A New Heart

March 12, 2016 — Leave a comment

5th Sunday of Lent, Year C

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Poussin (1653)

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Poussin (1653)

Something New

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
– First Reading (Is 43:18-19a)

St. Paul opens his Letter to the Romans speaking of those who “became vain in their reasoning” and fall into idolatry and many sorts of adulterous and unnatural acts of the body, even calling them “heartless”. (Rom 1:24-32 NABRE) He continues referring to this hardness of heart later in his letter, teaching that he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.” (Rom 9:18)

But Christ came to begin something new. The Word, the second person of the Trinity, was the fullness of Truth and the fullness of reason. He was, in fact, the personification of the truth of natural law written into our human hearts.

He knew the temptations that we each face, and the falls that we may occasionally have in this life, and He came to redeem us from them.

We with Hardened Hearts

And in today’s Gospel, the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus comes face to face with one of us with hardened heart…

The Pharisees press Jesus…

“Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
– John 8:5-11

God himself comes face to face with a heart hardened with sin, and shows himself as what he is: truth, love, and mercy.

In fact, he also faces the crowd with hardened hearts and asks them to consider softening them. He asks them to drop the stones from their hands and accept a softening of their own stony hearts.

He extends mercy, shows love, and asks her – and them – to return to truth.

New Hearts, True Hearts

A frequent reading in the Liturgy of the Hours through Lent has long been one of my favorite passages of the Bible. It speaks precisely of God’s desire to take our hardened hearts and replace them with new hearts, hearts of the flesh of truth.

I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them. (Ezek 36:25-27)

Oh, how I love this passage. How I love the gentle mercy of Jesus. How I love the idea of my own heart, hardened by sin, being made new by Jesus. Softened, re-made into a heart of flesh.

I, like every other man and woman, have fallen short in living the life of grace that God gave me in the waters of Baptism. I have fallen out of relationship with God.

I am thankful that, through the redemption won on the cross, Jesus is able to extend his hand, turn back those who would stone me, and offer me a new heart of flesh. I long to be in His truth and grace, and to keep His commands.

Praise God for the gift of mercy in reconciliation, which allows us to return to Him and sing, as the Psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126)

Last weekend, the Gospel at Mass (assuming you weren’t hearing the readings for Year A for the RCIA Scrutinies in your parish) was the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Yesterday morning before work, I was enjoying a cup of coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop and knocking out a ton of email while overhearing the conversation of some other men about James’s words on faith and works. The conversation took its usual turns towards justification and then reconciliation.

I smiled and remembered the Gospel reading when one of the men started talking about how his children are of his blood – regardless how far they run, or what they do in life, it doesn’t change the fact that they are his children, and he sees being God’s child, born into the family of God through Baptism, as the same, eternal, blood relationship.

Imagine my surprise also, then, when the reading last night at evening prayer was James 2:14, 17, 18: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say,’You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

Now it’s dangerous territory to mix these two stories – the Prodigal Son and the Faith/Works discussion, but something about them came together in my mind the last few days, as they came together in the discussion the men were having at the coffee shop yesterday.

The Son Who Runs…

I’ve been considering whether to share the images I’m about to share, but they’ve been stuck in my mind as I have been thinking about the Prodigal Son and the conversation I heard yesterday. Our oldest son Thomas was mad at me on the morning of Valentine’s Day for disciplining him when he was retaliating against one of his brothers for something that they had been doing. As a result, he drew us this “Valentine” and gave it to us at breakfast…

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First, I have to acknowledge some readers’ shock and horror at this. But I also have to remind you that the Halbrook house is a perfectly normal house of human beings with ups and downs, goods and bads, just like every other home and family. We have our moments, just like every family.

Thankfully, the storm of emotion passed quickly through our house that morning, and by afternoon all were reconciled, Thomas wasn’t packing for a foster home, and we were having a wonderful time as a family again.

The Merciful Father

But I remember the point that the other man made over coffee yesterday morning… regardless how far his children might run, they are still his children.

We still want the best for our children, we’ll still pray for them and their return to right relationships. We still want them “under our roof” (or at least in a place of safety).

We’ll still welcome them home and back into our loving arms.

The Need for Return

Looking at this from the point of view of the son, though (and this is where the Prodigal and Faith & Works start to mingle in my mind), the father can’t welcome him home unless he returns home.

