Posts Tagged Christianity

PASSION

If I were to ask you for your definition of passion, what would it be? An intense kiss, love, an extreme feeling for someone?

According to the Webster’s dictionary, Passion is defined as “1) orig., suffering or agony, as of a martyr. 2) the agony and sufferings of Jesus during the crucifixion or during the period following the Last Supper.”

It is an intense love, a love that Christ has for us.

Below is a video I found on youtube last year as I was preparing a message for Easter. It is called “Watch the Lamb.”

As you go through Good Friday, I hope you take time to stand in awe of the sacrifice that Christ made for us.

Now go to church on Easter Sunday, for it is a day of celebration. We have victory in Jesus, for He is not in the tomb, He is not dead, He is ALIVE!

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Who’s The Real Blind Man

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is known as “Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday,” which expresses the Church’s joy in anticipation of the Resurrection.  Today’s readings remind us that it is God who gives us proper vision in body and soul, and they instruct us that we should be constantly on our guard against spiritual blindness.

Michael Yaconeli wrote a book entitled God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. In the book he tells the story of a man recently converted to Jesus and how an unbelieving friend sought to “see” why he converted to Jesus:

“So you have been converted to Christ?”

“Yes.”

“Then you must know a great deal about Him.  Tell me, what country was He born in?”

“I don’t know.”

“What was His age when He died?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many sermons did He preach?”

“I don’t know.”

“You certainly know very little for a man who claims to be converted to Christ.”

“You are right.  I am ashamed at how little I know about Him.  But this much I know:  Three years ago I was a drunkard.  I was in debt.  My family was falling to pieces; they dreaded the sight of me.  But now I have given up drink.  We are out of debt.  Ours is a happy home.  My children eagerly await my return home each evening.  All this Christ has done for me.”

Does it not sound like the answers given by the blind man healed by Jesus? (Jn 9:1-41)  It’s like watching Law and Order except no one wants to see the facts of the case.

They question the blind man:  “How were your eyes opened?”

He says:  “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’  So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

Then they take the blind man to the Pharisees for questioning.  He tells the same story:  “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”

But because Jesus performed this cure on the Sabbath, the Pharisees don’t want to believe this “Jesus” is from God so they ask the man born blind:  “What do you have to say about Him?”

To which he responds:  “He is a prophet.”  So now the Jews don’t believe that the man was BORN blind so they call in his parents.  They say:  “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.  We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes.  Ask him, he is of age, he can speak for himself.”

Still not satisfied, they call the blind man in again.  Now he says in reference to Jesus:  “If He is a sinner, I do not know.  One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”  Then in utter frustration the man says:  “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where He is from, yet He opened my eyes.”

Today, I think he would say something like this:  “Come on guys, this is a no brainer!  I was blind from birth, this guy slaps some mud on my eyes and tells me wash it off in the pool of Siloam, and now I see.  Hello!!  Am I the only one who can see?”

To which I respond:  “YES!  You are the only one who can see!”

The Gospel is really very simple and clear.  Jesus is the light of the world.  He anointed the guy’s eyes; tells him to wash; the guy does it and sees and believes.  His story is really our story.  We may not know the answers, but this we do know.  We do see and we do believe in Jesus, the Light of the world.  And in our faith, we worship Him.  However, just because we believe in Jesus, we are not always free of blindness.  We have to struggle to see sometimes.

The real beauty of the man born blind is that the more they badgered him, the less he was blind.  We cannot be like the Pharisees and take up a refusal to see position.  Lent is such a wonderful time for us to recover from blindness.  We can easily lose our vision in our selfish choices or in our grudges, or in any number of other ways.  How about if we are always hanging around people that are cussing and telling dirty jokes?  All of a sudden we become blind to the sin and start doing it ourselves.

How about when we get so caught up in the TV or even a video game, that we are blind to the help that someone else in the room could use.  How about when we are constantly talking to someone who loves to talk about others and we become blind to this sin and start talking about others also.  The point is, the more we put ourselves in the occasion of sin, the more we become blind to the sin.  The more we dwell on anger and hatred, the more we are blind to forgiveness and love.  The real blind man is the one who can no longer see the truth and tries to justify himself and his lies.

On this Laetare Sunday, make the decision to be healed of your blindness by allowing Jesus to anoint your eyes with the grace of a good and thorough confession and then you can wash in the pool of truth and make the deliberate choice to avoid the occasions of sin that will lead you back into the blindness and darkness of being away from Christ.

