Stations of the Cross

“A man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Mk 10:17).

Jesus answered this burning question, which arises in the innermost core of our being, by walking the way of the Cross.

We contemplate you, Lord, along this path which you were the first to tread, and after which “you built a bridge to death with your Cross, so that men might pass from the land of death to the land of Life” (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Homily).

The call to follow you is addressed to all, especially to the young and to those who are tried by division, wars or injustice and who fight to be signs of hope and builders of peace in the midst of their brethren.

We therefore place ourselves before you with love, we present our sufferings to you, we turn our gaze and our heart to your Holy Cross, and strengthened by your promise, we pray: “Blessed be our Redeemer, who has given us life by his death. O Redeemer, realize in us the mystery of your redemption, through your passion, death and resurrection” (Maronite Liturgy).

Over the next two weeks, we will be sharing with you the 14 Stations of the Cross, remembering the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The text comes from Stations of the Cross, Led by Holy Father Pope Francis in 2013. The meditations were written by Lebanese young people under the guidance of His Eminent Beatitude Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï.

The photos of statues and paintings depicting the Lord’s Passion are from two unique places. The paintings and the crucifix shown above can be found in the church at St. Stephen’s Mission on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The statues can be seen in San Luis, Colorado. Both of these places are worthy pilgrimage destinations.

Next: Station one – Jesus is Condemned to Death

Politics

I was making coffee before saying my prayers this morning, browsing the news on my phone while I waited for the grounds to finish steeping.  Knowing better and in spite of myself, I read some of the coverage about the presidential debate from last night. 

At one time in my life I was deeply involved in state politics.  I even considered a run at a statewide office, but thought better of it because of the cost in time and money, and the cost of taking my family into that messy arena.  Since then, I have become outwardly apolitical.  If you want to engage in a political discussion with me, sorry, but it won’t happen.

Politics has always been a rough and tumble sport.  There are many, many examples of anger, name-calling, vendettas, and personal attacks, both figuratively and literally.

I know about recency bias, and this may well be an example of that phenomenon. But politics today seems just so … ugly.  No longer do we just disagree, sometimes passionately, on policy.  Now we attack, going after people on a personal basis.  Then we refuse to even associate with those who would dare believe differently than us. 

This is not my discovery.  Much has been written on the ugliness of politics today, but to see it in play in a “debate” between individuals who want to be the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, was disturbing.

In the Office of Readings, we are reading from the Book of Proverbs.  Today’s selection seems like a perfect response to the cruel and petty nature of politics today.  Solomon tells us

It is the lips of the liar that conceal hostility;

but he who spreads accusations is a fool. 

Where words are many, sin is not wanting;

but he who restrains his lips does well. 

Like choice silver is the just man’s tongue;

the heart of the wicked is of little worth. 

The just man’s lips nourish many,

but fools die for want of sense.  (Prov 10: 18-21)

The second reading, from the Explanations of the Psalms by Saint Ambrose, gives us direction on how we are to oppose the foolish ways of these politicians.  Saint Ambrose tells us:

It is also written: Open your lips, and let God’s word be heard. God’s word is uttered by those who repeat Christ’s teaching and meditate on his sayings. Let us always speak this word. When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.

As disciples of Jesus, stewards of his many gifts, let’s speak of Christ rather than getting lost seeking the false, transitory power in politics.

Let’s Take a Minute to Pray

In early January I received an email from the Director of Development for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. He was inviting diocesan development and stewardship directors from across the country to come to his archdiocese and talk about the challenges facing us in our ministry

OKC in February is not a tourist destination. The weather there was not much different than it was in Evansville at the time. Cold, rainy, dreary. But the light was shining bright for this trip and this meeting.

I arrived at Will Rogers World Airport at midnight, departing the plane to catch an Uber ride to the Catholic Pastoral Center. Joshua was my driver, and the experience I had with him for the next 25 minutes was, well, to call it special would be a serious understatement. I will write about him in the near future.

