Friday, December 30, 2016

Conversion of a Muslim Côte d’Ivoire National to The Catholic Faith

Through God's divine providence Mamery Kone searched for answers to his intellectual journey away from Islam and toward The Catholic Church through our parish here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota! I (Jeff) became his sponsor as he made his way toward the Truth present in the fullness of the Christian Faith in The Catholic Church. It has been a privilege beyond description to become a spiritual father to my son in The Faith, Mamery.  We have waited to share his journey through the blog to protect his assylum here in the United States.  All praise and glory belong to our Triune God for the mercy our government has granted him through an extension of his stay here in the United States.  Our parish has taken on Mamery's case before the immigration courts thanks to the generosity of a local immigration attorney and the parish community of the Cathedral of St. Joseph.  Here is his story that we compliled and edited with him.

Chapter One: Early Life
                My name is Mamery Kone.  I was born on April 6, 1980, and I am the oldest of six children. I grew up in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), West Africa.  I am part of the Mande tribe of Africa and 99% of the Mandingo tribe is Muslim. Because I was raised in a Muslim tribe, I practiced Islam in my tribal duty.  I also practiced Islam because of my career in importing and exporting.  My career as an importer/exporter allowed me to travel throughout West Africa and beyond.  I was a successful business owner, I had a lovely fiancée, and I had the security of my family.  But my soul was unsettled; I was not inspired by Islam. I had always believed there was a God even though I had doubts about the Muslim religion.  It was  the desire to know the Truth that finally led me to The Catholic Church.  How does one find Truth in a part of the world that is opposed to Christianity?
                Islamic fanaticism has in many ways possessed the Muslim world view of The West.  Christianity and The West are one and the same in the mind of an uninformed Muslim.  Therefore, if a Muslim or a group of Muslims join with the forces of militant jihadists  (a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims) they can easily inspire their fellow tribesmen to persecute any Christian, and by "Christian" it is anyone who is not Muslim or Jew.  The world has witnessed the rise of Islamic terrorism over the last century since The West colonized what used to be tribal borders into national borders.  The deep resentment and anger toward  The West by radical Islamists has polarized  the Muslim world and festered Jihad.  This may help you understand what Muslims who are trying to understand the worldview of non-Muslim nations are up against if they remain under the influence of fanatical Islam. This is what I was confronted by in my investigation of Christianity. Yet I was determined to know more about Christianity so I quietly and persistently investigated the religion.
                My investigation into Christianity began before I could really comprehend it.  As a student in the French educational system (Côte d’Ivoire was colonized by France in the late 19th century) I was exposed to French culture by what I learned through my education.  Côte d’Ivoire had Centre Culturel Français (Multi Cultural Center) where I would go to study and read while I was in high school at Lycée technique d’Abidjan (1997 till 2000).  The center also included a library, concert hall and museum.  I spent many hours  at Centre Culturel Français.  It was a privilege to me to be able to browse the library.  While I was still in high school I came across books that had prayers by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi.  I did not know at the time what saints were or that they were Christian.  But I did know that my mind and my heart came alive as I read the prayers.  I have included the two most significant prayers:

Morning prayer (St. Francis of Assisi)
LORD,
In the silence of this new day,
I come to ask for PEACE, WISDOM, and STRENGTH.
Today, I wish to look at the world
With eyes beaming with love.
To be understanding, meek, and wise.
To see your children beyond appearances
As You see them yourself.
Close my ears to all calumny.
Guard my tongue from all malice.
May only thoughts that bless
Dwell in my spirit.
May I be so kind and so full of joy,
That all who come near me may feel your presence.
Clothe me with your beauty, Lord
That throughout this day I may reveal You.
AMEN.

For Ordering a Life Wisely (St. Thomas Aquinas)
O merciful God, grant that I may desire ardently, search prudently, recognize truly, and bring to perfect completion whatever is pleasing to You for the praise and glory of Your name.
Put my life in order, O my God.
Grant that I may know what You require me to do.
Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul.
Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter in times of prosperity or adversity, so that I may not be exalted in the former, nor dejected in the latter.
May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to You; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from You.
May I desire to please no one, nor fear to displease anyone, but You.
May all transitory things, O Lord, be worthless to me and may all things eternal be ever cherished by me.
May any joy without You be burdensome for me and may I not desire anything else besides You.
May all work, O Lord, delight me when done for Your sake and may all repose not centered in You be ever wearisome for me.
Grant unto me, my God, that I may direct my heart to You and that in my failures I may ever feel remorse for my sins and never lose the resolve to change.
O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy.
O Lord my God, let me fear You without losing hope, be truthful without guile, do good works without presumption, rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness, and—without hypocrisy—strengthen him by word and example.
Give to me, O Lord God, a watchful heart, which no capricious thought can lure away from You.
 Give to me a noble heart, which no unworthy desire can debase.
Give to me a resolute heart, which no evil intention can divert.
Give to me a stalwart heart, which no tribulation can overcome.
Give to me a temperate heart, which no violent passion can enslave.
Give to me, O Lord my God, understanding of You, diligence in seeking You, wisdom in finding You, discourse ever pleasing to You, perseverance in waiting for You, and confidence in finally embracing You.
Grant that with Your hardships I may be burdened in reparation here, that Your benefits I may use in gratitude upon the way, that in Your joys I may delight by glorifying You in the Kingdom of Heaven.
You Who live and reign, God, world without end. 
Amen.

