becomes more of the same. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do. 

The Gospel of Mark then explains St. James’ words through quoting Christ directly; Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.

It is understanding this concept that the Eucharist transcends its role for our own healing needs into its role for the fulfillment of Christ’s ministry on earth.  In laying down our life, we chose to put Christ physically inside of us.  In allowing Christ inside of our person we can demonstrate our faith to you from our works by surrendering and letting Christ to live through us.  We, as His followers, need to let what is inside come out.

Brothers, are you living inside out?

YBiC

The Cracked Pot Club

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This past Sunday’s New Testament Reading was from the Epistle of James (James 2:1-5):

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please, ” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.  Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?

When I heard this my mind floated back to the one Thursday morning I defied the natural laws of the universe and woke up in time to attend the 6am small group my CRHP team holds at the coffee shop at SMP and Monticello. We were in discussion about the readings for that week, and I remembered being asked my thoughts about a similar reading. I’m not much for detail at that hour of the day, but I remember responding about my life observations with regards to average intelligence of people in the world.  It was related to a discussion in which some in our group felt equipped for something and others felt completely unequipped to the idea at hand.  Being a College Adjunct, I related it to my observations on intelligence.

The point I made was that I meet a lot of people in my profession, and I work with a lot of very intelligent people. Some time along the path of my career I realized that we are all really smart in our own way. You may not be as “intelligent” as I am in one way because how I process information affords me talents that you don’t have. However, I know there are things in which I am not as intelligent as you because how you process information affords you talents I don’t have.

These differences though represent one the glorious aspects of the Body of Christ. This is why we are our brother’s keeper. Because TOGETHER we reveal a glory of God that is greater than anything we could be alone. Like the Lord has done in all of His creation; we all play a part to a greater grandness than our individual presence. What is one color without the rainbow? What is one part of the Body of Christ with out its whole? This is why we acknowledge as Christians that our response to Christ is to give up our own lives and allow him to live through us. Because it is through that reflective sacrifice to His sacrifice that we reveal God’s greater glory.

The priest’s homily I heard Sunday included the following story:

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman only bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. ” I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are beautiful flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace this house.”

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

So, to all of my cracked pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path.

So, my brothers, thank you for allowing me to be a member of the Cracked Pot Club where I know I belong, and thank you for being a part of it too.

Sincerely yours,

YBIC

Respecting our Priests

I was having a recent conversation with a friend that belongs to a different parish.  They were telling me how people were getting cross ways with their new priest. Evidently the new priest came in to the parish and started making changes.  Of course a few people didn’t like it. This isn’t the first time I have heard this type of thing.  It just really gets to me.  I was not raised Catholic.  I am one of those converts.  Even as a young non-Catholic man I had a certain degree of respect for priests.  Simply because they were a man of the cloth.  I didn’t even consider myself very “religious”.  I used to secretly make fun of the “Jesus freaks”.  Now I am proud to call myself a “Jesus freak”.  This disrespect towards priests is something I really struggle with.  From my understanding some of these people who are mad were threatening to leave their parish.  This is nothing more than a pride issue. It is evil using pride to twist us backwards.  I started to get upset but then had to take a step back because I have done the same type of thing.  We just need to realize that when we start to feel this way, it is evil trying to get in the way.  People need to remember that every priest has their own style.  They will never see things exactly as the prior priest.  Parishioners are going to have to suffer through “growing pains” while the new priest implements his style into the parish.  Not to mention most parishes have several thousand families.  How can the priest possibly please everyone?  He can’t.  That is why we as parishioners have to adjust to him.  It is a time to practice obedience.  Obedience to Jesus Christ means obedience to our Church, our Pope, Bishops and priests. Sometimes it means being obedient to people we struggle with or maybe even our spouses (ouch). You can’t say you are obedient to Jesus and then get in the face of your priest and threaten to leave. It doesn’t make any sense.  Priests are supposed to be our shepherds and our leaders.  It is tough to be a leader when parishioners are telling what you are doing wrong and how they think you should do it.

I say all this but I struggle as much as anyone and make mistakes daily.  I am just trying to say, let’s support our priests.  The same argument can be made for pastors of other denominations.  Men of the cloth should be respected for dedicating their life to God.

