More on Fortune Telling and Reiki in the Bible

Two weeks ago, in my homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, I spoke about the relevancy of the Bible today. It was the Sunday of the Word of God and I used Deuteronomy 18:10-12a as an example of a passage in the Bible that may be forgotten but has relevancy today. I spoke then of how some people see things like Ouija boards and fortune tellers as fun and games.

Independent of that, I wrote an article recently here, “We Need to Look Into Our Hearts”, on how superficial we can be. I wrote this article two days after my homily mentioned above. At that time I did not see a connection between the two but as I begin to write today’s article, I see a connection. If we live superficial lives, things don’t matter as much. Things like Ouija boards and fortune telling can be just fun and games. However, they are not just fun and games.

God knows this. He also knows that we always understand this. That’s why God tells us, “Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord, and because of such abominations the Lord, your God, is dispossessing them before you” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12a). He knows these things are not good for us. He loves us. That’s why He tells us not to do them.

Deuteronomy 18:10-12a is not the only passage in the Bible that speaks against these practices. We think of King David as the first great King of Israel. We must remember there was King Saul before him. Saul had faith but he gave into his weaknesses at times. As a man of faith, in 1 Samuel 3c, he “had driven mediums and diviners out of the land.” He did this because he knew God prohibited this things. Yet, Saul was weak. In 1 Samuel 28:6, Saul consulted the Lord for help but when he did not get an immediate answer, against his own prohibition, Saul consulted a medium (read the whole chapter 1 Samuel 28 for the whole story). Going against the prohibition of Deuteronomy 18:10-12a, Saul requested a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel who had been a great prophet. The second half of 1 Samuel 28 speaks of Saul’s doom for this. (For other passages against such practices see Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, and Leviticus 20:27).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of “Divination and magic” in paragraphs 2115-2117 as part of its instruction on the First Commandment. In paragraph 2115 it speaks of how, at times, God chooses to reveal the future through prophets. However, consulting fortune tellers comes from an “unhealthy curiosity” about the future. We need to trust the future to the Lord.

Paragraph 2116 speaks of “conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to unveil the future” as well as consulting horoscopes and other related practices. It says, “They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we to God alone.”

Paragraph 2117 speaks of “attempts to tame occult powers.” This is what mediums do. This is what a Ouija board is designed for. We are consulting powers that we do not understand and cannot control.

We might feel we have good reason and intent in our actions. For example, one may see Reiki as an attempt for healing from physical and/or emotional pain. The person’s intent for healing is good but the ends do not justify the means.

In researching Catholic understanding of Reiki, I found an article by Laura Locke, “The Dangers of Reiki”, (Catholic Answers, 11/1/2012, online at https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-dangers-of-reiki). It tells the story of Beth Anderson (fictitious name – real person) who experienced significant health challenges in college. Unfortunately, she was directed to Reiki by a Catholic nun. From Reiki sessions she begin “to experience deep relaxation” which, in turn, helped her to pray and bring her pain to God. It seems good but it was over time that she would come to see the problems with Reiki.

It is not simply a technique for relaxation, meditation, or physical healing. It is not just a technique in that a power is “transferred to the student by a Reiki master (see Locke’s article). Locke quotes another author, William Rand who is a Reiki practitioner, who writes, “The Reiki energies will begin flowing automatically. Reiki has its own intelligence and knows exactly where to go and what to do.” The fact that Reiki is described as having “its own intelligence” speaks volumes to us. It clearly is more than just a technique for relaxation and/or physical healing. One who uses Reiki is dabbling with forces that we do not understand.

Throughout her use of Reiki, Beth Anderson saw a Catholic priest for spiritual direction (let us pray that this priest and nun have come to see the problems with Reiki). Over time, even as the Reiki “helped”, she began to realize it might not be a good practice and that she had filtered out the parts of Reiki that more clearly went against her faith. She realized she had gone down a slippery slope that went against her faith. She abandoned her practice of Reiki.

In 2009, recognizing the problems of Reiki the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote “Guidelines For Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy.” They wrote not to condemn or judge Reiki. They wrote with pastoral care for those who did not see the contradiction of Reiki with our faith. They wrote out of their responsibility to address the ignorance many have about Reiki (USCCB, Guidelines, 6).

It’s the same reason I write this article. I am not an expert in divination, fortune telling, or Reiki. I write to help point readers to what our Catholic faith says about such practices.

In their document on Reiki, the USCCB writes “The Church recognizes two kinds of healing: healing by divine grace and healing that utilizes the powers of nature” (1). The first is the work of God in miracles and grace. The second, using the powers of nature” is medical healing that health care workers provide through their God given gifts.

The USCCB identifies Reiki as having its origin in 19th century Japan as they write, “According to Reiki teaching, illness is caused by some kind of disruption or imbalance in one’s “life energy” (2). It involves the “flow of Reiki, the “universal life energy,” from the Reiki practitioner to the patient” (2). I don’t know about you, but the phrase “universal life energy” raises major flags for me. How is this in line with our faith given to us by God?