** Due to time commitments, Father Grassi is unable to take blog comments at this time.  If anyone has a question of faith, please feel free to call Father Grassi at St. Thomas Catholic Church or speak to him after Mass.

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Taking Our Thoughts Captive

Christians are those who, in spite of denomination or church affiliation, have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.  But this does not mean that the followers of Christ somehow become immune to the struggles and sorrows of this world.  We live in the same world as unbelievers; we still get sick; we still face temptations; we still sin; we still have fleshly desires; we still experience sadness; we still have days that are anything but joyful.  These things, and others like them, are common to all men and women.

Consider also issues such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, marriage, evolutionary theory, creation, raising children, heaven, hell and the list goes on.  I mention these items because our culture has many thoughts and theories concerning them. We, as Christians, are very much a part of the discussion on these things on the social level as well as the spiritual. Whether we realize it or not, our thoughts concerning these issues are affected by the world around us.  Whether it’s listening to the talk shows on TV or the radio, reading magazines, watching Sitcoms or movies, reading blogs, reading books, or reading what everyone is thinking and doing on Facebook; the result, potentially, is a slow compromise with the world.

I say “potentially” because if we are not evaluating everything through the lens of Scripture, then our thinking gets out of line.  We begin to see the world through the lens of the unregenerate.  If we are not allowing God to speak to us through His Word on a regular basis, then we will not be able to deal correctly with the trials, tribulations and issues of life. It is very possible that we will end up thinking, acting and reacting just like the world, instead of followers of Jesus Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul tells us that we are even to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ. In other words, we must even evaluate our own thoughts based on what God says because as sinners we can deceive ourselves into believing that we are thinking rightly, when just the opposite may be true.

God’s Word, the Bible, is the only thing in this world that does not change – everything else does, even our thoughts. So we must rely exclusively on God’s Word to lead us through this evil and dangerous world.

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What if?

The great “what ifs”, there are so many of them. “What if” is used to inspire writers. “What if” is often used to get us to think. There are websites and blogs that are dedicated to just looking as the “what ifs” of the world. Some of them are very interesting.

What if money grew on trees? If that were true, there would be a lot of us climbing trees. And what would we tell our children when they come asking for money, since we couldn’t give them the old, “Do think money grows on trees?”

Another one I like a lot is, “What if the world was flat?” Well if that were true our friend Christopher Columbus in 1492, would have been looking for a reverse in that boat of his when he reached the edge.

And my favorite is what if we could change the world? (We’ll come back to this one later).

What if, can make us think, and despite what my wife may say, I do think, well at least sometimes I do.

Recently I was reading in the Book of John the 20th chapter…

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.

Did you notice that last sentence? “Then they went home.” What if they would have stayed at home? What if they had never told others about Jesus, his teachings, his sacrifice, his resurrection? If they had stayed home, we wouldn’t have the New Testament, because no one would have known about Jesus.

But they didn’t stay home, later in that same chapter we read that Mary told the other disciples. And then they told others. They told the world about Jesus and his teachings, they told the world that Jesus died on a cross for everyone, and that he arose and lives. Then it was written down for everyone in what we call the “Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Now the “what if” we need to think about is, what if we stay home and don’t tell anyone? Just like Mary, Peter, and John many of us know about Jesus, his teachings, the crucifixion, the resurrection. But are we taking what we know and staying at home?

There are a lot of hurting people in our world, there are a lot of people that need to know Jesus, and they need to know that he lives. What if we told them? What if we convinced them of the truth, that Jesus loves them and wants a relationship with them?

What if we did that? Remember that question that I said we would come back to, “What if we could change the world?”

If we would tell the world about Jesus, we wouldn’t have to ask the question, “what if we could change the world?”

We would change the world.

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No Such Thing as a Powdered Christian!

The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance.

Biologists call it metamorphosis to describe such changes as when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly; the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

Fr. Anthony DeMello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man.  “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’  As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to:  ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’  Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been.  My one prayer now is:  ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’  If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.”

Now, this is the kind of transformation or metamorphosis that we are invited to during Lent.  With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can transform our lives by renewing them during Lent, and to radiate the grace of the transfigured Lord around us by our Spirit-filled lives.  The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain reminds us that the way of the cross leads to resurrection and eternal life, and that the purpose of Lent is to help us to enter into those mysteries.

