CF161: God’s Country

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CF160: Chicken Plucker

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Welcome Back, Easter Catholic

The following is the ‘heart’ of Deacon Tom’s EASTER HOMILY given at his parish in north central Arizona. A bit of it has been modified for the readers at the Catholic Family Podcast site. Dear parishioners … dear folks visiting family members … dear visitors. We wish you a most …

CF159: Mine Is Bigger!

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Minimalism: Heaven Bent This Lent?

February 20, 2014 Deacon Tom No Comments

I live in a parish with a predominately older population. Like many or most parishes, there are the daily Mass attendees… mostly gray haired… often coming for the rosary before Mass and then the 25 minute liturgy. I have to give a lot of our ‘dailies’ credit – they may also stay for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy… Good prayer warriors. But like most older folks – they are pretty set in their ways and don’t take to change very well. images

And so, what to do for Lent? Oh, you know: “I’ll stop drinking beer.” Or “I’ll do what I have always done. No candy.” They’ve heard a priest tell them that if they’re over 60 years of age, they don’t have to fast. If taken literally, this would mean that likely 80% of the parish would be told not to worry about fasting. This is such a wimpy way of responding to Scripture. Such a disappointing mindset given that Blessed Mother Mary has been calling for fasting in her apparitions at Medjugorje.

What we should hear often is that the Church tells us that every Friday… not just Fridays in Lent… every Friday is a penitential day. At least every Friday we should be called to penitential sharing in some form of suffering or discomfort…. giving up things we enjoy. Minimally, the Church says that during Lent we should abstain from meat on Fridays. Given the wonderful fish dinners they serve at so many places in our town… abstaining from meat is more a pleasure — not a sacrifice. And so – what are you considering for Friday fasting?

Someone on EWTN said it is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that an important part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and to be saved. Those, dear friends are challenging words — not for the wimpy… and not for those who believe they are working their way to heaven by giving up meat on Lenten Fridays, while enjoying three satisfying meals those days.

Those who are in later years ought to be fasting in some form on behalf of the world (and the Church) that we will leave behind us…  for our children and grandchildren. This Church that we are leaving to our young people tells us that when we’ve attained the age of 60, we don’t have to fast, except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The writer on EWTN says that milk shakes and alcoholic drinks don’t break a fast for older folks… but the drinks certainly seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance. And so, while we may not be required to do a food fast at our age – certainly Fridays would seem a proper day to avoid a regular glass of wine or a trip to the Dairy Queen. And those would be minimal… minimal fasting practices.

We have a Friday soup supper discipline in the parish in Arizona where we live. It’s a nice communal thing to do. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending that as the only thing to do for Lent besides not eating meat on Fridays. Some religious orders never… never eat meat. Would you consider this as a fast that might work for you for all of Lent? And how about smaller portions? The early Church had a practice of a regular Wednesday and Friday fasting. Would you consider implementing tough fasting during a part of Lent? Or even beyond?

In the book REDISCOVER CATHOLICISM, Matthew Kelly Unknownwrites about one of the great problems of modern day Christianity. It’s what I suggested before — minimalism. What’s the least that I can do and still get to heaven. How many truly believe minimalism is the way to love the Lord and walk in the desert? Our challenge these Lenten days is found in the call to prayer — giving up more time to spend with the Lord in prayer… in almsgiving… sharing more of our resources with others… and in fasting or some other forms of self-denial.

You and I need our calories and protein and fruits and veggies — but there are so many ways that we can fast. This deacon could fast from challenging or lengthy homilies or reflections.

In fact, that’s a great idea. I’ll stop now. Blessings.

