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Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin

Welcome to Redwood Journal

Redwood Journal is a collection of writings authored by Harry Martin, including book and article publications and blog postings collected from earlier websites. It is, in a very real sense, a journal of the author reflecting his life and work, much among the Coast Redwood country of Northern California.  But it is, even more, a journal of his tasks as a servant of the Cross, a douloscross.  It is a journal of one who follows He who died upon the Cross, made red by His blood  and arose from the tomb through His holy love.

Over the years these tasks have included firefighting, restaurant and camp cook, disaster medical planner, Protestant pastor, Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, fire services chaplain, mental health advocate, Beeswax candle maker, writer and husband and father.   All of these tasks, privileged assignments, for this simple servant of Christ have been sought to be done gloria Dei, for the glory of God.

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St. Anthony of Padua and the Lilies

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time and Feast of St. Anthony of Padua ~ 13 June 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass:

I: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Responsorial: Psalm 92; II: II Corinthians 5:6-10; Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

St. Anthony of Padua

This Sunday is the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time. And, as it falls on the 13th of June, it is also the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. I do not consider it coincidental that the Bible readings for Mass are very beautifully explained and illustrated by the life of St. Anthony.

The readings from Scripture this Sunday focus upon the oft-used parables or metaphors of seeds and trees for the Kingdom of God and the life of faith. Reading of the sacred Word powerfully asserts the desire of God for us to be growing in all the fullness of His Kingdom whatever side of the threshold of eternity we find ourselves. The intent of the Holy Spirit to sow, nurture and bring to harvest this abundant life of faith is, again portrayed profoundly by St. Anthony.

St. Anthony was born in Lisbon Portugal in 1195. He came from a family of considerable means and standing among Portuguese nobility. His given name was actually Ferdinand and it would remain so until he became a Franciscan friar when he took the name Anthony. His life as a religious began early as a member and student of the regular canons of St. Augustine. While studying in Lisbon his hunger for Christ and the matters of His Kingdom brought him to ask to study at a smaller, more remote monastery less surrounded by worldly distractions. The request was granted and while there some Franciscan monks came and stayed. They brought with them relics of recently martyred Franciscans who had gone to Morocco to share the Gospel. This incident sowed holy seeds in the young man who soon entered the early Franciscan order with the intent of following the steps of these martyrs. It would be a lesson of both the sowing of holy seed and the graces of God nurturing Anthony beyond his immature longings.

The plans of young Anthony to go to Morocco were faithfully being pursued. Anthony landed on the coast of Africa but soon became very ill. It was decided he must return to Italy. Again the plans and providence of our Lord intervened to nurture and nudge the young saint on a better path. His ship was blown off course and after landing in Sicily he slowly began to recover. Word came of what would be the last full gathering of all Franciscans in Assisi for a general chapter to address the growing pains and strife the friars were sharing. Anthony went to Assisi and it is believed there he met St. Francis. The nurture and designs of the garden of God were growing, in spite and because of the storms and disappointments of life.

San Juan de Gazteluga ~ Zetgerre Argazkiak

Anthony was sent from Assisi to a small, quiet hermitage to study and regain his health at San Paolo near Forli. This would appear to be the place of God’s planting for Anthony. Yet again the providence and designs of our Master Gardener intervened. It happened that to Forli came a group of Dominican and Franciscan candidates for the priesthood arrived. A failure of their planning had the liturgy about to begin without a prepared preacher. Anthony was prevailed upon to preach. To the awed amazement of all gathered his eloquence and knowledge of God’s Word resulted in a profound blessing by the Holy Spirit. The course of St. Anthony would again change.

Moving to Padua Anthony soon was renowned for his preaching and teaching. He confronted the sins, divisions and false teachings of his day, yet with an humility and love that moved countless souls to grow in the gardens of God’s graces. Stories also were shared how, like his mentor and leader in the faith, St. Francis, he had a deep awareness and affinity of God’s work among all creatures and creation. Miracles of grace and healing resulted in St. Anthony being canonized within a year of his death, at a young age of 36, on 13 June, 1236 near Padua. His relics are cherished in that city to this day.

It would be many years after his passing to eternity that the connection of Anthony with the lilies would come about. In 1680 someone placed in the hand of a statue of St. Anthony in a small church of Austria, a lily. The fragrant flowers stayed fresh for over a year. A year later, during the French Revolution, the Franciscans were forced to leave the island of Corsica. The residents were without the Sacraments and especially the Real Presence of Christ with Mass. On June 13th a shrine was made to St Anthony with many lilies. The cut lilies, for months maintained their life and scent. And lilies are often shown in the image of Anthony holding the baby Jesus. This is based upon a time when the young priest was staying in a home of some friends. The owner of the house went to Anthony’s room and unintentionally saw the saint holding the baby Christ while looking at him with fervent love.

The life and the faithful lover of Christ, and His Word, would result in St. Anthony of Padua becoming the first Franciscan Doctor of the Church. But it also resulted in the seeds of the Gospel, the garden of God’s Kingdom growing in blessing to this day. While a man of great intellect and talent he humbly sought to serve and follow His Lord in the path of eternal life. St. Anthony cherished the true tree of life, the Cross of his Savior. His journey brought heart breaking disappointments, poor health and much hard work in the harvest fields of God. His courage in encountering spiritual warfare was well known. But always it would be His love for Christ and His Word and for all creatures that would be the freshness and scent of God’s lilies that never die.