Reiki practitioners say that Reiki is not a religion of its own yet they use the terms “god” or “goddess” at times while others, perhaps to soften the conflict between Reiki and Christianity, say this universal life energy is directed by god as a higher intelligence (USCCB, 3).

Other proponents of Reiki “attempt to approach Reiki as a natural means of healing” (USCCB, 3) but no evidence of this has been found (USCCB, 4).

The USCCB writes, “Some people have attempted to identify Reiki with the divine healing known to Christians. They are mistaken. The radical difference can be immediately seen in the fact that for the Reiki practitioner the healing power is at human disposal” (USCCB, 4). In Christianity, we pray for healing from God. However, we leave it in God’s hands if and how to do the healing. Reiki goes beyond this trust we place in God.

Now retired Archbishop Wuerl was a member of the USCCB committee that produced this document. In May 2011 he wrote an article “Reiki Poses Theological Problems” in Ethics & Medics: A Commentary of the National Catholic Bioethics Center on Health Care and the Life Sciences (May 2011, Volume 36, number 5, accessed online 2/7/23 through the USCCB at https://www.usccb.org/resources/Reiki–Cardinal%20Wuerl%20article%20in%20Ethics%20Medics%20May%202011_0.pdf).

Archbishop Wuerl writes better than I can on how Reiki understands the healing to be under the “control of the Reiki practitioner” (1). He later goes onto speak of how Reiki might be appealing to those who identify as spiritual but not religious. He describes it as “supra-religious” (3).

I hope this has helped you understand why God prohibits fortune telling and the conjuring of spirits. Please read the articles that I have provided for more complete explanations. If you have general questions, I welcome your comments using the “comment” link that follows this article. I am not an expert but I do want to help you understand.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (4a)
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
February 5, 2023

Last week we heard the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel.  We will continue to hear from Jesus’ Sermon each Sunday until we begin Lent.

Our passage today begins with Jesus saying to his disciples, this includes us, “You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything.” 

Salt is used for two purposes.  It can be used to preserve food.  That was very important in Jesus’ day when there were no refrigerators.  It made salt valuable.  Salt is also used to season food, to make it taste better.  If salt loses its taste, it loses this purpose. 

As disciples of Christ, we are to do our part to make the world a better place.  In doing so, we are “the salt of the earth.”  We do this by bringing the light of Christ to the world. 

In the Rite of Baptism, after a person is baptized, a candle is light for them from the Paschal Candle.  The flame of the Paschal Candle is the Light of Christ.  The baptismal candle is then presented to the person with the words, “Receive the Light of Christ.”

The Light of Christ is precious in a world with much darkness.  The Light of Christ enables us to see through the darkness to what Christ offers us.

It is not a light to be kept hidden.  We must shine the light brightly to others.  One does not “light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket.”  That would defeat its purpose of giving light.

Receiving the Light of Christ, we must share it with steadfast hearts.  How do we do this?

Isaiah presents ways to do this:

  • Share your bread with the hungry.”
  • “Shelter the oppressed and the homeless”
  • “Clothe the naked”

When one is hungry, life can seem dark.  To give them light, give them food.  When one is homeless, life can seem dark.  Give them a place to stay with light.  When one’s clothing is worn, one’s own self-image can be dark.  In doing so, you bring light to their life.  To give them light, give them clothing.

Do not turn your back” on others for it may put them into darkness.  Rather, help them as you are able.  Your help will be a light for them.  If you cannot help them, don’t ignore them, leaving them in darkness.  Give them light by pointing them to someone who can help.

To be a beacon of light to others, we must remove from our own midst that which is darkness, “oppression, false accusation and malicious speech.”  Then we can see the light. 

When the darkness comes from sin, bring it to Jesus.  Then, Jesus, who is the light of the world, will remove your sin so that you may see the light.

We might feel lacking in our ability to help others.  Sometimes we think it is for someone greater than us to help.  No one of us can help everyone alone and we are not supposed to. 

We just need to let God work through us.

Part of bringing the Light of Christ to others is sharing God’s Word with them.

I suspect many people probably think St. Paul must have been a wonderful preacher.  However, Paul himself says, “I did not come with sublimity of words” and that he did not offer “persuasive words of wisdom.

Instead, Paul came to the Corinthians “in weakness and fear and much trembling.”  He did not seek to speak with eloquent words.  Paul simply sought to share what he knew about Jesus Christ.

To do so, he allowed God to speak through him “with a demonstration of Spirit and power” so that their faith “rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” 

We need to learn more about God and what his teaches.  However, when you speak to others, speak not first from your mind but from your heart.  Let others see Christ in you, not for your own glory but so that God our Father may be glorified.

The Need for Depth

Last week I wrote about how our lives can be superficial (“We Need to Look Into Our Hearts”). Today I would like to talk about how being superficial relates to problems in the world today.