I left the coffee shop yesterday morning pondering whether God would trump our free will and pull us back into His saving grace even if we wanted to stay separated. God is the all-merciful Father of all. But would that be true mercy? Or would that be something else? There’s something in the fact that God’s grace, mixed with our free will and conscious choice to exercise that grace, impels right action.

The prodigal returns home.
The good son shows his faith through works.
All is right and well.

But mixed in that swirling set of readings and conversations the last few days, I’m still pondering… isn’t James onto something?

God moves first.
God loves, and God shares his grace.
The Father is merciful and waits at the edge of the homestead with open arms.

But don’t we have to act too?
The grace inspires works.
The son runs home before it’s too late.

Future, Forward

January 19, 2016 — Leave a comment

“Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
See, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the wilderness I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.”
– Isaiah 43:18-19

Future, not past.

Forward, not backward.

Eyes in Front

I saw a quote online the other day that noted, “Our eyes are in front because it’s more important to look forward than it is to look back. Don’t dwell on things in the past. Learn from them and keep moving forward.”

So often, I have to stop myself and think: Is it productive for me to be reflecting backward like this? Should I dwell on those mistakes I made in the past, or the slip-up that a teammate had last week? Should I hold a grudge over something someone did to me a few months or a few years ago?

Usually, if I’m honest with myself, letting go of the past while still taking forward anything I can from the experience it is the most productive approach.

It’s also often the healthiest approach. How much ‘baggage’ can I lug around through life with me, after all?

Yes, I’ve made mistakes – big ones. Yes, people have hurt me. Yes, I’ve hurt others.

In all cases, I’ve done what I can to make amends, seek forgiveness, right the wrongs, give forgiveness, or otherwise put the bad in the past.

Penance & Forgiveness

I thought of this last Thursday when my second son Matthew James was about to head to the church with my wife and me for his first Penance. As his brothers got out of the van at his NaNa’s house so that she could watch them while we were at the church, he inquired, “Guys, have I done anything mean to you lately? Was I mean when we were getting ready for school? Did I say anything mean to you?”

Each of the boys, in their own way, kind of brushed it off, saying something like, “Yeah, maybe, but I forgive you and I’ve forgotten about it.”

Forgive & Forget

Forgive – or seek forgiveness – and then move forward. Again, I find myself learning from my own sons. In their love for each other they forgive, forget, and move forward so gracefully.

Even When It’s Hard

Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it takes years, or decades.

There was a time, years ago, when I deeply hurt a mentor of mine – an adviser that I had in scouting when I was a youth leader. I didn’t intend to, and it didn’t happen directly. Another adult who was responsible for choosing & appointing the adviser role came to me and another youth leader, explaining that he was planning on appointing a new adviser the following year, and asking for our input on candidates that he should consider.

I considered the conversation one in confidence and told no-one – not even the adviser who was going to be “replaced” the following year. When everything had come to pass, he found out that the other youth leader and I had been involved in the discussions earlier on and projected a lot of his hurt onto us.

It hurt me too, because of what he had been to me as a mentor, adviser, and father-figure.

It took nearly a decade until our paths brought us back into alignment in our missions and work in life, and our relationship was touchy again at first, but time, discussion, and grace helped us heal those wounds – both for ourselves and for each other.

I’m still thankful that we had the chance to “make good” in our relationship before he passed on to the next life a couple of years ago.

To this day, he’s one of the men who had the biggest impact on my life, and I’m thankful we said “goodbye” as friends.

Don’t Miss the Chance

Forgive, forget, move forward.

“Remember not the things of the past…” move onward and upward to “something new”…


“Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13b-14

We’re Ready, Lord

January 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Wedding Feast at Cana

Wedding Feast at Cana

This Sunday’s Gospel comes from the beginning of the second chapter of John (John 2:1-11). It’s the familiar story of Jesus’ first public miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana.

Leading up to that event, it’s interesting to consider everything that happened in the first chapter of John: We hear the famous “In the beginning was the Word..” testimony, then the introduction of John the Baptist – the forerunner, then “The Word became flesh”. John came to give testimony, then “the next day”, Jesus called Andrew and Simon Peter to follow him. Then “the next day”, Jesus found and called Philip and Nathanael.

The Third Day

Then, in today’s Gospel, “On the third day…” falls our wedding.

Right out of the gate, we’ve come through the Christmas season in which we recall and celebrate “The Word made flesh” in the person of Jesus Christ, we see his public manifestation at his Baptism as the Christmas season ends, and we’re propelled right through the calling of the first Apostles and into the middle of Jesus’ first miracle.

