Lenten Check Up

As I approach this 4th Sunday of Lent, I ask myself the following question: “What have I accomplished [to date] as I make my way across the desert?”

“How much real almsgiving, fasting, [service], and prayer have I given to God through my neighbors during this Lenten journey across the desert? What did I fail to do yesterday that can be done today?”

Sure, I am dotting my “i’s” and crossing my “t’s”, but am I doing enough of the right things? What [are] the right things? How much of this journey is about me and not about God and my neighbor?

Sure, I have a deep hatred for sin and a great love for God [first] and neighbor [second] but what good are that hatred for sin and love for God and neighbor if I cannot, through the grace of Christ”, go and sin no more!” nor love myself?

This is the struggle that I take with me as I make my way across the desert. “Lord, save me from me. Bless me with the grace to love you with all my everything and to love my neighbor as I love myself; to know, love, and serve You by knowing, loving, and serving my neighbor; to go and sin no more.”

That is what I seek.

Will I lose hope? No! Jesus tells us often, “Be not afraid for I am always with you.” If I cannot trust the Son of the one true Living God, then I can trust no one. He is my perfect hope. I may never get this faith I choose to believe right. That’s okay. It is what is in the heart that God sees and that should be enough for me to continue to live better and to be at peace. The rest I leave to Him.

God is good. Amen!

Preparing For Lent

Forty days and nights, Jesus was in the desert. He allowed Himself to be tempted, was hungry, thirsty, and tired, and yet He walked away from that experience prepared to glorify the Father and to begin the ministry and sacrifice that would save us.

That is going to be my focus, reflection, and goal this season of Lent–to come out of Lent prepared to give glory to the Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit by doing what needs to be done to serve God by service to my neighbors.

It’s that simple!

First, I must recognize that I am a sinner who longs to become a saint. However, to become that saint I must rid myself of all the vestiges of self-sin that hold me back or temporarily severs my relationship with the Trinity.

Have I been rude, unkind, temperamental, impatient, or selfish? Have I, due to selfishness (God forgive me), caused another to sin? Have I spent one true day in the service of God by service to my neighbor: folding my son’s clothes that are sitting in the dryer, checking on my daughter, asking my neighbor if they need anything, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc?

It is true. I am tired. My age is a factor in my ability to serve versus 30 years back. However, that must never become my excuse not to serve.

If I cannot serve physically, I can serve spiritually. If I can get in the car and drive to a restaurant to meet a friend for lunch, I can drive to my local parish or church once per week and spend time with the Lord in prayer for my neighbors.

That is still serving!

What are some other ways that I can serve God through my neighbors this Lenten season?

Health and time permitting, I can do other things such as on my next trip to the supermarket. I can check with my local food pantry on what their current needs are and assist them with a few purchases at the market.

I can go for a walk in my neighborhood with a trash bag in hand and pick up any trash I see.

If I am a decent cook, I can assist mom, dad, sibling, relative, roommate, or friend in the kitchen by offering to cook one or two nights per week to give them a break.

If I am good with graphic design, I might contact local churches or non-profit organizations and offer some of my services at no cost in exchange for an ad in their bulletin, newsletter, or on their website.

While the goal is to perform each act of mercy or charity in the spirit of love expecting nothing in return, sometimes reciprocity is helpful and serves both parties favorably.

For instance, I am happy to offer the full services of Carlos Michael Communications Media to any Catholic parish, pastor, priest, staff member, or agency regardless of their ability to pay, asking nothing in return, because in my heart I truly believe that in the end, Christ will see to my needs.

For me, it is about trust, and who better to trust than the Lord Himself.

Together, WE truly can make a difference.

God Bless

Just thinking out loud…

Sometimes you wake up in the morning feeling as you do most mornings — joyful, grateful, thankful (perhaps that is the same as being grateful), and ready to get on with the day. Then it happens, your mood changes and you suddenly find yourself in a tempest of emotions trying desperately to understand what just occurred.

You know what it is but you don’t want to speak it because it is a truth you don’t want to accept and yet you must in order to move forward.

Then you say to yourself, “But if I accept this truth does it mean I must also address it?”

Yes and no.

Unless it is absolutely necessary for the collective good, yes, you should address it. No, if you believe in your heart that this is something that can be handled through prayer.

However you choose to address this, the important takeaway from this is that you are aware of how this situation had affected your peace and joy and immediately went to Christ in prayer and did two things: 1) Asked forgiveness, and 2) Prayed for those most in need.

All we can do with the in-between is leave it to God.

Have a great today!

Happy New Year!

I recall a conversation I had recently with a friend about the fact that we are now over the age of sixty (currently in our early sixties), and that the timeline ahead of us isn’t as long as it once was. In other words, while it is true at any age, today can very well be our last day.

That can be both sobering and depressing if we let it. Or, if we believe in God and an afterlife, and are prepared to stand before the judgment seat and we make it “in” as it were, then death is not the end, but the beginning. Not so sobering or depressing after all when you think about it in those terms.

I mention this only because I have been reflecting on my own life, such as it is, in its current state. Am I prepared should today be my day? No, I am not. Should I do what needs to be done to be prepared? Yes, I will. However, in the meantime, in addition to giving myself completely over to the God, I believe in (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), I also plan to march forward spending the remainder of my life in the service of others, not for any reason but one — love. The idea of being a force of good for others truly does appeal to me.

And what do I hope to gain in return for this service or good toward others? Nothing. I seek nothing for myself nor is this a means to earn my way to heaven because that we cannot do.

I do it simply out of love for my neighbors and because I have always been happiest when serving others. Besides, it is the right thing to do. Sure it is hard work and often a thankless profession if you will, but if I have learned anything these past sixty-one years is that service to others is its own reward. I go to bed at night and take comfort in knowing that when I serve my neighbor, I am serving God and that is the greatest reward of all.

Regardless of how much time we have moving forward, let’s march forward into the new year with one goal in mind (those of us who believe), God first, our neighbors second, and self, third.

Happy New Year!

Christmas Day Reflection

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Agustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So, all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now, there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David, a savior has been born for you is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

(-Luke 2:1-14, USCCB)

Sixty Christmases have I heard this story and not once, until today, did I stop to think about what that encounter must have been like for those shepherds. We know they were keeping watch over their flock at night which most likely means that some of them were sleeping right before this event occurred. Imagine waking from your sleep and seeing an angel of the Lord, a creature (if I may) who, long in existence before the world was made whole appears before we creatures who are broken due to the fall of Adam and Eve. And yet, there the angel is, sent by God to announce the good news that the Messiah and Lord have been born to us.

Here is the horrifying aspect of that precious birth; he was born in order to die a most horrible death so that we might live with Him in eternity.

When I think of the birth of Jesus in that context I am forced to confront my sinful self and say, “Make yourself right with God, Carlos. Reconcile yourself to His mercy. Repent of your sinful ways and go and sin no more.”

While that is never easy considering the many distractions, temptations, disordered desires, etc., that assault our minds, hearts, and souls on a daily basis, the fact remains, if we put on daily the armor of God and pray to be covered by His grace and surrender everything that is sinful or separates us from the Father, we eventually, through that grace that comes to us through faith, prayer, persistence, and the sacraments if you’re Roman Catholic, eventually we will find our way from sin and the world and into the arms of our precious Lord.

As we give glory to God in the highest for the birth of our infant King and Savior who comes to us this day, let us walk into 2023 with the strength (faith) of a lion determined to make the new year the year of our repentance and return to Christ.

Merry Christmas.

Lessons & Carols: Rehearsal

Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of rehearsing for Thursday’s “Lessons and Carols” event with our amazing associate pastor and several members of the choir. Kudos to Mr. John Fincher for his piano/organ talent.

“WOW!” is all I can say.

I intended to devote only one hour to the practice due to another engagement, however, I was so into the experience, love, and Christmas spirit, I decided to forego the other event and stay until the rehearsal’s conclusion.

“Great decision, Carlos!” You bet it was.

It suddenly occurred to me last night how amazingly awesome it is to play a small role in something that special and to share that experience with an amazing group of individuals who love you as you are and because of what you contribute to the collective good.

Physically I was in the chapel of Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos, but in my mind, I was back in late nineteen sixty-something with fellow classmates rehearsing for the upcoming sixth-grade performance of The Wizard of Oz which was sponsored by the Orangewood PTA (Parent-Teacher Association).

I was cast in the role of the scarecrow. How did I even manage to beat out my friend D. Alderson for the role? Yet, there I was dancing, singing, and rehearsing for the big day and night. That was my first venture into stage acting, something that I would do a couple of times more but always had a love for–stage acting and the theater.

Although Wednesday’s rehearsal was nothing like what it was that day at Orangewood Elementary, the spirit of the rehearsal felt the same. There I was with classmates who were friends more than classmates, coming together in order to put on a performance that we hoped would be enjoyed by those watching us on stage.

The show (then) was for our fellow students and parents. The event tonight is for God, Church, and our parish community neighbors. To top it all off, we will celebrate what is akin to a cast party at the parish rectory, only this will be a Christmas party!

Last night as I left the church I could not help but think to myself, “…and I wasn’t even planning to attend the event or Christmas party.” Mainly due to fatigue, however, after the experience last night with a church family who loves you, how can you not be there? How can you think of yourself to the point of letting them down? You can’t. You shouldn’t. You mustn’t.

God first. Neighbor second. Self third.

God must always be first in everything we do. That way when we serve our neighbors we are serving God in the spirit of His love. Only after we have attended to God through our neighbors can we then look upon ourselves but only for the sake of looking inward and improving what needs improving. Otherwise, get on that stage and perform your heart out!

I am so grateful Fr. Leo insisted that I be there. I really am. It was the best night ever and that was only the rehearsal. Imagine what tonight will be like!

Always in God’s love (to which I add my own),

Carlos Michael

Christmas Thoughts

Today is the third day of December, in the year of Our Lord, two-thousand, and twenty-two. We, those of us who are believers will observe the Second Sunday of Advent as we wait with joyful hearts for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Christmas decorations have been attractively arranged within the house with a few pieces still to be put on display. The house hints at the smell of December less the smell of the colorful Christmas cookies.

There are no little ones. No childish laughter. No sounds. No dolls dancing or trains choo-chooing their way across the tracks. No wide-eyed wonders about what is it that lies beneath the tree or the impending excitement at the coming of Father Noel, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus–for the little ones anyway.

I miss my children when they were children. I miss holding them in my arms, bringing their cheeks toward my lips, and giving them the biggest love kiss that a father can give. Hard to do now when they are adults and think like adults. The innocents of those Christmases long ago are nothing more than memories crunched into the memory cells of my brain.

It is all I have to hold onto. That’s okay. I will take it. It’s better than having no memories at all.

I wish my life had turned out differently. I wish the mother of my children and I would have found a way to make our marriage work so our children would have had the love and family they deserved and not what they got saddled with. A father who ended up in a same-sex relationship and a mother who remarried to whom probably should have been the children’s father being that he was her true love, may his soul rest in the eternal peace of God.

These are some of the thoughts that were coursing through my mind as I lay on the hospital bed Thursday afternoon wondering what more than the UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with bacterial prostatitis. I need to be on antibiotics longer than seven days and if it is God’s will, the infection will not return.

I am enjoying this quiet moment of reflection as I listen to the sounds of Christmas play on my computer. This reminds me of when I was a boy and I would put on mom and dad’s Christmas records as I sat in total bliss thinking of nothing really as I gazed upon the flocked decorated Christmas tree.

How much joy that would bring me. Just like the days when I was but a four-year-old wee lad laying on the grass in the backyard looking up toward the sky thinking about how God created all of what I was staring into. My biggest thought was, “I wonder where exactly did the sky start and end?”

Speaking of Christmas and joy, I placed the signs on the tubs that Gary ordered for the Toy Drive. Each side of the tub has a flyer affixed to it. I put the first two toys into the lead tub. There are four altogether. I decided to split what is collected between St. Thomas More and St. Francis Xavier. It seemed like the right thing to do. I just need to drop the tubs off at the church. I pray we have a successful collection.

My friend and her husband are planning to stop by today. It is amazing all the friendships I have been blessed with since returning to the Church. I am truly blessed to be loved by so many. Love is such a beautiful gift. I cannot thank the Father Creator enough for the gift of His love which in turn allows us to love in response to His love.

At least I think that is how it works.

Getting back to the emergency room visit…I feel selfish saying this, but, as I lay in bed, I actually wanted the Lord to come for me. I had (praise God) gone to confession that morning. I don’t know if it was “THE” confession but as far as I was concerned I was ready to go–lock, stock, barrel, and all.

I thought to myself, “If only…if only I close my eyes and find myself in heaven.” Well, perhaps not directly, but it is a pleasant thought just the same. To be free of this world, this body, this illness, all early attachments, etc., and be in eternity with God. I was comforted by the thought but knew in my heart that day was not the day. That’s okay, it will come someday.

I am tired…tired of a lot of things. I am tired of complaining. I am tired of sin. I am tired of…well, let’s just say that I am tired but I am not going to be selfish or sit idly by as the world passes me by. The Lord’s business must of loving Him with all my everything and loving my neighbors as I love myself must go on.

God first. Neighbor second. Self third. What remains is to partner with the right souls of charity so that we may serve the needs of our neighbors in the spirit of love seeking nothing for ourselves save the satisfaction of knowing that when we serve our neighbors, we are serving the Lord.

Let’s go out into our neighborhoods and be good neighbors. I don’t know how to begin but I remain confident the Holy Spirit will show us the way.

Blessings and peace,

Carlos Michael (P.S., It feels strange not being at the church for First Saturday Devotion).

Live Right!

Can’t explain why. Not important, really. It just “is” what it “is.”

A thought occurred to me this morning as I rose from the bed, “Live as you believe, otherwise, don’t believe!”

On the surface, one might consider that a harsh statement. I do not. I understand it as the truth. Here is the way I look at it, “If I am going to declare that I love God, His Church, and my neighbor, but act in any way that is not in communion with that love, then am I truly loving God, Church, and neighbor?”

Another way to look at it is to mean what you say and say what you mean, otherwise don’t say it all!

We have heard it said time and time again our actions reflect the truth of where we truly are in the present moment.

In other words, I say that I love my brother, however, my action(s) don’t necessarily reflect that love in the truest sense of the word. Therefore, “Am I truly loving my brother?”

My mind and heart say “yes”, however, my actions say “no.

The same is true in my walk with Christ. I say that I love Christ (and I do!), but am I truly walking with Christ? Do my actions truly reflect the “way” of the Lord or in reality am I acting like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time — acting one way in public and another way in private?

It is time for me to live right and that begins with prayer, fasting, abstinence, charity, mercy, and love.

Always in His friendship,

Carlos Michael

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On The Run!

I feel as though I am “on the run.”

Where I am running to or away from is an entirely different matter. The fact remains, is that I feel that I am always on the run.

Sometimes that run leads me away from myself, others, or uncomfortable, awkward situations. Other times, the opposite is true. I find myself running toward someone, something, or a fantastical life-changing experience.

Recently, I ran from a situational conflict related to a television movie. It was strongly suggested that I am not open to viewing a “decent” movie. I made the mistake of expressing the fact that I am generally not into musicals, and because I left the room (the movie being almost over) without saying a word.

Okay, I concede that the latter was rude and impolite. Fair enough. However, had I said something, this same individual would have said something to get me to stay until the movie’s end despite my feelings to the contrary.

I was tired. I wanted to go to bed. I wasn’t enjoying the movie, which is not to say that I did not attempt to watch the movie to its conclusion. I did try. In fact, in the spirit of Christian love and charity and in consideration of the others I was watching this movie with and not wanting to appear selfish, I tried to enjoy the movie for their sake.

However, in the end, while it had a great storyline, it just wasn’t my cup of tea as far as musicals go — something I have overlooked and endured in times past for the sake of that same Christian charity.

I fail to recognize the inference that I do not appreciate decent movies. I watch “Leave It To Beaver” — a show I enjoy watching very much. That is a decent television series, isn’t it?

I have watched more “family-oriented” movies in the past 20 years than I have in times past which is a far cry from the movies I used to watch — mainly horror, science fiction, and stupid comedies.

I have spent the last 20 years watching college sports, Hallmark and Lifetime movies, Hallmark Mysteries, the 50s and 60s Westerns, etc., — all pretty decent and favored or preferred by the accuser, and I am going to get berated for not being fully vested or interested in the last part of a Christmas musical that just didn’t interest me?

It reminds me of that one saying, “I was chewed out for the one thing I did wrong, but never mind the 99 things I did right.”

Ugh!

God is good. It’s time to forgive and move on.

In His mercy. Amen.

Random Tears: Sadness, Joy, or Gratitude?

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Greetings, friends!

On Monday morning, Divine Providence provided an opportunity for me to have a conversation with one of my “offspring” (his word, not mine).

During the course of our conversation, the tears began to flow. I recall thinking to myself, “Crap! Here come the waterworks.”

Obviously, I was frustrated with myself. I didn’t want my tears to be construed as a sign of weakness. On the other hand, I didn’t know if they were tears of sadness, joy, or gratitude?

Speaking of random and having absolutely nothing to do with today’s post, the young man at the T-Mobile store on my last visit said, “Yeah…don’t clip your cell phone to your belt. It dates you.” As if that is a bad thing.

Okay…okay…back to Monday’s conversation.

While I will not go into the particulars, the bulk of the conversation was much about what I am not doing in contrast to what I am doing and where I can improve.

In my humble opinion which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, the exchange was a generational tit-for-tat, pitting the old guard against the vanguard. There was clearly no winner or loser.

I suppose that is a good thing because I don’t believe in my heart that either participant was seeking to win or lose inasmuch as to explain and understand. It was a learning experience.

So, why the tears?

Concern for God and neighbor. I have let both down over the years — one sin or failure after another.

It was more about them than about me.

Serve them. Listen to them. Assist them…and you are serving, listening, and assisting God.┬áIsn’t that all that truly matters?

“Not my will, but Thine be done!”

It’s true. I keep failing. After all, I am a sinner! But, I will also continue to believe and trust in God–with the intention of always improving.

To the question about the tears, I believe the short answer is, ‘All three!’

God Bless. Be a good neighbor. Trust in God. Pray for me.

Carlos Michael

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