The Door Story

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A few posts ago I wrote about the recent deaths of two of my cousins. I also mentioned that one of them was the daughter of an uncle who passed away at a bad time in my life and there was a story of an answered prayer that goes along with the day of his funeral. I am not sure if I have relayed it or not on here, if so, forgive the repeat. One of the reasons I so strongly believe that God speaks to us is because of this story. I always refer to it as the “Door” story.

It goes way back to an incident from the early eighties when life wasn’t going all that good. I was drinking heavily, not running my father’s business like I should, I was committing adultery with a young woman who worked for me, basically making a mess of things, breaking lots of commandments. As I mentioned, one of my uncles had passed away and I left work to attend the funeral. I remember kneeling in the pew before the mass and looking up at the crucifix and saying:

“God, I know I haven’t been a really good person, and I probably don’t deserve anything from you, but Lord I am asking you for something now. I need help, my life is fucked up and I need your help. I can’t promise anything but Lord, send me some kind of sign, tell me what do do.”

This was a time when I had distanced myself from the Church, I had never really learned anything about my faith, although I did believe in God. But as so many my age, I had decided I knew better than the church and would pick and choose what I would believe. I would follow some of the church’s teaching and disregard the teachings I didn’t like.

After the funeral, I went back to work. There was a door which we used to enter into the back room of the building, separate from the customer entrance. As I reached for the handle, the door opened and coming out of the door was the man who I had basically replaced as the manager of the store. He had left and opened his own small store in the next town over from me. Unfortunately he was an alcoholic and gambler and ran his business into the ground. He had stopped by to tell me he had closed his business and wanted me to cash in some food stamps, which he had been taking illegally. (Yes I did cash them.) But what I remember most was seeing him when the door opened. I can only describe him as a ghost, his face was gray and drawn, eyes sunken in, a broken man. Even though I knew it was his fault, I had been hearing all kinds of stories about him, including from my then wife who had been working for him for awhile, about taking three hour lunches, coming back drunk, loud and boisterous card games at the store, while it was open, I felt bad. But going back to work I didn’t give it another thought.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Every time I would close my eyes, I would see his face coming through the door. That face and the look of defeat, beaten down, failure. It wasn’t until about dawn when it hit me as to why I kept seeing his face, this was the sign God was sending me. God was telling me if I continued in this way, I would be in the same place in a short time. (Many years later when I began my journey back to God, I had a different, more accurate interpretation of this dream, but it still was my “sign”.) I stopped drinking, I concentrated on my work, paid attention to my family, at least for awhile. I went back to my old ways, then would quit again, and then go back. This is another story for another time. The point is God sent me the sign I asked for, and it was the door opening for me.

A few years ago when I was first exploring this whole God thing, I thought about this incident. While I had always thought that the “sign” was seeing this beaten down man when the door opened and seeing myself the same if I didn’t change, God actually was giving me another sign, another message. And as He so often does he gave me the message through a scripture passage.

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7: 7 – 12

What God had really been telling me was that I had knocked (my prayer) and He had opened the door. I believe the door was, and still is, a symbol for several things. In this instance it meant I needed to enter this door, follow Jesus, learn what He taught, and follow Him. This was the door He was opening for me.

I wish I had understood this message way back when I first received it but I guess it wasn’t time yet. Had I, I am pretty sure things in my life would have worked out differently than they did, but, if they had maybe I wouldn’t be writing and sharing my faith.

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Build a Strong Foundation

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As I am sure I have mentioned ad nauseum, I spend a lot of my day driving around. Much of this is spent in the northern regions of Vermont and New Hampshire. In this part of New England as in others parts of the country I am sure, there are many old barns, some still standing proud, others collapsing as from an invisible weight. There is one noticeable difference between those that are strong and up right and those that are not, their foundations. Some of these barns were built on strong foundations while others weren’t.

Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke 6: 43-49:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?  Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:  he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

I have been working (sort of) on a book about what can go wrong with a marriage. When I was looking at those barns yesterday and thinking of the passage from Luke, I thought that besides needing a good foundation for our spiritual lives, we need good foundations for our marriages. I am referring to a good spiritual foundation, one thing I believe I was lacking.

If we build these strong foundations, we won’t be shaken from them no matter how hard the winds blow and the flood waters beat against us. Without the strong foundation it is very easy for us to be taken away in the flood, brought down river, tumbling over rocks in the tumult that is life. Like Jesus says “the stream broke and the ruin of that house was great.” Don’t take a chance of ruining your house, build a strong foundation and nothing will tear it down.

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Finding God in All Things

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I may have mentioned that make my living driving around and have done so for the last fifteen years. Yesterday, during my travels I was in northern Vermont and New Hampshire. It was an absolutely beautiful late summer day and I would have liked to have been able to stop and “smell the roses” for lack of a better term. But I couldn’t, I needed to do my job. However, I still took the time to thank God for the beautiful day and the beautiful country He has made.

Yesterday morning I received a call about one of my cousins who passed away. She was the second in the last few months. We weren’t close, in fact I probably hadn’t seen her in thirty years, but it reminded me how it is my generation’s turn to start moving on the the next life. I realize my time left here is probably less than the time I have been here. When I was driving and thinking about this, I think I appreciated the beauty a little more than normally. I realized God made all this and did a pretty good job at it. I could see Him in the beauty.

Every day I try to take the time to find God in the things and people around me. According to the “Ignatian Way”:

Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the conviction that God is active, personal, and­­—above all—present to us. We don’t have to withdraw from the world into a quiet place in order to find God. God’s footprints can be found everywhere—in our work and our relationships, in our family and friends, in our sorrows and joys, in the sublime beauty of nature and in the mundane details of our daily lives. It’s often said that Ignatian spirituality trains us to “find God in all things.” –  Ignatian Spirituality

We can find God in all things if we take the time to look. Just like we can hear what He is trying to say to us, through various ways He communicates to us. We only have to look and listen. Sometimes we have to look harder than others, and there are times when we may not see or hear anything. We might miss the message completely, or maybe it won’t hit us until a few days later. This is what normally is the case with me. In fact sometimes it may even take years. Such was the case with what I refer to as “The Door Story.” This refers to something that happened maybe 30 years ago, maybe longer. And now that I thin of it, it all began at the funeral of one of my uncles, the father of my cousin who just passed away. I may have written about this in the past, and I will write about it in the near future.

Life in this world is short. This is why I believe we need to prepare for the next one now, and I hope the next one will be in Heaven.

How are You Spending Your Talents

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I hate to admit it but I am not always the smartest person in the room, especially when it comes to my faith, theology, the catechism, and especially interpreting the Bible. Sometimes passages will speak to me (sometimes they even yell at me) and other times they make no sense to me at all, or hardly any.

Today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 25:14 – 30 is one of those. It is  the “Parable of the Talents” where a business person has to leave on a business trip and entrusts three of his servants with some money. Two of them spend them wisely, doubling the owner’s money while the third, well, not so much. For some reason, I could never quite understand what this was supposed to be teaching me, even though the title should have been a clue.

Before I get into what it has taught me, let me say this. Since me reversion to the Catholic faith, I have realized that the more you seek, the more you find (Matthew 7:7). Each day I learn something new about my faith, whether through the Bible, reading the Church Fathers and other writers, listening to catholic radio, or just reflecting and thinking. I may read something more than once, and learn something new each time, or come away with a new insight I didn’t have before. It’s amazing what happens when you let God speak to you.

Ok, back to the talents. I have been writing for awhile now. When I first began it was before I fell off that truck. I used to write about politics and even became somewhat involved in it, helping candidates, etc. Through two presidential elections and three mid-term elections, I began to realize something, The problems in this country are way deeper than the political process. It is way more than the Democrats, the Republicans, the Libertarians and the Tea Party. I have come to believe it is a crisis of faith. I believe by removing God from “the public square” we have allowed Satan to take His place. It was then I realized that I was working for the wrong things. Not that these things can’t be changed through politics, but I believe we need to start with our faith.

