Having a Field Day, 2020

A few years ago I decided to study for my amateur radio license. My brother has always been active in amateur (or Ham) radio, but it wasn’t until I moved to Pittsburgh at Warwick House that I got seriously interested in the hobby. I passed my initial test, and was licensed to speak on local frequencies, but I wanted to get to a higher level of expertise, and be able to speak with people from farther away, even in other countries. This increase of access to the radio bands meant that I had to pass another testing level. So I took the “General” test (which was very difficult for me, not being an electrical engineer), and I passed it. The ability to speak with people from far away became even more attractive, but I still needed to have the proper radio equipment and antenna (rig) to make it all work. My brother had donated an old radio to our house, but it wasn’t currently set up for use.

Strangely enough, the Corona Virus gave us an opportunity to set up our station. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic many youth activities (like summer camps) were canceled this summer, but that made it possible to participate in Amateur Radio “Field Day”, on June 27-28, 2020. This is a yearly event that encourages Ham radio operators to set up provisional radio stations “in the field” as though in emergency situations. We set up our outdoor station in a few days, and then had a great time making contacts and listening to other radio operators in the USA and beyond. Some families from the area also stopped by the station to visit, or to chat on the radio with the other friendly operators participating in Field Day. All in all, it was a great experience, and a reminder that The Lord has called us to be communicators of the truth as well as good listeners in today’s interconnected world. For more information on amateur radio, please checkout these videos (Introduction to Amateur Radio). Blessings to you, and 73 (radio code for “best wishes”).

Presentation and Our Vocation

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When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.  Luke 2:39-40

As we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Lord—an ancient feast in the Church, and the one that traditionally marked the close of the Christmas season—we are presented with the good example of the Holy Family. As is the case in all the gospel stories, we learn from the Lord Jesus and all those associated closely with Him (like Holy Mary and St. Joseph). At the end of the Presentation we witness the Holy Family carrying out the “prescriptions of the law of the Lord” in a timely fashion. They have carried out the plans of God regarding the birth of Jesus one step at a time, without hurry, and without delay: The Annunciation; the visitation to Elizabeth; the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; the Epiphany; and now the Presentation in the Temple. Each of these events had their proper moment in the history of salvation, and each is carried out at that proper moment.

The Presentation of the Lord is therefore a good occasion for each of us to consider our own vocation. The Lord has chosen us to carry out specific purposes throughout our lives. Sometimes we can think that our vocation is a kind of “one shot deal”: we receive it, and we just live it out. I like to think of our vocation as a kind of journey, made up of many different stages and moments in which God is asking us to be generous, and to simply carry out the duties of each moment. In fact, our lives comprise a collection of demands and duties, which, when carried out with love, become, in the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, a kind of tapestry we will contemplate forever in Heaven. Until then, let’s fulfill those duties of each moment!

 

Good Friday: “It is finished”

1-the-crucifixion-eric-armusikJesus has received the last thing the earth has to offer him, a dirty sponge soaked with cheap wine, to quench in some way, the painful thirst that he experiences. This wine, of course, isn’t sufficient to satisfy his thirst, but it does allow for an important occasion of closure for Our Lord. He can now leave this world, having lived in it for over 30 years, and now he completes the mission he has been sent to accomplish: the salvation of the human race. “It is finished.” The earthly mission of Jesus is finished. He has carried out the divine plans of God the Father. For our sake and our salvation he has come down from Heaven, and he now offers himself completely to the will of his loving Father.

It is surprising how simply Jesus has marked this moment of completion, with a taste of wine and a few words from his suffering lips. It is a great example for us all. We need to realize that God has called us to a specific mission in the life of the Church; one that only you and I can carry out. In fact, our whole purpose of life is to discover God’s plan for us, and do it! Sometimes we might be anxious about our God-given mission. We might think: we are not strong enough to carry it out; we don’t have enough resources, or talents, or help to do it. Maybe our weaknesses and sinfulness lead us to other ways of discouragement. All of these worries are basically false. We have to be convinced that God—by his divine nature—cannot make mistakes. If God has called us to a task we can be sure that—with God’s help—we can do it! We have to hear the words of St. Paul, “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus will see our good works to completion. From the Cross he sees us and our struggles, and offers us the strength to persevere. Let us put ourselves in the presence of God; let us simply offer one action after another for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.

