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One of my favorite books I have ever read is a book called Chain Reaction, by Darrell Scott.  Darrell’s daughter, Rachel, was killed at Columbine High School in a mass shooting spree on April 20, 1999.  Rachel was  an exceptional young lady and outspoken in her Christian values.  She committed her life to the belief that each person, by reaching out to others in compassion and kindness, could start a powerful chain reaction of goodness that just might change the world.  She was well aware that the world was a violent place, but she believed the only answer to violence was kindness.

Rachel reached out to kids at school, those who were new or disabled, those who were picked on by others. In fact, she had actually reached out to Eric and Dylan, the two troubled boys who were the shooters, but Rachel wasn’t a shrinking violet.  She was direct and outspoken and criticized the two boys for a video they made for a class project that was full of violence and bad language.  In a video on March 15, Eric spoke about the chain reaction of violence that he wanted to launch; he achieved his goal, and since then there have been many school shootings, leaving a long swath of horrific deaths and heart-rending grief.

God has given each person their own unique set of gifts and no matter who you are or what you do, in some way you start a ripple effect similar to a stone dropping in water.  We think of celebrities having the biggest impact, but the truth is that it’s the little pebbles that start most of the ripples impacting our lives.

Rachel wrote in an essay “I am sure that my codes of life may be different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live?  My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you.  You just may start a chain reaction.”

We know the two shooters, Eric and Dylan, were treated as outcasts and were bullied and harassed, humiliated, called faggots and were squirted with ketchup.  The harsh treatment they received fueled their fury and rage, triggering a violent explosion of  destructive anger.  In contrast, Rachel’s dad has written books and spoke to over a million people.  The message he shares about his daughter’s life and writings has positively changed the lives of countless young people all over the world.

Celebrities can certainly influence our culture, whether from immoral lifestyles or selfish materialism, or whether they genuinely try to help their fellow man, but I contend it is the ‘little’ people that have an even greater influence.  I went to a funeral yesterday for an extraordinary woman, Jeanne O’Neill.  Jeanne loved her family passionately and was an exemplary woman of faith.  I first met Jeanne at morning mass when the new chapel at St. Brigid was completed in 2002.  We all had our ‘spot’ in the chapel, and I usually sat directly behind her.

I was able to witness first hand her unwavering faith and her devotion to prayer; she always had her bag filled with missals, devotionals, bibles, novenas, prayer cards and other assorted sacramentals.  Unless she was sick or out of town, I don’t think Jeanne ever missed mass.  By the world’s standards Jeanne is ‘insignificant'; she wasn’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she wasn’t a powerful politician.  She didn’t write a best selling novel, or design buildings, or ride the space shuttle.  Instead, she cooked meals, changed diapers, taught her children virtues and discipline, supported her husband in every way, and was a kind and loyal friend who kept Hallmark in business with the enormous amount of cards she sent.  And by doing so profoundly impacted the lives of everyone she encountered.

Jeanne was a remarkable woman who simply fulfilled her vocation to the best of her ability. She loved being a wedding coordinator and giving communion as an Extraordinary Minister, especially to the infirmed.  She participated in her faith community and prayed mightily for her family, friends, our country and anyone in need.  Jeanne was always there with her quiet presence, a rock for her family, ready to help her friends in difficult times.

Jeanne with her daughter Katie

From the time she was first diagnosed with the brain tumor, to the very end, she never complained or asked ‘why me?’  She just flashed her radiant smile and tried to give comfort and strength to her family.  This saintly woman will live on in the memories and hearts of her family and friends.  She lived out her faith in a concrete manner and left a legacy of love, kindness, faith, perseverance, commitment and joy.  Len once mentioned to me that he was so amazed at his wife’s indomitable devotion to her faith; she was and is still the inspiration for many.

There are millions of ordinary people who are transforming the world through their holiness and their devotion to their family and faith.  I think of Jeanne when I read Ezekiel 36:23 “Then the nations shall know that I am the Lord – oracle of the Lord God – when through you I show my holiness before their very eyes.”  God certainly showed his holiness through Jeanne.

Singer Kathy Troccoli was once the representative for Life Teen in the Catholic Church, and around 1993 sang at a concert for teens at a local church.  At the end of the concert she sang her top number five song Everything Changes, and the reaction of some of the young adult leaders was quite comical.  They recognized the mainstream hit, but until that moment didn’t realize the singer before them was one and the same.  They kept asking if it was really her, and why would she be singing at this local church!

