Sunday, August 29, 2010

A New School Year

“Instruct a wise man, and he becomes still wiser; teach a just man, and he advances in learning.” Proverbs 9: 9

Well, here you are, with the once-exciting, but now boring summer over and you stand at the threshold of a new school year. Perhaps you are a freshman entering the world of high school for the first time and you are scared to death. Or maybe you’re a senior and you are already fighting back the first twinges of senioritis. No matter what your situation or feelings about this school year, one thing is for certain: it is a fresh start, a new opportunity. New clothes, new schedules, new teachers, and crisp, inviting notebooks all point to hope.

New school years are always a reminder to us that there are beginnings and endings in life. People are born, people die; people move away and new people arrive. And these reminders are times of grace that we need to be thankful for because ultimately they are reminders that redemption and new life can always be found in Christ. No matter what we have done in our past, no matter how far we have strayed from the loving arms of Jesus, there is always a second chance as long as we draw breath in this world.

As you begin this new school year with all of its expectations, reflect on your relationship with the Lord. If you need to, start over. Go to confession, mend a relationship with another; renew your decision to follow Christ with your whole heart. Satan will always try to keep us mired in our sinful past, but Jesus always brings us to new places. Rejoice in this new life as you begin this new school year.

Dear Jesus, help me to place all of my hope in You. Bless my new school year and help me to be the best student I can be. Allow my love for You transform me into a lover of learning and may all I do in school give glory to You. Amen.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Faithfulness Not Success

"Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." Revelation 2: 10b

It is easy in the world we live in to be driven by how much we produce. Whether it is getting everything done at work, completely our school projects, doing our homework, helping around the house: we are judged by how much we can accomplish. Obviously some of this is necessary. We have to get graded on our school work, at work most of get evaluated on our job performance and when we are young our parents certainly seem to appreciate us more when we are helping out around the house.

Even in the Christian "world" we can get caught up in how much we produce for the Kingdom. How many people have I told about Christ? How many minutes did I read my Bible today? How many service projects have I done this month? We want to help people know Christ and to be saved. Is this bad? Of course not. We are called to evangelize others and to make efforts to change our secular culture of death to build a civilization of love (as Pope John Paul II put it). But do we get too caught up in our successes and failures?

It is natural to feel elated when something we are working on goes good. And it is natural to feel a sense of remorse or even regret when things do not go as planned. But the key to spiritual balance is in the middle. In other words, we need to be passionate about what God is calling us to do, while at the same time, being detached from the results (or lack thereof). This is the only way to keep going spiritually. The reality (and this is hard for some of us to accept sometimes) is that we do not save anyone. Only Jesus does. And in and of themselves, our works, even if directed towards good and for the Kingdom, cannot affect anything without the grace of God. We are called to dig, to plant seeds, to water and to fertilize. But it is God who creates and it is God who grows. And there will always be more to do and more to accomplish. At times, we can even become overwhelmed by the thought of it all.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (who would have been 100 today) once said, "We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful." Let us keep her profound words in mind when we are doing the Lord's work. With this as our ministry motto, we can be humble with the successes and we can be peaceful with the failures. It doesn't mean we don't work hard to be better or correct mistakes or use God's gifts to us to the best of our abilities. It just means we let go of the pride when the results are not what we had wanted them to be. And it means we keep our sights on being faithful to Christ, not on the results of our labors.

Dear Jesus, give me the grace today to be faithful. Like Mother Teresa, help me to be a pencil in Your hand and help me to work hard to build up the Kingdom, without worrying about the results. Amen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Living in the Now

"For He says 'In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.' Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 6: 2

So often I see young people (and even adults) who cannot live in and appreciate the present. I think there is a tremendous temptation to either live in the regrets (or successes) of the past, or to live in the fantasy world of a future not yet here. The danger of living either of these ways is that we miss the present situation and the grace that God is giving us for today.

So many people allow themselves to be held back from being their best because they cling to the memories of abuse, failure, sin, etc. They live in self-loathing or fear, always looking in the rear-view mirror. They are crushed into ineptitude or apathy because of the past. Is this from God? No. While we certainly don't want to forget about the past to the point of repeating it, God wants to give us a clean slate. Scripture tells us that His mercies are new everyday. This means that we can start over. And especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our sins are not only wiped away, but are completely forgotten by God and we are made into a new creation.

