With Pentecost upon us, I found a particular passage in the Gospel reading for this coming weekend from John (John 20:19-23) grabbing my attention.
The disciples are locked in the upper room. They’re hiding from the Jews. They’re being harassed, threatened and persecuted for being associated with Jesus when he was alive and for being identified as his followers.
Then, Jesus came and stood in their midst. He said to them, “Peace be with you.”
The next verse says, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”
The disciples then rejoiced and Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.”
As I reflected on these early passages in the Gospel reading, I couldn’t help thinking, wouldn’t have the disciples – the chosen apostles of Jesus – recognized him without seeing the wounds in his hands and his side? After all, they followed Jesus from region to region, town to town during his three-year ministry. They ate with him, slept with him, even prayed with him. They watched him perform miracles and they sat with him at the Last Supper. But after the Ascension, they felt abandoned, uncertain and afraid.
Jesus was gone.
Yet, it seems in the Gospel reading, Jesus had to show the disciples his hands and side just so they would believe it was actually him! It was almost like they didn’t hear Jesus the first time when he said, “Peace be with you” because they were trying to figure out if it was really him.
The remainder of the Gospel reading has Jesus telling the disciples that his Father sent him, then breathing on them to impart the Holy Spirit, so they might go out, preach the Gospel and forgive sins.
We can be like the first disciples. We, too, like our disciples, can sometimes not recognize Jesus or the Holy Spirit in our midst when life gets tough. We can be afraid, uncertain of what the future holds because we can’t see our risen Lord – or see the wounds in his hands and side – and may not recognize his wonderful blessings of his presence in our midst on a daily basis.
Easter Sunday gives us the wonderful and salvific miracle of the resurrection. Now that Pentecost is upon us, we remember and relive the imparting of the Holy Spirit on the disciples – not just those first 12, but all of us who by our baptisms are disciples, called to live and share the Gospel.
I needed to read these Gospel passages. With the responsibilities of fatherhood, my deacon ministry, coaching my daughter’s softball team, helping get two other children to their softball and baseball activities, being a blogger and myriad other things, I was having difficulty of lately “seeing” Jesus in the daily haze and confusion of my life.
But I am reminded after reading the Gospel reading for this coming Pentecost Sunday that I don’t need to see our Lord to receive his grace of peace. I just need to pray often and believe that the Holy Spirit is with me regardless of where I am or what I am doing. The Advocate is by my side at all times, walking with me during times good times as well as times of busyness, uncertainty, fear or confusion.
Peace be with you!
May 12, 2013 09:33
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
April showers bring May flowers….
And a special Saturday and Sunday.
The first Saturday of every May is the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. The pageantry, beauty and history of the great American horse race has long captured my interest, as the best 3-year-old racing horses from around the world meet in the Blue Grass state for the “Run for the Roses.” Women wear extravagant hats, sun dresses and heels, men dress in suits. Hundreds of thousands of sun-soaked fans in a little less formal attire fill the infield. Mint juleps are the drink of choice.
The winning horse is draped with a blanket of roses after claiming victory in what is often called the most exciting two minutes in sports.
Honoring such an athletic, graceful creature with a nature’s most beautiful flower seems entirely appropriate for the occasion, especially when a filly wins the race, which has happened just three times in 138 previous races.
At the risk of making perhaps the worst segue in the history of the written word – and unintentionally comparing horses, no matter how graceful and athletic, to our mothers -- there’s another event on the second Sunday in May that is worthy of roses as an offering of gratitude and recognition of excellence.
The Book of Genesis tells us that from the very beginning, God created “male and female.” From the first woman, Eve, to our blessed Mother Mary, mothers have played the most important role in the continuing existence of the human race as well as the formation of children from the womb to the grave. Motherhood never stops. Once a mom, always a mom. If my mother has told me once, she’s told me a thousand times that no matter how old I get, I will always be her baby…her son.
Perhaps the best role model of what it means to be a mother came from a woman who never had children of her own. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta (Mother Theresa) changed the lives of so many poor children that she cared for, literally saving them starvation, disease and death in the slums of Calcutta. She nurtured children with compassion and love that only a mother could have her children.
But we don’t need the Bible or historical figures to show us how important mothers are to our families and our society. We see living examples every day in our communities, in our lives. Every child deserves to have a mother and father – however, our mothers play a unique role in raising us, guiding us, providing unconditional love and giving their very lives in service to our needs.
I wouldn’t be much of who I am today without my mother’s influence in my life. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. I also see how influential my wife is as a mother to our children and how important her presence is in their human and spiritual development.