Kathy is an amazing woman, and I was honored to be able to attend two of her concerts.  The second concert I attended was at a Women of Faith conference, where she was also a guest speaker.  Kathy spoke movingly about an abortion she previously had, which caused her so much pain that she wrote the song, A Baby’s Prayer, in honor of her child.  After she sang, she invited any women who had had an abortion to come up for healing prayer by one of the prayer teams.  I thought surely no one at a Christian conference would have had an abortion, but boy was I wrong.  About one-third of the women came for prayer, and the healing I witnessed was painful, but beautiful.  I have never seen such grief, guilt and shame as I witnessed that day.  The prayer team prayed for these women to accept God’s tender mercy and all encompassing forgiveness, and as they did, the love of God poured through that room into every heart.  Tears of repentance, sorrow and joy flowed by the bucket.

I felt privileged to pray for these women, and to witness their restoration in Christ.  As Christians we can’t condemn those who have had abortions; Jesus never condemned anyone.  Instead, his instructed his followers to “go and sin no more”.  Women who have had abortions need our compassion, prayers, kindness, but most of all, our love.

Kathy has certainly had her share of pain and change; besides the anguish of her abortion, she experienced the sorrow of losing her mother in 1991, shortly before the release of her song Everything Changes.  I for one, simply don’t like change.  My husband teases me that I only change the furniture around every twenty years or so, and I replied “I don’t think it is that often”!  I feel much more safe and secure when my life is constant; as much as I love to travel, I am thrilled to get back home to my own bed, my own routine and my own little Yorkies!

Unfortunately as Kathy Trocolli learned, everything in our passing world changes; nothing is static.  Growing up I had four brothers and sisters, but by the time I was nine, they had all left home, including my father.  Being left behind wasn’t easy.  Then I grew up and married a wonderful man, had two beautiful daughters, and was surrounded by a loving mother and step-dad, two sisters and many nieces and nephews.  When the girls were young, we did everything together; church, beach, games, even working together in our cafe.  But overnight our lives seemed to change; one daughter is now married with children of her own and lives in another town; both parents are gone, and my many nieces and nephews have children and busy lives of their own.

In years past every holiday with filled to overflowing at my mother or sister’s house with lots of food, games and fun.  Everything changes.  We still have family gatherings, but not often.  My husband works many holidays, as he did this past July 4.  Last Friday was quite different from years past; instead of riding the waves at the beach, or floating in the pool, I started the day with a rosary and mass at my church in the morning, with Fr. Dan reading the Declaration of Independence in place of a homily.  Then I spent the afternoon puttering in my garden, pruning my knock-out roses, watering my thirsty garden and filling the birdfeeders for my hungry and colorful visitors.  A friend came over and we lounged on the deck enjoying the cool breeze and listening to the gurgling of our new fountain; then we were entertained by two great movies; one was a CIA thriller and the other was a drama about the tragedy of Pompeii.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, but different from the past.  Even though the circumstances in our life will change, one thing never will. The one constant is God the Father; He is immovable, immutable, unchanging and steady.  As Evangelical Arthur W. Pink explains “His power is unabated, His wisdom undiminished, His holiness unsullied. The attributes of God can no more change than Deity can cease to be.”  He further explains that since God is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, He can’t change. God affirms this in Malachi 3:6 “For I, the Lord, do not change.”

What does God’s static nature mean for us?  Again, Pinker does a beautiful job explaining this comforting  fact “Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If He varied as we do, if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if He were controlled by caprice, who could confide in Him? But, all praise to His glorious name, He is ever the same. His purpose is fixed, His will stable, His word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of His promises: “Though the mountains fall away and the hills be shaken, my love shall never fall away from you, nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord.”  (Is. 54:10)

Whether you have had an abortion, been unfaithful to your husband, lied about someone else to get a promotion, or perhaps lost your job and are in danger of losing your home; even if the very foundation you are standing on is shaking like a leaf, you can always turn back to God.  No matter how far away you have been, no matter how many years you have been apart, He is your rock and will keep his promise that He will “never fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:8).  God loves you with an unchanging, everlasting, infinite love, and is ready to welcome you back with open arms.  In Isaiah 44 God reminds us “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”

