Posted by: matt25 | March 9, 2015

First Things First in Prayer

People pray.  To the life of anyone who believes in God, I might contend even for anyone who thinks there “might be” a God who exists, this is true.  For some it happens only rarely when life is threatened, and for others it happens constantly throughout the day, every day.  Gramma was in the latter group.

I remember our family visits to the home where my father grew up in Buffalo’s old First Ward, and being impressed with hearing part of my grandmother’s routine of prayer.  Any sentence that came out of her in conversation might end with the phrase, thanks be to God.  Whether she had said Grampa had gotten over a cold or that a batch of still warm cookies were waiting for us on the table, it might end with “thanks be to God.”

Gramma Hens was a pretty smart cookie I think.  She knew that life was hard.  She raised eleven children during the Great Depression.  Through it all she had developed an attitude of gratitude in her relationship with God that extended into every nook and cranny of life.  This was so ingrained in her being that her prayers of thanksgiving were not reserved for times when she was praying, instead all of the activities of life became opportunities for times of prayer.

My grandmother's painting of her backyard.

My grandmother’s painting of her backyard.

Perhaps we should learn from her what should come first in our prayer.  Before we ask for anything, even it is an unselfish intercession for someone else, even if we are painfully aware of our own turning away from relationship with God, no matter where we are on that spectrum of, I believe in God to I don’t know what I believe, perhaps we should start with a thank you.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about this morning as I sipped my coffee, thank’s be to God.

Posted by: matt25 | March 4, 2015

We must cherish human life from beginnin

We must cherish human life from beginning to end, from conception to natural death.

Posted by: matt25 | February 23, 2015

Christian Self Help, Ltd. Jesus Christ Founder & CEO

What follows is my homily for the 1st Sunday of Easter, Cycle B.  A homily is meant to be listened to rather than read but I have included a written version below that more or less tracks with the recording.  I do recommend reading the Scriptures which inspired it prior to listening.  You can find them here:

I hope you are blessed by listening.  Happy Lent!

Once upon a time there was a man who decided to go out into the dessert.

He thought to himself, I don’t really mind going into the desert because I won’t be able to eat much so I can lose some weight. Yeah that’s actually a good idea, that way I will look better in my bathing suit this summer.  I won’t be able to watch television in the desert, but that’s okay, I should really make better use of my time. I watch way too much TV and there is nothing good on anyway, that goes double for the time I waste on the computer. You know, I can probably think of good reasons on how to improve myself by giving other things up as well. This whole desert thing will be a nice 40 day self improvement program.
Do you know who that man was? That man’s name was Jesus, and he founded the company CHRISTIAN SELF HELP, Limited. And now you know…. The rest of the story!

Of course, that isn’t what happened at all, but sometimes that is what I seem to reduce my Lent to.  I decide to give some things up, or to do some extra things for Lent, which is a good thing to do, and the wisdom of our faith calls us to do it.  But what is in my heart? What is my motivation? I might, if I am honest with myself, answer that it’s really mixed bag of little something spiritual, with a healthy dose of self improvement thrown in. It works out that way because I am focused on a Lent that is about me and about how I can make myself into something better.

Maybe I should take a closer look at what the story of Jesus really is. His story is in all of today’s readings. In our reading from the 9th Chapter of Genesis, three times God says he has a covenant relationship with Noah and all his descendants, and with all living creatures. When Jesus became man he entered our side of that covenant.  As we sang our psalm the refrain was “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” Jesus is the Way & the embodiment of love & truth in keeping the covenant .  From Mark’s Gospel we hear that Jesus was driven into the desert and tempted by Satan. Then Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” He went into the desert, not for self-improvement, but to be formed by God through victory over temptation and suffering. To be formed to do the Father’s will.  And From 1st Peter we heard how Jesus suffered his Passion and death so that he could lead us to God. To the God who gives us the sacrament of baptism which save us through power of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Let me try that story telling thing again, I promise it will be better!
Once upon a time God cleansed the entire earth and entered into an unbreakable covenant with humanity and all living creatures. In the time of fulfillment, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. He went to the desert to fast and pray to allow God to shape him to God’s purpose. He faced temptation and overcame it. He invited others to Repent, and believe in the Gospel. Never turning away from the covenant with his Father in heaven; he healed, and taught, and told his disciples what the kingdom of heaven is like. Always, giving of himself to others he finally gave all, and suffered death, death on a cross, in order to lead us to God. Through his passion, death, and resurrection we have the gift of baptism which saves us now. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

In light of this “revised telling of the story of Jesus” how can I revise the story of my Lent?  Like Jesus I must choose to go pull away from the normal bustle of life, go into a desert of sorts, because I am in a covenant of love with God.  Following Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life, I will seek to embody love & truth.  As Jesus did, I must confront the temptations which call me to a self-serving life rather than a life the life God created me to live. By the saving grace of my baptism, and the other sacraments I must achieve victory over them. I can’t do this, but God can.

The three pillars of Lent that we are invited to embrace are fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. I could rethink the three pillars of Lent as statements of action ad reason:
Fasting; I remove some of the things of this world to make room for heaven to grow in me.
Almsgiving; I do good works, or give of my time or money; for the sake of others and as a tool of God’s mercy.
Prayer; I spend time praising, thanking, and listening to God; because God is in a covenant of love with me.

Jesus’ story is our story.
Here at the beginning of Lent, let’s go to the desert to fast and pray to allow God to shape us according to God’s purpose rather than our own. Let us keep the covenant and open ourselves to truth and love. Through the power of our baptism let us draw others to God and the Good News of the Easter we are preparing to live.

Finally I think I may need a little reminder everyday of how I want the story of my Lenten experience to unfold, so I think I will sing a little each morning as a way to remember.

Day by day, Day by day
Oh Dear Lord, Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day

Posted by: matt25 | February 12, 2015

Without Shadows

There is a flame burning
Sometimes low or bright
Casting light and shadows
Round and about and through

But the corners
Stubborn, stuck, corners
Refuse easy surrender
Demanding self determined darkness

The corners too respond
When I bring the flame to them

And corners
Stubborn stuck corners
Respond to the light
Without shadows

– Matthew Hens


Posted by: matt25 | January 25, 2015

Get Out of Town!

Here is something to chew on, if someone accomplished a great good for your community why would you ask them to leave?

Matt 8:28-34 (NABRE)
The Healing of the Gadarene Demoniacs.
When he came to the other side, to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding. The demons pleaded with him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go then!” They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned. The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.

Here we see that Jesus removed an evil from this community yet they “begged” him to leave.

With all that Jesus has done for you, are there “districts” or parts of your life that you exclude him and your relationship with God from being a part of?

Posted by: matt25 | January 24, 2015

Can I Be Frank With You?

Can I be Frank with you? Put less informally, which St. Francis would be the best St. Francis to draw lessons from to help us on our own personal journey to heaven? When Pope Francis chose the name Francis, there was some initial public discussion over whether he chose the name because of Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier. As I recall it was the first in spite of his Jesuit roots but, the name of St. Francis belongs to numerous Roman Catholic saints. Wikipedia lists them as:

Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), Italian founder of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans)
Francis of Paola (1416–1507), Italian (Calabrian) founder of the Order of the Minims
Francis Xavier (1506–1552), Navarrese Catholic missionary to China; co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Francis Borgia (1510–1572), Spanish Jesuit priest; third leader of the Jesuits
Francis Solanus (1549–1610), Spanish Franciscan missionary to South America
Francis Caracciolo (1563–1608), Italian priest who co-founded the Congregation of the Minor Clerics Regular
Francis de Sales (1567–1622), French born bishop of Geneva, Switzerland
Francis Ferdinand de Capillas (1607–1648), Castilian Dominican missionary; first Roman Catholic martyr killed in China
Francis de Geronimo (1642–1716), Italian Jesuit priest

Today however is the memorial of St Francis de Sales and I was struck by the iBreviary description of this particular Saint Francis in part because I saw some parallels to the current Holy Father.

He was then compelled by the Pope to become Coadjutor Bishop of Geneva, and succeeded to the see in 1602. At times the exceeding gentleness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and one of them said to him, “Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure of the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn.” “Ah,” said the Saint, “I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. Is not God all love? God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove – that is, gentleness itself. And are you wiser than God?” In union with St. Jane Frances of Chantal he founded at Annecy the Order of the Visitation, which soon spread over Europe. Though poor, he refused provisions and dignities, and even the great see of Paris. He died at Avignon, 1622.

So can I be Frank with you? Which Francis would be the best Francis to draw lessons from to help us on our own personal journey to heaven? Perhaps, something from the Office of Readings will be of help. May God grant you and I wisdom to walk where we are called, words to speak with joy, and a heart to act with mercy, always filled and sustained by love.

From The Introduction to the Devout Life, by Saint Francis de Sales, bishop
(Pars 1, cap 3) Devotion must be practiced in different ways…

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfills all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.

Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.

Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

Posted by: matt25 | November 29, 2014

Is My Head Screwed On Right?

Before you answer the query in the title of this blog I would like to quickly interject that while it is a rhetorical question for you, it is a question I need to ask myself frequently. Moving on now with a wry semi-smile…

My friend Jeff Wentz who is the pastor at Pillar of Fire Fellowship in Dunkirk NY recently posted a something on Facebook that caused me to pause and reflect.

When I have found myself chasing those things I eventually realized that I was not right with myself or with my God. When I am grounded in my love for God and secure in my knowing my Father’s love for me, I do not chase relationships or things to make me feel loved or to boost my feelings of self worth. I am content. And because I am content I am also open to letting God move me where He wills.

Pastor Jeff’s post reminded me that chasing attention, love or affection is a warning that my head isn’t screwed on right… yet again


Posted by: matt25 | November 22, 2014

Winter Storm “Knife”

My family is digging out. We are used to lake effect snow coming off of Lake Erie in the Buffalo, NY area, but not like this. Some communities have seen snowfalls that are near or even exceed their typical snowfall totals for the entire year. My father who recently celebrated his 86th birthday lives in Lancaster where he nearly received an inch for nearly every year of his life. They got 84″ in just 3 days.

Lake Effect snow can be a very narrow band and that was the case this time. Communities less than 10 miles away only received a few inches. That may seem strange to those who don’t hear their local TV meteorologist say things like “the full fetch of the lake”, but it is the way it is around here. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz remarked in the early going that on the radar map It looked like a knife going through the heart of Erie County, so they have called it Winter Storm Knife..

Two of my daughters live with their families in heavily impacted areas and have not been able to leave their homes for 5 days. There is a 4 to 6 foot wall of compacted snow at the foot of their driveways and the combined efforts of the streets departments, New York State, and the National Guard have not yet been able to clear their streets. One of them called worried that her house was going to collapse from the weight of the snow on her roof as they were seeing cracks developing in their ceilings in the dining room, kitchen, and one of the bedrooms.

There was no way we could get through to them as travel into the area was impossible. I was incredibly frustrated as our calls to 911, police departments, and emergency response centers yielded no way to get them help. I am not angry about this, there just were not enough resources to deal with the crisis and everyone was stretched beyond thin while doing the best they could. I had nowhere to turn other than God and prayer. So that is what we did. My wife and I were praying and I put out prayer requests on Facebook and by email. The response was both immediate and generous. My son-in-law, who has a medical disability which should have prevented him from going on the roof to clear it went up there anyway knowing that the task was beyond what he could do. The prayers that went out for them not only kept him safe but softened the hearts of two neighbors who had earlier turned a blind eye to their situation.

I can’t thank those 2 men, or the hundreds of people who prayed enough.

Now that the snow has stopped we are all digging out and bracing for the near 60 degree weather coming with rain and wind that will melt the snow all too quickly, and undoubtedly cause arial flooding. Further difficulties for sure as we have already seen dozens of roofs that did collapse on both businesses and private homes. I believe the death’s attributed to this storm are now tallied at 13 but I spoke to a man yesterday whose grandmother died trying to dig out and she is not mentioned in the official accounts that I heard. I can’t help but wonder if there are others.

If you are reading this hours, days, or even years after I write this. Remember the power of prayer and pray for those who are in difficulty and distress. Pray for those who mourn. Pray for peace. Your prayer may be the final one that is needed to make the difference.

Here are two of my grandchildren standing on top of the snow that was removed from the roof to save their home. Snow removed by muscle and prayer.


Before I share my nagging question with you may I ask another? Do you have one of those questions yourself? If you do, then you will know what I am talking about when I say it can be frustrating to be unable to put the answer in a nice neat box in colorful wrapping paper and fastened with a bow. Here is the question that has dogged me since my time in formation.

How do I share the love of God and the truth of the Catholic faith with people who have embraced different philosophies and ways of living?

That is the question now, which applies in a more universal sense, but the specific question to my spiritual director that led to it was this.

How do I minister to those who have same sex attractions and have embraced a gay lifestyle, with love and without watering down or compromising my faith?

That seems to be a question which much of the church is wrestling with since Francis became the Bishop of Rome. It has certainly been getting a great deal of press in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere over the last year. I was drawn to a couple of posts by the Anchoress this morning that speak to this in both the specific and more universal form of my question.

The first was this post about a new book that has come out entitled “Gay And Catholic”. This is a book that I think will be a good and challenging read for me.

The second was a post from September which she gave the title “Why Dolan, and Francis, and Benedict Are Right”. This includes a statement from Elizabeth Scalia that truly resonated with me.

We are, in every age, called to be a missional church. Catholic missionaries used to head for the jungles, seeking to serve people who had never heard of Christ. Now, we must head into the jungle of confused popular culture and idols, and relative morality and social and sexual deconstruction. And there we must set our tents, and meet and serve the people who do not know Jesus Christ.

Herein lies the answer, perhaps. To love each life we encounter without judging the person, for judgement belongs to God. To help each person in their needs in as much as we are able, for that is what the Gospel demands. To walk with them in friendship as we share the way, the truth, and the life which brings all of us out of our own sinful existence into an ever deeper communion with God, for that is the call of our baptism. And to challenge their understandings as we allow them to challenge our own, for this is the way of dialog which helps uncover truth in charity.

There is no nice neat box in colorful wrapping paper, fastened with a bow here. There is only the messy struggle of life wrapped up in the pursuit of life lived with love, meaning and truth. Please pray for me to have the grace to live that way as I now pray for you.

Posted by: matt25 | October 27, 2014

What Do You Steer By?

Ships at sea uses to steer by the stars and the sun in the days before the compass.  Cars and trucks used maps and signs in the days before GPS.  But they all used, and still use something to help guide them to where they want to be.  Many organizations have found it helpful to have a guide of sorts in place to help them chart their course in the form of a mission statement.  Some individuals have found it useful to have a personal mission statement as well.

As I was meditating upon the Scripture Readings for Mass last weekend, I inadvertently uncovered just such a personal mission statement.  I say inadvertently, but what I really mean is that I was guided through the process of prayerfully wrestling with thoughts and ideas to what was already there waiting for me to see.

Please consider reading the scriptures prior to listening to the recording below.  I hope you are blessed in listening as I was in preparing for my homily.  Please pray for me that I may  faithful in my first calling in marriage and my second in holy orders, as I pray now for you who will read and/or listen to my post exactly when you are supposed to.

Here is a link to the scriptures this post grew out of:   Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1                     EX 22:20-26

Responsorial Psalm       PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

Reading II                    1 THES 1:5C-10

Gospel                         MT 22:34-40

My spoken homily is never an exact match to the written and the homily is meant to be heard rather than read but nonetheless here is the written form that I worked from.

<><   <><   <><   <><   ><>   ><>   ><>   ><>

Some people say a wood-carver takes a piece of wood, something that we can all already appreciate in the beauty of its grain, texture and shape.  Then they carve it to reveal something else in the heart of the wood.  Something that was already present and waiting to be revealed.  An image of beauty that stays with the viewer in a way that the unrevealed wood did not.

I like to look at scripture that way sometimes.  I may take a reading and underline the key parts.  Then pray over those and perhaps highlight specific words that reveal something of the heart of the passage that I didn’t clearly see at first.  Let’s look at the reading from 1st Thessalonians that we heard today.  Now just what I highlighted…

You became imitators of the Lord, a model for all.

You turned to God who delivers us from the coming wrath.

That is something I can remember in a way that I could not remember the entire reading.

Jesus did that in a way today.  We heard in Matthew’s Gospel how Jesus was tested yet again by the Jewish authorities.  They wanted to put him in his place by asking him a question about the sacred scriptures that they thought he could never answer adequately.

But Jesus, saw into the heart of the scripture and revealed the answer that was already there.

The Scholar asked him what is the greatest commandment in the law?  On the face of it, the question appears very honest. The Pharisees identified 613 commandments in the Torah.  How could anyone remember all of them? And there was probably a great deal of debate over how some might be more important than others.

Jesus combines two in his answer:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” ( Dt 6:5).  And the second of equal importance is “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lv 19:18).

Jesus does not discard other commandments. In fact he explicitly adds:

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

There it was, brought to light in a way that all could see and remember!

The heart of the 613 commandments can be summed up in those two.

Perhaps if we take these two readings and connect them, we can bring out a single ideal upon which we can build our lives.  A single way of life which will not only fill us with joy, but also build the kingdom here on earth and attract others to do the same.

A mission statement, if you will, for our lives.

This is what I heard God say to us today, our mission statement.

We are imitators of the Lord, whom we love with all that we are, and above all else.

We are a model for all, joyfully sharing with them the love that is our salvation.

I will say that once more, slowly, so that you can pray it within your heart and mind as you hear it.

Can I get an Amen?

(tie in to Catholics Come Home Campaign)

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