And now the insight I received from today’s reading. On my phone I have an app called “Laudate” (you can find it in your app store). This app gives the daily readings for the day and a whole bunch of other great stuff. As part of the daily readings there is a “Reflections” tab which contains a daily reflection on the readings. Here is a paragraph from today’s:

What do coins and the law of economics have to do with the kingdom of God? The Lord entrusts the subjects of his kingdom with gifts and graces and he gives his subjects the freedom to use them as they think best. With each gift and talent, God gives sufficient means (grace and wisdom) for using them in a fitting way. As the parable of the talents shows, God abhors indifference and an attitude that says it’s not worth trying. God honors those who use their talents and gifts for doing good. Those who are faithful with even a little are entrusted with more! But those who neglect or squander what God has entrusted to them will lose what they have.

There is an important lesson here for us. No one can stand still for long in the Christian life. We either get more or we lose what we have. We either advance towards God or we slip back. Do you seek to serve God with the gifts, talents, and graces he has given to you? – Daily Scripture

God gives us talents, with me I like to think it is a gift for writing, well at least until He tells me otherwise, and I realize I need to use it to make a difference. That difference isn’t by trying to change the world through politics, but rather, through getting people back to God. It is to somehow stop people from making the mistakes I have made in my life, to either bring them back into the faith or stop them from leaving the faith. This is where the change has to come from, where it needs to begin.

Reading this reflection today I finally understood that I have been wasting the talents God has given me and I need to focus more on my writing, I need to use these talents for the right reasons. Yes, I will still write about politics, and recently have resurrected one of my old blogs and will soon resurrect a second, but with a slightly different view. In addition, I will continue with some other writing projects with the same ultimate goal in mind.

I don’t know if I will be successful, but I know I can no longer squander the talents God has given me.

For your reading pleasure from Amazon:

Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul

Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization

New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today

Enter Through the Narrow Gate

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Yes, you wandered into temptation. But remember, you don’t often find temptation on the sure and straight path. Do you see where you left that path?

How many times do we stray from the straight path? How many of us don’t even now what the straight path is? If we don’t know what the straight path is, how can we follow it?

I think back to my past, when I strayed from the straight path and I realize I didn’t know what the straight path was. I didn’t learn what the straight path was until a few years ago when I began to read the Bible and came across

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. – Matthew 7:13-14

This is where the “straight path” comes from, here and Luke 13;24, the narrow path or gate, being the path we need to stay on to enter Heaven.

I had left the faith, I didn’t study the Bible, I had never even read it as far as I can recall. so I had no idea what the straight path was, nor how to stay on it. I don’t recall ever learning about this in any CCD class or any where else. Now, this is not to say it wasn’t taught and I just wasn’t listening, the point is I didn’t know about it. If you don’t know about something, how can you follow it? I would like to think these things are covered in the religious education programs we have today, but I don’t know for certain.

Now I am certainly not blaming anyone for my not knowing these things, I take full responsibility for it, it was my choice to not learn my faith, I guess my point is it is up to us to learn these things. But, more importantly, if we don’t know where straying from the straight path will lead us, or keep us from, then why would we ever get back onto it?

Kicking God to the Curb

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One of my favorite Catholic talk show hosts talked about a recent Gallup poll yesterday that reported on recent trends in the acceptability of things that used to be considered immoral and now are accepted as moral. (see Gallup poll here) I did write a little about it in my other blog, the more political one, but I feel it needs to be talked about here as well. ( Patrick Madrid, Right Here, Right Now)

The last caller, or maybe the next to the last really hit the nail on the head, when she said if we hadn’t kicked God to the curb, we wouldn’t have such a problem. Okay she didn’t use quite those words, but haven’t we done that? Haven’t we allowed others to remove God “from the public square” as the current saying goes? Now I am no scientist, nor do I even play one on TV, but isn’t there some law of physics or one of the sciences which basically says if you create a vacuum by removing something, something else has to fill its space?

What is going to fill the space that removing God has created? Um, how about Satan? I was never much of a Paul Harvey fan, but he once made a recording, I don’t know if it was on his radio show or somewhere else, entitled “If I Were the Devil.” If you have never listened to it, you should. It was very prophetic in 1965, especially since so much of what he predicted has come true today. Now before someone out there gets all in a tither, I know there is some controversy as to who wrote this, when it was written, etc. etc. and I chalk that up to the same people who are kicking God to the curb.

The sad thing is, we have allowed this to happen, especially we Catholics. Yup, I said it, I am blaming my fellow Catholics and myself, in fact, I am putting  a good part of the blame on my fellow Catholics and I. The reason I believe we are to blame is two-fold.

First, we are too nice, we are too Christian. We tend to mostly keep to ourselves and not push our religion and our beliefs onto others, at least until recently and even on ourselves. I only need to look at myself and my own life. I honestly do not remember the church ever catechizing (teaching) me why contraception was wrong, why abortion was wrong, only that they were a sin and that was that. They never fully explained these things. (Now whether or not I would have listened is another thing) The point is we have kept quiet and sucked it up, letting others push their secularist agendas on us without fighting.

The second point, and this could very well be a result of why we haven’t pushed our beliefs, is we have been convinced, or at least our pastors have been, that we can’t preach politics from our pulpits. We have bought into the “separation of church and state” myth and how f we preach politics, our church would lose its tax exempt status. This isn’t true as you can read here. When is the last time we have heard a good homily about what the left is doing to the country and especially religious freedom? Our Protestant brothers have no problem with this. Why even Michelle Obama says it is a good thing, so why  don’t we Catholics do it?

Yes, I do think things are changing for the better. We Catholics are beginning to come around. After all this is partly what the “New Evangelization” is all about, re-evangelizing Catholics about what we as Catholics are supposed to believe, and why we are supposed to believe.

The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposing’ the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. – USCCB

We need to relearn our faith, understand it, follow it and then share it. We can no longer be silent. If we remain so, it won’t be long before we no longer have any religious freedom left. I’ll leave you with this, written by Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.

Yes Virginia, it could happen here.

The Safest Road to Hell

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Isn’t that the truth? The road to hell begins smoothly, you drift a little to one side or the other and you don’t even realize it. As Lewis says, there aren’t any signposts, nothing to let you know you are going the wrong way. The Evil One won’t post signs for you, he will just let you go on your way. That was certainly the way for me.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t need a GPS to stay on the right road, the narrow path, all we need is to follow Jesus. He will guide us, He will provide us with all the road signs we will ever need. It took me a long time to understand this. As I am sure many from my generation did, I decided I would be my own guide through life, picking and choosing which lessons I wanted to learn from the church. keeping some, discarding most. Unfortunately one result of this is we also failed to teach our children that there is a road map to life out there they can use. This has led to at least one, if not more, generations either falling away from or never joining the church. We see plenty of evidence of this each and every day.

In my last post I talked a little bit about discernment. I mentioned an article by Peter Kreeft.  In the article he lists five general principles of discernment.

  1. Always begin with data
  2. Let your heart educate your mind
  3. Have a soft heart but a hard head
  4. All God’s signs should line up
  5. Look for the fruits of the Holy Spirit

If we don’t educate ourselves, we won’t know what the data is, how to educate our minds, how to soften our hearts, what God’s signs are or what the fruits of the spirit are. How can we follow if we don’t know what to follow?

Every day I am thankful for God waking me up to Him. Falling off that truck a few years ago woke me up and brought me back to the Catholic Church and the teachings of God and Jesus. While I certainly don’t claim to know everything, nor will I ever, I have come  a long way and now I can follow the five principles Kreeft lists to help me discern God’s will.

Will I get to Heaven or am I still on the wide path? I don’t know for certain, but at least I feel I am heading in the right direction.

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