Especially painful for me is the loss of family members and friends, and today was particularly difficult upon hearing of a dear friend who passed away earlier in the day.  She was a faithful prayer warrior and never missed daily mass; she always had a smile on her face and a word of encouragement on her lips, and was a shining example of her faith.  I know my grief is only a fraction of the anguish of her family,  and it is reassuring to know the angels are bringing comfort and peace, and that God the Father, the rock of our salvation, is wrapping them all in his loving embrace.  Rest in peace dear Jeanne.  You will be sorely missed…

Related articles:

Song A Baby’s Prayer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ6cp_VDgmk

Desire

Washington at Valley ForgeYesterday was the anniversary of the birth of our nation, July 4, 1776.  The first patriots were passionate in their desire to end the tyrannical and oppressive rule of Britain, and took every step possible to achieve their goal.  In their quest for liberty, they risked everything, including their very lives.  From George Washington, to Ethan Allen, to Patrick Henry, to Thomas Jefferson and Paul Revere, to the simple blacksmith, and hard-working farmer, these patriots left their families for years, suffered relentless cold, ice storms, sweltering heat, hunger, disease and all the horrors that war can bring in order to attain “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

To celebrate our independence, we joyfully spend time with our families by frolicking at the lake or beach, boating, barbequing, setting off rockets and firecrackers, and watching spectacular fireworks.  These are wonderful ways to celebrate this special day, but let’s not ever forget the sacrifices of those early patriots.  Our current culture seems to value fun and pleasure more and more, especially on the social media sites, where it seems to be a race to outdo each other.  Hedonism is the belief  that “…feelings of pleasure or happiness are the highest and final aim of conduct; that, consequently those actions which increase the sum of pleasure are thereby constituted right, and, conversely, what increases pain is wrong.” (From the Catholic Encyclopedia)

The First Commandment tells us that we shall have no other gods before our Lord, that God should be first in our lives.  Yet many Christians get caught up in the cares and concerns of the daily grind, and put God on the back burner.  They flee madly at the prospect of suffering, and the search for pleasure has taken on a life of its own.  So where does our desire for God fit in?

To achieve faith in God, obviously there has to be some kind of desire.  In Matthew 13:44 we’re told “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person find and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys  it.”  The person described in this verse found some kind of treasure in a field, so he buried it so no one else could find it, and went out and sold virtually everything he owned, in order to obtain the priceless buried treasure.  God is calling us to desire the kingdom of heaven in just the same way.

Take some time to examine the goals in your life; are you trying to save up for an adequate retirement so that you can retire with a certain standard of living?  Is your goal to drive nice cars, travel the globe, buy a lake home?  Or perhaps it is to become a bum in the Keys, spending your time fishing and boating?  These are admirable goals, but how does the kingdom of heaven factor in?  When the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do “to gain everlasting life” (Matthew 19:16), Jesus told him he must “keep the commandments”.  The young man replied that he had, and then Jesus told him to “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Some Christians have been called to give up everything and follow Christ; St. Katherine Drexel used her entire 20 million dollar inheritance to found her order and help the American Indians and blacks.  St. Elizabeth of Hungary devoted her entire fortune and all her time to help the poor and sick after her husband, King Louis died.  St. Anthony too gave up his inheritance to become a Franciscan friar.  But for most of us this verse means to be detached from our belongings, and to desire above all the kingdom of heaven.  It means wanting the kingdom of heaven more than any position of power or amount of wealth.  It means being willing to accept God’s will and to be detached from your savings, even in the event the market collapses and your retirement is worthless.  It means desiring to grow in holiness, being conformed in the image of Christ, even when you are suffering cancer, or you just lost your job as CEO of an important corporation.

Some of you may be atheist or agnostic, and have little or no belief in the divine.  I am a logical person and in high school convinced myself that God didn’t exist.  But I still remember those faint stirrings in my heart when I attended a Christmas party for the Campus Crusade for Christ and saw the radiant faces of my friends as they discussed their faith.  Years later I felt that little nudge to attend mass on Christmas and Easter, that slight desire to reconnect with a divine presence more immense than myself.

