Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupying My Street

So the other day a good friend of mine was trying to help me understand the motives and endgoal of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since I tend not to watch the news, I had only a general sense of what was going on and what this protest was all about. But as he explained to me the injustice of corporate greed and unjust labor practices and the importance of government intervention, I couldn't keep my mind from wandering away from the details of this particular situation and asking...where is the mercy...where is the grace...where is the humility?

It seems like everywhere I look, we are becoming people who blame rather than seek reconciliation...who avoid accountability rather than accept responsibility...who expect others to make things right rather than do the work to make ourselves right. I see it everywhere from for-profit companies to non-profit organizations and from checkout lines to church parking lots. And yes, I see it in the Occupy Wall Street movement and in the talking heads that debate (and report on) the movement. But the irony of it all, is that I see it in the mirror too.

Of course, like so many things, we were warned that this would happen. The Author of life new all too well the inevitable consequences of sin in our lives:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5a)

Keep in mind the above is not end-of-the-world, Armageddon hype....this is just human nature. This is in all of small ways if not big ways. This is who we are left unchecked...left to our own devices. And so that's why I think the world (and Wall Street) would be infinitely better if before we started blaming others for the injustice we see around us (or that is leveled against us), we first look in ourselves...look our lives...and root out the arrogance and selfishness and greed in ourselves. I'm not sure any of us can really claim to be that different from those we so quickly identify as evil. Even my friend acknowledged during our conversation that eventually sin (though he didn't call it that per say) wins out...the goodwill we muster deteriorates...corruption begins anew within.

And therefore the solution can't least not in the long force (whether by government law or violence) everyone else to behave better. That is just a band-aid...because eventually a new injustice will rear its head because left unchecked, selfishness corrupts. No...the solution has to be for each individual to accept responsibility for making themselves behave better. That is our only chance of true, lasting revolution. But I know many would quickly describe this as being pollyannaish. Certainly not everyone will do this...or could do it. And maybe that's true...but I think we have to look at the real reason most won't commit to this sort of self-protest...and that's because it's hard...and requires sacrifice...and it means the denial of self...of self-interests. It means letting go of what we want. It means putting others ahead of ourselves. And it may least in the with injustice...allowing ourselves to be treated unjustly. This kind of self-examination...and painful...but it is powerful.

And so, much to the chagrin of my friend, the takeaways from our talk were less about the evils of Wall Street, corporate greed, and government corruption (which of course I think are all wrong indeed), but more a reminder of how easily we all find it to blame others, to expect others to fix things for us, and to generally expect the world to change with the least possible pain for ourselves. I see all this in myself. When I forget something important I was suppose to do, it was because someone didn't remind me. When someone at work makes a mistake, they need to fix it. When I see a behavior in my wife that annoys me or even hurts me, I demand that she change. None of these things are my that means changing the situation is someone else's responsibility.

But...I know there are things I can do...things I should do. I need to take the time to make lists and write myself reminders when I know there is something I can't forget to do. I need to understand that my colleagues have a mountain of things "to-do" too, and so I can show some mercy when a document comes back to me needing edits and just make them myself. And when I see a behavior in my wife that annoys or hurts me, yes I can talk to her about it, but before that I need to do the internal work of understanding why it annoys or hurts me and what I can do to view this behavior differently and/or react differently. You see, we all have a great power at our disposal...the power to choose how we we think...and how we see those around us. We are not helpless to change the situations we find ourselves's just that often the change has to come from us and we don't like that...because change hurts.

In the end, I get that Occupy Wall Street is about broad, big picture change...and we need to fight for things that are right and fight injustice...but I just think that before we go off to battle Wall Street, we should probably spend some time occupying our own internal street and seeing what evils we can root out there. It will hurt a little more and it will take a little longer, but in the end, we just might have that better society we all say we want.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stop...and Pray

I have a hard time praying. Or at least I have a hard time making time to pray. And no wonder it's hard...if the only way I think I will have time is by "making" time. Not sure anyone has figured out how to do that yet. I guess it is more accurate to say that there doesn't seem to be enough time....with all the other things I have to do. Despite my best intentions, it seems there is always something pressing that I "have" to do right at the time I've earmarked for prayer. And on one level, these other things are important...things like work, household chores, spending time with family, etc. But on the other hand, if I truly believe that prayer is talking to the very Creator of the universe...and more importantly that prayer is actually a conversation where the very creator of the universe talks to me...then how can anything be more important?

No...I think the truth...the real not that there isn't enough time, but rather that I choose to use my time for other things. And once I recognize that....I just think...what the heck is wrong with me? Why would I not choose to spend time with Father?

Now I do talk to God a fair amount, I think. Slowly over the years, and largely unconsciously, I have redirected my natural tendency to talk to myself so that I address Him instead. So throughout the day I say things in my head (and sometimes out loud) to God. Things like: "Wow I blew that one, God" or "Thanks for that God" or "Please help me figure this out" or "Father please be with that person." And I am thankful for this...really I am. It feels good to have Him so close...or rather to recognize He IS so close. But I don't want to use this as a copout for not doing the harder more serious type of prayer. I've heard people almost boast about this type of prayer....where they don't have a prayer time...they just are always talking to God. And I certainly don't want to presume to know the hearts of these people...and certainly Brother Lawrence has shown us that such constant communication with God is not only possible, but obtainable by us all. So again it is a wonderful thing if you can develop this constant prayer stream in your life. BUT, I think there is a fundamental problem with my "talking to myself" version of prayer. The conversation goes only one way.

I mean it's obvious, but I so easily forget it....or maybe I intentionally dodge it. But any real relationship needs communication to flow in both directions. And that's certainly what God desires...He wants a relationship with us. And so it isn't enough that He hears us....but we have to hear Him too. And actually, I think most would agree that we probably need to hear Him more than He needs to hear us.

And maybe that is at the heart of my problem....of why I "choose" to do other things instead of carving out a few minutes to stop and just pray. I have no doubt that if I stop long enough to get clear my mind as best I can...and to just listen to God speaking in my soul...there will likely be some hard things to hear. I am sure there will be conviction...for so many of the sins that I gloss over and try to ignore...and guilt...for we need to feel the sadness and regret of our sin in order to propel ourselves toward repentance. And let's be honest...who wants to hear that? But aside from the fact that I NEED to hear those things...if I hide or even run from that encounter with God...if I plug my ears to His voice...then I'll also miss His words of Love...and Forgiveness...and Acceptance. I'll miss out on His Guidance...on His Wisdom. I'll miss out on the very thing that I was created to experience...communion with God. In short, if I don't take time...deliberate...focused...uninterrupted pray to...and hear God...then I will miss out. And I am missing out!