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Sunday – 6 June 2021- Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 24: 3-8; Responsorial: psalm 116; II: Hebrews 9: 11-15; Gospel: Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ
The Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel at St. Peter Church, Cloverdale, California

This Sunday in June is the Solemnity (High Feast) of Corpus Christi, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is the celebration throughout the world, in the Catholic Church, of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated bread and wine that becomes the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is for many non-Catholics and even some Catholics perhaps the most challenging of the beliefs long cherished in the Church.

The specific Feast is traced back to the year 1263 when a priest, en route to Rome, stopped in Bolesna Italy to say Mass. The priest had been struggling with recent doubts about this ancient point of faith as he went into the Church. At the prayer of Consecration, the priest was amazed to see the Host (sacred bread) stained with Blood. He reported this to the Pope and subsequent studies verified it was true flesh and true blood. From that time the specific celebration of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ has been a part of the liturgy of the Church. The actual belief in the Church in the Real Presence can be traced back to its early beginnings and the Gospel. Numerous other studied and verified Eucharistic miracles have occurred in continuing witness to this beautiful and holy affirmation of the Presence of Christ our Lord.

But many more doubts and challenges to this most holy and needed Presence of God have continued as well. And none of this is new. The promises of God regarding the Presence of His Son in the consecrated bread and wine are rooted in the Gospels. The Gospel of St. John, chapter six, shares this grace of Jesus with His followers. He makes very clear that the Bread, the Wine are truly His Body and His Blood as given in the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The other Gospels and St. Paul all affirm this witness with the sharing of the familiar word “This IS my Body…” This holy, sacred and beautiful moment occurs during the Eucharistic Prayer and the moment of consecration (the Epiclesis) in which the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to change the simple bread and wine into the Real and True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Consecration of the Bread and Wine

But as it was then so it is now and will be until Christ returns. There are those who doubt this truly occurs. Doubt is often a part of a faith that is seeking and growing. Even among practicing Catholics faith may be distracted and weakened to focus minds and hearts upon matters of lesser significance. Some may simply be unsure of this very ancient teaching of the Church. Others may believe but are more focused, not on Christ being Present, but upon their perceptions of the lack of reverence in others or the unworthiness of others to receive Holy Communion. Some even become very troubled over receiving Holy Communion in the hand instead of in the mouth.

With all the great moral and spiritual challenges in our world, there is intense debate, among some, that unless one is in clear agreement and accord with the teachings of the Church one should not be allowed to receive Christ. It is seen as a matter of unworthiness and as a wrong St. Paul taught in his letter to the Corinthians. Indeed we should always seek to be worthy followers of Christ who died and rose for us in redeeming love.

But to say one must be in accord with all the teachings of the Church before receiving Holy Communion would first ignore the reality that our faith and understanding is a journey and we are not all in the same place in our seeking and following of God. It would also ignore the reality none of us at Mass is perfect. If we wait until that occurs before we receive Holy Communion it will be a long wait. To require that level of purity and maturity would also deny the lesson of those present with Jesus in the Upper Room when He gave the Eucharist as a sacrament. All the Apostles would flee, except, John the Beloved. Peter, the first Pope, would deny Christ three times. Judas would betray Him. Yet Jesus washed all their feet and shared His Body and Blood with them. It is in His sharing we realize this is a Sacrament of mercy, forgiveness, and healing. It is a Sacrament of God’s peace. For as we all acclaim prior to coming to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…”

The very Real Presence of Jesus does not qualify us to become judges. The Real Presence of Jesus would, instead, enable us, call us, TOGETHER, to be a very diverse group of people made one in Christ. In sharing Holy Communion we share in Holy Common-Union in and becoming the Body Of Christ. We are meant to be a people who would see as God would see, would forgive, as Jesus forgives, would challenge us to grow in the beauty of holiness and to welcome others into His holy, healing, and very Real presence.

The Most Holy Trinity

Sunday – 30 May 2020 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40; Responsorial: Psalm 33; II: Romans 8:14-17; Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

GOD, Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. To understand, explain or illustrate what is one of the most sublime mysteries of our Christian faith is always a study of contrasts. On the one hand we have GOD, Holy Spirit, Son and Father. On the other hand we have our humanity with our futile efforts to try to confine and organize GOD into our comfortable little God boxes.

We form our God boxes with the materials we have at hand. Our traditions, our upbringing as children, our teachings of religion, faith, spirituality or whatever words we find fluent for our soul. As Catholics, we have the Holy Scriptures and the Traditions of the Church. Our Catechisms provide a wealth of materials that help us form what we believe and what we think of GOD. We also have centuries of sacred art and music that bring us rich, beautiful, if not always accurate images of our Heavenly Father, His Son, our Redeemer, and the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. While the concept isn’t sacred the forming of our God boxes is rather like going to a big box home improvement store and finding those materials with which we may build, remodel, enlarge or repair our perceptions of God. We often will also use other materials in working on our understandings. We might use soul wounds, fears, politics, or specific causes and agendas that emphasize or compliment our beliefs.

A God Box

And we become very comfortable and secure in our beliefs. We can develop great security and peace of mind. Our faith matures and solidifies into a strong dwelling place. In so many ways this is the intent and desire of GOD, that we are able to stand strong throughout the storms of life. The Psalmist said it well when he spoke of GOD as a stronghold to which we come in the trials of life. It is also from those strong places we are able to share the light of hope and peace GOD brings, even in the storms of life.