Many times when we suffer trials God is able to pierce the hard shell around our hearts, as explained in the article More Than a Feeling “… God is able to reach us because our defenses are lowered. You are not less rational. You are more open. Vulnerability can awaken your innate desires for God, which have been buried under layers of resistance. ”  In times of hardship the gentle prod can grow into a profound quest.

Sometimes it is the “restless longing” spoken of by St. Augustine. You may achieved all your goals; money, career, family, but sometimes a persistent longing for something more invades your peace.  I joined the Catholic Church in 1987, and shortly before the Easter Vigil, I attended an RCIA day-long retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.  The retreat center was blocked off with signs on all the doors that said “Private Retreat”, so our group spent the day by the nearby scenic lake.  I remember the unusual longing that shot through me at the sight of those closed doors to remain there the rest of the weekend, to be part of the ‘Private Retreat’.  Years later that longing was fulfilled tenfold when I attended a Cursillo weekend retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in 1993.

So be attentive to those little stirrings in your heart; whether it is to allow God into the crack in your heart, or to give him control over every aspect of your life, it all begins with desire.  One effective way to increase this desire and longing, is to meditate on the “Hungry Heart Scriptures” listed below.  One beautiful verse is Psalm 63 “O God, you are my God – it is you I seek!  For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts.  In a land parched, lifeless, and without water, I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.”

The song As the Deer Longs, based on Psalm 42, is another excellent way to meditate.

Related Articles:

More than a Feeling http://www.uscatholic.org/life/2010/06/more-feeling-desire-god#sthash.2nSsXqKg.dpuf

How Big is the Container of Your Heart http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2014/07/costello-how-big-is-your-heart/

Hungry Heart Scriptures http://www.soulshepherding.org/2006/07/hungry-heart-scriptures/

I belong to a community called the Marian Servants of the Blessed Trinity, and last Tuesday we had a delightful guest speaker by the name of Fr. Joseph Mendes, M.S.F.S.  (His biography is below).  Fr. Mendes gave an informative talk about holiness, and afterward we were able to ask him questions.  One of the ladies in our group asked about Jesus’ admonition to “…be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5: 43-48).  She was puzzled because the admonition doesn’t say to TRY to be perfect, it instructs us to BE perfect.

But as Fr. Mendes explained, Jesus is calling us to live our lives as perfectly as possible.  He went on to explain perfection as fulfilling the will of God as successfully as we can, and then illustrated his point with the image of a screwdriver fitting perfectly into the head of a screw.  Obviously a Philip’s head screwdriver won’t fit into a flat head screw, and vice versa.  Just so we should pour our lives into the mold of God’s plans.

I loved the illustration, since my husband has been worrying over a broken light fixture in our kitchen for several weeks.  The fixture has been loose for at least a year, and even though he has laboriously gotten the ladder out and fiddled with it, he never could get it flush against the ceiling.  Then two weeks ago the fixture dropped and was hanging down about an inch.  Out came the ladder and tools, but he still couldn’t fix it.  So he removed the glass globe and puttered around some more.  Still unsuccessful, he waited several weeks until he had a free day to devote more time to the puzzle.

That free day came Tuesday afternoon, so out came the ladder and tools again.  He got the idea to take the entire box out the ceiling and reattach the light fixture with longer bolts, so he ran to the hardware store and bought some new bolts.  No dice.  They simply didn’t fit.  So after much complaining, and convinced he needed to call an electrician, he decided to try to get the right size bolts and drove back to the hardware store, purchasing smaller ones.  No dice.  Too small.  Much more frustration and ranting; meanwhile, all I could do was to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance!

Back to the hardware store for medium size bolts.  After some finagling, VICTORY!  My ‘fix-it man’ was finally able to properly clamp the glass globe flush against the ceiling.  Unless the bolts were the right size, the light fixture simply didn’t mesh together.  My husband’s experience seems to mirror our relationship with God; we try to fit God into OUR imperfect plans, rather than fitting ourselves into HIS perfect plans.  Have you heard the joke about someone laying out their plans to God?  And God laughs and says “that isn’t my plan”!  Whether your plans are to get the perfect job, or have a wonderful vacation, or to give an important presentation, sometimes the ‘best laid plans of mice and men go astray’.