Thy Word

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The Gospel of John begins with an amazing truth of the faith: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

All things come into existence through the power of God’s spoken Word. As Christians we listen for the Lord. We listen for truths of the faith. We look to experience God and live within Him as followers in Christ. It is the God’s word that we recognize as truth and brings us closer to Him.

Today’s Gospel reading touches on this thought as Jesus challenges the Disciples’ doubts about what he has just told them in John 6:60-69:

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.

But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.

And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

The power of God’s word is something we have regular access too, yet struggle with its mystery and purpose. The Bible is one of the most powerful tools of faith and yet one of the least utilized by those who need it most. The Bible has become another odd paradox that makes no sense as we travel down the path to Holiness that is our Catholic faith.

Sanctification

Through my travels in life I’ve never met an atheist with a grasp of the Bible. When challenged on my faith by someone like this I always like to ask, “What was it about reading the Bible that makes you believe God doesn’t exist?” I ask this question because I already know the answer; they have never read the Bible nor feel the need or have an interest in doing it.

Asking that question though touches on a sad reality of faith in the modern world. Faith is among a growing field of subjects in life in which an educated opinion is no longer required. Faith has been reduced to a feeling, or an attitude, formed without the need of individual self-discovery or personal experience.

This is a doubly sad truth in Catholicism. The second largest Christian denomination in the United States behind Catholicism is former Catholics. Catholics are leaving the Church at an alarming rate and usually due to disconnects on a belief that they struggle to share with the church. When speaking to people who call themselves former Catholics, I like to ask if they ever have read the Catechism? I have yet to find one that has. Sadly, I have found that even though many Catholics wish to better understand their faith, or believe they are at odds with some component of it, most of us who have read the Catechism are those who went through RCIA. The Catechism is beautifully written, easy to reference, and provides a direct understanding of the Catholic faith.

Furthermore, the same can be said of Catholics and the Bible. Yes, Catholics do read the Bible at Mass, though some may not even recognize it as such. But few Catholics come to realize the intimate personal connection with Christ that indulging oneself in God’s spoken word can provide. There are still those in the faith that believe Catholics don’t read the Bible, and even more who struggle with the idea of reading it at all because they have no reference in their life of it’s use. Finally, you have those like my wife who experienced the Bible in their Catholic School years as more of a set of books of Historical truths than as a way to grow deeper in your connection to Christ. All are successful interruptions of faith that lack a beautiful truth our protestant brothers and sisters long ago discovered.

As a former Catholic hater I can tell you when we brought in a new church member, especially a fallen away Catholic, one of the first things we would try and do with them was to get them to start reading the Bible or join a small group which incorporated Bible reading.

Why?

Because the Bible is the inspired word of God and the spoken words of Christ. We knew it would touch their hearts. We knew that they would come to know God in a new way like they never had before. We knew that sanctifying grace would pour out from the Holy Spirit into their hearts. Remarkably, this really is no different than the approach we take in encouraging men to attend CRHP or other retreat weekends. Same goal – same purpose.

Now what do I mean by Sanctifying Grace? Again, the Catechism is a great resource for this.   Justification and Grace are how we experience God’s salvation. It’s man vocation of life in the Spirit. It’s how we participate in Life in Christ.

P1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism.

P1996 Our justification comes from the Grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers to the divine nature and of eternal life.

P2000 Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act in his love. “Habitual Grace,” the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.

Or put most simply – Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy.

Find the Catechism too intimidating? Well you shouldn’t, but another great resource you should check out is DEI VERBUM, which translates as HIM. Dei Verbum is Pope John Paul VI’s encyclical on Divine Revelation. Simply, it’s the Church’s official position on several things including the Bible. It’s about 10 pages.

P7: In His gracious Goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion, commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is that source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts.The Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation in writing.

The Have’s and the Have Nots

So why do Protestants love the Bible so much? Why is this idea of Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone) so important to them? Well…outside of prayer and worship it’s what they have.

As Catholics we are blessed with the Sacraments, Prayer, Sacred Tradition, Holy Mother Church, the Liturgical Calendar, vocational purpose, and much more that we embrace to implant ourselves to a life in Christ, seek holiness, and salvation.

It’s no secret that the greatest resource Luther had at his disposal when leaving the church was the printing press. There is much he left behind when he left the church, and it is also no secret that one of Luther’s greatest loves and laments of his actions was the Eucharist.

Does that mean Catholics don’t read the Bible? No. Sadly though, it does mean that many Catholic’s haven’t been reading the Bible or haven’t – through family tradition or lack of tradition – learned the habit and joy of reading the Bible.