But our little God boxes are not meant to be where we are to live or grow, for eternity. If we seek to confine GOD only to those places of our understanding and design, those places where we are especially comfortable we would cripple our faith and our relationship with GOD. We are called not to be comfortable, but disciples. And it is especially with our Triune God, the Most Holy Trinity, we can realize the infinite holy joy to which God would welcome us to share in and with GOD, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Gospel for this Mass shares with us the commission from our Lord given to His followers to “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:16-20]. The sacred formula for the Rite of Baptism is here given to the Church. The Divine Commission to teach and make disciples is also established. But Jesus never intended that His Words become just sacred liturgical trim in our God boxes. If we listen carefully we can hear from Jesus an invitation to share and grow in dynamic relations with each other and GOD as together we would journey in love and faith.

We are called to GO and MAKE DISCIPLES! Jesus is telling us we are to not just hide away in fear and worry but to go out and make disciples. This, especially when seen in the light of the Book of Acts, is about going and meeting people where they are, in their lives and then sharing a faith-filled relationship with GOD that will help them follow in the way of Jesus to the Father, through the graces of the Holy Spirit. This might mean doing focused work as missioners to places and peoples as we may be sent by God. But it is especially about going to family, friends, and even enemies and simply sharing the forgiveness, the mercy, the hope we find only in GOD. This may be done in words. It is always done in and through our life.

It is as we go and make disciples we are told by Jesus to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus would tell us that we are to immerse each other in the Name, the Presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Rite of Baptism is normally done by a priest or deacon. But the rite is always shared by parents, sponsors, God Parents, and members of the community of the faithful. We are all called, together, to share in the ongoing immersing of each other into the infinite graces and joys of GOD. Perhaps in prayer, perhaps in learning to cook a family meal, perhaps in sharing in forgiveness for failings, perhaps but always to grow deeper into all GOD would be.

Great minds and saints have spoken and written well on the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. I could, would, never presume to explain GOD. I believe I can only share that which I have experienced. I do not understand GOD. I continue to realize my little God boxes are, at best, humorous attempts to confine GOD. But what I also continue to realize is that we are not called to understand the Holy Trinity. We are called to know, to grow in our relationship with GOD, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God who is pure and holy would cleanse and forgive our sins through the atonement of Christ, welcoming us into the healing embrace of our Heavenly Father to grow empowered by the Holy Spirit for the good of souls and the glory of God.

It is as we grow in God we then can grow in what I have increasingly sensed is one of the most powerful and holy moments of the Mass. In the closing Doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer we pray and share in a distinct sacred threshold of grace:

“Through Him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever. Amen”.

[Yes I am aware I have shared this point in other reflections. But I also sense it is so very urgently needed in our lives and Church.]

The Most Holy Trinity

This day, and always, as we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity may each of you grow, in the love of God the Father, the mercy and peace of Jesus His Son, and the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Promise of Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday – 23 May 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass of the Day: I: Acts 2: 1-11; Responsorial: Psalm 104; II: I Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13; Gospel: John 20: 19-23

The Holy Spirit – Wind, Fire and a Dove

Pentecost Sunday brings us to the end of the Easter season. The 40 days of Lent have been followed by the 40 days of Easter. We are brought to an holy threshold as we now enter into the longest season of Ordinary Time. In many ways the Liturgical seasons reflect the realities of the life of faith. We have the mountain top joys of Christmas and Easter with the prayerful period of reflection and deepened conversion during Lent. These Christian steps of pilgrimage are now lived out in our day-to-day lives in Ordinary Time. Or are they? While the moments of special or great graces will come it seems that it is in the everyday walk that we often lose our momentum for Christ. It is a painful irony observed by pastors, catechists, and the faithful that this seeming inevitable struggle is most evident with the Sacrament of Confirmation. So often we share and witness the study and seeming faith of a Christian soul preparing for the vital gift from God. But we also observe, many times, the seeming disappearance of the Confirmandi after the sacrament is received. We may observe similar struggles when we attend a parish mission or retreat. The Holy Spirit moves and inspires deeply. But the days and weeks following we seem to lose what was experienced.

Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation ~ The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Both Old and New Testament share numerous and vibrant promises from God of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The power and promise of God witnessed on the day of Pentecost for the church. In those early days, in the early church the wind and fire of God, the Holy Spirit was truly alive and seen by the faithful and the world. The Apostles spoke of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. They were speaking of being immersed in the Spirit of God. But why don’t we see that same grace and power today? Was that great outpouring of God only for a specific time and select souls? Was it only on the actual Apostles and the Blessed Virgin? Or was it on all the disciples, men and women, who were present in the Upper Room that day? Where is the Promise of Pentecost from God today?

A careful reading and study of the New Testament accounts of that day along with the Scriptural promises of the Comforter, the Paraclete, would clearly indicate that the Holy Spirit was given to all present in that room that day. The work of the Apostles was confirmed and distinctly empowered. But so was the witness and work of the other disciples in their work of the Kingdom of Christ. It is perhaps also significant that the reference in Acts chapter 1 of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, is the last direct reference to the Mother of Jesus in the Scriptures. She who conceived our Savior by the Holy Spirit is last spoken of as His Church was born, bby the same Holy Spirit. And all for the glory of God. Mary was a most profound example of the Spirit-filled, Spirit-immersed and empowered servant and witness for our Lord. She was a most profound example of someone unafraid of the wind and fire of God.