I listen to Clark Howard, the expert on WSB about staying away from scams, and last week he warned about a new scam concerning vacation rentals.  Scam artists copy pictures of a vacation condo or home for rent, then place an ad requesting payment in advance, and when someone responds, the scammer disappears with all the money.  The duped vacationers get to their destination, and find out they don’t have a place to stay; their plans are ruined!  We work hard to plan for our future, but then God reveals a different plan.  A salesperson might get deathly sick right before an important presentation to a new client, giving the opportunity to another sales rep, causing the loss of an important commission.

It is infuriating when your careful plans fall apart, but remember that when God tells you no, or seems to slam the door shut, it is always because He has an even better plan ahead!  “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 3:20″).  We don’t know for sure if God allows our plans to fail because the path would be detrimental, or because he has an even better vacation or commission in mind.  But we do know God always has our best interests in mind.

Inspired by the example of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare became the abbess of a group of ladies who were followers of St. Francis, later being known as the ‘Poor Clares’.  St. Clare’s parents were of noble blood, and were adamantly opposed to her entering the religious life, and in fact were planning to join her in marriage to a wealthy young man.  With the help of St. Francis, Clare slipped away to join his merry group of penitents.  Francis helped her to shave her head, and when her parents came to reclaim her, she held on to the altar for dear life and refused to leave.  The shock of seeing her bald head convinced her parents of her sincerity, and they allowed her to follow the path of poverty.

God’s plan for their daughter was infinitely different than the path her parents had carefully planned, but look at the beautiful legacy St. Clare has given to millions.  Her order of Poor Clares now has over 20,000 nuns in over 75 countries; they are still faithful to their vow of poverty, and inspire many Christians with their lives of trust and courage.

You may be extremely successful in your career, but ask God daily if this is still His plan for you.  He might be calling you in a different direction by asking you to offer your marketing skills to help out a local charity, or perhaps by using your business acumen to help men and women on welfare acquire job skills.  So tune in daily to discern God’s will for you that day, praying Jesus’ words “thy will be done”.

Bio of Fr. Mendes:
In 1994, Fr. Joseph Mendes (from the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales) left the Nagpur Province and came to support the American Mission and joined the community at St. Patrick’s Church. He served the American Mission at St. Patrick’s Parish as parochial Vicar and at Villa Luyet as Novice Master.  In 2001, after seven years of service to the American Mission, he began his ministry as Chaplain to the Visitation sisters, chaplain to Mother Teresa’s sisters and parochial vicar at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church in Lawrenceville while being directly under the authority of his provincial.

 

Free Bible images of Jesus asking Peter the same question three times about his love for Him and each time instructing him to feed His flock. (John 21:15-25): Slide 1After Jesus was resurrected, he appeared to the disciples several times.  The third time Jesus visited, he had breakfast with them, and then asked Simon Peter “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”   (John 21:15).  Interestingly enough, Jesus used the Greek word ‘agape’ for ‘love’.  English only has one word to describe ‘love’, be it erotic, friendly, or sacrificial.  But in Greek there are four words to describe ‘love':

  • Agape – unconditional love
  • Eros     – romance
  • Philia  – friendship
  • Storge – affection

‘Agape’, or sacrificial love is a determined act of the will to put the needs of others first.  Of course people tend to be selfish and self-centered, so the only way to achieve agape love is with God’s grace; after all, only through the supernatural power of God can we forget ourselves and give unstintingly.

When Peter answered Jesus he assured him “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  But Peter answered Jesus using the Greek word for ‘friendship’ love.  Twice more Jesus asked Peter if he loved him with a sacrificial love, and twice more Peter replied using ‘friendship’ or ‘brotherly’ love.  Peter just wasn’t about to give his life for Christ just yet.

Angie and the “Joshman”

As Peter’s faith and courage eventually increased, so will our capacity for sacrificial love.  I have met several women who embody ‘sacrificial love’ in an astounding way.  One is a friend from high school, Angie Barrett Grantman.  She has a son, Josh, with Fragile X, which is a genetic condition causing intellectual disability, anxiety and hyperactive behavior such as fidgeting or impulsive actions. Some may have problems focusing, communicating and interacting socially.  They also suffer from sensory disorders and aggression.