After converting to Catholicism it took me years to break the habit of bring my Bible to Church. My wife looked at me like I was nuts when we started regularly attending Mass and I would bring my Bible. A few people would stop me on the way into church to ask if I was a reader that day. Not understanding I simply said, “Yes, I try too everyday.” Others I met who knew me as a convert, would stop me simply as an act of kindness to tell me I didn’t need my Bible.

I am certainly not suggesting here that Catholics should start bringing their Bible’s to Church. However, we should recognize, that in the Mass we read the Bible and that Sacred Scripture is an important component of the Mass, and not just a time to play with our kids or find our friends in the crowd. The readings are presented to us through the Liturgy of the Word. And more importantly, the Church does suggest we read the weekly readings in advance of Mass as well so that we may focus on them more intensely during the Liturgy. This is why she makes those readings readily available to us.

Organize that Garage

But I don’t like to read big books. The short attention span of the American adult rears its ugly head in many ways in our faith.

The Bible is not a book. It’s a library of books. Some as small as three pages for the literary length challenged. If you fall asleep when you read the Bible, great, you needed the rest. Keep trying. If you fall asleep multiple times, great, keep trying. It will happen.

Now how do you eat an elephant? Answer – One bite at a time. So how are the bites of the Bible organized for consumption? Well, I assume most everyone knows about the Old and the New Testament. But do you know how the testaments are organized?

The Old Testament:

The Pentateuch – The first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Called the Torah by the Jews, the Pentateuch is the story of creation and of the nation of Israel.

Historical Books – These are the books of the story of the Israelites return from exile into the promised Land. These include: Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Judith, Tobit, Baruch, and 1st and 2nd Maccabees.

Wisdom Books – These books are Israelite reflections on faith and God’s relationship with Humanity. These books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Sirach, and Wisdom.

Prophets – These books are the writings of those whom God inspired to counsel and confront people and kings. The Major prophets include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Major and Minor being only indicators of length of influence in history (and there fore length of the corresponding book).

The New Testament:

The Gospel Account – The four portraits and collections of stories and sayings of Jesus Christ. These include the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and then the Gospel of John.

The Acts of the Apostles – This is the story of the early Church after Christ’s ascension into heaven.

Letters – written by Christians and that show us the thoughts and concerns of the early church.

Thirteen Pauline Epistles – letters written or attributed to the Apostle Paul named after the community or person to whom the letter is addressed. These include Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Collossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.

The Seven Catholic Epistles – letters attributed to other Apostles and written to larger audiences. These include James, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st 2nd and 3rd John, and Jude.

Revelation – Written to offer those in need hope for the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Now that we have broken this down I have a challenge for you: Tab your Bible. Tabbing a Bible was hard for me to first do as a protestant because urban legend had it that this is only what old women did. But that is so not true. Tabbing your Bible is an intimate act with Grace. It is physically walking through the outline of the Bible as described above. You will understand and become so much more familiar with the Bible through the experience.

And there is a bonus to tabbing. You become familiar with a logic system that will more easily allow you access to the books as you may need them. You will be able to have starting places to find scripture relevant to questions you have as you learn the audience and writing purpose of each of the books. Has your life ever been such that you wish you could find something in the Bible about ?????. Well, tabbing your Bible will help you get smarter about that.

I always laugh inside at the guys who tell me their wife tabbed their Bible for them. I think to myself, “Really, would you let your wife organize your tools in your garage?” It really is in the same vein. There is a reason why you are the only one in the house who can find stuff in the garage. It’s because you organized the garage. You put things in places based on your system of understanding and it’s use.

Additionally, when you take ownership of the Bible – of your Bible, and / or begin to see it in this way, you also begin to see the message of Salvation as an understanding of a covenant relationship with God. The Old and New Testaments could be re-titled as the Old and New Covenants. This covenant relationship is what defines us as Catholics. Participating in this covenant relationship begins to be understood as a combination of actively participating in the Sacraments and understanding the message of salvation as expressed through the Bible. This is why we rely and trust in the apostolic succession of Bishops in the Church to interpret and preach the covenant message.

My Light House

Daddy…what’s the Bible? What it’s for?

Have you ever been asked that question by your kids? Do you think you one day might? How would you answer it? Do you think you could answer it?