To have this reading of the transfiguration of Jesus on this second Sunday of Lent makes me think of the four last things:  Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment. The transfiguration of Jesus is like the sneak preview that we get at the movies.  It’s the preview of what Heaven really will be like and we can tell from the response of the 3 apostles that it left them speechless.  Peter didn’t want to leave; he wanted to build three tents so that they could just stay there and remain in the moment with Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  But, they are quickly reminded that they must come down off the mountain and live life with all of its suffering and trials and temptations.  On this second Sunday of Lent, those 4 last things are a good reality check for us to climb the holy mountain of the Lord.  It’s like what the old man recognized at the twilight of his life when he realized that his days were numbered and found that his one prayer was:  “Lord, give me the grace to change myself,” so that he doesn’t waste the limited time that he has left.

The 4 last things and the transfiguration have a lot in common in this sense.  What is death?  The separation of the soul from the body.  Why does this matter?  Because of Jesus.  He is all that matters when we die.  While we are on earth, food and the opposite sex and bill collectors and the plumbing leak in the basement matter a lot.  When we die, there is only One Who matters:  JC our savior.

Did you die in sanctifying grace, (i.e. no mortal sins) obeying God’s commandments, and living in charity?  The point is that it’s not the case that we accept Christ once and then we are forever saved; once saved, always saved!  NO!  Our salvation is dependent upon our obedience to Jesus Christ.  We can easily fall out of grace – it only takes one mortal sin to do that!  Spending one’s life trying to have fun, seeking pleasure, and ignoring the commandments of God makes death a very unpleasant thought.  However, a devout Catholic living in the state of grace, without a habit of committing mortal sin, uses the thought of death and judgment to keep himself in check and to continue to transform his life for the better in preparation for Heaven and further distance himself from hell.

That’s what the transfiguration of Jesus is all about.  It is that glimpse of what we all want our eternity to be.  The problem is that we live in a society that wants instant satisfaction.  You may remember the comedian Yakov Smirnoff describing his arrival in the US from Russia and his lack of preparation for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores.  He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk; you just add water, and you get milk.  Then I saw powdered orange juice; you just add water, and you get orange juice.  And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, ‘What a country!’”  Smirnoff was joking, but we make these assumptions about Christian transformation – that people change instantly at salvation.  But, we as Catholics call it transformation through repentance and renewal of life, deriving strength through the word of God and the sacraments.

We need to be thinking about the consequences of our actions in this life.  We need to recognize that we will be judged and there will be eternity in Heaven or in Hell depending on that judgment.  Thankfully, there is purgatory to clear out the things that slip between the cracks so that we can eventually get to Heaven.

What better time than Lent for us to really ponder these things so that we can seek the mercy of God, especially through confession to begin the transformation that we need to get us to Heaven.  There is no such thing as a Powdered Christian. A true disciple of Christ is not born by adding water to Christian powder.  There is no such powder and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born.  They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations.  So, on this second Sunday of Lent, start working on being a first rate version of yourself and pray the one prayer that mattered to the old man in the story:  “Lord, give me the grace to change myself.”

** Due to time commitments, Father Grassi is unable to take blog comments at this time.  If anyone has a question of faith, please feel free to call Father Grassi at St. Thomas Catholic Church or speak to him after Mass.

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What in the world is lent?

What in the world is lent? I was always confused when I heard about the season of lent. I would think, why are we observing “lint season”? What’s so special about that stuff in the corner of our blue jean’s front pocket? Or that stuff that gets caught in that screen on the dryer and prevents towels from ever getting dry?

Years later I found out that, “Lent” in the Christian tradition, is the 40 days leading to Easter, starting on “Ash Wednesday.” Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus. The traditional purpose of Lent is to prepare the believer — through prayer, repentance, giving and self-denial — for the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many, including me, have been focused on “giving up something for lent;” I guess that would fall under self-denial. In the past I’ve given up coffee, candy, and two years ago I tried giving up talking on the cell phone while driving. I thought that I was pleasing God, but last year I asked myself, ‘Is Lent a time of self-denial? Is that what Jesus wants?’ I’m not so sure. Maybe if the things we are giving up come between us and God, but I’m not so sure that giving up coffee, candy and talking on the cell phone are on top of God’s list of priorities for us.

I think God would rather us look at the things in our lives that separate us from him and our family. Sometimes it may be something that seems harmless, but we can become consumed by it and suddenly it’s a barrier between us and God. Its something I struggle with, I can become consumed with fishing, golfing, hunting, and other things and find myself not focused on God or my family (don’t believe me, ask my friends, I’m Mr. Obsessive). I think some of these things are what we may want to look at cutting down on or giving up for lent (and who knows, maybe even longer). I’m not saying God wants us to give up fishing or golfing completely. I’m saying that if it’s coming between us and God or our family, maybe we need to re-evaluate how much we are doing it. Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods before me”. Things that we put before God, can become like little gods.