It hasn’t been easy being Josh’s mom; children with Fragile X are excitable and volatile, and are prone to frequent meltdowns.  Josh has autism and has been severely affected by Fragile X.  As Angie puts it “He is impacted with almost every characteristic possible — autistic behaviors (he’s flappy when he’s happy), sensory issues (crowds, bright lights, being touched gently, direct eye contact, loud noises, new environments, etc. upset him greatly; cognitive deficits (mentally, he’s still a toddler but looks like a linebacker), low muscle tone, hyper-extending joints, delays in speech, fine motor and gross motor skills, anxiety, and mini seizures.  We have dealt with aggression (“fight or flight reaction”), usually due to sensory overload or the inability to communicate.”

From running the gauntlet of doctors, specialists and therapists, to remodeling her house to keep him safe, the sacrifice of her time, energy and money and the unending, unconditional love she pours out is mind-boggling.  Angie admits “It’s been a long, daunting and exhausting journey.”   From the deepest depths of despair, to being completely overwhelmed and exhausted to the point of tears, to grieving unfulfilled dreams, Angie has been steadfast and given unstintingly of herself to her child.  Thankfully, Angie’s ‘rock’ of a husband has faithfully stuck to her side and also given unsparingly; sadly the divorce rate for marriages with children like Josh is 70% to 90%.

God loves us with a magnanimous,  unconditional , unhesitating, full-fledged, tireless, lavish, unselfish and bountiful love.  In return, He is calling us to love Him the way Angie loves her son – wholeheartedly and willingly, without any reservation.  But we may not be ready yet; we may answer like Peter “Yes Lord, I love you like a brother or sister”.

Another incredible example of sacrificial love is actress Dolores Hart; she was at the top of her career, having acted in movies with gyrating Elvis Presley and dreamy George Hamilton.  Then Jesus asked her “Dolores, do you love me with a sacrificial love”.  She said “yes Lord”, and this elegant Grace Kelly look-alike gave up fame and fortune, as well as a handsome, wealthy fiance, to enter the St. Benedict cloistered convent.  She is now Mother Dolores Hart.  A wonderful book called Ear of the Heart details her Ear of the Heart Memoirfascinating spiritual journey.

God loves and accepts us just where we are, but He has so much more He wants to give us.  Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles as described in Acts 2 “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim”.

Only with the effervescent, transforming, life-giving power of the Holy Spirit can we hope to love Jesus with every fiber of our being, with our finances, our energy, and our family.   Before the Holy Spirit descended, Peter was afraid, hesitant.  Then after Pentecost he was confident and bold, willing to give his life for his faith; and he did make the ultimate sacrifice, and was martyred by being crucified upside down.

You are most likely not going to be asked to give your life, but are you willing to ask for that kind of sacrificial love that can surrender stardom and wealth, like Mother Dolores Hart?  Are you courageous enough to try to love Jesus unconditionally with your time and resources, your talents and your gifts?  It can be scary, but don’t be afraid to love Him unwavering with “all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind…” (Luke 10:27).

God cannot be outdone in generosity; ask for the gift of courage, which comes from the Holy Spirit, to say yes.  Ask for that amazing grace that will turn your life upside down and bring you more happiness and joy than you can ever imagine!

Related Articles:

  • Angie Grantman’s blog http://angiegrantman.blogspot.com/
  •  Dolores Hart http://www.religionnews.com/2013/06/17/mother-dolores-hart-from-kissing-elvis-to-joining-the-convent/
  • May the Force Be With You http://maryscatholicgarden.com/?s=May+the+Force+Be+With+you

 

 

You may be too young to remember the television series Star Trek, with dashing Captain Kirk and capable Chief Engineer Scotty, who was known for getting the Starship Enterprise out of tight spots.  Scotty managed the transporter, which would beam the crew from the ship up and down to the planet’s surface.  Whenever Captain Kirk ran into trouble he would yell into his communicator “Beam me up Scotty”!  And Scotty would immediately zap him and the crew and whisk them safely to the mother ship.

Some fundamentalist denominations have a similar view of the ‘end times’, when Jesus will return, called the “Rapture”. This doctrine teaches that when Christ returns, all the  ‘saved’ will be magically transported to heaven.  All non-believers will be ‘left behind’.

So what does it mean to be ‘saved’?  Justification, or being made ‘righteous’ is the term by which Christians are judged to have lived a holy life and are deemed worthy to achieve heaven.  About 20 years ago I was studying the differences in denominations, and noticed this seemed to be a subject which causes some of the most division.