For the people in the Upper Room, living in the dry, fire-prone hills of Palestine wind and fire were often and wisely feared. They, like most Californians, knew well how destructive and deadly wildfires could be. When we think of wind and fire here in wine country we must contend with harsh memories of great losses experienced especially the past few years.

Wildfire

It may seem absurd to compare the outpouring, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to wildfire. But perhaps the comparison is closer than we think. The witnesses to that first Pentecost were astounded and subsequently fearful on that first Pentecost. This was not the norm for Pentecost in Jerusalem. And the power-filled clarity of the witness of the Presence of God with the need for repentance was a force they could not ignore. Anyone who has experienced a full wildfire knows there is a power greater than their ability to control at hand. There is also a sense of the peril of displeasing God. Even the most devout skeptics will often find themselves praying in the face of such fire.

When asking why so many people allow their faith to be quenched after Confirmation we might consider this comparison. People, especially materialistic, techno-enamored people tend to embrace the myth of control of self and life. Any reflection upon advertisements, products, practices will quickly find extensive false promises of CONTROL of….illness, wealth, family happiness, even hair. The ability to plan and follow what we think our life is about is increasingly a gospel of favor for many. Compare that illusion with the Promise of God of being immersed in the Holy Spirit. If I really say yes to God, if I really seek to be filled with the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit what will happen? Where will God lead? So a choice is made….my control and comfortable plans…or…the wind and fire of God?

But this doesn’t just apply to those newly confirmed. It apples to every baptized believer and especially to all who have received the graces of Confirmation. We each have received many holy, merciful promises of the Holy Spirit in our life. In Confirmation, in grace-moments, in creation, in each other. But so often those promises, those gifts, these treasures from God remain unopened.

The Unopened Promises and Gifts from God

This Pentecost Sunday the Spirit of God would seek to speak to our hearts, to open our lives to a deeper and fuller immersion in God. The fears of this world are lies that would seek to rob us of all God is and would be for us. The lies of pride and control would rob us of all we are called by our Savior and Lord to be and to become. The Holy Spirit, the Wind and Fire of God would immerse and empower us to be the servants and witnesses of Christ and His Kingdom. As we reflect on the promise of the Comforter we must remember that indeed God is the wind and fire. But NOT of division, spiritual pride, judgement and condemnation. The Wind and Fire of God will blow away the useless chaff and waste of our lives and place within our hearts the unquenchable love of God that would burn with hope and mercy for others and the for the glory of God. Instead of dead fruits of lust, ego, greed and strife we will realize the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday, a time to prayerfully reflect upon the gift, the promises of God in our lives, in our church. As we also begin our daily walk in the in the adventures of Ordinary times it is a time to realize our control of life is very limited at best. Our plans, hopes are important but even more vital is that our whole being be immersed in the Presence and Promises of God. May we each and together be true witnesses of the Power of Pentecost!

Christ is Ascended

Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Sunday) – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 1:1-11; Responsorial: Psalm 47; II: Ephesians 1:17-25; Gospel: Mark 16: 15-20

“Ascension” – painting by Dan Sproul

The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is a Biblical event of profound importance. The Church recognizes this with the Solemnity of the Ascension celebrated forty days after Easter on a Thursday. It may also be celebrated the Sunday after those forty days on Ascension Sunday. For some this variation of the day is of concern as they may believe to celebrate the holy event when it occurred is more important than what may be deemed more practical by others. It is rather ironic as when our Lord ascended to return to His Father He ascended far above temporal schedules or concerns of time as we know it. The celebration of the heavenly homecoming of Jesus is truly an event that has infinite and eternal significance. It is an affirmation of glory and joy in Christ. For He completes the incarnation mission of holy love and returns to the Father for a distinct reunion of the Holy Trinity. He ascends His heavenly throne alongside God the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Victor’s reign. And Christ establishes the purpose of His people to be witnesses of His redeeming mercy and power. We are reminded, like the refrain from our Responsorial Psalm acclaims: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”

The Ascension, the return, of Jesus to His heavenly glory is a truth we must never take for granted. His incarnation, to be born of a woman, in a stable, was done to reach creation, to reach us, in mercy and love. For Jesus the Son to lay aside His heavenly glory to bear our humanity was to allow a break never before (or since) done by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To take upon His holy Self, all our sins resulted in a break from the Father and Holy Spirit. With His death the penalty of our sins was executed. With His resurrection the sinless power of His love conquered the sins of the world and death. And with His ascension the return of Jesus to the heart of His Father, in the arms of the Holy Spirit was accomplished. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit would not, could not be broken by evil. The divisions and strife sought by Satan are conquered as we confess and affirm in the concluding Doxology from Mass: “Through him, and with him, and in him O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever. Amen.”

