www.thecatholicdeacon.com

I’m excited to announce that yesterday I was ordained to the Order of Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Stockton. I’m also excited to use this post as an opportunity to launch my new WordPress site, http://www.thecatholicdeacon.com. Please go there to subscribe and receive future blog posts through that site, as I will no longer be posting to this one. I will also be posting homilies, lectures, retreats, and such on my YouTube feed, which can be accessed by clicking here.

Catholicevangelist.com has had a good run, and I will continue to offer talks, missions, and retreats, but I will do so from my new site. Thanks for following me and your support for this ministry! Jump over and sign up at the new site please. Also, my new information is below.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Let Go: 24th S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time, September 13, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Sirach tells us today, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” In the course of my job as the AP at Crowell Elementary School, and even when I was the Dean at the Junior High, I would often get students in my office who had said hurtful things, were angry with each other, and who may even had been in a physical fight. 

As the students enter my office, I make sure that they are going to be okay in the same room together, and I sit them in separate corners, not far apart. Then I find out what’s going on and how this all started. With eyebrows low one refuses to talk, and the other almost always says, “Well, we used to be friends but…” As the student tells his or her story, I interrupt to make sure I understand, ask questions of each of the participants, and act as though this is the first such instance that has come into my office. 

Buffoonery is a big part of this experience too. As they share I act the fool–stuffing chips in my mouth, being silly, exaggerate parts of their story and the like. In short-time both former friends are laughing with each other, they notice how hard, unforgiving, and unloving they had become, and they both acknowledge their share in the problem that eventually ended up in my office. 

As they smile and laugh I invite them to apologize for the wrongs they have done, and to forgive each other from the heart–they do. I invite them to see how much better it feels to laugh and smile than to be angry and hate. I tell them that humans are not made for anger and hatred, but love and unity. That’s why it feels so good to laugh and forgive, to love and to be loved. I invite them to stop hugging tightly to wrath and anger and hateful things, and to forgive their neighbor’s injustice. They don’t know that they’re following the teachings of Scripture, but they do experience life, love, and communion with God and neighbor that we’re made for.

Sadly, adults are not different than children and are much better at justifying our anger, holding grudges, and refusing to forgive. Maybe because adults are much stronger (willed) than children, we hug more tightly, but in the end, the truth is the same–if we want to experience life and love, unity and peace, we’ve got to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart. We will not find forgiveness and peace if we are not willing to grant forgiveness and make peace. 

In my experience, an unwillingness to forgive usually stems from pride. We have been mistreated or maligned in some way and we are hurt. Our dignity has been impounded and we’re not going to let others treat us in this way. But the problem is that holding onto the anger adds to the mistreatment, our own self-inflicted pain, anxiety, and suffering. Like a cow chews the cud, we continue to chew on the pain, burp it up again and again, never swallowing it and never letting it rest. As Sirach says, “Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin!” We must forgive to find peace.

Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. Seven is the number of perfection in Scripture. Peter offers to forgive what seems perfect. Jesus invites him to forgive perfectly…to perfection. It isn’t about the other person at all, actually. They are perfectly forgiven, but our forgiveness doesn’t make them perfect, it makes us perfectly perfect. 

We find peace, life, love, and levity when we forgive. God died to forgive sins, and when we forgive we die to ourselves and live like him, with him, and for him. As St. Paul says, “Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.” It is not easy to forgive, and some people just never seem to stop needing forgiveness! 

But if we remember that we too seek forgiveness from God and God never tires of forgiving us. And Jesus died to forgive my sins and is only asking me to be willing to forgive others in return. And that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily change others but it does change me. And that the only goal I have in my life is to be more like Jesus and this is an opportunity to do it. Then I might actually look forward to opportunities to be merciful and forgiving of others; opportunities to be like God.

As I live out each day, I might be far more willing to forgive, to show mercy and kindness to the worst of sinners, and even to sacrifice my own will and die to myself so that others might live. Sound familiar? Let’s try to be more like Jesus by forgiving others from the heart this week. Amen? 