Jesus doesn’t waste any time, and yet it’s notable that this “first wedding” falls on the third day – preparing us for the wedding feast of the Lamb coming later, on our next “third day” at Easter.

I’ve always loved the way this story unfolds… the wedding party has been continuing, and the guests have drunk fully of their host’s generosity.

When the wine runs dry, Mary takes the concern to her son first. At first, he seems to pushes her away. But she just turns to the servers, saying, “Do whatever he tells you.”

So much to learn from Mary – first, that she’ll always turn to our Lord on our behalf. Second, she trusts that if we listen and follow his way, he will provide. Third, he responds to her prompting.

The Miracle

And then the miracle. The servers cooperate with Jesus and fill the stone water jars as instructed, and without any hesitation, Jesus has them draw from them and take it to the headwaiter, who observes that it’s not water, but the finest wine to date!

I’d imagine that at that point, those first disciples were sold! In fact, the Gospel concludes noting how “the disciples began to believe in him.”

The Water, The Wine

What might that water represent for us in our lives today? What might the wine it becomes represent?

In the second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), we hear about the many talents in the body of Christ…

Brothers and sisters:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another, the expression of knowledge according to the
same Spirit;
to another, faith by the same Spirit;
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit;
to another, mighty deeds;
to another, prophecy;
to another, discernment of spirits;
to another, varieties of tongues;
to another, interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

And the verse in the Alleluia before the Gospel reminds us:

God has called us through the Gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ

Grace + Water = Wine?

We’re called to let the grace of God work through us and our God-given talents, and how we live the Gospel, to help lead by example, and to DO things that create positive change in the world around us.

What is the “water” in the world around me today? What could use the grace of God sweetening it into fine wine?

  • Does my wife need a bit more of my time to help strengthen our relationship and keep us close?
  • Does one of my sons need an extra hug, some encouragement, or just some time shooting some hoops together at the end of a rough day at school?
  • Does that older lady need a hand getting out of church and into her car in that thin layer of ice?
  • Does that guy need a hand getting that pile of lumber into the back of his truck?
  • Does that fearful expectant mother need a little bit more encouragement and prayer?

Live It… Proclaim It!

The more we tune into that grace and focus it into the way we live our daily lives, the more we’ll become “other Christs” – Bread Alive in the world today for others. We’ll see more of the water of daily life around us becoming the fine wine of grace-touched hearts and lives.

In one of the hymns at morning prayer in the breviary this week, this verse caught my ear:

The faith that first must be possessed,
Root deep within our inmost breast;
And joyous hope in second place,
Then charity, thy greatest grace.

In Christs’s coming, the three heavenly graces have been revealed and imparted to us: The faith of Baptism, the hope inherent in his call, and the charity his grace bids us impart to the world around us. Between last week’s Gospel and this week’s, we’re ready to encounter the world, bringing our Christian character to this Ordinary time.

We’ll not only live, but we may even lead others to sing with us the Psalm… “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations!”

Like the first disciples who followed you from those first few days, into the wedding at Cana, and then on your journey, we’re ready, Lord. Thank you for your call. Thank you for your grace. Help us to do your work today.

A whole new idea – a public dose of what I’m thankful for each Thursday.

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This week:

(1) Mom

Today’s her birthday, after all. She carried me, gave me life, and was a blessing as a mom (along with my dad) raising me.

(2) Matthew & (3) Reconciliation

Our little #2 son, Matthew James – his big smile and even bigger heart. He’s the “heart” of our 4 boys, for sure.

And the Sacrament of Reconciliation – tonight, in fact, is his first Reconciliation. Thankful for the opportunity to make ourselves right with God through this great Sacrament. Looking forward to the special evening as a family!

“God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). … Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”

-Pope Francis, Easter Urbi et Orbi message, March 31, 2013


Knock, knock, knock.

That was the sound at our front door last night as I was in my office reading about the Corporal Works of Mercy and my wife was at our dining room table working on details for the kids’ school’s annual fundraiser dinner.

It was an unexpected visit from a surprising visitor that ended up taking the idea of “Mercy” full-circle in my own reflection.

Christ of the Breadlines, Fritz Eichenberg

Christ of the Breadlines, Fritz Eichenberg

The Church & The Poor

Sunday, while driving Joseph Michael (our 3rd son) home from a birthday party, he asked a simple question about the church…

“Dad, how much money does the church need to run?”

