I see him at least once a week walking on the side of the road. He’s an elderly man who appears to be in his 80s. I don’t know his name. For now, I’ll call him Wilbur. I’ve never met Wilbur, but last week when I saw him walking, I had the urge to pull over, introduce myself, and ask him a few questions. But I didn’t follow through on my urge. As usual, I passed by him and continued driving.
I usually attend daily Mass at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria. The church is about three blocks away from my office, so I ordinarily walk to Mass every day. On most days, Georgette joins me at Mass, and we’re able to have lunch together after Mass about once a week. It’s a great way for us to break up our day, while receiving the spiritual boost that we need to adequately handle all the issues and problems that come up in our lives.
I ordinarily attend daily Mass at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria. Last Monday (March 25), I saw my parents at noon Mass and talked to them after the Mass. My mom told me that it was the 58th anniversary of her consecration to the Mother of God. I knew that she had made her consecration years ago, but I was not aware of the actual date.
I believe that one of the biggest shocks we’re going to experience immediately after our deaths will be when God reveals to us what we could have achieved if we had followed His plan for us. The disparity between what we actually achieved on Earth and what He planned for us will be so enormous that we will be completely flabbergasted. What will be most obvious to us is how selfish we were and how most of our thoughts and actions were focused on what we could do for ourselves rather than what we could do for God and our neighbor.
In order to close the gap between who we actually are and what God intended for us to be, we must focus daily on managing and eliminating our pride and our primary fault. We must freely choose to actively resist the tendencies and temptations that favor our pride and our primary fault. At the same time, we must also choose to practice the actions and virtues that are contrary to our sinful tendencies and faults. By doing this, we will be imitating our Savior in a minor but important way.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, while our Lord was praying and anguishing over the suffering and death he was about to endure, He could have easily chosen to flee and never return to Jerusalem or any of the cities surrounding Jerusalem. He had a free will just like you and me. He had the freedom to choose to disappear into the wilderness, or to accept and embrace the suffering and death that His Almighty Father had planned for Him. By freely choosing to follow His Father’s plan, He opened the gates of Heaven for all of us.
Unfortunately, most people don’t think about what God’s plan is for them. They don’t think about or realize that before they can successfully follow God’s plan, they must first diligently work on eliminating their faults. They behave as though they will never have to answer to God for their behavior. Yet they wonder why their lives are so empty. And they blame others for their inability to improve themselves.
If you have read about some of the lives of the saints, you know that they had a daily regimen in which they prayed and assessed where they were in life and where they thought God wanted them to be. They knew the importance of self-management. They also knew that if they were to live up to God’s expectations, they had to develop certain habits and rituals that forced them to regularly review and manage themselves. They weren’t perfect at this, but they were at least 10 times better at it than most people are at managing their lives.
One of the techniques Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught to his students was for them to set aside time each day — early in the morning and again at around noon — to determine how well they had done since the last time they had reflected on how they were spending their time. They were taught to reflect on: (1) how well they had done in managing and overcoming their faults, (2) how well they had done in following God’s plan and the plan they had prepared for themselves, and (3) what God’s plan for them was for the next half day.
In reviewing how well they had done in overcoming their faults, Saint Ignatius’s students were instructed to review what each of them had done to manage and correct their pride and their primary fault. Had they freely chosen to give up the traits that were associated with their faults? Had they freely chosen to practice the virtues that were contrary to their faults?
I want to suggest to you that you immediately incorporate Saint Ignatius’s exercise into your daily regimen. I’m going to provide you with a cheat sheet that you can use to review — in the morning and at around noon of each day — to determine what sinful tendencies you engaged in, and what virtues and virtuous actions you engaged in. Here’s the cheat sheet:
Pride – Defiance, intolerance, vanity, boastfulness, disdainfulness, revengefulness, impatience, unforgiveness, self-centeredness, stubbornness, unbridled ambition, self-aggrandizement, dishonesty, hypersensitivity, conceitedness, haughtiness, touchiness, and blindness to advice.
My wife and I raised seven children to adulthood — one boy and six girls. Our children would tell you that while they were growing up, I was suspicious and distrustful of all outsiders, including people in the school system, the people my children interacted with in community theater, and the people who were their friends.
