Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let it Rain

“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; with the lyre celebrate our God, who covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, makes grass sprout on the mountains…” Psalms 147: 7-8

Do you ever notice that people (including you and me) never seem to be content with what we have or with what we are given at a certain time? Let me explain what I mean. When it is hot outside, do you complain about the heat and wish it were cooler? When it is snowing outside do you complain about the cold and wish it were warmer? When it is dry and the vegetation is dying do you complain that we need rain? And when it rains, do you complain that you wish it wasn’t so wet?

If you are like me, you probably do at least some of the time. Why do we do this? Partly because we are selfish and we have listened too much to the culture which preaches that comfort is our highest calling. So when we get uncomfortable, we complain. Sometimes right away and sometimes loudly. We even get angry about it—as if there is anything we can do about the weather or most circumstances in our lives. But another reason is that we are not grateful. So we fail to miss the blessings and focus on the curse. At every moment in life, no matter what is happening to us or around us; no matter what we are going through, good or bad, there is ALWAYS someone in the world who has it better than us and there is ALWAYS someone that has it worse than us. Always.

The problem is that we tend to see the people who have it better than us and fail to see those who have it worse than us. And when we do this we can never be grateful. So when it rains—it spoils our day or our plans, or makes life more difficult for us. When it snows we see only the extra work it will take to get to school or to work. What would happen, I wonder, if in each of the circumstances of life we found ourselves content and grateful? What if we saw the blessings of the rain, or the sunshine, or the snow? And what if we saw the blessings in one another? In those that bother us? In those who are hurting or prideful? In those that hate us?

What if instead of always complaining, we saw God’s hand in all situations and in all circumstances?  Let it rain, Lord. And if it is not enough, so be it. And if it is too much, so be it. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the rain and the sunshine and the situation and circumstance I am in right now. Help me to see Your hand in every moment of my life and to have the grace to be content and grateful. Amen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where Angels Tread

“For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways.” Psalms 91: 11

Today is the Feast of the Archangels: Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. How often do you think about angels? I think many people think about angels only at certain times of the year (like maybe Christmas). And when we do think about angels, what do we envision them to look like? To be like? Perhaps we think of human-like creatures with wings, or bright white lights, or perhaps even ghost-like spirits. Maybe even a few of you thought of Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” or even Michael Landon from “Highway to Heaven”. But what are angels? And why did God create them?

First of all, angels are NOT humans who have died and gone to heaven. Angels are a different species of beings in creation. Animals are bodies without spirits. Humans are bodies and spirits (souls) and angels are pure spirits with no bodies. God created them separately from humans for specific purposes—all of them related to God and us, believe it or not.

Angels are always around the throne of God constantly worshipping Him and giving Him praise. Angels burn with the light of God’s pure love. Angels are sent to guard us, to protect us, to give us messages, to heal us and to fight the Evil One. There are countless references in Scripture of angels from Genesis all the way to Revelation. They serve God and they serve us. But think about it this way: they LOVE us. They seek to bring us to God in this life and they seek to guide us and bring us to Him in the next life. What a gift!

We might not think about angels much because we can’t see them or hear them. But they are always with us, always speaking to us, always trying to guide and protect and help us to hear God’s voice. I have no doubt that when we get to heaven (through God’s grace), that we will come to know countless stories of how angels impacted our lives in ways we never knew or failed to recognize. On this special feast day, let us be thankful for these magnificent beings who constantly serve God and love us. What comfort we should find in the knowledge of their presence with us.

Dear Jesus, thank You for Your angels that you send to guide us, protect us and speak to us. Through Your grace may we always recognize their presence in our lives and have hearts filled with gratitude to You for their help. Amen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Points of Reference

“For lack of guidance a people falls…” Proverbs 11: 14a

Did you know that the Pope cares so much about you, a teen-ager, that He writes and says things specifically for YOU? Did you know that in almost every official papal visit to a country there is an audience with youth as part of it?  Did you know that every year the Holy Father writes a special letter just for you? Well, he does.