Deacon Tom

Catholicvitamins@gmail.com

www.catholicvitamins.com

 

Job Openings – Seeking Catholic Mandelas

December 30, 2013 Deacon Tom No Comments

(This column is scheduled for January publication on the Catholic Mom website. Deacon Tom feels that this topic is worth sharing on other venues, and he welcomes your thoughts and feedback)

Two seemingly unrelated starters:

  1. For nine years, I have attended the priest, deacon, seminarian conference and retreat at Franciscan University. Each time I attend, I participate in a three day Life in the Spirit seminars led by charismatic-oriented priests and laymen. It has fundamentally and forever changed my understanding of what it means to live as a Catholic.
  2. For four years and more, my wife Dee and I have co-moderated the Catholic Vitamins podcast. Each week, we have had some of the most inspiring guests. I shouldn’t start to mention names, for there are over 150; any listing would be confusing to me to know what order to put them in. And truly some of the names aren’t yet well-known enough for their growing contributions to the faith life of the Church.

What do these two starters have to do with each other? Fr Michael ScanlanTo spend time in the presence of people like Fr. Michael Scanlan (the former President of Franciscan University), Scott Hahn, Theologian in residence at Franciscan University, Ralph Martin, founder of Renewal Ministries, and others… And to be able to interview Catholic singers like Danielle Rose and Audrey Assad — and to know that they have spent (sometimes) weeks writing and setting powerful Catholic thinking to music – and then performing in important Catholic venues — to interview Steve Dawson, the founder and National Director of St. Paul Street Evangelization –  these sorts of ‘vitamins’ to my faith are great gifts from the Lord.

But, what to do with the nourishment (and challenge) that these gifts have been to me? In recent days we sang Go Tell It On The Mountain at our parish. People liked the upbeat tempo and more than the usual number joined in. But their singing and their spirit seemed to end at the door. When I see this – I feel like preaching like a Southern Baptist or a Pentecostal preacher — at the expense of all relationship with the pastor and many of the regulars. Here’s what I mean.

Have you ever heard of, or read any of the words of Bishop Paul Loverde of the Arlington (VA) Diocese? He asks this question: Is the parish on a treadmill of activity where ‘maintenance’ is overshadowing ‘mission?’ Are there current activities that can yield their place in our parish priorities so new activities focusing on evangelization might bear more fruit?

In my own life in the parish, I want to yell out “Hell yes, excellency. Hell Yes!” (And excuse me for the word hell dear bishop and reader :-). Enough with the pancake breakfasts and bazaars and parish raffles and raising funds to buy new altar linens. We have people fleeing the Catholic Church for a ‘life in the Spirit’ that they don’t see or understand to already be present where they have been.

Bishop Loverde expressed it this way: When I was ordained just 10 days after the close of the Second Vatican Council, 2 in 10 marriages ended in divorce. Abortion was illegal. Fewer than 300,000 Americans were incarcerated. Today, 2 in 10 pregnancies end in abortion, over 1 million annually, which is so heartrending. More than 4 in 10 marriages end in divorce, and in the public culture, marriage and the family are in the process of being redefined. One in 31 adult Americans is in prison or on probation.”  (Quoted from a Pastoral and public letter to all in his Diocese by Bishop Paul S. Loverde, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 24, 2013)

Today, in places we appear to have a ‘too safe’ grasp on a maintenance model of faith practice. Pastors hang close to the guard rail of convention, many deacons aren’t stand-alone models of on-fire clergy as was our model, St. Stephen. And often DRE’s allow CCD programs to be gatherings which teach arts and crafts at the expense of excitedly educating students on ‘why did God make me?’ And as another priest said about this ‘safe approach’ to the faith – everyone in the Church wants to keep everyone happy. And of course, Bishop Loverde reminds us that we are far from keeping everyone happy because 35 percent have left the earnest practice of the Faith.

In 2014, right now, we need Catholic Mandelas who will prayerfully look at what we are doing inside the Church and bring a battle cry of reform. We can’t succumb to the ‘whatever Father thinks’ mentality if what Father thinks is to maintain a status quo of convention and peace and quiet. Important note: I promised the Archbishop that ordained me that I would be obedient to him and to his successors. Make no mistake: this is a tough promise to keep. But the Archbishop that ordained me is on-fire for the Faith and for a lively Catholic Church. I’m not under his personal jurisdiction right now. But I bet if I took this sort of a struggle with an on-going maintenance approach to Church to him – he would listen and help me to find a way to be ‘obedient to the Church,’ but to also set the Spirit within me free.