The celebration of Jesus ascended and returned to heaven is also a clear proclamation of a truth often sung by the faithful but especially throughout the Easter season “ALLELUIA!” The Lord God reigns!. Our Scripture readings this Lord’s Day state with infinite clarity that Jesus is now seated with His Father and reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus, born in a stable, dying on a cross, has conquered evil, hate, sin and death through His resurrection, through His ascension. Jesus Reigns! This is so beautiful to believe, to sing, to proclaim. Until…… the defeated enemies of God and His Kingdom seek to pretend Jesus doesn’t reign. Or when we choose to listen to lies and place our faith in our worries, fears, and doubts and we seek to nudge Jesus from the throne of our hearts. Or are we like those disciples asking before our Lord Ascended, if NOW was when their political enemies (the Romans) would be conquered? It is SO TEMPTING to equate the Gospel and God’s Kingdom with our favored beliefs (whether they be political, religious, liturgical or social) and we try to make Jesus submit to our ignorance or fear. Mercifully may the the Holy Spirit remind us GOD is on the throne, not us! The saints of God learned, often through great trials, that whether facing a martyrs death, sickness, poverty or injustice Jesus reigns and will leads us through any sorrows. So often I observe that more faith is placed in Satan and the evils of the world (and of others) than in Christ our risen and ascended Savior and Lord. The Feast of the Ascension is a most distinct example of how our Shepherd King prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. And as we celebrate the homecoming of Jesus into the fullness of the Trinity, as we kneel before the King of Kings we are brought to be who Jesus redeemed and calls us to be…witnesses of His redeeming power and mercy.

As the disciples stared into the heavens the angels appeared to remind them of what Jesus had instructed. They (and we) are to be His witnesses, to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. The words from the Gospel of Mark are so important. Our lives are to proclaim Jesus, Lord, and Savior to all creation. Instead of the strife, divisions, cruelties, and sorrows of this world we are to witness the mercy and hope that is in Christ. Instead of petty kingdoms of self, control and greed we are to be God’s stewards of life in and through creation. In place of the arguments and accusations that so often infest churches big and small we remember it is not us who are reign…but Christ. Instead of words and deeds of judgment and rejection, we allow the same ascended Jesus who sought Peter and His other frightened disciples to be bridges of hope and mercy where together we could learn and grow in the infinite expressions of His holy love.

But it is an impossible plan, isn’t it? How, on earth, can we truly live out the love, the mercy and hope that is in Jesus? How are we ever to cease all the squabbles to which we seem addicted? How do we overcome the destructive greed that has destroyed so much of our environment? How do we live as the true witnesses of Christ who we believe reigns in heaven? We celebrate the answer next Sunday as, together, we seek the Holy Spirit to empower us for God.

Chosen… Ordained by God

6th Sunday of Easter – 9 May 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts: 10; 25-26,34-35, 44-48; Responsorial: Psalm 98; II: I John 4: 7-10; Gospel: John 15: 9-17

Life today is inundated with choices. From politics to products in the grocery store, from APPS to use in smartphones and tablets to which devices to use, choices abound. Even in our faith, it would seem the choices never end. What about liturgy? What about the many choices of Bible to read and study? What about the growing political and faith agendas that would cause us to pick and choose? Or what about the most volatile of choices, pro-abortion or pro-life? Life seemed to once be so simple. We spoke of crossroads. Now we deal with interchanges. Life, our choices, truly can be confusing, difficult, and especially at the speed we live these days, perilous.

Yet, once again, in the mercy and peace of The Holy Spirit, we are brought back into our Heavenly Fathers Presence to listen to His Son.

We are reminded of the conversation Jesus had with His disciples in the Upper Room, through our Bible readings today, that yes, we have choices to make in this life. These choices affect us in our daily journey and for all of eternity. But we are also taught with holy clarity that our choices needs be made as we realize a very important fact, Jesus chose us. Jesus chose you and me.

We are chosen by God. In the Gospel from the glorious Upper Room discourse Jesus tells us “It was not you who chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…” In more archaic English versions of Scripture the verb “chose” is (accurately) translated as “ordained”. Perhaps this has helped develop the erroneous perils of clericalism or the attitude among many Christians that it is those ordained or that have particular vocations to be called by God and fruitful in their ministry. But if we take Jesus at His Word and within the context of the Gospels and Apostles we must realize… Christ has chosen…us, as we are, to come to Him, receive Him and follow in His steps, to simply, abide in Him. And as we surrender to His holy mercy we learn we are indeed chosen, by God, to be…

Fruitful for Christ and His kingdom: Among many Christians there has developed a particular focus that fruitfulness for God is expressed in…matters of this world. For many big numbers at Mass or in a ministry equate to being fruitful. For some it may be the number of services to which they attend or prayers they say. Even for some the dynamics of love in a family are focused or even restricted to children that being produced. But with God Scripture clearly teaches us that it is in a vast array of Fruits of the Spirit that Jesus longs for us to be fruitful. For it is in those fruits the souls of others and our self will grow for Him. So our choice for God would be to grow ever more fruitful in those Fruits rooted in the love of the Father, from abiding in the Vine, His Son, and found in the power of the Holy Ghost. Our Blessed Mother, Mary, understood and showed us this choice so full of grace.

We are chosen, by our Lord, to be JOYFUL! It is with poignant beauty and irony that Jesus, at His Last Supper, moments before leaving for the Garden of Gethsemane, tells His followers… “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete”. Again the verb “complete” is well translated as “full” or “mature”. The truth, however, is clear, God, our Savior, wants our lives to be growing, maturing in His joy! This is not the absurd happiness expressed on TV by those who choose a particular drug, potato chip, car, or toilet paper. Worldly, futile happiness is found in the very insecure world of materialism or lusts, whether they be for false intimacy, power, or politics. God chooses us to know, daily, His joy that can prevail regardless of our circumstances. For God chooses us whether it be in the dark nights of the soul or in the joys of answered prayer and blessings.

