Friday, January 31, 2020

Thoughts on Kobe Bryant

Kobe in class.
It seems like each day, from an article here or a news report there, we find out more about this man named Kobe Bryant - who he was and what made him tick. In a local paper today, we find out he lived in Newport Beach and was a regular at many of the local businesses. There they know him not as a basketball star but as a neighbor. They know him at the supermarket where he shops about every two or three weeks; they know him at Starbucks; they know him at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf ("The usual, Kobe?"); they know him at Vanguard University where he led a practice with Gianna's basketball team two or three times a week; they know him at the Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar where he would pick up Gianna after school; and they know him at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church where he attended 7 a.m. mass on the morning he would later board a helicopter for that fateful ride.

"Kobe was a committed Catholic who loved his family and loved his faith," said Bishop Timothy Freyer of the Diocese of Orange. "Kobe would frequently attend Mass and sit in the back of the church so that his presence would not distract people from focusing on Christ's presence." At Vanguard University, a small Christian school in Costa Mesa, he was good friends with the whole basketball staff and frequently sat in on their practices, especially the women's team, often teaching them and giving them pointers. He even attended some of their games. He was especially close to the head basketball coach who credits Kobe with helping him to fight back and overcome a bout with cancer. 

They also know him at Orange Coast College where he was good friends with Joe Altobelli, the head baseball coach who also perished in the helicopter crash heard round the world. Altobelli's daughter and Kobe's daughter were teammates on the basketball team Kobe was going to coach that day. Altobelli was much loved by his team and respected in the baseball world. He graduated with a masters from Azusa Pacific University, another Christian school. You do not serve as a teacher or leader in any of these schools without a strong Christian commitment and a call to live out your faith.

So why is this important? It shows how someone of Kobe Bryant's stature in the sports world can also live out his faith as a leader and an example to others. And also, he could be so ordinary, and he obviously enjoyed the company of Christians.

One touching story that says volumes about this man is told by an 81-year-old grandmother who was waiting for her granddaughter to get out of school one day when she realized she was sitting next to Kobe Bryant who was waiting for his daughter. They struck up a conversation and Kobe said he liked her accent. "He was tall, and he was somebody and I'm nobody," she said, "but he bent down and gave me a hug. And I never forget this hug." Her name is Maria, and she was seen in a purple sweater on Monday morning after the accident, laying a bouquet of pink flowers in front of Harbor Day School. "It's hard for me, and it's hard for everyone," Maria said, her voice cracking.

John Fischer

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Thoughts on discipleship

Disciple Is Not a Part-Time Job

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Being a disciple of Christ is not a part-time job. It is not something we do distracted, with half our effort, simply to get it done. It’s not simply about joining a church or accepting Jesus as our “Lord and Savior,” nor is it enough to profess with our lips what we believe. Being his disciple means transforming every aspect of our lives so that nothing, not even the smallest part of who we are, is out of touch with the mission of Christ. It’s about giving every ounce of our being to the God who created us, taking up whatever we are called to do, whenever we are called to do it, without hesitation. We cannot do that if we are busy holding onto something else, saving something to the side “in case this doesn’t work out.” God wants everything from us, and so we’re either fully in, or we’re not in at all. Let go of what holds you back, and live completely in the freedom of being a disciple of Christ.
—from the book Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Casey Cole, OFM

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Thoughts on letting go

Some of us may need to let go of money to follow Jesus, but for others, grandiose views of self, unfair expectations, and trivial worries do far more damage to a life of discipleship than anything else. Some of us need to let go of possessions, but others have too strong a grip on safety nets, past traumas, or petty grudges to be free enough to follow Jesus. Truly, nothing is too small or too insignificant. Anything that prevents us from following Jesus with our whole heart, anything that holds us back, is a stumbling block to Christian discipleship as deadly as sin. If we refuse to let go of whatever it is, we run the risk of ending up just like the rich young man: sad and far from Jesus.
—from the book Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Casey Cole, OFM

Friday, January 24, 2020

Thoughts on the spiritual life

Be in the World Without Being of the World
Being in the world without being of the world.” These words summarize well the way Jesus speaks of the spiritual life. It is a life in which we are totally transformed by the Spirit of Love. Yet it is a life in which everything seems to remain the same. To live a spiritual life does not mean that we must leave our families, give up our jobs, or change our ways of working; it does not mean that we have to withdraw from social or political activities, or lose interest in literature and art; it does not require severe forms of asceticism or long hours of prayer. Changes such as these may in fact grow out of our spiritual life, and for some people radical decisions may be necessary. But the spiritual life can be lived in as many ways as there are people. What is new is that we have moved from the many things to the Kingdom of God. What is new is that we are set free from the compulsions of our world and have set our hearts on the only necessary thing. What is new is that we no longer experience the many things, people, and events as endless causes for worry, but begin to experience them as the rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us.

Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Thoughts on spiritual reading

Spiritual Reading
Spiritual reading is not only reading about spiritual people or spiritual things. It is also reading spiritually, that is, in a spiritual way! Reading in a spiritual way is reading with a desire to let God come closer to us. . . .

The purpose of spiritual reading . . . is not to master knowledge or information but to let God’s Spirit master us. Strange as it may sound, spiritual reading means to let ourselves be read by God! . . .

Spiritual reading is reading with an inner attentiveness to the movement of God’s Spirit in our outer and inner lives. With that attentiveness, we will allow God to read us and to explain to us what we are truly about.

Henri Nouwen

Monday, January 20, 2020

Thoughts on MLK

MLK and his courage to step up

January 20, 2020

 “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
― Martin Luther King Jr.
One entire wall in my office is covered with pictures of family and friends. On another wall are photographs of individuals I’ve interviewed, who make a difference, and who I respect. And there is a wall of historically important individuals: These are the ladies and gentlemen whose words, action and lives changed the world.

One of the photographs is of Martin Luther King Jr. He’s not preaching from a pulpit, leading a march or speaking in at the National Mall. He’s at home. King looks totally at peace and totally in love while visiting with his daughter. There’s something beautiful about seeing a larger than life, iconic figure savoring the ordinary, rarely seen, possibly best moments of life.
 
I had an opportunity to visit with his daughter Bernice King at an event where we were both speaking in Memphis several years ago. It was inspiring to simply be present with a woman whose father’s nonviolent actions changed the world. It was stirring to listen to someone possessing the same passion for equality as her father and the same capability of articulating it.

Bernice shared that her father didn’t set out to be the voice of a movement. He came to realize, though, that the challenges and issues endured by others were challenges and issues that must be faced by us all.

As a young pastor and father, he imagined possibly going into law or medicine. He considered possibly moving to the less racially divided north where he could raise his children and work as a professor.

But then Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. And then a small group of people decided she was right in refusing. And then those numbers began to swell and needed a clear, singular and powerful voice.

On December 5, 1955, King was nominated to be the voice of that small, local movement focused on the right of a person of color to be able to sit where they please on a city bus.

Bernice’s dad, Martin Luther King Jr., knew the risk of leading this protest. He understood that in saying yes there would be hardship and retribution. Saying yes that evening meant leaving the safety and comfort of home. Saying yes meant being inconvenienced. Saying yes meant taking a stand and marching for what was right. Saying yes meant enduring name-calling, death-threats, bombings, imprisonment and even death.

And yet, as a 26-year-old pastor of that small church in Montgomery - with a young family to raise - MLK wasn’t saying yes to his ease of life, but the calling to better the lives of others.

Truly great leaders are not focused on themselves. They aren’t self-centered, don’t worry about what’s popular and don’t count the cost. They don’t rise and speak for themselves, but for a far greater cause. [Click to tweet.]

On this day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we celebrate what truly great leadership looks like. And in being reminded of his voice and dream, we see not only an example of what it looked like in the past, but what it must look like going forward.

My friends, Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us through not only his words and actions, but in his life and death, that the progressive struggle to better ourselves, elevate our neighborhoods and change our world is an unending process.

We should strive toward it daily. And it must continue with each new generation.  