A reminder that on the 19th of this month, I and six other candidates will be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate. The ordination will be livestreamed and put up on the Diocese of Stockton YouTube page and Facebook page. Below are the links for both.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC06T0lUeTI-MBotrlWKIXJA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StocktonDiocese

Also, on the 19th after my ordination, I will launch my new website, www.thecatholicdeacon.com. I’ll be posting there in the future so you’ll want to check that out next week when it launches and add your email to follow my posts.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Jesus, Social Media Superstar: 23rd S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time, September 6, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I recently saw a short video of a kind old man who posted a picture of his beautiful wife on social media, expressing his love for his bride of over forty years. Almost immediately, the haters began to pour in, making hurtful and hateful comments about him, her, their children and their life together. Sadly, it broke the old man and he came back to social media with a fiery vengeance, saying even more hurtful things than had initially been said to him. Sadly, that’s the world in which we now find ourselves. 

Social media is not bad, but oh, it can be! I rarely use Facebook, or Instagram, but I do have them and I see how people use social media to be hurtful and hateful, and this is not the Christian way. Of course, Jesus didn’t have social media, but gossip and slander, and hateful words are not new. Weak people have often spoken ill of others, “behind their back,” and it destroys people and communities. So much so, that Jesus needed to address it in his own way for his time. 

The second reading from St. Paul to the Romans reminds us of our duty to love God and neighbor; it’s short and worth repeating here, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” I wonder how many commandments are broken in a single, ugly social media post.

In one post a person might cheat on God by getting in bed with the devil to hurt, cause pain, and spread violence. We kill the spirit, like the old man mentioned above, bringing sadness and loss of life. We steal their joy, their dignity, and their peace. We covet in that we want to bring someone down low, humble them, seeking the power or privilege that they seem to enjoy. And all of this is a gross violation of our duty to love our neighbor. 

How often we fail to love. We covet, and kill, and steal, and commit adultery against our Lord whose only command is to love him and others above all things. I’m sad to say that social media is an incredible weapon of wickedness in our day. So much so that it is often a topic of conversation in our home, and our boys are not permitted to engage in it, as they are still in the most delicate stages of their mental, emotional, and spiritual formation. Better than social media, Jesus shows his disciples a better way–even if someone else “started it.”

Jesus teaches us to be courageous enough to talk to someone face to face, in private. Share your concern, let them know how what they said or did made you feel. Remind them of our call to love, and do not become what they are! If they refuse reason, and if your reason is true, get support. We might normally call this an intervention. Get reasonable, loving, and courageous people together to confidentially share your concern for this brother or sister. 

And finally, if the person refuses your love and the love of two or three, bring the Church–the community of faith to try to bring the light of reason and truth. But if that fails still, it’s time to disassociate with that person. The church uses the term, “excommunication,” to explain a person’s removal from the community of believers. This sounds unkind, but ultimately, this person does not belong in the community, because they are themselves refusing to belong. 

We are not kicking anyone out, that person is choosing by their own actions and attitudes to refuse to walk in love, to be reflective, to repent, and be reconciled to God and the community against whom he or she has sinned. In the same way, God does not “send people to hell,” but rather, people choose not to belong to the Kingdom of God, a place of love, unity, healing, and kindness. God acknowledges their choice.

Jesus is very clear, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector.” This is one of the more difficult teachings of both Jesus and the Church, but the alternative is to permissively accept people in the community to covet, steal, and kill–and good people don’t just stand around while others commit violence, pain, and suffering. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Good men and women do something–we love. It is loving to acknowledge the power of someone’s words and to make them aware of it. It is loving to do so in private and not on social media. It is loving to bring two or three or the whole community together to invite repentance and healing. And it is loving to say, “We love you and hope you return, but we cannot openly accept violence, slander, hurtfulness, and death in our community.” As St. Paul teaches, all this is for the great hope of repentance and restoration (2COR 2:4-16). Jesus desires that all would accept the invitation to love and be saved, and admonishes his disciples to be endlessly forgiving, but he does expect that we would approach and admonish in love those who are a source of pain to others–and we should. It’s not easy, but it is clearly a teaching of Jesus Christ and the Church. 

