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1 John 3:23 is a Scripture passage quite often used to promote personal agenda, but rarely is the fuller meaning comprehended: And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us. What does this really mean, what is the real point of this statement? John is saying that only by being truly united to Christ can we draw strength through the Spirit. Why was this so important then and is it relevant now? Some in the early church community were beginning to promote division. They were beginning to disregard the commandment to love neighbor. Some were refusing to accept faith in Christ as the source of sanctification and denied the redemptive value of Jesus’ death. John was finding fault with pious Christians who developed petty hatreds and uncaring indifference. These words that Jesus handed on to John are actually a condemnation to extreme ideological positions like those threatening the Church today - dogmatic conservatism, which makes creedal orthodoxy the only criterion for faith, and fideism in which all that matters is accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as well as liberalism, which reduces Christianity to living peacefully with others, where it’s enough to just seek what is socially just.

What is being said is there is a necessary relationship required between both God and other human beings. Relationships based on love. He is saying categorically, that salvation doesn’t depend on intense religious experience – being born again. Nor does it rest in dramatic charismatic expressions like speaking in tongues, or laying hands. Rather, we are saved because we are members of Christ – of his Church, the community gifted with God’s Spirit, in which the Holy Spirit’s presence is corroborated by our genuine, active, and loving concern for each other.

 Here we are twenty one centuries later and what happened in the early church continues to repeat itself. Some still come to church in search of spiritual handouts and others to fulfill some sense of obligation. And others think that creating their own splinter church isn’t leading others astray, that this doesn’t go against the unity Christ prayed for before he gave up his life for the Church.

 The deep Spirit and Truth Jesus spoke of will always remain hidden from those who are full of themselves, for in presumptuousness there is no room for God. It is the heart that is open that is on the path to love. We need to be vigilantly aware that God’s perfect love does not allow Him to be indifferent to what happens to you or me. Nor should we ever be lukewarm to God, for when one begins to be indifferent to God they are disconnected from the source to their better selves. My brothers and sisters, this growing unconcern for God is the cause leading to indifference to others. It is what is leading more and more to indifference of all creation. It is influencing one to think that they are the source for their life that they are self-sufficient, self-made men. Let us never be indifferent to God or anyone else. Let us not allow our Catholic faith to be reduced to ethics or a philosophy of life. Christ revealed the truth of life. His supreme act of love is not passing, it endures all things. It is the seed meant to produce the fruit of eternal life. By this fruit God is indeed glorified. May we always check our heart and see what’s really there, so that we might be truly united to Christ and draw strength through the Spirit.

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In the creation story, when God made man, He tasked him with protecting the Garden (Woman is included in this) and uses the Hebrew word shamar to convey this command. Shamar means to guard and protect, to never lose sight of her, and to celebrate her. Genesis goes on to say a helper suited to man is created. The Hebrew word used is ezer  k’negdo. It means helper in the sense that she will bring him strength and power. The fuller meaning in Hebrew literally means that if the man is worthy, she will be a help. If he is not, she will not be a source of strength. So, the initial responsibility to be the guardian and helpmate for this gift was appointed in the Garden. The choice of Adam and Eve to abdicate this critical responsibility continues to have a rippling effect today. Pornography is one of those ripples. And, because of technology, it’s everywhere, all the time. If you weren’t aware, pornography is the single largest industry in the world! It is now referred to as mainstream entertainment. Let’s be clear. God’s image is still there. The original design for our bodies and what it means to be fully male and female are still there.

Pornography is so alluring to so many people because it is a counterfeit representation of the divine act of sex. It looks and feels like the real thing. But, that’s exactly what Satan wants us to believe. Pornography tells the lie that we are primarily sexual beings and therefore require sex, in its many forms, to survive. But, if we understand our origin, we see that we are primarily spiritual beings and, therefore, require God. The fact is there is an ache in every human being to understand his or her identity, which includes an understanding of our sexuality. As a result, we worship whatever we think will satisfy that ache. If we believe the lie that we are primarily sexual, we will worship sex. When this happens, this gift from God becomes a god itself.

Pornography promises sexual freedom and that anything and everything is permissible, as long as it feels good. The lie of sexual freedom is that by telling us to say “yes” to everything, we are not able to say “no” to anything, and we are actually less free and held captive by our passions and temptations. Pornography communicates a message that “sex is no big deal”. The sexual act has immense significance because of the body/soul composite. In truth, “casual sex” is an oxymoron; there is no such thing. Because of our original design, the sexual act forms a powerful union between a man and woman. The two become one. It’s the joining of bodies and souls. Everything about sex is a very big deal.