                I know now that God used these prayers (especially St. Francis' prayer) to guide me in my investigation of Christianity.  In the years between 1998 and 2002 I would pray the Morning Prayer every morning.  I also started searching for more writings by St. Thomas Aquinas on the internet since he inspired me, it seemed that when significant life events happened to me St. Thomas' words would help me--the time of my mother's death in 2002. It was then that I had to leave my studies in electronics  at Group LOKO University (Private School). My father had already died and so it was up to me as the eldest child to care for my 5 siblings. I eventually returned to my university studies in 2007 at ESIG (Ecole Supérieur des Sciences Informatiques et de Gestion) to earn my diplôma  in Computer Science. 
                St. Thomas' words came alive to me again in 2014-15 when I realized that my investigation into Christianity was going to cost me everything, perhaps even my life. My investigation spanned several years while I earned another diploma at Jules Verne Picardie and started my own business, SPEEDEX (SPEED EXHANGE N RCCM CI-ABJ-2014-B-12146. (My diploma in Méthodologie d’Importation is what inspired me to become an importer/export business person. This is what I was doing until my eventual decision to flee Côte d’Ivoire in order to safely pursue Christianity.

Chapter Two: The Investigation of Christianity and the Influence of Christians
                I will explain how three influences in my life guided me to Christianity and The Catholic Church.  As I mentioned to you before, St. Thomas Aquinas' writings had a profound effect on my mind.  I recognized that his writings had a universal affect on every human that wants to live a life of integrity. But there are two people's influence that I attribute to my eventual decision to become Christian.  Early in 2014 I met Bandama Zacko Virginie through my business dealings. Madame Zacko asked me some questions about Islam that I could not ignore.  Because of her consistent pursuit  I broadened my investigation of Christianity by learning more about The Catholic Church.  I could not ignore the long history of The Church. I was compelled by the integrity of The Catholic Church's Doctrine on the Christian Faith.  Madame Zacko was very persistent and I must confess that there were times I would evade her by misleading her about how serious I was in my investigation.  I was a successful businessman and my travels and commitment to expanding my business often took priority over my investigation of Christianity. That was until a conversation we had one day about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for every person's sin. 
                Islamic practice relies on the father of the family sacrificing a goat once a year during TABASKI, Aïd el-kabir (Sacrifice Feast), to purify the members of the family who properly practiced Ramadan (Fasting month). I told Madame Vasko that  I don’t need Jesus Christ as my Lord, ALLAH is my lord. And then she presented a question that deepened my curiosity about Christianity.  She asked me," Do you know how many sins you make per day, per week, per month, per year even those that are small? I replied, "I can’t count?" She pressed me more by asking, " If one goat is for one sinner and one sin, how many goats should you kill to take away your sin and for the whole family each TABASKI? I couldn’t answer. As a Muslim  I needed answers. I started an intense investigation from January to June 2014.  I knew that there are many verses in the Quran who refer to Jesus Christ and to his mother, Mary.
                It was during this time that the second person who assisted me in understanding Christianity came into my life.
I discovered a video testimony of an Imam who had converted to Catholicism.  I accessed the testimony of a former Imam of Islam, Joseph Mario, through:  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/former-imam-recounts-torture-after-christian-conversion-29404/  Over and over I would listen to Joseph Mario.  It was my turning point from an investigator of Christianity to a seeker of Christianity.  He testified that it was reading the Quran that convinced him of Christianity.  The evidence for the Truth and of Christianity can be found in the Quran.  Mohammed was the prophet that initiated Islam, but he was just a man. We read in the Quran that Jesus Christ was declared a  "god" though not the Son of God.  The Quran describes Jesus as a holy man who was a miracle worker and that  he was crucified for being a holy man. The Quran also tells of Jesus Christ being resurrected from the dead.  The Quran also speaks about Mary, the mother of Jesus.
                I have included some of the details of Joseph Mario's testimony so that you can see that when a Muslim like me starts to doubt the integrity of Islam we can start with what we know from the Quran. Joseph Mario considered some points in the Quran about Jesus Christ and Mary’s life which I never knew really understood when I was practicing my Muslim faith:

Some of the scriptures on the Mary, the Mother of Jesus:
Quran chapter 3: AL IMRAN:
"Behold! The angels said: 'O Mary! Allah had chosen thee and purified thee chosen thee above the women of all nations.'" 3:42
"Behold! The angels said: 'O Mary! Allah gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah'" 3:45
"She said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man had touched me?' He said: 'Even so: Allah created what He willed: When He had decreed a plan, He but said to it, 'Be,' and it is!'" 3:47
"Behold! Allah said: 'O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow the superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall you all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein you dispute'". 3:55

In Quran chapter 19: MARIAM (MARY)
"He said: 'Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son'". 19:19
"She said: 'How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?'" 19:20
"He said: 'So (it will be): Thy Lord said, 'that is easy for me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us: It is a matter (so) decreed.'" 19:21

Some of the scriptures on the miracles of Jesus Christ:
Quran Chapter 3: AL IMRAN
"He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous." 3:46
"And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (with this message): 'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what you eat, and what you store in your houses.'" 3:49. Joseph Mario said in his testimony that surely in the Quran there is a sign for you if you believe what the Quran taught.

                I realize that the Quran teaches that not just Allah can give the breath of life. Jesus Christ can give the breath of life too. I then had to confront that Muhammad, Islam's great prophet couldn't give breath. He didn't perform miracles. He wasn't crucified and resurrected. It was a great revelation for me! For me, there was no doubt about pursuing my way to become Christian and know more about Jesus Christ. Allah remains a mystery to Muslims because he did not come to live as man to show us himself. But everybody knows who Jesus Christ is, even the scriptures of the Quran reveal him. Nobody in a mosque had taught me in that way.  
                The testimony of Joseph Mario and the prayers and influence of Madame Zacko and the parish of Communauté Mere du Divin Amour (http://www.cmdaci.org/) gave me confidence to follow Jesus Christ as my Savior. For my salvation, I was confident that I was doing the best choice to leave everything I built in my country in order to enter The Catholic Church.  I was convinced by events that my life was in danger if I converted to Christianity so before dying suddenly because of the threats. I knew that I must leave the influence of my Muslim tribe and the threats of terrorism against me before I could receive baptism, confirmation and communion in The Catholic Church.
                It was the integrity I witnessed in the lives  of Bandama Zacko  and  Josef Mario that opened my desire to worship at The Catholic Church. I was very inspired and I continued to worship at that church when I was able to be in Burkina Faso. I became as involved as I could as a Muslim who wanted to convert to Christianity. Late summer of 2014 I wrote an article entitled DE l’Islam à la Chrétienté : Stop à la persécution for the local newspaper. In it I called for there to be tolerance between the three major religions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  That was when my real troubles began.  I had not felt any fear about my decision to pursue Christianity until I experienced the persecution that came after the publication of that article.