In his CD available in the kiosk at the front of the Narthex from Lighthouse Media, former KC Royal Mike Sweeney calls out to all of us as Catholic men to be The Priest’s of our homes? We know from the Church it is our job to get our spouse and our kids to Heaven.

Great; now how do we do this? As men we have to be accountable to the calling of our faith, and to our vocations as Husbands and Fathers. It’s great that we can experience formation at church, but how are we bringing that home? Want to know an easy solution? Read the Bible at home. Discuss the weekly readings with your kids. Read them as a family one night during the week before coming to Mass. Put them into context for your kids (as best as you are able). If you struggle to understand something, or can’t answer a question they ask – make it a priority to have your kids remember that question for Mass and listen for the answer in the Homily. If it isn’t addressed, have your kids stop and ask the Priest on the way out of church.

But start the tradition for them. Help them feel comfortable with the Bible. Show them that it is more than a pretty wedding gift, an interior design show piece, or worse yet – just another book on the shelf. If you prioritize it, they will prioritize it. Like all things in our kid’s lives, if we don’t lead or kids someone else will. What are you leaving them open too if you don’t? If you pray and desire that your kids develop a strong understanding of the faith as they mature into adulthood, why would you not want the spoken word of God to be a part of that?

Now if you listen carefully at Mass during the processional of the Children out of the Sanctuary for their time away during what begins your peaceful time for the Liturgy of the Word, as you watch to see which cute little child is carrying the cross at the front of the line you will hear the song that usually plays. It’s Amy Grant’s classic Thy Word. The Chorus of the song is, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet….and a light…unto…my path.” This is an beautiful rendition of Psalms 119: v 105.

Brothers, Is your light on?

YBIC

Learning from Lions

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A few weeks ago my firm flew me to St. Louis to attend The Ritz Carlton Experience training. This opportunity is an arrangement my firm has with Ritz Carlton where they provide us with the same training they give their employees so that it we can enhance the client experience we provide.

But that is really saying something, isn’t it? When you are that good that other company’s, even those outside of your industry, want you to teach their employees what you do. So I have to ask, have you ever been to one? A Ritz Carlton I mean. Personally, I have had the pleasure of staying at the Ritz Carlton in St. Louis several dozen times, and it truly is the only hotel I have ever stayed in that actually feels like home when I am there.

The St. Louis property staff has less than 9% turnover annually and more than half of the employees have been working there for over 20 years. In a hotel?

Their National Client Experience Director flew in to run the training and it was a remarkable experience. He said over and over again that the Ritz Carlton guest experience is not about the trappings and visual delights in the hotel – although those are important – but that the guest experience is about the relationship each employee has with each and every guest.

The Ritz Carlton Company Credo is: The Ritz Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal services and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

The three-step approach Ritz-Carlton Hotels have to service includes:

  1. A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name.
  2. Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.
  3. Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest’s name.

As I was sitting there in one of their hotel conference rooms diligently making notes about ways to help my business a crazy thought came to me; What if this was a Parish?

Can you imagine? Can you imagine everyone’s delight in coming to Mass each week? Can you imagine the impressions we, as Catholics, would leave with one another as we departed each week to let our lives be a witness to Christ? How happy we would be to share with others the joy we have in our faith and invite others to experience the same? It certainly didn’t seem that hard. If a hotel can do it, why couldn’t Christians?

That thought just kept sticking with me, and what became enjoined with it were thoughts of the Church’s call to the New Evangelization. Because I feel safe in saying that there are many of us that feel the Ritz-Carlton experience when we come to Mass each week. I know one CHRP brother that does. He regularly talks about how much better his life gets the closer he is to Johnson Drive and Monticello in Shawnee.   Now many of us feel that way especially if we attend the same service time, we after week, and get to know which of our friends from various ministries attend then also.   It’s a great place to find a smile, a handshake, and a hug.

But what about someone we don’t know? Do we share the same love with them? Do we bring guests from outside of our Parish hoping to meet those same friends and share in the joy? I know I didn’t feel that way about our parish when I first came, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s a big parish with lots of families. When we first came we didn’t know which end of the church to park on and which side of the sanctuary to sit on. We didn’t really know anyone there and no one talked to us.

Now much has changed in our experience within the parish since then, and CRHP has had much to do with that. However, I can’t help but always wonder if there are other first, second or third timers who would benefit greatly from a simple warm and sincere greeting? Or even a warm good-bye?