It starts with the question that if we are superficial, without depth, do we have a sense of right and wrong. If we don’t look at things with depth, are we opening the door to relativism? Relativism says there is no set truth. (There is truth. It comes from God. John’s Gospel speaks of truth 22 times. Ex. John 8:32 – “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free“) Relativism says you can believe whatever you want, with the possible limit of “as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” It seems to mean that those who live only superficial lives would easily migrate into relativism.

As I look at some other examples of how being superficial feeds into the problems in our world today, I acknowledge that some may seem like a bigger leap than others. I’m not saying that being superficial is the cause of all the problems but it is a contributing factor and/or can allow us to start down a slippery slope to the problems in the world today.

For instance, you might be aware of someone who doesn’t seem to care about others. They don’t care who they hurt if it helps them gain power, prestige, or material wealth. They may even look at other people at a means to their end. Here, they do not look at the person they are interacting with. They see only a “body” they can use for their gain. They look at the other person in only a superficial way.

Let’s think about shootings. How often do we hear about mass shootings? What about other shootings? It seems like there are more and more shootings. I see this not far from where I serve now. From 2007-2010, I served on the southside of Elmira. I don’t remember there being violent crimes on the southside then. Now, just 13 years later, there are more and more shootings. I would say the same is true in Rochester, NY and a number of other places. Sometimes the shootings are gang-related. Sometimes they are the result of a conflict. Sometimes they are “just for kicks.”

What do these shootings have to do with whether we are superficial or look at things with depth? It involves how we look at other people. Do we see a person? If we see a person with dignity and rights, if we have a quarrel with them, shouldn’t we find another way of resolving the conflict than shooting them? If we see them as persons, we won’t shoot them just because they belong to a different gang. If we see others as persons, won’t that stop shootings that are “just for kicks”? If we look at others with depth, we see that life has values and we will put real effort into resolving conflicts. We will treat them with dignity (In Part I of my series, Treating Life with Dignity and Love, I speak of the origin of the dignity that each and every person has.)

Our sexual behavior can also say a lot about whether we look at other people superficially or with depth. Chastity is not just a matter of no sex outside marriage. Chastity involves how we look at the other person. One can be unchaste with a spouse if a sexual act is only about the physical pleasure (cf. my article “Chastity and Sexuality” and other blog articles on “sexuality”). If our sexual acts are only about the physical pleasure, we are clearly being superficial. A proper understanding of sex sees it as an expression of a deep love between a husband and a wife who have committed themselves to each other in marriage.

To see sex as done for physical pleasure only objectives everyone involved. It objectives the other(s) as only a means to your physical pleasure. That physical pleasure is only superficial, fleeting and gone in a moment. In engaging in sex for physical pleasure, you also objective yourself. You are looking only to fulfill a superficial desire for physical pleasure. When a sexual act involves love and commitment, you see much deeper. You see a soul, not a means to an end (means = other person as an object, end = pleasure). How do you want people to see you?

When you find yourself interacting with another person, look beyond the moment. See them as God sees them. 1 Samuel 16:1-13 tells the story of God’s selection of David to be king. How does God pick David? In 1 Samuel 16:7, we read “But the Lord said to Samuel: Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The Lord looks into the heart.”

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Being the Person That God Calls Us to Be

Our readings today begin with the prophet Zephaniah calling us to “Seek the LORD.” God did not create us and walk away. God wants to be part of our lives everyday. We are called to humble ourselves to follow him.

When we humble ourselves, we realize that God’s ways are better than our ways. From this, we observe “his law” and seek God’s justice.

Unfortunately, as in the past, many people today choose to follow their own way instead of God’s. This is sad but we are not without hope. God has always made sure that there is a “remnant of Israel” left. We may be fewer in number but we can always come together and “take refuge in the name of the LORD.”

It is the Lord who “keeps faith forever.” We pray for God to keep the faith alive within us. Faith is a gift that God offers to the “humble and lowly.” The Lord will raise up those who bow down.

This passage from Zephaniah was written between 640 and 609 B.C. but it is a message for all time. Our second reading today offers Paul’s writing to the Corinthians on the type of person that God works through.

If one is building a human army, one looks for the wise, powerful, and the noble. God chooses otherwise (see 1 Samuel 16:7). He does not pick those who are “wise by human standards” or the “powerful” or the “noble.” Instead, God chooses “the foolish of the world to shame the wise…the weak of the world to shame the strong…”the lowly and despised…who count for nothing.” Why? So that we might know that our salvation comes not from humans but from God.

Today’s gospel begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that spans three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout the sermon Jesus teaches us what it means to follow God’s Commandments. However, as Jesus starts this sermon, He begins not with a list of do’s and don’ts. He begins by discussing the way we are called to be. He begins with the Beatitudes to show us that what He teaches are not just rules but a way of life (See my presentation Are They Rules Or a Way of Life).

The first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” calls us to be humble as those who are in “poor in spirit.” In humbling ourselves, we open ourselves to the Kingdom of Heaven. The third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land,” echoes the first.