And just last month, in preparation for World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain in 2011, he wrote a very powerful—yet easy to read and understand—letter just for young people. If you want to read the whole thing (approximately 6 pages) you can go to the Vatican web site. I’d like to focus on just one or two sentences in the first section. The Holy Father says,
“…it is vital to have roots, a solid foundation! This is particularly true today. Many people have no stable points of reference on which to build their lives, and so they end up deeply insecure. There is a growing mentality of relativism, which holds that everything is equally valid, that truth and absolute points of reference do not exist. But this way of thinking does not lead to true freedom, but rather to instability, confusion and blind conformity to the fads of the moment. As young people, you are entitled to receive from previous generations solid points of reference to help you make choices and on which to build your lives…”.

Isn’t this awesome? How many people your age (or older) are wandering around insecure, confused or simply mindlessly conforming to whatever the latest trends might be? And are these people happy? I’m sure on the outside they try to look like the life of the party, but deep down, they are miserable. When we live our lives without a solid foundation, stable points of reference and guidance from God, then we are not able to see the big picture, we are not able to make sense of life and we certainly can’t be happy and fulfilled. In fact, all we do is spend our lives trying to fill the void with things that will just continue to leave us more and more empty, insecure and confused.

But the Good News is that there is Truth and there are absolute points of reference on which to build our lives. And Jesus has given us the Church to guide us through this life to the next. Our lives have the potential of greatness because we can know our purpose and live it with God’s grace. I know that sometimes during the teen years life can seem overwhelming, confusing and stressful, even with these points of reference, but think of how difficult it would be without them? So each young person reading this that does have these points of reference and this foundation, has an obligation to spread this hope and this surety to your friends. They are counting on you. And so is the Holy Father.

Dear Jesus, thank You for giving me the foundation of Truth, the stability of absolute points of reference and the guidance of Your Church. Please give me the grace to recognize these things in the midst of our secular, relativistic culture, that I may live in this freedom and hope and share it with others. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Battle Against Evil

“For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” Ephesians 6: 12

I’ve noticed that if you are going to live an authentic Catholic Christian lifestyle, if you are going to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, then you are going to be persecuted. And since Jesus was persecuted, why should we expect anything different? Of course, it’s not that we are going out of our way to try to be persecuted, because that would be stupid. But when someone is living according to Christ in a culture that is living predominantly opposed to Christ, there are going be consequences.

And the reality is that Satan (the ruler of our world) is not going to let things get comfortable for us nor let us off easy. The problem is that much of this persecution comes from people we know. Family members, co-workers, people from school. For some reason people that know us (or think they know us), find it easy to question our beliefs, challenge us, criticize us or make fun of us. And many times we get “ganged-up” on as well. We are then tempted to forgo our discipleship for popularity. Let’s face it, it is much easier to go along with everyone else and have everyone like us, then to go against the flow and be persecuted.

But I think the greatest temptation when we are persecuted is not whether to be popular or not. It is the temptation to treat the people who are persecuting us as if they are the enemy. We are tempted to think ill of them, to respond to them in our words without love and to even do sinful things towards them like gossip about them or begin to hate them for what they are doing to us. Is this how Jesus responded when He was persecuted? No!

We have to recognize that the people who may be making fun of us or hurting us are just as broken as we are. And most importantly, they are loved by Jesus just as much as we are. This is so hard to do when our feelings have been hurt, but humility helps to see others as Jesus sees them and to ultimately desire good for them. We are certainly in a battle and the consequences are eternal life or eternal death. But the enemy is not other people, it is Satan. Other people are simply caught in the battle like we are, without being aware. Our duty is to love them into a relationship with Christ, perhaps even through our own sufferings, so that they can one day stand victorious as well in the heavenly Kingdom.