We are chosen…ordained by God, to be fruitful and to be filled with His joy. It is really so very simple. Not always easy but simple. For God knows whom He has chosen. Yet we try to make it so very complex. We develop our own preferred mazes of faith and OBEDIENCE. I am too old. I am too young. I am not smart enough. I am ….fill in the excuses of choice. We nurture our models of approved fruitfulness and worship. We have a plethora of spiritual roadmaps, ways of worship, holy music, prayer, and love. Yet Jesus, in that Upper Room taught that there were just TWO choices we must make if we are to be abiding in Him. We are ordained, chosen to LOVE God and one another. Period. Full stop. And if that were not simple enough our Lord explains that we are to love God with all our hearts in the moment of time we live..not in our yesterdays or in our possible tomorrows. We are to love with all our heart…today. If our heart is harmed by sin, wounded by brokenness..to love with all our heart, today, with Jesus, wherever we are. And we are to love one another, as He loved us. Again, as we are, unconditionally, with the same unselfish love Jesus washed the feet of John the Beloved, or Peter who would deny Him three times…or Judas who would betray Him with a kiss. Jesus, knowing all this still….. LOVED. For God is Love. This would bring us to an important consideration. Where in the Gospel, in Scripture are we taught to, or how to judge love? We are taught..to love, not to judge love.

And it is the more we immerse ourselves into abiding in Him, into loving Him and one another, that we grow in the fruitfulness and joy He has ordained. Eternal, abiding fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit to give to our Heavenly Father in love and the fruitfulness of more children of our Lord following, with us, our Lord. For this we are created, redeemed and ordained, chosen by God.

Painting by Jon McNaughton

The Gospel Garden – What If?

5th Sunday of Easter – 2 May 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 9: 26-31; Responsorial: Psalm 22. II: I John 3: 18-24; Gospel: John 15: 1-8

Mont St Michael with winter snow. Source unknown.

The Holy Spirit, on this 5th Sunday of Easter, brings us on our Gospel journey through great challenges to powerful promises and a walk with Jesus in His holy vineyard. We are called to journey in the Gospel Garden. I believe it is no coincidence that as we reflect on our risen Christ this Easter season that we realize much of the Easter story is found in gardens. From the passion of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the fearful joy of the Garden Tomb Jesus brings us His Gospel, in so many ways in creation. Whether it be the wilderness testings, the mountain top transfiguration, the beauty of a cloister garden or our own humble gardens for God we can grow, fruitfully as we abide in Christ in His Gospel Garden.

But there are very real problems and perils we must face. In many ways, it is illustrated in the unique winter scene of Mont St. Michail off the coast of Normandy France. For many souls, life is much like a wasteland of frozen faith or hopes. Or maybe their faith is strong yet their call from God has brought them to places of great draining demands or isolated aloneness. But their faith, their love is focused on the beautiful mountain of their Lord and so to their home they press on. They, like each believer, seek to grow in the Gospel Garden.

In our own little garden at home we are approaching the peak of the spring time beauty. In spite of all the worries and concerns of life the garden, the flowers, trees, ferns and weeds all simply seek to grow and to be. I was observing and appreciating all this this week as I prayed upon our Scripture readings. But I have also been very saddened by the ongoing strife and judgement throughout the Body of Christ. This infects Christians whether they be Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant. The worldly spirits of politics, nationalism, and moral tangents tempts us to have our focus on the Gospel, upon Christ to be clouded or blinded. The growing fervor to decide, to judge whether others are worthy of the Eucharist or the mercy and blessings of God is something perhaps we can reflect upon as we walk in the Gospel Garden.

I have always been grateful that in the garden, regardless of the season, I have never observed the plants arguing. While a rose may be very large and rich in beauty it is content to grow alongside a simple perennial with countless tiny flowers. The clematis growing on the fence seems to have no concerns about judging the Calla lily across the path or the azalea at its feet. . The large Hawthorn tree seems actually to enjoy sharing its shade with the corral bells growing beneath its limbs. Each creation is intent on simply growing to be that which it is created to be. and to share that creation with their neighbor.

Now I know there will be those thinking the deacon is really losing it. But stay with me and together let us seek Jesus in the garden and in His Word for this Sunday.

In the first reading from the Book of Acts we have a dramatic glimpse in the Gospel Garden of the early church. The Church is alive and growing. In the holy mount of the mercy of the risen Lord they find a rich, joyous garden bed of life and fruitfulness. But then Saul of Tarsus shows up in Jerusalem. The disciples, knowing full well his reputation and background, are fearful and do not want him…in THEIR garden. Except for Barnabas, who takes Saul into his heart and under his wing. And the Holy Spirit brings the Church from their fears to grow in true holiness of the love of God. The welcome, the blessing, the mercy of Jesus brought not only the disciples but Saul into God’s Garden and Saul grew to be the man God created him to be, St Paul the Apostle. God’s garden was growing!