There can be a fine line between excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others (paranoia) and reasonable and rational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others (healthy paranoia).
There may have been a time 80 or 100 years ago when most of the people a person came into contact with had good intentions and could generally be trusted, but in today’s culture, where sinful behavior is glorified and virtuous behavior is vilified, we have to be extremely careful about who we trust. We must be willing to make people earn our trust, instead of simply trusting them because they seem to be nice and respectful, or because we’re related to them, know their parents, or have heard good things about them.
But there is a danger in practicing healthy paranoia toward others. The danger is that the line between reasonable and rational paranoia and excessive or irrational paranoia is very thin. When we cross that line, we can easily become negative and cynical, which can, over time, destroy the healthy relationships that we have with the people that we care about.
What can we do to avoid crossing that line? I’ll tell you what I do to keep myself from crossing the line. First, I follow the basic principles that I believe are required of me as a devout Catholic:
• Remain in the state of sanctifying grace at all times;
When I represent a client on a personal injury case, if I’m able to get the case settled without having to file a lawsuit, it customarily takes from 18 to 22 months to conclude the case. If it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit, it can take up to five years from the date of the injury to get the case resolved.
During the time that I work on a client’s case, there is not much that I do that my client can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste. At the end of the case when I collect my fee, which can at times be substantial, I want my clients to understand the breadth and scope of the work that I performed for them. So what is it that I can do to help them understand the extent of the work that I do on their behalf?
From the beginning of time, man has been a visual creature. The serpent seduced Eve to bite into the apple in part because it was so visibly appealing. I suppose you could call the serpent the first advertising and marketing expert that ever existed. He crafted a compelling and irresistible message that enticed Eve to defy God.
After he described the apple as being beautiful, delicious, and life changing, he appealed to her pride by saying, “All you have to do is bite into it to be like God.” There is no doubt that the tree and its apples were beautiful and inviting to the eye. But it was her ability to actually see in her imagination the future that the serpent painted for her — a future that promised that she and Adam would have the same powers as their God — that convinced her to act.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s what Saint Thomas said after our Lord’s apostles reported to him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Our Lord later reprimanded him for his lack of faith and said, “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:29
We all want to see before we believe. That’s why it’s important for me as a provider of legal services to make sure that my clients see the work that I do for them.
We live in a society in which we can demand and see tangible results within hours or days. We have FedEx, which allows us to pay for something and have it delivered to us the next day. Amazon is working on a system with Whole Foods where people will be able to order groceries online and have them delivered to their house within two hours.
We have the ability to tap into instant entertainment at any time of the day or night with Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu. We have the ability to instantly communicate through Facebook, Instagram, and Texting. These forms of electronic entertainment and communication weren’t available when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.
We have been conditioned to believe that we should get tangible results within hours, days, or at most, weeks. Yet our faith requires that we patiently wait, sometimes for years, before we see tangible results from God. This is why so many Catholics abandon their faith. And this is why you and I should redouble our efforts to become stronger, more devout Catholics.
It’s not easy to remain faithful to the Catholic Church and its teachings. We are asked to invest years of sacrifice and self-denial for a reward that we are unable to see, touch, hear, taste, or smell. That’s a lot to ask. But we are told that our reward will far exceed any reward that we could ever expect to receive here on Earth. How do we know whether that’s true?
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to have faith in God and maintain that faith for a lifetime is because in most instances, we are unable to see what He does for us. There are numerous things that God does for us daily that we are unable to actually see with our eyes. If we could see all the things He does for us, we would be so overwhelmed that faith would not be necessary. If that were the case, we would have ample proof of His love for us.
But if our Lord allowed us to see everything that He does for us, there would be no value to our claim that we truly believe in Him.
Much of what God does for you and me is completely hidden from us. Because we can’t see what He does for us, it’s difficult for us to maintain our belief and faith that He will provide for all our needs. God is very much aware of our lack of faith, so he gives each of us the one thing that we need to guarantee that we will persevere in our faith: the grace to pray.
