Spent the week teaching the Faith section for our Vacation Bible School. Theme: Cathletics. I thoroughly cemented my reputation as someone who makes it all up on the spur of the moment. There's a reason I never volunteer to organize anything.
All right, athletes, time to warm up! Today we're going to work, not our physical muscles, but our spiritual muscles. And we're going to do a warm-up devised by St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius was a Spanish soldier, a warrior. He'd trained his body well. But one day in battle, his leg was shattered by a cannon ball. And to make it worse, after it had healed, the doctors said it hadn't healed correctly, and so they had to break the bone again. Can you imagine that? So Ignatius, the athlete, was stuck in bed for a long time. He couldn't use his body. He read all the novels that were sitting around, and finally, he was so bored, he started reading books about the saints, and about Jesus. And he learned something: that although he'd trained his body, he hadn't trained his soul. All that work to be physically healthy, and he'd never even thought about his spiritual health! He began to work on that, to do exercises for his spirit as well as for his body. He went on to found a great religious order, the Jesuits.
We're going to do Ignatius's spiritual warm-up this week. It's called an Examen. When you go to school, you take exams, but this isn't exactly like that. It's more like the Examination of Conscience you do before you go to Confession. How many of you have made your first Confession already? Great! You can try this next time you go. When you're practicing sports, your coach has a whistle. Here, we're going to use a different sound: bells.
Through this warm-up, we're going to use the power of... silence. Did you know that silence is powerful? It is! And it's hard, too. Here's our challenge this morning: to be silent and hear God speak. (Ring bells)
First, we're going to close our eyes and get comfortable. Deep breath in through your mouth, out through your nose. That's a good way to calm yourself if you're excited or upset. Now I want you to think about God's goodness, and the good things that have happened to you. Let's just think about this morning; you don't have to look back over your whole life. How did you see God's love? Through your parents? Your brothers and sisters? Your pets? What about nature? Did you go outside this morning and think how beautiful it was? Did you see some beautiful bits of nature on your way here? All of these are God's gifts to you.
Now that we've strengthened our spirits by thinking of the Good, we're going to think about the bad. Did you commit any sins this morning? Disobey your mom; fight with your brothers and sisters, think angry thoughts? What did you do that might separate you from God? Did anything bad happen to you? Were you yelled at for no reason? What happened that made you unhappy? Let's sit silently for a minute.
Now, we're going to take all the bad, all our sins and all our unhappy feelings, and put them in a basket. Now take all the good things that God has given you, and put them in that basket as well. And we're going to offer that entire basket to God. We're giving him all of ourselves. And now that we've given God a gift, we're going to ask for something. We ask him for his strength to help us this day. We ask him for his forgiveness and his mercy for the sins we've committed. We ask him for comfort for our sorrows. We ask him for his love.
All right! Let's finish our warm-up with a prayer. First, the sign of the cross. Let's practice it. Hold up your right hand! Forehead, chest, reach across (always reach across!), and back to the other shoulder. Let's begin: In the name of the Father....
The Ten Commandments
(Bunch of preliminary remarks I can't remember now)
1. I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other Gods before me. This is pretty easy to remember. God is #1, above all else. But what does that mean? How can we put something above God? What are some examples of things that we might care about more than God? Statues? Well, that was a big problem at the time Moses received the ten commandments, but we don't see that so much now. Money? Friends? Sports and sports heroes? Your phone? Good! These are all great examples of things that we place above God. Your pet? Sure! What if you said, "I love my cat so much I'd rather be with him than go to church on Sunday." That would be an example of loving your cat more than God. None of these are bad things, but they can't take the highest place in our lives. We have to put God first, and everything else falls into its proper place.
2. Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Has anyone ever heard God's name used disrepectfully? Have you heard someone say, "Oh my... " -- well, you know what I mean! Or have you heard Jesus's name used disrepectfully? You wouldn't want someone to swear using your name. What if I stubbed my toe and and yelled, "Oh my Tyler, that hurt!" Or what if someone was talking trash about your mother? You'd want them to stop, right? We honor God's name because we honor God himself. We don't just love him for the things he gives us. We love him because he's good and worthy of love in himself, and we show that by honoring his name. And if you ever hear someone using the name Jesus disrepectfully, you can honor him in your heart and make reparation for the abuse of his name.
3. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. This commandment is about where we are now -- our church! The commandment says the Sabbath. What's the Sabbath? It's the Jewish holy day. Do you know when it is? Saturday, because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. So why is Sunday our holy day? Right, because on Sunday Jesus rose from the dead. In the Bible there are several accounts of people being raised from the dead. Elijah raised a little boy; Jesus raised Lazarus. But no one raised Jesus from the dead. He raised himself, because he has power over death. When we come to church on Sunday, we aren't doing God a favor. It's a matter of justice. We owe him one day of our week to worship him, because he has given everything to us.
4. Honor your father and mother, that you may have long life in the land. The first three commandments are about how we can love God. The next seven are about how we love people. And we start with the most important people in our life: our mother and father. They give us our first idea of God as provider. We honor them for all the gifts they give us, and we pray for them. Do you pray for your parents? They pray for you!
5. You shall not kill. Well, here's a commandment that I know none of you have disobeyed, literally. You've never taken anyone else's life. But have you ever had anyone say something cruel to you? It hurts, doesn't it? It feels like your spirit dies a little bit. We're commanded not just to respect people's bodies, but their hearts as well. We watch the way we treat people so we don't injure their spirits by mean or careless words. No gossip!
6. You shall not commit adultery. This is a commandment about honoring marriage. None of you are married, so does this mean the commandment doesn't apply to you at all? Should we just throw it out the window? No, of course not! We're called to respect the bonds of family. We honor our parents' marriages by praying for them, by letting them have quiet time together, by not trying to butt between them when they're kissing in the kitchen... oh, is that just my house? And we honor the bonds of family. You have a family bond with your brothers and sisters, too. Love them and honor them! Those family ties are important.
7. You shall not steal. Okay, now we're back in "directly relevant" territory. Sure, you may not have robbed a bank -- put your hand down, wise guy -- but has anyone ever borrowed something from a brother or sister or friend and forgotten to give it back? Have you ever had something of yours taken? We respect others, and we respect the things that belong to them. Ask permission. Put things back. Confess when you've damaged someone else's property.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Who can tell me what false witness is? Yes, lying. And lying, specifically, in a way that damages someone else and destroys trust. If someone asks, "Who broke that vase?", and I confess, "I did", I'm bearing true witness. My word can be trusted. But if I say, "Kayla did it!" and the person believes me, then I've done two wrong things: I've damaged Kayla's reputation, and I'm creating a false situation of trust. When people lie, it creates a culture of suspicion. There has to be truthful witness for a society to function. False witness tears down the bonds of trust between people.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. Aha, you think. Another commandment that doesn't apply to me! Think again, buster. So, you don't have a wife, and the person sitting next to you doesn't either. But do you have friends? And do your friends have friends? Have you ever been jealous of someone else's friendship? So jealous that you try to break up that friendship by gossiping or causing trouble? Of course none of you would do something like that. But you know what? I can be friends with Annie, and Annie can be friends with Josie, and Annie and Josie's friendship doesn't hurt my friendship with either one of them. It may even make it stronger! We respect the bonds between other people, just as we want them to respect our bonds with other people.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods. So, what is coveting? It's jealousy. It's being so jealous that you steal something in your mind. Look at this great banner that belongs to Team Zebulon. If I picked it up and walked off with it, I'd be stealing, right? But say I didn't walk off with it. What if I just looked at it and thought, "That is such a cool banner. I wish it was mine. I wish Team Zebulon didn't have that nice banner. They don't deserve it. If I can't have it, I wish nobody had it!" I'd be stealing in my mind, even if I never touched it. These last two commandments are about sins that we commit with our minds. God doesn't just give us rules for our bodies, because he wants us to be healthy in both our bodies and our minds. We're not just bodies, are we? And not just minds, either? We're a whole, and God loves and protects our whole person. That's why he gives us commandments for our whole person.
Yesterday we talked about the Ten Commandments. They have a lot of "You shall not" in them. Today we're going to discuss "You shall". In the gospel of Matthew (who can name the four gospels? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John!) in chapter 5, Jesus gathered people around him, just like you're sitting around me, and he gave them eight ways that they could receive blessings from God. These eight blessings are called the Beatitudes. Beatitude means blessing. It means, specifically, the happiness of heaven. Jesus shows us how to have heaven on earth through the Beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Does this mean that no rich person ever goes to heaven? No! The poor in spirit are people who are not proud, A proud person puts himself first. He wants to be number one. But remember the first commandment? God has to be number one. When we put him in the first place in our life, other things fall into their proper order. We are poor in spirit because we know that all our blessings don't come from anything we've done. Every good thing we have comes from God, and that's why the poor in spirit receive, not an earthly kingdom, but the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. What is mourning? It's grief and sorrow, an emptiness. Has anyone ever lost a loved one, a grandparent or a friend? You mourn for them, and it feels like there's a hole in you, an emptiness, a space that only that person can fill. But sometimes, you can have lots of good things -- food, clothes, shelter, people who love you -- and still feel an emptiness. That's an emptiness that only God can fill. And when we fill that emptiness with God, instead of with more things or with human love, he gives us comfort.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. What did you have for snack today? Well, say I wanted some snack, and I shoved and elbowed my way to the front of the line, and I grabbed all the snack. Would that be the right way? Of course not! When we're meek, we wait to be given something instead of grabbing it for ourselves. That's because God can give us so much more than we can grab! Jesus tells about a man going to get grain in a sack. The grain is poured into the sack until it looks full, then the sack is shaken to settle the grain in the cracks, then more grain is poured in, then it's packed down and even more grain is poured in until the sack overflows! The man who brought the sack probably didn't know that so much grain could fit in it! That's how God gives to the meek. And what do they inherit? The earth, literally? Do they have farms? Not always, but since the earth is the Lord's, it's his to give to those who will receive his gifts meekly.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. You know what it feels like to be hungry. It eats you up! You can hunger for things that aren't food, though. Have you ever seen something wrong, maybe someone breaking the rules, and you're burning up to set things right? Sometimes people are troubled by the evil in the world, and they long to correct it, so much so that it's like a hunger in them. God sees that desire and honors it. And when our desire is not just for justice -- for the bad guys to be punished and the good guys rewarded -- but for righteousness, for God's solution to problems, then God satisfies that hunger.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. In Israel, there are two big bodies of water. There's the Dead Sea, which is just what its name says. It has water that flows into it, but there's no outlet, and so the water is so intensely salty that nothing can live in it. You can't fish, you can't drink it. All you can do is float in it. Now the Sea of Galilee has both water flowing into and water flowing out of it. As a result, it's living water, full of fish and good to drink, and many of the apostles made their living by fishing in that vibrant sea. God's mercy is like that. If we only receive God's mercy but never give mercy to other people, we become a mercy graveyard. That mercy comes to us to die. But when we give mercy as well, we're like conduits of God's mercy. It flows in and through us. The merciful give mercy as well as receiving it, and that giving brings more mercy flowing into us. The merciful obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Something that is pure is single. It's not mixed with lots of different things. If you have white, and you add red, is it still white? No, it's pink. If you add blue, is it still white? It's sky blue. What about black? Then you don't have white, but gray. It's not pure white anymore, because it's been mixed with other colors. Who wears glasses? If your glasses are dirty, can you see through them? Yes, but not very clearly. But what if you clean your glasses? If the glass is clean and pure, you can see truly through them. When our soul is stained and polluted by sin, we can still see God, because God is light, and far more powerful than sin. But when our soul is pure and spotless, we see God so much more clearly and sharply. The pure of heart will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Do you know anyone who likes drama? Maybe you know someone who's always causing trouble or trying to start a fight. A peacemaker is not someone who starts a fight. A peacemaker is someone who ends a fight, even at the cost of losing. A peacemaker refuses to hit back. A peacemaker doesn't return insult for insult. A peacemaker is someone who gives good for evil and breaks the cycle of anger that people seem to fall into when they're fighting. And sometimes a peacemaker can make people angry, which leads to our last beatitude...
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for their is the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes you get in trouble for something you did. You get punished, and you think, "Eh, I deserved it." But sometimes you try to do the right thing, or stand up for what is right, and you still find yourself in trouble. Maybe people resent you for loving Jesus and acting like he matters. You are being persecuted for doing something good. Then you are being just like our model, Jesus, who was completely sinless and yet died the death of a criminal. Jesus understands what it's like to suffer for righteousness' sake. And Jesus offers the kingdom of heaven to those who suffer for him, just as he promised it to the good thief on the cross next to him. When the good thief defended Jesus, Jesus told him, "This day you will be with me in paradise." And what is paradise? Heaven! To those who suffer like Jesus, Jesus gives his own happiness.
Some of our saint bios were already written in the program we used, but since we swapped in two saints of our own, I had to whip up some bios the night before those sessions. I have both of my original bios sitting so nicely on my laptop, but William spilled vinegar on the keyboard last week and now every time the cursor is in a typing field, it just scrolls brackets: [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[. So I'm going to make it up on the spot, as always.
St. Josephine Bahkita (fortitude)
I was born in the Sudan in 1869. I had a happy childhood, but when I was nine years old, I was captured by slave traders. This was an awful time for me. I was treated so badly, I didn't even remember my name. The slave traders called me by the nickname "Bakhita", which means "lucky". I didn't feel lucky! My masters were cruel and beat me daily. I even tried to escape, but was captured and resold.
When I was fourteen, I was sold to an Italian man living in North Africa. He was kind to me and never beat me. He gave me as a gift to a family who took me with them back to Italy. There, I became nanny to their little daughter. When the parents had to travel, the little girl and I went to live for a time at the convent of the Cannosian Sisters. There, for the first time, I heard about a loving God. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about this Jesus, who died the death of a slave.
When my masters came back and tried to make me leave, I said no. The sisters helped me take my case to the Italian courts. The judges ruled that since slavery was illegal in Italy, I was free! What did I do with my freedom? I wanted to join the Sisters and dedicate the rest of my life to serving God.
I lived with the sisters for 42 years. Soon I was known for my cheerfulness, my gentleness, and my fortitude in enduring suffering. During World War II, the people of my town counted on my prayers and my strength to protect them during the bombing. Not one person died.
I died in 1947 and was proclaimed a saint by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 1, 2000. I'm the patron saint of my homeland, the Sudan, and of all people suffering in slavery.
St. Augustine (temperance)
I was born in 354 in North Africa. My mother was a devout Christian, but my father wasn't. I had a bright mind, but I didn't like school because my teachers were too strict. I wanted to have a good time and do what I wanted. Once I stole peaches from an orchard, not because I was hungry, but just for the fun of breaking the rules.
I didn't get better as I got older. My mother prayed night and day that I would turn away from my sinful life and use my brilliant mind to teach others about the faith. One day I was wandering in my garden, wondering what I should do with my life, when I heard a child outside the wall singing, "Take and read! Take and read!" I picked up the Bible that was near me and opened it to a verse about turning away from sins and putting on the life of Jesus. I became a Christian and was eventually ordained a priest and bishop. My mother's prayers were answered.
Because of my many books and writings defending and explaining the faith, I'm called a Doctor of the Church. I died in 430 and was proclaimed a saint almost immediately.