Friday, September 21, 2018

Next STEPS: Practice Prayer and Sacraments

Why did Moses and the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years before they reached the promised land? It was only an 11 day journey that took 40 years. Why? Because Moses was a real man, and real men don’t ask for directions. How do you think Mrs. Moses felt about that?

As Christians, we too are on a journey. We are called to be followers or students of Jesus. Church people call it discipleship, and discipleship is about the journey of following Jesus.

Every journey is made up of steps. And that's what our homily series, for five weeks, is all about: the simple steps of discipleship. There are specific STEPS that are essential to growing and strengthening our faith. In order to grow in a relationship with Jesus, a relationship in which he can transform us, these STEPS are all important to take. The steps we're talking about are aimed at simplifying not complicating your life. S.T.E.P.S. is an acronym.
  • With the first letter S we talk about sharing our faith. Our faith actually grows as we share this message with others.
  • The letter T is about tithing and giving. God is generous. God is a giver and we can use our money to become more like our giving God.
  • The letter E is engage which is about groups. Faith is personal, not private. And we need support and encouragement through groups.
  • The letter P is the practice of prayer and the sacraments.
  • With the last letter S we talk about service in a ministry. Jesus called himself a servant and that's what he wants his followers to be.
The steps are not necessarily taken in any particular order and neither will our homily series. Today we're talking about the letter P, the practice of prayer. The practice of prayer, as an important step of faith, probably doesn't shock you. But here is what might surprise you: we may be praying wrong. That can sound a bit offensive. Is there really a right and a wrong way to pray? There is.

To help us understand prayer, let’s look at the book of James which is our second reading today. The book of James was written as advice to all Christians to help them grow in faith and spiritual maturity. We're looking at the 4th chapter where James asks this very poignant question. He asks:

Where do the wars and conflicts among you come from? James 4.1

This is a pretty good question. Why are there wars between nations? Why are there wars in our families and at work? The news is full of conflicts that rage out in the wider world, but it isn't just out there. Maybe it was in your house this weekend, or your car this morning. Why does there have to be all this fighting? Here is what James says about that.

Is it not, from your passions, that you make war? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain. James 4.2-3

By “passions” James means, collectively, all the ways in which we want more. There is this disordered part in all of us that wants what we want, when we want it. We can be envious and selfish. There is conflict on the outside because there is a war in the inside. And this is where prayer enters the picture.

James writes, You do not possess because you do not ask. James 4.2

Sometimes, we don't have, because we don't pray about it. How often does that happen?  For example, sometimes, we waste no time in getting annoyed and angry with each other, but did we stop to pray about being frustrated with the other and ask God to help us with that emotion? Do we ask God to help us to change on the inside? Maybe not.

Or... James writes: You do ask, but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4.3

Hmm. . . Do you know why God answers some of our prayers with a resounding “no” ? James says we are praying for the wrong things, maybe even foolish or selfish things.

In prayer, of course, we bring our needs to God. And if we ask, as he teaches us to ask, we'll receive a positive response. How do we do that? James writes:

Submit yourselves to God. James 4.7 Submit yourselves to God. . .

The word Submit is challenging and interesting. The meaning in the original Greek was a military term in which one military force aligned itself with another military force of far greater power and authority. It was a strategic decision aimed at success and victory. Prayer is like that. When you pray, in a way in which you are submitting to God, a force of greater power and authority, that is a strategic decision aimed at success and victory. Then James comes to the main point of prayer. James says:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4.8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

The point of prayer is not about getting what we want, or trying to manipulate God to give us what we want. The point of prayer is drawing closer to God. so we can hear his voice and follow him.

Then James says, Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. James 4.10

That is to say, go to God with a humble heart. Pray in a manner in which you confess that God is God, and you are not... and he will exalt you. When you approach God in prayer, with a humble heart, you submit to him. That's why kneeling is a great posture for prayer. Use your needs, and wants, to draw closer to God.

It's a life-long lesson to learn. It is a lifestyle choice to keep meeting God in prayer. And when you commit to that lifestyle choice you will experience a significant reduction in unhealthy conflict in your life. So how do we get better at prayer? How do we pray so that we grow our in a relationship with Jesus? Let’s look at three ways.

First, you have to practice it. Prayer is just like working out. Do it rarely and it’s difficult. So, as a result, you don't like it. So, as a result, you do it even less. When it comes to prayer, it is helpful to understand that most of us are beginners, the majority of Christians remain beginners, and that's OK. Acknowledging that, will help keep us from becoming discouraged or impatient with our efforts.

Second, you need a-plan to practice. You need content. You need something to pray, something to say. We suggest you use a daily devotional. A devotional is a specific spiritual or scriptural reading. There are many free ones. We have a few free ones listed in our bulletin today right on the front cover of our bulletin.  (See end of blog post.)

