Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Lesson from Nonno's Garden. By:C.C.

"Jesus said to his disciples:"Hear the parable of the sower.The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the Evil One comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold." (Matthew 13:18-23)

Some of my fondest childhood memories, being an Italian Canadian are from watching my nonno work in the very vast vegetable garden at his home. This was definitely a way that he kept some sense of his culture while living in a new land. From my childhood gaze it did not seem to be too much work. I would look on with amazement as he would patiently till the soil. I was excited because I knew that soon this garden would be full of life and many good things for us to eat. It seemed almost without err that every year nonno's garden was extremely fruitful and also the envy of the neighbor. This often manifested into a nonno war of sorts and it was surely entertaining to see him compare tomatoes.

This was not without great effort though, or hard work. To cultivate good soil and bear rich fruit takes sweat and sacrifice. For such reasons I have always loved this parable of the sower. As time passes in my own spiritual journey  these words of Jesus take on greater meaning. 

I can look back and view the various natures of my own spiritual soil and find how things have surely changed with the course of time and cooperation with our Lord.  I can see the presence of "rocky ground" in the early days of conversion and how much that initial joy of "hearing the word" ignited an honest desire to live in accordance to Christ's teachings. 
In that time however, I remember falling. As Jesus alluded to, with the sight of tribulation or persecution,  there I was back for His mercy and forgiveness. 

My soil needed some serious tilling then! There is great beauty in this though if one recognizes the importance of cultivating good soil, and of patiently striving to till it through all the seasons and changes of life. It is an ongoing process.

This is done through patient endurance and trust in God, but also maintaining reverence for living a sacramental life. The initial Joy of those "rocky ground" days was an essential part of the process. That joy to me was incredibly real and undeniably from the hand of our Lord, it pressed me onward to continue the work. 

I think of nonno here, tilling soil even when the blazing sun was beating against his back. Sometimes God's pruning and His means of having us truly understand His word to us can can seem to burn us internally and take us to places within that we would rather ignore. Yet, if we run then, we will never know the joy of harvest time. We will never reap the fruits of knowing how our own personal witness can aid in building up the love of God, and encourage others to till their soil. We will not see that glimpse of God's radiant unconditional love for us.

God does not leave us without help. Christ has given us His Church to aid us in growing in virtue and given us many tools to aid our garden. Taking part in Mass, receiving the Eucharist, and frequenting Confession help this process. By grace and by our willingness we can till the spiritual soil and reap great fruits. We do not persevere in this because of what may be given to us, but because what has already been done for us in Christ on the Cross. 

Before the fruits of harvest, before the sharing of the word and proclaiming of Good News, it is right that we till some soil. It is important that we do our work. This is why courage and perseverance is often used to describe the experience of those who are seasoned in their own vocations.

When I meet with a priest who has been obedient to His call for over 60 years, or a married couple who celebrates their 50th anniversary, I am aware that there are and have been many moments of blazing sun on their backs, but they have taken this to the Lord. They have tilled and worked to maintain good soil. 

Let us strive everyday to live our faith, and to be mindful of the personal work we must do so that our soil can be rich and fruitful in the vineyard of Christ. (CC)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

United in Victory by: C.C.

"God loves everyone with unique love; he wants to lead them all to perfection, but at the same time has very different paths for different people. This means that the frequency and characteristics of the inspirations of grace will differ from one person to another. We cannot force the Spirit, God is the master of his gifts. That said, it cannot be doubted that God will grant each person at least the inspirations he needs for his own sanctification."(Fr. Jacques Philippe) 

Pride can blind us from so many things. Spiritual pride is a dangerous ill that can destroy faith of those around us, and also deprive us of recognizing and being open to the grace(s) that God has given. 

To rest in the love of God and to believe that He "loves everyone with unique love" is to begin living well in accordance to His precepts. If we only received two commandments from God, and they were the first two--"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Surely we have found enough in that to unpack and a great outline of sorts to living out a Christian life, for from these very important commandments blossoms the essential fruits for living virtuously and how God has called us.

We can not force grace upon another, it is not our place to judge how they are living well, or unwell in our own very limited perception. We are not God and we can not transform hearts. 

We witness well, by allowing God to transform ours. To be a sign of grace and testament to what God is doing and has done for us by simply being attentive to our own personal walk with Christ. What we all need for our sanctification is different and the way in which God will manifest this to us as individuals is as unique as we are. He knows what His children need. He knows so much better than us what will aid our sanctification and bring us to full life in Him. 

I think often of my former varsity soccer coach and how well he knew each of us. He knew us in character and disposition in such a way that he could lead us to preform to the greatest of our personal ability. To watch him navigate team meetings or conduct himself during some of our most gruesome training sessions was an art at times. He looked at his flock and he knew what each player needed, or didn't need so they could be their personal best. I, was often the victim of serious discipline, yes, ironically quite the team class clown I spent a lot of time running laps, and being victim of some serious , but indeed helpful lectures. He knew I needed that "kick" to become better though, and he knew that the docile teamate beside me couldn't respond to that, and that it would not lead her to excellence or to be her personal best, but destroy her completely. 

Now I am not alluding that my coach was by any means like God,for surely he is not. Yet, if God sees us all as players in his field of life, striving for victory and if the end goal is to live with Him eternally, then surely He knows what we each as individuals well need to finish the race victoriously. 
I have met many honest people with great zest for the faith and a toxic blazing love of God. They are seemingly "on fire" . I have also witnessed this fire become one of destruction as they blaze around demanding, or preaching, and teaching why everyone should live the faith in the way that they have come to know, and do it in the way that they do, and offer a litany of sorts on how to do it. Frankly, often they do even present papers and papers of litanies and devotions. This can be extremely overwhelming and it is not a helpful thing. 

Our personal inspirations, granted to us by God are for our sanctification. Consequently an honest obedience to what the fruits of the spirit truly offers us can flow from our receptivity of them and aid the sanctification process of another by living through the grace we are given with humility.

As teammates on Christ's pitch we strive for the same end. Let us be attentive to the gifts of God in our own lives, and let us aid our brothers and sisters in Christ toward victory by love of God.

"We cannot force the Spirit, God is the master of his gifts. That said, it cannot be doubted that God will grant each person at least the inspirations he needs for his own sanctification."

Sometimes we must bear patiently the burdens of another, and pray steadfastly until the flowering of the soul and the fruits of the spirit are made visible to us. (CC)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

When The "Good News" is Presented Badly By: C.C.

"But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15)

  Our modern technological advancements and the embracing of media as a means of evangelization has given rise to the increase of sharing faith. In many ways this is a wonderful and beautiful thing. At times it seems that there is need for more silence, reflection, thought, and most importantly reverence before one can share the 'Good News' effectively. 
I have come across many wonderful blogs, tweets, Facebook shares, and other forms of social networking that primarily focus on sharing the Catholic faith. I have sadly also come across the opposite. I say this with all reverence to Christ and void of judgement toward my brothers and sisters in faith. When 'The Good News' of our faith is poorly presented it does more to wound than heal. It does more to turn one away from Christ than to lead others toward Him. It does more for division than it does for unity. It does not reflect the love of our Lord and the 'hope' that is within. Rather, it highlights the virtue one is without and the time they truly need to spend with reverence in their heart for Christ as Lord. Scroll through many Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and blog comment sections and surely you will stumble upon professed faithful throwing the Good News around as a tool of animosity and shaming another. It seems that the old cranky lady sitting in the pew with numerous eye rolls towards those around her has seemingly found her way into the social media platform and it is truly detrimental. 
  "Be prepared to make defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you'. We must not read this Gospel and isolate this one sentence but further our reading and see that we are called to do this with 'gentleness and reverence'. Charity must be at the root of our message or it is not rooted in Christ. If we are truly yearning to build up the kingdom of Christ and reach the peripheries effectively we must see that having a bunch of domestic disputes among the gathered, doesn't appeal to the masses. Why would a church who can't keep it together, yet claim to be Universal be all that alluring? There is great responsibility to foster unity among the ordinary laity, perhaps even more so these days with the numerous platforms we can implore for the good of our faith.  
  Today we have an outpouring of instant communication. Absence of thought and quickness of speech. Technological advancements while able to contribute positively to our Catholic evangelization can also greatly wound and lead to confusion. If we claim to be a follower of Christ, if we claim to have faith, if we profess to be in communion with the Holy Catholic Church, then we are obligated, responsible, and accountable to build up and foster the fruits of what this means and cultivates in our lives. It is not about us and our feelings. It is about Christ and His Church.
  Let us place our energy and our voices first into the silence of prayer. Let us turn to our Lord , hear His voice and understand what it is He asks of us through our trusting obedience to Him and His will. If we disagree with someone let us pray first for them before we react. It is not about us being "right" it is about our Lord seated at the "right hand of the Father" who is the judge of what is "right and just".
   Let us not be victim of reacting before retaining, speaking before listening, and commenting before first comprehending. We can often realize in hindsight that if we first sought His sight and turned to our Lord with matters of faith, our concerns, and our confusions, we would gain clarity and understanding. To be a disciple of Christ, striving to evangelize we must first be a student of silence and prayer. We must patiently endure and prayerfully wait upon the Lord. 
  The old question `What would Jesus do?` comes to mind to me today. If our Lord had to tweet, blog, and facebook..what would His page look like and what response would he offer to others when called to give account? (C.C.)