The Gospel Garden is a place of Life. Eternal, abundant, fruitful LIFE! And, as in any good garden, it will be tilled, pruned, weeded and…loved. It is to the Gospel for this day we hear Jesus speak of His will for our lives to be fruitful. And again in the garden we learn something of this. I have never encountered an apple tree judging an orange tree as unworthy of being a part of God’s garden. Nor have I ever heard the many vineyards telling the olive trees they MUST grow as the grape vines because, after all,THEY, were the example Jesus used!!!! Each tree, plant or vine simply grows where God has planted them to be, fruitful in the life God has given them.

Now the metaphor of the garden has limitations. Some would be quick to remind us plants do not have moral character. They have not the ability to choose. Or so is commonly understood. The lessons of Scripture, of the saints (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Juan Diego and many others) would enlarge our hearts to realize there is far more to creation than our eyes see and our minds comprehend. But one thing our walk in the garden with the Risen Jesus would affirm for us is the Gospel Garden is, for all its simplicity, a place of holy truth.

St. John the Beloved, in our second reading teaches without ambiguity or complexity that we can know we belong to the truth if we simply “…believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another…”. It is in this epistle John confirms what he shared in our Gospel..to believe in Jesus, to love as He loves us. He shares, too, in the Gospel that this simple fruitful life is ours as we remain or abide in Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave this Gospel to John many decades after the resurrection of the Christ. The Church had grown through many amazing graces. As it had grown John was also seeing the Body of Christ, the Living Eucharist, grow in complexity and conflicts. As John shared those words that Jesus shared just moments before His Passion was to begin…in the Garden… we can sense the longing of God that we not be distracted by lesser issues and places. We can sense the longing of Jesus for us to simply abide in His garden, to abide in Him, fruitful, holy, loving. But… what about?????

But is this too unrealistic? It may seem to be utterly foolish when we face with the harsh pragmatic realities and issues we must deal with as people and as Christians. When unborn girls and boys are being aborted how can this even apply? If a someone refuses to agree with the sacredness of life, as we may believe, how, then should they receive communion? If there are those whose life style does not agree with what is taught and understood from the Church how can they expect any blessing from God? How can a “walk in the garden with Jesus” even make any sense?

These issues are very, painfully real. And if we just focus on the issues, instead of the person, the people dealing with the issues we will find cause for judgment, rancor and strife. And these are only two examples. In every parish these issues will be present but so will many more (greed, pride, heterosexual lust and much more) . But the parish, the church, is NOT ISSUES. It is human souls. And it is God’s garden. While it is so much easier and simple to judge those who may sin in ways that have no appeal for me it ignores the reality that we are all wounded, scared, messed up. We are all sinners except for God’s grace. If we waited until we are perfect before we go to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in holy communion none of us would (honestly) receive. And the prayer we all share “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed”, is unnecessary. So….Let’s go back to the garden.

The plants are not concerned with judging each other. The grape vine is concerned only in growing…grapes not olives, apples or roses.

WHAT IF, together, we simply seek to grow in the holy creation we each, individually, and together, are in Christ?

WHAT IF, as these moral creatures we are, we choose to show each soul we meet the Gospel beauty of life, the hope, the mercy that Christ will give to those who seek Him?

WHAT IF, instead of judgment we offer the merciful shade of grace and kindness to souls seeking simply to be, to love, to trust God for where they are at that moment of their life?

WHAT IF, we seek to grow in faith in God, and each other, as love believes all things, and we seek to love as Jesus loves us?

Where is God leading?

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – 25 April 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 4: 8-12

Responsorial: Psalm 118; II: I John 3: 1-2; Gospel: John 10: 11-18

We are about midway in our journey through the holy season of Easter. It will culminate with the celebration of Ascension Sunday and then the following Sunday will be Pentecost. Our Bible readings are shining God’s light from our Lord’s resurrection and beginning to shine on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is nice to know where we are going. We humans generally like to have a plan, an understanding, of the course of life. It allows us to enjoy the feeling (the myth) that we are in control. Now, of course, we need plans. We need to prepare for what is occurring in life and what we are doing with this profound gift of being alive. Yet, sadly, this belief of control, keeping in touch, has, for many, become an obsession. This faith in technology and assumed control has impacted all ages. It has become a false cornerstone, a false shepherd of our time.

Research indicates that 30% of children under 1 have used a mobile device.

Now, the needed point of clarity, cell phones, tablets, computers, APPS, and technology is, in itself not bad. It is not evil. But when it replaces real, versus virtual, communication, when it takes our eyes away from LIFE and the roads we travel, when it replaces real people and especially God we have chosen a dangerous, false idol. To illustrate this point picture, for a few moments, what most lives would have been like IF, during this pandemic, cell phones, tablets, the internet were not an option. It would have been a loss of great and blessed resources. But it also would have brought us to realize those THINGS are not our God. They are not meant to be leading us as our shepherd.

We need to recognize these challenges and realize they impact all ages and in all aspects of our life. They especially impact our faith, often profoundly in times of stress, crises, or facing uncertainties. We long for clarity, security, and assurance that we are on the right path. And, being honest, that can seem to be found with some APPS, websites, and social media sources. But as the Word of God would teach and remind us today, Jesus is the foundation, the cornerstone of our life. We believe that, at least until things get rough. Regardless we still wonder, more often than not, Where is God leading?