Chapter Three: Persecution and Escape

                I now knew who my savior is, I could not remain a practicing Muslim.  I thought I had convinced my fiancée to come with me to a new life in France.  I had graduated from  Jules Verne Picardie/France University. So the prospect of a new life in France was absolutely certain because of our French citizenship. The bonus would be that we could explore the Catholic Faith more freely. I looked forward to learning more about following Jesus Christ as a Catholic Christian.
                However, the people that  surrounded me (my family/tribe and my fiancée's family) were angry. In February 2015, two weeks before our travel to France, my fiancée gave in to the incredible family pressure against Christianity.
Her brothers were very aggressive with me, they tried to force me to end my relationship with my fiancée by threatening me. They threatened me by informing me that if I did not stop my pursuit of Christianity, I would never forget the day they retaliated against my decision.  
                During this time I had also written an article in a Christian local newspaper in which I encouraged a good relationship between the three world  religions--Judaism, Islam and Christianity. My first installment of the article was published in July 2015. I challenged Christians to not give up on our faith in Jesus Christ because of the new terrorism of the that was threatening West Africa by MUJWA (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) and Boko Haram.
The article made it clear that my conversion to Christianity was official.  My family took a copy of the article and presented to the Imam of the community. The intention of this action was to save me from evil and bring me back to Islam. The Imam made copies of the article and gave it to the congregation so that they would pray for me to Allah.
                According to Muslim tradition, when the religion was attacked by neighbors or unbelievers  inside the cities Mecca and Medina where Islam started, people were converted through coercion or force. The prophet, Muhammad, instituted a holy war (JIHAD), to establish and consolidate the unity of Islam against enemies. In this period all Muslims were called to defend their religion. Those who decided to fight were named Jihadist, the holy soldiers. And those who were killed during this war went directly to the paradise, because they fought for Allah’s Glory. For their loyalty, each martyr received 72 virgin women as spouses as a reward in paradise.
                Today that tradition is perpetuated. As a Muslim when you feel your religion is threatened, you must defend it wherever you live, because your reward is paradise. That’s why fighting against JIHAD terrorism is difficult. You don’t know who can turn into a Jihadist.  I began to fear this reality among my people not only because of the threats of my
fiancée's family and the local Imam's actions. As a businessman in economic trade I was keenly aware of how the infiltration of AQIM was leading to significant Islamic radical jihad in West Africa. My international import/export brokerage business gave me access to the countries as my success increased and enlarged my business. My business and economic degrees served to enlighten--terrorism in Côte d’Ivoire was inevitable.  As I would travel in parts of West Africa I would observe how Islamic radical jihad wasn't just effecting business, it was threatening the stability of the cultures.  I knew that terrorism was a real threat to anyone who did not give allegiance to AQIM's power in West Africa.
                I made the decision to leave my home to get to the United States where I had a Christian friend living in Massachusetts.  My plan was to stay for two weeks to consider my next action in removing myself from the threat upon my life as a Christian. I have learned that God's providence led me to where he desired me to travel.  During my preparation to leave Côte d’Ivoire on September 24, 2015, I had a conversation with my cousin who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He invited me to reconsider my plans to go to Massachusetts and to come stay with him.  I accepted. I left life near the Equator to live in the North.  I could not comprehend the changes that were ahead for me. The difference in the climate would be unbelievable to me if I hadn't made the journey! Everything else was different, too. Language, culture and the realization that I was a minority among many minorities in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Chapter Four: On the steps of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
                Adjusting to life in the United States was not easy, but I had one goal that I was determined to achieve during my stay--find The Church where I could learn more about Christianity and be baptized! My search for the Catholic Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota led me to the steps of The Cathedral of St. Joseph. I arranged to meet with Joe Rutten, Director of Faith Formation. My purpose for the meeting and Joe's purpose for the meeting makes me laugh yet today.  Joe did not know I was Muslim, he assumed I was a Catholic who had moved into the area and desired to register with the parish. He had a form prepared to fill out during our meeting. He was asking me for answers to questions about me. He came to the question of my baptism, I replied that I was not baptized. He looked at me with an odd expression. Then I said, I am Muslim and I desire to be Christian. He paused, smiled, and pushed the form away. He said, "You are Muslim?".  I said, "Yes".
                The conversation I had with Joe after I had clarified my purpose for worshipping at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. Joe became the first white American that provided hope and direction for me in my pursuit of Christianity.  I am still amazed that this godly man has taken me in as a Christian brother.  He is responsible for many more life-changing events that awaited my in Sioux Falls, South Dakota!
                The first step for me in my conversion to Catholic Christianity required me to attend weekly RCIA (Religious Catechism Initiation for Adults) classes at the parish.  The classes were in English, that was a big challenge for me, but it helped me become more fluent in English. The classes taught me the Sacred Scriptures and the Christian Doctrine that formed The Catholic Church.  There was so much to learn, I found great peace and assurance as I learned. I knew that I finally had made my way to The Church.
                I had prayed that the LORD would not abandon me like I had been abandoned by my people. I prayed that someone would help me as I learned more about the Christian Faith. God answered my prayer in Joe Rutten and then he answered my prayer through another man.  Another part of RCIA is a relationship with a sponsor who could guide me as I was learning so much. There are no words to explain the happiness I was feeling about having a sponsor. The day I met my sponsor, Jeff Heron, was an amazing day for me. I had been led to believe that Americans are too busy to help anyone, especially foreigners.  I now know this is very wrong. I spent many, many hours with my sponsor not only learning about Christianity, but learning about life in America.  Jeff witness before me what a Christian is to be. I could see in his life and his relationship with his wife, Lois, the evidence of how faith in God influences marriage, family, work, and being a neighbor.
                There are other parishioners who became friends with me. Josh and Desiree and their twin boys,  Josh and Erin, and Joe Rutten's family loved me and included me in their lives. I felt welcomed and accepted. God had answered my prayers and I am so grateful for my new life as a Christian. I completed RCIA and Joe Rutten received special permission for me to be baptized on March 6, 2016 instead of waiting until Easter Vigil when my fellow RCIA students and Catholics around the world are baptized into the Christian Faith. I will explain the reason for this favor soon. But I must first tell you about the incredible day that I was baptized, confirmed and received my first communion. The mass that day will stay in my mind forever as the day I was born again, at last! The congregation even applauded my decision. As I faced the congregation that day, I say many faces that were white, black, and brown. I saw the faces of Christ's Church and I felt the love of Christ come over me.

Chapter Five: Seeking Asylum in the United States
                I am a Christian! That makes it even more dangerous for me to return to Côte d’Ivoire.  My travel visa was supposed to be a 12 month visa; however, when I landed in the United States I learned that it was authorized for a 6-month travel visa. I would have to return to Côte d’Ivoire on March 24, 2015. Or so I believed.  That is why Bishop Swain granted an early baptism for me. When my parish learned of this problem for me, they began to pursue legal help for me.  I am thankful to God at to the Cathedral of St. Joseph parish for how they have acted on my behalf.  Money was raised, an immigration attorney was secured and the process was started for me to seek asylum in the United States. This process is very complicated. And because I am not from countries where terrorism is causing active war, it makes my case harder to win.
                Currently we are securing all the necessary documents and expert testimonies about how Al Qaeda's North African branch known as AQIM is leading to war in West Africa.  We have until September 25, 2016, the correct departure date on my travel visa, to file my case. A long process begins after that filing. I would have a two-year extended stay while the attorney works with United States Immigration courts to prove my case.  I truly do not know what my future holds, but my soul is in God's hands. Sometimes I fear what could happen to me if I return to Côte d’Ivoire, but then I remember how God has worked a miracle for me in my investigation of Christianity and my baptism as a Catholic Christian.  I know that God will protect me wherever I am.
               