A reminder that on Sept. 19 I will be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate and the ordination will be livestreamed and be put up on the Diocesan YouTube page and Facebook page. Below are the links for both.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC06T0lUeTI-MBotrlWKIXJA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StocktonDiocese

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Be Transformed: 22nd S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time, August 30, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we learned that the Spirit of God speaks to us in the depths of our heart, and Peter was praised for his willingness to allow God to overwhelm his human body and mind so that he might think and speak the words of God, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That was beautiful and Jesus recognized Peter for it. 

This week I’m sad to say that Peter is being admonished by Jesus as he says, “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” And so it goes with the human condition. I think it’s true in my own life as well. I’ve got some great moments when I am entirely convinced that God is so proud of what I do and what I say…and then there is the rest of the time…okay, most of the time, when, with the Spirit of God within me, I still act in a merely natural way, a merely human way. And that’s sad. We are made for so much more. 

This commitment to growth in holiness, in spite of human weakness is called sanctification. Each day we grow more holy so that our words and actions are pleasing to God and reflect the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. I think the important lesson today is that Peter is not so different from all of us. Some days he’s hot and some days he’s cold, and so are we. In spite of his weaknesses, however, he still accepted the responsibilities given to him by Jesus Christ and both rose to the occasion and advanced the Kingdom of God. Peter wasn’t perfect, and neither are we. Peter failed time and time again, and so do we. But Peter continued to follow Jesus, proclaimed the Kingdom, and saved souls for God, and so should we. 

The hard part is this whole humanity thing. We often live down to our base self instead of rising to our redeemed self. This is St. Paul’s admonition to the Romans. He urged them to offer their whole body as a living sacrifice to God. That makes sense, actually. If our soul belongs to God, but our body has a tendency to turn away from God, then we should offer our sinful self to God as a beautiful gift. We give God our sinful hands, mouth, eyes, head and heart, and He transforms them into weapons for righteousness and holiness. 

This is exactly what happens at the Eucharist. We bring God imperfect bread, imperfect wine, and imperfect wealth. We place those on the altar of sacrifice, and by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist prayer, the imperfect is transformed into the perfect body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. God has been transforming the natural and imperfect to supernatural and perfectly holy from the beginning of time. St. Paul tells the Romans “not to conform but to be transformed” so that they and we may know God’s pleasing and perfect will. 

We are not perfect–Peter wasn’t either. But if we are willing to sacrifice our life on the altar of God, God will transform us. God will change and purify our thinking and feeling so that we, day by day, become more like him. And the Eucharist is the key to that transformation. We give imperfect gifts that are transformed into Jesus, we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and are transformed into Him. We become what we consume day by day. We carry our cross and we follow him. Like Peter and Paul and the great saints of the Church, our life is in Christ and more and more we think not as humans do, but as God does. Amen. 

I’m excited to announce that my ordination to the Permanent Diaconate is just three weeks away. The ordination will be live-streamed and will be put up on the Diocesan YouTube page and Facebook page. Below are the links for both. Please continue to keep me and my family in prayer. 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC06T0lUeTI-MBotrlWKIXJA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StocktonDiocese

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Peter Not Shebna; 21st S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time, August 23, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” St. Paul tells the Romans. Have you ever had a thought that you just knew wasn’t yours? Ever had an idea pop into your head almost from outside yourself? I have. It was nineteen years ago, I had left the Church and Christianity with it. As I sat on my couch in complete silence, I was sick to my stomach with loneliness–and I’m NEVER lonely! I called Chris, who was not home. I called Shawn, also not home, and I collapsed back on the couch and heard a voice inside of me, just as clear as can be, “I need God back in my life.” 