I’m not sure who will read this. If God wants it made somewhat visible, He will help that to happen. I just know that around me, there are Catholic Mandela’s willing to go to ‘prison’ (of some sort) and to pray while there. Praying without stopping that other Mandela’s will also be in prayer and that with God’s help and grace, we can bring about change in our own lives, change in our families, change in our parishes, change in our dioceses.

We have job openings for Mandelas in our Church.

Yes Deacon… keep going. Keep dreaming.

Blessings.

Deacon Tom Fox

www.catholicvitamins.com

 

An Irish Curmudgeon & Growing the Faith

October 31, 2013 Deacon Tom No Comments

A week ago Saturday, I went to a new priest for confession. The priest turned out to be an Irish curmudgeon. Do you know what a curmudgeon is? The dictionary says a curmudgeon is a bad tempered or a surly person. But, when you put the two words ‘Irish curmudgeon’ together – the meaning can be a bit different.

curmidgeonAn Irish curmudgeon can be crusty on the outside and yet gentle and loving on the inside. At any rate – I went to confession to this Irish priest. I opened to him as follows: “Father, I’d like to tell you my sins and then have a few moments to talk with you about what I’m confessing…” He seemed to snort a bit and said, “Ok – tell me your sins.” (Irish accented :-)

“Father — I want to confess the sin of impatience… and next, I want to confess….” Father interrupts: “Wait a minute, wait a minute…  who are you impatient with?” I wanted to say “I’m impatient with a priest who interrupts me and won’t let me finish my sentences…”

Well, this turned out to be a rather thorough confession. Fr. Curmudgeon gave me a thorough going over. But towards the end he said, “I don’t mean to be hard on you. I just want you to know I’m concerned for your soul…”  He said it warmly, tenderly and with a smile… I’m most sure there was love underneath.

When a reporter asked Pope Francis to describe himself, he said, “I’m a sinner.” Imagine. A pope who admits to sin, and who routinely goes to confession. The pope preached a homily the other day about Confession. He said ‘some people (who make excuses) say I confess directly to God, but that’s like confessing by email. No eye contact. No person to person accountability.’ Quoting St. James, Francis said we confess sin one to another.

Sadly, a great number of Catholics have gotten away from regular confession. Worse, some are infrequent in attending Mass. St. Paul tells Timothy and us in Scripture that we’ve got to persevere in the faith. Growing in the faith is NOT slacking off… or being stagnant in our faith walk. Paul talked about ‘winning the race.’ Winning the race means cooperating with God’s grace of faith and encouraging its growth… all of our lives.

I preached recently — the weekend of the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. That’s when St. Paul talked about this faith business as if it’s a race. He was near the end of his life and he was ready to claim the prize of staying in the race. He was no bench-warmer.

During the homily at our parish, I asked the attendees at Mass:  WHY DID YOU COME HERE TODAY? In my own response I said, “If growing your faith isn’t one of the reasons… I’d ask you to think about this.” And for the rest of the homily, we went through what are called the Five ‘W’s of growing in our Faith.

The Five W’s include WANTING… WAITING… WITHSTANDING…. WORKING…. and WINNING. My homily was a bit longer than normal, and too long to fully include here – but I’d like to include a bit of the thinking:

WANTING — Do you say you want to have a better faith? Wasn’t it a week or two ago that the apostles asked our Lord, “Increase our Faith?” Jesus told them they will be able to do more… accomplish more… even some of the same powerful things that Jesus did… and they knew how early in their faith walk they were. They asked for more faith. St. Paul is telling us that if you think you want more faith… you’ve got to act like it… pray for it… spend more time on it… do things that bring about holiness… it might start with a good confession… done regularly. For others, it’ll mean coming off the bench and becoming active in service … or maybe committing to attend a daily Mass once a week…  You say you WANT more faith? You say you WANT deeper faith? Pray to him: LORD, INCREASE MY FAITH.

