Monday, January 16, 2017

Soldier or Saint – Leave No One Behind



In his book, Church Militant Field Manual, Father Richard Heilman relates the Soldier’s Creed of the United States Army.

"I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills."

Military discipline, that which aids these warriors in protecting their country, demands a dogged dedication to developing their strength in the service of others. Without total dedication to the mission of saving and protecting others, the mission of the soldier is destined to fail. That is why the Warrior Ethos practiced by military personnel states:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Soldier or Saint


In winning the battle against the Evil One, soldiers for Christ must employ a similar strategy. Whether soldier or saint, the necessary component is to go “all in”. This type of dedication and the necessary skill to pull it through are no accident. It is the result of intensive training. A soldier must pledge to advance his mission through self-restraint, commitment, and pride. Our pledge as soldiers in the Church Militant demands the same

As Catholics and members of the Church Militant, we are soldiers for Christ and our mission is clear – the advancement of His Word and the winning of souls. We are called to be our brother’s keeper in the clear sense of being members of the Body of Christ. Sinner or saint, rich or poor, strong or weak – we are all beloved children of God the Father. Our purpose, here on earth, is to bring souls – our own and those of others – to the Eternal Home with Jesus Himself. Being a child of God leaves no room for egocentric self-interest. The Word is there to be shared.

Mission One


Placing the mission first sets the tone for the importance of the goal – saving others. When we seek to participate in the New Evangelization to which Pope John Paul II called us, our focus must not be abandoned. Winning souls for Christ is the pinnacle to which we must be determined to ascend. This requires a dedication that may not come naturally for most of us. Therefore we should pray for strength and success. We must soldier on.

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13

Refuse Defeat


Yet bringing souls – even our own – to Jesus is no task for the weak. This mission requires a steadfastness and determination not come by naturally. In training for our mission our weapons come from the supernatural: grace, divine inspiration, and the Word of God. Often times we seek to share what we, ourselves, have learned but lack the perseverance to allow others to fully embrace the importance of the mission in their own time. The four Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance play a key part in defying defeat and accompanying others gently into the Light.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57 

Never Quit


Discouragement can become our enemy as the Evil One places a lack of resolve onto our weary souls. In order to dig deep into our supernatural reserves we must avail ourselves to the weapons of the Church Militant. Holy Mass and the Eucharist, the Rosary and other devotions, and the examples of those warrior saints who have gone before us will help us in sustaining the fight. As in the Psalm of David we pray, “Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails; Do not hide Your face from me, Or I will become like those who go down to the pit.

Leave No One Behind


Sustained by the Word of God, fueled by His promise, and spurred by our Spirit-inspired commitment we are able to reject defeat. Imagine what would happen if all members of the Church Militant rose up, with a common purpose, and refused to leave behind any soul within their reach. What is keeping us from joining forces and completing this holy mission?

“We must learn the special operations (special ops) techniques and procedures for search and rescue missions of fallen comrades (those who have become weak in their faith). Although rarely wielded by the Catholics today, this supernatural strength and these techniques are truly authentic gifts of the Church that are field-tested and battle-hardened. We must commit ourselves to their restoration if we ever hope to stem the tide of evil and rescue our lost loved ones who may be destined for eternal damnation.” (Excerpt from Church Militant Field Manual).

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Gift of Unanswered Prayer



We all have things that regularly appear in our prayer petitions. Some are wants, some needs, and some are desires. As the saying goes, “God has three ways to answer our prayers – yes, no, and not now.” Like any good parent, God the Father indulges us but gives preferential treatment to our needs. Sometimes our needs do not correspond with our wants or desires. Then there are times when we need to be patient and wait – the timeline belongs to God

Wants, Needs, and Desires


Wants are the distractions of our souls. We can never get enough of them. Be they money, fame, delicacies, possessions, or admiration, their attainment fails to satisfy. We always want more. Often the want of more is our downfall. Think of gluttony, pride, envy, and the other Deadly Sins. In their extreme sense, they become a mortal sin, requiring confession.


"For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Romans 8:6)

Needs are the essentials that people require to live – nourishment, shelter, clothing, medical care for the sick, and love. Without these necessities, our earthly bodies will soon falter and perish. When we pray for our needs, God hears and helps with these fundamentals. Matthew 6:26 tells us,


“Look at the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, nor reap, nor gather into granaries, and your heavenly Father nourishes them. Are ye not much more excellent than they?”