I answered that it depends – different parishes or different dioceses have different ministries, different projects, different numbers of people working for them, different bills for electricity and what not.

“No, but don’t we give our money to the church, and then the church gives the money to the poor?”

If only it were as simple in the real world as it is in the mind of the 6-year-old.

I explained more of the nuances of the expenses of running a church. He simply answered, “Well, I think that the church should just spend as little as it needs so that it has more to give to the poor.”

In his mind, the discussion was over and his solution was the simple one we’ve been looking for all along. A child shall lead them…

Works of Mercy

I can’t stop thinking about that conversation, and it led me to my office last night, reading a bit more about the Corporal Works of Mercy. They are:

1) Feed the hungry
2) Give drink to the thirsty
3) Clothe the naked
4) Harbor the harborless
5) Visit the sick
6) Ransom the captive
7) Bury the dead

So, there I sat, reflecting for the evening in my office on the first three in particular when the knock came at our door.

At Our Own Door

Suzanne yelled down, “Michael! There’s someone knocking on our front door!”

As I came upstairs, she answered the door. Running through my mind were all of the possibilities, from a family member stopping by to a nefarious hoodlum seeking to do evil.

A small, worried woman stood across the threshold, close to tears. She lives a few doors down, she explained (we knew this). Her 24-year-old daughter had just gotten into her first run-in with the law – a DUI – and was in the city jail.

She had pulled together all of the cash that she could at the late hour that it was, and wasn’t sure where else to go to get cash so late at night.

She only needed 54 more dollars to be able to help bail her daughter out of jail for the night.

Suzanne closed the door and turned to me – what should we do?

My gut told me we needed to try to help. I pulled out my wallet and found just $8 cash. Suzanne opened her wallet and had $46. Together, we had exactly the $54 that our neighbor needed.

It’s Right

After we had given the woman the money and talked for a minute and she had left to work through the situation, we both momentarily questioned whether we had done the right thing.

I’m a person who lives by “the signs” – and the fact that, together, we both had the precise amount of money, and that this whole incident happened while I was reflecting upon the Corporal Works of Mercy, was enough for me.

However, on another level, it’s always right to help another person in need, to put Mercy into action in our world.

Earlier, I was reading a post on First Things titled The Need for Epiphanic Evangelicalism. You should read it, but part that resonated with me was a call for “the epiphany Jesus promises in work that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and visits the sick and imprisoned. Part and parcel with Jesus’ epiphany in these ministries, their very costliness to Christians in time and treasure is a means that credibly signals the Church’s profession of Christ’s Kingdom in a day in which mere Church talk is dismissed by the culture.”

Show Mercy

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’m going to try to work harder on stepping up my own “Epiphanies” of the Works of Mercy, and help my family to do the same. Will you join us?


“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

-Matthew 25:34-40

This weekend is a diaconate formation weekend for my classmates and me. We’ll be studying “Prayer & Sacramental Participation”.

I’m going to try to remember to share when I’m away on these weekends, and ask you, in the charity of your own prayers, to please lift my classmates and me up in your prayers during these formation weekends.

In turn, I will be remembering you and keeping your intentions in prayer during our Holy Hour on the Friday night of the weekends. If there’s a particular intention you’d like me to keep in prayer, please comment with it here or message it to me privately.

N.B.: This first year is an introductory year – the four years that follow carry more intense college-level academic studies. This year’s topics include:

  • September: Introduction to Discernment
  • October: Introduction to Theological Reflection
  • November: Introduction to Spiritual Direction
  • December: Pastoral Identity, Skills, and Boundaries
  • January: Prayer & Sacramental Participation
  • February: Evangelization & Ecumenism
  • March: Research & Writing
  • April & May: Philosophy (formal academic coursework begins)
  • June: Retreat

A House, A Home

January 5, 2016 — Leave a comment

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My grandparents’ house – where they made a home, raised my dad, my aunt, and my uncle, and helped to raise our generation.

They took a humble space, worked hard, made a home, and raised a family.

Last week, my dad, aunt, and uncle closed on selling the house to a new person for whom it will become a whole new home. It was a bittersweet day in many ways, for them directly, and indirectly for our whole family…

In this home, my dad and his siblings were raised. In this home, I spent many nights with grandma and grandpa. In this home, I got to drink grape soda, eat caramels and jawbreakers, and have hamburgers & french fries for dinner and pancakes & orange juice for breakfast.