Just as soon as I thought that thought, I knew it wasn’t mine. I had never known God in that way, and yet I knew without a doubt it was the voice of God. As Jesus told Peter today, “Flesh and blood” had not revealed it to me, but my heavenly Father. Flesh and blood are the things of earth; things carnal, things natural and instinctual. And we are flesh, and we are of the earth, and we are natural–but we are more. We are of the Spirit, and of the kingdom of God, and we are super-natural.

I think in our life and throughout our day, we are quite divided. We focus on the flesh in our dealings at work and at the grocery store, when we vote, and pay our bills. And we also focus on the Spiritual life too, when we go to Mass, pray at night or over meals, tithe, and read Scripture. But this divided self is not healthy and undermines the body-soul unity that we proclaim in the Creed. Every earthly action should be guided by heavenly knowledge, wisdom, and strength.

I often see this division creep into the Church when ministries of the Church run their meetings in purely secular ways. These meetings do not begin and end with prayer, lack Christian courtesy and love, tend to follow “Roberts Rules of Order” instead of the prompting of the Holy Spirit and brotherly love. They forget that we use earthly things, money, land, bodies and buildings for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God. Every decision made in the Church, and even our family and its resources, should answer the question, “To what degree does this action build up the kingdom of God?” 

This was Shebna’s problem in the first reading. He was put in a place of earthly authority but he did not rule as God rules. He did not seek and hear the voice of God as he worked in this life–and that’s a great danger for us too. Every part of our life is a gift from God, and we are therefore stewards of those gifts. Our work, our home, our family, our paycheck, our talents, and our authority are all to be used to give honor to God and advance his kingdom. And if they are given, then they also can be taken away. Just like Shebna, God will “thrust us from our office and pull us down from our station.” 

Of course, the opposite of Shebna, is Peter, in today’s Gospel. Jesus granted Peter great authority to govern Christ’s church on earth because Peter was open to hearing and being guided by Jesus’ heavenly father. Peter was not perfect, nor are we, but if we say, “yes” to God, receive his gifts gratefully, live and love joyfully, listen to his voice intently, and speak God’s truth boldly, we too will be given much authority. Firstly over our own life, then our family, our workplaces, community and world. That’s why we pray for both our spiritual and government leaders, that they, like Peter be guided by the Spirit of God. 

As we govern our lives and family, remember Shebna, remember Peter, and listen intently for God’s voice. Knowledge, wisdom, and wealth await us, if we would but just listen and obey.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Rejoice In God: The Assumption 2020

Guido's AssumptionToday’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, in Turlock, where I presently serve as an Instituted Acolyte, and soon as Deacon, celebrates with joy the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary today. The word, “assumption” simply means “a taking,” or “a taking up into heaven.” In 1950 Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, invoked papal infallibility and officially defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and mother of the Church.

The dogma is only this, “We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” In this dogma the church reveals not only the truth of Mary receiving eternal reward and perfect unity with God for herself, body and soul, but also that by her assumption she received what is promised to all Christians, final bodily resurrection.

Every Sunday at Mass we profess our faith by reciting the Creed, wherein we profess our belief in among other things, “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed came out of two great councils, Nicea in 325AD and Constantinople in 381AD. In these councils, the church not only codified its own beliefs, but also lay to rest all other claims to the contrary. And so it was for Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his day.

Many non-Catholic Christians do not believe in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, while Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics do, Orthodox Christians do, as well as Anglican’s and some other protestant Christians. While the assumption of Mary is not explicitly taught in the Bible, there are plenty of Biblical passages that would make the argument for belief very reasonable indeed. It’s probably import to note that while the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not “Biblical,” meaning that it’s not found explicitly in the Bible, neither is it “anti-Biblical,” meaning that it is against the teaching of the Bible. The assumption is in fact “extra Biblical,” meaning that it is not found in Scripture, but does not contradict it.

While Mary’s assumption is not in the Bible, there are assumptions in the bible. Elijah, at the end of his earthly life was taken up “assumed” in a fiery chariot at the end of his earthly life (2Kings 2:8-12). Also, Enoch in Genesis 5:25, walked with God and God took him. Whereas others died, or were laid to rest, Elijah, Enoch, and Mary, give us reasonable hope that our eternal destiny is not the grave but the resurrection of soul and earthly body at the end of time.