The saints teach us with their lives that perseverance is essential. It is a special grace to pray for, and a gift to be grateful for. Jesus will grant us this gift of perseverance, through the many gifts of “graces of the moment” which lead us to discover and carry out the will of God at each opportunity of the day. Let us see that to receive this “wine of the moment” is an entry into the holiness of that occasion. Let us cast aside our fears of following Our Lord closely, thinking that we “don’t know where to begin”. We simply need to begin where we are—right where we are; we put ourselves in the presence of God and offer up the task at hand. This is the key to perseverance: to begin with calmness, and carry things out with peace, one step at a time, finishing everything with love. The Holy Triduum this year is an opportunity to persevere in our lives of faith. Good Friday is a good day for us to complete our Lenten prayers and practices. And, as you may know, today is a great day to get to the sacrament of reconciliation. Let us complete well this most holy time of the year; let us call out with Jesus today, “It is finished.”

Jesus, the Good Gardener

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear Jesus calling us to repentance from our sins. This is a universal call, to all men and women of his time and ours. Without doubt, Jesus’ preaching sometimes can be hard for us to hear: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:3). And during this time of Lent we are made more aware of our sins and defects. But we should never become discouraged, even when we realize how sinful we are. Jesus is, we might say, the Good Gardener, who looks after our growth with patience and attentive care. As we heard in the Gospel, when the owner of the garden did not find fruit on the fig tree, the Good Gardener made this appeal: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down” (Luke 13:8).

May we always be filled with hope during this season of Lent—this holy time of conversion and preparation for the Resurrection of the Lord. Our Lord cares for our changes of heart with his grace, and guides us through authentic repentance and spiritual growth. Let us trust in his cultivating guidance now and always. 

True Confessions: a short history of the sacrament of reconciliation in the Church

absolution2On the evening of March 13, I gave a brief presentation on the sacrament of confession to young adults of the Akron, Ohio, Theology on Tap group. We looked at how the Catholic Church has practiced the sacrament of reconciliation since the earliest days of its history. While the early Church focused on the reconciling sinners in a more public way (ie, through public penance) yet personal confession was also practiced. In the Middle Ages, and in a big way, through the monastic communities, the practice of personal confession to a priest became the norm, and is the current practice today. May we all approach God’s divine mercy during this time of Lent, and help one another get to the sacrament of confession as a proper preparation for Easter. Here is the PDF version of the collection of notes used in my  presentation: TrueConfessionNotes

Leaving fear behind

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Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10-11)

The miracle of the great catch of fish occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It is the first recorded episode of the friendship between Simon-Peter and the Lord, and it is moving each time it is read. At Jesus’ command Peter casts his nets into the deep, and catches an immense number of fish, so many that the nets rip, and the boats begin to sink. Peter then expresses his desire that Jesus go away from him because “I am a sinful man,” and he falls on his knees to emphasize this. Jesus, however, interprets Simon-Peter’s intentions and thoughts more correctly: he is afraid. Of what? Of the future, now that Jesus has entered into his life? Of the possible new responsibilities that are going to be placed on him? Of putting his trust completely in someone else? We don’t know exactly what Peter fears, but we can empathize with him. When we are confronted with God’s power in our lives, we too can become afraid.

Jesus’ encouraging “Do not be afraid” is exactly the next command that Simon-Peter (and we) need to hear at that moment. Jesus is with us, and the responsibilities we take on as a result of discipleship will not be assumed solely by ourselves, but with the help of the Lord. We need, however, to hear this divine encouragement in our prayer. We sift our fears and doubts through our conversations with Jesus. Like the Apostles, our response will be in the form of practical resolutions. As “they left everything and followed him,” so we make a determined response to follow the Lord in our daily lives. While we perhaps cannot leave everything behind like they did, we can at least begin by leaving behind our fears!

The Pressing Crowd

jesus-sower-e-long-rtJesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” He warned them sternly not to make him known. (Mark 3: 7-12)

In the Gospel we see the Lord “needing to get away” from the all the people coming around him, trying to touch him. Of course, this is because Jesus had healed so many, and his fame had spread far and wide. Jesus opts for a boat to provide a place of refuge so that he is not crushed. Of course, being true God, Jesus could escape injury from the crowd through divine intervention (he had done this on another occasion) but because he is also true man, Jesus calls for the boat that will carry him and the Apostles to safety. Nonetheless, I like to think that Jesus invites, and perhaps even enjoys, the pressing of the crowds upon him. After all, that is why Our Lord came to the earth, to “…draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).

