Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Praying to the Saints

At Mass today celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, the celebrant talked about the lesson of the stained glass window. He said saints weren't perfect, but like light through a stained glass window, their souls shined through them in a beautiful way.

A little later I read Pope Francis' reflections on the day as well, and there was the stained glass reference again. He was quoted in the National Catholic Register as saying, "Saints are not perfect models, but are people whose lives God has crossed,” and they can be compared with the stained-glass windows of a church, “which allow light to enter in different shades of color.”

As we observe the day, we are reminded that death is not the end, and we pray to saints because, like all of us, they live on. Take comfort in knowing that you are never alone.  Revelation tells us that the saints are not only there, but they can hear us and can act on our behalf (Rev. 5:18). We have a lot of help available if we simply ask. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

I’ve recently been reading about herem warfare – God’s command in the Old Testament that the Israelites destroy their enemies, including animals and babies. It’s hard to understand this, especially in light of the New Testament’s emphasis on loving one’s neighbor. The world is a troubled place and it’s tempting to ask why a good God allows these things to happen.

In my book, Gift of Death – A Message of Comfort and Hope, I tell the story of Matthew Shea, a little boy who was killed when he slipped out of his older brothers’ grasp, jumped on a sled and took off down a hill on the family farm. At the bottom of that hill, his father was clearing snow and didn’t see his son. In an instant, Matthew was under the back tires of the tractor and he died on the way to the hospital.

Whenever something like this happens, especially if it’s the death or illness of a child, it can cause us to wonder why God would inflict such a thing on those he loves, or even if there is a God. It’s a question that people have been asking since the dawn of time. When Jesus was asked this very thing, he said, “He lets the sun rise for all people, whether they are good or bad. He sends rain to those who do right and for those who do wrong.” (Matthew 5:45) Contained in that verse is the idea that God doesn’t inflict the bad, he simply allows it to happen. But why?

“Our Lord created us to live in paradise,” says Msgr. Patrick Schumacher. “His plan was that we not experience death. Worries, stresses, are not created by God, they’re allowed by God as we live in this fallen world.” Schumacher says it's most likely to come up when the bad thing happens to a child. “It gets us to our core because we think it’s not fair. But that’s because we can’t understand God’s plan. Bad things can happen for our salvation.”

That can be hard to accept, especially since we can’t see with God’s long lens. We pray and then wonder why God didn’t answer. What we often fail to recognize is that God’s answer comes in his own good time. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’” declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8).

If you want a perfect example of the benefits of looking at the world through a long lens, consider the life of Jesus. “Sinless, yet betrayed by his closest friends,” says Schumacher. “Sold for the price of a slave, his agony in the garden when he was alone, beaten by Romans who occupied his homeland, betrayed by his own people before Pilot and nailed to a cross. The one truth after Adam and Eve is that there would be no redemption without suffering, without the cross. And that’s why Jesus Christ is our model to answer that question.”

Little Matthew Shea died in 1994. Here is an excerpt from the book:

"In the same month that Matthew died, Pat became pregnant again. She was 44 at the time. Nine months later she gave birth to Maria, a long-awaited baby girl. (Msgr. James) Shea believes that Maria was a special gift, influenced by Matthew, and he says the little boy’s death brought the entire family closer together.”

In the years since 1994, two of Matthew’s brothers have become priests, and Msgr. Shea believes he continues to bring good things to all of their lives. Few can doubt that Matthew is with God. It’s possible that the terrible thing that happened to his parents paved the way for the salvation of many. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thy Kingdom Come: Why We Shouldn't Fear the End Times

Hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist threats, mass shootings – if you watch the news these days you could be tempted to go hide under the bed. These events bring on talk of the end times that we are warned about in the New Testament. The apostles expected Jesus to return at any moment, though He told them they "would not know the day nor the hour." We don’t know it either, and every generation has seen it coming. Still, there’s no doubt that the events we’re experiencing today can bring on anxiety. So what do today’s theologians have to say?

“We’re definitely facing some 'apocalyptic' problems right now: the prospects of nuclear war, genetic manipulation and a breakdown of family life,” says Dr. Jared Staudt, PhD, the Catechetical Formation Specialist for the Archdiocese of Denver. “We can’t say for sure that we are facing the end times, but we are at least seeing a foreshadowing of those challenges.”

St. John Paul II also felt change coming, and said in a speech in 1976, “We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the Antichrist.”