Dear Jesus, help me to love others as You do, especially anyone who has hurt me or made fun of me for being Your follower. Give me the grace to not only bear the persecution with patience, but to desire the greatest good for that person, so that one day they may be in heaven with You forever. Amen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Caught in Suspense

“His people are in suspense about returning to him; and God, though in unison they cry out to him, shall not raise them up.” Hosea 11: 7

All of us sin. All of us turn away from God in a myriad of small and large ways throughout our lifetimes. All of us go through periods of desert wandering, like the Israelites of old, just going in circles, caught in our own lies and pride and stubbornness. But at some point, either sooner or later (and hopefully not too late), we also realize our need to repent; our need to return to God. And the realization that we cannot make it in this life alone, or with our own efforts overwhelms us and like the Prodigal Son sitting in the pig sty, we realize there is more to this life that what we have and where we are at and we want it.

But do we really want it? Do we truly and completely desire with our whole hearts to return to God. Or do we sometimes go to confession thinking that we’ll just be committing the same sin within a day or two. Or worse off, do we only repent so as to somehow make sure our souls are covered in case we die, but deep down (or maybe even close to the surface) we still desire the sin we have just confessed? And so our lives become this pattern of grace and sin, a never-ending roller coaster of spiritual ups and downs. Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be more than this?

Yes! However, I think the problem is that sometimes we know what we want, but are hesitant to go for it. We are caught in the suspense of whether or not to turn back to God, or to give Him our whole lives, our futures, our desires, our dreams, etc. We stand at the door with one foot in the Kingdom, while looking back at what we are leaving or giving up. And we’re not sure if we want to go all the way. Fear is the cause of this suspense, this waffling, this straddling of the spiritual fence.

But when we stay caught in this suspense, we limit the power of God in our lives. We at one and the same desire to live for Christ, yet desire to live the way everyone else is. We think it is too hard to follow Him and be different. But listen to the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his first homily as pope when he addressed young people “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

Today let’s stop living in suspense and give ourselves fully to God by returning to Him completely and without reservation.

Dear Jesus, I hate being caught between living fully for You or living like everyone else. Please give me the grace to stop living suspended between these two realities by giving me the grace to open myself fully to Your mercy and love, desiring nothing but You. Amen.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crossing the Threshold of Hope

“For this we toil and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4: 10

I think that all of us can recognize that we can be better than what we are right now. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not talking about the unattainable standards of the world to be more talented, more skinny, more popular or more savvy. If we hold to the secular standards of this world, there is no higher call to perfection than to have lots of friends, money and material possessions and to do whatever you want whenever you want. But we know this is a system designed for failure, a system with no hope; because if our goal is to be “skinny enough” we’ll always see ourselves as fat. If our goal is to be popular, there will always be someone who doesn’t like us. If our goal is to be more talented, there will always be someone better than us. We will never match-up.

Just today I saw a short video on the Guinness Book of World Records and the guy they were interviewing said that he thinks the book is still so popular because people want to know they are special and talented and can do something that no one else can do. Perhaps this is true, but what if a year from now someone else builds a bigger giant whoopi pie than you and you can never beat them? Are you somehow less special?

What I am referring to is the call, as Christians, to be all that God created us to be. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that we are called to be “perfect” as God the Father is perfect. Perfect in what way? Saying the rosary the best (not too fast, not too slow)? Being on time for Mass every Sunday? Going to confession every day? Fasting better than everyone else? Of course not. He is calling us to the perfection of LOVE. And can’t all of us do better in this regard? I know I could be more kind at times; more patient. I could sacrifice a little bit more, whether it be that dessert, or spending more time with my kids. I know God loves me just the way I am, with all my imperfections and brokenness, but He is not satisfied with the way I think, talk or act all the time. And His challenge to be better than what I am at certain moments is not for His sake, but for mine.

The problem is that we can allow Satan to corrupt this desire we have for being all that God is calling us to be into something like trying to live to the world’s standards. We can become scrupulous and get bogged down in our failures. But Pope John Paul the Great called this “threshold” between who we are and who we are called to be, a threshold of hope. How can this be? Because for one thing, God’s love for us is not dependent on whether we succeed or not; and secondly, because with His grace, all things are possible. By asking God for His grace and then cooperating with it, we can be who God created us to be. And this should fill us with hope, not despair. May we always strive to be perfect in love.

Dear Jesus, I desire to be perfectly loving as You are. Give me the grace to become who You created me to be. Never let me be satisfied with where I am at, while at the same time, never let me get bogged down in my failures. Amen.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Savior…and Lord?