Desire is the long term range of what we want from our lives. Do we have an important goal, like becoming a saint while here on earth? Is it our desire to serve God while we serve the least of these? Perhaps we feel moved to start a ministry of some sort. If our desire is to live a life pleasing to God, we make sure that we know, love, and serve Him in every aspect of our lives. Then, when we open our hearts to His Word, the path will be illuminated for us.

A Disappointing Response to Prayer


When we receive a response from God, the details might surprise or even disappoint us. If we have the proper disposition, as creature belonging to Creator, we soon begin to realize that a response contrary to our desires may very well be a much better option for our spiritual lives. Surprisingly, it may even be better for our temporal lives as well. All God asks of us is that we keep an open heart and mind. He wants to help us blend His wishes with ours to form us more perfectly for Eternal Life. If we only listen to His call, the prayer answered contrary to our wishes may very well have a wonderful effect - one we never imagined. In any case, making the best of His answers will make for a much more fulfilled life. Father God knows best.


"We are at Jesus' disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim his work in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that's all right, everything is all right. We must say, 'I belong to you. you can do whatever you like.' And this is our strength. This is the joy of the Lord." -Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Disappointment for Our Family


My own life gives witness to these truths. Unable to have more children, my husband and I decided to adopt and were chosen by a birth mother. One call we had both deeply felt was to have a house full of children. This fervent desire appeared to be coming true for eight months of the pregnancy. Our excitement was tangible and shared by our other, much older children. As the time drew near, we began to see a change of attitude in the mother - nothing blatantly obvious, just a sense that something vital had changed. When our lawyer made the call for which neither of us was prepared, the tears came in waves for days. Why had we not seen this coming? How did this change of mind come after such a long time? We were devastated.

Fast forward a few years, just when Luke would have been a toddler, I was given a devastating diagnosis - BRCA1 breast cancer. This was not just some take a pill, have a lump removed type of cancer - the gene our family carries has killed every woman in my family - three generations back - at forty to fifty years old. Our lives were turned upside down. From chemotherapy and one surgery after another - one lasting sixteen hours - my outlook appeared bleak. This was a debilitating time in my life - I was as helpless as I had ever been and completely reliant on others. While it was a humbling experience to have my husband and daughter take care of even my most basic functions, there was a joy and love never before experienced.

Had our little Luke come to live with us, I am sure we would have found a way to survive, but knowing he was in a good home helped deal with the empty place in our arms and hearts. Four years later, our daughter was diagnosed with the same cancer. She was twenty-eight years old and twenty weeks pregnant. Again, our lives changed drastically. As I had before her, consultation and surgery took us from Kentucky to Texas. The one-year-old son she already had needed care and days were again filled with nursing a loved one. Times like these find me pondering on the gratitude felt for a loving God the Father, who sees us completely - including our most intimate needs.

Prayer is Dialog


Prayer is an open-ended discussion. It is not akin to asking Santa for some favorite wish or toy. Prayer is an ongoing conversation in which we pose our requests while God tempers our gifts for our own benefit. It is also a lifelong endeavor, allowing us to get to know what our Creator wants for us and an opportunity to work with Him. As the road we travel, here on earth, winds its way this way and that, our needs, desires, and even wants change. As the Master of the Universe, God knows this and sees ahead, down the path of our lives. Where we see only the darkness of an unlit path, He sees fully in the bright light of His love. What we may need tomorrow or next year or five years from now, God already knows. That is why His responses come from a place of pure love – His every move is designed to help us become the best version of ourselves.

The Gift of Unanswered Prayer


If we keep our minds and hearts open to the nuances of God’s hope for us, we will begin to see a pattern. Even as we voice our wants, needs, and desires – we are able to temper our reactions and expectations. We receive the gift of Patience. In the gift of Wisdom, we are able to discern that the more we empty ourselves of corporal attractions, the more open we are to what God has in store for us and the more Fortitude we display as we wait for an epiphany as to what this might be. After all, God the Father knows best.

Advent offers the opportunity for us to empty ourselves and set up room for Him in our hearts. In what is left of this penitent and anticipatory season, let us weigh the significance of our requests. As we discern for ourselves, it would also be a worthy endeavor to focus on the needs, wants, and desires of others during this giving season. May we have an inspirational Advent, leading us to the magnificence of Christmas joy. This is the Gift our Father in Heaven offers to His children - all we have to do is cooperate.


"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Which Christmas Traditions Help You Become the-Best-Version-of-Yourself?



I've been following Matthew Kelly's 'Best Advent Ever' to discover how to best lead up to experiencing genuine Christmas Joy with my family. During these weeks we have been instructed on how to discover the best version of ourselves - which aspects of our lives to improve, which to reconsider or discard. Today's lesson offers the following:

Our essential purpose is to grow, change, develop, and become the-best-version-of-ourselves. Do your Christmas traditions help you do that? Will they help you prepare for Jesus’ coming? Follow Dominick’s 3-step process to decide which Christmas traditions to keep and which ones to consider eliminating.