The picture of Martin Luther King Jr. hanging in my office reminds me that seemingly ordinary people can in fact change the world. That love is far more powerful than hate. And that our best efforts must begin at home. That’s a place where we all can start.
John O'Leary

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Thoughts on wholeheartedness

There is a whole dimension of life to which we have to listen with our whole heart, mind-fully, as we say. Mindfulness is necessary to find meaning—and the intellect is not the full mind. The intellect, one has to hasten to say, is an extremely important part of our mind, but it isn’t the whole mind. What I mean here when I say “mind” is more what the Bible calls the “heart,” what many religious traditions call the “heart.” The heart is the whole person, not just the seat of our emotions. The kind of heart that we are talking about here is the lover’s heart, which says, “I will give you my heart.” That doesn’t mean I give you part of myself; it means I give myself to you. So when we speak about wholeheartedness, a wholehearted approach to life, mindfulness, that alone is the attitude through which we give ourselves to meaning.
—from the book The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life by Brother David Steindl-Rast

Friday, January 17, 2020

Thoughts on leisure

Leisure Is a Virtue

Photo by Esther Tuttle on Unsplash
We tend to think that the opposite of work is leisure. Leisure is not the opposite of work; play is the opposite of work, if you have to have a polarity like that. And leisure is precisely the bridging of this gap between the two. Leisure is precisely doing your work with the attitude of play. That means putting into your work what is most important about playing, namely, that you do it for its own sake and not only to accomplish a particular purpose. And that means that you have to give it time. Leisure is not a privilege for those who can take time for leisure. Leisure is a virtue. It is the virtue of those who give time to whatever takes time, and give as much time as it deserves, and so work leisurely and find meaning in their work and come fully alive. If we have a strict work mentality we are only half alive.
—from the book The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life by Brother David Steindl-Rast

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thoughts on the true self

Embracing the True Self
The secular or false self is the self that is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions. “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation. Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated, or despised. . . . If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same—more work, more money, more friends.

These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. They are the inner side of the secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependences.

Henri Nouwen

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Thoughts on baptism

THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD

MATTHEW 3:13-17

Friends, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism points to the significance of this foundational sacrament.
Listen to the great theologian Gregory of Nazianzen: "Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift. . . . It is called ‘gift’ because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; ‘grace’ since it is given even to the guilty." Jesus said, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you." Baptism is the sacramental ratification of that choice.

And this is why we speak of Baptism as justifying us and washing away our sin. We are—all of us—born into a deeply dysfunctional world, a world conditioned by millenia of selfishness, cruelty, injustice, stupidity, and fear. This has created a poisonous atmosphere that conditions all of our thoughts and moves and actions.

Do you see why the stress on grace is so important? Baptism is the moment when the Holy Spirit draws us out of this fallen world and into a new world, the very life of the Trinity. That’s why Baptism involves being born again, lifted up, enlightened, transformed, saved—and why the Church speaks of the baptized as a "new creature."

Bishop Robert Barron

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Thoughts on God's character

God Needs Me as Much as I Need God
It might sound strange, but God wants to find me as much as, if not more than, I want to find God. Yes, God needs me as much as I need God. God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn’t move, and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their aberrant behavior, beg for forgiveness, and promise to do better. To the contrary, he leaves the house, ignoring his dignity by running toward them, pays no heed to apologies and promises of change, and brings them to the table richly prepared for them.

I am beginning to now see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the One who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding.

Henri Nouwen

Monday, January 6, 2020

Thoughts on altitude

A Higher Plane


He…sets me on my high places.
2 Samuel 22:34

Most commercial jets fly in a zone that’s between 28,000 and 35,000 feet above sea level. There was one famous exception—the Concorde, which was designed to fly as high as 60,000 feet in the air. The lowered wind resistance in the thinner air at the higher altitude resulted in a much quicker trip across the Atlantic. There is less wind turbulence at those heights. Military jets fly even higher. The current versions of the famous U-2 spy plane of the 1950s can cruise up to 70,000 feet, or about 13 miles above sea level. In essence, the higher the altitude, the quicker and smoother the ride—and the closer to heaven you are.
We should live our Christian life at a high altitude. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

God desires for us to live above the ways of the world. He wants our habits to be heavenly, our words to be wise, our thoughts to be pure, our spirits to be cheerful. Ask the Lord to help you live on a higher plane today.
 