Today’s first reading gives witness that Mary, the woman “clothed with the sun” was taken to a place prepared for her by God. The second reading teaches that in Christ all shall be brought to life–Jesus was the first fruits and then all those who belong to Him, in proper order, and the Gospel teaches us that Mary’s, “soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” and her “Spirit exults in God [her] savior.” And if our goal is that of Elijah’s and Enoch’s and Mary’s, then like Mary, our soul too must proclaim the Lord’s greatness and our spirit must exult not in the things of the world, not in earthly treasure or pleasure, but in God our savior. Mary is a beautiful example celebrated each year on August 15, that we must ask ourselves always, what brings our Spirit joy? In what do we rejoice? Let us rejoice always in God our savior, and every good thing will be given to us besides–to include the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen?

For a well-documented and written argument for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, click here or here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Out of the Cave: 19th S. 2020

ElijahToday’s reflection is for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 9, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome speaks loudly to many of us at this time of crisis in our country and in our world. St. Paul says, “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.” Us too, St. Paul. Us too.

Every day I speak to people who are angry, sad, suffering, and confused. There is violence and protests in the streets, there are officers accused of wrong-doing, politicians pointing fingers, lawsuits against governments and persons, grocery store shelves that are bare, COVID-19 cases and deaths on the rise, and parents asking, when will our kids get to go back to school?

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; with you I also have great sorrow and anguish in my heart. I suffer with you, our community, our country, and our world. I don’t have answers to all these questions, actually, I don’t have answers to any of them. What I do know, and offer to you, is that we are not the only ones who have suffered in this life, we won’t be the last, and the Scripture today offers not answers, but help and hope.

Elijah had done just what the Lord had asked him to do: to tell God’s people that they have not lived up to the covenant and they must change their ways! Of course, they did not want to hear it and sought to take his life. All the prophets have been slain and now the Israelites want to kill him too. That’s why Elijah is hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb today. LIke many of us, he’s filled with sorrow and has anguish in his heart. God tells him, get out of the cave, Elijah, I’ll be passing by.

Elijah was confused, though, because he did not find God where he expected to find him. God was not in the heavy wind, the powerful earthquake, nor the raging fire…God was in the tiny whispering sound. And I think that is very important for us at this time in our history. Elijah did some very important things in this reading: First, he told God why he was in the cave in the first place–he named his anger, fear, and suffering. Secondly, he got out of the cave, and finally he listened for the tiny whispering sound and knew it to be God.

When we are angry or afraid we often go into panic mode–fight or flight. We start to complain, we find others who are confused and angry, and we join in the anger, complaining, and dissatisfaction. We post hurtful things on social media and we look to school officials, doctors, and government officials to solve this problem that we have–but that’s not what Elijah did. Elijah spoke his hurt to God, and so should we. These difficult times should cause us to pray more, not less. To receive the sacraments more, not less. To read our Bible and the lives of the saints more, not less. We need to talk to God. We need to cry out to him.

Secondly, we cannot stay in our cave. A cave is a dark, damp, sick place. It is a place of simply waiting to die. Elijah got out of there, and so should we. Go for a walk, talk to a friend, attend an outdoor event, Mass, or other celebration. We gotta get out of the cave–even if it’s only in your back yard–we gotta get out of there!

Finally, Elijah sought earnestly for God. He looked all around him, in all the obvious places. In the wind, the fire, and the earthquake, but if you don’t find God where you at first looked, look again. Our world is so full of noise. We never just have quiet time to reflect. We say, “God, if you’ve got something to say, you better say it now and very loud!” How often God’s children think that God is not near, because they can hear for all the noise that surrounds them.

In this crazy time of uncertainty and fear, I want to assure you that God has a special gift of grace for you. God wants you to see him passing by. He wants to encourage you and give you hope. But we have to take the time to pray and name our fears and anxiety and not be afraid to name our hopes and desires, like Peter did in the Gospel. Surrounded by waves and water, he yelled out, “Lord, save me!” And so should we.