But it's hard to be's hard to stop. There is so much going on all the time. But I need to stop myself physically...and I need to stop myself mentally (which is often the bigger battle). Because what I'm missing when I don't pray is far too important. In fact, one could say it's everything!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hooked on a Feeling

If I'm honest with myself, I tend to judge how close I am to God...or how healthy my relationship is with how I feel. Do I feel close to Him? Do I feel His presence in some way? And the same goes for prayer. In my mind I had some good prayer time if I come away feeling good...feeling happy that I accomplished something spiritual or feeling like I was praying for the right stuff or saying the right things. But recently God has been showing me that this is the wrong measure. Faith is about things unseen...AND things unfelt.

For better or worse (and often for worse), our feelings are easily manipulated. They come and go and are tossed about like a buoy on the ocean. I mean just think of how easily a good mood can disappear. Imagine you wake up feeling good about the day...glad to be alive...with thanksgiving for all your blessings just rolling off your tongue. Then imagine you get in your car and head for work. Someone cuts you off on the highway, you jerk your car to avoid an accident and your coffee splashes over the edge and gets all over your cup holder and surrounding console. Then, when you finally get to work, the closest available parking place is all the way at the end of the parking lot....and it's already over 90 degrees outside. On the way into your office you say to yourself...well this is starting out to be a crappy day...and are in a bad mood.

Maybe that example seems a bit contrived, but haven't we all experienced how quickly we can switch from happy to mad? Or flipping it around...haven't we all experienced the power of an unexpected and heartfelt compliment to brighten our mood..and maybe even make our whole day better?

The point is that our feelings are molded and shaped, pushed and pulled, enhanced and diminished by a variety of unending influences....and THAT makes them unreliable. Are you any less blessed because someone cuts you off while driving or because you spill coffee in your car? Are you not the same person with the same appearance and the same talents regardless of whether someone unexpectedly compliments you?

The truth is feelings are good...and they can be helpful...but they are not the end goal. We want to be healthy...not just feel good. We want to be secure...not just feel safe. We want to be loved (by someone's actions)...not just feel loved. Feelings are a bonus...they are a byproduct...a happy consequence...but they are not what we really desire...or at least not what we really should desire.

And this applies to our relationship with God. Of course we want to feel close to God...we want to feel His love. But ultimately isn't the most important thing that we actually are close to Him...regardless of whether we feel it or not? And isn't the ultimate gift that He does love us....regardless of whether we feel that love at any particular moment in time? As one of my favorite authors asked so pointedly: Would you rather say a prayer that pleases you or that pleases God? The answer is, I expect, obvious to all of us.

But of course this is all nice in theory...the challenge comes putting it into practice. Believe me...I know! I find it terribly difficult to pray when my mind is wanting to wander and I keep getting distracted by random, often insignificant, thoughts. I really struggle with how to push through these moments...or periods...of seemingly dry...ineffective...unrewarding prayer. What's the point...I ask myself. How is this doing anyone any good...myself or God? But I'm realizing that is exactly what the Enemy wants me to think. He wants me focused on the feelings. He wants me focused on the gift...not the giver. He wants me to re-write Scripture (just like it did for Eve in the Garden of Eden) and conclude that faith is the assurance of things received and the conviction of feelings I have felt. And so I have to force myself to remember the truth:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1

If I truly believe in God...if I truly trust Him...then my feelings shouldn't matter. After all, He tells us that if we pray...He hears us (1 John 5:14). He explicitly asks us to come to Him (Matthew 11:28). He both tells us and shows us that He loves us (John 3:16). If we believe God (not just believe in Him) then we know these things are already true. We don't need the feelings to confirm it. Certainly those feelings are nice...even beautiful and powerful...but we don't need them in order to be assured about our relationship with God. He has given us more than that.

If we reach out...if we are faithful in spending time with Him...regardless of how that time feels to us...then we can know beyond a doubt that He is pleased...and we are transformed for the better because of it. God's love and grace and mercy and protection is constant. It doesn't change on a can't be altered by a circumstance.

In the end, we just gotta have faith. And at least as God has shown me...having faith isn't about feeling's about doing something.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Live Like You Were Dying...for Others!

If you had asked me a week ago what the secret of life was...I would have told you to "live like you were dying." It seemed to me that the real "trick" to life was to always believe this could be your last moment...the last time you'd be with a particular person or the last time you'd be at a particular place...and so you had to seize the opportunity....say what you really want to what you really want to do...and not put anything off...leave no regrets. I truly believed that to really live we had to be continuously aware of the significance of each moment...of how valuable each second of our lives really was...and I had to keep that in the forefront of my mind. This is what I believed. And so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to really be in a particular moment. I felt like I needed to be hyper-aware of what was going on....of the preciousness of each moment. I had to truly appreciate where I was and who I was with...and then save that moment in making it incredible.

To put it mildly, I was giving myself a tall order. And as you can probably imagine...I never really figured out how to do it. It seemed the more I focused on the importance of the moment...the more I missed the actual moment. I mean I would gear myself up for some event...tell myself over and over that I had to pay attention...I had to stay focused and be in the moment...wherever I was. Somehow I had to appreciate the gift of this time with this person or these people. But inevitably, no matter how hard I tried to remain cognizant of the moment, I'd find myself after the event, thinking about how fast the time went...and how it didn't seem quite memorable enough...or how I wasn't really as "there" as I needed to be. And I would walk away feeling like there went another missed opportunity...a missed moment.

The whole thing kind of reminds me of that scene in Spaceballs where they wind up watching the movie Spaceballs in the movie and eventually (after fast forwarding) catch up to where they currently are in the movie.
Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
Colonel Sandurz: You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.
Dark Helmet: What happened to then?
Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We're at now now.
Dark Helmet: Go back to then.
Colonel Sandurz: When?
Dark Helmet: Now!
Colonel Sandurz: Now?
Dark Helmet: Now!
Colonel Sandurz: I can't.
Dark Helmet: Why?
Colonel Sandurz: We missed it.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now.
Dark Helmet: When will then be now?
Colonel Sandurz: Soon.

I really started doubting whether it was even possible to really be present in the moment on a consistent basis. I mean certainly there are times in our life when something gets etched in our minds....when something makes such an impression that we will never forget it...and usually those are moments when we were truly IN the moment (for better or worse) and we weren't really conscious of anything else in the world. But those times are rare and natural. They can't be contrived. No, it seems to me that normally we are moving through time so quickly that all we can do is look back.

But then the other day I think God rescued me from this misguided "wisdom." You see, it hit me that while I can't seem to remain self-consciously present in each moment...I can do some good...and I can be present for someone else. And there it was. I had been so preoccupied with what I thought the moment (or my being in the moment) should be for me...that I lost sight of one of the most important things in life...and more importantly in Love: we are not here for ourselves, but for God...and for others.

As I started working through this new idea...tossing it around in my head...I realized how very doable it is. While it may be true that I can't remain super aware of the meaning and significance of each moment while I am in it...and therefore am not really appreciating and valuing each moment as if it was my last...I can think about what the person or people I am with at each moment need...and then I can do what I can to meet that need.

