Reflection: Colossians 1:3a-6

For those who have stayed awake during my homilies over the years, you may recall that I often like to focus on the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. And, although Scripture tells us that the greatest is love, I personally focus on hope.

To me, I see clear references in this Scripture passage to all of these virtues, but that is not what I am going to reflect on. Instead, I am going to “get real” for a moment.

Paul’s and Timothy’s correspondences with the cities they have passed through are often written as reminders of their teachings. Sometimes, we even see warnings being given to try and stop certain behaviors that are not in line with the truth given to the Church by God Himself. At the end of this passage, we see one such warning. The case of the Colossians is of particular interest because knowledge of their actions came to Paul through a report from his friend, Epaphras. Epaphras’ “report” tells Paul that the Colossians are doing good work and serving faithfully. Their faith community is part of a larger participation in the work of God on the earth. Based on the information he was given, Paul reminds those in Colassae that everything that they need to live a full and happy life has already been given to them through the Gospel. From that, we can deduce that anything that is not from the Gospel is not good for us.

At this point in the Scripture passage, Paul does not name any particular thing, but he uses the faith-driven positives they already know to paint a bad light on the seductions that may cause them to fall away. He later says that the faithful should “see to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8).

We do not need to pause and reflect for very long before we begin to see ways that these pseudo-spiritualities and false teachings are present in our world today. As we know, Scripture is relevant both for the time it was written as it is in our current day. Just as it has always been if false teachings are given too much of our attention, they can lead to sin. But, this is not because we are bad people – it is because we are human. It is okay if we find difficulty in taking up the cross as Jesus did, but, as long as we continue to try, and ever hope for the best, our effort is not wasted. I like to think of a phrase Matthew Kelly uses in his program, Decision Point. He says that we need to work to be the best version of ourselves. The self God has willed us to be.

Despite what I said at the beginning, there is no way I can share a homily with you without talking about hope. Paul reminds us that our hope should not be in the trappings of the world, but in Heaven. For me, that is enough of a reason to try and be the best version of myself.

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Reconciliation

It is fairly easy to identify where Christ instituted the Sacraments using the Scripture and Tradition that we have today. However, simply knowing where the story begins is of little value to understand how it is important for us today. Any attempt to realize the temporal and eternal value of Reconciliation, or any sacrament, without a fuller knowledge of the realities that surround it is like trying to assemble furniture without an instruction manual. It might be possible to do, but it will be unnecessarily difficult. The scholar, Ralph P. Martin, notes that there is “no satisfying answer” in such an endeavor, and that doing so only tells us what we already know about Jesus Christ.

But it is still helpful for us to identify the post-Paschal foundation of Reconciliation. We find it in the words recorded in John 20:23 where Jesus breathes on the disciples with the Holy Spirit and says: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” It is worth noting that the word used for breath is the same as that used in Genesis and Ezekiel when God breathed life at the first creation and the new eschatological creation. Also, the words “forgiven” and “retained” are in the past tense, which usually represents that God is acting through His Church.

In the centuries that followed the understanding and practice of Reconciliation developed. In the sixteenth century, at the Council of Trent, it was stated that “The Church has always understood – and has in fact defined – that Jesus Christ here conferred on the Apostles authority to forgive sins, a power which is exercised in the sacrament of Penance. “The Lord then especially instituted the sacrament of Penance when, after being risen from the dead, he breathed upon his disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit…”  The consensus of all the Father has always acknowledged that by this action so sublime and words so clear the power of forgiving and retaining sins was given to the Apostles and their lawful successors for reconciling the faithful who have fallen after Baptism (De Paenitentia, 1).

We also see many instances of pre-Paschal foundations for Reconciliation. The chief amongst these is certainly the passage of the prodigal son from Luke. The sacrament of Penance is the most sublime expression of God’s love and mercy towards men, described so vividly in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The Lord always awaits us, with his arms wide open, waiting for us to repent – and then he will forgive us and restore us to the dignity of his sons.