There is no guarantee that any of us will be able to maintain a strong faith in God for a lifetime. But He does guarantee that we will have the grace to pray for the faith that is required for us to believe in Him. That is why daily prayer and communication with God is so critical. If we fail to pray every day, our faith will quickly falter, and we will be easily seduced by the temptations of the world and the evil spirits.
God stands by and supports those of us who pray for the grace to be faithful. My wife and I have been married for more than 37 years and during that time, in addition to faithfully following the teachings of the church, we have prayed a daily rosary and attended Mass on most days of the week. We have also regularly visited with our Lord in the adoration chapel and incorporated spiritual reading into our schedules.
Although there have been periods of time that God has remained hidden from us, there have also been many occasions when He has allowed us to see and hear Him working in our lives. We have seen some of the grace and favors he has blessed our family with. We have also heard, through the voices of our children and grandchildren, how much he has blessed us.
So back to what I do to make sure that my clients can at least see some of the work that I do for them. I periodically mail copies of letters, legal documents, and medical records to them so they can see, touch, and read them. I meet with them on a regular basis, so they can see their large file of materials next to me on the conference table, and they can hear an update from me on what’s been going on with their case. I also make sure that my clients hear the voice of the case manager in my office who is assigned to their file when she calls them on a regular basis to ask about their treatment and update them on the progress of their case. These are just a few of the things I do to make sure my clients see and hear about some of the work that I do for them.
All growth in faith and love for God starts with prayer. Are you praying enough every day? I can tell you the answer to that question without even knowing who you are.
Everything went well during the first few months of working with Jim, but then his performance started slipping. At one point, he failed to get an important project done because the person he assigned it to was sick and “had other things come up” that prevented her from working on the project. He emailed me and explained the reasons that the work didn’t get done.
I responded to his email by stating that his “reasons” were nothing more than excuses and that he should have done the work himself or assigned it to someone else. He was highly offended by my email and found it hard to believe that I would question his integrity and accuse him of making excuses. Despite his irritation with me, he redeemed himself by quickly completing the project.
Last month, I had a conference call with Jim and we decided that he would create several new pages for my website that would highlight certain types of cases that I handle. At the beginning of this month, I asked him to provide me with a timeline for getting the pages completed. He responded by telling me that he thought he could get the pages done within two weeks, but he wasn’t sure because he had to be in the right frame of mind to write the pages.
I waited two and a half weeks and then I emailed him and asked if he was going to be able to get the pages completed by the end of the month. Several emails were then exchanged between us in which he refused to commit to a date that he would have the pages completed. Here are the final emails that were exchanged between us:
From Harry to Jim – August 21, 8:46 AM: Are we going to be able to get the new pages up this month?
After Luke stopped coming to the chapel, I asked another person who knows him what happened to him. The person told me that he had heard that a priest at Luke’s church had said something that humiliated Luke in front of some other people. After that, Luke stopped going to church. He also stopped going to the adoration chapel. In case you’re curious, the priest who made the comment was not associated with Saint Philomena Church, where I’m a member.
I had planned on calling Luke a couple of months ago, but I didn’t get around to it until Monday, August 15, the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. Every year on August 15, I renew my consecration to the Blessed Mother. I made my first consecration on August 15, 1985, and have renewed it every year since then.
I learned how to make the consecration by reading Saint Louis de Montfort’s book, True Devotion to Mary. One of the guidelines that Saint Louis de Montfort has for individuals who renew their consecration each year is to perform a spiritual or corporal work of mercy on the day of the consecration.
On the day of my renewal, I thought about Luke. When I called him, he didn’t answer. I left a message for him to call me. He tried calling me back, but we weren’t able to match up until later in the week. When I finally reached him, I asked him why he was no longer going to the chapel. He said that he had developed a new devotion to Saint Sharbel.
I’m familiar with Saint Sharbel because I used to be a member of Saint Sharbel Catholic Church in Peoria. Saint Sharbel was born in Lebanon and later became a Maronite Catholic monk and priest. He died on December 24, 1898. For 23 years prior to his death, he lived as a solitary hermit.