Here’s the 2nd W: WAITING. Now our parish is a pretty much older… a senior oriented parish in Arizona. In fact, I told them that it’s referred to as ‘God’s Waiting Room.’ But we have to Wait on the Lord… Wait until His time to begin to infuse and grow new faith in us. It may start by meeting a powerful convert. It may mean meeting a priest who will touch our hearts. Sadly, it could be the death of someone which begins the process of a new growth in faith. How long? In God’s time we’ll know the answer.

And so… if you really, really WANT stronger faith… not like wanting to see this weekend’s football game…  if you want faith… let the Lord know you want it… after you return to your seat from receiving Communion, close those eyes and beg the Lord, “Increase my faith.” And keep praying that prayer and then WAIT on the Lord. So – we’ve got WANTING, WAITING… and next is…

WITHSTANDING … If faith begins to grow in you — you’ll begin to sense it. But so will others. St Paul tells Timothy that he had to bear his share of hardships for the Gospel… He was beaten… Paul said ‘everyone deserted me.’ That’s what St. Paul had to WITHSTAND. If, after wanting and waiting, greater faith begins to kick in, our life begins to change… and maybe… just maybe your family and friends will suggest you’re acting kind of different.

Here you are beginning to talk about the Lord working in your life…  Some people may even begin to think you have gone off the deep end. And what you and I need to do is to pray: God give us strength… let me not be ashamed of WITHSTANDING changes that God is going to start sharing within me. Just like he shared with Jesus and the Apostles.

The next W is what? WORKING. Jesus said we need to work… In fact Jesus spoke bluntly. As we heard a couple weeks ago, we should do these things because it is expected of a disciple. I told the people at our Tuesday Bible study this fact: In our country, there are many millions of people who claim to be Catholic and a study says only about one third of them go to Church.

If you think your pastor or your bishop is responsible or even able to reach the 2/3 of your family and friends who have stopped going to church, you’re fooling yourself.  You and I… you and I are responsible for going out to lovingly invite the two thirds. Don’t wait for the priest. He’s running a parish and its programs. You and I need to get out and find the lost sheep… Can I get an Amen on that?

Let’s get WORKING using the gifts that God has given to us… because when it comes to eternity — you don’t want to dig up the one God-given talent that you buried in your yard. Bring the multiplied talents that sprang from God’s gift to you.

And finally…. WINNING –  Our music theme on the Catholic Vitamins podcast is from a Gospel singer. The words tell us, in part, we’ve already won. But that means at the very end when King Jesus returns – he and his followers will have won. But if you live in today’s world – you know there are a lot of battles to be won. A lot of them. You and I… most of us want to be on the WINNING TEAM.  For those who WANT it… those who WAIT for it… for those who WITHSTAND the pressures of non-believers… Those of us willing to WORK for it… The Lord is leading us… through the cross… through the power of His precious blood… we are being led to WIN in His glory. I feel like singing, “Mine eyes have seen the glory…” We can WIN brothers and sisters… Can I get another AMEN?

Blessings.

Deacon Tom

catholicvitamins@gmail.com

 

CF161: God’s Country

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In this episode:  Del Lago and the TV headache, Philmont and Lost Pines, Qatar, leaving Christ Our Light, the vacuum cleaner ponytail, Rediscover Catholicism study group, Archdiocesan Youth Conference,  Mailbag:Jim from PA.

Contact our comment line at (936) 228-1836 or email us [at] catholicfamilypodcast (dot) com

What To Say to Boy Scouts ??