In the second Beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Jesus assures that when we mourn the loss of a loved one, because we love, we are comforted by God’s love and what Jesus offers to us in his death and resurrection, eternal life.

If we humble ourselves because we seek God, we “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Jesus promises us in the fourth Beatitude that those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness…will be satisfied.” We will find satisfaction not in worldly things but in God’s love.

The fifth Beatitude calls us to be merciful. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Mercy includes forgiveness but it goes further. We are called to perform Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy” (see my presentation The Journey to Jesus: Acts of Mercy).

The sixth Beatitude calls us to be “clean of heart” because only the clean of heart can enter Heaven and “see God.” To be clean of heart, we must be without sin. Have you sinned? Do not worry! God is merciful and forgiving. Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess your sins and God will make you “clean of heart.”

The seventh and eighth Beatitude might be more surprising. Jesus tells us that those “who are persecuted,” that those who are insulted and persecuted, are blessed. We may not feel “blessed” when we are persecuted and insulated because in human terms these are bad things. We must look at the second part of both of these Beatitudes. It is when we are persecuted “for the sake of righteousness” and because we follow Jesus that we are blessed.

To be “blessed” is not about human happiness. To be “blessed” is to receive God’s Grace. We become aware of the grace when we strive to follow the Lord. We cannot succeed in righteousness on our own. We don’t have to. Open yourselves to God and He will bless you with what you need to be his child. Do it not for a “reward.” Do it out of love for God. Love your neighbor as God loves you.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

We Need to Look Into Our Hearts

Are we living lives that are superficial? Do we have relationships that have depth to them or do we keep everyone at a distance, even those we “communicate” with a lot?

What do I mean by superficial?

When we greet someone we might often ask “How are you?”. Most of the time the answer is something like “ok” or “good”. Do we expect anything more? With most people, probably not. “How are you?” has simply become a polite way of greeting people. It seems to show some concern for the person. How genuine is that concern? Ask yourself two questions.

First, if the person said they were having a bad day, what would you do? Would you want to run away to avoid further conversation? Would you ask what’s going on with a genuine listening ear? Would you offer to pray for them?

Now, the second question is “are there people you want a genuine answer to “how are you doing”? Who in your life do you care about? One may have 250 “friends” on Facebook but do you know who any of them are? How many genuine friends do you have?

Have we hardened our hearts in a superficial world?

How else might we be superficial?

When we are conversing with other people, do we avoid the difficult topics like politics and religion? Now, we are not going to talk politics and religion with everyone. In some settings, it won’t be appropriate. But is there anyone you discuss religion, politics, or another difficult subject with? Or do you avoid any topic that might rock the boat? There are times we should avoid such topics. For instance, the funeral of a loved one is not the time to bring up how someone you see at the funeral has hurt you in the past. It is a time to keep the peace. On the other hand, if we never discuss difficult topics, are we being sincere in our hearts? Remember what Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51, cf. my homily 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C).

Another way we might be superficial is how we look at the news. Assuming we even look at the news, do we merely skim the headlines and think we know enough or do we read the stories with an open heart? Despite my previous articles on the importance of watching the news, I have to admit, I find myself becoming more of a headline skimming. Why? Sometimes it seems like it is always the same old stuff and it is not good news. For example, how many shootings have you heard about in the last week? Yes, the news can be depressing. The fact that bad news depresses us actually shows we care, that we are not just a superficial people. How many times in the gospels do we hear that Jesus was “moved with pity“? We may not want to get involved but maybe that is exactly what God wants us to do.

Now, turning to another way of asking ourselves if we are nothing more than superficial, how do you communicate with others? How many times a day do you text someone? How many times a day do you actually talk face to face with people? Do you prefer to text? Why? Are you avoiding something? Texting can be a good way to communicate if we are not avoiding something and engage in the “conversation.” When you text, are you conversing with one or two people in a group text or are you texting several people in separate conversations at the same time? If the latter, are you really paying attention to anyone? I know some of you reading this don’t do a lot of texting but I hope you still get the point.

I have some friends that I carry on text conversations with. Sometimes it gives me a chance to really think about my response. It can also be convenient when conversing with two people who are not in the same room. Just make sure you engaging in the conversation. Texting can also be a great way to touch base as long as we do more than just touch base at times.

There is nothing like a one on one conversation when we need to feel supported. Sometimes texting is the best we can do in the initial moment because of other things going on. That is understandable.

Do you use lots of abbreviations or emojicons? Some of these can be appropriate and universally understood. However, others can be misunderstood. Does “LOL” mean “laughing out loud” or does it mean “lots of love”? A smiley face or sad face emojicon might be readily understood but there are some that I have no idea what they mean and I don’t care to. It’s not that hard to type “I’m sorry for what is happening to you.”

So, where am I going with this? I have a blog to talk about how we live out our faith, not how we text.