Lord, lift me up and let me stand /By faith on heaven’s tableland/A higher plane than I have found—/Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

Johnson Oatman, Jr.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Thoughts on God's love

The Greatness of God's Love


Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

God bends low so that God can meet us exactly where we, finite, fragile, created human beings, creatures and all living things, are. God bends low because we are small, limited, frail, confused, bewildered, chaotic and sometimes just plain infantile. God bends low because God’s arms are much longer than ours, and God reaches out for our tiny human hands. Imagine a God who is humbly bent low to embrace us in love compared to a God who sits high above on a throne and keeps score of human sins. Imagine a God who is so great in love that God desires to share love with fragile and incomplete human beings compared to a God who loves only himself and wants to glorify himself by creating finite creatures to glorify him even though they have a hard time because they are full of defects due to sin. What Bonaventure (like Francis) realized in the mystery of the Incarnation is that God bends over in love to meet us where we are. God is Most High and most intimately related to us.
—from the book The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective  by Ilia Delio, OSF

Friday, January 3, 2020

Thoughts on the Epiphany

There was a time in my life when growing up in my faith understanding I wondered why the Church made such a big deal out of the visit of the three Kings to the newborn Jesus. I was also surprised to learn that in many other Catholic rites that the feast of the Epiphany was celebrated as an even more important feast than of Christmas.
 
St. Paul provides a good part of the answer in Sunday's second reading in his letter to the Ephesians. He tells us that it has "been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Paul is telling his readers, that Jesus is God's gift to everyone, not only Jewish converts but all other converts, in Paul's words, the Gentiles.
 
This revelation was not at first easily accepted by many of the early Christians. Moreover in the gospel accounts Jesus himself he seems challenged or surprised to find non-Jews believing in him, seeking his mercy and doing this with great faith. We have the examples of Jesus dealing with the Roman centurion pleading for the healing of his servant, and with the Syrophoenician mother similarly pleading for the health and life of her daughter.
 
It seems that Jesus in growing in grace, wisdom, and knowledge came to the realization that he was called to bring God's mercy and grace to everyone, both Jew and Gentile.
 
So what does this say to you and me. Again in the letter to the Ephesians St. Paul succinctly provides the answer. All Christians, whether of Jewish our Gentile origin, "are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." In Christ's body there is no one who is not our sister or brother.
  
Jim Blumeyer, S.J.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Thoughts on resolutions

Time To Begin Again

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Often, secular culture views January 1st as the perfect time to amend our lives. New year, fresh start. Many times we hear the typical New Year's resolutions from our family and friends: "I'm going to start working out more", or "I'm going to eat healthier." As evangelists, we can take advantage of this time of "new beginnings" and suggest that those we encounter renew their relationship with God. As GK Chesterton once wrote:
"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."
But we must certainly remind folks that if we fail on our resolutions (which we likely will), we don't have to wait until next year to start again. Remind them that God wants us to keep trying every day, and that He is with us every step of the way providing the necessary graces. He gives us confession to start anew, and the Holy Eucharist to give us strength.
May you have an incredibly blessed 2020, and may we all evangelize and reach even more souls this year for Our Blessed Lord!
St. Paul Evangelization
You can find more information at our website.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

The Story of Mary, Mother of God


Mary’s divine motherhood broadens the Christmas spotlight. Mary has an important role to play in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. She consents to God’s invitation conveyed by the angel (Luke 1:26-38). Elizabeth proclaims: “Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43, emphasis added). Mary’s role as mother of God places her in a unique position in God’s redemptive plan.
Without naming Mary, Paul asserts that “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Paul’s further statement that “God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father!’” helps us realize that Mary is mother to all the brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Some theologians also insist that Mary’s motherhood of Jesus is an important element in God’s creative plan. God’s “first” thought in creating was Jesus. Jesus, the incarnate Word, is the one who could give God perfect love and worship on behalf of all creation. As Jesus was “first” in God’s mind, Mary was “second” insofar as she was chosen from all eternity to be his mother.
The precise title “Mother of God” goes back at least to the third or fourth century. In the Greek form Theotokos—God-bearerit became the touchstone of the Church’s teaching about the Incarnation. The Council of Ephesus in 431 insisted that the holy Fathers were right in calling the holy virgin Theotokos. At the end of this particular session, crowds of people marched through the street shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!” The tradition reaches to our own day. In its chapter on Mary’s role in the Church, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church calls Mary “Mother of God” 12 times.

Reflection

Other themes come together at today’s celebration. It is the Octave of Christmas: Our remembrance of Mary’s divine motherhood injects a further note of Christmas joy. It is a day of prayer for world peace: Mary is the mother of the Prince of Peace. It is the first day of a new year: Mary continues to bring new life to her children—who are also God’s children.

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