June 5, 2013 Blogs, Deacon Tom No Comments

thWhat to say (or preach) to Boy Scouts? That’s the question I gave to our local Bible study group when we gathered to pre-read the Scriptures for the Mass of the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I asked the Bible study folks this question because I am heading out to do a Communion Service at Camp Geronimo on Sunday for upwards of 75-100 Boy Scouts. The results of our Bible Study, and my own prayerful search on what to say to the young men is found below. I’d like to hear what you think? Or what else might you have said? Here goes:

You have just heard three readings from Holy Scripture. They may seem strange to you because they aren’t about things that people you know talk about… the readings don’t have anything to do with TV programs or video games… but I tell you Scouts and Scout Masters and parents — the words of Scripture are the most important things we can be involved with, second only to Mass and the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

So let me start this way — last Sunday was the feast of Corpus Christi – the feast in the Church which honors Jesus present in the Eucharist. That day, the Gospel started with these words: “Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured.” And then it went on to talk about Jesus feeding 5,000 and more people from just a small amount of bread and fish.

But for these kind of readings to mean something to you – you’ve got to believe in God… you’ve got to believe that God has the power to do anything — He even has power over the sun and the moon and stars… He has power over illness and death. Now I hardly ever do what I’m about to do.

images-1I brought two things with me that I’d like to give to one of you Scouts to look at with your brother scouts sometime during this week that you’re here. I have two sheets of paper – each is printed on two sides. One sheet has miracles associated with the Eucharist – the Holy Communion in which Jesus is present. One miracle tells of drops of Precious Blood coming from a consecrated host… the other tells of the face of Jesus appearing on the Host. It may seem like things that happened a long time ago and you wonder whether it’s true. And so I brought something a little more recent. The second sheet is the story of the Miracle of the Sun which happened in Fatima in Portugal. That miracle was witnessed by about 70,000 people at a place where Blessed Virgin Mary was appearing… and in that sheet that I’ll give you – you can see many of the pilgrims staring up at the miracle of the sun.

Okay — so what is this about? It’s about faith being real to you. It’s about Jesus being real to you. It’s about things like the old testament story you heard in which a man of God named Elijah being so powerful a man of prayer — so favored by God that Elijah’s prayer was heard and the son of a widow lady was raised from the dead. And that story points to Jesus whom we heard about in the Gospel.

The very voice and command of Jesus was enough to bring the son of a widow lady back from the dead. You’ve got to hear this. You’ve got to believe. Because if you don’t know about God… if you don’t know about His power and will — then all this stuff about coming to Church… about priests and deacons and odd looking clothes — all of it won’t have meaning for you until you know Jesus… until you come to love Him… until you come to be on fire and in friendship with Him. And then to begin to love His Church.

And then if you come to really love Jesus and to pray to Him each day – then you will come to understand why Paul wrote these words to one of the Churches he founded: “I  want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Now I want to say a few more words about the power of God and about miracles. Well, I’ll start with miracles. Why does God do some of the things that He does? Why would he raise that young son of a widow lady and not all the dead children of those days? None of us knows the mind of God.

He can draw goodness…. good results out of the worst situations. But death is a result of sin in the world and so there is and will be death until we are raised from the dead and our bodies reunited with our souls. So we need to stop trying to control God by telling Him that this person or that person needs to be healed or raised from the dead… what we ought to pray for is for God’s will to be done – but let’s not be afraid to share with God what’s on our minds and hearts.

And the other thing I want to say about miracles is this: If God could utter His word and create the universe… if God can form man and woman out of the dust of the ground or the rib of a man… if Jesus can raise people from the dead – then Jesus can surely make Himself present — totally present hidden in the form of bread and wine.

So don’t believe that this Host that I’ve brought is just a symbol – it is truly Jesus. The same Jesus who walked the earth 2,000 years ago, who cured blindness and leprosy and raised people from the dead. He wants to have union with you. Personal relationship with you in Holy Communion. After a few prayers – practicingCatholics can receive the Eucharist – and we can all pray to have our faith strengthened… to grow in love for God and others.

Blessings.

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CF161: God’s Country

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Podcast: Download In this episode:  Del Lago and the TV headache, Philmont and Lost Pines, Qatar, leaving Christ Our Light, the vacuum cleaner ponytail, Rediscover Catholicism study group, Archdiocesan Youth Conference,  Mailbag:Jim from PA. Contact our comment line at (936) 228-1836 or email us [at] catholicfamilypodcast (dot) com

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