We came together for Mass at 11:30 A.M. on a Monday, which is a proper way to start a meeting. At the Consecration, when the priest was elevating the Body of Jesus, it was like a beam of love and light emanating from the Lord entered my heart. I felt a physical push against my chest, as though someone was putting his hand on me. That singular moment of incredible grace set the stage for the next 24 hours.

During that time we pretty much cloistered ourselves in a meeting room on the lower level of the Catholic Pastoral Center. Our discussions were centered around how we could best serve the Lord in our common ministry.

This is a group of 17 professionals who are dynamic, incredibly bright, fearless people. Every one of them is completely committed to serving the Lord through our bishops as the successors to the Apostles. The energy in the meeting room was positive, honest, and intense.

We all got along famously and shared our knowledge with each other. There were men and women of different ages, experience levels, geographic regions, and ethnicities. But, echoing the words of St. Paul, we were one body made up of many parts.

The second morning saw no let-up in either energy or enthusiasm. In fact, both seemed to increase. At one point, it seemed as though everyone was talking at the same time, with great conviction, creating a cacophony of unintelligible noise. That was when Deacon Pierce Murphy of the Archdiocese of Seattle raised his hand and said “Let’s take a minute to pray. First, let’s be quiet for a moment. Then we will ask our Mother to pray for us as we offer Her a ‘Hail Mary.’”

There was an immediate silence, and the intensity left the space.
Back on the same track after praying, we finished up our work and came to agreement on our matters and headed off to Mass again, which is the proper way to end a meeting.

In fewer than 36 hours, I experienced – directly, overtly, and physically – the presence of the Lord in my time in Oklahoma City: My Uber trip with Joshua; the elevated body of Jesus coming into my heart; and the calming prayer to reduce our energy and help us focus, again, on our mission.

I am grateful, humbled, and honored to be a part of this group. We can overcome many of the challenges our Church faces as we act in concert, always looking to serve the Lord.

Memorial to St. Scholastica

From the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
(Lib. 2, 33: PL 66, 194-196)

She who loved more could do more

Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”

When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”

Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.

Photos from the monasteries of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, Subiaco, Italy.

they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.
Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven

What do I want to do With My Life?

Today, January 24, is the memorial to St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. 

It was in praying the Office of Readings today that I was made aware of his book, Introduction to the Devout Life.  In this section of the book was the answer to the question, “What should I do with my life?”

Well, not really the answer, but some very good direction for us as Christian stewards, disciples of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual direction, specifically.  The whole book is about spiritual direction, and it is the compilation of St. Francis’ working with an individual who was seeking to live a devout life and sought our saint’s assistance in attaining that desire. 

He begins his work with an introduction where he says “DEAR reader, I request you to read this Preface for your own satisfaction as well as mine.”  Now I don’t know about you, but there are many times I skip the introduction of a book, telling myself that I need to get to the heart of the matter.  Yet this time I felt compelled to read the preface, especially after that first sentence.

His preface, a beautiful treatise on its own, goes on to describe the encounter he had with an individual who requested spiritual direction from him.  He calls this person “A certain soul, abounding in uprightness and virtue, … aspir(ing) a more earnestly … devout life.”  What follows is his advice to her, “…written records thereof, to which she might have recourse when necessary.”  Thus do we have those instructions available to ourselves.

He doesn’t tell us the name of the person to whom he is giving this direction, but that “I have addressed my instructions to Philothea …. meaning one who loves God.”  Meaning all of us who love God.  He uses that name throughout the book.  When we realize that name means all of us, it is as though we are sitting across from St. Francis de Sales himself, giving us spiritual direction.

I found it fascinating that he addressed the fact that, as a bishop, people said he should not be spending his time doing some so lowly as providing spiritual direction to an individual.  He dispenses with that particular notion by invoking the names of Sts. Paul, Petronilla, and Mark as providing spiritual direction for individuals, so why not him.

Finally, St. Francis tells us that he is not a devout man himself, but wishes to become one, which is why he is teaching his student.  He writes “A notable literary man has said that a good way to learn is to study, a better to listen, and the best to teach. And S. Augustine, writing to the devout Flora, says, that giving is a claim to receive, and teaching a way to learn.”

Now how about that claim I made regarding what we are called to do?

We are all called to “… love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (MT 22:37)  St. Francis tells us that we can do this no matter our vocation, and we can do this in accord with our calling.  “A different exercise of devotion is required of each—the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.”

Our vocations should always be God centered.  Our LIVES should be God centered.  In spite of our rationalization to compartmentalize our lives – “This is God’s, this is mine.”  – St. Francis tells us that “It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth.”   

Don’t leave God at the office door. You may not be able to celebrate Mass in the office, but if we live our lives as stewards – disciples – of Jesus Christ, then God is with us regardless of what it says in the policies and procedures manual.

The Church is incredibly, immeasurably rich in the treasury of the writings of the saints.  Introduction to the Devout Life is a jewel in that treasury.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us.

The Right Tithe

This originally appeared in The Message, the Diocese of Evansville’s weekly newspaper

With the New Year comes decisions about how we are going to share the gifts God has given us.

Here’s a question that gets asked a lot: “How much do we tithe?”  Then it’s followed up with “Is that gross or net income?”

Whenever I hear this, I get indigestion.  We have just turned showing gratitude to God, who gives us everything, into an accounting exercise.

Seriously – tell me that question, “gross or net,” has never crossed your mind. 

Let’s look in on a Catholic family working on their budget.

“Ok, here is my salary.  Here is my wife’s salary.  Ten percent of that is … Wow, that’s a lot.  We can’t give that much.  Oh, I forgot to deduct taxes.  No, that’s still too much.  We have to leave out our 401k contributions.  We should also leave out our employer matches, because they’re not really part of our salaries.  Insurance, mortgage, child care, groceries, and recreation.  We can’t forget recreation.  I know that’s required in the Bible somewhere. 

That brings it to ….  Now that’s a number I can live with.  (Yelling into the next room) Honey, I’m going to make a $10 donation to St. Michael’s this year.”

Maybe that’s a little dramatic.  But then again, maybe not.  Is our tithing calculation reflective of figuring out our adjusted gross income from the bottom of page one on our Form 1040? 

Maybe the numbers are different, but the process is the same.  We are figuring out what is the least we can pay without getting in trouble.

Ten percent is a number that regularly gets thrown into the mix.  That amount is just to give you some direction.  For a more definitive answer, check the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2043.  “…the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”

The decision as to how much you give for the “material support of the Church” is between you and God.  People use ten percent because it’s convenient, and there is widespread belief that is the amount called for in the Bible.  However, there is much argument about that, and you just read what the Church teaches.

When we turn our stewardship into a task, a box to be checked on our list of things to do, we might as well not do it. 

There have been times when I have received an invitation to a graduation or a wedding of the child of an acquaintance / friend whom I haven’t seen for a while.  I don’t know the person real well, and I know the child even less.  Yet I feel obligated to acknowledge the event with a gift.

There is no love there.  I do this because it feels like I have to.  I search for the least expensive item that satisfies my obligation, then grudgingly wrap it up and send it off.

Why do I even bother?

Is that how we treat our Lord? 

How much do we tithe?  The real question should be “How much do I keep FROM God?” Quickly followed by “And why would I do that?”

As always, thanks for reading.  I would love to hear from you.  Write to me at mpotter@evdio.org.

Left Overs

Christ in the Desert is a Benedictine monastery outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico. Calling its location remote is an understatement.  After reaching Abiquiu, you still have another 13 miles of dirt road to navigate before you arrive at the monastery.  Their website advises that the road can become impassable if there is rain, snow, ice, or thawing conditions.  They also advise a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to make the trip, and warn that there is little cell service and no expectation of help should you get stranded.

Benedictines study the Rule of St. Benedict daily.  The rule is divided in such a way that each day a portion of it is read, and over the course of the year the entire Rule is read three times. Recently we read from verses 45-50 of the Prologue. The very last sentence in the Prologue, verse 50, reads like this: 

Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen.

After each section, Christ in the Desert Abbot Phillip Lawrence has written a commentary. Here is what he said about this passage that caught my stewardship eye:

We take back in little ways the fullness of life we have promised, and end up giving God what is left over. It is not that any of us chooses against God in big ways, only that we are on the way of perfection, not having reached it at this point. We ought to look into our personal lives and ask ourselves what are the things that we are not yet willing to give up. We need to offer them to God. Even though we cannot yet give them up, we can ask for the grace to give them up.

There is a lot packed into those five sentences.  Even though most of us are not monks committed to a communal life that forbids private ownership of things, we can still gain much insight by asking ourselves two things that arise from Abbot Phillip’s writing:

  1. Do we only give God the leftovers?
  2. What are we not willing to give to God?

These are much harder to answer than we might think.  Our first reaction might be to pooh-pooh the question altogether, as in “I only give God the good stuff.”  But let’s take a little deeper look.

Have you ever been asked to help out at your parish, your kids’ school, or some other place that depends on volunteers for much of its labor?  Is your answer “Sure!” Or is it “Well, I can give you 45 minutes every other month, as long as football, basketball, and baseball don’t conflict.”

Have you ever been asked to bring canned goods to give to a food drive?  Do you send along the salmon, or the can of creamed corn from way in back of the pantry with a sketchy expiration date?

Ever have the basket come to you at Mass and you look in your wallet past the twenties for that $1 bill?

We take back in little ways the fullness of life we have promised.

We see this all the time, where we either say “yes” to something, only to claw it back when we realize that thing we were about to give away – our time, talent, and/or treasure – is “too” valuable to give up. Or else we only give the crumbs to begin with.

As stewards of God’s grace, Disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to give of our first fruits – the best we have – to God. 

Why do we keep the best for ourselves and give the leftovers to God?  God gives us everything.  All things come FROM God, and all things belong TO God. 

For all that God has done for us, and all he promises to do for us, don’t you think that God deserves our best?

As Abbot Phillip tells us, “Even though we cannot yet give them up, we can ask for the grace to give them up.”

St. Benedict, pray for us.

Glory to God in the Highest

From St. Joseph church, Jasper, Indiana

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2: 1-14)

Anticipating

Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.

David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,
Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile,
fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

My Church, Not the Diocese

I received a phone call recently that didn’t start well. 

There was an angry parishioner on the other end.  We sent a letter to her reminding her of her pledge to our recent capital campaign.  She had already made one payment and we were looking for the second of three.

Her pledge was very generous, and she was a very nice woman.  However, she was clearly upset as she was under the impression the money was going to the parish’s building fund, which was not the case. 

I told her that the capital campaign was originated by the diocese, but the gifts were shared by the parish and the diocese.  She said the campaign material was confusing, and it was not clear where the money was going.  She also said that she was not going to give to the annual appeal because of this confusion.

Then she said the most troubling thing: “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese!”

I have heard this statement before, and I usually attributed it to a surly pastor who was angry about the parish assessment.  Not this time, though.

The woman’s pastor is a die-hard supporter of the diocese.  He totally understands the relationship between diocese and parish, and that the diocese IS the local Church, which is made up of many parishes. 

Somewhere along the line, though, that message didn’t make it to this woman’s inner being.  She sees the parish and the diocese as two separate entities with a certain amount of tension between them.  Her view is that the diocese is the overlord, while the parish is the favored child.

Having worked in a diocesan environment for nearly a decade, I know the truth in this particular scenario.  I have not met a single person in a chancery who would not take a bullet for anyone in a parish.  We live to serve our clergy and the people of God in the parishes.

But there was that gorilla in the room, the one identified by the angry parishioner.  “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese.”

Our conversation ended well, and where I thought she might back out of her commitment entirely, she just reduced it a bit.  I invited her to call me directly is she had any further issues she wanted to discuss, and she was happy with that.

My Church IS the diocese.  The diocese IS my Church.  My parish IS the diocese.  The diocese IS my parish.  We are all one, the body of Christ. 

Stewardship calls us to offer our gifts to God.  It does not distinguish between parish and diocese.  I look forward to a day when our minds can embrace that truth.

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