Maybe sometimes this means lending a hand to help them accomplish some task...or at other times it may mean offering an encouraging word or sharing some piece of my own experience to help them make sense of something that is happening in their lives. But often...and maybe most of the probably just means listening...validating who they are...letting them see and feel that they are worthy of attention...that their story and experience matters. Whatever form it may means loving the people who are with you in each moment.

Sure sometimes this will mean will mean humbling yourself...maybe forgoing your own story or experience. It may mean giving up some of your own time and the plans you had for it. It may mean pushing your body a little harder...skipping that extra sleep you thought you needed or settling for a less splendid meal. In short it may mean dying to self.

And so maybe I didn't have it all wrong. Maybe the secret to life still is to "live like you were dying"...only there's a bit more to it. The dying we do...the self that we not for our own sake...but rather for the sake of others. We are to seize the day...but not for ourselves...we are to seize it for others. I believe God does want us to be in each moment (after all life IS a precious gift)...but He wants us to be in each moment so that we can make it better for others....not for ourselves. In short, I guess I almost had it right. We ARE suppose to live like we are dying....but we are suppose to live like we are dying for others!

Thank you Father for opening my eyes...for freeing me from the frustration of my imperfect reasoning...and for showing me continually how to live. Help me to bring Your love into each moment...and help me to make each moment better for those around matter the cost.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

If I Really Want God's Help

The "Wedding at Cana" has always been a challenging story for me. I mean I get the miracle...obviously. And the foreshadowing seen in the water being turned into wine. But what I have always struggled to really "get" is the interaction between Mary and Jesus.

Here they are at a wedding...and presumably it was a relative of theirs since Mary seems to be involved in (or at least aware of) the behind-the-scenes details...and they run out of wine. Mary turns to Jesus and tells Him that they are out of wine. And no matter how many times I look at it, I always read Jesus' first response as sort of flip and indignant...something along the lines of "so how is this my problem?" But obviously that isn't what Jesus means. Still it's curious that He doesn't immediately show concern...or even an inclination to help. But of course in the end He does...and we have Jesus first public miracle.

So I started thinking through this today (while working my way through the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary), and I think God pulled the veil back a little bit on this for me. I think maybe that what we have here is a lesson (once again taught to us my Mary) in seeking God's help in our lives.

First, I think maybe the initial exchange between Jesus and His Mother reveals God's desire that we open our hearts to Him and share our true desires and wants (and fears) with Him. You see....initially...Mary doesn't ask anything of Jesus. She simply states a fact, "they have no wine." And because Mary hasn't asked anything of Him....because she hasn't really shared her desire with Him....her "ask"...Jesus pushes back a bit and wonders aloud what this has to do with Him. In essence He is inviting Mary to be more think about what she is really saying...and to share her heart's desire with Him. And I think He wants the same from us. Certainly He hears (and answers) our prayers of "Help me, God" or "I Need You" or whatever. But I think His ultimate desire is that we develop the awareness within our self to understand our real desires and motivations...and then the courage to voice them to Him...Our Creator. It's not as if He doesn't already know them. But He wants us to share them nonetheless. He wants to hear them from us...offered choice. After all, this is what real relationship is right? Sharing yourself with another person...being open...being vulnerable. That's what God desires for each of be in a real relationship with Him. And so to do that, we have to share our hearts.

The second part of this wedding lesson for me is that if we really want His help...not only do we have to ask for it explicitly (and again with full disclosure of our motivation(s))...but we also have to do what He tells us. It seems more and more as I learn and spend time with our Mother, I realize what an incredible teacher she is...what an incredible gift her life is to us. I always hear how Mary points us to Jesus. And while there was a time I thought that was just Catholics trying to make the whole "Mary thing" more digestible to non-Catholics, I'm realizing more and more that it is simply the truth. Mary does point us to Jesus...time and time again.

So here we are, at the Wedding in Cana, and we find Mary telling the servants...and us (since we are servants after all)...that whatever He says to it! You see...again we find that Jesus wants to involve us in His His His gifts. I'm sure that Jesus could have simply made the waterpots full of wine. He didn't need anyone to make this miracle happen. But yet He sought the cooperation of others...of us. And just like He had done with Mary. Certainly He could have been born without her consent. The Creator of the universe doesn't need our permission for anything. And for that matter He could have simply redeemed the world without our involvement at all. But yet He didn't. He chose to bless us...not simply by saving us all to begin with...but also allowing us to experience the joy...the immeasurable blessing of participating in our salvation. And just like the first at the Wedding we see Mary once again demonstrating how we are to submit to His will. "Whatever He tells you, do it." How very reminiscent of her first response, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

And so the second piece of receiving God's help is obedience....submission...letting go. We often hear people talking about "giving it to God" with the "it" being whatever your need or worry or fear is. And that certainly gets at the submission aspect. We have to truly stop trying to fix things ourselves (and ideally be like Mary and recognize from the get-go that there is no point in even starting to do it our self) and being willing to allow God to fix things. But the other aspect of that is the need for us to obey Him. If I am going to ask for God's help for a way out of something....or for a solution to some situation...than I need to be willing to do it His way...and that means doing whatever He asks. Whether that means filling up waterpots...or apologizing to someone I hurt...or cutting up my credit card...or taking responsibility for my sin...or admitting my sin out loud to my spouse...I actually have to do it. I have to cooperate with God...I have to work with Him...according to His will.

Now I am not pretending this is easy. God knows (literally) how stubbornly I work to try and fix things or make things turn out a certain way. But if I am honest, I have to admit that the best things that have happened in my life (including the best resolutions to unpleasant things) have happened either without or despite my own efforts. How truly thankful I am that sometimes God graciously works in my life despite myself. He sees my heart...and so often acts based on that...instead of the silly stuff my flesh says or does.

Yes...Mary shows us once again (this time at a wedding)...that if we really want to receive God's help...if we really want to experience His work in our lives...we first have to ask Him...and then we have to obey.

[Postlude: This may seem small and insignificant to those reading this...but I had to share it. Just a few days ago I downloaded a Bible app to my blackberry that includes the feature of having the Bible read out-loud to you. I checked this out briefly when I downloaded it and started with John 1:1....for no particular reason than thinking it would be cool to hear, "...and the Word was made flesh." But after a few seconds I closed the app and went about my day. Now here I am writing this blog entry (many days alter)...and I tell you truly...I start to hear someone talking...and I realize that it is the guy from my Bible app reading the Bible is the real knock-me-to-the-ground-shut-the-front-door thing...he is reading...are you ready...the Wedding at Cana. I mean come on! The blackberry was in my belt holster (not my pocket where you could argue I pocket-dialed the app)...where it is suppose to "sleep" once it is put in there. Aside from wasn't like I left off at the end of John 1 or anything...i was only a few verses in....but somehow it skipped all the way to John 2. I'm still trying to drink it in. But about a God moment. Talk about being in His presence. Amen, Father...and Thank You!]

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Isaac

Many of us are probably familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac...and how God called Abraham to sacrifice (meaning kill) his only son. In the end, God intervenes and prevents Abraham from actually seeing this through. We knew from the beginning (though Abraham didn't) that this was a test from God of Abraham's trust in Him. And in the end God confirms Abraham's faith:
Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." -Genesis 22:12b
Recently it came to my mind that perhaps we're all called to sacrifice our own Isaac.

You see, I've been struggling with an area of my life that isn't working as I think it should be. I've read about it (and am still reading about it), researched it, and feel like my expectation is consistent with the Bible and with Church teaching. And so my dissatisfaction and frustration feel justified. I'm not being unreasonable...this is how it is suppose to be. But the other day (while out on my daily walk with our dog), it occurred to me that despite that my desire for this aspect of my life to be a certain way may be good and valid...the whole thing may now have too much importance in my life. I have become obsessed with things not being the way I want them to be. I get too distracted and/or too distraught when I'm reminded that things in this area of my life simply aren't right. And it hit me...this is my Isaac.

We have to remember that there was nothing wrong with Isaac. He wasn't evil or bad (he was just a boy)...and in fact, he was the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham and Sarah. He was a divine gift. So the fact that Sarah and Abraham treasured him made perfect sense. But maybe things started to get a little skewed. I mean if we think about it, Abraham had been wanting a son for a long time....years upon years. At one point He even took one of his servants as a wife just for the sake of hopefully having a son (even though that was not God's plan). And so when God finally opened Sarah's womb and she gave birth to a baby boy, you can only imagine how much love and attention Abraham poured out on his son. And of course that is good and as it should be. We are to love out children whole-heartedly. But the truth is, we are to love nothing...nothing and no one...more than God. And so maybe Abraham was a little too obsessed with his son...plans for his future...dreams of him taking over for his dad one day. Maybe Abraham was a little too distracted by this love for his son...or maybe he became a little too distraught when things didn't go exactly as he thought they should with his son. So God stepped in to set things right...and to remind Abraham of the proper priorities for his life. And how could God do that? He asked Abraham to let it remove cut out of his life that thing that took him away from God. God asked Abraham to permanently remove whatever was in his life that was usurping God's position.

And so here I am...recognizing the Isaac that is in my life. I know that God has led me to where I am in my life. He has brought me to this place where I can realize all these incredible gifts. But I have let one of these gifts become an idol. I have let myself become obsessed with one of God's gifts...I have let it become a pursuit separate from and above God Himself. And most telling of all...I have come to value this gift so much that not only do I not want to be without it...but I can't imagine God wanting me to let it fact I practically deny it as a possibility.

So my choice is clear. I must sacrifice it. If it is that important to me...if it has become an assumed "must have" in my life....then I am not trusting God...trusting Him to meet my every whatever way He sees fit. So it must be let go. I must be willing to carry the fire and wood all the way to the altar. I need to be willing to take the knife and prepare to slay this part of my life. I need to be prepared to let this gift live without pluck out my eye for the sake of it not causing me to sin (Mark 9:47). And I can't bank on God's intervention. I can't do all this hoping for...counting on...God stepping in as He did with Abraham to stop me. No...I have to be willing to see this through. I need to be willing to actually let this good thing go...because by giving it more importance than it deserves...I have twisted it into something bad. And it is better that I live without this good thing...than to let it distract me from my first priority: To know Him, to Love Him and to serve Him.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reflections on the Glorious Mysteries

The Resurrection

This is the difference maker. This is the answer to the question of how can God allow [insert latest tragedy or evil]. If this is it....meaning if this life is all that there is...then the tragedies and injustices and horrors that sometimes seem to surround us can indeed overwhelm us. But this is NOT it. There is more...there is Eternity. This is but a stage...a visit...a temporary home. And our Faith hinges on The Resurrection.
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised ; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
~ 1 Corinthians 15:13-14

The Ascension

The Apostles were left staring into the clouds...lost in the rapture of that moment..seeing their risen Lord lifted up into Heaven. But He sent His Messengers to gently chastise them. "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?" (Acts 1:11a) Your lives are not over. This is not the end. Life is still going on...and you are to live it. There is reason and purpose in this life. There is good in it...good to be done...good to be experienced. There is much to learn...there is growing to do. And this is the nursery where we have been placed. This is where the seeds of who we will become have been planted...and so we must grow...we must move...we must live.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
~ John 10:10b

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Of course we can't do this alone. Plants can't grow without water...without sun...without roots. And so while this life is meant to be lived...we can't succeed...we can't overcome...we can't flourish without help...and specifically without His help. That is why He sent the Holy Spirit. That is why He chose to share His power with us in this way. And what power it is!
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away ; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you....But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth ; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak ; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine ; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.
~ John 16:7,13-15

The Assumption

Mary's Assumption reassures us...reinforces our Faith. Through her we again see the Truth...we see the truth of Christ's promise that there IS life beyond this world...that there is more. In many ways she is the first of us to reach Eternity. What a beautiful love between Christ and His Mother. He preserves her...protects her...and ensures that corruption will not touch her in any way. No physical corruption...and certainly no spiritual corruption.
These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
~ Acts 1:14

The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth

If ever we doubted our value in the eyes of God, here we see The Creator make one of His creatures Queen....Queen of Heaven and of Earth. Even the angels who are greater than humans acknowledge her as their queen. Of course we are not Mary....we have not been kept pure as she...nor do any of us live in such complete cooperation with Christ as Mary did. But she is no less our less our example of how to submit to God's will. And so we lift her up...and we are filled with hope. And we see God Our Father lift her up...and we are filled with greater Hope still.
A great sign appeared in heaven : a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars ; 2 and she was with child ; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth....And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron ; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God....
~ Revelations 12:1-2,5-6
And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord ; may it be done to me according to your word."
~ Luke 1:38

I am tired of sin in my life. I am tired of falling and getting back up. I am tired of failing. And so, though I know I will still sin...and still fall...and still fail...I recommit myself this day (and everyday...and every moment...hereafter) to live for God. I want to live boldly...fully...without fear...according to His will in every area of my life. This is truly my heart's cry. Help me, Father. Help me to live as You me to be who You created me to be. In Your Son's name I pray....Amen!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This Life

“Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.”
- Acts 5:20

It's interesting that THIS is the charge given to the Apostles after the Angel released them from prison. And I say interesting, I guess, because I would expect their orders to be more along the lines of "tell people about Jesus" or "tell people about the Kingdom of God" or "spread the Good News." But instead the angel instructs them to tell people everything about this life.

To me this just confirms what I have long suspected...that "Eternal Life" begins begins here. There is no waiting for death...our new life begins now. Death is just a transition. It is an event. But it is neither the start nor the end. Jesus calls to give us here and now...and without end.

"...I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - John 10:10b

And so the Angel is instructing the Apostles to tell people that Jesus is about life...about the lives they are living right now. Jesus is here...ever-present...desiring to be a part of our lives. Not just in some lofty, theological sense...but a part of our every day, minute-to-minute lives. Again Jesus tells us:

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life..."

The resurrected Lord is about living. All that He taught...all His commandments...all that He calls us to begins in this life. The path to God is practical. Holiness is practical. Saints are practical people.

If we keep waiting for something to happen so that we can start experiencing God's presence in our lives...then we have already missed it. God is We just need to ask Him to open our eyes....and to let His Word teach us how to live, how to grow, and how to love...not "when we get to Heaven" or once we become holy...but right This Life!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Size of the Moment

I realized today that I have this idea...this expectation...that in order for a moment to be needs to be big. Somehow I've constructed this belief that a moment has to be life changing...or at least highly significant and really count. And by really count...I guess I mean for God to consider it worthwhile. I keep feeling like he has given each of us this limited number of moments...and we are suppose to be doing great things with them. We can't get to the end of our life and see it was all a collection of grocery store game playing...or even book reading. We have to DO things.

Despite that a part of me refuses to believe it's true...I walk around feeling like my mundane moments...the walks with the dog...the cooking of meals...the changing of litter boxes...the washing of dishes...these moments are being wasted...because I am not doing something more significant. Even moments watching a movie with my wife...or hurrying through a bath with my daughter...they seem insignificant. I sometimes find myself asking is THIS what life is suppose to be?

But something in me keeps insisting that this idea is wrong...that it is twisted. And lately that something has been getting louder.

One thing I want to do during Lent is learn to invite God into more moments of my life. I want to invite Him in to the busyness of my job. I want to invite Him in to the stressful to the prideful to the selfish moments. I want Him to be with me in the moments I spend watching TV...washing my daughters hair...brushing the dog. I want to open myself to His presence both when I am in a passionate conversation about my Faith and when I am trying to figure out how to get the third star on a level of Angry Birds.

I can't say I have it all figured out...or that I can even articulate it clearly. But it feels like something inside of me is saying that moments are significant...because of His presence. It has nothing to do with what we DO....but rather it has everything to do with His being there. Moments aren't big because of the circumstances or outcomes...they are big when He is in them.

Father, please teach me how to allow You into each moment...and how to make every step I take...significant in Your eyes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


It is all too fitting this particular Lent that it begins with ashes. As I receive the dark outline of the cross on my forehead, my heart's prayer was that on Easter Sunday the ashes in my life are not burned palm branches...but the charred remains of my anything that separates me from God. Lent is a time to crucify...a time to send to the fire...a time to put to death the self...the flesh...the stuff that gets in our way of being who God created us to be. I want to use this allow God to use this make me more of who I really am....more of who He really made. This is my heart's cry.

"Remember, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." -Genesis 3:19

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." - Mark 1:15

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Love Persists

I realized this it dawned on me how quickly my cough and stuffy nose and sinus congestion all dissipated after two weeks of seemingly little progress...that God had healed me without my ever having really asked Him to (though I think I did send up a prayer or two during my roughest days). Obviously I "wished" my cold would go away, but I didn't bring it to Him in least not earnestly. And yet overnight (or so it seems), my voice cleared up, I could breathe freely, and my nagging cough was gone.

I know in the grand scheme this healing is small and my "suffering" was insignificant compared to what so many others are called to endure...but still it taught me a little something about love: Love is persistent. It doesn't matter that your spouse or child (or parent or sibling or friend) isn't thinking about your loving them...or that they aren't asking anything of you at a given still still still love. And how much greater is the Love of God. We ignore Him, neglect Him, disobey Him...and yet He continues to Love us...answering prayers we don't vocalize...or ones we offer half-heartedly. Indeed He does know what we need without our asking (Matthew 6:8)...and while He wants us to ask...He wants us to talk to Him and talk with Him...He won't let our failures get in the way of His blessings in our lives.

What an amazing Love....what an Awesome God! Though we are inconsistent...and sporadic...and fitful...and distracted...He is constant....and His love is persistent!

Father, teach me to love as You do...teach me to persist on Your path...follow Your laws...adhere to Your call...not just every now and then...but every now...every moment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Model of Dying

Recently, God open my eyes to a new (at least new to me) perspective on the Sorrowful Mysteries (as found in the Rosary). As I considered each of these painful moments in Christ's Passion, I realized that with each step....with each injustice Christ willingly endured...He taught us about dying...specifically about what needs to be crucified in our own lives if we are to ever really know Him.

The Sorrowful Mysteries begin with the "Agony in the Garden." Here we see Christ in all His humanity painfully, deliberately willing His self to assent to God's will and His saving plan. No doubt Christ knew what was ahead...the pain...the humiliation...the separation from God. But He also knew the purpose...He knew the reason death was necessary....and He knew the Father. So as He anguished in the garden, sweating blood, praying that this cup might pass from Him...He taught us the about sacrifice and about the need to let our will die so that God's will might live within us. How humbling it is in this light to recall the countless times I have raged over my own plans being foiled. How often do I fight and push for my will to be done? Christ's moments in the garden remind me...that my will should be the Father's will.

The second mystery is the "Scourging at the Pillar." I don't know that I will ever think about this horrific moment in Christ's life and not recall the enactment of this scene in Mel Gibson's The Passion. Seeing all that Christ had to endure, the pain and torture, it is easy to understand why He had wanted this cup to pass from Him. And I have no doubt that with each strike of the whip His body cried out and begged to be released. He was literally wracked with pain...a pain level I doubt many of us can imagine. Yes, His submission to God's will meant, among other things, that His body would be made say the least. It would be abused, persecuted, and afflicted beyond what any human being could endure. And yet in this, Jesus reveals that our walk with Him must involve this sacrifice of our flesh. We must crucify the comforts and distractions and conveniences that our flesh demands...but that ultimately serves only to distract us, or discourage us, from God's will. We must not recoil when we feel the sting of our flesh not getting what it craves...we must Jesus did.

It's hard to imagine anyone mocking the King of Kings...the Creator of the Universe...and yet the third Sorrowful Mystery reminds us that no sooner did the soldiers finish torturing Jesus' body, that they went to work on His spirit. The "Crowning with Thorns," is a vivid reminder that just as Christ did...we must relinquish our pride. Certainly Christ could have protested the soldiers' mocking with a miraculous demonstration of His Sonship (not that it necessarily would have meant much to them). He could have in fact called down legions of angels to dispatch these soldiers in the blink of an eye. But Jesus knew His sacrifice needed to be perfect...and whole. He knew the Death that He must endure for us was not simply the end of His life...but the Death of our sinfulness. And so Christ willingly sacrificed His pride, refusing to lift Himself up, refusing to assert His own worth...His own prominence. He allowed Himself to be humiliated...despite having the power to end it. How much more should I endure humiliation I have no power to stop anything?

Crucifixion was generally reserved for criminals. It's punishment was not simply death...but public death. It made your sin clear to everyone. Your sin...your mistakes...your failings as a person. The cross was a sign of guilt. In a sense, the cross was like a more severe scarlet "A" (the letter Hester Prynne bore because of her sin in Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter"). And yet, the fourth Mystery confronts us with the fact that Christ had to carrying His Cross. The unspotted lamb, the Prince of Peace, the perfectly pure Son of God willingly submitted still further to this complete and unrelenting Death of the self. Never mind the extreme pain Christ surely must have been in, never mind the exhaustion that certainly was perched to overtake Him at any minute, and never mind the historic injustice of having a man without sin being forced to carry a criminal's punishment. If anyone could ever have turned the tables on the spectators...certainly it was the man who offered that he who is without sin should throw the first stone. If anyone ever could have pointed out the hypocrisy of the whole affair, it was the man who could see into men's hearts. Here was The Truth and The Way, The Alpha and Omega, the Author of all that is Good, carrying a cross...publicly being labeled a sinner...mocked and jeered as a criminal. And so I am left to ask...who am I to become self-righteous when my sin is exposed...when I am rightly caught in my own shortcomings. Here was God, allowing Himself to be falsely accused and convicted...and here am I...a known, often unrepentant, repeat sinner. As the "good thief" observed,
And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds ; but this man has done nothing wrong. Luke 23:41

Finally, at the end of this sorrowful journey, we arrive at the Crucifixion itself. We have all heard that one of the strongest (if not the strongest) instinct in the human race...and really among all living the preservation of our own life....self-preservation. When confronted with death...the end of our earthly life...many a conviction has died in our place.
As Paul writes:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man ; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. Romans 5:7
Yet this is the culmination of all the other "deaths" we are to endure. We should love nothing so much in this life (whether our own plans, our physical comfort, our health, our pride) that we are unwilling to let it let this whole life go in fact...if it is asked of us by God.
That is what Jesus does, He endures Death in every shape and every form...and then lays down the entirety of His human life...for us.
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

And so as I meditate on these Sorrowful Mysteries, God continues to open my eyes to how I can identify with Christ in my own sacrificing my will, my physical comfort, my
pride, my self-righteousness, and ultimately my life...all for Him...and for His people. This is God's plan for our lives...and this is the model He gave us.

A true servant of Jesus is one who is willing to experience martyrdom for the reality of the gospel of God. ~ Oswald Chambers

Friday, February 4, 2011


Constancy...what a rare and valuable commodity in today's world. Things are always changing it seems. Like that saying, "you can never step into the same river twice," life is flowing all around us. Time marches on...carrying us and our experiences with it. We live in grains of sand...tiny moments of time that hopefully and prayerfully add up to a life worthy of the promises of Christ. But through it all very little stays the same. Buildings crumble, memories fade, people come and go. I always liked the line from The Muppet Christmas Carol (which while based on Charles Dickens' classic adds a few lines here and there): "Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it." How very true.

But thank God...quite literally...that He is constant. He doesn't change. As Paul writes in today's readings:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Our God is the God of both the Old and New Testaments. He is the God who swallowed the Egyptians in the Red Sea AND the God Incarnate, born in a manger, healer of lepers, forgiver of sins. He is our anchor...our lighthouse...our security. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as David and Solomon, and Peter and Paul. And He is my God.

So when the craziness of this world starts to overwhelm me...when I start to feel like I just can't keep up...I remember that even though Heaven and Earth may pass away...God will remain...and so will all those who live in Him.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


It has to be one of the toughest lessons for us to learn -- dependence. We work so hard to convince ourselves...and those around us...that we are independent...self-sufficient...that we don't need anyone. And yet I suspect that at some level, we are all very much aware this is a lie. We can't take a breath without it being the Will of God. If that were not the case, we would be immortal. But our very existence is dependent on Him. And so whatever "power" or "control" we appear to exert (or that others exert on us)'s a mirage. As Christ told Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11).

And because Jesus is Truth, He wants to pull back the self-made veil from our eyes...He wants to confront us with our dependence...and then He wants to help us embrace it. That's what He did for the disciples...and that's what He wants to do for us:
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there...." Mark 6:8-10
Here they were, ready to embark on their first mission for God....their first tour if you will...and Jesus sent them out without anything. No food, no drink, not even a change of clothes. Nothing but a walking stick. Jesus was putting them in a position to where they would have no choice but to trust trust God the Father. (And isn't that so often the best way for us to learn...when we don't have a choice BUT to learn.) Everything they would need...would have to be supplied by God.

Of course God wasn't going to supply food and shelter supernaturally as he did for the Israelites or for Elijah. The truth is that might have been easier for them. I think it would have been easier for me...given the alternative. No, instead of supernatural provision, Jesus encouraged the Apostles to not only accept their dependence on God, but to accept their dependence on one another....that is on other people. Whatever food they would eat, whatever shelter they would would all come through the kindness and goodness of others...of God's people. It is one of the great paradoxes of life. Though in the end it is all about our own personal relationship to God, we are meant to work out the relationship together. And sadly, that isn't always easy:
Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them. Mark 6:11
The Apostles learned first hand that trusting God doesn't mean He will make the path smooth. Nor does our need for one another ensure that we will all treat eachother with goodness and kindness. Yet that doesn't change anything. We are still dependent...still helpless without God...still needing Him...and still needing each other.

But as always, The Gospels are ultimately a message of hope. And so while the Apostles were thrown into the depend end of dependence...they showed us that if we will embrace our dependence on God....if we will trust Him for our needs...if we will focus on doing what He asks of us...and if we will be obedient...then we will succeed beyond anything we could ever have pretended to do on our own.
They went out and preached that men should repent. And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.Mark 6:12-13

Monday, January 24, 2011


God hit me with two things today...both of which point to the key to the essence of what it means to be a disciple.

First, in listening to a message from Joyce Meyers, God shared with me the the importance of not having rules without relationship. For me, this immediately rang of all my attempts to structure my life in a certain way...and fill it with certain order to move deeper in my relationship to Christ. I didn't take this to suggest that these attempts are wrong, only that they must be infused with an honest and earnest pursuit of a relationship with Jesus....with getting to know Him...and allow myself to be known by Him. Otherwise my saying of the Rosary or daily Bible reading...or even writing a blog just busy work...that may have a net positive impact on my life...but that can't be truly life changing...heart changing...without the personal knowledge of Jesus.

The second thing God hit me with was today's devotional from the Oswald chamber blog: My Utmost for His Highest. In today's post, God reveals that in order to truly realize the vision He has for our lives, we have to have a "vivid, personal, overpowering relationship" with Jesus....just as the Apostle Paul did. His dramatic Damascus Road experience was not simply a conversion to a different way of life, but was the launch of a super-charged relationship with Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus appeared to Paul and asked for nothing less than His whole Chambers paraphrases...He asked to "overpower and subdue" everything. And when Paul assented...that vision...that promise of completely and radically transforming Paul's life would not have happened...were it not for the intimate relationship Paul forged with Jesus himself.

So the bottom line is that while all my tools and methods may be good...all my structure and organization may be helpful...if I want to realize God's plan for my life, then I need to get to know Him....not as an object...but as a a personal Creator. If I want to see His vision for me come to life, then I need to live my life with Him. The with so much of relationship.

God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. -- Baltimore Catechism No. 1, 1885

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sometimes...we're the plate

I think when many of us think of service, we think of doing something. We imagine ourselves as waiters or waitresses bringing God's love to those around us. We aspire to be God's instrument, to act on God's behalf, to do His work. When we think of serving, we think of doing something...even if it is something as simple as giving some money to the homeless guy on the corner or letting someone get in front of us in line. But I am realizing that sometimes, rather than be a role is closer to that of the plate. In other words, sometimes I serve God best, just by being there.

In the grand scheme of a meal, the plate is very easily over looked. We touch and use the silverware, the glasses, the salt and pepper shakers. We are appreciative of the chef or loved one who cooked the meal. We consciously thank the host(s) or wait staff who bring us the food (often with a gift or tip). But the plate? The plate just sits there. The only reason we even notice it (if in fact we do) is because it holds the food and so we can't help but see it when we look at what we are going to eat. Yes the plate's job is a simple one...hold the food...keep it from running all over the table. The focal point of the meal is almost always the food itself. The plate is really just a prop.

But actually...that might not be fair. After all, the plate is holding the most important part of the meal. And the plate is what allows the meal to be enjoyed (imagine how much less enjoyable it would be if everyone's casserole, quiche, salad, or pasta was just dumped on the table). Yes when we think about it, the plate actually does play a very important role in the just being there. It doesn't have to do anything...other than to be sit there and let itself be used. It's important, not because of what it is, but because it allows us to focus on something else. It serves by lifting up another. And sometimes, I think that's all that God wants us to do.

I was reminded of this very poignantly this long weekend. Our daughter has been under the weather the past few days with a relatively high temperature and sore throat. Though there were moments when she was her usual, energetic, joyful self...most of the weekend saw her lying on the couch, curled up in a ball beneath her favorite blanket, not really wanting to eat or drink or do anything but watch The Sound of Music or Toy Story. But one morning, while Mommy was off getting ready for the day, my daughter summoned her strength and pulled herself over to the other end of the couch, where I was sitting...and she climbed into my lap. I, of course, had been lamenting to God how helpless I I wanted to take her sickness away but there was nothing I could do. And both an answer to prayer and a daughter curled up in my lap. She didn't say anything...and quickly resumed her absorption into the TV. But I knew that for that moment...being there in my lap made her feel better than lying in nearly the same position just a few feet away. God showed me through this precious moment that I was able to help this case my daughter...simply by being there. I didn't have to do anything or bring her anything. There was no action I had to take. I wasn't waiting on her in the traditional sense. No...I was able to serve love her...simply by being holding lifting her up. I was able to love and comfortable and help...just by being present to her...and letting her use me. So now whenever my pride starts to clamor about the next big thing I can do for God, I am going to remind myself, maybe God doesn't need a waiter...maybe He just needs a plate.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our Souls Demand It

C.S. Lewis suggests that our needs and longings are evidence of something that can fulfill them.
A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.
For example, the fact that we feel hunger is evidence that we need to eat and that need is evidence that food must exist (even if we had never seen food...the need implies it must exist somewhere). In a similar way, our restlessness and emptiness on this earth is evidence that this is not our home and that there must be something, or someone, else who will fulfill us. (Certainly there are enough examples throughout history of people who "had it all" but whose lives ultimately ended in tragedy because true and lasting fulfillment does not come from this world.) Also similarly, a longing or desire stirring inside of you to serve others...and to serve evidence of a calling God has for your life.

Anyway, it occurred to me while taking a walk this morning that the reverse of Lewis' argument must also be least in some instances. You see as I walked and drank in the simple beauty of the sunrise and felt the sharp but invigorating chill of the morning air on my face, I recognized how worthy God is of our constant praise. His majesty and omnipotence, His mercy and grace, are evidence that He is worthy of all praise...of our praise...and so we must praise Him every moment of every day. The only problem with that logic is that it doesn't work practically.

God created us...and He created us a world where we must work for our survival. He created us with needs and longings and provided the means to fulfill them...but we have to work for them (we have to cultivate the land for it to produce food, we have to build in order to have shelter, etc.). And so while God may be worthy of our constant praise, it would seem He left us very little time to do it.

But that's when I started to recognize that somehow both must be true...and that's when it hit me...our lives must be lived in praise of our Father. It's true that we can't fall prostrate before an alter 24/7...that we can't participate in Mass every hour of every day. But that does not eliminate the need...and certainly doesn't diminish God's worthiness. So somehow...someway...our daily lives...filled with all the humdrum and mundane activities...must somehow sing praise to God.

So the question do we do that? How do we live and do all the things we have to do each day...and yet do them in a way that praises God? I imagine we all have to find that answer for ourselves. There is no magic formula. No one size fits all. No...the answer is likely as unique as each of our lives is unique. But it's an answer we must find. God demands it...and if we listen closely...our very souls demand it.

If you ask why we should obey God, in the last resort the answer is, 'I am.' To know God is to know that our obedience is due to Him. ~ C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Cross of True Disciples

We often hear people talk about or preach that we have to carry our cross...or maybe our crosses. But it occurred to me that when we say that, we often miss the true meaning of what Jesus was trying to tell us.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:27
I think if we truly want to understand what it means to take up our cross daily...we need to consider His cross.

It seems people often focus on what the cross is...rather than what it does. Certainly the cross was a burden. It was heavy. I've seen references suggesting the upright post was 6ft-8ft tall and the cross beam 5ft-6ft long. The crossbeam itself likely weighted well over 100 lbs by some estimates. So it is easy to see how we could come to interpret "carry our cross" to mean we must accept the heavy burdens in our life...and forge onward despite them. These burdens are often seen as things like challenging relationships, or poverty, or poor health, or whatever it is that makes this life difficult and challenging for us. Now I'm no suggesting there is no value or validity in understanding Jesus' command this way. But I do think there is more to be gleaned...and possibly something that is more important than this.

Whatever the physical dimensions of the cross may have been...and however difficult it surely must have been for Jesus to carry after the suffering already endured...I think it's important that we remember what it is the cross actually did...and still does. Quite literally, the cross crucified Christ. It killed Him...killed His body. That's what a cross does. That is why it was kill and destroy the flesh. And really that is what the entire Passion is about. Jesus allows himself to be crucified physically, emotionally, and even spiritually ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). In other words, He allows Himself to be humbled for the sake of others...for our sake.

And so I think maybe, when Jesus tell us we must "carry our cross" daily, He isn't telling us to endure or persevere all the things that annoy, and distract, and make us uncomfortable (such as challenging relationships, poverty, or illness)...but rather that everyday we must seek to crucify the attitudes and beliefs and thoughts within us that lead us to see these burdens as burdens in the first place....rather than as the work of God in our lives. He is telling us that where our flesh rebels against the pain of being humbled...we have to crucify it. Isn't this the lesson of the Saints and Martyrs? Isn't this what we are taught throughout the Bible?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:20-22
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Colossians 1:24

Of course this is all easier said than done...but we can't dismiss it or ignore it because it is difficult. It seems to me that this should be our goal. This is what we are to strive toward.

And so when we pick-up our crosses each day, what we are saying we really need to do is pick-up the tools needed to crucify our flesh. We need to destroy those parts of us that rebel against the work of God in us and in the of us like our selfishness...our envy...our pride...our self-righteousness. We need to be prepared to be humbled...and not simply be prepared...but we need to embrace it...even pray for it. This is the cross Jesus refers to...the one that crucifies....the one that destroys the flesh...the one that makes way for the resurrection. If we do this...then I believe we will be that much closer to being true disciples of Jesus.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hatching Some Resolutions

I've never been big on New Year's Resolutions. It seems to me that whatever would be worth resolving to do at the start of a year is something that I already should have been doing...and so deciding that I was going to start doing it now...just because the calendar changed...well...that just never felt right.

But there is no denying that Dick Clark's Rockin Eve and the dropping of the ball in Times Square do provide a great opportunity for self reflection...for thinking about my life...about how I'm living it...and how I should be living it. Besides, we are linear people...we like beginnings and endings...we like parameters and boundaries...we like markers and milestones. So I suppose, if flipping the page on the calendar...or starting a whole new calendar for that what it takes for us...for finally do the things I need to be doing in my life...then perhaps I shouldn't dismiss the idea of New Year's Resolutions so easily.

So after much thinking...and soul searching...and a little are my resolutions:
  • I will pray more...and I will love more.
  • I will make more time for people...for relationships...and I will love more.
  • I will open myself more to the presence of Jesus Christ in and around my life....and I will love more.
  • I will appreciate more the gift of each moment whether seemingly spectacular or ordinary...and I will love more.
  • I will be more of the man God created me to be...and I will love more.

Now I don't know how far I will get with all of these...I don't know how much progress I will really make...but there can be no doubt about my need to do these things. John spells it out pretty clearly in today's readings:
Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. 1 John 4:7-10

I must love...and am only capable of love...because God first loved me. God is Love...and so how can I call myself a Christian and do anything else?

Of course I am still flawed...still weak...still incomplete. But as C.S. Lewis observes so poignantly:
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
So despite my sinfulness, I have to press on...I can't become complacent. I can't continue going through the motions...okay just isn't enough. And as Matthew West continues in his song:
I don't wanna go one more day
without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don't wanna spend my whole life asking,
"What if I had given everything,
instead of going through the motions?"
So it's time. Time to decide to be different. Time to decide to be better. If I want to fly...I first have to hatch. Father, please consider these resolutions the first cracks in my shell.

Monday, January 3, 2011

We Are Not Alone

So I was driving...saying the Rosary...contemplating the Joyful Mysteries (The Annunciation, The Visitation, the Birth of Jesus, the Presentation, and Finding Jesus in the Temple)...and like a slow but steady dawned on me that one of the great messages of Christmas is that we are not alone. In this crazy, non-stop, increasingly impersonal and isolated world...we are not alone. First and foremost, God drew closer to us than He ever had before through His Son.
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us" Matthew 1:23.
From now matter what mattered where we were or what we did...God would be present...He would be real...He would be close...He would be with us. But the Christmas story shows that God would be present not in some abstract, ethereal sort of way...but with our lives...bring comfort and reassurance when we needed it. Just look at Mary.

It isn't difficult to imagine how Mary could have felt very alone in her situation. She was carrying a child, conceived not by her husband...or any man...but by the Holy Spirit, and this child was not simply any child...but God's Son. I think it is safe to say that's a pretty unique that most people could not relate to...even if it was possible to tell people about it...which I have to think really wasn't possible. In fact, it seems likely that if she had openly shared her story, the religious leaders of the day would have brought her up on charges of blasphemy...and possibly had her killed. No, this miraculous Incarnation was something Mary would have to endure on her own...or would she?

Mary had to wonder what Joseph would do when she told him her story. Since he was a righteous man, she had every reason to think he would divorce her...and she couldn't blame him. But God intervened...He spoke to Joseph and assured him that Mary was telling the truth...and that He should not fear taking her as his wife. And in doing that, not only did God provide an earthly father for Jesus...and avoid scandal for Mary...but He also assured Mary that she would have a partner...a husband...someone to lean on and to watch out for her. He assured her that she would not be alone.

But of course Joseph was a man...and he could only empathize so much with being pregnant...from a miraculous conception. And besides, he wasn't the one that people were staring at. Despite their keeping their story doubt rumors spread...and you have to think Mary was often the center of conversation...probably unflattering conversation. On top of that, she herself must have struggled with the craziness of it all. Why her? Why a baby? Why would God send His Son to be born here? It was simply too incredible. Who could blame Mary if she had doubts...if she questioned whether God was really going to do this? But Mary wasn't the first time God orchestrated a miraculous birth.

Certainly it was no coincidence that the mother of the one who would pave the way for Jesus....the prophet of God who would cry out in the wilderness and call people to repent...was Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. I mean surely it could have been any woman...but God chose Elizabeth...Elizabeth who was very old...well beyond child-bearing years. And Mary...Elizabeth was called to trust in God's Word. Despite all logic...and against all odds (and biology)...Elizabeth would have a child. There is no question it was hard to believe. In fact, Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah, was unable to speak until his son was born because he doubted the words of God's angel. But God did keep His Word...and their son, John the Baptist, was born. And in so doing, God not only provided this world a prophet...and Jesus a herald, but He gave Mary someone who could understand what she was experiencing...someone who could appreciate what it was like to be trusting God for a miracle. Yes, by choosing Elizabeth to be the mother of John the Baptist, God also assured Mary that she was not alone.

Finally, alone in the stable, with a newborn baby sleeping in a manger, probably shivering from both the cold and exhaustion, Mary and Joseph tried to drink it all in. Here was this promised child...this Holy One of God...this miraculous baby...and they were in a stable...surrounded by animals...essentially invisible to the world. Not the sort of arrival one would expect for the Son of God. What was the point? What were they suppose to do now? Why was this child born? Was this really God's Son? I can imagine all these questions swirling around in their heads. And once again, God reassures. While Mary was going through labor and giving birth to Jesus, God's angels were announcing the arrival of His Son to the shepards in the fields. They proclaimed this miraculous gift God had given the world and told them where they could find this Holy Child. And so Mary and Joseph didn't really have long to toil in their questions and doubts before the shepards arrived. They came and worshiped at the manger. And then they told others...and others came. And soon Mary and Joseph were witness to the first worship service for their son. And not only did God do all this to announce to the world the gift of His Son...but He did it also to assure Mary and Joseph...they were not alone.

And so as we move toward the end of the Christmas season, I see that one of the messages we need to be sure to carry with us is that God is here...He loves us...He is with us...and because of His matter where we matter what situation we find ourselves matter what we have done (or failed to do)...God is with us...and we need not fear. We are not alone.