Stratford Caldecott, in his work, The Seven Sacraments, notes that in John “the Lord’s word, a well of living waters, takes over from the healing waters of Jerusalem. The paralysis the man suffers from symbolizes the state of impotence to which we are reduced by sin (Caldecott 61).

Reconciliation is also prefigured shortly before Christ’s death, when he utters the words “Father, forgive them, for they known not what they do (Luke 23:34). According to Adrienne von Speyr “This first of the Lord’s words contain his whole life’s purpose. He hangs on the Cross in order to achieve for sinners their forgiveness before God.” Jesus has lived among men, “He knows that they cannot be held fully responsible, and the conclusion he draws is this: he will bear the responsibility himself” (Speyr, The Cross).

After Christ’s resurrection, it is only through the cross that we can be forgiven. In the mirror of the Cross, the sinner sees what they have become. They are no longer ignorant; they know what they do. At the same time, they see how much the Son has done for them, and this moves them to respond with a love that reunites their wills with his. In the act of becoming aware of what they were doing, they cease to do it. This process – the unveiling of sin, recognizing self, and loving God – lies at the heart of the sacrament of Reconciliation (Caldecott, 63).

On December 8 of last year, the universal Church began celebrating a Year of Mercy. In preparation for this time, Pope Francis gave much instruction on the importance of Reconciliation in our day. At a general audience in 2014, he stated “First, the fact that the forgiveness of our sins is not something we can give ourselves. I cannot say: I forgive my sins. Forgiveness is asked for, is asked of another, and in Confession we ask for forgiveness from Jesus. Forgiveness is not the fruit of our own efforts but rather a gift, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us with the wellspring of mercy and of grace that flows unceasingly from the open heart of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Secondly, it reminds us that we can truly be at peace only if we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in the Lord Jesus, with the Father and with the brethren. And we have all felt this in our hearts, when we have gone to confession with a soul weighed down and with a little sadness; and when we receive Jesus’ forgiveness we feel at peace, with that peace of soul which is so beautiful, and which only Jesus can give, only Him” (Feb. 19 2014).

He also stated in an earlier audience that “God forgives every man in his sovereign mercy, but he himself willed that those who belong to Christ and to the Church receive forgiveness by means of the ministers of the community. Through the apostolic ministry the mercy of God reaches me, my faults are forgiven and joy is bestowed on me. In this way Jesus calls us to live out reconciliation in the ecclesial, the community, dimension as well. And this is very beautiful. The Church, who is holy and at the same time in need of penitence, accompanies us on the journey of conversion throughout our life. The Church is not mistress of the power of the keys, but a servant of the ministry of mercy and rejoices every time she can offer this divine gift (Nov. 20, 2013).

In her diary, Sister Faustina recorded that we must “Pray for souls that they be not afraid to approach the tribunal of God’s mercy” (975). To help quell this fear, Vinny Flynn offers us Seven Secrets of Confession. As he notes in the forward of his book, the secrets are not really hidden information, but rather they are things we might not think about. The seven secrets are:

  1. Sin doesn’t change God.
  2. It’s not just about forgiveness.
  3. Your sin is different from my sin.
  4. Confession is not really private.
  5. You’ve got mail.
  6. New wines need new skins.
  7. You have to let go of your chains.

Like all of the sacraments, Reconciliation is a gift to us from God. A gift given not because we merited it, but because God wants us to be eternally happy with him in Heaven. In his work, Life of Christ, Bishop Sheen states that Only God can forgive sins; but God in the form of man forgave the sins of Magdalen, of the penitent thief, of the dishonest tax collector, and of others.” From the day of his resurrection, Christ gave that power to forgive to others. “To be on humble on one’s knees confessing to one to whom Christ gave the power to forgive (rather than prostrate on a couch to hear guilt explained away) – that was one of the greatest joys given to the burden soul of man” (Sheen, Life of Christ, 421).

In my closing, I would like to share something written by Stratford Caldecott just two months before died. He said “The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.” (http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/05/search-secret-life-death.html).

 

 

My Trip to Minnesota: Final Thoughts

Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR)

The center is located on the campus of the University of Minnesota. They have a lot of equipment on site. Here is a list for those interested. (https://www.cmrr.umn.edu/resources/) They have a 16.4 Tesla machine but it is not for humans… The building is set up in such a way that there is an MRI room down every corridor. It is quite impressive.

In addition to the CMRR, there are quite a few medical facilities on the campus, devoted to high specialized needs. There is also a hospital, as well as an extension of the Mayo Clinic.

The Study

The study was conducted by Dr. Gulin Oz (U of M), Dr. Khalaf Bushara (U of M), and Dr. Gomez (Chicago). My main contact for the study was Diana Hutter. Diane was the person that initially contacted me about the study, and worked with me during the entire process. She also evaluated me when I arrived at the CMRR and stayed with me while I was at the facility.

While I was there, I also met a graduate student who was doing research to find a correlation between the size of a person’s cerebellum and the intelligibility of their speech. The evaluation only took a few minutes, and I was happy to help.

The MRI

The reason for my trip was to have 2 MRIs. The first was done on a 5 Tesla machine. The second was done on a 7 Tesla machine. As a point of reference, most MRI machines operate at 1.5 Tesla. Although there was a major difference in the overall construction and wiring, the scan was the same as those I had done before. The newer machine actually had a fan, which was nice. Believe it or not, I fell asleep.

Hope

Most of you that know me know that I have a generally positive disposition about my medical conditions. I am very blessed in my life and I have so much that helps me get through the day. However, it is sometimes hard to be hopeful that I will live to see significant advances that will improve the quality of life for ataxians. That was not the case, though, during my visit. I was in a “hotbed” of SCA research and I got to meet many people that were devoted to ataxia. I also saw and read about some of the progress being made, and it was very reassuring.

My Trip to Minnesota: Day 3

My first 2 days were loaded with “free time” but that was not the case today. I was checked out of my hotel and at the center by 7:30 a.m.! The MRI I underwent this morning was in the machine that is rated at 7 Tesla (the one of Thursday was 5). They also have a 10.5 machine – the only one in the world!

After the scan I had a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant and went back to the airport. I got to ride back in a Lincoln with 2 women from Rwanda. We had a fascinating conversation.

At the airport, I had some extra time so I requested wheelchair service. They took me through a side gate and my entire check-in process took about 10 minutes. It wasn’t as easy as it was in Kzoo, but both were better than the alternative of waiting forever in the main line. After the check-in they brought me to my gate, where I watched the arrival time of my flight change to a later time. Then again. Then again. Then again…

When I arrived in Chicago, there was only 4 minutes until my next flight took off. Even if I had rockets on the chair, I would not have made it. The only option was to get a ticket for the next flight for Kalamazoo, which was 5 hours later. The arrival gate also changed 3 times, which meant that I was making a lot of calls to be transported around. I finally arrived in Kalamazoo at 12 midnight.

Tomorrow, I will write a summary of my experience and share some other thoughts.

My Trip to Minnesota: Day 2

My first evaluation today was not until 1 p.m., so I had some time to spare. I spent the morning reading and had lunch at a delightful and delicious Iranian restaurant. When it was time for the evaluation, I took the shuttle to the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research.

When I arrived at the center (only a few minutes from the hotel) I was greeted by Diane. She has been my contact throughout this process. After she completed a brief questionnaire and motor evaluation, we went over the MRI basics. Then I changed into scrubs and we went to the MRI room (the lab has several on site).

For the MRI, they slid my entire body in. My head rested in a “helmet” (a padded square), and they lowered a shield over my face. The scan took about an hour. When it was finished, I returned to the hotel for a nap and went to dinner. I ate at a near little place called the Loring Pasta Bar.