Because we are all called to be faithful disciples, we need to consider how effective we are at getting people closer to Jesus. Is Jesus’ fame extended farther and wider because of our witness?  Recently in Mass, at the moment of distributing Holy Communion, I thought of the crowds pressing upon Jesus. May our sacramental life, especially our Eucharistic life, be a starting place where we begin to invite everyone to personally encounter the Lord!

Come, Lord Jesus. Advent Aspirations

Guest contributor, Rev. Rene Schatteman, offers a series of aspiration prayers for the season of Advent. The whole series can be used, one each day leading up to Christmas Eve. 

  1. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our souls with your grace.
  2. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with your love.
  3. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our minds with your light.
  4. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our limbs with your strength.
  5. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our world with your peace.
  6. Come, Lord Jesus, give us the capacity to prepare well for your coming at Christmas.
  7. Come, Lord Jesus, give us the grace to serve you faithfully each moment of each day.
  8. Come, Lord Jesus, teach us to love Mary, your mother and our mother.
  9. Come, Lord Jesus, teach us to love St. Joseph, the man you chose to be your father.
  10. Come, Lord Jesus, show us how to sanctify our daily work.
  11. Come, Lord Jesus, show us how to delight in serving others.
  12. Come, Lord Jesus, help us to spend our energies joyfully in serving our family.
  13. Come, Lord Jesus, lead us to appreciate the joy to be found in doing all to please our Father God.
  14. Come, Lord Jesus, inspire us to follow you in making a gift of our life to others.
  15. Come, Lord Jesus, help us to be thankful for the example you have given us.
  16. Come, Lord Jesus, open our hearts to the flood of your graces.
  17. Come, Lord Jesus, O Wisdom from on high, and govern all creation with your strong and tender care.
  18. Come, Lord Jesus, O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
  19. Come, Lord Jesus, O Flower of Jesse’s stem, rule over all nations and all peoples.
  20. Come, Lord Jesus, O Key of David, open the gate of heaven and lead us on the way to eternal life.
  21. Come, Lord Jesus, O Radiant Dawn, bring light to those who dwell in darkness and doubt.
  22. Come, Lord Jesus, O King of all the nations, and bring joy and peace to every heart.
  23. Come, Lord Jesus, O Emmanuel, King, Lawgiver and Judge, make your kingdom a reality.

The struggle against selfishness

child1Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37)

Jesus is always for us the model in all things. He calls us to a complete transformation of heart, mind and body, so that we live only to carry out the will of God in our lives. This is our vocation: to be so identified with Jesus that we live not for ourselves but for God and for those around us. For Jesus, this means, of course, that he will be mistreated, suffer and die for us, so that he will rise again from the dead, and lead us into everlasting life. His disciples “did not understand the saying and were afraid to question him” about it. Perhaps this was because they knew that this plan would involve them in the sufferings he is talking about. We, too, have a hard time understanding the sufferings of Christ, as we know that we have to follow the Master. None of us enjoys suffering! In any case, his Apostles try to change the subject, away from suffering, and onto themselves (who of them was “the greatest”). Isn’t it true that when we try to avoid the sufferings of Christ we also are led to a kind of resting on ourselves, our comfort, our preferences or advantages? It’s hard for us to be abandoned into the divine plans of the Lord in such a way that we forget about ourselves, and yet we—like the Apostles—know that this forgetfulness of self, this self-denial, is what Christianity is all about.