“For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1: 16

I think most people like the idea of Jesus as “Savior”. For those who are faithful, passionate followers of Jesus, we understand that we cannot save ourselves. We know that without the sacrifice of Calvary, we would be lost to hell for all eternity due to our own sinfulness. We understand that it was only Jesus, as God’s Son, who could ransom us and bridge the great divide between God and humanity. And we fall upon His mercy and His grace time and again as we our confronted with our weakness and brokenness.

I think most nominal Christians also like to accept—or at least acknowledge—Jesus as “Savior” from time to time. Perhaps it is easy to ignore Christ in our day-to-day lives, but what about when the rug is pulled out from underneath our little lives? What about when life throws us a curveball we weren’t expecting? Like when someone dies, or gets laid off? Or when someone becomes ill or infirmed in some way? What happens when we are scared or confronted with a situation bigger than our abilities? I think in those moments, people are ready and willing to call out for Jesus to save them; as the saying goes: “there are no atheists in foxholes”. In fact, right after 9/11 lots of people were calling out to God, many people went to prayer services at churches and weekly church attendance actually went up. But how long did all that last? About as long as the little flags on the car windows lasted. Why?

It is fairly easy to acknowledge Jesus as our Savior—if only in times of crisis. But it is altogether different to acknowledge Him as Lord, isn’t it? To acknowledge Him as Lord means we place ourselves under His authority. It means we will obey Him. It means that we give up control over our own lives, desires, dreams and futures. We have a hard time with this, especially in America, because we are used to democracy. We view authority as stifling to our freedom. But this is the great paradox of Jesus—it is in surrendering ourselves to His Lordship, that we finally gain true freedom.

Jesus is not a giant spiritual PEZ dispenser up in the sky. He is not like a little puppy we try to train and domesticate for our own needs. He is not only our Savior, but He is the LORD of all heaven and earth! And it is precisely because He is LORD that makes His saving sacrifice so powerful. We need to not only acknowledge Jesus as our Savior, but also as our Lord. Easier said than done sometimes, but necessary nonetheless.

Dear Jesus, I place myself under Your authority today. I acknowledge You as my Savior, but also as my Lord. Through Your grace, may I come to trust You with my whole life. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Divided Hearts

“No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Luke 16: 13

All of us are followers. We’re all going to follow someone or something in life. We were created to follow; created to follow God. But we have a choice. God is not going to make us follow Him. He wants us to freely choose Him, but then once we do, He wants us to follow Him completely. He doesn’t want us to give lip service to discipleship, but in reality serve another. Jesus is not looking for people who are willing to spread their loyalties around. He is looking for authentic, 100% sold out, committed followers who are willing to try to love Him as much as He loved us first.

We can certainly choose not to follow Jesus. I have encountered many such people. And sometimes they were once people of faith. Once they were followers of Jesus. But now they would tell you they “think for themselves” or that they “are free to do what they want”. But the reality is that they are still followers. They are just following someone or something other than Jesus at this point.

So we have to ask ourselves two questions: 1) Who am I going to serve? Jesus or the world? And 2) If our answer is Jesus, then am I doing it with my whole heart? These questions are so important to our life as disciples. Think about it this way: the heart beating right now inside your chest is whole. Four chambers, working together, in rhythm, with one goal and purpose. But let’s say your heart was split in two. What would happen? You’d be dead. In the same way, if our desires are not completely unified with God’s desires, then our heart is split and we are spiritually dead. Of course this is hard because there is so much competing for our hearts: money, fame, popularity, sex, attention, beauty, prestige, accomplishment, etc. And then Jesus comes calling us to simplicity, humility…smallness; to be like little children. And yet, as young people, so often all you want to do is grow-up.

But what do we get when we follow after the things of this world? At best we have disappointment or dissatisfaction and at worst we have emptiness and despair. Doesn’t it make more sense to follow after the one who made our hearts and our desires and ordered them in such a fashion as to desire Him? As St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless O Lord, until they rest in Thee.” May we seek after Jesus, find Him and then give Him our whole, undivided hearts, with all their imperfections, wounds and restlessness that we may be at peace.

Dear Jesus, give me the grace to follow You every day with my whole heart. I want to follow You. Amen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Be Careful What You Ask For (You Just Might Get It)

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

In my experience, most teens (and even some adults) have a hard time knowing the difference between what they WANT and what they NEED. I think the threshold between spiritual immaturity and spiritual maturity is crossed once we begin to know this difference and act accordingly. Why is this important?

First of all, I think it impacts in a huge way the kind of prayers we pray. I think we spend a lot of time asking God for want we want rather than what we need. And I think we don’t spend enough time listening to Him tell US what it is we need. You see, God can see the big picture. He sees and knows the entire plan—and all we can see is the next step to take. So, what if the thing we are asking for is not what we need the most. What if instead of helping us to be free and happy, it brings us stress and suffering. Would God allow this?

I think sometimes (perhaps many times) He says “no” to these requests. Perhaps this is why so many people feel that God does not hear or answer their prayers—because they were only looking and listening for a “yes”. They don’t even consider the possibility that God can say “no” or even “not yet”. So in one sense it is a risk for God to say no to these prayers, because we might end up rejecting Him or thinking He doesn’t care or is too busy for us even though none of that is true.

But what happens when He says “yes” even though it might not be the thing we really need. Does this happen? Just ask the Israelites of the Old Testament. They clamored for a king. They thought what they needed more than anything was to be a kingdom—to be credible and legitimate as a nation and as a people. They were not satisfied with having God alone as their king. So God granted them their request and it didn’t always turn out so good for them, did it? Some of the kings were good, but many were not. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

So be careful what you ask for. Rather than spend so much time in prayer begging God for that new cell phone, or for that girl or guy to notice you, or to get into that college you really want to attend, why not ask Him to simply give you whatever you need most and then be satisfied. This approach to prayer requires patience and lots of trust, but it is so much more freeing than to constantly be looking at what we want. Perhaps if God were to say “yes” to all of your prayers, you’d be miserable and eventually turn from Him. May we always strive to know the difference between what we WANT and what we NEED, then ask God based on that knowledge and be satisfied whatever His answer might be.

Dear Jesus, help me to know the difference between what I want and what I need. Give me the grace to trust You and Your plan for my life. Help me to be patient when waiting for Your answers to my prayers. Amen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Lady of Sorrows

“…and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’" Luke 2: 34-35

Today we recognize the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. It is fitting that this feast is the day after the Exultation of the Holy Cross. I think at first glance we can all understand why Mary was sorrowful. She had just witnessed the arrest, torture, unfair condemnation and horrible execution of her only Son on the cross. What mother wouldn’t be sad after enduring all of this pain? Right from the beginning, Simeon the prophet had even warned her that she would have to undergo suffering when he told her that she would be pierced by a sword. He of course meant her heart and the sorrow of watching her Son die.

But now that all of that is over and Jesus has risen and ascended into heaven waiting to return in glory, why would Mary still be sorrowful? Shouldn’t she be happy now? Of course she is filled with the joy of heaven and the Beatific Vision of everlasting life with the Trinity. However, Mary’s role in salvation history has ALWAYS been to bring us to Jesus. The very reason she said “yes” to the angel Gabriel was so that she could bring the Savior to us and us to the Savior. No one knows the joy of relationship with Jesus more than Mary. She has the most intimate of intimate relationships with Him. And she desires us to have this relationship with Him as well. She knows what our hearts desire. She knows better than anyone that Jesus is the answer to all of our needs, our hopes, our dreams and our longings. And she watched us kill Him 2,000 years ago. And she watches us ignore Him, disobey Him and mock Him even today through our busy and sinful lives.