So, whether it’s roses, some other flower of choice or something completely outside the flower family, make sure to thank your mom this Mother’s Day by giving her some token of your appreciation for choosing life and living out the vocation of motherhood as commissioned by God.
So allow me to be the first to offer an early Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!
Want to win flowers to be delivered to a mom in your life this Mother's Day? Click here to learn more and enter the Catholic Review's "Make a Mom Smile" Facebook contest! Contest runs until noon on May 8, 2013.
April 29, 2013 09:35
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
Opportunities such as the one that presented itself Thursday for Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, come around maybe once in a lifetime.
It’s baseball season, so a baseball analogy seems appropriate.
Cardinal O’Malley, with all due respect – a big swing and a miss.
At an interfaith service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, President Obama spoke about the tragedy that occurred during the Boston Marathon Monday. More than 2,000 people packed the cathedral and religious and political leaders joined community mourners in a healing service in which the president spoke about healing and how those responsible for this heinous crime will be brought to justice.
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston during the "Healing Our City" interfaith memorial service April 18 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)
I understand that in times of national crisis, Americans want to hear from their president. When it comes to the cruel, ugly and violent vice of terrorism thrust upon us by those who hate our way of life and despise everything that American stands for, when we witness destruction, devastation and death so vividly, we want to know our way of life will not be altered and that freedom will win out in the end.
We mourn for those who died or are injured. We want our president to assure us that we will be as safe as possible in a society where hatred and utter disrespect for life pervade our daily existence.
Social media sites were crackling with opinions on Obama’s participation in this service when he has so clearly been on the polar opposite side of so many social and life issues that the Church defends. From what I saw, the response from Catholics was overwhelmingly against Obama’s participation in this healing service held in a Catholic catherdal.
President Obama is adamantly pro-choice. President Obama “changed his mind” on marriage and does not support marriage between one man and one woman – he does not want the government or courts to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. In fact, he wants it overturned. President Obama’s signature achievement is the passing of the Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – in which a mandate exists that Catholic institutions must provide insurance for their employees that includes contraceptive and abortifacient measures, forcing Catholics and those of other religions to act against their conscience and faith.
Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley joins other faith leaders during the "Healing Our City" interfaith memorial service. (CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)
Let’s be clear about one thing. Our bishops have come out to speak in favor of Catholic teaching on the above issues – some more than others. But our bishops have also on occasion missed opportunities to take a stand, to challenge the political and community leaders who at the worst mock our beliefs and at best turn their collective cheeks in dismissive fashion. I am reminded of Obama being invited to give a commencement speech in 2009 at the University of Notre Dame, an institution of higher Catholic education.
I was embarrassed for our faith that day. Should have never been allowed to happen.
The question is, can our bishops be pastoral, ecumenical and the visible light of Christ in our world while at the same time taking extraordinary risks and making big stands in the public arena when appropriate? And the next question is, when they choose not to, are they missing out on opportunities to evangelize, to heal brokenness in our society and to show the way to our merciful and loving Lord, even in – or especially in – times of crisis? In the case of the situation this week in Boston, could Cardinal O’Malley have said he and his Catholic flock in the archdiocese of Boston would have been proud to be a part of a healing interfaith service, but because of our president’s adamant and public opposition to so many Catholic teachings, he could not with good conscience approve of the decision to host such a service in the cathedral?
Bishops, we need you now more than ever.
Be bold. Be courageous.
April 19, 2013 02:06
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
Every spring brings it rituals. We know that April showers bring May flowers. There’s the annual spring cleaning of our homes, the pruning of our flower beds and planting of our gardens. The spring youth sports season begins and so, at least in my life, one day blurs into the next as each evening during the week brings practices or games for my children. Weekends, too, are filled with sports activity.
But there’s one spring ritual that happens every April which brings a smile to my face as I wait with anticipation for its arrival in February and March. It has beauty, history, tradition and ability to create heroes and legends in the most challenging of circumstances.
It’s called The Masters.
Unlike any other golf tournament, The Masters comes at a time of year when renewal is in the air. To see Augusta National on television is to truly believe that God has blessed the hallowed ground on which golf legends such as Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have roamed for nearly 80 years. The flowers and trees, along with the greenest grass that one could ever see, provide a unique, colorful and serene experience.
If there’s a golf course in heaven, it’s Augusta National.
Some will scoff at my assertion that watching the Masters is a religious experience, but with four holes to start the back nine that have so confounded and bewildered the world’s best golfers for more than eight decades that they are commonly known as “Amen Corner,” who can really argue? Our Easter rituals bring incense, flowers and a new paschal candle. The Masters brings the same sights, sounds, scents and some ways, hopes for renewal and hope.
Image of The Masters 2011 Monday practice at Augusta National Golf Club
Growing up, Masters weekend meant watching hours of golf, hanging on every big shot, monster drive and missed two-foot putt. Sundays were usually accompanied with a cookout as we watched the final 18 holes. As the final group walked up the 18th fairway in hopes of winning the coveted winner’s green jacket and the gallery roared like no other – often with the tournament on the line – I remember having chills many times.
This year, nothing has changed. The course is resplendent in beauty. The golfers are scrapping and fighting their way through the back nine. The grill is being fired up; friends are coming over to watch the final few holes.
Someday, I dream that my Masters ritual will have a new wrinkle. Instead of watching on TV, I’ll be standing on the hallowed grounds of my golf heroes, current and past, seeing the beauty of the flowers and trees and ultimately, standing behind the 18th green as the final group walks up the fairway.
It could happen. After all, I have faith!
April 15, 2013 10:58
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
Often times life’s biggest events are not truly understood or appreciated until we have the opportunity to look back and reflect.
Holy Week is an example. During this most sacred time of our liturgical year, there is the busyness of preparation, along with the logistics of planning and rehearsals for our high masses. Then, there is the explosion of noise, movements and people scurrying about over four days. All of this can leave me feeling as though when Easter Sunday finally comes and goes, I’ve been through the eye of a hurricane – twisted, turned and flung about, finally landing confused and dazed, wondering what happened.
You, too? I find this especially true the last two years, since I became a deacon.
Now that it is Easter Sunday evening, my weary and sleep-deprived body has a chance to decompress. In relaxing, I now have the opportunity to reflect on the wonder and beauty of the last 72 hours, starting with Good Friday. It was such a blessing for me to serve the Church in my apostolate as deacon during the Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday celebrations at Our Lady of the Fields. The liturgies were marked with awe and beauty – even during the starkness of Good Friday, with a barren sanctuary, empty tabernacle and stripped altar. On Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil was a symphony of darkness, candlelight, incense, singing, a new paschal candle shining brightly and most importantly, catechumens and candidates being welcomed into the Church, approaching the table of our Lord to receive Eucharist for the first time! Finally, Easter Sunday…HE IS RISEN!
When I reflect upon Holy Week 2013, one thought continually comes to mind – what a blessing it is to be Catholic! To share our faith with so many who truly love our Lord and who desperately seek his love and mercy is a humbling experience. Now, we have a season of Easter leading up to Pentecost where we can continue to reflect upon the resurrection of our Lord and the gift of salvation that it offers to us as believers of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
Now that Easter Sunday has come and gone, I encourage you to take some time to quietly reflect upon this Holy Week. Allow the wonders, mysteries and miracles that so poignantly and beautifully define our faith and beliefs to come alive again in your minds and hearts.
Peace to you this Easter season!
March 31, 2013 11:22
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
Where were you when those words were spoken?
In history’s most indelible moments, people remember where they were when they heard the news. I remember my parents saying they were roaming around somewhere on the campus of Indiana University when they heard that President John Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963. When the space shuttle Challenger exploded in front of our eyes moments after takeoff in January 1986, I was a freshman in college who was frigid after having walked across campus back to my dorm after a morning class. The floor of my dorm was much quieter than usual, even for a weekday mid-morning. I then walked into the room next to mine, which was filled with young men staring at a small TV, watching in silence as the news reports replayed the horror many of my dorm buddies had just witnessed live moments before.
For the Church – and for the world -- yesterday was one of those historic moments.
After the white smoke billowed out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, against the backdrop of a pitch dark evening Rome sky, hundreds of thousands wildly cheered at the signal that a new pope had been chosen. The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica triumphantly rank out. It was at this moment a co-worker broke into the conference room of the Gabriel Network and said, “We have a pope!”
Pope Francis appears for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The rest of our staff quickly gathered and found an Internet feed that we projected on to our whiteboard to watch the proceedings. We sat in awe and excitement as we witnessed the flashbulbs glitter and light up the evening air in St. Peter’s Square. We chatted somewhat nervously about who the next pope might be.
I had goose bumps.
Then, as former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio appeared before the masses for the first time as Pope Francis, our little group broke into jubilation. I had predicted that the next pope would be from South America and when it was announced that Pope Francis hailed from Argentina, a co-worker from Chile burst into sheer joy, jumping up and down.
Even in the darkness of our conference room, I could sense tears in her eyes. Her pride was undeniable.
I, too, was proud, as we all were.
And, I will always remember where I was when Pope Francis greeted the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics – and millions of others – for the first time.
Where were you? Wherever you were, I hope you were as joyous as I.
In the days and month's ahead, let's continue to pray for our Holy Father.
March 14, 2013 01:24
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
The somewhat cool evening air did nothing to dampen the spirits of the faithful who descended upon Annapolis Monday for the annual March for Life activities.
The evening began with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Lori at St. Mary’s, at which I was privileged to assist by reading the Gospel and General Intercessions as Deacon of the Word. The faithful filled the every seat there was to be had in the pews. They packed in as they stood along the walls and filled all the seating in the choir loft. People stood in back of the church as well as nearly every possible open space was filled with those who had come to support the pro-life message and pray for an end to pain and death that is abortion.
Then, several hundred, perhaps more than a thousand, pro-life enthusiasts (and I write enthusiasts because the crowd was spirited and vocal!) gathered in the St. Mary’s high school parking lot before proceeding to march the streets of downtown Annapolis to Lawyer’s Mall. Once there, several quality speakers triumphantly witnessed in one form or another to the pain, lies and death of abortion, while simultaneously sharing the truths of our faith and support for life from conception until natural death.
As I marched – for the first time – I was most struck by the number of young people. High school and middle schoolers made up a large and vocal percentage of the marchers. They carried balloons, held signs, wore pro-life T-shirts and chanted songs such as “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!”
Having lived as a nation for 40 years and nearly two generations with legalized abortion being the law of the land, the representation of teens and young adults at the March breathed a spirit of hope into me for the next 40 years of our abortion battle. In Maryland, hearts are being changed one person at a time. We can take comfort and encouragement in the fact that the majority of Americans support life.
As I watched the young people marching, I thought about my own children, who are too young at this point to participate. But, in my heart, I know that the time is soon coming for them, especially my oldest daughters, to fully understand the abortion issue and to embrace the pro-life message that already lives in their hearts because of the grace of God.
After the March and rally, supporters returned to St. Mary’s for supper, including Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, at St. Mary’s high school. Finally, several pro-life organizations sponsored exhibit tables for those who wanted to learn more about and get involved in the pro-life movement.
All in all, it was a special and grace-filled evening and one in which I was happy to participate. If you haven’t attended March for Life, plan to do so next year. It’s an experience you will never forget.
And, if you have teenagers, bring them, too. They definitely won’t be alone!
March 12, 2013 08:32
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
What an exciting time to be Catholic!
After eight years of shepherding the Catholic Church as the Bishop of Rome, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s recent resignation (the first for a pope in more than 600 years) has created a buzz within the Church, as well as the world, as to who the successor will be to the throne of St. Peter. We all know that more often than not, media coverage of the Church is less than favorable. But in recent days, the perceived mystery around Pope Benedict’s resignation (there really wasn’t any mystery, but the media and secular society wanted for the first few days to create a story that didn’t exist), along with the anticipation and excitement of the upcoming conclave of the College of Cardinals has brought the Church into the bright lights of the media and the greater attention of the world.
Although some might argue that having a pope for only eight years and having to go through the conclave and all the rituals and business that is required for electing a new pope takes time and energy that can be better applied elsewhere, the attention and exposure the Church will receive over the next few months as a new pope is elected and begins his pontificate is a great boon for our faith. Much of the world will be watching as these historic events unfold and as such, opportunities will present themselves for our Protestant brothers and sisters, as well as non-believers, to be exposed to the great history, tradition and faith of Catholicism. The richness of times such as these provides evangelistic opportunities for us as Catholics to share with others the wonderful beauty and truth of our faith.
The fact that all of this is transpiring during Lent is a blessing from God, I believe. What better time is there to be in prayer regarding the selection of the next pope? We should all be praying fervently that the Holy Spirit falls upon and blesses our cardinals as they come together for the conclave that will ultimately lead to the election of the Church’s next shepherd. In this time of fasting and penance, we have the opportunity to turn some of our inward focus outward as we pray for the future of the Church.
Finally, this historic turn of events gives us all an opportunity to grow deeper in our intellectual understanding of our faith. Intellectual formation is one of the four pillars we are all called to develop as well-rounded Catholic Christians (human, pastoral and spiritual are the others). During the conclave and the coronation activities that follow, I encourage you to pay special attention to events as they unfold to increase your knowledge and understanding of the magisterium, the papacy and the wonderful traditions of our Catholic faith.
Let’s all continue to be in prayer as we excitedly await the next pope!
March 04, 2013 10:53
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
There aren’t too many network or cable stations left that Christians can watch if we boycott outlets that produce content that flies in the face of or mocks our beliefs.
Come to think of it, that might be a good thing. Picking up a book, playing with my kids or even reorganizing my sock drawer are all more appealing options than watching TV.
OK, the lone exception for me may be sports. You don’t see Jesus or Christians being mocked or slighted too often during a college basketball or football game.
But primetime television, as it is known, has become a bastion for expressing secular views in lieu of biblical ones. That fact, in and of itself, would be troublesome enough, but the TV media doesn’t stop there. It’s not good enough anymore to just espouse secular views; slamming or mocking Christians – or more specifically, Jesus – is necessary.
One of the most recent examples is from NBC, the venerable Peacock network. Just three days into Lent, NBC decided it was good taste on Saturday Night Live to mock Christ in a “violent and bloody Quentin Tarantino parody” that included a character playing Jesus slicing a man’s head in half.
I admittedly didn’t see this sad display and I’m glad. I stopped watching late-night television long ago – when I said goodbye to SNL and David Letterman for good. Visit here to see the full story on NBC’s distasteful anti-Christian display.
All of this said, there is hope. This Sunday, you can make a choice to tar and feather the prejudiced Peacock network and flip over to History Channel to begin a five-week adventure watching a television mini-series called, “The Bible”. This 10-hour odyssey from Emmy-Award winning husband and wife team, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, is promising to bring the Bible to life in a way never before seen. The final episode of the series will air on Easter and will feature the death and resurrection of Jesus. To help ensure the accuracy of the miniseries, many Christian scholars served as advisors and hundreds of Christian leaders have given their endorsement. You can click here to learn more about this series and watch a trailer.
We know Lent is about making choices and sacrifice. As Catholics, we give up those things that prevent us from moving closer to God. Make NBC one of those things this Lent and start by replacing it by watching television shows and networks that embrace the Christian message, rather than blasting it.
Peace to all!
More ‘Angels’ in actress Roma Downey’s future
February 26, 2013 07:21
By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott
Temptation can be a funny thing.
I don’t mean to make light of it, believe me. After all, we don’t have to look any further than our original parents – Adam and Eve – to see how the lure of temptation can separate us from God.
And, the Gospel reading from Luke during the first Sunday of Lent makes it crystal clear where temptation originates. Jesus was greatly tempted by the devil – the Evil One – during his 40 days in the desert. He was tempted with food during his fasting, tempted with power during his solitude and tempted to test his Father in heaven while he was attempting to become closer to him.
But it seems to me the greatest temptation we face (which comes straight from the Evil One) as human beings is to not fully trust in God. We know what we want, we know when we want it (right now, please) and we definitely know what is best for us! Our lack of trust in God’s providence is really what leads us to sin.
Think about it. If we trusted in the love and presence of God in every facet of our lives, would we ever feel angry, scared, lonely, lost, anxious, jealous, impatient, envious, frustrated or helpless for very long?
I know I experience the above feelings quite often, probably many or most of them daily. That’s to be expected for us humans, because, well, we are human. But such feelings should be somewhat fleeting if we truly trust in providential God and his love and care for us.
Patience is definitely a virtue and it is one that I practiced over the past several months as I searched for my next full-time career opportunity. I watched and waited for God to provide. Opportunities came and I was ready, but God wasn’t. I found myself mired in some of the feelings I mentioned above for prolonged periods of time and I openly wondered when God was going to take action in this area of my life. I prayed hard – God knew my heart and knew that I was ready for a change, ready to use my skills and experience for his greater glory.
While God had me waiting in the employment bullpen, the devil was at times tempting me to believe that God wasn’t paying attention to me.
As always, the Evil One was wrong.
When God arrived a few weeks ago, he provided two opportunities – one along the lines of what I had done previously – and done well – in my career and one much different, but more in line with where my heart was leaning. God being God, he of course knew I was struggling mentally and spiritually with what I wanted to do next, so he gave me the opportunity to prayerfully discern between two significantly different jobs.
Ultimately, I decided to take a chance, trust God and follow my heart. I accepted the position of executive director with The Gabriel Network, a charitable organization that empowers women in crisis pregnancy situations to choose life (www.gabrielnetwork.org) . As a good friend said to me after I told him of my decision, “What better job can there be than helping to save babies?”
During Lent, we pray, we fast and we abstain from those things that lead us to sin. We strive for change, for conversion. Lent also reminds us that we have a wonderful opportunity to renew our trust in our Heavenly Father – our God who renews, sustains and carries us through the joys, struggles, heartbreaks and triumphs of life.
Lent is a time of conversion, Baltimore archbishop says at Ash Wednesday Mass
February 17, 2013 07:53
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By Deacon Brent L. Heathcott