Thankfully, Jesus clearly spells out the proper attitude the Apostles should have: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. Once again in the teaching of Jesus we see the essential importance of humility. Strive to be the last of all, and the servant of all. To focus on the needs of the simple humble people in need around us, in this passage symbolized by care of children, is to know and love Christ himself. It is a constant struggle for us “to get out of ourselves” and to be generous with the others around us. Self-love and selfishness lead to so many problems for us, for the Church, for the world. Of course, this has been the constant struggle for the moment of Original Sin, and it is repeated in our own lives as we strive to overcome the tendency to selfishness. But with the grace of God, and the faith and the hope, and the love that come with that grace, we can begin again. And isn’t that exactly what Our Lord is teaching his Apostles (and us) here? You can begin again. You have been selfish and self-oriented, you have wondered whether you are the greatest, but you can have a new start in humbly reaching out to the others in need around you. Begin here, begin now. May the grace of the Lord always be near and within us so that we can begin again in our struggle against our selfishness, and lead us into the mission of generous service to God and neighbor. Amen.

The Miracle of Friendship

 

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The following is an excerpt from a recent homily at a Mass in honor of St. Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei. The homily followed the Gospel passage about the miraculous catch of fish as read in Luke, chapter 5: 

1. While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5. And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6. And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7. they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10. and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Isn’t it amazing that in the midst of all the dramatic happenings of this Gospel scene—the crowd pressing on Jesus, the teaching of the crowds from the boat, and of course, the miraculous catch of fish—Jesus and Peter maintain a personal conversation. In the midst of the noise and confusion, a dialogue persists. As Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master we have worked hard all night, and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets…” In fact, it seems that by the end of the scene of the miraculous catch of fish, a kind of secondary miracle is confirmed: the friendship between Peter and Jesus. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Conversation, confidence, friendship.
Now, this particular Gospel story was one of St. Josemaria’s favorites, and thus is proclaimed at this Mass in his honor. Exactly why it was one of his favorites I am not sure, but it was one of the passages he had memorized so that it could be recalled for his personal prayer or—as was the case during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s—he could celebrate Mass without a missal or book of readings (they were illegal during the religious persecution at that time). In any case, the story of the miraculous catch of fish continues to inspire us in our day and time. We marvel at the command of the Lord to let down the nets in the deep water, totally “against the odds” of actually catching anything, and we marvel even more at the actual catch of Peter and the rest of the Zebedee Fishing Company. Jesus’ prophesy that “…from now on you will be catching men is spoken, not only to Peter, but to each and every one of us: with the Lord Jesus we will gather men and women from all corners of the world to love and serve the Lord. And we are moved by the generous response of the Andrew and Peter, James and John: “They left everything and followed him.”
All of these elements of the story of the miraculous catch of fish can be imitated in our lives and in our time, and in our own style. As St. Josemaria used to say, “old as the Gospel, and like the Gospel new…” With the grace of God, we want to be included in this scene, and apply it to our own situation in life. Not many (any) of us are professional fishermen or women, but all of us want to be the instruments of God that we are called to be. We want to be quick to leave all things and follow Him. Say to him today, “I know that I am a sinful person, and I know that I have a long way to go in order to be a saint, but—with your grace—I want to be a saint; and with your grace, I will be a saint!
But it all begins with having a heart-felt relationship with The Master. This cannot be replaced by anything else: not technology; not education; not success; not popularity; not anything. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much we know, but how much we love, what, who, and how we love. Coming back to the initial point of the dialogue between Peter and the Lord; we have to become aware that personal prayer—with the time and concentration necessary to make it happen—is an indispensable requirement for bringing about a true relationship with the Lord Jesus. And Peter’s conversation with Jesus leads us to desire a personal conversation of our own with Jesus. We want to have that same closeness with him that is our joyful right and duty. Ask Jesus now to challenge you in your life to follow him more closely, and to perhaps even hear the words of command that seem impossible in your life, in your workplace, in your family: “put out into the deep water!”
This is the kind of relationship and constant conversation St. Josemaria had with Jesus throughout his life. In fact, above all, St. Josemaria was a contemplative, with a contemplation that was a fruit of his friendship with Jesus. This is the kind of contemplation you and I want to imitate in our own lives. From the time he was a boy and young adult, St. Josemaria spoke with God, he listened to God, he simply enjoyed and sought to be in the presence of God. This is our great desire as well: to be contemplatives in the middle of the world, sanctifying our ordinary lives. From our contemplative life in Ohio—or wherever you might be—we will catch men and women for the Lord and His Kingdom. Let us ask Holy Mary—Queen of All Saints and our Mother—to intercede with us so that we may be the saints God has called us to be. May our friendship with Jesus be our hope, and may it lead us along the ways of holiness in this World. Amen.