Like Elijah, get out of your cave of suffering. There’s nothing but sickness and dis-ease there. Get out. Like Peter, get out of the boat! Step out in faith even as the waves crash all around us.

Look for God in the obvious, church, priest, Scripture, and Catechism, but be quiet and look for God in the poor, the children, the suffering, and the sick. God is there in the tiny whispering sounds of our ordinary life. Be open to that. I am often blown away when God speaks to me through the smallest moments. And for all that we go through in this life, be of great faith, and never doubt. Jesus will always reach out to us, God is always seeking to find ways to pick us up when we’re feeling down. I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, have faith, this present wind will die down. Amen?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Wisdom Matters: 17th S. 2020

SolomonToday’s reflection is for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we heard about a wise landowner that said to his workers, “Don’t pull up the weeds, you’ll wreck the wheat! Let them grow together and we’ll separate them later.” In today’s Gospel we hear about a net full of fish that is separated when brought to shore. Sacred Scripture, the Church, and Jesus himself, are very clear, there is Heaven, there is Hell, and there will be Judgement—eternal separation. We said it during the Creed right after the homily, “He will come again in glory to Judge the living and the dead.” Do you believe it? We better.

The church is very clear about this, “God predestines NO ONE to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God is necessary, and persistence in it, until the end.” (C.C.C. 1037) God doesn’t want anyone of his children to be separated from Him for all eternity. That’s why he sent us Jesus! “God so loved the world that he gave his only so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” (JN 3:16). But we have to want it. We have to want Him. More than anything else, we have to want God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

We have to be like that guy in the Gospel today, who found a treasure buried in a field, or like that merchant who found an amazing pearl. They both made getting that treasure the only thing that mattered in their life; their number one priority…and they got it. They found both peace and joy. And so can we.

Solomon was given one wish from God. “Ask for anything you want,” God says, “and it’s yours!” If you had but one wish from God, what would it be? Just for a moment, think about that, if you could ask anything of God, really, what would you ask for? Fame? Fortune? Health? A mansion? Salvation for you and your family? No more credit card debt? I might or might not ask for a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds…

But honestly, would you even think to ask for wisdom, like Solomon, so you could make good decisions to govern yourself and your household wisely; to govern your community or the Church wisely? Wisdom matters. St. Aquinas taught, “Among all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, more noble, more useful, and more full of joy.” The truth is, with Wisdom, you get everything else you’ve ever wanted, or you might realize that what you’ve always wanted was the last thing you need…like a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds.

Well, have no fear—for all of us who think ourselves wisdom deficient, know this, we’ve already got it in spades! That’s right, the only thing that Solomon wanted, we’ve already been given, and six other gifts of the Spirit as well! Remember the seven gifts of the Spirit that we received at Baptism and were strengthened at Confirmation? Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Council, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, and Piety.

The gifts of the Spirit sustain us in our moral life. They help us choose the good in the concrete, real situations of life. The gift of wisdom makes us able to see the value of the pearl, to find the treasure, and the discipline to sell everything else to get it. The Church teaches that these gifts of the Spirit are permanent, and open us up to following the prompting of the Holy Spirit (C.C.C. 1830) that calls us to both desire and to do the good.

Judgement will happen, but fear not, we have all the help we need to stand tall in the end. The only question is will we be wise enough, in this life, to know God’s will, wise enough to choose it, and strong enough to do it?

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Weeds to Wheat: 16th S. 2020

weeds

Today’s reflection is for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Before we get started, I’d like you to think about or come up with a few of the more famous Bible characters—that God chose as his very own, to advance Salvation history—Old Testament and New. Did you come up with Moses, King David, St. Matthew, St. Peter, or St. Paul? We’ll get back to them toward the end.

Last Sunday we saw the generosity and love of God in the Parable of the Sower. God spares no expense in distributing his Word to the whole world. This week we see that even in that good soil that Jesus spoke of, we end up with weeds. Let’s take a moment today to look at some weeds in the world, some weeds in our community, and the amazing power of God.