Third, identify a regular time and place to practice. For your daily quiet time, find a time that works best for you. Maybe start with just 10 or 15 minutes daily. If you are a morning person do it first thing in the morning. If you are not a morning person, if you are no fun to be around in the morning, if even Jesus doesn't want to be around you in the morning, then find a different time that works for you, a time when you can bring the most energy and thought to your prayer.

And then determine a place – a place where you can go and be alone with God. As you keep going to that place, whether it is your favorite chair at home, or somewhere quiet in your office, it will actually become a more sacred and holy place.

So those are the three things you do with prayer to grow in your relationship with Jesus: 1) Practice your prayer frequently, 2) Have some content like a daily devotional, and 3) identify a time and place to practice.

Lastly, if you want to change the daily prayer routine, once per week, and have a very special place to pray one day per week, consider coming to Eucharistic Adoration sometime from Friday morning to Saturday morning here in the chapel.

This practice of prayer, throughout the week, also connects directly to Sunday Mass where we receive the Word of God as he gives himself to us in Scripture and in Holy Communion. Your Sunday worship is going to be far richer and more rewarding, it's going to be the nourishment and encouragement it's meant to be if it is matched with your daily prayer. In turn, the Eucharist can be the source and summit of a life lived with prayer.

Prayer is the game changer when it comes to the better “you” you're aiming at... the you who is increasingly free from anger and pride, and war and conflict, because we're bringing that stuff to God instead of to our other relationships. Prayer is essential if we are to win the war inside of us, submit to God and grow as disciples.

Discipleship is simply following the Lord, step by step. This is not about starting off perfectly. It’s a journey. It’s about getting started and getting some direction. It's following the Lord step by step... In the direction of discipleship. A little bit more today than yesterday, A little bit more tomorrow than today. And in the process our life is simply more successful. The steps are steps to life change, the steps are steps to help you transform your life and your relationship with Jesus, step by step. What is your next step? How about prayer?

Devotional book opportunities:
† Living Faith:
† Magnificat:
† Bishop Barron's, “Word on Fire”
† Matthew Kelly: reflections

Listen to this homily here:

Vince on Being a Father.

My friend Vince has some beautiful things to share about fatherhood.

Monday, September 17, 2018

STEPS on the discipleship journey.

Call to mind a time you drove your vehicle in a dense fog. You know there’s a road in front of you, and if it is a road that you travel often, you have a sense of which way it will turn. But what about those roads that you haven’t traveled; can you tell which way the road will go? Does it go to the left, to the right, or does the road continue on straight ahead? Will you be in the ditch or on the road, or even worse, will something be in the road that you won’t see in time to stop? There is nothing more frustrating than to be in a hurry to get somewhere and have to contend with the fog. That’s the way that life is all too often. I often find myself saying, “Now Lord, I know you brought me to this place, but what comes next?” I can’t see the next turn.

On your spiritual journey, have you ever felt like you did not know what you were supposed to do next? Maybe we feel like we are okay and coming to Mass and so forth because we know we are on a familiar road, but we wonder what next step should we take, or could we take, on our spiritual journey.

Our spiritual journey should be a great journey, not a journey that seems terribly long or arduous. But if we don’t know what the next step is, then maybe we are not really sure where we are on our journey. Not knowing where we are on a journey can make it seem much longer than it really is and that can be exhausting. Again, think of driving in a dense fog, on an unfamiliar road with many turns, for a good distance, it takes great concentration, can seem like it is much longer of a journey than it is, and it can be exhausting.

So, what about our spiritual journey? As Christians we are called to be followers or students of Jesus Christ. Church people call that Discipleship. But, if you grew up in church, or have been around it for any amount of time, it can begin to feel like a trip without clear direction, no visible road markers, maybe in a fog, with no end in sight.

When you come to church maybe it feels like there are all these things you are practically guilted into doing. People have commented to me over the years that it seems like our pastor is nagging us all the time. For example:

  • We need volunteers to serve the spaghetti dinner
  • We need people to set up for the Christmas pageant
  • We want can goods for the food drive
  • We have to pay the mortgage on our building.
  • We have all sorts of envelops every week to put into all sorts of 2nd and sometimes 3rd collections to go with all the different envelopes. --People say, “I’m confused.”

People have commented that they feel like they are being nagged by inappropriately stern reminders about going to Confession or going to hell, and Holy Days of Obligation. And the biggest constant nag of all is always for whatever fundraiser the parish happens to be currently hosting. And there seems like there is always at least one fundraiser running, always.

At yet, on another level, an intellectual level, a spiritual level, at the level of peoples’ minds and hearts we really aren’t being asked for anything of consequence, that is, not anything that seems to really matter by changing or transforming our lives. It feels like a trip without any intentional direction. We are just being asked to go all over the place. On such a trip there are no clear signs, no mile markers, no end in sight. My friends. . . That –is – not – a – path – to – discipleship.