The answer to that question is really simpler than we would make it. Jesus would and will always lead us closer into His Presence. As the Gospel reading affirms Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord, is the Good Shepherd. He Finds us when and where we may stray and brings us back to where we are meant to be. And we must accept, as the Gospel teaches, it isn’t only about us, or our path with God. Our Lord has other sheep that do not belong to this fold that He also shepherds on the paths of His Kingdom. We are not in charge. We are sheep. We are not the navigator or the one who decides who is to follow and who may or may not be following as we would expect. We, simply are not in control at least to the extent we feel we should be. We are sheep. Jesus is the Shepherd.

And Christ is leading us closer to Him. He leads us to be close that we may hear, see, follow God to the fullness of His Kingdom. This is a journey of faith. There is much unknown and, at times, perhaps uncertain. But the Holy Spirit speaks clearly that it is into God’s Presence we are called. And that we are called to be the child of God that we ARE and the child of God we ARE TO BECOME.

Where is God leading? Closer into His Presence and to be and become the child of God, the sheep He would love and shepherd. It is in one of the great Psalm confessions or prayers we see this expressed.

This glorious season of Easter let us take the time to quietly sit or walk with our risen Lord. Perhaps you may want to invite our Blessed Mother Mary, or another special saint to join you and our Lord and then quietly, from your heart, look to Jesus and confess, JESUS, The Lord is my Shepherd.

Resurrection Witness

3rd Sunday of Easter – 18 April 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19; Responsorial: Psalm 4; II: I John 2: 1-5a; Gospel: Luke 24: 35-48

This third week of Easter is in rather sharp contrast to this week in our world. There has been another mass shooting. The Covid 19 pandemic continues to be a very real battle with efforts of medicine and practices of all those concerned with the health of others and themselves battling viral mutations and fears. And even in the church, where we should be celebrating the Presence of our Risen Lord, there are that intent on focusing and fueling divisions and strife. All these events to which we are witnesses would challenge and seemingly mock the power and promise of Jesus, risen from the dead. In many ways, the ways of the world and the powers of darkness seem as powerful as they were when Jesus suffered His passion and died on the cross. But as it was for the early Christians so it is for the faithful today. The reality of the cross will only become clearer as we seek our Lord and His return.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And the promise and power of Christ risen from the dead, the power of His resurrection, is even more relevant and real. And it is to these Truths that far surpass the news of the day, we are called to be witnesses.

Every believer, no matter their age or place in the Body of Christ is called to bear witness for Christ. It is an inherent part of our being that we ARE WITNESSES! We proclaim in our words and deeds our loves, our hates, our beliefs and our doubts. What, or more truthfully, whom does our witness proclaim? Is life all about…me, my accomplishments, my accumulations or perhaps if we have encountered sufferings is it about sharing a new “organ recital” as we testify to whatever ailment has beset us? Or are we, as created and redeemed by God proclaiming the truth of the cross and the power of the resurrection?

As we carefully listen to the Scripture for today we hear the clear call from God to proclaim His Presence in our lives, to bear witness of Jesus conquering sin and death. This resurrection witness is expressed in our actions and our words. St. Francis of Assisi told his brothers to “preach and if necessary, use words.” Our testimony, if real, will contain key essential elements of Christ in our life.

The message of LIFE: If we examine the actions and words of Jesus, before His Passion and even more so after His rising from the dead, we see a dynamic message of LIFE and life in abundance. He encounters us in our struggles, fears, and failings and seeks us to follow Him beyond our self to GROW in the holy joy of body soul, and spirit found in Him. This brings us to ask, what do we proclaim to others, or to ourselves? Is the message of encouragement, hope, growth, and maybe even change? Or is it a message of fear, suspicion, or worry? Is our favorite hymn of worry or wonder for beauty of God and Creation?

Photo by William Lucord on Pexels.com

The Witness of Mercy and forgiveness: As Jesus encountered the disciples HE encountered lives locked in rooms of fear, hiding behind doubts and guilt. Jesus, then, and now, comes to us where we are. But He comes bringing hope and the holy joy of mercy. Christ knows and understands each of us. He knows, better than any other our flaws, wounds, our brokenness. And, as the refrain from the Responsorial proclaims, we call to our ” Lord, let your face shine on us.” As we are on this pilgrimage through these difficult times we need to take care that our words and our deeds share that message of mercy and forgiveness with others. It is important to note when Jesus encountered His struggling followers He did so, again, where they were. Change, repentance, conversion, yes it would occur as they followed and drew close to Him. But there would be times when forgiveness would be impossible without Him. But it must be a part of their on-growing witness.

The testimony of God’s peace and love: It is in the world of conflicts and strife, it is as we carry our crosses that we are called to grow in genuine holiness. That holiness, that sanctifying grace of God, is revealed perhaps most powerfully in the peace of God that surpasses all circumstance and understanding. It is validated, undeniably, in lives that allow their souls to see others as God does, with His love. Now lest anyone worry that I am speaking of a fuzzy, spineless emotion void of any character I am not. We are redeemed to see others beyond their failings and sins to the God-loved soul within. (Or simply to see others as God sees..each of us). We are to share, amidst the very real chaos of the world, the peace of He who reigns eternally in God’s Kingdom. And we are redeemed to share the healing blessing of God’s love with souls wounded by the false loves of the world and by the hates that those counterfeits will inflict.

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