Luke explained to me what happened with the priest and why he decided that he was no longer going to attend the church where the priest was located. Luke has a history of getting angry with priests and changing churches. I’m aware of three previous occasions when Luke did that.
We had a lengthy conversation about certain problems in the Catholic Church and what should be done about them. Our discussion became animated when Luke said that lay Catholics should always be willing to speak out against priests when they believe that the priests have done something wrong.
I disagreed with Luke and told him that in my opinion, we only have an obligation to speak out when the situation involves a matter of grave concern. I told him that priests make mistakes and sometimes say the wrong things, just like we do.
I emphasized that we need to be careful and prudent about what we say to others, taking into account the seriousness of the matter and whether our comments will be productive or will make matters worse. Luke disagreed with me and insisted that any time we notice that anybody —including priests — is doing something wrong, we have an obligation to speak out, regardless of the consequences.
Prior to ending the phone call, I asked Luke if he was attending daily Mass at Saint Sharbel Church in Peoria. He answered that he was not attending Mass anywhere. He said that he has become a hermit like Saint Sharbel, and spends most of his time in his apartment praying.
I responded by saying, “Luke, you know better than that! You know that the church requires that you attend Mass on Sundays.” He replied that he didn’t think he needed to go to Mass. He felt that he could accomplish just as much by praying in his apartment.
I disagreed with him and told him that by not going to Mass, he is depriving himself of the Holy Eucharist. Luke replied that he can make an act of spiritual communion, which has the same effect as receiving the Eucharist. I told him that the sixth chapter of the gospel of John clearly states that Christ told us that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood if we want to enter into Heaven. I reminded him that the only place in the Bible where followers of Jesus actually walked away and left Him was after He made that statement, which was proof that what He said was to be taken literally.
Luke wouldn’t budge from his claim that he was not obligated to go to Mass. To back up his position, he made this preposterous statement: “I’ve been a devout Catholic for more than 35 years. During that time, I was able to bank away a lot of graces.”
At that point, my patience ran out. I told him that none of us are guaranteed salvation and that the Catholic Church teaches that our souls are in jeopardy until the moment of our death. That’s why the Hail Mary prayer includes a request that the Mother of God pray for us at the hour of our death. I told him that none of us has the equivalent of a bank account where we can deposit graces we receive from God so they can be used at a later time.
There is no support in Catholic doctrine or tradition for Luke’s belief that God’s grace can be accumulated and “saved up” for use at a later time. When money is deposited into a savings account, a debt is created. The bank owes a debt to the depositor. The debt is the amount of money that was deposited, plus interest.
When God gives us grace, no debt is created. God is not obligated to do anything for us in the future. It’s our responsibility to continue to be faithful to Him and to abide by the laws of His church. God expects each of us to be diligent and faithful until we die and enter into eternity.
Luke wasn’t willing to listen to anything I said to him. He told me that he had recently seen a woman at a grocery store who was a parishioner of his former church. He said that she begged him to come back to church. He responded to her the same way that he responded to me. I asked him the following question: “Luke, if God wanted to get a message to you that you needed to start going to Mass again, how do you think he would do that?”
Luke answered by telling me that he thought that God would communicate with him directly while he was praying. I told him that most of the time God communicates with us through other people, and that God had attempted to communicate with him through the woman at the grocery store. I then told him that God was attempting to communicate with him through me. He disagreed with what I was saying.
At that point, I said, “I’m going to ask my mom to pray for you.” Luke has known my parents for more than 20 years. He has a great deal of respect for them. I thought that if I brought my mom into the conversation, he might reconsider. Instead, he replied, “That’s okay if you ask her to pray for me. I need all the prayers I can get. Ask whomever you want to pray for me.”
So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m asking you to pray for Luke. He would deny this, but he’s a very proud man who finds it difficult to forgive others. He’s divorced and although he has a daughter, they don’t communicate with each other very often. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any true friends who can lean on him to get his act together.
About eight years ago, something very unusual happened while I was at Mass at Sacred Heart. After I got in line to walk up the center aisle to receive Holy Communion, I looked ahead to the front of the line and saw a man who received Holy Communion in his hand and then walked away without putting the Consecrated Host in his mouth. The man looked like he was in his 50s.