Discipleship is about following Jesus. Discipleship is a journey. And every journey is made up of steps. For the next five weeks we are presenting a homily series on the steps to the path to discipleship.

That is what the next five weeks of homilies will be all about, the simple steps of discipleship. Because, it turns out, successful discipleship all comes down to simple steps. They are not easy but they are entirely simple. We have identified specific STEPS, each of which are, in fact, life style choices choices that are essential to growing and strengthening our faith.

You see, in order to grow in faith in Jesus, we need to grow in our relationship with Jesus. This is a relationship through which he can change us and transform us. To grow in our relationship with Jesus these STEPS are all important to take.

So over the next few weeks we are going to take a look at specific, simple steps. These steps are NOT obligations to check off a check list. When it comes to faith, there is a constant temptation to look at spiritual practices as obligations to be fulfilled, or hoops we have to jump through. The steps we are talking about are not obligations. As soon as we start to look at these steps as obligations, that is, if we see these things as things we have to do to be a good Christian or a practicing Catholic, we weaken their potential effectiveness; the steps lose their ability to change and transform us. If you take these steps out of a sense of obligation, the steps lose their ability to change and transform you.

Jesus talked about taking steps to discipleship all the time. His favorite invitation to potential disciples was simply: “Follow me.” The point is not to get you to do more stuff. None of us need more stuff to do. The steps we're talking about are aimed toward simplifying not complicating your life.

The point of this homily series is not to take all the steps at once. They are called STEPS because they are meant to be taken one at a time as God calls you to take them. We simply want to make you aware of these steps. Let’s quickly go over the steps. Steps, S-T-E-P-S is an acronym.

S --The first S is about sharing our faith. God wants to include us in the life of his kingdom. And we don't buy life in his kingdom. We can't earn our way to it. We'll never deserve it. There is only one thing we can do with it, share the news of it. In fact, our faith actually grows as we share this message with others.

T is about tithing or giving. Perhaps nothing grows our faith and trust in God as much as giving. God is a giver, and we can use our money to become more like him. God is a giver, and we can use our money to become more like God in that way.

E is engaging, which is about small groups. We all need friends in faith who strengthen and support us in our relationship with Jesus. We need people around us who encourage us.

P is for Practicing prayer and the sacraments. To grow as a follower of Christ we need to talk to him. We need to learn to hear, and recognize the Lord’s voice in prayer.

S –The last S stands for serving, serving in a ministry. One of the descriptions used most often in the Scriptures for the men and woman who were closest to God, is servant of the Lord.

So those are the S-T-E-P-S, the steps. What does Jesus tell us about steps?

Today we heard Jesus issue a remarkable challenge about steps. He says: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, and that of the gospel, will save it. So the primary steps are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. That sounds like a lot, so we will break those steps down over the next five weeks into manageable steps.

Discipleship is simply following the Lord, step by step. You don’t have to be perfect to get started. It’s following the Lord step by step, a little bit more today, than yesterday, a little bit more tomorrow than today. And in the process, our journey on the road to discipleship is simply more successful. These steps which we are going to be talking about, are steps to life change, life transformation. So I encourage you to be sure you come for the next few weeks and bring a friend with you. Let’s take this intentional journey together, let’s take these S-T-E-P-S together, let’s take steps, one step at a time.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

What Does Jesus have to do with Independence Day?


What does Jesus have to do with Independence Day? We celebrate our country’s Independence Day in just a few days. What does Jesus have to do with Independence Day?

The scriptures tell us just that. The 1st reading tells us God created us to be imperishable. God created us to be free, independent, from sin and death. That's the Adam and Eve scenario, bliss in the garden and imperishable.

We goofed that up because of sin. But the responsorial psalm says: I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me. There is a great clue to what Jesus has to do with Independence Day.

God rescues us from sin and death through Jesus who sets us free. Independence is not a thing. Freedom is not a thing. Independence and freedom are a person. Independence and freedom are Jesus.  Jesus sets us free FROM sin and free FOR life.

The second reading reinforces that idea, and the alleluia verse repeats it when we sing: Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life. . .

In the gospel Jesus says: fear is useless. Do not be afraid. Have faith. Trust in me. For you were created for wholeness and imperishability. And I will restore you to that. Have faith in me. Live the kind of life I call you too, and you too will be set free.

These are the things I want you to know today. This is what I would like for you to do.

This independence day, stop and ask those around you, your family, and your friends what Jesus has to do with independence. Are you worried those around you will see you as a Jesus freak or religion freak? And is that embarrassing to us? I understand that. But, you know, Jesus is not embarrassed of us even though he knows all of our sins. If he is not embarrassed of us, we should not be embarrassed of him.

What does Jesus have to do with independence day? I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me, and YOU HAVE SET ME FREE!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Finding Joy in life.