In this home, I played pool in the basement with my uncles, admired my grandpa’s beer can collection and the bar my grandma built with her bare hands, and enjoyed playing their pinball game. In this home, the American flag and Japanese flag both flew proudly.

To this home, I rode my bike the few blocks to relax and “escape” my own house for a bit, every once in a while. In this home, I slept on the couch while grandpa slept in his reading chair, watching me. In this home, I also acted asleep on the hide-a-bed in the back room while my mom and dad talked about the ups and downs of marriage with grandma and grandpa.

In this home, I read the newspaper every day after preschool and kindergarten with my aunt – my earliest memories of reading. In this home, I played with electronics with my uncle. In this home, I picked roses and gave them to grandma. In this home, we gathered as family and enjoyed times together.

Inordinate Attachments

In The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds us that the purpose of our existence is “to know, to love, and to serve God and so to attain our salvation – eternal happiness.” In the same Exercises, he teaches of our nearly irresistible attraction toward things that continues to pull us away from our creator and toward created things. He encourages us to remember that created things are created for us to be neutral toward, but to remind us of and continue to point us toward God our Creator. We’re to rid our soul of “inordinate attachments” toward created things.

In the first paragraph of the book of The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius writes, “By the term Spiritual Exercises is meant every method of examination of conscience, of meditation… and every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the Will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul.” (Emphasis mine).

Letting Go, and Letting God

This is hard at times, especially moments like this when we’re letting go of something that was so central to our childhood and family life. But, at the end of the day, it is a house, a place, a created thing. We don’t love the place for the place, but for how it turns us toward God. And in that sense, this home was a very special place that was a center for our family life and our growing toward God.

In the last few weeks, I was able to help my dad and my uncles (who had invested much time and energy getting the house ready to sell) move the last “things” out of the house. A refrigerator went to my aunt & uncle’s house. My grandpa’s grandfather clock has a new home in my dining room (this is very special to me). My parents have moved the dining room table into their own home. These last things are our last, very special, ties to the moments in and memories from that old home.

We now have new homes, new branches in our family tree. And their old house will serve a new family.

Farewell, 3272 Edgewood Avenue. May you be a good home for a new family, serving them well and helping them grow toward God and each other, as you did for our family.

(Photos from my sister Sara’s phone, from her last visits to the house)

Cheerful Servant

September 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

OA CornerI love this weekend’s readings. The themes in them have long been a big part of my life and character.

In the corner of my home office, I have a little set of reminders of the time I spent as a youth leader and as an adult volunteer in the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s National Honor Society, which focuses on developing servant leadership in scouting’s best.

In the corner, I have pictures of some of my favorite memories as an Arrowman and scout, with some of my best (and lifelong) friends and Brothers. I have the sash I wore when I served as a ceremonial character, helping to impart some of the Order’s message to new and upcoming members. I have the sash that all of the Arrowmen shared in wearing at the recent 100th Anniversary National Order of the Arrow Conference. There are ashes from my own Vigil fire when I was given the Order’s highest honor by my brothers (and given the Lenni-Lenape Indian name Lilchpin Lekhiket, which translates to Diligent Writer.) There are ashes from the Centennial Fire that burned at the 100th Anniversary NOAC.

There is a pair of #DareToDo sunglasses, reminding me of the OA National Chief’s challenge to do a good turn each day and spread the word about the good we do in the world.

And there is a medal that I was awarded back in 1992, when I was one of our lodge’s two annual recipients of the Founder’s Award (the other recipient that year was my long-time friend and adviser Jim Dedera, may he rest in the peace of Christ).

On the back of that medal are engraved words that embody the spirit of the Order’s founders and are embedded in the ceremonials and the life of the Order and its Arrowmen:

“For he who serves his fellows is, of all his fellows, greatest.”

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Sound familiar?

Those words are effectively a paraphrase of a verse from the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel:

“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” – Mark 9:35b

I was raised in the spirit of this passage, and I still love and hold onto these words whenever I’m up against challenges in service that I find hard to tackle. Christ himself gave us the example of how the servant is raised up by the Father. He taught that humble service through His own life and actions.

And it gets even better this weekend… In the midst of the second reading is a clip that I read to myself each morning before work as a reminder of how I’d like to spend myself in service each day:

“Fructus autem iustitiae in pace seminatur facientibus pacem.”