On the flip side, many people live worried about the future or planning for a future that may never come. People also try to seek out "hidden" wisdom through horoscopes, palm readings, etc, but these are nothing more than occultic practices that cannot bring us peace and at the same time open our minds and hearts to demonic influences. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says "All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading...all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone." (CCC #2116)

The point here is two-fold: First of all, God is a God of hope and so by placing our trust in Him for the future means that we look to the future not with fear, but with hope and expectation. Secondly, God knows our needs and He knows our desires. He also knows what our futures look like and it is His mercy that does not allow us to see everything that is coming. Ultimately through this knowledge and grace, we can stop worrying or planning for the future and live in the present.

Each day is a precious gift from our Lord. Each breath a subtle reminder that He is in control. All we can effect is our next thought, our next word, our next action. Through His grace may they all be in and through His love and His plan for our lives, living in the present, free from the shackles of the past and the worries of the future.

Dear Jesus, please give me the grace to live for You and trust in You today. Free me from the regrets of the past and the worries of the future, that I may be Your instrument in my world in the here and now. Amen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Being before Doing

"Martha had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at His feet listening to Him speak." Luke 10: 39

 It seems to me that everyone I know is too busy. And they all admit it. For young people, being stressed and busy is almost a badge of honor and I have even overheard teens comparing their schedules and activities like two veterans comparing war injuries or a couple five-year-olds comparing scars. The busier we are, the more sympathy we can elicit from people or hold over someones head, or use as an excuse for our shortcomings. School, work, friends, sports, clubs, homework, boyfriends or girlfriends, parents, teachers and siblings all vying for our attention and time. Is all this healthy?

But what if we are busy doing "the Lord's work"? What if we are always at every youth group event, serve at every other Mass, go on mission trips, etc. Can we be too busy if we are doing "good things" for God?

The answer is yes. And the only way to make sure we are doing "God's work" is to make sure that first and foremost we are being "God's". The reality is that anyone can "do" things, even Christian things, but even if we do lots of good things, it doesn't mean we are "being" a disciple. If we put our primary energy into being in relationship with Christ, then He will direct us to the things we are truly to be doing. And we will learn to say "no" sometimes. Even Pope John Paul II warned us about this in his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium) when he wrote: "Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of 'doing for the sake of doing'. We must resist this temptation by trying 'to be' before trying 'to do'". Only then can we be sure that we are doing God's work. And this "being" comes primarily from prayer and reading Scripture daily. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was fond of saying, "If you are too busy to pray, then you're just too busy."

Let's try to take a step back today, at the threshold of a new school year for many, and examine our lives to see if we are "doing with out being".

Dear Jesus, help me to be in an authentic, passionate relationship with You. Help me to know You and to love You. Then direct me how to best love others and serve You and my neighbor. Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Faithfulness and Love of St. Joseph

“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” Matthew 1: 24

You think you’ve got it rough at your house? I know your mom and sister may think they’re perfect, but think about St. Joseph: he lived with Mary and Jesus. His wife was sinless since the moment of her conception and his Son was the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Talk about a situation ripe for an inferiority complex to develop. But St. Joseph was given a special grace as well. He was chosen from all men for all eternity to be the protector of the Holy Family. He is an example of humility. He is an example of faith. So often he is overlooked, but yet he is the patron of the Universal Church. No matter what situation he faced he loved Mary and Jesus.

He stayed faithful to Mary when she was found with child before they were married. He protected the Baby Jesus from the swords of Herod by moving his family to a foreign country. He worked hard every day to put food on the table and to clothe his family. He taught his son to work hard and he loved his wife with gentleness. He didn’t seek the limelight. He wasn’t rich. He didn’t have lots of stuff. He was never even voted “Dad of the Year”.

What can we learn from him? God has a plan for each of us. Most of us won’t get into history books and be known by anyone but our family and close friends. Most of us won’t be famous or win any awards. And most of us won’t be remembered 100 years from now. But we have a part in God’s plan for the world nonetheless. And by doing our daily duty, staying faithful to the Gospel and loving Jesus and Mary, we will be fulfilling that plan. Let’s ask for the intercession of St. Joseph, that we may be blessed with his humility, faithfulness and love.

Dear Jesus, help me to love as St. Joseph loved—with humility, gentleness and purity. Through his intercession, may I always strive to meet the needs of my family and friends. Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Finding Jesus (Not Nemo)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you.” Matthew 7: 7

It’s amazing the lengths that we will go to in order to find something that is important to us that we have lost. As Catholics we may even frequently call upon the intercession of St. Anthony (patron Saint of finding lost things), or in the most desperate situations, St. Jude (patron Saint of hopeless causes). Nothing is immune: keys, wallets, purses, ID’s, money, tissues (especially when your nose is really running), your shoes (right guys!), homework, cell phones, iPods, letters from teachers to parents, or any of a myriad of items that we lose each and every day. We find ourselves in these instances getting angry, worried, or stressed. And we turn our rooms, cars, book bags, lockers, etc into pig sties (if they aren’t already) trying to find the lost item in question. Nothing gets in our way: not pets, not parents, not siblings, not friends. If they aren’t jumping in with both feet to help locate the missing object, then they are just another hurdle to jump over (or knock over) in our quest. We gain tunnel vision and can see nothing but the object of our desire. Like Nemo’s dad--nothing matters but finding what we have lost.

But what if we don’t even realize that we are missing something? What if we are so blinded by the things right in front of us that we can’t see what we really need? And what if this thing is God? Maybe before you went on that retreat—you know the one: where you really gave your life to Christ? Maybe then you didn’t see your need for Jesus. Or maybe now as you read this you realize that you lost Jesus somewhere along the way, as your sins took you quietly and swiftly away from His voice and His grace. Or maybe someone who loves you showed you this blog and the Holy Spirit directed you right to this post so that you could find what your heart has always desired. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Whether you are new in your relationship with Jesus, or old and cold, or the flame is just stirring within you as you read these words—Jesus is calling you. Calling you deeper, more fully into the embrace of His love and His mercy. More deeply into intimacy with Him. To be reconciled with Him, to be in communion with Him.

What are you looking for? Where are you looking? With your whole heart and soul and mind seek Jesus. When you find Him, then you will be able to find yourself. Only then. Until that time your search will never end. As Saint Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless O God, until they rest in You.”

Dear Jesus, help me to find you in my life, and if I already have found you, help me to keep going deeper today. Through Your grace, allow me to be an instrument to point others toward you as well. Amen.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Associates or Disciples?

"And you will say, 'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.' The he will say to you, 'I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers.'" Luke 13: 26-27

So often people want to be associated with Jesus, don't they? Rappers wear gold crucifixes. Religious symbols are everywhere on Lost. Athletes thank Jesus for their victories. "In God We Trust" is all over our money. And the Untied States is one of the most religious countries in the world with the vast majority of people saying they believe in God in poll after poll.

We hear about Jesus in country music, on TV shows and from the pulpits all across America. And don't forget about all the bumper stickers, badges, T-shirts and fish decals. It's all about the fish decals.

Some people even go to Church or Mass on a regular basis and some teens are involved in their youth groups and attend retreats and conferences and rallies--all about Jesus. But when we are confronted with this Gospel passage from Luke and really think about our own lives and our own involvement in the things I've mentioned above, we have to ask ourselves: are we disciples of Jesus, or merely His associates? And it's an important question, because it appears from the passage above that being an associate doesn't cut it.

Think about the associates of Wal-Mart for example: they wear uniforms, they all gather in the same location day after day, they have rituals and even songs and chants. It's almost religious in style. But are they willing to die for Wal-Mart? Do they love Wal-Mart? No. They are associated with it, but that's as far as it goes. They're willing to put some effort into it as long as they are getting a little something back, but that's it. There's no total commitment.

So, where do you stand in your relationship Christ today? Are you a disciple who loves Him with your whole heart, soul and mind? Are you willing to follow Him wherever He leads? Would you die for Him? Or are you content just being associated with Him sometimes?

Jesus gave His entire life for us so that we could be His disciples, not His associates.

Dear Jesus, give me the grace to desire a true relationship with You. Help me to be Your disciple and not merely an associate of Yours. Help me to love You in return for how You love me. Amen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Who's the Fool?

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1: 18

None of us like to look like a fool, do we? We spend lots of time making sure that we are knowledgeable about fashion, politics, sports, the latest celebrity gossip, the biggest movies of the year, the next hit song, the best music video, etc. Why? All so that we can seem to be “in the know”. We are so scared of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are so worried that we will do something stupid and that others will notice and make fun of us or hold it over our heads.