What is your prayer life like? Is it superficial? When you pray are you just reciting prayers you have memorized or are you thinking about the words and what they mean (For an example, see my article “Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment”). This does not mean that every time we recite a prayer that we need to dissect every word. What we need to do is pray from the heart, not the lips. Likewise, when we ask God for help, are we just giving him a list of things to fix or are do we engage with God in a conversation, taking time to listen to what He wants to say to us (see my series of presentations on prayer – Giving Our Hearts to God: What It Means to Pray).

What about our presence at Mass? Are we paying attention? Do we appreciate what is going on? We stand, we kneel, we bow, we genuflect. How many times have you thought about why we do these things. They have meaning (see my series – Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass). It is not simply a matter of external actions. Do we practice what we preach?

There are times of dryness or great turmoil in our lives that reciting memorized prayers or carrying out the external gestures at Mass are the best we have to offer. When that happens, keep doing it. God is paying attention. God is with you. Give it all to God.

Our world may be superficial in many ways. We don’t have to be that way. “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 8:23-9:3
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14 (1a)
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
January 22, 2023

Each Sunday we gather to celebrate Mass.  We begin with the procession followed by the Sign of the Cross, a greeting, Penitential Rite, Gloria, and a prayer.  We end with a blessing before we recess out.   

In between there are two main parts to the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We are in the midst of a three year Eucharistic revival so we have been talking more about the Eucharist.  Some of you have attended my series of presentations on the Eucharist (www.renewaloffaith.org/greatestgift). 

Today I would like to focus on the readings we hear in the Liturgy of the Word.  Of course, the readings we hear at Mass come from the Bible.  The Bible offers us God’s Word.  At the center of the Word are the Gospels as they are Jesus’ own words.  Recognizing the primacy of the gospels, the Book of the Gospels is carried in during the opening procession.

While the gospels containing Jesus’ words and actions have primacy, the Old Testament is not eliminated.  In fact, gospel passages like today’s point us to passages in the Old Testament. Today we hear that Jesus’ move to Capernaum fulfills “what had been said through Isaiah the prophet.”  We hear that passage in our first reading.

The New Testament fulfills the Old and the Old Testament prefigures the New.  To fully understand one, we need the other.  It is all part of God’s Word.  Jesus comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus’ teaching helps us understand what God had taught from the beginning.

John the Baptist fulfills what was said of one who would prepare the way of the Lord in his call to repentance.  Jesus picks up where John the Baptist left off, continuing the call to repent.

Psalm 27 says, “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living.

In this world, we can see God in the things He has created.  Think of a time you have seen the beauty of God in nature.

Perhaps there are moments in your life that you saw God in the way things turned out in a difficult situation.

Of course, we see Jesus in the Eucharist.

God reveals his presence in his Word.  In Isaiah we read, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  God brought light to the Israelites in slavery in Egypt.  God brought light to the Israelites in exile in Babylon.  There are numerous stories of God rescuing his people in the Bible. 

Isaiah tells us that God smashed “the yoke that burdened them.”  They were burdened by their sins because of which they were defeated by their enemies but God would set them free.  God sets us free from our sins by the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. 

We must never forget what God has done for us. 

Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him and they all did immediately.  Hearing of the great things God has done for his people in the Bible, we too answer his call to be his disciples.

A few years ago, Pope Francis declared that this Third Sunday of Ordinary Time always be celebrated as the Sunday of the Word of God to remind us of the importance of God’s Word.

It is a living word.  There are some people who think the Bible is outdated.  I don’t know why they think that.  It is not outdated.  The world is different but God’s Word is a living word.  It is still relevant today.

For instance, there is much division in the world today.  In our second reading today, Paul tells us that God intends for there to be no divisions among us, that we “be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”  It is God’s Will we should be united it.  God does not intend divisions within Christianity but that is what we see.  We must remember that we “belong to Christ.”  It is his will we seek.

We need to see things as God sees them (1 Samuel 16:7).  For instance, some people think a Ouija board is just fun and games.  Some people will visit fortune tellers.  Some people will seek channeling of spirits or to control a “universal life energy” in things like Reiki.  God has something to say about such things.  Where do we find it?  In the Bible of cross! 

In this case, we find it in Deuteronomy 18:10-12a, “Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead.  Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord.”

The Bible is God’s Word.  We need to read it with the guidance of our Church and the Holy Spirit. 

St. Francis De Sales on the Battle Against Temptation

This is the tenth and final article in my series based on my reading of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. Written 400 years ago, it is available in various translations. I am reading the 2015 version published by Ignatius Press (San Francisco) and the Augustine Institute (Greenwood Village, CO) The first article was “What Does It Mean to be Devout?” followed by “Purification in the Devout Life.” The third article was “The Devout Life – Prayer.”. The fourth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Virtues.” The fifth article was “More on the Virtues From St. Francis De Sales.” The sixth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Friendship, Fasting, and Modesty.“ The seventh article was “St. Francis De Sales on How Words Matter.” The eighth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Recreation.“ The ninth article was “St Francis De Sales on Marriage and Widows.”

St. Francis De Sales began his Introduction to the Devout Life with a discussion of purification and confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (see my first two articles in this series – “What Does It Mean to be Devout?” followed by “Purification in the Devout Life). In this final article we reflect on what St. Francis De Sales discusses in Part IV, battling temptation.

