Thursday, May 31, 2012

“The Visitation” of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth

This is the topic of today’s Catholic Liturgical Feast: I am trying to apply it to my life today. 
It would seem that a “visitation” is not the same as a simple “visit” whereby I go to see someone. A visitation has a deeper purpose; it is an encounter that carries within it a meaning that is intentional. 
Mary, the mother-to-be of the Son of God, carried Jesus within her womb as she came to spend time with Elizabeth. He was already given a name by God, as was the son of Elizabeth. They were already persons who obviously recognized each other in a mysterious way. Nevertheless, even my simple visit to someone, superficial as it may seem, still does accomplish something. I don’t mean to diminish its importance. I too carry the very presence of Christ within me everywhere and to everyone. It has its reward. Just being there with another person, even in silence, someone who is hurting, grieving, discouraged, or confused is efficacious even if I don’t say a word.
But there can be more.  
When I reach out to connect with someone in “visitation,” I can do it in multiple ways in these times of modern technology. I can go in person, of course, if they have asked me to come, or if I feel the constraint of God and my loving concern for them. I can also do so by phoning someone who is ill or in distress just to let them know I am thinking about them and care. I can carry on a “visitation” by emailing them. That carries the potential of being a very personal gesture even without a face to face encounter or a voice involved. It can still be spirit to spirit and heart to heart.
I can just as readily pray for someone over the phone or even express my prayer for them in writing by email. It can become a “cyberspace visitation” if I go beyond surface chit-chat or the mere expressing of my concern and sympathy or empathy. I can gently and with love and wisdom share spiritual matters naturally and genuinely. I can offer a person some spiritual encouragement that will help them press on through their struggle and assist them to endure what they are going through and unite their suffering with that of Jesus. This can be in fulfillment of the Spiritual Acts of Mercy which we are privileged to carry out as Gifts of the Spirit.
I can even use my blog as a “visitation” to those who view it and pray that someone who needs those very words will be edified. That is also the reason I write and publish books. What I write has the potential of carrying on a “visitation” with each reader. I pray that the Holy Spirit may apply the words that I have been led to write for God’s glory to each reader’s spirit and heart in His unique way for their unique need. I welcome the Holy Spirit to speak to them “between the lines” on the page to accomplish His purpose.
We don’t know what really went on in the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the hill country town in Judah for the three months of Mary’s visit—the conversation and the practical help. What a drama was being played out! There was a wide generational gap between the two women, but both were pregnant in supernatural ways. It must have been a joyful time. But it was probably a fairly quiet household since the angel pronounced that Zechariah would remain mute during Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a consequence of doubting the angel’s words. Too bad he didn’t have an iPad or other techy equipment to join in. But I’ll bet he listened to their conversations!
Surely the intimate exchange of the women would have been incredible to hear as they probed and shared the Scriptures about the Messiah and the implications for themselves and their infant sons in God’s salvific plan. Mary is recorded as projecting her “Fiat” to God as influencing all future ages of time. She declared, “From this day all generations will call me blessed.” That was not said in boastful pride but in the accurate understanding of prophecy.
Zechariah, with his lifetime background and training in the prophetic Scriptures, finally got the full picture as his tongue was loosed after John’s birth. He expressed his understanding at last so eloquently in his Canticle in Luke chapter one. He recounted the entire Messianic promise and the sweep of history and its imminent fulfillment. He also understood the prophetic preparatory role his own son would fill.
It would seem that Mary stayed there through the delivery of the infant John—and doubtless not only helped her cousin but learned much that she would need to know when her own due time arrived. God may have had many purposes for this visitation of Mary. I’ll bet she had a lot to tell Joseph upon her return. Imagine their anticipation as they waited for her fullness of time and thought of their holy responsibility of bringing up the Son of God under their roof!
I can’t judge what effect my “visitation” might have upon another person when I reach out to someone in a prayerful, intentional way. I really don’t need to know. It is best to leave the fruit of such encounters a secret with God. However, I am fully aware what a consolation it is to my own heart when someone reaches out to me with a “visitation.” I am uplifted, encouraged, sometimes challenged, even corrected in my course toward holiness by something a friend has shared intentionally with me through their “visitation.”
I question myself: does someone meet the Christ I carry within me by the presence of the Holy Spirit when I make a “visitation”? God help me not to squander the opportunity by limiting it to just a “visit” with small talk. The Scripture says that we shall be accountable for the idle words of our mouths. I must become more aware that every communication with another person’s spirit is potentially eternally significant.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The “Ouch” of Fruit Bearing

From Ch. Getting a Flying Start
Excerpt from book in progress:

“Every branch that bears fruit He prunes.” That’s what Jesus declared in John chapter 15.
“But that hurts!” I argue. “Shouldn’t I receive His applause and commendation instead? I’m obeying. I’m already bearing fruit.”
That’s the law of the Vineyard. God the Father calls the shots. He is the Vinegrower, the Master Gardener, the Owner of the Vineyard. He makes the rules. If I am bearing fruit, I will get pruned. No exceptions. But pruning isn’t punishment. It is Father God’s loving investment in me to move me forward to flourish, to bear more fruit, then much fruit.
His pruning clippers are often disguised as adversity, hardship, loss, or detachment from the intrinsically good in order to bring forth the better and the best. Pruning is not willy-nilly child’s play. It must be done by One who knows what He is doing. It requires skill and focused intent and gentle severity. It is often so drastic that the vines which are cut back end up appearing lifeless. It involves brokenness. But it is done for future strength not the temporary weakness that we perceive. God’s intent is to clear away the impediment of dead wood and wild new shoots that wouldn’t result in sweet fruit.
Rather than resisting Divine pruning, let’s lift our branches to Him and welcome His loving, tender cultivation.

I delight to sprout new shoots!
I enjoy loud admiration from others
who agonize to produce theirs
while I'm always pregnant with potentiality
and effervescent with possibility.
But along comes The Master Gardener
sharpening His nipper-clippers.
He starts lopping off and snipping
my upstart, grand productions.
I cry in agony to see
my precious creativity and spontaneity
treated so shamefully!
"Wild growth!" He proclaims.
"It detours the flow of My mainline life
to useless, spurious shoots."

Selectively, but tenderly, He cuts back
my prized and puffy self-efforts.
Tearfully I watch them fall
and shrivel and wither and die.
I nurse my wounded ego
dismayed to see them go.
But in time I come to see
though reluctantly and painfully
the necessity and joy of submitting
to Divine selectivity
and Divine priority.
When ripe fruit finally bursts forth
from my remaining main-branch buds,
my strength and vigor thus conserved
God-life surges through my fewer shoots
because The Gardener chose
to prune my wild and wayward ways
and perform on me His elective surgery.
* All posted poems by Leona Choy

What’s on my “bucket list”?

From chapter: Getting a flying start
Excerpt from Leona's book in progress:
Finishing Up with a Flourish

I shouldn’t be satisfied when I reach one of my goals. It is good and right to thank God for an achievement, but not to bask in my successes. I must keep raising the bar and moving forward and upward. It is when I stop moving and pressing on that I become old. That’s when it’s a good idea to consult my “bucket list.” I shouldn’t let that bucket get empty. I should examine what’s been in my bucket and whether I have discarded or neglected some of the contents or whether it has simply leaked out. What’s left in my bucket?
            I was curious about the origin of that term and did some online research. The "bucket list" was the theme of a movie when two terminally ill men set out to do what they wanted to do before they died. It came to mean a list of 100 things or 10 things or however many you might want to accomplish because you feel your own mortality closing the door. Or before you “kick the bucket” which is a slang term that has come to mean to die. In short, it’s a list you have made of what you hope to accomplish or do in your lifetime.
            But where did the bucket aspect come from? One idea traced it to the middle ages when hanging was a common form of capitol punishment. The victim would be taken to an elevated scaffold and have a noose around his neck. He would be standing on an overturned bucket or pail. When the bucket would be kicked out from under him, he would drop, the rope would tighten, and he would be hung.
            In a sense, since a bucket list is a list of goals to achieve or roles in life or places I would like to go, or things I would like to do, I could very well ask myself, “Who put those items in my bucket? Did I? What was my motivation? As a Christian I should ask, “Have I consulted God and His will and purpose and plan for my life? Or am I simply on a self-centered ego trip through life? Are there things that ought not be on my list? Are there valuable things that I have omitted?"
            In rural China it is common to see two heavily loaded buckets being carried by one person. A long pole is put across the shoulders and two buckets in balance are hung on each end of the pole. There is nothing wrong with having personal goals and wishes and desires. On the contrary, it is good and right. One may fill up one bucket with that kind of list. Nevertheless, it should be balanced in the other bucket with a list of God’s priorities and purposes for creating me and calling me to become His child. One bucket may contain temporal desires; the other, eternal values and desires in sync with the will of God.
God isn’t about the business of raining on our parade or taking all the fun out of life. The Scripture says, “God has given us richly all things to enjoy.” God created the world and everything in it for man. In the Psalms we read, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God is an over-blesser, always generous to give us more abundance than we can ask or think. God’s storehouse of goodness and mercies is overflowing. The bucket list of what He wants to favor His children is a lot weightier and richer and a greater treasure than anything we could think of to put on our bucket list of “to do’s or to be’s.”
I encourage myself to be more concerned with God’s bucket list for my lifetime, however short or long it may be according to His sovereign plan. The question I should ask myself is not, “Have I accomplished all I want to do from my bucket list?” I think I can’t go wrong with continually praying, “Lord, I want Your will to be done in my life on earth as it is in heaven. Go ahead and fulfill your bucket list for my life!”

Rare, medium, or “well done”?

Excerpt from the chapter "Getting a flying start"
Leona Choy's book in progress: FINISHING UP WITH A FLOURISH

Defining "Well done"

How we live after we become a follower of Christ determines whether God will welcome us to Himself with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Or will we simply hear the words “Well, done! in the sense that finally we have finished our lives, but we may not have finished well.
My welcome into God’s presence will not be based on having been a “good and perfect servant.” Since all have missed the mark of perfection, before we enter into heaven God has lovingly provided a way for us to become holy and pure enough to dwell there with Him for eternity.  Nor is being good in the sense of depending on my own righteousness or good works able to earn God’s commendation of “Well done!” Nor is my welcome based on being a successful servant. How we rate success may be far from how God defines it; His ways are higher than our ways. Nor will it be because I have been a well-known servant. The greatest commendation may come to a believer who has lived his or her life in relative but obedient and holy obscurity. Nor will it be based on being the always busy servant. Being busy and active even in so-called Christian service is not the same as being spiritually fruitful, which is what the Lord is after. God defines fruitfulness, and it may not be what we think it is.
Good and faithful servant” is God’s expectation of how we should live our life on earth. Good is our standing in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God looks at us as “in Christ” and works with us as we “work out [not work for] our own salvation with fear and trembling.” God’s way is to transform us through the process of our lifetime into the image of His Son. God commends us on our faithfulness to the purpose for which He gave us life and how obediently we have walked in His ways.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Studying for First Communion

#26 Conversations with Jeffrey (series)
Preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Understanding Sin

“I just don’t understand exactly what sin is, Grandma. Is it a sin when I forgot that I had an assignment due in school today and I didn’t get it in on time?”

“Well, that was a mistake and you need to try to remember. And it had consequences, but it wasn’t a sin.”

“How about doing something wrong by accident?”

“No, not a sin, not even when you are tempted to do something wrong. But doing or saying something serious and on purpose when you already know God said not to do or say that—that is a sin.”

“How come we can still sin? I thought that when we were baptized our original sin was washed away.”

“Let’s back up a little and talk about how God created people. We need to know what a “person” is. Then we can understand what sin is and how we should deal with it.”

“Isn’t a person someone who had a mind and a body?”

“Not exactly. The Bible says God is a person—but He doesn’t have a body. The Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is three persons. A person is someone who has a mind and a will. God is a divine person. We are human persons who are created in the image of God with a mind and a will but one more thing—God also gave us a body.”
“How about angels, are they persons?”

“Angels are persons. They are also images of God but they are persons created by God without bodies. They are pure spirits with only minds and wills. They are more like God than human persons and wiser and more powerful too. They know more about God than we do here on earth because they are with Him. They are blessed with grace, God’s life. God created angels before He created human people.”

“There are good and bad angels, aren’t there?”

“Most of the angels chose of their free will to love God, so they remain with Him to serve Him and praise Him for His created world.”

“What do the good angels do?”

“God assigns some of them as messengers to people. Others He sends to be our guardian angels to help us in our relationships with Himself and other people. Angels can protect us from evil and they may encourage but not force us to do good things. They bring our prayers to God.”

“Grandma, what does ‘free will’ mean?”

“It means that human beings can make choices and they are responsible for the consequences. I’ll give you an example. The steering wheel on a car is like free will. Your Daddy controls the car. He can stay on the highway in his lane and get where he wants to go by obeying the traffic laws. But he can also steer the car off the road into a ditch or into the wrong lane and have an accident and hurt other people. He has free will to do either one. If he disobeys the traffic laws, he will suffer a penalty.”

 “Since God gave angels free will I guess they could turn in the wrong direction. When they disobeyed God, they sinned. Didn’t they get thrown out of heaven?”

“That’s exactly what happened. Those angels knew what they were doing. With their free will they rebelled against God. Their leader was a beautiful angel named Lucifer who we now call Satan. Those disobedient angels are called devils. They will end up in a place we call hell.”

“I thought God made hell for people.”

“Not originally. Hell was for Satan and his devils who didn’t want to be with God and serve Him. God doesn’t send people to hell. They choose by their free will to go there if they don’t want to love and obey God.”

“Aren’t the bad angels in hell yet? Where are they and what are they doing?”

“Some of them are active here on earth trying to tempt human persons to sin like the devil tempted Adam and Eve. This is where we pick up the story about sin. God created us with free will because He wants us to love and obey Him willingly. God never forces anyone to love Him. The devil tempted Adam and Even and with their free will they disobeyed God.”

“I wish Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen for the devil’s trick.”

“They not only hurt themselves but by their wrong choice they hurt all people who have lived in the world ever since then. The consequences are that every one of us is born with original sin.”

“So how does original sin hurt us now?”

“All human beings are born without grace, without God’s life in us. Our relationship with God is damaged. We can’t love God as we should. We sometimes turn our free will steering wheel toward bad choices. Original sin messed up our abilities to think and choose wisely. Part of the punishment is that we have to work hard for our shelter and food. Our bodies will experience suffering and death, and the door to heaven is closed to us.”

“Does God stop loving us when we sin now?”

“God is pure love. He loves us no matter what. He shows us mercy.”

“What is mercy?”

“God shows mercy when He doesn’t give us the punishment we deserve. He shows us kindness instead.”

“So does God just say ‘That’s okay’ and then He forgets all about our sin?”

“No, that wouldn’t be fair, would it? Someone has to pay for our sin and make things right again. That’s where Jesus comes in! God sent Him to the world to pay for our sins Himself even though He didn’t have any sin of His own.”

 “Did Adam and Eve know that was going to happen?”

“In Genesis chapter three it is written that God promised them—and us—a Savior to take away our sins.  That would open the door into heaven for us again so we could live with Him forever.”

“That’s like the John 3:16 verse I memorized: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but will have eternal life.’”

“Exactly, Jeffrey! While Jesus was on earth, He loved and cared for people in person. He healed the sick, the lame, and the blind. He was merciful and forgave people’s sins. And He does the same now through the Church He established.”

“Now I think I understand what original sin is. But back to my question: When we are baptized, isn’t that supposed to take away original sin?  How come we sometimes still make bad choices and do wrong things and sin?”

“There are two kinds of sin: original and actual. Original sin was what we were born with, that we inherited from the sin of the first man and woman. We can’t help that. Baptism does take that away. But our wills are still damaged. We can will to commit sin—that is actual sin. We are responsible for that. And we can also use our free will to do good things.”

“Is all actual sin the same? The big stuff and the little stuff?”

“No, there are two kinds of actual sin: mortal and venial. Not all sins break our friendship with God and the Church in the same way. Mortal sin is very serious. It takes away our sanctifying grace and causes us to turn against God. It can keep us out of heaven.”

“How do I know if a sin is mortal?”

“The Church teaches that three things make it mortal: (1) your thought, desire, what you said or did or didn’t do must be seriously wrong, (2) you must know that what you did is against God’s rules, and (3) you are doing it on purpose by your own free will without anyone else forcing you. The important question is, did you do it on purpose? When you have done a mortal sin, you need the Sacrament of Confession to have it forgiven.”

“How about venial sin? What makes it not so serious?”

“If any one of the three things above is missing, it can be venial. That kind of sin doesn’t take away the sanctifying grace from your soul, but it does make your spirit weaker and it’s harder for you to resist mortal sin. When you commit venial sin, you can ask for God’s forgiveness without going to the Sacrament of Confession.”

“How do I do that?”

“When you pray the “Our Father” you are asking for God’s forgiveness: ‘Forgive us our trespasses…’ Also when you pray the Confession together with other people at the beginning of Mass. And you can ask God directly in your prayers to forgive your venial sins.”

“How often do I have to go to Confession after that first time?”

“The Church requires us to go to Confession for mortal sins at least once a year. It doesn’t require us to go to Confession for venial sins but still encourages us to go anytime. It’s like getting cleaned up in our souls each time and makes it easier to stay clean.”

“Okay, I think I understand a lot more about sin now. Next I want to learn how to get rid of it in the Sacrament of Confession, Grandma.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


(I have been given the permission and privilege to "home-instruct" my 12 year old grandson, Jeffrey, to prepare him for his Catholic Confirmation slated to take place this fall. Reason? He lives elsewhere and his weekend schedule doesn't allow him to attend Saturday classes at Sacred Heart parish with the other catechumens. I'm devising my own creative method of instruction and writing a tailor-made informal curriculum for Jeffrey drawing on resources from our Religious Ed. Dept. I've been writing "Conversations with Jeffrey" for several years already on a variety of life-lesson topics. The current series is focused on required Confirmation preparation and content that needs to be covered. I will post these from time to time. These are imagined conversations, not verbatim dialogue.)

# 25

Growing taller in my spirit

“I’ll race you to the door, Grandma! Do you have the tape measure?”

“I sure do, Jeffrey. And the door to my basement has more marks on it than I can count. It seems that every time you come to visit me you are taller. I think that when we have your Baptism Anniversary Birthday party this month, you will already be as tall as I am…in your socks too. Here, let me put a mark on how tall you are today.”

“This is the fourth anniversary of my baptism, isn’t it? This year is going to be special. I’m studying toward receiving my First Communion and the Sacrament of Confirmation both at once.”

“I can see how tall you’re getting on your body on the outside, but only God can see how tall you are growing in your spirit on the inside. The Sacraments help you grow stronger and taller on the inside.

“Some of the sacraments are once for all, aren’t they?”

“The first three are sort of “start up” events. They are called “Initiation” sacraments and you only do them once. Some of the others are meant to repeat, and others are also one-timers.”

“I have already memorized all seven. Baptism was my first Sacrament. That was the beginning of my Christian life. Jesus said it’s like being born again. Grandma, what does “sacrament” really mean?”

“Sacraments are signs. They are something we can hear or see or do which represents something else that we can’t hear and see or do right now.  A sacrament gives us grace.”

“And what is “grace” again?”

“Grace is God’s life coming into us through Jesus. It is like the power and light that come to us when we turn on a switch. A sacrament is like turning on an invisible spiritual switch.”

“Where did we get the sacraments?”

“When Jesus left for Heaven He established the Church to carry on His work in the world. He gave the sacraments to the Church to give to us with the help of our priests. Sacraments demonstrate to us that Jesus continues to love us and so He provides us with what we need to live the way God wants us to live. Each sacrament gives us some special grace.

“What’s the special sign of grace in baptism then?”

“In baptism the pouring of the water is the main sign. Your original sin was washed away. The candle you received was also the sign that the Holy Spirit came in with His light. Through baptism you became a follower of Jesus and part of God’s family, the Church. You started living and acting as a child of God and His grace is helping you to overcome evil.”

“In Confirmation what grace am I going to receive?”

“In Confirmation you are growing up from childhood to adulthood in your faith. Your spiritual muscles are getting stronger. The Holy Spirit will help you understand and explain your faith more clearly. You will become a better Christian even under difficult circumstances. The visible sign is holy oil put on your forehead with the sign of the cross by the priest or the bishop.”

“The Sacrament of the Eucharist is really part of Confirmation too, isn’t it? It’s also called Holy Communion? When I get to do this for the first time, it is called First Communion. Isn’t that when at Mass the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus?”

“At the beginning of Mass the bread and wine are still just plain bread and wine. Only after the priest says the words of consecration that Jesus said at the Last Supper before He was crucified do they become the Body and Blood.”

“But Grandma, we can’t see or taste any change, can we? It isn’t a symbol or a just pretend—it really happens?”

“We believe it by faith because Jesus said so. Whenever we receive the Eucharist, it’s like food to nourish our souls and make us stronger spiritually. The Eucharist is the greatest of the sacraments. The visible sign for that sacrament is….”

“I think it’s the bread and the wine, right?”

“And also the words of Jesus that the priest says over them.”

 “When I’m confirmed, will I finally be able to receive the Eucharist with all the rest of the Catholic Christians at Sacred Heart Church anytime I come to Mass!”

“Yes, and also anywhere in the country and in the world when you go to Mass—even if you don’t understand the language of that country.”

“Is the next sacrament the one when the priest forgives our sins?”

“It’s also part of Confirmation and is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession or Penance. But it isn’t the priest who forgives you, Jeffrey. The priest celebrates this sacrament with us but he is acting in the place of Jesus. When the priest says ‘I forgive (absolve) you of your sins,’ he is speaking those words for Jesus.”

“Does God always forgive us no matter what?”

“When we are truly sorry, when we confess them, and do the penance for our sins that the priest gives us, yes, our sins are forgiven. Sin makes our souls sick. This sacrament is like medicine to heal them. The sign for this sacrament is not something we can see, but instead the words we speak and what the priest hears and speaks.”

“Is the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick just for people who are dying, Grandma?”

“Not only for the dying, Jeffrey, but for any serious illness or accident or having surgery—things like that—we can ask the priest to anoint us with holy oil, which is the visible sacramental sign of grace. Then he prays for our healing and recovery. Or prays for us to bear our sickness with courage. Or if it is God’s time for us to die, that we will accept our sickness with peace because we will be with God forever. We leave it up to the will of God to know what is best.”

“The Sacrament of Holy Orders is just for priests though, isn’t it?”

“Also for deacons and bishops. God calls some men to give their lives entirely to serve God. Jesus through the Church gives them authority to say Mass, to teach His words, to forgive sins in His name, and continue the mission He gave His apostles. The visible sign is when the bishop lays his hands on the head of the priest.”

“One more sacrament—the getting married and having children one. That’s called Matrimony, isn’t it?”

“That’s an important sacrament, Jeffrey. Just as God calls some men to be priests, so He calls some men and women to marry, to become partners for life, to build a family together, and raise children to follow Jesus. It takes a special grace and help and blessing from God to establish Christian homes. The sacramental sign is the promises the man and woman say to each other.”

“Is it because we can’t see Jesus in person now like people did two thousand years ago when He loved and actually touched people, so Jesus gave the Church the sacraments to show us Jesus’ love right now?

“That’s right. Sacraments are physical signs by which we receive Jesus’ love for us. They help us love God and others here on earth and someday in heaven. The deacons, priests, and bishops who give us the sacraments act for Jesus.”

“But it is really Jesus Who is celebrating the sacraments with us, isn’t it?”