Or better yet – Are there folks like that in my neighborhood? Are there folks like that in yours?

The Journey Home

Once upon a time in my life such a simple gentle greeting created a significant impact in our entire faith experience. We had just moved into our first house and were flirting with the idea of starting to attend church again. We had been married for a year or more then. Being an ecumenical couple we had always left our faith posture hanging out there as unresolved, but the time had come to take some kind of a step forward. So we started shopping for a church. After a dozen or more “experiences” and sampling from Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches, we eventually found a home.

What was the unique and defining experience that grabbed us and made us feel at home there? It was a loaf of bread.

Common in many protestant church’s is the practice of registering your attendance. You fill out a couple lines inside of a booklet that lists your name, address, and membership affiliation with the church at the beginning of the service. These booklets are then passed to the end of the aisles and an usher collects them. This particular church went through those booklets, identified local visitors to their services, and had volunteers drive to their homes during the service and leave a loaf of bread with a note at their front door. The note simply said, “Thanks for attending our service. We enjoyed having you as our guest and we look forward to having you come back.” So this is what you found waiting for you when you got home.

Now given the wide range of experiences we had while looking at churches – everything from regularly being ignored; to being openly stalked because we were obviously the youngest couple to pass through the entrance of one church in decades – we found that little loaf (not much bigger than two cup cakes) to be enchanting and extremely welcoming.

So we went back. We attended that church for many years, and we only left because we moved to Shawnee.     We made life long friends there that we still have today. We had a child there. We volunteered all the time. It was our home away from home. I joined a Discipleship Team that spent nine months of every year in intense Bible Study; which I did for three of the years we were there – parenting ultimately demanding my time back.

All of those experiences came from a small loaf of bread and a note.

Our shopping experience at a Catholic Church at that time was with some friends of ours that attended Holy Cross Catholic Church in Overland Park, KS. I’ll never forget when we asked them if we could come with them to Mass one day and the way they looked at each other. You would have thought we had asked if we could use their bathroom and neither of them could remember when the last time was it had been cleaned. Clearly, no one ever asked them that before, nor had they ever considered inviting someone.

After attending Mass with them one Sunday we all went out to eat together and talked. When I questioned them about certain aspects of the service (and the faith itself) they just grew increasingly more embarrassed as they had no idea how to answer much of what I was curious about. Sadly, instead of inviting us back, or even inviting us to take our questions to the priest (which is what my wife suggested to me after we left), they took a much simpler approach. This couple just tried to convince us that the Catholic Church probably wasn’t a good fit for us as Catholics don’t worry about such things as being important. My wife, God bless her, felt more sorry for them that I even asked about such things, than any real concern for what we were looking for. The whole experience was bizarre and uncomfortable.

Ironically, my conversion into the Catholic Church eventually came through the invitation of a priest. Father Francis Hund certainly did not beat me over the head with a Bible or engage me in a battle of apologetics to win me over argumentatively. Father simply smiled, shared a loving hand of friendship, and made an invitation to come back and see more. What I learned from Father is that connecting people to Christ isn’t about doing anything at all. It’s about being open enough to allow someone in, then getting out of the way and let Christ take it from there.

Now being introduced to a parish and the Catholic faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process is a wonderful, but yet very formal, revelation and acknowledgement process that has been refined over thousands of years. But lets key in on one important thing I just said there. It’s a process. RCIA is not a program. A program is something others do for other people that we are not a part of, or that we are connected with. A program is how something gets done so we can focus on what we need to focus on. But again, it’s not a program; RCIA is a process. Where does the RCIA process start?

You!

Chasing Lions

One of my favorite protestant authors is Mark Batterson. Mark is a Pastor of a Mega Church in Washington DC that began as a Homeless outreach center. Mark has an amazing view of the Holy Spirit and a passion for Christ. Batterson wrote a book I love entitled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, how to survive and thrive when opportunity roars.

The theme of the book is centrally based on the Old Testament passage; 2 Samuel 23, 20-22:

Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, a valiant man of many deeds, from Kabzeel, killed the two sons of Ariel of Moab. Also, he went down and killed a Lion in the cistern on a snowy day. He likewise slew an Egyptian; a huge man. The Egyptian carried a spear, but Benaiah came against him with a staff; he wrestled the spear from the Egyptian’s hand, and killed him with the spear.

So who was Benaiah in the greater scheme of things? When David was surrounded by the Philistines and was being starved out, Benaiah was one of the three men who volunteered to fight their way into the Philistine encampment and bring water back for David. Benaiah later became the head of David’s bodyguards.

So why does Batterson find this guy so interesting? Why was he allowed to be one of those selected to fight their way into the Philistine encampment? Reputation.

How did he get that reputation? God put people and events in his life that made him who he was. God knew David was going to need someone like this, so the Lord raised someone like that through life experiences to fill that need.

But at the same time, Batterson sees Benaiah as a spiritual warrior. He sees Benaiah as a man who fights for the Kingdom and has achieved spiritual maturity. Or as Batterson put it himself, “In essence, success is making the most of every opportunity. Spiritual maturity is seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities.This is what Batterson calls in his book being a Lion chaser.

Batterson later argues that we miss this these opportunities because we don’t right-size God. “Our biggest problems can be traced back to an inadequate understanding of who God is. Our problems seem really big because of God seems really small. In fact we reduce God to the seize of our biggest problem…..Maybe it’s time to stop creating God in your image and let Him create you in his.

In other words, we miss opportunities to be an active participant in the growth of the Body of Christ and a participant in Christ’s ministry here on earth because we are too tied up in making God as small as our own problems. If we could right size God, and be seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities, we build out Christ’s ministry here on earth; here at Johnson Drive and Monticello in Shawnee.

Brothers, are you Chasing Lions?

YBIC

Life, Truth, & Love

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….I lived in West Texas.

When they say, “Texas: It’s a whole other country.” They aren’t kidding. Texas is the twelfth largest economy in the world, it’s a state that has its own internal power grid and is completely energy independent from the rest of the United States.  Texas is the only state in the US that takes two days to drive through at it’s widest point. Texas also, for the longest time, had the worst education system in the United States, had third world poverty in the western half of the state, and had no real hope for millions of people. It was during that era that I lived there.

Through my employer I was connected to a program called Saturday Scholars. Saturday Scholars was a community outreach program in which everyday people like yours truly volunteered at elementary schools on Saturday mornings teaching Reading, Writing, and Math to 8-11 year old kids who were egregiously behind the national averages.

The kids that came didn’t come see us on Saturday’s because their parents made them. Nor did they come because they were interested learners and wanted a way up where none other existed. Many of them didn’t even want to be there. Those kids came, because they had nothing else. N-o-t-h-i-n-g. We fed them 2 meals, breakfast and lunch, and we worked with them on developing basic skills in key areas that would help them avoid being in extreme poverty for life. But basically, we were there to create belief in something, give hope, and inspire them to keep moving forward.

Beta Blockers – the new steroid.

Have you ever felt extreme despair? Have you ever felt despair? Loneliness? Lacking purpose? All in – depressed and hopeless? It’s amazing how in a world in which we are all supposedly so much more connected that we can feel so alone and empty; but we do. According to a US Government study by Marcus and Olfson for the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion out of the VA Hospital in Philadelphia, depression spiked dramatically in the US from the late 80’s through the late 90’s. From the late 90’s through the first decade of the new century these increases tapered thanks to better medication, therefore fewer sought additional medical services. So our new life in the United States with better connectivity has now led to life with better Beta Blockers. Our life in the “Decade of Access” led to our life in the “Decade of Treatment.”

Who do you think goes to these doctors that make up the statistical pool of participants in this study? Well, it likely wasn’t the kids I worked with in West Texas. Odds are good though I’ve passed a few of them on the way home from work driving across Johnson County, KS. Odds are good, that its people you and I know.  Odds are just as good that it’s you and me.

So why do we – we being modern Americans – do this to ourselves? Why do we push and push ourselves seeking more? Why do we band-aid ourselves chemically so we can keep going? Why must we have more? Why must we do more? Why must keep going? What antidote, for what disease, are we racing against the clock to find?

Most college graduates get introduced in their Freshman or Sophomore Psychology 101 course to Abraham Maslow’s Theory published in 1943 about The Hierarchy of Needs. Starting with Physiological Needs at the base of the pyramid, we move up in order through Safety, Love / Belonging, Esteem, and then if we are truly lucky we reach the top in Self-Actualization. The pinnacle of personal identity: Self-Actualization.

Most people, Maslow believed, stopped at Esteem. But what if Maslow missed something? As someone who has arguably Self-Actualized, and who knows many others who arguably have too, I feel pretty comfortable throwing it out there that this isn’t the end all be all we thought it would be. Maybe, just maybe, Dr. Maslow – the best life has to offer is about something much simpler?

Living Optimally

Like many business professionals in this world my company considers me in the same vein as a professional athlete. Now, anyone who has seen me at the pool knows with certainty that I am not a professional athlete. But my company cares little about my ability to score real touchdowns. They do care – however – about my ability to be a successful tour guide through the situational war zones our clients face, and that those clients (and the firm) be able to bank on that. Therefore, what my so-called athleticism means is that I get regular access to performance optimization concepts and ideas.  I get books, get sent to conferences, and get enrolled in programs.  All are good, and all are worth something.  Admittedly, however, I have been a little slow in adopting all of the dietary suggestions.  We are what we eat, and I agree with that.  And I still like myself…sort of.

But what I have learned from my own experience and from my inputed insight is that being successful is about being at your best.  What I hear from these outside sources are the same confirming thoughts reiterated in different ways over and over again but from different people (Ph D’s and life long strategists in holistic living).  But its all the same.  It’s what my parents used to call the KISS principal (Keep it simple stupid).  It’s not the cool workout, it’s not the right book to read, not the right piece of equipment, not the right action to take, or not the right fad to follow.  Being successful is about perfecting the ordinary.  It’s about daily intentional living.  It’s not what you know – it’s what you do.  It’s about making life more simple and making daily rituals targeted at who you want to be.  It’s about taking an approach to life that is uniquely yours.  It’s about finding time for daily restoration and reflection.  It’s about simple living.

Now, I might sound a little bit like a whack job when I write these next few words, but it sounds to me that the experts describe living optimally a lot like we describe living out your faith as a Christian.  Call me crazy, but….

It’s the same, but different.

On a recent adventure this summer I was blessed to have as my traveling companion a good friend of mine who has two PHD’s and whose profession is researching population trends.  He and I love to brainstorm on the cause and effect of social issues – he from the external stimulus perspective and I from the internal stimulus perspective.  We don’t argue per se, more accurately we just dig around our brain’s and throw all available data out on our mental work table and then, like NASA engineers, take those available pieces and see how we can land the stranded space shuttle most reliably.

Our focal point this trip was the emergence of mass shootings by young people and their subsequent suicide as a social trend. From Columbine to today we see young people turning to extreme gun violence as a resolution to a sense of emptiness and abandonment by society at large.  I brought the discussion to a halt midstream when a reminded us both of a very important point.  When I was a young teen there was tremendous concern from parents around teen suicide.  More simply that we would find the world un-wanting of us and we would simply kill ourselves.  “A long term solution to a short term problem” we were told.  The fear was everywhere, parents were always at the ready to listen, and there were assemblies in school warning us not to make such an extreme decision.

Today, however, we worry more about the teen killing us than killing themselves.  The killing spree is supposedly the new solution to teen angst.  Somehow some way – they get get access to guns, play too many first person shooter games, and decide to solve there problems by eliminating those problems (People) that stress them the most and then they kill themselves.

So why the switch?  Why did the concern go from fear for the individual to fear for group at large?  Could it be that this is reflective of a greater social paradigm shift?  We have been concerned for years that the individual is no longer important.  We have legislated our selves to death to protect us from any individual human action.  We have tried to save us from ourselves so dramatically that the individual person is no longer responsible for anything.

So do we now only see the world through the eyes of a group?  Are we at the point of freeing ourselves from the responsibility of individual decision making to the point that we also only fear as a collective?  Are we so free of accountability to the point that no one person acts within the scope of their own definition?

How does Christ fit into that?  Can Christ have a relationship with a group?  Or better yet, what is the group without Christ at the center of it?  Can your faith in God be real enough to be dependent on others in a group without God as its center? Or does it need to be individualized.  Well, was your creation individualized?  Was your sanctification individualized.  We are blessed to have individual relationships with Jesus Christ.  We must stand alone, free of any group, in choosing to live with Christ in our life.  We must choose Jesus over the needs of a group in which we only think we belong.  He is calling us to Him.

