Friday, December 8, 2017

HEROES OF ADVENT SERIES - NUMBER ONE - ISAIAH


SAY "NO" TO FEAR




Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong! Fear not!
Isaiah 35:4-7a

I have spoken these words from Isaiah the Prophet to myself for most of my life because fear has had a tendency to rule my life. Battling it is still part of my everyday life! When Isaiah first spoke these words to the people of tiny kingdom of Judah, they were basically surrounded by the powerful Assyrian empire which was swallowing up all their town surrounding Jerusalem. Even in the face of imminent destruction, the Prophet calls the people to face their fears and to know that, in the end, God’s faithfulness to them would triumph, even if they face collapse and captivity by their enemies.  “Be strong! Fear not!”  

It still happens after all these years. I get on a plane by myself heading out to some far-flung diocese to face hundreds of priests and realize that I am overcome with fear and doubt – fear of rejection and doubt about my capabilities.

Even though I haven’t had a disaster yet, on the contrary appreciative acceptance, I have to talk myself up and my demons down every time I take off on another speaking trip.  I can still remember being paralyzed by the same fear and doubt before opening the box my first published book arrived in – fear of rejection and doubt about my ability.

I have come to believe that many never become all they could be because of two things. (1) They are intimidated by the judging voices of others. (2) They are intimidated by their own self-doubting voice.  Both voices say basically the same thing. “Who are you to do such and such? Who do you think you are, anyway?   These demons must be slain or we will end up “settling” for a life marked by dullness. Angelina Jolie said this, “If you ask people what they've always wanted to do, most people haven't done it. That breaks my heart.”

The secret is to face your fears, stand up to your own cowardice and do hard things for your own good. What I have learned from years of doing that is that you end up amazed at the great things that can happen to you, if you do!

Another thing I have learned is that it takes an amazing amount of concentration of the will to overcome embedded negative messages from childhood, but with dedicated practice it is indeed possible. I believe I am where I am today because of my determination to not allow fear and doubt control me. I am very happy that I learned how to do that!  

The third thing I have learned is that there is wisdom out there about overcoming fear and self-doubt that others can share with us. As you know, I collect motivational quotes and I regularly share some of my favorites on this subject in hopes that you can learn from them as well.

Fear probably defeats more people than any other one thing in the world. I once read that F-E-A-R stands for “fantasy events appearing real.” I read somewhere else that, statistically, about 90% of the things we worry about never happen, so Jesus was right, fear is useless, what is needed is trust. How we handle fear determines whether we experience adventure or whether we are limited by the fear of it. Without scary, we don’t get to be brave!

I would say that my life has been enriched every time I have gotten up the guts to look fear in the face and say “No, you are not going to run my life! I may fail, I may get hurt, I may be laughed at, but again I might not, so be gone!”

Friends! These words are spoke to you as well! ‘Be strong! Fear not!”  Do not listen to the discounting voices of those who do not believe in you! Do not listen to that discounting voice in your own head that does not believe in you! Tell them both to shut up and listen instead to God’s voice in your own heart – that tiny whispering voice that gets drowned out in the noise of the world – that tiny whispering voice that you may not be able to hear because of the noisy, negative self-talk that goes on in your own head – that tiny whispering voice of God who is telling you not to fear, but to be strong! Take it from one who has been there! God has great plans for you – he wants to take you to places who cannot even imagine for yourself! Do not let fear hold you back from becoming who you really can be! Henry Ford may have said it best when he said, “Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right!  



     
        

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

SANTA'S TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS


TODAY IS THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS

Prayer to Saint Nicholas 

Saint Nicholas, faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, example of Christian love, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, helper of the poor and needy, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, champion of orphans and widows, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, protector of those who sail at sea, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, defender of the true faith, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, patron of children around the world, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, secret giver of gifts, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, the great wonderworker, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, our friend in Heaven, pray for us.
Amen.





HE HAS TAKEN QUITE A HIT OVER THE YEARS! 

Related image





THE MASSACRE OF SAINT NICHOLAS

Since today is the feast of Saint Nicholas, I have decided to re-run a column I wrote fourteen years ago about the slow “massacre” of this beloved saint over the years till our own day. Ever since St. Nicholas changed his name to Santa Claus, he has been going downhill fast.

Nicholas started off as a rich young man from Turkey who become a kindly bishop. Dressed in a bishop’s red cope, mitre and crosier, he was known for his love of children and his determination to use his inheritance doing anonymous works of charity.

Probably “too Catholic,” 17th century Dutch Protestants helped turn him into a married ex-priest living at the North Pole. Instead of being a bishop presiding over a diocese, he ended up presiding over a gang of workaholic elves. Obviously, he married without “laicization.” Why else would he have been banished to such a God-forsaken place as the North Pole?

It must have been a traumatic career-change. He ended up with a serious eating disorder and a possible drinking problem that turned him into a rotund bag of cholesterol with a bad case of  “rosacea.”

Just when you thought he could not sink any lower, he stared in an “adult” movie with an R rating called “Bad Santa.”  For those who think foul-mouthed drunks and vulgar rudeness are funny, this movie promised to be a huge hit. The reviews used words like, “demented, twisted, gloriously rude, rancid, vulgar and unreasonably funny.” 

So far, no one has raised any serious questions about his obsession with children, his enslaving of small animals to carry loads heavier than any UPS jet or his penchant for “breaking and entering” homes all over the world. Of course, there is always next year.

St. Nicholas is not the only one to lose at this time of year. Even Jesus is being nudged out by elves, reindeer, kittens in Christmas stockings and innocuous “happy holiday” cards.

Instead of Jesus’ birth being central, Christmas has become a frenzy of buying: buying things people don’t need, for people they don’t like, with money they don’t have. Every year, we hear about a mob of shoppers, rushing like a herd of charging elephants for a sale, trampling people and knocking them unconscious. No wonder so many are left disappointed and in debt and the suicide rate spikes right after Christmas. 
.

Before you dismiss me as a Grinch, let me assure you that I do love Christmas. My point is that it takes a lot of imagination and determination these days to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  Since I am single and my life is different from that of many others, I am reluctant to give practical suggestions, but here is one. Keep it simple. Do less, not more. Take a little of the time you saved to design your own one-hour retreat. Take a long walk by yourself and try to remember what Christmas is really all about.     


FYI

I still love this saint. In fact,
if I could have picked my own name, it would have been "Nicholas!" 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

MY FRIEND THE NEW ARCHBISHOP OF PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO






BISHOP JASON GORDON
becomes
ARCHBISHOP JASON GORDON

   


"Keep in mind that every success begins with the decision to try."

About four years ago, when I was about to retire, I had a dream of starting an organization for retired priests, bishops and lay professionals like myself who wanted something exciting and life-giving to do in our retirement years. I imagined that some of us might offer our gifts and talents to the church in the missions of the Caribbean or maybe the missions of Alaska. However, I had no firm connections, even though I was still working at St. Meinrad Seminary as the founding Director of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates.


THEN IN HE WALKED




One morning I went down to the seminary dining room before they were serving to get my regular early morning coffee. The only other person in the dining room was Bishop Jason Gordon of Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who was visiting his seminarian, Kirt Prospere.

It occurred to me that I should ask him if he needed any help. As I do sometimes when I feel there might be a chance of rejection, I backed away and left the dining room and headed back to my office.
About fifty feet down the hall, I turned around and went back. "What are you thinking? This is your opportunity! Go back and introduce yourself and tell him what you are thinking, " I said to myself.


THE REST IS HISTORY




After I introduced myself and told him what I was thinking, he grabbed me by both shoulders and said, "Yes! We can share your idea with all the bishops of the Caribbean!" I was a bit shocked and started backtracking. "Well, what if I come down first and just visit and see what might be possible."

I have been down to his islands eight times, I have stayed at his house four times and he has stayed at my condo four times. He had been the bishop of both Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines until two years ago, when Rome divided his two dioceses and gave each country their own bishop. He stayed as Bishop of Barbados and Bishop Gerard County became bishop of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.


LIFE HAS CHANGED, NOT ENDED




Several weeks back, he learned that Pope Francis had named him the new Archbishop of Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, the country of his birth and a neighboring island nation. Our relationship will continue. He plans on having an ongoing relationship with St. Meinrad Seminary and I plan on continuing my work in St. Vincent and Barbados, but probably now in Trinidad and Tobago as well. . As he said to me when he found out he was no longer responsible for St. Vincent, "I am not going to let you go! You have to continue to help me!"



With Bishop Jason and his priests when I led their annual priest retreat in Barbados. 


Enjoying dinner, fixed by Bishop Jason himself, on the deck of his apartment in Bridgetown, behind the Cathedral. 