In chapter two of part IV, St. Francis De Sales offers an analogy of the bees who start out as “mere grubs” who can’t even fly yet. With time they grow and can fly. He then writes, “Now we are yet but as grubs in devotion, unable to fly at will, and attain the desired aim of Christian perfection; but if we begin to take shape through our desires and resolutions, our wings will gradually grow, and we hope one day to become spiritual bees, able to fly” (161). No matter where we are at in our efforts to live the devout life, temptation is present. How do we face temptation?

First, we must realize that just because we are tempted does not mean we have sinned. St. Francis De Sales speaks of how temptation comes to use in three steps. First, temptation is put before us. Then, is the evaluation of whether we find what the temptation offers “pleasing or displeasing to the soul” (161). Then, in the third step, we make a choice to consent to the temptation or to reject it.

St. Francis De Sales writes, “If we should undergo the temptation to every sin whatsoever during our whole life, that would not damage us in the sight of God’s majesty; provided we took no pleasure in it, and did not consent to it” (162). Temptation only becomes sin when we consent or find pleasure in thinking about the temptation. He continues, “But how long soever the temptation may persist, it cannot harm us so long as it is unwelcome to us” (162). God is pleased when we reject temptation. We don’t have to resist it alone. God will help us. God will give us strength to help us resist temptation. When we seek the devout life, God shows to us a better way than sin. God is referred to as our strength a dozen times in just the Book of Psalms alone. Trust in him.

When does temptation become sin? St. Francis De Sales writes, “When it is possible to avoid the pleasure arising out of temptation, it is always a sin to accept it, in proportion to the pleasure we take, and the amount of consent given” (166). First, I would like to note that he says “when it is possible to avoid…” If we are forced to commit an act of grave matter, it is not a sin because we have not consented (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1857). We must also realize that while we might choose not to engage in the sin temptating us, if we take pleasure in thinking about it “there is always a certain amount of sin, according to the degree to which we have lingered over it, and the kind of pleasure we have taken in it” (St. Francis De Sales, 167). Likewise, we must ask ourselves if we voluntarily exposed ourselves to the temptation. As we pray in an Act of Contrition, we must avoid whatever leads us to sin.

St. Francis De Sales writes, “do not fix your eyes of temptation, especially when it is strong, your courage may be shaken. Divert your mind with any right and healthy occupation, for if that takes possession and fills your thoughts, it will drive away temptation and evil imaginations” (168). When a tempting thought comes into our head, we must not give it too much attention. We need to immediately hand it over to God and direct our thoughts to some good. It is not always easy. When I find myself confronted with temptation, I say the Prayer to St. Michael and one Our Father to ask for strength from God and assistance from St. Michael who, through God’s strength, led the battle that cast out Satan from Heaven (see Revelation 12).

When we think about resisting temptation we might think of big temptations. St. Francis De Sales reminds us, “still there is perhaps more absolute profit to our souls in resisting little ones” (169). Why? Because there are more of them. He continues, “A man or a woman can easily keep from adultery, but it is less easy to abstain from all words and glances that are disloyal. While it is easy to keep from stealing another man’s goods, but often to difficult to resist coveting them…” (169). We must not take pleasure in thinking of tempting thoughts for as Jesus says, “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). I find these words of Jesus difficult. We see and hear things that tempt us. The question for us is to do we allow ourselves to dwell on such thoughts. Hand it over to God.

We must not dwell on tempting thoughts. St. Francis De Sales writes, “do no more than simply remove them, not fighting with them, or arguing, but simply doing that which is precisely contrary to their suggestions, and specially making act of the love of God” (170). When we actually sin, we do well to examine what led us to sin so that we can avoid it in the future. When temptation comes before us, we must not dwell on it. We must not think we can fight it ourselves. Hand it over to God. Too much thinking gives the temptation more time to wear us down.

I don’t know about you but I find myself troubled by what I see in the world, immorality, war, violence…and this makes me anxious. The anxiety keeps me from knowing God’s peace in my heart. In turn this makes it harder to resist temptations. St. Francis De Sales writes, “This unresting anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to the soul, sin only excepted” (172). We cannot ignore what is going on in the world but when we find ourselves troubled by what goes on in the world, we ask for the grace to let go of it, simply asking God to guide us to do our part in the world. It is not the job of any single one of us to save the world. Jesus is the savior of the world, not me. We just need to do our part, allowing the Spirit to lead us (easier said than done). (For more on this see St. Francis De Sales, 174-175).

It can be especially difficult when we find ourselves in a dry time of prayer. We find it difficult to know what God asks of this. St. Francis De Sales writes of this dryness in chapter 14 of part IV (181-184). These are times that we need to rely on our trust in God remembering who He has helped us in the past. When you wonder if God cares, look at a Crucifix.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)

God’s love for us is infinite. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

Remember, “the Evil One seeks to use our troubles to our discouragement, so as turn us back to sensual pleasures, and to make us a weariness to ourselves and others, in order to injure true devotion” (St. Francis De Sales, 187).