We had some challenges with the ambient sounds and lighting in this edition of Whine with Fr. Doug, but it is still a good five minute message of joy in what can be a difficult world.  May God’s joy be with you.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

This is my Body. Do you Believe?

An American priest was touring the Holy Land. He especially wanted to study the places where Jesus lived, worked, suffered, died and rose from the dead. He became good friends with a young boy named Josef. The boy served Father's Mass and taught him some of the difficult Arabic words.

As the priest was about to leave for other parts of the Holy Land, he told Josef: "Not many boys and girls have the privilege of living in the land where Jesus lived. You know that God's Son, as a Boy and as a Man, walked these roads and breathed this air. Doesn't that help you to love Him more?"

Josef said: You don't have to live here to love our Lord, because now He lives in every part of the world. Every land now is a Holy Land. Wherever we are, we are in the land of Jesus." Did you ever think of this: Fort Walton Beach, FL is part of the Holy Land? Jesus Christ lives right here, right now. Do you believe that?

This is our thought on this feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, when we recall that Holy Thursday, when Christ first spoke the words: "This is my Body this is my Blood." Today we celebrate the fact that these words are repeated all over the world every day, that Jesus is present on altars all over the world. He will be present on this altar. Christ lives here. This is the Holy Land. Fort Walton Beach's’s, Saint Mary Catholic Church is the Holy Land. Do you believe?

This sacred space, this church, is also Bethlehem; Jesus is born right here in every Holy Mass. This is Nazareth; Jesus grows up right here in our lives, and we listen to the scriptures.

Jesus Christ works miracles right here, spiritual miracles: He heals us of the leprosy of sin; He heals spiritual cripples, so they can walk in His way; He gives sight to those who cannot see the things of the spirit as he encourages us to see the world as God sees the world. Christ forgives sins right there in that confessional back there. Do you believe?

Most importantly, this church is the "large upper room of Holy Thursday" we heard about in today's Gospel where Jesus spoke the words of consecration for the first time. This is my body, this is my blood. Do you believe? No land could be holier than this sacred place we call a church.

Do you remember the Miracle at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine? Well this is Cana; Jesus attends every marriage in our church. He attended funerals in His homeland! He is right here when we bury our beloved dead. This is the temple at Jerusalem; Christ teaches right here through His holy presence, through His priests, through His religion teachers, through the parents of His children. Jesus was present in the villages, the churches, the streets, the fields, the lakes, the hills, and above all in the homes of the Holy Land; He is present in your homes too, for once you receive His body blood soul and divinity in Holy Communion, You are a living tabernacle of His presence. Do you believe?

Yes, you and I are actually living in the Holy Land, because Jesus Christ lives right here in our midst. When you hear those words during the consecration today. “this is my Body, this is my Blood,” The Lord is here. Jesus Christ Himself is telling you. I am here. It is my body and my blood that makes this land, this place, a very holy land, a very holy place. Do you believe? This is my body, this is my blood.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Alone and Afraid?

The apostles were afraid and huddled in a dark room.  We all get frightened in the dark times, and we all need someone to hang onto. Jesus understands that, as he makes so clear in today’s gospel. “I’m not a ghost,” he says to his friends. “I’m very real; I’m here; and you can count on me. So don’t be afraid. I’ll always be here for you, closer than your breath, closer than your heartbeat. I’ll always be here, even when its very dark.”
Jesus’ words comfort his friends and calm them, and that’s good. But it isn’t enough so far as he’s concerned. He wants more for them and for us, a lot more than just peace and quiet. He wants to transform us into new people, who see the world in a new way - and respond to it in a new way.
That’s what Catholicism is.  Catholicism is trying to see the world as God sees the world.
Jesus wants to transform us into people who understand what it means to be made in God’s own image and what it means to be entrusted with wonderful gifts.
He wants to transform us all into people who understand that our greatest joy - our only lasting joy - is to be found in building family and bringing one another to wholeness in the sight of God.  He sends up to build family in our homes, in our church, in our social circles, in our workplace by sharing the gifts he has given us and helping one another to be whole.
Jesus also wants to help us see that the cost of being transformed - and being transformers - is always high, but the cost of not being transformed, the cost of staying mired in ourselves and stuck in our fears is even higher.  For the choice of not being transformed leaves us with little or nothing of the only joys that truly warm the heart and enliven the spirit.
Our being transformed is God’s hope and desire for us, God’s will for us. And it will happen and continue happening for each of us, if we trust in God’s presence which is closer than our breath, if we draw strength from the love which is closer than our heartbeat.  And then, we build family, help one another be whole, beautiful people.
God wills us to be whole and to be filled full, which means he wills us to be transformed and then to be transformers of one another.  How can we settle for anything less?
Build family by sharing our gifts, Love God, serve others, make disciples, be transformers.
Today’s gospel 
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