Now is the perfect time in this area to see some “weeds among the wheat,” though not wheat of course, it’s corn-growing season. Just on the way to Mass today I passed a number of corn fields. Every one of them had both weeds and corn. And so it is with people in our world.

Imagine that the field Jesus talked about today is the whole world. That would mean there is a field with approximately 7.8 billion plants—some weeds, some wheat. Who are the weeds? They are those who seek to rob us of our joy, of our treasure, and maybe even our life. Weeds are those who violate God’s commandments, have no respect for themselves, nor fear of God. Scripture refers to them as evil-doers. They lie, they cheat, they steal. They use profanity, get drunk, do drugs, vandalize communities, and scandalize their families.

And who are the wheat? The wheat are those who live God’s commandments to love Him and their neighbor. They worship, pray, fast, sacrifice, and give generously to those in need. They are kind to others, use kind words, are quick to give praise, and slow to anger. They do not drink to excess, uphold the law, and raise their children to respect authority and to grow in holiness. That’s awesome!

Wouldn’t it be just amazing if there were no weeds at all? Imagine for a moment what that world would look like. That would be a beautiful world indeed. As Jesus’ disciples, we strive, with God’s grace to create that world, but how? In the parable today, with great zeal, the servants, upon realizing there were weeds in their master’s field, offered to go out and rip them out! But the Master, who represents God, says, “no, let them grow together, and at the end of time the weeds will be separated and burned.” What?! Live together…with the weeds!

Like it or not, the message is clear: while on this earth, there will be both evil doers and lovers of God. There will be some who create and raise up, and there will be those who seek to destroy and tear down…and that’s just the way it is. It’s the way it has always been, and clearly, God is just, and will deal with evil doers, and they will receive their punishment—count on that. Hope on that. Believe that.

But I believe there’s a bit more to the story. Do you know anyone who is all bad, or even anyone who is all good? I certainly don’t. I know a lot of people who live in a way that is contrary to God’s law, but there is still good in them. Similarly, I know a lot of Church goers and God-lovers, who more often than they would like to admit, keep poor company, are selfish with their wealth, have a negative attitude, do not pray, receive the sacraments regularly, nor love as they ought. It doesn’t really seem as simple as weeds or wheat. In fact, it’s almost as though each of us are still a little bit of both.

In this very community, look around (okay, don’t look around), there are none who are pure wheat—myself included. This parable is not just about the state of the world, it’s about the state of the Church. And some of God’s servants, motivated by their love for their master, would seek to purify the church. Tear out those whose actions and attitudes are not those of the Lord’s, but if that were to happen, who would be left? Would you still be here? Would I? And this is the miracle of God, that God is the great transformer. God transforms weeds into wheat. That’s amazing!

From the moment of our conception, born into sin and into a world of sin,  through baptism we are healed one step at a time throughout our life. Eventually, and over time, we respond to God’s invitation and begin to grow in holiness. And this is the amazing gift of God, and the reason that we do not uproot the weeds—we are the weeds…but also the wheat. From the moment of our birth God is transforming us and saving our soul.

From the Psalms today, “Lord, turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” And so, we who are sinners and weeds have reason to hope. God is at work in us, transforming us, and saving us. Our destiny is not for the burn pile, but for the barn—the glory of heaven.

Moses was a murderer, King David an adulterer, Matthew a tax collector, Peter a denier, and St. Paul a killer. And yet they are the heroes of our faith, the wheat in God’s field. God is in the business of transformation—in us, in the Church, and in the World. So be gentle and loving this week, and see in every weed, the wheat that God sees and loves. We do not pull weeds, we pray for transformation of souls. Amen?

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Good Soil: 15th S. 2020

grassToday’s reflection is for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 12, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Our family has recently moved into a nice house in Denair, but while the house is great, the soil is horrible! We didn’t want to put in sod, so we used grass seed instead…that may have been a mistake! Growing grass from seed is incredibly difficult—especially in bad soil! No wonder Jesus uses it as a way to help us understand faith and God’s word, and Christian discipleship.