Talk like that can bring on a sense of helplessness and even a temptation to despair, but that’s where faith comes in, because St. John Paul also famously said, “Be not afraid.” In the same address, he pointed out, “The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s plan.” Meaning God has us in the palm of his hand. He will take care of us.

“For Christians, the coming of Christ is not something to fear, but to expect with hope,” Staudt adds, pointing out that a central prayer for the early Christians was 'Maranatha,' meaning ‘Come Lord!’ As Christians, we do have to expect suffering and persecution. I say that so that we don’t despair when we face them. Jesus has promised to be with us and to give us His comfort and joy even in the midst of trials.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also talks of the end times in a spirit of hope:

In the Lord's Prayer, "thy kingdom come" refers primarily to the final coming of the reign of God through Christ's return.88 But, far from distracting the Church from her mission in this present world, this desire commits her to it all the more strongly. Since Pentecost, the coming of that Reign is the work of the Spirit of the Lord who "complete[s] his work on earth and brings us the fullness of grace."89"The kingdom of God [is] righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."90 The end-time in which we live is the age of the outpouring of the Spirit.

And that’s the key. Without the end times there can be no Second Coming, there can be no “new heaven and a new earth.” We can find comfort in the very prayer that Jesus taught us. While we don’t know when, we do accept with faith that He will come again, He promised it, and we should mean it when we say, “Thy kingdom come.”

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Fake News and How to Spot It

"Fake News" will go down as one of the catchphrases of the decade, and with good reason. The proliferation of talk radio and talk TV, where individual views are batted around endlessly in 24-hour news cycles, has led to opinion spouting by people around the globe. They may not be journalists so much as entertainers.

It's so pervasive, in fact, that Pope Francis has made it the theme of his message at the 2018 World Day of Social Communications, in an address entitled "The Truth Will Set You Free: Fake News and Journalism for Peace."

This isn't society's first run-in with slanted news. It used to be called yellow journalism, when reporters wrote "purple prose," embellishing a story for the shock value. The idea was to sell newspapers at a time when there were many papers competing. There were also the reform-minded muckrakers, who wrote their stories during the Progressive Era, to shine a light on particular societal ills, such as children working in factories or the exploitation of immigrants in the early 1900s. Good intentions perhaps, but slanted nonetheless.

So what is fake news today? Is it gossip, is it simply biased, or is it more nefarious than that? It often is just people spouting off without knowing the facts. Perhaps a television or radio talk show host ventures an opinion and it's quoted and then misquoted until a distorted story is taken for truth. But it's also journalists manipulating the facts to tell a story in a particular way to further their particular view, not unlike the muckrakers of the past.

J.R. Havens is the news director at KFYR-TV in Bismarck, ND. He says news mistakes or factual errors happen for a variety of reasons, not the
least of which is stations or networks looking for a competitive edge. "It can happen because they want to be first. Sometimes they sensationalize because they want to pump their own tires. And sometimes it's just carelessness."

Does this mean you should distrust all journalists? Havens says at the local level, at least in his newsroom where reporters tend to be young, there is somebody senior looking over shoulders to try to ensure they are balanced in their reporting.

"Another set of eyes makes sure there are no opinions in there. Training is the key," he says. "Training, training, training."

But he can't vouch for every newsroom. So what can you do to make sure you're getting the real story?

Al Aamodt, a longtime news manager at a television station in Fargo, N.D., says the important thing is to be educated and know what's going on in the world around you. "Have a good understanding of both sides of an issue," he says. "You can spot the bias on any story simply by being informed. Ask questions. The reader or viewer is not as stupid as some people think they are."

Or,  you can rely on the good reporter's favorite question: how do you know that? If you can't verify it, don't repeat or repost it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fully Rely on God - F.R.O.G.

   Mikey Hoeven has a thing for frogs. They remind her of her favorite acronym - Fully Rely on God. She does that, relies on God, but life can be hard sometimes, and it was particularly challenging earlier this year when her mother-in-law died.
   Raziye had been sick for a long time, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She no longer remembered what happened from one moment to the next, and while she sometimes had flashes of recognition for loved ones if reminded, she usually forgot them in the next moment. There was one person she did think about - Jack, her husband of 33 years. Raziye lived for Jack and always had, but she hadn't seen him in a while. She lived in a care facility and because his health was failing, he was unable to visit her or call her on the phone as he'd done before. She never stopped asking for him, though, and one day she started saying, "Jack's dying."
    The thing is, Jack was dying. How could she know? Nobody even told her that he was sick, somehow she felt it; she stopped eating and drinking, and simply faded away.
     Jack died two days later.
      Mikey was with her mother-in-law when she passed. And though she was close by, she wasn't in the room when Jack went. Once the funerals were over, she says she felt a heaviness in her chest, a need for reassurance that they were well. She prayed to God, telling him she needed to see a frog. Then she went outside to water the plants, and lo and behold, she saw this little guy in the grass as if he was waiting for her.
     "Honestly, in the seven years we've lived in that house I've only seen a frog twice!" she tells me. She says she immediately felt better and knew that Jack and Raziye were doing just fine. It was a God thing.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Remembering St. Teresa of Calcutta

I spent the better part of the Labor Day weekend packing as Cliff and I prepare for a move. While we moved a lot in our early years, we've been in our current home for almost 20 years now, so we've accumulated a lot of stuff. For example, one drawer was filled with tennis trophies, which I dutifully wrapped and packed. And then it occurred to me, what do I need to move these for? I never look at them and I don't plan to display them. So I unpacked them and tossed them in the trash; I felt no pain in doing it. So much of what we keep is like that. It might spark a memory, or we think we might shrink back into it, or we imagine that someday we'll find a use for it. My entire basement is filled with that kind of thing.

This was brought home in a big way this past week as I've watched the residents of Houston, struggling just to get out of the way of the water flooding in as a result of Hurricane Harvey, never mind being able to save all of that accumulated "stuff" that make up a life.

By contrast, the weekend news also included pictures of Rohingya refugees crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar, trying to escape the violence in their villages. Everything they owned they carried on their backs, and it wasn't much. They were simply getting away with their lives.

Years ago my newly-married brother and his wife lost everything when their home was destroyed in a tornado that tore through Andover, Kansas. My sister-in-law barely got out in time, leaving behind all of their as yet unopened wedding gifts. When I asked my brother what he needed he laughed and said, "Well, you can't say I'm a guy who has everything!" Except that he quickly realized he did have everything he truly needed - a good job, a wife he loved and a community ready to help.

Today, September 5, marks the date that St. Teresa of Calcutta died. She lived her life without accumulating, choosing instead to simply serve. As I pack the things that I think I need in my new home, I hope I can keep her in mind, downsizing, simplifying and instead, gathering in and giving back love.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Five Important Things to Do Before You Die

Five Things to Do Before You Die

I recently spent a week with my extended family at a lake in Minnesota. My adult children were with me, and my daughter surprised me by talking about where we all wanted to be buried when we die. And it got me thinking about what's important when it comes to end-of-life issues. It's what used to be called getting your affairs in order. When you hear that, you probably think of things like wills, deeds, and funeral arrangements. That's your practical preparation. But how do you prepare emotionally and spiritually? After your lawyer and your financial advisor, if you're a person of faith you probably contact a priest or minister, assuming you're able. It's important to get right with God. But what about your friends and family? What do you say to them?

1. You might start with, "I'm sorry." If there are people you've harmed, now's the time to set things right. As it says in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." But that's not where it should end. Fr. Paul Becker says there are four more things you need to say.

2. "I forgive you," comes right along with expressing remorse. Psychologists will tell you forgiveness is mainly for your benefit because it allows you to let go of bitterness, which in turn helps to free your soul.

3. "I love you," is next on the list. I believe this is easier to say these days than it once was, particularly for men, but it can still come hard. Don't assume that your loved ones know how you feel. There's a famous song by Reba McIntyre that comes to mind here:

         The greatest words I never heard I guess I'll never hear.
         The man I thought could never die has been dead almost a year.
         Oh, he was good at business, but there was business left to do.
         He never said he loved me. Guess he thought I knew.

That's not a mistake you want to make.

4. "Thank you" is next on the list. You may take all of that care you've received over your lifetime for granted, but you should know that it isn't always easy to be there for someone else. For those who are "there" for you, be grateful.

5. And finally, say goodbye. That might be the hardest part, because people are afraid to leave their loved ones behind. My father felt this way and it motivated me to write a book Fear of Death - A Message of Comfort and Hope  to help him and others deal with it.  Give those you love a chance to tell you how much you mean to them and let them know about their place in your heart as well. It's healing for you both, and it's a gift only you can give.


Fear not, because God is with you.
-St. Pio of Pietrelcina