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