Jesus mentions four places where the seed, which is a synonym for faith in Jesus, the Word of God, fell: on the path, on rocky soil, among thorns, and finally on good soil. Our work today, is to reflect quite honestly about the soil of our heart and of our home. In what way are we the target of Jesus’ message for us today?

As we heard, the “path” are those who hear God’s word, but it has no effect. It does not penetrate the heart, and the evil one steals it away. Tragically, many times the environment in which a person hears God’s word is twisted and unloving. One of my best friends is an Atheist today, after his Christian-missionary father quoted Scripture while abusing him as a child. Clerical abuse as well has created dry, arid soil, that is opposed to faith. It is very difficult indeed to receive God’s word when the heart remains closed; when the soil was ruined by neglect or abuse. Seed without love or seed amid abuse fails to penetrate the heart. We should mourn and pray for the sinful world that makes the ascent of faith such a difficult hill to climb.

Other seed, Jesus tells us, is sown on the rocky path, and it does begin to grow, but it’s delicate. Without roots it cannot weather the sun. When I planted my lawn, I had to water every day, a few times a day. The water quickly went through the soil and the roots of the baby grass were too small to reach it. So it is when we practice the faith in a minimalistic, obligatory sort of way. When we do only what we must to do: Mass on Sunday, Catechism on Sacramental years, and reconciliation only once a year. The Word is there, but it lacks frequency, depth, and produces no passion. It’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t get us through the real trials that life brings—death of loved ones, disease, accidents, and the like. A bunch of water all at once is no good. Water only occasionally is no good, but a light watering, often, does wonders for nurturing new faith. Parents must remember this when catechizing their children. When faith is new, we must not stay on the normal watering cycle. A little bit, often, in a loving, prayerful environment is the key.

Some seed, we hear, fell among thorns, and as St. Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1COR 15:33) We usually think about this with regard to kids and faith, but this is equally true of adults and faith. Who we hang around will either help our faith grow, cause our faith to flounder, or destroy our faith. If we are hanging around people whose values are not those of Christ and the Church, whose political views are not aligned to the love of God and others, whose language, drinking or drug habits, or anger issues are inconsistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ, then our faith and that of those we love is being choked out. We are disciples 24/7/365. Is our company faith-fertilizing, or full of thorns?

Finally, it was in the rich soil that fruit was produced in abundance. As we have come to understand, rich soil doesn’t just happen. It is intentional. I brought twelve yards of topsoil into my backyard, and soil requires water and nutrients. We must feed our soil if our desire to have a beautiful yard, and we must feed our faith if it is to be beautiful, strong, and lasting so that Satan will not steal it away, that suffering will not wither it, and that bad company will not corrupt.

Hear me, each of us for our own faith and soul’s sake must commit ourselves to doing those things that nourish and enrich our faith. Sunday Mass for sure, but maybe daily Mass once in a while too, reconciliation often, intentional prayer at least twice a day, Scripture and Catechism study, reading about the Saints, or watching movies about faith and the people of God, study groups, retreats, Teams of Our Lady, and similar groups. These are the practices that enrich the soil of our soul making it a place where the love of Jesus and His Church can grow.

If we are parents, and are not practicing this life with our children, while their academics and sports may be spot on, the seed of their faith, which is ours to nurture, is on the path, on rocky ground, or among thorns. St. John Chrysostom said, “Isn’t it absurd to send children out to jobs and to school, and to do all you can to prepare them for these, and yet not to ‘bring them upon in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’ (EPH 6:4)?” He says, “Discipline is needed not eloquence; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These gain a man the kingdom.” Amen?

God’s word does indeed go forth as Isaiah says, but will it fall on the rich soil that Jesus speaks of today? Is our faith growing or has it become stagnant? Is my child’s faith growing? What can I do to make it better? God’s desire is that the seed of his Word rest in good soil and produce fruit a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold in us, in our family, and in our church. The only question is, “Do we have ears to hear?”

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos