An Encounter with a Saint

•March 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Pope and D low resWe rose, bleary-eyed, on a Wednesday morning in March to see the sun rise in Rome. My wife and I (not yet engaged) were on a school pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Italy for the Jubilee Year with forty other pilgrims. I smiled at my college roommate as we parted ways to begin one of the most significant mornings of my life.

The Ponte Sant’Angelo – the Bridge of the Holy Angel – in Rome is magical. Along its way are ten magnificent sculptures, angels holding objects that relate to Christ’s passion.  The bridge leads to the Castel Sant’Angelo, a fortress with a powerful history in the life of the Church. I met Danielle on the bridge in darkness; we silently linked hands and watched. This morning was clear and comfortable, the air crisp. As the sun began to rise, the sky was filled with an amazing palette of color, oranges and reds of subtle hues; God the artist took just a moment to remind the city’s great works that they paled in comparison with his own spontaneous masterpieces.

After taking this all in, we had breakfast and made our way to the Church of the Gesu, the Jesuit mother church. This truly magnificent structure has a tremendous past, and houses many important Jesuit relics. With all due reverence to the remains of these holy men, this day I was in search of the Sacred Heart chapel. My roommate was already there, with flowers in hand, part of my plot. We kneeled and prayed.  With shaky hand, I removed a small box from my pocket.  You must understand that this box had never left me during the previous week; I had fretted over it, sure my plan was going to be revealed prematurely while Israeli airport security dissected our baggage as only they can do and visions of pickpockets danced in my head. I felt like a hobbit fiddling nervously with the precious band of gold that would play a role in my destiny.

I carefully removed the ring as Danielle’s face became a shade of red, close to matching the beauty of the morning’s sunrise. On bended knee, I asked her to intertwine her life with mine, to take on the monumental task of helping me to reach heaven (my part, I already knew, would be much easier than hers!). Surprised, and perhaps lacking judgment so early in the morning, Danielle accepted my proposal that we become man and wife. So began our Ash Wednesday in the year 2000.

We couldn’t imagine greater blessings on this day, but God is unmatched in his generosity. We walked in giddiness to Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday audience. The audience lacked nothing of the power we would have expected. For me, it was a great moment.

I can’t remember which sights we saw that day. What I can recall with vivid detail is the Ash Wednesday Mass that evening. Built in 422, the Basilica of Santa Sabina is the “stational” church for Ash Wednesday, the traditional spot for the Pope to say Mass with the faithful to kick off Lent. So it was this year.

The Church was packed, of course, but mostly with Italians and adult pilgrims. There were very few children to be seen anywhere. Danielle and I found ourselves standing near the center aisle, next to Jackie Lemmon and her little baby.  Jackie has passed on from this world now, but we think of her often.

Those who have learned anything of Pope John Paul II know that he loved people, and especially children. As Mass began – the Holy Father was still able to process under his own power – Pope John Paul noticed the baby next to us. Despite the fact that the disease that afflicted him had almost frozen his face in non-expression, the Pope became visibly filled with joy at seeing this child; it was evident, palpable.

The Pope walked slowly over to us and blessed the baby, mere inches from where we stood. It is hard to describe the joy we felt at this unexpected blessing. We spent the Mass in a state of bliss.

Many people had more in-depth encounters with Pope John Paul II. We didn’t speak to him.  He probably didn’t notice our beaming faces. But our encounter with this holy man, this brief moment of intersection, continues to have real power in our lives.

My wife and I began our commitment on a day filled with many graces. Our brush with (soon-to-be) Pope Saint John Paul II has given us a connection with and love of this man that I know helps to guide us. His call to live our faith in robust ways, to follow God’s will in all things, has been ever-present in our marriage. I know he has interceded for us. I am grateful for that amazing day, and for every day that has built upon it since.

This article was first published in the March 21, 2014 issue of the Colorado Catholic Herald.

Who is the Author of Your Story?

•February 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Old book openWe all have been there.  The desire may grow around a material thing – a new product, a home purchase, or landing that new job or promotion– or it may relate to something we’d like to do, perhaps seeing an old friend for a night out, taking a trip, or participating in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We get this strong inclination toward something and begin to “force” events toward our desired outcome.

When we read a book we allow ourselves to be taken where the author wishes us to go. We buckle up and go along for the ride. Rarely does a reader start marking up the pages of a novel, changing dialogue or re-writing entire chapters. We are not inspired to take the author’s place, even with a book that we feel has missed the mark.