I took this picture of Bishop Jason and a bunch of Caribbean bishops on our way to the house of the Apostolic Delegate to the Antilles at the Vatican Embassy in Port of Spain, Trinidad, a couple of years ago.

Bishop Jason while hiking the "Camino" in Spain.


That's Bishop Jason (front row, right, in top photo and left side, middle, in bottom photo) when I was invited to address the 21 bishops of the Antilles a couple of years ago. 




Bishop Jason preparing for preaching at the radio studio he built beside the Cathedral. 




Bishop Jason Gordon, all dressed up! 


                                 





Next, a Chapter of the Catholic Second Wind Guild in Trinidad and Tobago? 
Probably! 

Besides the countries of St. Vincent and Barbados, I am also involved in the country of Saint Lucia. 


SOMEBODY STOP ME! 




Sunday, December 3, 2017

WAKE UP AND......




Would that you would meet us doing right
and being mindful of your ways.
Isaiah 63


To live well is a lot like driving a car – you have to be able to see what is going on behind you, in front of you and all around you, but all at once. You have to learn from your past, plan for your future and be alert to what is happening in your life right now. 

In order to live well, during this season of Advent we look back, look around and look forward. Each Sunday for four weeks, we re-read the scriptures that foretold the coming of Christ, we re-read the scriptures that foretell the return of Christ and we reflect on our lives and how we are living right now “as we wait in joyful hope” for his return in glory. As we wait, as we live each day, we pray in the words of Isaiah that when he comes, God “would meet us doing right and find us mindful of his ways.” To live well, we need to look back, look forward and pay attention to all that is going on around us. 

Jesus reminds us in the gospel to be “watchful” and “alert,” warning us that “we don’t know when the Lord will come.” It says that he “may come suddenly and find us sleeping,” so we need to “watch,” “wake up” and “pay attention.” 

Living well, alert and watchful, is hard work. Our lazy side must be stood up to, over and over again. Our lazy side tells us that we have plenty of time, that we can get around to it someday and that we can cut corners for a little while longer.  Our lazy side is our sinful side. The best definition of “sin” I ever heard was that it is at its root giving in to laziness. When we “sin,” we choose the “easy way” rather than the “right way.” Laziness is the opposite of “staying awake and staying alert.” 

All sin is about laziness. Theft has laziness at its root. It is easier to take what belongs to others than it is to work for what is your own. Theft is a lazy shortcut to getting what we want. Gossip has laziness at its root. It is easier to cut others down to our size than it is to build ourselves up. Gossip is a lazy shortcut to feeling good about ourselves. Pornography has laziness at its root.   It is easier to relate to an anonymous printed or projected image than it is to build intimacy with real people. Pornography is a lazy shortcut to feelings of intimacy. Excessive eating and drinking has laziness at its root. It is easier to do the things that feel good to our bodies than it is to do thing that are truly good for our bodies. Excessive eating and drinking is a substitute for facing unpleasant feelings. Taking recreational drugs has laziness at its root. It is easier to take a pill or snort a substance that gives us an artificial high than it is to work for the high of a deeply spiritual life in relationship with God and others. “Following the crowd” has laziness at its root. It is easier to gain acceptance by “doing what everybody else is doing” than it is to “do the right thing” and risk rejection. Yes, all “sin” is about choosing the “lazy way,” about choosing the “easy way” over the “right way.” 

Advent is about “waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.” How do we wait? We wait by being “watchful,” “alert,” and “awake,” doing the hard work of remembering where we came from, where we are, and where we are going. We don’t know when it will happen, but we do know that someday we will stand before God, with our lives in our hands, to give an account of what we have done with the life that God has given us. 

Our Advent prayer is simple. It is the prayer from Isaiah, “Would that you would meet us doing right and being mindful of your ways!” While we wait, “do not let us wander from your ways or let our hearts harden so that we quit fearing you.”  “Living in joyful hope” is not about “getting ready,” it is about “being ready,” whether it happens “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” Advent is a time to examine our consciences so see whether God might find us “doing right and being mindful of his ways” no matter when he comes!  To live well is to live prepared!   

St. John Paul II gave us some great advice for daily living when he put it this way: "Remember the past with gratitude! Live in the present with enthusiasm! Look to the future with confidence!"


Would that you would meet us doing right
and being mindful of your ways.
Isaiah 63