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Quotidian Apologetics--8: The Grace of Baptism

   
    The Catechism of The Catholic Church begins the section on the Sacraments of Christian Initiation by stating this: The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life. "The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity."
   Christians would agree on this for the most part. Our own Protestant background adhered to the sacredness of these sacraments in part, but as we have come to understand there is a deeper more profound sacredness given to these sacraments that has been protected within The Catholic Church. We could attempt to rewrite what Church Fathers and current history theologians have eloquently stated, but that just doesn't seem prudent.  Therefore, we refer you to these links for your own consideration.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Bishop Robert Barron on the Sacraments of Christian Initiation:
http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/the-sacrament-of-baptism/276/  (if you don't take time to read or listen to all the links, listen to this one.)

GetFed:


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Extraordinary Ordinary

        

The seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter Tide remind us that the Triune God incarnated himself in humanity and that God with skin on lived among us to reveal to us how his Word made flesh in Jesus is spoken through living, dying and rising again into real life--eternal life. We learn how the Triune God, incarnated in the Holy Spirit, comes alongside our spirits and fills us with the breath of real life--life that is eternal though temporary. The Divine Mystery!
     However, it is during the season of Ordinary Time that our spiritual reading and antiphons echo back to us from the Sacred Scripture, the Saints and Spiritual writers of history what God is saying now, as he said then, as he will forever say to us as pilgrims in this kingdom on earth. It's as if this great cloud of witnesses to our own pilgrimage stand and cheer us on through the reality that is ours for now in the ordinariness of our lives. The beauty, goodness and Truth of the Sacred Tradition keep our eyes focused on the extraordinary through the Liturgy of the Hours and the Daily Readings on the ordinary journey of Faith.
     During this season of Ordinary Time, The Church emphasizes in our daily readings what the LORD desires for humanity. It is hard to ignore the teachings from the Sacred Scriptures. All point to self-denial, self-forgetting, self-abandonment... All call us to be faithful to God's desires for us as we live out our faith in him. They call us to steadfast hope in the middle of the extremes of human existence--the bitter valleys, the valley of the shadow of death, threatening danger -- and our everyday annoyances. We are confronted by the choice to remember who we are, where we are going and to whom we belong.
     One introduction to our Prayer for the Morning reminds us that we are a pilgrim people, journeying through the varied landscapes of life on our way back to our created identity. Rightly so, we are all sojourning through land that should seem foreign to us for it is the temporal, the worldly that would force us to forget the divine purpose of our existence--if we allow it to. Words from St. Catherine of Sienna shore up our resolve to live the rightly-ordered life:

"So we see plainly that whatever God permits for us in this life, he permits for no other purpose. We see that everything that has being comes from God. Nothing, therefore, that happens to us--trouble or temptation or injury or torment or slander or anything else that could possibly happen to us--can or will disturb us. Rather, we are content and hold these things in reverence, reflecting that they come from God and are given to us as good favors, not out of hatred but out of love.
--St. Catherine of Siena

     In another reading Christ calls his disciples to travel light on their mission of grace and mercy. We are called to do the same, to unburden ourselves of useless baggage that weighs us down and saps us of strength--robbing us along the journey in God.  One of the pilgrim psalms (Psalm 84) reminds us that the material and spiritual baggage that we carry is useless.  "They are happy, whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion. As they go through the Bitter Valley they make it a place of springs...they walk with ever growing strength...for the LORD God is a rampart, a shield...the LORD will not refuse any good to those who walk without blame." We could amend this last phrase to say the LORD will not refuse any good to those who walk without baggage...those who travel light. We cannot say that the LORD will not allow suffering to those who walk without baggage. In turn, what is useless to us the LORD uses for our good when we recognize that traversing the Bitter Valley is where we learn that in letting go of what weighs us down is pivotal for our progress to Zion (God's desire for humanity--worship and adoration of our Creator, the LORD God.) It is most difficult to worship when our hands are full and our backs are bent and our minds are cluttered--the Bitter Valley of human existence.
     The psalmist asks of the LORD to make known to us the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. He prays to the LORD to give us joy to balance our affliction (Psalm 90). Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells the Church in Ephesus that God is rich in mercy and by his grace he has created us, his handiwork, for good works. The theme of this season of Ordinary Time should resound in us a joyful confidence that what we live through on this side of eternity is not wasted. Life and all its turns shape us into the image of Christ when we keep a loose hold on our SELF and a tight hold on the ONE who has created us. We are reminded that we are a moment, a fleeting breath in the world's history. But we are treasured by our Creator as we do his good in our moment in the world's history. Words from the Sacred Tradition and Saints recall in us that we are not meant to dwell in the illusions of this life but we are to live and move and have our being in service to the Triune God, our Creator.
  
"The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, LORD, and open in me the gates of your kingdom."

"Grant, LORD, that all my intentions, actions and operations be directed purely to your praise and your service."  
--St. Ignatius of Loyola

"This then is what it means to seek God perfectly: to withdraw from illusion and pleasure, from worldly anxieties and desires, from the works that God does not want, from a glory that is only human display; to keep my mind free from confusion in order that my liberty may be always at the disposal of his will; to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God; to cultivate an intellectual freedom from the images of created things in order to receive the secret contact of God in obscure love; to love all men as myself; to rest in humility and to find peace in withdrawal from conflict and competition with other men; to turn aside from controversy and put away heavy loads of judgment and censorship and criticism and the whole burden of opinions that I have no obligation to carry; to have a will that is always ready to fold back within itself and draw all the powers of the soul down from its deepest center to rest in silent expectancy for the coming of God, poised in tranquil and effortless concentration upon the point of my dependence on him; to gather all that I am, and have all that I can possibly suffer or do or be, and abandon them all to God in the resignation of a perfect love and blind faith and pure trust in God, to do his will."  
 --Father Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O.

    We read Micah's words to the people of God "...And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God"  These same words happen to be inscribed on a plaque above our stove. I (Lois) sometimes idly pray them as I busy myself with one of the quotidian tasks of the day in my ordinary life--cooking. It seems it is in those idle moments that my mind will wander toward thoughts of the injustice I can be guilty of, to some of the unkind motivation behind my actions and the often prideful reactions my mind dwells upon. My baggage can be stuffed with the weight of such thoughts. Thoughts that can lead to obsession that can lead to sin, sucking the life of goodness from me. It is a good thing that our little plaque is placed where it is. Ordinary Time redeemed by the Extraordinary Word of God!

LORD God, we are in awe of the Great Mystery of the Incarnation, your Death and Resurrection, and gift of your Holy Spirit.  We stake our faith on this Great Mystery!

But....
LORD God, along the way of Faith we so easily lose sight of your Divine Purpose for us because our eyes are trained horizontally--ordinary distractions. We need you to train the set of our gaze so that we journey well onward and upward. Lord, give us new eyesight.

LORD God, our self-preoccupation, self-promotion and the burden of our opinions litter the path we travel. We linger there, giving over our minds to the cacophony of self-preservation in a self-centered society. Lord, give us new minds.

LORD God, our tongues choose noise rather than silence. Noise of conflict, strife, bravado, retaliation: Self-justification.  Lord, tame our tongues.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and forever will be. Amen





Wednesday, July 13, 2016

All Lives Matter!

Black Lives Matter... Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us!
Brown Lives Matter... Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us!
Tan Lives Matter... Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us!
White Lives Matter... Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us!

Father, forgive us for our indifference and complacency.  Forgive us for our anger and prejudice.



 Womb Lives Matter... Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!
Childs' Lives Matter... Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!
Female Lives Matter... Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!
Male Lives Matter... Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!
Aged Lives Matter... Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!

Father, forgive us for forsaking your desires for your Creation. Forgive us for setting ourselves up as gods of our own choosing. Forgive us for worshipping our own control and delusional dominion. Forgive us for allowing this earthly kingdom to suck the soul out of our lives. Forgive us for forgetting that what is true and right and pure is only in living in your Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.



Asian Lives Matter...Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves!
African Lives Matter...Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves!
Antarctican Lives Matter...Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves!
Australian Lives Matter...Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves!


European Lives Matter...Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves!
North American Lives Matter...Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves!
South American Lives Matter...Lord, teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves!



Father, open our eyes to what you see as you look at this world and all you have created. Forgive us for convincing ourselves that we are more important than our neighbor. Forgive us for our sin of bigotry and hypocritical assumptions that diminish your image in us. Father, purify our hearts and minds so that we may love you with all our mind, all our soul, all our strength. Train us to love our neighbor as ourselves so that your peace and mercy will rule this earth!

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Crucifix: Luck Charm or Sacramental

The Catholic Faith is a sacramental life where everything and every thing is offered back to God as a sacrament of praise and thanksgiving. The profane is made sacred when it is recognized as a gift from God to draw our hearts and minds upward beyond the fray of the human condition. The Puritan mindset, a misguided fallout of the Protestant Movement's dissembling from the Catholic (Universal) Christian Faith, trends toward removing the practice of our faith in God from the beauty and goodness of his Creation. 

The Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Faith marry Truth, Beauty and Goodness to our daily practice of our Faith. When considered in this light, one can appreciate our attention to every movement in the Mass and every devotional practice in our living. One such example is our veneration of the Crucifix. Misunderstood by those on the outside looking in partly due to the misunderstandings about how Catholics practice their Christian Faith.  The familiar misunderstanding that we were once led to believe goes something like this: Catholics don't celebrate the resurrection, they think Christ sacrifice stopped at the Cross. That accusation is befuddling to us now as Catholic Christians because it couldn't be further from the truth of Catholic Christianity.

Sacramentals such as a Crucifix, Icon, statues of Mary, Joseph and the Saints, Holy Water and sacramental devotional practices such as praying the Rosary, pilgrimages, Eucharistic Adoration, making the Sign of the Cross are all intended to guide our lives as beloved sons and daughters as we grow into our Christian identity. They remind us of our created identity, our family Name, our ancestry, our inheritance...  As we live our Sacramental Faith--every thing turns our hearts and minds upward to the ever-present reality of eternity where our true identity lies.  Our Creator knows the heart of man and how easily our gaze is inward rather than upward. Living our Catholic Faith aligns our wandering hearts and minds, our prodigal proclivities--amending our lives for the glory of God.

Consider this: We have a framed photograph of Mom Keith in the last years of her life. A moment captured that embodies her entire life: She is carrying a tray of her homemade rolls to the family table where she happily gathered her family and many others with her love and acceptance of everyone. Mother was mercy, generosity and hospitality wrapped in a diseased body. We loved her for many reasons but it is her mercy, generosity and hospitality that we venerate (honor/remember) not her diseased body. She is now fully alive and more real than she ever was in this life--a mystery so profound and beyond human understanding, but true nevertheless.  When I (Lois) look at that photograph there is a prayer that I breathe with her for my own life. "Mother, pray with me to our God that I may embody the mercy, generosity and hospitality that you lived so well."


Consider this: The Crucifix above the sanctuary, the Crucifix we have on the walls of our home or carry in our pockets or wear around our neck are all images that should cause us to pause and contemplate our Christian identity.  The Crucifix is in a much larger reality what a photograph can be to a daughter or son who venerates the memory of a mother or father who were an inspiration in their life.

What could be inspired in us if we would only pause throughout each day to contemplate Christ's sacrifice for us remembered in the Crucifix? What would happen in our heart and mind if we fully embraced this Sacred Tradition using the prayers of the Saints who have gone before us? What could happen in our world if we attended to our Christian identity as much as we attend to the things that don't matter?



Beloved Jesus Crucified,
I offer you my heart.
I am sorry that it is broken.
It is the result, not of a soldier's lance, like yours,
but of my neglect of it--
not taking seriously my need for happiness, for true happiness.
I ignored my heart by my selfishness,
my vanity
my resistance,
my "knowing better,"
my arrogance,
my fear,
my doubt,
my distraction,
my egoism,
my presumption,
my fascination with the ephemeral--pleasures that could never satisfy.
I let myself be infatuated with lesser things,
compromises,
false hopes,
fantasies,
my willful ideas,
whims and imaginary worlds of my own making.
It broke when I broke from you and went astray.
And I am sorry.
I need to come back again.
Your outstretched arms are so much like the widespread welcome of the forgiving father open to the repentant prodigal son.
I come before your crucifix just like him:
starving,
poor in my foolishness,
laughable in my shame,
a beggar,
repugnant by every measure except yours.
Without your crucifix, where would I turn in my misery,
so abject, the prey of despair?
Bereft, beaten down, lacerated by my self-seeking,
I dare approach your ravaged image on the cross because
it reminds me of me.
But you are sinless.
Your self-offering takes away my sin.
As I gaze upon you crucified
may I see the love that moved you to sacrifice everything for me.
For my heart is made for you alone.
Your hands and your feet are held fast by nails
to teach me how much I need pain and suffering in my life
to be purified, set free, and saved from myself.
Your side-pierced, opened, and exposing your Sacred Heart--
calls to me as the place where I am to dwell.
The gift of your cross separates me
from everything that separates me from you.
O, let my heart be converted by looking upon you whom my sins have pierced.
--Father Peter John Cameron


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Being the Light of the World

The Divine Office readings during this season of Ordinary Time of the Liturgical calendar has directed our minds toward the stuff of life that we can see, touch, feel, smell. Our Creator God breathes life into his creation so that his creation can breathe sanctifying life into our souls.  Seeds, dust, wheat, oil, salt, water, light....All sacramental offerings (beacons) for us to inspire our journey in holiness and toward wholeness. Sacred Scripture is full of accounts where the ordinary was made extraordinary in revealing the depth of God's love for us.   

Today's readings guide our prayer through Psalm 8, Genesis 1, I Kings 17, Psalm 4 and Matthew 5.  Creation... oil and flour....salt....light. All for one purpose, that everyone in our corner of the world will see our good deeds and glorify our Heavenly Father.