There was a story once in “Dear Anne” about a man who grew-up in the same small town. When he was a teen-ager, he was present when some of his friends set fire to someone’s garage. While he didn’t set the fire, he was guilty by association. This happened when he was 15. He paid his part of the damages and then moved on to college. Eventually he moved back, got married and was raising a family. At the age of 37, he was bemoaning the fact that anytime he met someone, the first thing they said was, “Weren’t you one of those boys that burned down the Jones’ garage?” He was upset and embarrassed that after 22 years, this is the thing that people still thought of when they met him. It seems that sometimes the stupid things we say or do never leave us.

Unfortunately, we get way too caught-up in this way of thinking in our relationship with God. We spend our lives either consumed with fear about what others will think of us if we “really” followed God, or else we are always worried that we are never measuring up to what God expects of us. But both of these attitudes paralyze us. They leave us empty and guilty.

Scripture does tell us that God’s wisdom is foolishness to this world and that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. Is it possible to be a “fool” for Christ without looking foolish? It depends on whose opinion you care about. Mother Teresa was a fool because she spent her life cleaning the wounds of dying lepers. Francis of Assisi was a fool because he gave up his father’s wealth and lived in poverty. Maximilian Kolbe was a fool because he offered his life in place of another condemned prisoner in the starvation bunker at Auschwitz. But each now stands with Jesus in heaven forever. Who’s the fool?

We may be considered fools by those who rule and hold power in this world, but every philosopher, president, dictator, or teacher who ever lived has now died or will die. Philosophies, systems of government, even countries—have come and gone. But Jesus remains. Let’s not fall for the "practical jokes" (sin) of this world that will leave us empty and ultimately dead forever, but let us be fools for the One who will never die and who will sustain us forever in paradise if we only follow Him during this short life.

Dear Jesus, give me the grace to be a fool for you and to see the wisdom that the world does not see. And grant that through my life, others may come to know you as well. Amen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On a Mission for God (Luke 9: 1-6)

“Then they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.” Luke 9: 6

In this Gospel passage, Jesus sends out the twelve apostles to proclaim the Good News and bring salvation and healing to the people. It is also a passage about trusting in God, since He commands them to not take food, or money with them and to eat whatever people give them.

I think sometimes we worry that if God call us to proclaim the Good News, we have to travel far from home, or be a bug-eating missionary in some jungle in Africa. Or maybe we find that kind of adventure glamorous and it appeals to us. But I recently read that Mother Teresa would often tell people who wanted to work with her in Calcutta to find their own “Calcutta’. She said that every part of the world had people who were unloved, unwanted or uncared for. It wasn’t that she didn’t need help in Calcutta, but she knew that there was need in more places in the word than just Calcutta.

What is your mission from God? I don’t know about the future, but perhaps right now you can begin with a simple look around your home, school, parish or community to find the “Calcutta” near you. Love the unloved kid that everyone makes fun of. Cry with the girl who was used by her boyfriend. Help someone in need. Jesus looks for us to be His hands and His feet and the hearts of many can be cured by Him if we will be His messengers.

Dear Jesus, help me to be open today to seeing my world through Your eyes and see the “Calcutta” in my midst. Give me the grace to love the unloved, want the unwanted and care for the uncared for. I want to do any mission You have for me Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Well, here I go--out into the world wide web of blogging. I think a lot of people resist using blogging for evangelization because it seems to blur the lines between narcissism and actually trying to reach people. But I recently felt led in prayer to begin this journey, so I am obeying.

First of all, why the name "Created for Greatness"? I want to write primarily for teens and those working with them. And I wanted something hopeful and positive when faced with a world steeped in cynicism and despair. And I wanted something really Catholic. On my facebook page I have a quote by Pope Benedict XVI where he said to a group of young people "The world can offer you comfort, but you were not created for comfort. You were created for greatness." This is where I got the title and it sums up the entire message I have been giving to teens over the past 18 years of doing youth ministry. It should also be noted that this means not all of the posts will leave the reader (or the writer) comfortable. But I will try to be positive as much as possible.

I hope that this blog will glorify God and edify my younger brothers and sisters and those that work with them. The format will be to post (hopefully daily) brief observations on life, the culture, Scripture, etc with an evangelistic approach. Pope John Paul II called the space between who we are and who we are called to be a "threshold of hope". I pray that these insignificant musings may be an avenue of inspiration and grace for those that read them to help you cross that threshold from day to day.

I'm not posting anything here to get into debates or arguments, but feel free to leave comments.