A few fun facts I learned today…

-Dr. Henry Orr, who is currently at the University of Minnesota “discovered” SCA1 in 1993.

-SCA, in its various forms, is more common than ALS.

-The MRI machine is a 110 ton magnet with 720 miles of wire.

-The heating element in the MRI machine requires 40,000 liters of helium to keep it cool.

My Trip to Minnesota: Day 1

Here is some info on my trip to Minnesota for the ataxia research study.

First, I just need to say that air travel with ataxia is not fun. The last time I flew, I went to California. I had a suit, a mini-wardrobe, extra shoes, etc.  This time, I brought a single bag. And even that felt like it weighed 10,000 pounds. It also took a VERY long time to move throughout the airports. During my layover, I was the last person on the flight (instead of the first). I will say that the staff at the Kalamazoo airport was extremely helpful. They gave me a chair to sit on when I needed it, and helped me through the scanner – after I kept crashing into it and setting off the alarm.

Getting on and off the plane, as well as getting in my seat, was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately I only had one charley horse and I was able to control it rather well. If I hadn’t, I might have been considered a security threat.

When I finally arrived at the hotel (via a shuttle) it was around 5 p.m. and I had not eaten. The hotel shuttle did not operate from 4 to 6 because of rush hour traffic, so I walked down to the main area of campus for dinner. It was drizzling which made the walk extra exciting. I had to laugh because each time I crossed a street, the timer started. It used to be the case that I would make it with time to spare. Now, I was getting there after the hand was solid…

Because I still had some per diem left for the day, I went to a local sports bar for a second dinner. Turns out it was karaoke night. So.

Tomorrow, the actual studies begin.

God bless!

Homily: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2015

I have not seen a mustard plant before. I have seen pictures of one, but not an actual plant. I have seen mustard seeds, though, and I must say that they are remarkable. They are remarkable because they are so tiny, no bigger than a grain of sand. I received a bag of them at a training once, and hundreds of them were able to fit on the face of a quarter. From this tiny seed comes a large plant, one that can grow as tall as eight feet.

Though I have not seen a literal mustard plant, I have seen figurative ones. I have seen them in the children that participate in the formation programs that I oversee, when they leave their classes eager to use their new knowledge and by their participation in the Sacrament liturgies. I have seen them in my children’s classmates at St. Monica, when they gather together to celebrate Mass and through the strong foundation they are gaining in their Catholic faith. I have seen them in the catechists and teachers at our churches and schools, when they share their tremendous gifts with the children they care for. I have seen them in the clergy and the laity, when they do work for and through the Church. I have seen them in my family, when we mark our day with prayer and do our best to live Christian lives. And I have seen them in all of you, as we work together to carry out the mission of Christ on earth. Wherever the seeds of faith have been planted, there is growth. As the first part of the Gospel tells us, we may not know how, but we know it happens.

The Gospel Acclamation for today says “the seed is the Word of God, Christ is the sower.” I feel this is an apt comparison to the work of God in our world. The tree that is planted in the first reading from the book of Ezekiel represents the beauty and fertility of the Davidic house, the line that Jesus will someday come from. Scholars note that this tree can be likened to the cosmic tree, or one tree which draws sustenance from the earth and provides many things for all of creation.

In the second reading from the letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explains that it is necessary to live a good life and the preserve our bodies because we will someday appear before the judgement seat and our place in the afterlife will be determined. The Jews at the time thought that those who died before them were among the righteous dead in Heaven, but there was no sense of resurrection or eternal life until Christ came. St. Paul’s insistence on living wisely was an attempt to put to rest any remaining ideas new converts to Christianity had that disparaged the body, and to equip people with what they needed live a good life.

St. Paul also noted that we should walk by faith and not by sight. As we go forth in a few moments to receive Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, let us walk with tremendous faith and remember the great things we can do in this world with what he has planted in us.