Light--what a lovely thing that is, which we are told we are.  It enables people to see things distinctly and as what they are....
It warms, it heals, it penetrates, it gives life, it gives color and beauty to everything that it touches. It is the light of the sun that renews the earth; it was the light of a star that proclaimed Christ's birth.
It is light that guides ships to safety through deep seas, light that welcomes us from far off from the window of home...
It is in the home, where we are over-familiar with the simplicities that ought to lift our heart and mind to God, and where suffering, because it is our own or, worse still, our children's, is hard to see in the sense of glory, or to welcome, even though it may start the world healing...
Those who are one with Christ, who do see with his vision and insight, look at everything from the point of view of our heavenly Father, not only because he is omnipotent-that would not move pigmy men-but because his love for us, rightly understood, is the only real and lasting source of our delight, the only thing that can reconcile us to our suffering, and the only thing that can overcome the fears and the gnawing anxiety which beset us.
                                      --Caryll Houselander (British mystic, poet, and spiritual teacher)

Light of the World, you are our light and our salvation, our stronghold. Save us from our own anxieties and fears with your penetrating conviction and your merciful chastising so that your perfect Light would be seen through our imperfect love for others.

Light of the World, our minds are often darkened by prejudice, assumption, resentment, anger, fear, and unforgiveness.  Forgive us for choosing to live by the dimness of our own light.  Flood our hearts and minds with your Light so that your countenance shines in us and through us.

Light of the World, inflame us, burn away the sins that beset us. Purify us: spotless, brilliant, pure reflections of your Light.

Light of the World, illuminate our hearts so that we may see others how you see them--beloved children of God.

Amen

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Easter Octave. What?


   We began the Easter Octave with the celebration of the Easter Vigil.  Appropriately so, for it is in the Vigil where we are reminded of the new birth Christ offers to us through his Passion. During the three hour Vigil we surveyed the restoration of humanity to the LORD recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. And if we are mindful of how the liturgy has progressed since Easter Vigil, we can see how the Vigil marks the ever-present beginning of a new season of grace and a time of joy and thanksgiving. That, as you know, is what we remember (in one hour) in our worship at each Mass. So why is this thing called the Easter Octave such a big deal in the liturgy?
   We as Catholic Christians understand that Easter is not one day of celebration—it is a fifty day celebration, that is why we refer to the fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday as "the great Sunday." We remain true to apostolic tradition by recognizing that the feasts of Easter and Pentecost were the ultimate of the liturgical year. We know this season now as the Easter Octave. Sunday, May 15, 2016, is Pentecost Sunday. No doubt you have given more attention to the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church as you have read and prayed the Sacred Scriptures during the Easter Octave, you really can't avoid it. This Sacred Tradition of remembering our identity as first, Creations of our Triune God and ultimately as a child of God has enlarged what we used to understand in part as the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Faith--Sanctifier of our life in Christ. True, but as we continue in our Christian Faith as Catholic Christians we are realizing what we previously believed was a part of a much wider and profound understanding.
   The treatise, On the Holy Spirit, by Saint Basil the Great was included with the Sacred Scripture readings of the Divine Office during this Easter Octave. It so resonated with us that we want to share it with you, our fellow Catholic Christians. St. Basil the Great (330-379 A. D.) is a Doctor of The Church. You can read more about him at:


The Work of the Holy Spirit:
"The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realize that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.
To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end.
The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.
Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.
The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.
As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.
From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God..."



   Father, into your hands we commit our spirit to be transformed into your likeness by your Spirit. Your Spirit imbues our nature as we recognize that the circumstances of our life are the sacraments of your grace on the way of salvation. May we let go of our own control of our image before others so that your image--your divine nature--outshines all that is contrary to you in us.
   Come, Holy Spirit! In our relationships within our families, may we choose first to allow you to posses our thoughts so that our words and actions would be Christ's words and actions.
   Confirm us, Holy Spirit! In our vocations as fathers and mothers, may God's divine purpose for the family be accomplished by our desire to live our identity in the love that God has for his Creation. May we foster in our children love for you by attending to their spirits as we train them in the way they should go.
   Empower us, Holy Spirit! We aren't able to correct all the injustices in the world, but through your strengthening may we practice mercy and justice in all relationships. As employees, managers, leaders may we recognize that our value begins and ends in our identity as Christ's ambassadors in our world. May his Beatitudes be our attitude in all responsibilities.
   Teach us, Holy Spirit! Tame what is restless within us. Shine the light of God's brilliance into the hidden places of our mind and heart. Anoint our thoughts with discernment, wisdom and understanding. Take control of our tongues, may they be instruments of grace and not weapons of self-promotion. 
   Remind us, Holy Spirit! You are near us at either hand, you are near us at each step. May our labor be offerings of thanksgiving to our Creator. May our actions be the work of kindness done in praise and honor of our Triune God.
   Amen.