Last Wednesday was “Ash Wednesday”, but it’s not too late for all of us to look at our lives and pick something that we can give up or cut down on for lent. But instead of coffee or candy, we can look at something that’s keeping us from God and our families.

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Scriptures, Alive or Dead

Thomas Linacre was the king’s physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII of England.  He was a prominent scientist, he was founder of the Royal College of Physicians and friend of the great Renaissance thinkers Erasmus and Sir Thomas More.  Late in life he was given a copy of the Gospels to read for the first time.

The Bible, of course, was not being mass produced at this time since the printing press was just coming into existence.  So, the Bible was something that only the Church and the clergy had access to.  This was a time that saw many problems both inside and outside the Church.  Reading the 4 Gospels for himself, Linacre was amazed and troubled.  “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.”  “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”(Mt 7:24)

The point is that there are plenty of very eloquent things that are said about holiness, but unless a person practices what they preach, it becomes nothing more than a lot of hot air.  To be a good Christian takes more than just prayer and fasting and going to Sunday Mass.  God has to find us faithful like another Abraham or Job in times of tribulation; when the rain is falling, the floods are coming and the winds of life are blowing against us!

In the first reading, (Dt 11:18,26-28,32) Moses warns the Israelites that they will be blessed if they obey the commandments of the Lord, but cursed if they reject God’s words and go after pagan gods.  The commandments can’t be something that we talk about or hang on the wall or post in front of buildings.  They have to be lived in our lives.  They have to be seen in the way we act day in and day out.  That’s what it means to build our house on the firm rock foundation.  We have to be more than just hearers of the word of God, we must be doers of the word of God.

The sad part of this is that I wonder how many of us are even hearers of the word of God.  Think about it for a moment.

I would venture to guess that the vast majority of Catholics only hear the word of God when they come to Mass on Sunday.  I would go even further and speculate that most of those people aren’t even really listening to the readings carefully enough to remember them when they leave Mass.  And if this is true, then how can we expect to put those words into practice in our lives.  We are more attentive to reading the newspaper or listening to the news on TV or reading all sorts of stories on the Internet then we are to listening to the Scriptures.  But, how in the world are we ever going to be able to be doers of the word of God unless we know what the word of God says?

I think part of the reasons are marriages are failing at such a high rate today is because people don’t have the rock foundation of the Scriptures to teach them what to do to be successful in their marriages.  Spouses don’t know that they have to put into practice loving each other the way Jesus wants us to love, forgiving each other the way Jesus teaches and becoming servants of one another the way Jesus was to everyone.  If we are a phony family with no Christian foundation, we will be fighting like cats and dogs.  Friends show up and we will be nice to them and kind to each other, but as soon as those friends leave, we can fall back into an icy cold relationship.

As a priest I get to see everyone on their best behavior most of the time.  But, when Fr. leaves, then we can get back to having fun!  But does that make us people who listen to the words of God and act on them or are we just Catholics on the surface with no real foundation in Jesus?

In schools, students will blame teachers, coaches, guidance counselors instead of taking responsibility for not having studied enough or practiced enough or met the dead lines that were clearly indicated.  Is that much of a rock foundation to stand on?  Every one of us is building a house. It’s a lifetime job to build a house of personality and character.  Everything we do, every word we speak, every thought we cherish goes into the structure of the life we build.

As Catholic Christians striving to have a strong foundation for our house, we need to be hearing and doing the words of Jesus.  That means that we ought to be LISTENING attentively to the word of God when we are at Mass and taking the time to read the Scriptures in privacy to allow them to become a part of our hearts and acted out in our lives.  We need to listen to the preaching and teaching of the Church and the Sacraments and the lives of the saints.  It is not enough to simply believe in Christ’s teachings.  If they are really the rock foundation of our lives, we must put them into practice.  Perhaps a good Lenten exercise might be to pick up the 4 Gospels and read them.  It might be a startling encounter where you say to yourself:  “Either these are not the Gospels, or I am not a Christian.”

 

** Due to time commitments, Father Grassi is unable to take blog comments at this time.  If anyone has a question of faith, please feel free to call Father Grassi at St. Thomas Catholic Church or speak to him after Mass.

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