“A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” – James 3:18

As I embark on this new journey of discernment and discipleship, exploring and praying about whether this path toward the diaconate is where God wants me to be, it’s heartening to be strengthened by the words of the readings this weekend, carrying messages that have long meant so much to me.

That Gospel? The word used in the Greek actually is: διάκονος – diakonos – servant. That word, meaning waiter, servant, or administrator, and now a form of ordained ministry in service of the Church, appears some 29 times in various forms in the Bible.

This is the self-giving, loving, peaceful service that our Lord exemplified on the very night of the Last Supper, when he knelt to wash the feet of his disciples.

In peaceful, cheerful service, we can bring others to God through our own example and show them how to do the same. We can give to others what they need, sacrificing our own wants and needs for others’ good and the greater good. That idea was instilled in me at a young age and as I grew into manhood, and has played a key part in my entire life.

Harvest righteousness through peace… and serve others.

Am I always good at this? No! I fall short just like we all do. That’s why I surround myself with reminders of these phrases and challenges. And it’s why I’m excited whenever they come up in the readings for the Mass.

How can we serve this week? The lonely person who walks into the coffee shop looking for someone with whom to talk? The teammate who needs some praise and honest feedback on the work they’re doing on the tough project at the office? The person looking for a spare dollar – or one earned in honest work? The friend needing an extra hand? The child needing an extra hug? The coworker who has questions about the Holy Father’s visit to the Americas? The spouse needing a few more minutes of your time and attention? The Spirit sends us forth to serve these, and all the others we run across.

rosary

A daily rosary; an intention per mystery

As I’ve gotten back into the habit of praying the rosary each day (a habit I never should’ve gotten out of, but that’s a different story), I’ve developed a “standard” of the intentions that I keep top-of-mind and place before Mary and Jesus during each of the five mysteries.

They’ve come to mean a lot to me and to aid in directing some of my reflections and thoughts as I pray (beyond just the meditation on the subject of each mystery), so I thought it might be worthwhile to share them here. If you’re looking for ideas for intentions as you pray the rosary, perhaps you might find some thoughts, ideas, or inspiration here.

The First Mystery:
My bishop, the Pope, and all bishops

As I reflect upon the first mystery, I also hold especially in my mind the health, well-being, and intentions of my own bishop, Thomas John Paprocki, and of Pope Francis and all bishops.

The Second Mystery:
My pastor, and all priests and seminarians

This one holds a special prayer in my heart, because this structured way of approaching my prayer intentions with my rosary developed when our pastor asked my mother-in-law, when he was blessing a new rosary as a gift for me, to ask me to pray the first Hail Mary of the rosary for him.

As a result, I always remember him, all priests who have served my parish and city, and all priests (especially those I know personally) in mind during the second mystery. I always remember my pastor, Father Jeff, in a special way during the first Hail Mary, but then immediately broaden my prayer to cover all of the priests and seminarians who come to mind.

The Third Mystery:
All deacons, and those in formation

As I pray the third mystery, I am mindful of and pray for the intentions of all deacons, and my brothers in formation for the diaconate. I pray for our service among God’s people in the world. I also take a moment to pray for all religious, especially the religious sisters who have served in our parish and school.

The Fourth Mystery:
My wife, my sons, and our family

During the fourth mystery, I turn my prayer toward my wife Suzanne, my four sons, our parents, and our whole extended family.

The Fifth Mystery:
The intentions of family and friends

At any point in time, if you’ve recently asked me to hold a personal intention in my prayers, it’s in front of my on a slip of paper as I pray the fifth mystery.

In recent days, that mindfulness and prayer has included Madalene and her family, my friend Carol and her son John and their family, and our friend Barbara and her aunt Anita and their family. As time goes on, this one changes the most and brings my mind the freshness of prayer. (Note that I find it helpful to include real names – even if it’s just their first name – if someone asks me to pray for someone, I ask for their name, so that it’s easier to be mindful, personal, and intentional while holding them in prayer.)

As I come close to ending the rosary, this also helps to turn my thoughts outward from the authority and structure that help to solidify and support my faith life, and outward toward the world where our prayer and action are needed.

What about you?

If you have a special way that you structure your mindfulness of the intentions you’re laying before Mary and Jesus as you pray the rosary, I’d love to hear about it in the comments here.

If you have a special intention that you would like me to remember as I pray the rosary, particularly the fifth mystery, please feel free to send me a message and I’d be glad to add your intention to my personal notes and list.