The lie being bought into is, “you’re not hurting anyone by watching.” But the truth is that the very act of viewing pornography gives tacit approval to whatever sinful act is being viewed. Additionally tragic is that the act of viewing pornography, hijacks the brain’s rewards center into believing that real sexual intimacy is being experienced, thereby releasing a potent chemical cocktail that solidifies neuropathways that crave pixels instead of real people. Yes, people are being hurt, including the one who is watching. The culture now sees pornography as a legitimate pleasure, and is now playing it out in secular society as something good to be taught in middle and high school. If this is the first you are hearing this, I suggest you read the February 7, 2018 article in the New York Times Magazine, entitled What Teenagers Are Learning from Online Porn. It is beyond disturbing.

Being created in God’s image means there is inherent dignity in each person that cannot be taken from us. But here is the thing, a virtuous life doesn’t just happen by accident, it comes with hard work. We will always depend on a Deliverer (Jesus Christ) who alone can make us whole. The endless promises of God’s plan for love and sex are so much more valuable than the lie of pornography. If there is any question, the Catholic Church continues to condemn pornography as a grave offense (CCC2354). In a very real way, because rather than being an expression of a married couple’s intimate union of life and love, sex is reduced to a demeaning source of entertainment and profit center. Pornography is seriously assisting in the destruction of the family. And as St. John Paul II said, as the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world we live in. The truth is the further one entrenches themselves in pornography the further they distant themselves from the beauty God has in mind for man and woman.

So, why write an article that addresses pornography leading into Easter? For one, Lent is a time to reflect on the deeper-seated sins that keep us from connecting to God better. I’m writing this article, in a very specific way, for us Catholic men to look much closer at the plague and understand the serious danger pornography represents. Pornography is becoming one of the greatest sins of omission. It is critical to take a stand for that which we love most. It’s time to be the protector and guardians of our wives, sons, and daughters. Adam was given the responsibility to never take his eye off the gift he was given. He did and the consequences are still rippling. The good news is Christ came to reclaim what was lost and to restore the pure and beautiful vision God has for us. Let us not abdicate what we are called to do and be. Let’s not let the man we were created to be become an endangered species any more than he is!

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Did you ever stop and think about how bizarre Christianity is? It is the only religion that worships a crucified man, a man who held all power in his hands and yet allowed himself to be discarded and abandoned, worthy of capital punishment

Decades before the Gospels were captured in writing, the letters of St. Paul were circulated in the Christian world. In his earliest writings, Paul laid the foundation for anyone who wants to call themselves Christian:  We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block …(1 Corinthians 1:23). Why is Christ crucified so vital? The fact is the cross of Jesus is an unrepeatable and eternal changing event that calls all religions into question. The crucifixion is a critical dimension of faith, life, and has an irreplaceable impact on the destiny of every human being who has ever lived or will.

It is true that the gift of any human life for some great cause is always heroic and should touch one’s heart. But Jesus’ gift of his life is something much, much greater and paramount than a courageous soldier dying on a battlefield. How can I say Christ crucified is central to anyone and everyone? God himself intervenes to reclaim you. Yes, you! The crucifixion and death of Jesus is meant to be that personal to each of us. It should absolutely bother you and me that Jesus suffered such humiliation and pain. The cost paid for us was incredible.

Here is something for us to put into perspective. With clear reason those who saw what was unfolding deserted him. The crucifixion and death of Jesus brought incredible fear to those to whom Jesus was closest. They turned and ran. They hid themselves out of sight. Initially, the idea of Christ crucified was a stumbling block to those who claimed to know him best.

The cost for you and me is the crucifixion. You were ransomed … not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. The blood he spilled out ransomed you. For you he died (1Peter 1:18-19). There are many things to pursue in this world that might feel like they bring independence, but we are never really free until we are one in Christ crucified. Not by accident did the creator of love choose the highest form of love to ransom us. This love endures forever and nothing on this earth will ever equal it.  As we journey toward Easter, I encourage us to reflect deeply on Christ crucified. When we look upon Jesus on the cross it should shake the foundation of our world.

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Love will always be our greatest need and so it is no surprise love remains front and center among our continuous themes in culture. Just look at the genres that we seek to entertain us. But here is the thing; Christianity teaches that God is love. At its core love is to desire and then to sacrifice for the good of another. Is this really the love our culture is selling? There are in fact many other dimensions to love, but if purity of love is to be present, all other aspects of love need to flow from this first desire and commitment. Total self-giving is associated with God-like love. We have been taught our whole lives as Catholics that we are to seek to love more and more like Christ – to be imitators of Christ (1:11:1 Cor.), as St. Paul says. In order for any of us to have any chance to imitate Christ we must absolutely develop an appreciation of the dignity of the human person. The dignity of the human person rests in the fact that God says we are made in his image and likeness. In order to appreciate the dignity of the human life, we must first comprehend and respect the sacredness of all human life.

So how is it that we live in a nation where 75% of its population claims to be Christian and abortion is a legal right? As I pondered this complicated question, I came to the conclusion that the single greatest impediment used to justify abortion comes through a distorted question. A question posed to confuse and distance one from the truth, similar to the first question posed by the devil – Did God really say…. The abortion question posed: Is the mass inside a woman really a life? There has been incredible posturing taken around this question by both sides. But shedding everything else, even setting Scripture aside for the moment, something paramount now exists that emphatically answers this question from a scientific perspective. Science now proves there is no essential difference between an unborn entity and new born baby. Not only is what is growing in the womb of a woman alive, its very nature is human, it is the product of DNA; therefore, its nature, and its essence, is undeniably human. You and I are humans not because we have feet, hands, can walk, and speak. We are humans because of our nature, our essence, not because of our physical abilities or disabilities. 

The follow-up distorted question usually posed is: Shouldn’t a woman have something to say about her own body? The truth is the unborn entity within a pregnant woman’s body is not a part of her body. Once again, DNA beyond any doubt reveals the fetus is genetically distinct, with its own unique and individual gender, blood type, bone structure, and genetic code. Although the unborn fetus is attached to its mother, it is not a part of her. To say that the unborn fetus is a part of its mother is to claim that the mother possesses four legs, two heads, two noses, and in the case of a conceived male – a penis. Yes, in most ways a woman does have a right to control her own body, but she does not have the right to control the unborn fetus, even though for a time the fetus lives inside her body. DNA conclusively bears witness that when the woman terminates the life of another through abortion she is not controlling her body; she is allowing the life of the fetus living inside her to be killed.

We Catholics are asked to do what we can to acknowledge the gross violation of human dignity that legal abortions uphold. Some march, some pray, and some do penance. None of us get a pass, and if we are imitators of Jesus we have to strive to completely be united to him. All of us need to work at changing our culture by first laying down our self-centered ways that do oppose the sacredness of life. Like Christ, we need to cherish life and the truth that this entails. The continuing distortions of our culture are distancing us from revealing the truth that the greatest good of humanity is love, to be loved and to love more perfectly, like God.  

The moral decline of humanity started with a lie and the lie continues to perpetuate itself when love, seeking the greater good, is supplanted with self-gratification and selfishness. But there is great hope. There is hope in the good news of Jesus Christ, because he came to reveal that what is dark and painful is not how it ends. He came to reveal that God is indeed love. This love is present, for Christ is with us, and he calls us to stand up for life, to work and pray against anything that seeks to destroy life. The dignity of your life, my life, all life, rests in life being sacred. It will always remain sacred because life comes from God, and is part of his eternal plan.  Defending this truth is the highest priority in society. Desiring and seeking the good of another is extremely high on the list of reasons we exist. For it is precisely in desiring and seeking the good of another that we reveal the image and likeness of God we are made in.  This is why the protection of the person is the foundation of the Catholic Church’s concern in its entire social ministry. 

Imitators of Christ are a voice articulating concern when sacredness of life is dismissed. And defending human life brings to light the much deeper truth of the origin of God’s love, seeking the ultimate good of another.

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It’s pretty much impossible for any Christian to have never heard the expression Jesus is the Reason for the Season, yet isn’t it true we are still more motivated over the gifts, food, and fun of the holiday season and miss the point of bringing Jesus into our hearts and daily life?

John says in the first chapter of his Gospel: What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it  … The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world … He came to what was his own, but his own did not accept him. Here is some clarity (pun intended); darkness is not something on its own, it is the lack of something. In the truest sense, darkness is the absence of light. The darkness that John speaks about is not being present to Jesus in one’s life. The last part of this Scripture passage submits to us that we are to accept Jesus. So how does one become ready to accept Jesus? Let’s think for a moment about Mary and Joseph, and their preparation and readiness for the first Christmas. Clearly, they understood that the Son of God was going to be born of Mary. I would think there was serious consideration and personal commitment given to being prepared. They must have lovingly prepared in some ways to receive him. Some things happened though, which they couldn’t plan for, and they had to alter their plans. For instance, when the moment came for Jesus to be born, surely they didn’t end up in the place they hoped for to give birth. But God’s plan for Jesus existed from the beginning and Mary and Joseph had to adjust. The real point of preparation is that it has to be flexible enough to adjust to God’s plan. Joseph obviously searched for a safe and peaceful location for Mary to give birth, and he could have let all of the stress and altering of his plans distance him from being meaningfully present to what God was doing. Just because there was no room at the inn, it didn’t mean there was no room for Joseph to receive Jesus with love and joy into his heart.

The expectations of Christmas in our culture often get in the way of preparing and readying to receive Jesus. The reality is too many of us are so busy with making plans that there isn’t a whole lot of room for Jesus on Christmas Day.  Let’s think for just a second, what is Christmas really about? It is about Jesus wishing to be born into our lives. And maybe we have realized that God prepared for Jesus to be born physically, and that Jesus had to be born to save us one day, but have we realized that God prepared for Jesus to be born personally into our life from before we were born. How much space is there in our life for Jesus? We may justify the lack of time for him with the busyness of life; commitments to family, working, school, friends, and other commitments. God doesn’t want us to shun these. What God wants is to be present in all that we do. God wants to be close to us. Think about it, the God who cannot be contained by a universe made himself small enough to fit into a manger, small enough to fit into our lives. He made himself small so we can understand he is present to us.

The Incarnation, the mystery and birth of Jesus is what changes everything in this world, from the beginning of time to the end of time. God’s love always set us free, in the birth of his Son rests the promise of God’s greatest gift of love, Salvation. Love is essential to us attaining the best version of ourselves! Where love doesn’t exist, the absence of light resides: carelessness, thoughtlessness, dismissiveness, insensitivity, and divisiveness. It is when one acts from love and responds in love that relationships thrive. Love is what magnifies light. When we love, there is a light that shines before all and this light draws people to it. 

My love language is in giving. As much as I enjoy giving gifts at Christmas and seeing the joy in others receiving, Christmas is much more about presence than it is presents. John goes on in his first chapter to say the Word became flesh. The Word is indeed powerful. When we are present to the Word, our words can encourage love instead of kindle fear. Make no mistake, what we speak does take on flesh and live with us. We are to seek to be present and not leave unsaid words of love that in a moment will be gone forever.

Do you want to give the most meaningful gift of all? This Christmas, give voice to your heart and say what needs to be said to those you love. Those words are more powerful than any material gift you will give. And if you really want to be kind to yourself, give yourself a present that will last all year. Begin a grace box, jotting down something wonderful you hear, see, or receive every day. I guarantee you will have 365 reasons why you became much more present!

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What is evangelization? Three words can sum it up: bring Jesus everywhere. Evangelization is about sharing the truth of Jesus with our family, friends, strangers, and yes even our enemies. It is about teaching Jesus. Not in the sense of catechism. It is much more personal. It isn’t listing his attributes, or waxing philosophically about his qualities. It’s not about memorizing Bible passages, or recalling all his miracles, as wonderful as this may be. If we are teaching Jesus Christ, we need to illustrate who he is by conforming ourselves to his life. The way we evangelize most effectively is when we witness who Jesus is by the way we live his life in our own. It is every one of our responsibilities to evangelize: no exceptions - no exemptions.

There are three major components to evangelization: Encountering, Relationship, and Prayer. Jesus is so much more than a talking point. He is someone to approach. All the moments in Scripture where Jesus encounters people, he changes lives. The woman at the well, the prostitute about to be stoned, the greedy tax collector Levi, the blind man from birth Bartimaeus, the grave dwelling demonic, and the tree climbing little man Zacchaeus. My personal favorite is the Prodigal Son. The son tells his father he’s dead to him. His money means more to him than he does. You know the story, he leaves and wastes everything. He comes back home with his tail between his legs, depressed, and begs his father to let him come back home. What does his father do? Longing, dreaming, and praying for this day, the old man runs to his son. He lavishes love upon him. He throws some filets on the barbeque and they party. Jesus ends the story talking about mercy. Did you ever wonder what happened that next morning when the boy woke up? What did it feel like to know he was loved that much? Did he share with others how much having this love given to him meant and changed him? The big scary word, evangelization, is just us showing what Jesus has done for us and inviting others to encounter and experience this love too.

Sometimes when we try and evangelize, we can get caught up in theology, talking about something or talking at people. If we look at the Gospels, we see moments where Jesus is just being Jesus. He’s not being a theologian. He doesn’t talk at people, but he is present to them. He invited people to walk with him because he cared about them. There are countless moments when we have an opportunity to be present to others and share what Jesus has done for us. We too need to be present in such a way that people don’t just see us as a talking head, or somebody who just knows a bunch of stuff, but rather somebody who cares about them.

The last major component is prayer. To pray is to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen, to listen to him more than we talk. We need to avoid turning our prayer life into a cosmic vending machine. God is not a genie in a bottle, where we rub the bottle hard enough and get what we ask for. God is not Santa Claus. Jesus Christ is our Savior. It is about staying connected, even when some prayers seem to be unanswered. All the dots get connected in time. 

The bottom line is this: we don’t get to be a Catholic without evangelizing to others. To be capable of evangelizing effectively we must be rooted in Christ. We need to encounter Christ, enter into a relationship, and pray so we remain plugged in to him. Summing things up: We don’t have to pretend to be someone we are not, the only person we have to be is the true person Christ created us to be. And if we are true to that we can share the truth of his love and all he has done for us and will do for others. This is evangelization.

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The Feast Day for St. John Paul II is on October 22. Much has been written about his life and papacy. Although it is impossible to do justice to the first major teaching he undertook as pope, I hope this short article inspires some to seek to become much more familiar with Theology of the Body. I believe it will be one of St. John Paul II’s greatest legacies. 

In its original release, Theology of the Body included one hundred and twenty nine talks, delivered between September 1979 and November 1984. Why did he write it? For one big reason, his entire papacy was devoted to bringing hope to a world in desperate need of hope. In Theology of the Body, he shares incredible insight to anyone who wishes to live a much fuller life.

His life experiences revealed to him that the culture has very little use for the idea that the visible body reveals the invisible person. But he says what we do with our bodies profoundly affects our souls and to ignore that greatly distances us from being more fully human. Today even more than when he released Theology of the Body the prevailing belief is that if God exists, God doesn’t really care what we do with our bodies. God is principally concerned that we respect each other as persons. St. John Paul II says that falls woefully short in exploring the very gift of God – love.

Theology of the Body completely affirms the goodness of sexuality. It clearly discloses that sex is not a dirty little word or limited to a bodily need and or function. God and sex can and should be spoken in the same sentence. God is the author of love and love is what drives a person to give, whether in marriage or in celibacy.

St. John Paul II believed that the nature of things is indispensable to understanding love and marriage. The problem with understanding how our world perceives marriage has a significant amount to do with an erroneous grasp of human nature. When one’s vision of humanity likens us to a mechanical machine that just happened to evolve then yes the body has no meaning, and what we do with it has no inner meaning and so marriage can’t possibly be comprehended in its truest form. St. John Paul II says the human body in its deepest nature was formed by God, it has spousal meaning, and the meaning for marriage flows from the nature of man and woman, male and female, created in the image of God.

He illuminates something that clearly needs to be understood if one is to understand love at a deeper level, each and every one of us is called to be a gift, a gift to one another and a gift to God and that this giving and receiving requires real presence. This life altering reality is becoming even more challenging in a world becoming more and more gender neutral, not to mention virtual.

When one begins to comprehend and sense the truths of Theology of Body, the Sacrament of Marriage comes much more into focus and its ordained purpose can be seen as a divine order of creation. For the invisible realities are made visible through the physical world. Why is this important? Because everything in the created order points to God. Once a person understands and accepts this, it changes the complexion of things. For everything we see and touch and do has something to do with the sacred. We need to touch it all aware of our connectedness to God, for it comes from God and reveals God in some way.

The beauty of Theology of the Body is it goes a long way in helping us discover the biggest why’s of life. Mysticism is the why behind everything – why we’re human, why we’re made, why we are female and male, and unless we know the real why we don’t know how to be fully human. Theology of the Body explores all these whys. Theology of the Body is a unique vehicle to call us back on the path to fuller humanness. 

Stay tuned, sometime this next year, St. Thomas the Apostle will be offering multi-week presentations on Theology of the Body.