This concludes my series reflecting on St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. I hope it has helped you in your efforts to live the devout life. Having just pointed us to Jesus’ love for us on the Cross, I would like to conclude with this slide of a quote from St. Mother Teresa that I concluded Part I of my current series, The Greatest Gift: The Eucharist with.

USCCB,  “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” 
Accessed online 12/10/22 at https://www.usccb.org/resources/mystery-eucharist-life-church-0

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Call to Discipleship

Our Christmas season has ended. We have entered Ordinary Time. There can be a tendency from the term “ordinary” to think of it as a time to lay back and relax. One might think that nothing special is going on. However, with God there is always something special. God is always at work in our lives.

The name “Ordinary Time” simply signifies that it is not one of the four other liturgical seasons; Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter. The word “ordinary” has a root in the Latin word “ordinalis”, which means “numbered.” We number the weeks of Ordinary Time (there are 34 weeks in Ordinary Time).

The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green. Here, one might think of spring when the grass turns green as it begins to grow. The leaves come out in green. As flowers begin to come up from the ground, they are green. Green is a color signifying growth. Ordinary Time may be “ordinary” but it is still a time for spiritual growth.

As we begin Ordinary Time, our readings for this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) speak of God’s call for us to be his servants.

The readings begin with the second suffering servant passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, “The LORD said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” God wants to work through us to reveal himself to the world. God knows what we have been called for as He formed us in our mother’s womb.

Israel had strayed from God’s will. They had sinned. Many were taken away in exile. God is bringing them back from their sin. God will bring us back from our sins if we had them over to him. He will gather back to himself all who have strayed. Jesus comes to bring us back to God.

When John the Baptist sees Jesus walking by, he points his disciples to Jesus as he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John the Baptist does not identify Jesus by his name “Jesus”, or as king or the Messiah. John came to call people to repentance of their sins. Thus, John identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God” who comes to take away our sins.

As a humble and faithful servant, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the one who ranks ahead of him. John claims no special knowledge of Jesus. In fact, he says, “I did not know him.” He knows Jesus is the one because he saw “the Spirit come down like a dove and remain upon him.

John the Baptist may have no special knowledge of God but God still calls him to be his servant. God calls all of us to be his servants. There are many ways to serve the Lord. The question is what is God’s will for us. When we seek to do the Lord’s will for us, we find delight. God delights not in us offering sacrifices like those offered in the Old Testament. God delights in our obedience to him. Our obedience is not simply doing what God says. Our obedience is giving our lives to God in love. Do we do not do things for others because we love them? All the more, we do the same for God.

God delights when we seek him above all things.

John the Baptist came to make Jesus “known to Israel.” Paul was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” God brings us to his glory when we seek to do his will. God is the source of our strength. God has great plans for us (see Jeremiah 29:11).

God’s will is what is good for us. God does not demand things of us for his gain. What could God can from us for himself? God is the source of all things. God’s will for us is what is good for us. Thus, to do God’s will brings us delight. When we seek to do God’s will, He makes us a light to the nations.

Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Video – Part I of New Series “The Greatest Gift: The Eucharist”

I began my new series, The Greatest Gift: The Eucharist, yesterday with Part I. I just uploaded the video recording of the webinar and the slides to my website at http://www.renewaloffaith.org/greatestgiftpart1 .

If you view the video in the next few days, you can complete an online evaluation at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfBdo2DRPfJxB0rzVtc113Gd7FM143oO9Lw5ibnO4Mmtaq1_g/viewform?usp=sf_link

You can register for the webinar for Part II on February 9th at 6:30 pm at https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2GG7FoSMSPKGwsQfYuIfHA

If you have not seen my Christmas homily where I discuss the Eucharist as the Greatest Gift, you can view the video at www.renewaloffaith.org/greatestgift . You will need to scroll down the screen a little ways. You can view the text at http://blog.renewaloffaith.org/blog/?p=8774 .

I encourage you to share this with anyone you think would enjoy watching the video.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

St. Francis De Sales on Marriage and Widows

This is the ninth article in my series based on my reading of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. Written 400 years ago, it is available in various translations. I am reading the 2015 version published by Ignatius Press (San Francisco) and the Augustine Institute (Greenwood Village, CO) The first article was “What Does It Mean to be Devout?” followed by “Purification in the Devout Life.” The third article was “The Devout Life – Prayer.”. The fourth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Virtues.” The fifth article was “More on the Virtues From St. Francis De Sales.” The sixth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Friendship, Fasting, and Modesty. The seventh article was “St. Francis De Sales on How Words Matter.” The eighth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Recreation.

Today we come to chapters 38-41 where St. Francis De Sales discusses marriage and widows. He presents three effects of marriage . He writes, “The first effect of this love is the indissoluble union of your hearts. If you glue together two pieces of wood, provided that the glue be strong, their union will be so close that the stick will break more easily in any other part than where it is joined” (147, my emphasis). For many today the indissolubility of marriage is forgotten or ignored. When they are no longer “interested” in the relationship, it is over. Some people never get married. Where is the commitment? As to the glue that can hold man and woman together in marriage, we find in the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage). When a man and woman choose to make their marriage vows before God, God bestows the needed grace upon them. It does not mean the marriage will be easy. It does mean that God is with them.

St. Francis De Sales continues, “The second effect of this love should be an inviolable fidelity to one another. In olden times finger rings were customarily graven as seals” (148). He goes on to speak of the exchange of rings as a sign of the commitment they have made. Today the rings can be a sign to the couple of their commitment to one another. The rings can also be a sign to others of the couple’s commitment. Thus, the rings are not just a novelty. They are a sign of the couple’s covenant. The world needs signs of covenant and commitment. The world needs signs of “inviolable fidelity to one another.” Marriage is not something one ends when it is no longer appealing. It involves commitment. The couple may struggle in their relationship but, with God’s grace, they do not give up. In this way, the couple’s covenant of marriage serves as a sign of God’s covenant with us. We struggle to uphold our part but God does not give up on us. (Here is a good place to remind readers that what I write is not simply what St. Francis De Sales wrote. My writing begins with what St. Francis De Sales writes but adds to it. Neither does it include everything he says. If you want the latter, you can read the book in its entirety.)

Returning to St. Francis De Sales own words, he writes, “The third end of marriage is the birth and bringing up of children” (148). Catholics traditionally had large families. Genesis 1:28 says, “be fruitful and multiply.” This was taken to say a couple should have as many children as able. Today, a couple entering into the Sacrament of Marriage is called to be open to the birth and upbringing of children, God willing. However, they are not expected to have as many children as possible. Paragraph 2367 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and following speaking of the openness to children but with reasonable spacing of the children. One must also consider the means by wish the couple does so. The Church prohibits artificial means. Rather, the couple is to do so in “natural family planning”, making use of the natural fertility cycles of the woman. (Natural Family Planning is an extensive topic and beyond the scope of this article – for on Natural Family Planning see https://www.usccb.org/topics/natural-family-planning/natural-family-planning.

Properly understood, the parents are not simply called to give birth to children. They are called to be active in the upbringing of their children. St. Francis De Sales writes, “And when children begin to use their reason, fathers and mothers should take great pains to fill their hearts with the fear of God. This the good Queen Blanche did most earnestly by Saint Louis, her son: witness her oft-repeated words, “My son, I would sooner see you die than guilty of a mortal sin”” (150). Paragraph 2223 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that parents have the responsibility for the education of their children (cf. my article “Helping Our Children be Disciples”). The Church has a vital role to play in educating child in the faith but it starts with the parents.

St. Francis De Sales goes on to say, “Saint Paul assigns the charge of the household to the woman; and consequently some hold that the devotion of the family depends more upon the wife than the husband, who is more frequently absent, and has less influence in the house. Certainly King Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, refers all prosperity to the care and industry of that virtuous woman he describes” (151, cf. Proverbs 31). One must be quite surprised to hear St. Francis De Sales say that St. Paul gives charge of the household to the woman. That’s because we think of what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” First, please read the whole passage (Ephesians 5:21-30). Next, please take a look at 1 Timothy 5:14 where Paul identifies the woman as the manger of the home. As to the father’s role, this does not mean that he has no responsibility. In fact, surveys today indicate that one of the most important factor in determining if a child will keep going to church is if the father goes. The father must set an example.

St. Francis De Sales also points to 1 Corinthians 7:14 where Paul speaks of marriage between a Catholic and an unbeliever. Today such couples often may simply ignore the difference in faith. Sadly, some will cease to practice their faith to not be in conflict over the difference of faith. Paul sees it as an opportunity for the Catholic spouse to lead their unbelieving spouse to holiness.

Before discussing widows, St. Francis De Sales speaks of how a wedding couple celebrates their wedding anniversary. He encourages the couple to include in their anniversary, confession and Communion, as well as inviting God once again into their marriage. God doesn’t just want to be part of the wedding day. God wants to be part of the marriage every day.

Now, a brief word on what St. Francis De Sales says about widows before I conclude today. He points us to 1 Timothy 5 where Paul provides rules for widows. In general terms a widow is a woman whose husband has died. Paul uses the term “widow” in a more technical sense. From this, in turn, St. Francis De Sales speaks of a vocation of widowhood. It isn’t just the woman whose husband has died. It is a woman who has already raised children. With the children beginning their own families, the “widow” dedicates herself to a life of chastity and prayer. She does not simply expect others to provide for her needs while she sits idle. She gives her life to God in chastity and prayer (see St. Francis De Sales, 153-156). Younger widows are to care for their children and remarry when appropriate.

This concludes my writing for today. I hope it has been thought provoking for you. Soon I will write one or two more articles to conclude this series inspired by my reading of the Introduction to the Devout Life.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff