There But For The Grace of God Go I

This article is written by my friend and brother in Christ

Mr. Bernard “Bernie” Long

 

Come to me all who labor and are burdened – a choice –  Jesus or addiction

 

There but for the grace of God go I

Edmond, a seemingly mild mannered man and former football player for Syracuse   University was shot seven times in his attempt to be a drug leader.  Jonathon,  speaks with slurred speech,  he always gives me a hug and thanks me for coming and says “Bernie I am taking one day at a time –  doing what I have to do”.  Jonathan was shot in the head twice in drug-related  violence. Tim, a big burly tattooed man who was raised Catholic, speaks of his heroin addiction and how when caught in its  web would do anything to get his next fix. He looks me in the eye and says “Anything”!!!  Isaac, a 23 -24 year old man, very intelligent, college educated young man talks how alcohol and drugs lead him to be homeless and lying on the street.  After a talk on the evils of abortion Isaac admits, with regret,  that he fathered babies and did nothing to discourage his girl friends  decision  to have an abortion.   Anthony,  a clean cut young man of about 23 has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for a DUI. He tells me that while he had hoped he would not go to prison he admits that  while driving under the influence  he seriously  injured an innocent person. He says “I  deserve the sentence I received”.

 

All these men are residents of CITYTEAM INTERNATIONAL   in Chester Pa. CITYTEAM  is a Christian organization that provides a men’s shelter and drug and alcohol recovery program.  At the invitation of Nancy,  a fellow St Pius  X parishioner  and employee of City,  my friend and co-volunteer Chas and I have been doing Christian devotional talks every Thursday morning for the last seven months. What a blessing being with these men it has been for both of us.

Every Thursday morning at 8 AM about 15 to 20 men gather for a Christian devotional which Chas and I lead; just about every time I end the talk with a prayer.  I begin,  “Lord these are good men”; Chas and I sincerely believe that to be true. In talking to them you feel kindness, gentleness, humility, intelligence. They also have a dark past and they are very vulnerable to fall back into the web of addiction.

“ I can’t blame anybody else –  I have screwed up my life with addiction” is a common refrain. They are also intelligent and they know their bible. In hearing their stories Chas and I truly have the feeling wow –  THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I.

These men describe the affects of heroin; an immediate bliss  –  all your fears,  your worries,  your guilt,  your concern about others, concerns about your future – all go away.  You don’t need food or family or love.  This bliss lasts for a short time,  only for a short time. They describe what happens after it wears off as being horrible.  It is the lowest of the lows. You are enslaved in feelings of desperation, depression and physical sickness that seems can only be cured  by taking another shot of heroin. It leads to a total abandonment of pride or morals. All they can think of is getting heroin to make their pain and sickness go away.

Tim at City describes a place in Philadelphia where drugs, especially heroin is plentiful. He and the others describe an environment that seems to be hell on earth. Being approached to buy or sell drugs; men and women are laying on the street in a stupor. Women selling themselves to be get money for drugs. People relieving themselves right on the side walks. Sex acts in the open. Violence and paranoid behavior are commonplace.

All of the men at City admit they are very vulnerable to fall back into drugs despite all the pain and suffering it has caused them. They admit it is their weakness. Most of the men state that their parents were addicts.   They are grateful to City for the chance to get their life back.

Come to me all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, my burden light.  Mathew 11: 28-30.

In a recent talk we spoke about this passage and that they have a choice. When you are laboring with life’s problems,  when you are heavy burdened these men have a choice –  they can come  to Jesus or they can go back to drugs.

It is the evil one who tempts them –Come to me – don’t listen  to that Jesus stuff. You know you have tried that when things are going bad it does not work. That yoke that Jesus speaks of is about following all kinds of rules. Love one another, forgive one another,  be unselfish. Come on,  life does not work like that.  You need to take care of yourself. Following Jesus is no fun, no drugs, no sex, no freedom to do what you want to do.  Take this needle   – one little hit you will get instant relief,  all your troubles will go away. . Just take  one hit, it won’t kill you.

They agree that through the lure of drugs instant relief is their temptation. Even though intellectually they know it leads to pain and sorrow. Yes, any rational look at the choice is to say no to the devil and yes to Jesus Christ. They know where the choice of drug addiction leads  to – slavery, hopelessness, desperation,  total selfishness and possible eternal death.

We speak to these men – you must commit yourself every day to choose your path.  Jesus is not in the instant bliss business. He is not in the short term high business. The yoke Jesus speaks about is the way to eternal life. The Lord of the entire universe who loves you is saying this is the way to live your life. Take on the yoke of Jesus Christ and  it  will lead you to the  freedom to live a life of love knowing that no matter what happens to you in your life your burdens are light. A Lord that is meek and humble of heart who knows your pain knows your weaknesses and is with you on your journey to give you lasting rest.

After one of our talks Isaac and Tim asked us for “Catholic Bibles”. Isaac tells us   how some speakers at City have stated that Catholics are not Christian. Isaac is very well versed in the bible has been becoming more and more convinced that the Catholic faith represents the fullness of faith as outlined in Scripture.  He asked for reading material on the Eucharist. After one of our recent talks, Isaac and Tim asked us if we would take them to Mass. The rules are that they have to have permission to leave City and they must go in threes. Chas contacted the priest at St Katherine Drexel in Chester. The two men convince another City Team resident Derrick to come with us.  Chas and I pick up the men and take them to 8 AM Mass on a Saturday morning.

Fr. Tom meets us in the back of Church after Mass.   He has a very kind demeanor and welcomes the men. They are all very attentive. Father speaks that the Lord made them good and while life happens and we often fail, good is what the Lord created us to be. He goes on talk about God’s mercy being life giving.

Tim who was raised Catholic but had not been to confession in about thirty years asked Father if he would hear his confession. After he is done Tim seems to be very happy and at peace.  Isaac, who was never a Catholic, asks to meet with the priest in the confessional. Derrick, who shows great respect for the process, does not see the reason to confess his sins to a priest.   Isaac tells me after the meeting with the priest that he would like to begin the process to become a Catholic.

Each week it is not unusual to find that people suddenly leave the program.  The very next week Isaac is gone. He has left the program. It is feared that he has went back to drugs. We contact him via text messages he says he is doing fine and has gotten a job. We encourage him that his future is bright as long as he chooses the Lord and not drugs. We promise to pray for him. He thanks us for the prayers and states your words of encouragement mean a lot and promises to stay in touch.

It is clear to Chas and I that the lure of drugs will always be with these men. One man speaks of it as “his thorn”. May the good Lord watch over these men and help us all to remember –

 

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I

https://www.cityteam.org/philadelphia/

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The Light of Faith

Pope Benedict XVI explained that faith is self abandonment and a continuous crescendo into the hands of God. I love this explanation.

Others say faith is a gift. Some say faith is a response.

In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis’ first encyclical he provides a beautiful account of what faith is. Faith is a light. Lumen Fidei is the Latin for Light of Faith. I encourage you to read it. It’s not very long. Only 35 pages.

Faith is total surrender to the will of God. How do we totally surrender? First, we must have the desire? How do we get this desire? Work, Work and more work. Discipline, self-control, prayer, prayer and more prayer and listening to God. How do we listen to God? Well, we have to read from His book the Bible. Quite often God speaks to us through Scripture. We have to gain knowledge in things of faith and it comes through study, reading and hard work. There are no shortcuts. It takes a lifetime and then some; and faith needs to become a part of your life, everyday, like brushing your teeth.

Legendary football coaching great Vincent T. Lombardi was quoted as saying, winning is not a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing. I believe faith is not a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing.

How do we acquire knowledge in faith. We have to go to and trust the Church. The Church is like a bank, or as I like to say a depository and even a repository with 2000 years of saints, history, growing pains, blood and faith in action behind it. How can we not learn from it?!

We trust our mechanics to do what’s right to our cars. We trust our financial advisers to do what’s right with our money. We trust our doctor’s to take care or our health, and we trust our lawyers to take care of our rights if we are in trouble with the law.

We need to trust our Church in matters pertaining to God as well as moral issues. The Church is an institution that is alive and that Jesus established and handed to the Apostles who in turn handed it down to those they laid hands on and ordained as Bishops, Priests and deacons and so on down the line until today. We all make up the Church. We all are the body of Christ! And we all need to partake, assist and help Our Church be what God intended, One, by working side by side together, not in opposition. It’s called The Universal Call to Holiness for all echoed by the wisdom of Vatican II. Our priests and religious are holy and knowledgeable in things pertaining to faith. They have given up their very lives for their faith and have years of training and schooling and wisdom and knowledge in the faith so how could we not reach out to them for help?!

Echoing the immortal words of President John F. Kennedy: Ask not what your Church can do for you, ask what you can do for your Church! So, let’s do it! You and me, all of us, ONE, together!

As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently described in his freedom speech: I have a dream!

We need to dream big in and for our Church. God wants us to. And it starts with You and Me. And we can go nowhere without Faith, the Light of Faith!

Faith is more than a gift or a response. It is a light that illuminates everything we do. EVERYTHING!!! It is breath, it is water, it is food and nourishment. Without faith we are dead, figuratively speaking; and we will die literally, lost forever without it.

We must cooperate with God’s grace. In practicing our faith and regularly receiving the sacraments our faith grows stronger from that mustard seed Jesus told us about.

We have faith in worldly things. That’s okay. God created the world and each and every one of us to enjoy it and each other and we should, nothing wrong with doing that as long as we exercise temperance and prudence and do everything with true love.

Faith in heavenly matters is more important however. We know this because the things of this world are temporary and passing. All things and all people come to pass in this world. This is why we need faith in God, the creator of all of it, and faith in His Church because Jesus, in the Gospels, said: You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.

Isaiah 7:9 tells us “unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm”. We need to stand firm in the faith and be steadfast in it. The Apostle St. Peter in his New Testament letters tells us: be firm and stand firm in the faith, be alert and sober of mind, your adversary, the devil, is prowling, like a roaring lion waiting to devour.

Some people put their faith in relationships, food, drugs, alcohol, sex, money, cars, houses, boats, gambling to name a few. They will tell you that at least some of these things have led them figuratively or even literally to death and destruction.

In my own personal experience I can tell you none of it brings peace or lasting joy. Only faith in God and faith in His Church have brought me personally an indescribable joy and holiness that brings me peace. It took me 50 years to fully understand this. I was on the path to holiness my entire life but took many detours and I was serving God and mammon. As Jesus tells us in the Gospels, we cannot serve God and mammon completely in this life. We must choose and we will choose eventually. I finally got to the point where I realized I loved God and His Church too much to abandon Him or it. I also realized neither He nor His Church would ever abandon me. I grew, and it was a process, to hate sin. I hated my sin. The love and mercy of God overtook me thankfully. I cooperated with God’s grace and became fully alive; the man He created me to be.

Help was needed, I could not do it alone. God put the people in my life to help me change. In turn I looked for these people; that is cooperating with God’s grace. In 2008 I co-founded my parish men’s faith group. These men are my friends and brothers in faith. In 2009 I became a part of The Kings Men. These men are my brothers in faith. In 2014 I started meeting with a lay religious order which traces it’s origins to St Dominic who founded it in the 13th century. I am now a Lay Dominican and the men and women in this group are my brothers and sisters in faith.

I now get what Jesus meant when he said: who are my brothers and sisters and mother? Those who hear the word of God and do it.

I started volunteering more. I was drawn, by the power of The Holy Spirit, to the pro-life cause, serving and feeding the poor and homeless and working with men striving for holiness and trying to overcome various addictions. God gives me more from all these people and all this work than I am giving them.

Give of your time, talent and treasure and you will realize The Light of Faith. You will never be sorry and God will give you back more. God will never be outdone in generosity. Abraham, from the Old Testament, and our father in faith gave God everything and God gave him back more. Abraham left everything because he had faith in God. He walked by faith even when he could not see or understand. He had the Light of Faith.

One thing that always amazed me was how joyful the priests and nuns are. They seem to have the Light of Faith that we all desire. They have given up everything but still exude pure joy! Many even live into their 80’s and 90’s. They seem to get so much joy out of this life with the realization of the great things yet to come. It’s simply awesome and so appealing to me.

It really speaks to me and shows me there is something to this Light of Faith! Pope Francis exudes pure Joy and speaks of it often. There is no phoniness or fake happiness here. You can just see it and feel it and it is contagious.

I seek spiritual direction and encourage you to as well because as I mentioned earlier you cannot go it alone, so please don’t try to. Do not be afraid to reach out to a priest or nun and/or you can have a group of people you trust in matters pertaining to faith who will guide and help you navigate through the rough waters of life.

I have a priest friend, who was my former pastor, and now retired, although he seems to work more now than he did when he was not retired. This man of God is maybe the most joyful person I know and he has been through rough waters. Pastoring a parish or Church may be the roughest waters to navigate. He provides mentoring, friendship, fatherly advice and so much more. We laugh and sometimes even cry. We just pray together sometimes, or meet to enjoy a meal or talk by phone or email and it’s not always serious. We have fun and learn from each other, but his spiritual guidance is invaluable and I strongly encourage you to seek someone of this kind of character and experience in spiritual training to meet with. It will be for your benefit and mutually beneficial.

Joy comes from many other areas of life also. For instance, just being in the presence of my children and mother as well as other family members delights me. We don’t have to be doing anything. I absolutely love being with each one of my children individually or with all of them together. I find it hard to express the joy I have when I am with one of my children or all of them regardless of what we are doing. I love being silly with them. They are truly gifts to me. I feel the same way about my mother. We experience great mutual joy when we are together. My father and brother died some years ago along with other members of my family who also brought me great joy to be in their presence as they were great gifts in my life.

Friends of all backgrounds are important as well. Childhood friends, high school friends, college friends; friends from work or church or from ministry are all a joy to be around. We need to cherish our friends and enjoy the time spent with them.

Above all we must remain steadfast and secure in our faith in God and His Church. Let nothing steal our joy or take the light of our faith away. The Light of Faith in us should drive everything we do and surround us and illuminate those around us and God willing lift all a little closer to God.

Pray constantly, by using the structured and ancient prayers of God’s Church as well as the spontaneous prayers and promptings of The Holy Spirit, as if everything depended on God and work, work, work at it constantly as if everything depended on you but don’t go it alone and forget to seek help in others, especially those ordained in God’s Church. It’s Okay and even healthy to admit weakness and even more importantly to confess your sin.

Never stop lighting and salting the world around you. Never!

May The Light Of Faith, the Light of Christ and The Light of The Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit shine in and through you like a beacon lighthouse coastal lookout on a foggy New England night.

May God bless you and hold you in the palm of His hand and may we all continue to Walk By Faith To Live!!!

Land of The Free! Happy 4th of July!

Wishing all a great and Blessed 4th of July weekend. May God continue to bless our great nation and may we always be a shining light by allowing the light of Jesus Christ through the power of The Holy Spirit and given to us by God The Father to all those we come into contact with.

May our Triune Godhead provide the wisdom necessary to all our politicians and government leaders and officials and may they seek wisdom from God and exercise truth, justice and mercy to all as we are all called to do.

God bless America! Thankful to live in the land of the free. May we continue to exercise bravery in all our thoughts, words and actions.