Take an inventory of all the habits and traditions that make up your typical Christmas.
Look at each one and determine which ones will help you become the-best-version-of-yourself this Christmas, which ones don’t make a difference, and which ones are just distractions.
Eliminate the things that are just distractions, even if they are fun or old traditions.

This left me pondering about which Christmas traditions are dead weight in my life. We all know that our Christmas preparations can sometimes become overwhelming. As our families grow and change, we may even add more in the way of traditions and activities. But is that what it really takes for the most joyous Christmas ever?

Let me share a few things that have made my Christmas more joyous throughout the years. Some of these changes have been deliberate while others happened due to necessity.

  • Some years I don't bake. Yes, I know that's a shocker to most of you but as my family grew and expanded, I realized that my cookies were only a part of the crowd. I have grown children now, who have spouses. While my baking was a source of pride, the need simply wasn't there for more sweets.
  • Our menu was also altered for more enjoyment and less duty. After our mother died, we felt duty bound to cook everything she had prepared – plus any dishes added as our family grew. The leftovers would last a week! Now we have honed our menu to include favorites while eliminating overkill. This is better for everyone – less expense, less calories, and less effort. Our meals would still match most Christmas feasts but we have done away with unneeded extravagance.
  • We eliminated adult gifting for our extended family Christmas Eve gathering. As the family grew there were many, many children - siblings, cousins, friends. Having even just a name drawing became more chore than joy for the adults. We concluded that we would switch to a "Funny Santa" game with a reasonable price limit. The caveat being that we had to bring a gift we wouldn't mind taking back home with us - no pranks.
  • The children each give and receive one gift – the drawing is held on Thanksgiving. To make the children's gift exchange more meaningful, we begin with the youngest and each child is handed their gift by the giver. One gift at a time is presented and there is a 'no rushing' rule. In this way, each child is allowed the joy of both giving and receiving - two 'gifts' in one.
  • As more children came along even "Funny Santa" became a stretch, so off it went, never to be practiced again. Watching the child gift exchange is more than enough to satisfy the adults.
  • Sometimes we don't go on an official Christmas light excursion. One of the traditions we used to practice was to rent a limousine each year for light viewing. We would pack snacks, cocoa, and provide the driver with our choice of Christmas CDs. These days we may combine a late afternoon grocery run with driving through the local light attraction at a public park and spotting lights on our way home.

Allowing ourselves to let go of things that we cling to out of habit or tradition frees us for keeping and developing more enriching practices. Here are some example of faith building traditions that do we intend to keep:

  • Advent Wreath – whether it is a traditional, fresh pine wreath, one made with children’s hand prints, or an artistically fashioned faux wreath, this is a must. We light our candles daily and read a bit of scripture or other text providing a build up to the Nativity.
  • Waiting Tree – this was a tradition I introduced when the first of our nine grandchildren were very young. It’s a small, tabletop tree that holds tiny books, hanging from golden threads. Each book contains a portion of the Christmas story - one is read and hung per day.
  • Petition Activity – another tradition was started to make Advent more meaningful for little children. One child takes a turn, day by day, to choose a colored clothes pin with a prayer petition on it. This reminds us of those we love or those who are in need.
  • Christmas caroling – even if we are unable to sing with a large choir (our parish is quite small), we choose a day for the cousins to get together to sing. We visit the elderly and widowed up and down our rural road to give a bit of cheer to those who might otherwise miss out.
  • Advent/Christmas books and movies – each year we purchase another Advent/Christmas themed book or DVD for our collection. While anticipating Christmas, what better way to spend evenings than to share a spiritually themed story or two?
  • Confession –whether it’s a local penance service or just a regularly scheduled time, we make sure that we are up to date on our confession. Even with the aim of going once per month, we sometimes fail. During Advent we make sure that we have prepared a proper home for Jesus, when He comes.

As we live amongst the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we sometimes struggle to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. It is only when we set out to prioritize our activities – and even our thoughts – that we are able to become the best version of ourselves. When we find a new way to accomplish this and practice it, our efforts contribute to peace in the family and in the world. As we await Our Lord’s coming, as a little Child, may we find the proper priorities and through them shine His Light for the world.

What are some of your family’s Advent and Christmas traditions? Are you willing to reconsider some of your priorities? Or is your tradition-driven activity already finely honed? Chime in and let us know!

Happy Advent!