In the end, my friend and I concluded that it is unfortunate that through the sense of abandonment young people feel from a lack of a strong family, from a lack of a loving community, and from a lack of a consistent support system – young people become victims of their own minds and lash out against the group identity they have been left with.  A group identity that does’t respect the person themselves as the individual is absent, but instead only respects the collective mind.  A mind ungrounded.  A mob.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi – it’s who we are.  The Body of Christ.  The Church Militant.  You and me.  Us.  It’s why you and I are not alone.

Most of us have heard Neil Green’s amazing story.  If by some chance you haven’t, please stop Neil some time after Mass one Sunday and ask him about his experience at CRHP.  But I warn you – give yourself about an hour to listen, and bring both you and Neal a Chair; he can’t stand for very long these days.

My travels around the the parish has afforded me the opportunity to hear Neal speak on his those events of his return from death some four or five times.  A good friend of mine describes Neil as a dead man walking.  What always amazes me when I hear Neil speak on those events is that what he shares with the most pride from the whole experience, save the fact that it happened at all, is the umbrella of friendship and love that surrounded him through it all.

Neil doesn’t ascribe those events as being special to him.  He ascribes them as being a potent testimony to the power of communal prayer that came from those brothers who care about him.  He ascribes the events to the awareness, revealed to all of us, of how God places people in our lives for a purpose.  He ascribes the events to the simple understanding that as a child of God, whether he likes it or not, he is living out a role and a purpose beyond himself in serving others.  And as a child of God, he therefore has a vested interest in the betterment of his fellow man.  All of these things, in sum, give Neal a glow of joy about him that you can touch and feel.

 Happiness

If you are looking for a great source to grasp the inner roots of true happiness and contentment for the soul, stop reading this blog and go pick up a copy of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Way to Happiness. In the following paragraph’s I will attempt to outline Sheen’s argument through quoting some of the introduction, however a better read awaits you in that book if you want.

Bishop Sheen’s layouts out three assumptions that establish his basic premise for understanding true happiness:

First, The overemphasis on politics today is an indication that people are governed, rather than governing. The complexities of our civilization for us to organize into larger and larger units; we have become so intent on governing what is outside of us that we neglect to govern our own selves. Yet the key to social betterment is always to be found in personal betterment. Remake man and you remake his world. We gravely need to restore self-respect and to give him his appropriate honor: this will keep from bowing cravenly before those who threaten to enslave him, and will give him the courage to defend the right, alone if need be, when the world is wrong.

Second, As society is made by man, so man, in his turn, is made by his thoughts, his decisions, and his choices.…Even the material of our physical selves is the servant of our thoughts: psychologists recognize the fact that our bodies may become tired only because of the tiredness of the mind….One basic reason for the tiredness of the mind is the conflict in all of us between the ideal and the achievement, between what we ought to be and what we are, between our longing and our having, between our powers of understanding and the incomprehensible mysteries of the universe….Society can be saved only if man is saved from his unbearable conflicts, and man can be rescued from them only if his soul is saved.

Third, Our happiness consists in fulfilling the purpose of our being. Every man knows, from his own unfulfilled hunger for them, that he was built with a capacity for three things of which he never has enough. He wants life – not for the next few minutes, but for always, and with no aging or disease to threaten it. He also wants truth – not with a forced choice between the truths of mathematics or geography, but he wants all truth. Thirdly, he wants love – not with a time-limit, not mixed with satiety or disillusionment, but love that will be an abiding ecstasy…In looking for the source of love, life, truth, as we know it here, we must go out beyond the limits of this shadowed world – to a Truth not mingled with its shadow, error – to a life not mingled with its shadow, death – to a love not mingled with its shadow, hate. We must seek Pure Life, Pure Truth, and Pure Love – and that is the definition of God. His Life is personal enough to be a Father; His Truth is personal and comprehensible enough to be a son; His Love is so deep and spiritual that it is a spirit.

When enough men have found this way to happiness, they will find one another in brotherhood.

The New Evangelization

Brothers, if you have happiness in Christ have you shared it with others?  Because they are out there in need of your love.  The millions, the challenged, the hurt, and the broken.  I myself came to CRHP broken from the pains of life.  Depressed from the grief of loosing some goodness from my life.  Connecting with my CRHP brothers renewed my soul.

How many more do you think we could find?  How easy would it be to try?  How hard have you tried?

Brothers – I invite you to take a few more minutes and enjoy a message from Danny Gokey:

https://youtu.be/O5GFiDdGGGM

YBIC