In fact, this doctrine sparked the estrangement of many Christians from the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1517 Martin Luther was a monk in Germany who struggled with his sinful nature.  Fasting, flagellation and frequent confession had little effect, and he became obsessed with his perceived wickedness, which he believed blocked him from entering heaven.  Finally in his study of the book of Romans, he had a revelation when he read Romans 3:28 “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

He had the giddy epiphany that salvation is a free gift, and once given, can never be lost.  His revelation ignited an enormous controversy and a new doctrine of ‘sole fide’, faith alone, developed.  In his “Wittenberg Project”  he explained his new theory “We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides…No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to commit adultery thousands of times each day.”  So according to Luther, whether one gave in to their lust with their neighbor, or drank excessively, it didn’t affect their salvation.

The Roman Catholic Church taught that man is saved by ‘grace’ alone, rather than ‘faith alone, and that man has free will, and can and has turned away from God, and lost his salvation.  This belief is partially based on Hebrews 10:26 “If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.”

But Luther didn’t believe in free will, and claimed “…with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation (man) has no ‘free-will’, but is a captive, prisoner and bond-slave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.” (From Luther’s Essay Bondage of the Will)

Instead of falling on his knees and admitting his frailty in fighting the ‘sins of the flesh’, and asking for God’s strength and grace in the battle, his pride lead him to distort scripture and determine that sin is unimportant to our salvation, so it doesn’t matter whether or not we win the battle against the flesh.

He must have skipped over Philippians 2:12, where God instructs us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” and St. Paul’s admonishment that “neither fornicators, nor idolators nor adulterers no boy prostitutes or sodomites, nor thieves, etc. will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1st Corin. 6:10)

There is a misconception among many protestants who falsely believe that Catholics think they are saved by ‘good works’, and not by ‘faith’.  But the Roman Catholic Church has taught for 2,000 years that you are saved by ‘grace’ alone. CCC #1996 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 of the divine nature and of eternal life.”  

Surprisingly, the Lutheran Church reached a synod in 1999 and formed an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church that you are saved by ‘grace alone’, drastically changing Luther’s premise that one is saved by ‘faith’ alone.  Luther believed this so passionately that he  hated the epistle of James, which he referred to as an “epistle of straw” because of James 2:24 “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

My favorite explanation of faith vs. good works is from C.S. Lewis, who described salvation as a “pair of scissors”.  You can’t have one without the other – faith without good works is dead, and good works without faith is meaningless.  Even though sola fide is one of the most divisive doctrines, in actuality most protestants and Catholics believe the same.  Even if one is ‘saved’, if you aren’t actively living out your faith in some way, then your faith is dead, and you aren’t really ‘saved’ after all.

I think sola fide somewhat limits scripture, which is full of conditions necessary to achieve heaven.  In John 6:54 Jesus assured his followers that they would have eternal life IF they “ate his flesh and drank his blood”.  In Mark 10 when the rich young man asked Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus asked him if he knew the commandments, then instructed him to “sell what you have, and give to the poor”.

In 1st Peter 3:20, St. Peter mentions baptism “which saves you now”.  One of my favorite verses is Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.” In John 3:5 Jesus warns Nicodemus “no The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 the Beatitudesone can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”, which the Church explains is baptism and confirmation.  In Luke 13:5 Jesus warns “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish…”.  Jesus is quite harsh in Matthew 25 when he warns that He will “separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”, and that if  you have NOT been there to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, then you will be “accursed” and thrown into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”!  Ouch!

It is absolutely true that scripture tells us in John 3:16 “…everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”.  BUT, one’s faith must encompass the entire bible, not just one isolated verse.  Once you believe in Christ, the bible is clear about what must happen next.  First, you must be baptized and confirmed; second, you must repent and turn away from sin; third, you must take communion (you must eat the flesh of Jesus).  More conditions include doing the will of the Father, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, following the commandments, and being detached from material things.

I think one problem with the idea of ‘once saved, always saved’, is a creeping complacency.  I was discussing the importance of prayer with a customer one day, and I was rather disturbed to hear her say “Don’t preach to me, sister, I’m saved!”  We should never be smug or complacent about our faith; our entire life should be spent growing in holiness and our union with Christ so that on the last day we can imitate St. Paul and say “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” 2nd Timothy 4

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