Our lives are stories. Can we doubt that the intricate intertwining of human interaction we see all around is a tale spun by a being greater than ourselves? G.K. Chesterton wrote, “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.”

How many of us really know the peace of letting God tell our story without the absurd scene of the protagonist (us!) trying to steal the pen away from the author’s hand? Yet, many of us do just that.  Some days we are so bold as to simply believe we can write a better epic than the Lord; other days we find ourselves dropping hints at plot twists that might make his story flow a bit better.

In Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes: “The designs of God—what he chooses to do, his will, his actions, and his grace—are all one and the same thing, all working together to enable us to reach perfection. And perfection is neither more nor less than the soul’s faithful cooperation with God. . . . If a faithful soul accepts God’s will and purpose in all simplicity, he will reach perfection without ever realizing it, just as a sick man who swallows medicine obediently will be cured, although he neither knows nor cares about medicine. . . .We must put all speculation aside, and, with childlike willingness, accept all that God presents to us. What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us.”

How can we ever be disappointed if we take this attitude toward our lives? If God truly knows best, whether we receive physical suffering or health, riches or financial struggles, abundance in companionship and love or isolation and loss, we know he is refining our souls so that we may find the path to him; and we will marvel at our own story.

Jesus gave us the recipe for the abandonment that he seeks from us:  “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). Think of the trust a child has toward her parents, the complete reliance that she will be cared for in all that matters.

God asks us to take on this attitude of trust, even as we are tempted by the many worries that can consume us: “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matt 6:31-34).

Believe it or not, Lent is about one month away. The Church gives us this beautiful season of repentance to deepen our trust in God’s providence for our lives. Instead of waiting until Ash Wednesday to prepare our hearts for Lent, let’s begin today. Choose one area of your life in which you constantly seek to take away God’s pen, no matter if it relates to feelings or actions toward another person, the need for control, the absence of motivation, addiction or lack of faith. Give God complete reign in this area and ask Jesus daily in prayer to show you his will about this stronghold against abandonment.  Listen carefully to Jesus’ voice and then, as Mother Mary advised, “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

God will answer your prayers, and the results may astonish you. He will also prepare you in unexpected ways for a deeper encounter with him as Lent approaches.

Your life is meant to be a page-turner. Allow the author of all life the freedom he desires to tell your story as it was meant to be told.

This article was first published in the February 7, 2014 issue of the Colorado Catholic Herald.

Do You Also Want to Leave?

•January 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

22811121_sWe continue to celebrate this joyous season of Christmas, and find ourselves journeying with the Magi in search of the newborn king. These men of wisdom and wealth had seen the star that heralded Christ’s coming, and came “to do him homage” (Matt 2:2).

The Magi were men of learning who understood the significance of the star to a world so lost and weary. The Magi were also men of action. After discerning, they used their resources to set out on a journey full of risk and danger to seek after their hearts’ desire.

In his 1997 Epiphany homily, Blessed Pope John Paul II reflects: “The Magi represent the peoples of the whole earth who, in the light of the Lord’s birth, set out on the way leading to Jesus and, in a certain sense, are the first to receive that salvation inaugurated by the Saviour’s birth and brought to fulfilment in the paschal mystery of his Death and Resurrection. When they reached Bethlehem, the Magi adored the divine Child and offered him symbolic gifts, becoming forerunners of the peoples and nations which down the centuries never cease to seek and meet Christ.”

At the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we will be reminded of Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man who longed for the Christ. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple Simeon exclaimed: “‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel’” (Luke 2:29-32).

How Simeon must have been filled with joy and wonder at finally meeting the Lord! Simeon trusted that the Spirit’s promise would be realized, and he gave his life over to God’s purpose entirely.

Like the merchant in the Gospel of Matthew (13:45), the Magi and Simeon sought and found the “pearl of great price,” and sacrificed much to be in his midst in an intimate way.

We are meant to imitate the faith of these men, but we have the opportunity for an even deeper encounter with Christ than theirs, if we simply believe Jesus’ words.

Jesus gives us himself in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, many followed Jesus because of the wonders he performed. He urged them to seek after the bread that will not perish, proclaiming, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).

John chooses his words carefully when recounting Jesus’ command to eat his flesh (using a Greek verb that describes an animal “munching or gnawing”). His followers were shocked.

They asked, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52). Jesus responded, “‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.’” (Jn 6:53-55).

Many ceased to follow Jesus because they knew he was not speaking of mere symbolism. Many surely thought he was crazy. Jesus asked his Apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responded that they had nowhere to go, since Jesus had the words of eternal life. When Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist before his passion, his meaning became clear. Like Simeon and the Magi, the Apostles had given themselves completely to be in Christ’s company.

And so must we. Many Catholics do not believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Many of us doubt Jesus’ words – that we must partake of the bread that does not perish. We are comfortable with a faith that takes us only so far, but when we are asked to believe that Jesus could fulfill his promise to be with us always (Matt 28:20) by giving us his body, blood, soul and divinity in Holy Communion, we walk away from this “hard saying” like so many followers did long ago.

Communion with Jesus is the pearl of great price. We are able to come closer to Christ than the Magi or Simeon could have imagined. He is able to dwell within us so deeply that our very lives can give new witness to Simeon’s exclamation, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

This article was first published in the January 4, 2014 issue of the Colorado Catholic Herald.

In Tune with the Season

•December 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Father and a babyLook around your church next Sunday.  If there are children in their parents’ arms, you will notice adults gently swaying, almost unconsciously, back and forth. Most parents are experts at rocking in just the right way to calm a child who is hurt, cranky, or ready for sleep.  These parents are in tune with their child, connected at a level of soothing without speech.

Why do I begin this way?  First, let me say happy New Year! Even though we are still in 2013, Catholics should not be surprised at my greeting. The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, marked the end of the liturgical year, and we find ourselves at the beginning of a new year with Advent.

Reflect a moment about the liturgical year.  We begin in quiet anticipation for the coming  of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are meant to prepare our lives for his arrival, for the quiet coming in flesh of the one through whom our salvation is won.  Yet, we are not supposed to busy ourselves with celebration before the time is right. Advent allows us to prepare our hearts to welcome God into the world and our lives.  Doesn’t it make sense to start our year at the beginning, by preparing for Christ’s arrival? (Check out “Prepare like the Holy Family During Advent,” and “What are you Waiting For,” on www.thecharityofchrist.com for some Advent ideas).

At Christmas, we should truly celebrate this inconceivable gift of God coming as a small child.  We are certainly meant to celebrate for more than one day.  In fact, the Christmas season should be celebrated until the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, on February 2nd.  Why do most people take down their Christmas trees and Nativity scenes on December 26th or January 2nd?  If we are weary of Christmas after a week, we should look carefully at how we spent our time leading up to it.

On March 5 this year, we begin Lent. Do you see the Church’s wisdom here?  We have, hopefully, celebrated in good Catholic fashion with joyful hearts until Candlemas.  As Lent approaches, we begin to think about getting into shape in a more intense way than we normally do.  We are given the gift of Lent to reflect on our lives, to target areas for improvement, and to chart a path to deeper holiness.

We discipline ourselves in order to remain in tune with God’s plan, and we find ourselves swaying with the season through sacrifice and loving works as we walk with Jesus toward Calvary and the cross.  Even here, the Church knows we need an oasis or two. She gives us feast days like the Solemnity of St. Joseph and the Solemnity of the Annunciation in order to recharge us for the final leg of our journey with Christ during his passion.  What a truly wise and merciful design!

At Easter, we feast again, celebrating the Resurrection, the central event of our salvation, for fifty days until Pentecost, though we should celebrate this liturgical season until Trinity Sunday.

Most of the liturgical year is found in “Ordinary Time.”  There is wisdom here, too. Don’t we spend most of our days in the regular routine of life?  With Ordinary Time, the Church has us walk with Christ in his ministry, demonstrating that holy attention to our daily duties is as essential as celebrating in fine fashion, or disciplining ourselves for the tests to come.

But there is nothing “ordinary” about this liturgical timeframe (the Latin points us toward “order”). Instead, we find Christ’s instruction for our daily living as he builds the Church. Ordinary Time also provides us with the feasts of so many women and men, those who have run the race and are where we hope to be one day. We gain much by celebrating the feast days of these saints, especially those whose lives resonate with us, as well as those major feasts elevated by the Church.

We can also do more during each week.  Sunday, for the Christian, is the beginning of the week, not the end. How many of us look at Sunday as the first day, the day to set the stage and tone for our entire week?

Through the beauty of the liturgical year, we can feel the rhythmic breathing of the Body of Christ. We are nourished by the seasons set before us, with all the aids we need to deepen relationship with God and joyously celebrate during our soul’s journey to him.  We can enjoy the perfect balance of feasting and fasting that our faith offers us.

So, take some time this Advent to prepare as you are meant to, and begin this new liturgical year swaying gently with the seasons that really matter.

This article was first published on December 6, 2013 in the Colorado Catholic Herald.

The Life-giving Gift

•November 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

_CKP3967 This year, Respect Life month took on a very special meaning for my family.  In late September, we welcomed a new baby boy into our lives. Our newest arrival joins four older brothers and sisters in this world, and two siblings who intercede for us in heaven. God has so richly blessed our family!

God reveals so much to the world in his chosen plan for bringing life into it.  I am amazed at the patient endurance my wife demonstrates during her pregnancies. Her body changes in so many ways as the little life within her grows, and I cannot be more in awe of her sacrifice of self, a sacrifice which includes the loss of her very comfort.

Childbirth brings with it even greater reason for admiration for the women in our lives.  How can we ignore the processes God has imprinted into mankind?  Is it possible to miss how the woman’s body is designed, created to bring forth and sustain life in incredible ways? So much complexity is guided by unseen power toward the miracle of a new soul entering the world.

In pondering this gift of life, and our role in it, we must admit that many of us limit our blessings. We may give ourselves wholly to service projects, may fight to change hearts concerning the tragedy of abortion, and we may even remind others that abandonment to God’s will is essential to living a life pleasing to the Lord.  Yet, somehow our certitude that God knows best can fall short when we think about the composition of our own families.

When it comes to trusting God’s judgment for how many souls he wishes us to steward, we start to get to the practical very quickly.  Finances, freedom, extra work, how much love and attention we think we could possibly give, and so many additional worries move us to a place of reason unaided by faith. Our analysis quickly begins to leave God’s limitless power and grace aside.

How often do we really consider what God has invited us to participate in through the call to help bring life into the world, particularly in the context of marriage? “Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2367).  Think of that for a moment – God has placed in our hands the tremendous role of cooperating with him to bring souls into the world! With all of his power and might, we, his weak creatures, are given this awesome task. Should we not view this part in the divine drama as a profound honor, a calling with major implications for our lives? Should we not, then, seek his desires for how he wishes us to undertake it?

If we believe in a God who is active in our lives, who gives us only those things designed to enrich creation and bring us to the day when we can behold him face-to-face for eternity (and scripture affirms this), how can we doubt that he will give all we need to accept and steward the children he wants to entrust to our care.

Not only does this openness to children allow us to participate in God’s divine order, but it strengthens the bond and love between spouses.  “As the domestic church, the family is summoned to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life. This is a responsibility which first concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the basis of an ever greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique event which clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then to be given as a gift. In giving origin to a new life, parents recognize that the child, ‘as the fruit of their mutual gift of love, is, in turn, a gift for both of them, a gift which flows from them’” (Evangelium Vitae, 92).

We do not fully understand God’s ways, and many families are unable to have children, are physically limited in the number of children they can have, or have faced the loss of little ones before and after birth.  These difficult realities in the lives of our sisters and brothers only make clearer the importance of our call to remain open to God’s designs for our families; we all discern God’s will in the unique challenges we face, and we must never assume we fully know the realities at play for others.

The Church also makes clear that we should use prudence when grave circumstances exist, but even when these considerations urge the use of natural means of family planning (NFP), we must never be led to a contraceptive mentality. Instead, our happiness is found in opening our families fully to God’s beautiful plan and desire to bless us richly for our holy trust in him.

This article was first published on November 1, 2013 in the Colorado Catholic Herald.

Linger for a While

•September 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Beach “Can’t we just sit for a while?”  The idea of not having anything to do, even for a moment, is very attractive to a weary heart. Many of us equate refreshment with beaches, books, and remote locales.

Americans are among the richest people in the world.  We have the greatest capacity to spend time doing whatever we wish, but we often use our wealth of time in misguided ways. We approach work and family activities at breakneck speeds, filling our days with so much that our heads spin.  We then seek to use over-planned vacations as a means to create great memories to distance ourselves from the times we were too distracted to be the people we really want to be.

We have lost sight of what we are supposed to be doing with our “free” time. Aristotle wrote: “Happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we toil for the sake of leisure activity . . .”  While we might all understand this concept to some degree – we all live for the weekend or the big trip – what Aristotle means is something different. We really long for leisure time spent doing what we were created to do.

What were we created for? The Baltimore Catechism provides a concise answer – “God made [us] to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”  Jesus Christ pointed us to the first great commandment, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37-38).

How can we truly know and love God with our entire being, and learn how he wants us to serve him?  We must spend time with God as we would with any other person we want to understand.  We must converse with and listen to him in order to build authentic relationship.

Time spent in silent love with God is called contemplation. Contemplation is the highest form of prayer, and in it we enter into an intentional time of deep friendship with God whereby our hearts are shaped by the one who created all things.  In contemplative prayer, we ponder God’s goodness, his desires for our lives and the deep truths he wishes to reveal.  The more we come to know God and his will, the happier we become.

Our busyness is an obstacle to happiness.  We have come to adore work and to use leisure time for lesser things than God.  Many look down on those who don’t put in extra time at the job, and wonder how many of the world’s poor can manage joy in the midst of suffering.

Josef Pieper, in Leisure and Its Threefold Opposition, wrote:  “Leisure is essentially ‘non-activity’; it is a form of silence.  Leisure amounts to that precise way of being silent which is a prerequisite to listening in order to hear; for only the listener is able to hear.  Leisure implies an attitude of total receptivity toward, and immersion in, reality; an openness of the soul, through which along may come about those great and blessed insights that no amount of ‘mental labor’ can ever achieve.”

How else can we contemplate God without this spirit of leisure?  Leisure is something greater than a mere break from work.  Instead, we seek to cultivate the ability to be present in the moment, to see our place in creation, and to feel God’s plan in every moment of our lives.

Eucharistic adoration and silent, listening prayer upon waking and before going to sleep are great ways to begin to live a life dedicated to contemplation.  Adoration builds up our ability to truly hear God’s voice, and clears our minds of the troubles of the world so that God can fill us with himself.

We also gain much by practicing listening skills in our other relationships.  How can we listen to God if we don’t listen well to others?  We must try to be truly present at all times, listening with the goal of knowing others better, praying for God to reveal himself in them.  We should resist formulating our own responses prematurely, and fight against any thought that there are more important things we could be doing.

Finally, we should inventory our priorities. Are we immersed in endless activity, never being fully present to God or others?  Are we working for a false leisure of vacations spent doing even more?  How do we view those who cherish time with others and with the Lord?  Are we waiting on the future to get to know God?

A life in tune with God is a powerful force.  Let us reclaim our time from a world that has lost sight of the very things we have been created for!

*This Column appeared in the September 4, 2013 edition of the Colorado Catholic Herald

Interview with the Colorado Springs Business Journal

•August 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The Colorado Springs Business Journal did an interview with me on Catholic Charities’ services and concerns with those who are homeless.   You can read the full article by clicking HERE.

csbjRohlena

From the piece:

As president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, Mark Rohlena is responsible for the organization that seeks to help the region’s poorest people. Based at the western edge of downtown at Platte and Cascade avenues, Rohlena leads the umbrella organization for several efforts to assist the unfortunate, though he says those people are not always who you think they might be. Often, they are those with jobs and families who are teetering on the brink of homelessness.

Most in Colorado Springs might know Catholic Charities through the Marian House, which operates the soup kitchen where last year more than 200,000 meals were served, many to those you might expect, but many to those you might be surprised to see.

And:

Some people say the Marian House soup kitchen is a key contributor to vagrant loitering around downtown businesses. How do you respond to this?

The downtown area includes public property, and individuals who are without adequate food or shelter naturally go to these places. Catholic Charities and other providers locate their ministries where the people in need are found.

Real criminal activity is a law enforcement issue and we don’t support anybody engaging in such behavior. But it is not a crime to be disheveled or in need. I don’t have a greater right to sit on a park bench than somebody with no home. We must try to find new ways to reach out to our neighbors. How often have we made significant changes in our own lives because some stranger told us to? Rarely. We listen to people who care about us, who have taken the time to get to know us. This is our approach, to develop relationships, and in those relationships amazing things can happen.

 
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