I watched the man walk back to where he had been sitting. I waited for him to put the Host in his mouth, but he knelt down with the Host still in his hand. The pew that he was sitting in was about ten rows back from the front of the church.
As I moved forward in the communion line, I watched to see if he was going to put the Host in his mouth. He kept his head facing down as though he was praying. When I passed him, I looked to see where his hands were. They were clenched together and resting on his lap.
I stepped into the pew directly in front of the man and sat down. I turned around to the left and placed my elbow on the back of the pew I was sitting in, next to the man’s face. I looked at him and when his eyes caught my eyes, I said, “Do you plan on consuming that Host?” He was startled by my question and responded, “What?” I asked again, “Do you plan on consuming the Host that you’re holding in your hand?”
The man looked as though he was stunned by my question. After hesitating, he replied, “Yes.” I immediately followed up by saying, “Okay, that’s good. I’m going to sit here and watch you until you place the Host in your mouth.” He looked at me, looked down at his hands, looked at me again, and then shoved the Host into his mouth. When I saw that he was chewing the Host, I said, “Thank you.” He replied in a sarcastic tone of voice, “You’re welcome.”
I stood up and stepped back into the communion line. By then, there were only a few people left in the line. When I approached the priest, he asked me if the man had taken the Host back to where he was sitting. The priest had seen me sit down to have a conversation with the man and wanted to know what happened.
After I told the priest what happened, he gave me Holy Communion. I then walked back to where I had been siting and the priest returned to the altar. Prior to the final blessing, the priest spoke up and reminded everyone in the church that when they receive Holy Communion, they are required to immediately consume the Host. It was obvious that he was upset about what had happened.
After the final blessing, I watched the man leave the church with everyone else. He didn’t bother to look back at me.
For several days after the incident, I looked for the man in church and, to my knowledge, he never returned. Prior to the incident, I had never seen him.
I have no way of knowing why the man decided to hold onto the Consecrated Host rather than consume it. He may have had mental problems and thought that the Host could be used as a good luck charm. Or he may have had the intention of retaining the Host so he could later participate in a ceremony where our Lord would be desecrated.
That’s the only time anything like that has ever happened to me. I don’t ordinarily pay attention to people who are ahead of me receiving Holy Communion. I believe that on that particular day, my guardian angel directed my attention to what was going on so that I could intervene.
I thought about that incident while I was listening to Father David Richardson’s homily at the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Philomena Church. Father Richardson talked about one of the events that led to his decision to become a priest. He told the congregation that when he was a student at the University of Illinois, he had an opportunity to see a replica of the Shroud of Turin.
The Shroud of Turin is the actual linen cloth that was wrapped around Christ when He was buried. The shroud, which is still in existence today, has embedded within it the image of the face, body, and wounds of Christ. Scientists and chemists have never been able to explain how the image was embedded in the shroud. It is believed that when Christ rose from the dead, the supernatural light that emanated from his risen body engraved His image into the cloth.
What kept going on in my mind at Mass on Christmas Eve was that the gift that was given to us on that first Christmas day is re-gifted to us every day of the year. That gift is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, we receive the body and blood of the same God-man who allowed thorns to be pounded into his head by His enemies. The thorns caused Him to experience a piercing and blinding headache. Why would the Son of God allow this to happen? Because it was His way of making reparation for the sins of the mind that every one of us is guilty of committing on a regular basis.
The body and blood that we receive in Holy Communion is also from the same God-man who allowed His flesh to be beaten and torn by the whips of his enemies. Why would the Son of God allow this to happen? Because it was His way of making reparation for the sins of the flesh that every one of us is guilty of committing on a regular basis.
Our infinitely perfect and all-knowing God came to Earth as a helpless child so that He could suffer and die for our sins — an act of love and mercy that was necessary to open the gates of Heaven for you and me.
His enemies know that He is the ultimate treasure. That’s why they attempt to steal Him from our priests. But we don’t need to steal Him. All we need to do is to show up at Mass to receive Him in the Eucharist. In His church, every day is Christmas.