Her heart is still sorrowful for us. She sees so many people turning away from Christ her Son and instead settling for the things of this world—choosing things that are passing over the eternal. In Mary’s apparition at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, one of the things she said to the shepherd children was, “If men only knew how long eternity was, they would do everything in their power to change their ways.” She cries for us, she prays for us, she pleads with us to turn to her Son and to do whatever He tells us (John 2: 5). Like any good mother, she wants what is best for us. She wants us in heaven, to live in eternal bliss with the Blessed Trinity. May we strive each day to lessen her sorrow by following Jesus more authentically and passionately.

Dear Jesus, thank you for giving Your mother Mary to me as my mother as well. Please give me the grace to follow You each day and to lessen her sorrow by loving You and bringing others to You as she does. Amen.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Triumph of the Cross

“For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12: 2b

Today in the Catholic Church we celebrate the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. I have heard of people (both within the Church and outside of it) who are confused by this focus on the cross of Christ. Why focus on His death when we can focus on His resurrection and the victory over death that came at that moment?

Let’s first realize that before the death of Jesus on the cross the majority of people crucified by the Romans were criminals. The cross was an instrument of torture and death, but also an instrument of shame. When the Romans crucified someone, not only did they want it to be as painful as possible, but they also wanted to strip the condemned of their dignity at the same time.  And yet Jesus allowed Himself to be offered in such a fashion for you and me. Why?

I think we all face “crosses” of one kind or another each day. It might be a family member we have trouble getting along with, or a friend who betrays us. It could be a sickness or injury, loss of work, bad grades, or something like the water in your well running dry so you can’t flush the toilet or do the laundry. Or maybe someone you love has died or is dying right at this very moment. Sometimes these crosses are caused by others, sometimes they are caused by our own sin, and sometimes they are just a consequence of living in a broken, fallen world. Obviously some crosses are bigger than others, but at the moment we have to carry them, they all seem heavy to some degree.

However, the reality is that the God we love and serve went before us and He carried His own cross. And the weight of His cross was the sins of every human ever created, from Adam and Eve’s Original Sin down to the sins you and I have committed today. And I think we learn a couple things from this: 1) Jesus loves us more than we could ever fathom. Only Christianity worships a God who sacrificed Himself so that we could be with Him and 2) He knows EXACTLY what it feels like to carry a cross. This means that no matter what cross you are carrying right now, Jesus is with you and He is helping you. You are not alone. The triumph of the cross most certainly lies in the fact that Jesus conquered death forever, but it also shows us that our crosses can have meaning and triumph in our lives and the lives of others as well. By uniting our suffering with the suffering of Jesus, we turn our shame into triumph, just as Jesus did. May we never grow weary in carrying our crosses.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the cross I may be carrying today. Help me to unite my suffering with Yours to join in the salvation of the world. Give me the grace to see the joy that lies at end of the cross and to follow You each and every day. Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010


“What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? “ Mark 8: 36

The basic question today comes down to: what are you living for? It seems that many people are living for the moment and the amount of stuff they can acquire. Work is not about getting the things we need in life as much as it is about getting the things we WANT in life. As a culture, we seem to be stuck in a rut of materialism. We somehow think that if we just had that one more thing (iPhone, lap top, kindle, car, iPod, etc) then we would be really satisfied. But is this true? If what we are living for is the next best thing, then can we ever truly be satisfied? Because there are always new things being invented, manufactured and marketed. When will we ever have it all?

I see this particularly with some teens. When we are young it is harder to look into the future. Everything in the adult world seems so far away. It is easier to live for the here and now. And it is easy to blow things out of proportion. Like that zit on your nose. It’s not really going to kill you, is it? Or the girl who said no to your invitation to prom? The sun will still rise tomorrow. Or the new technological gadget you want. Are you really going to be social misfit and flunk out of high school if your parents don’t buy it for you right NOW? Of course not; but it can feel that way sometimes.

We seem to always be stuck on wanting more while at the same time never content with what we have. More than anything this fosters greed and ingratitude. And if our hearts and minds are greedy and unthankful, then we are going to have a hard time being happy in this world and together with Christ in the next.

The solution here is eternal vision. This means we keep our eyes fixed on Christ and the goal of heaven. It does NOT mean we ignore the here and now, nor stop working for a better tomorrow. But it helps us to put everything in proper perspective and to prioritize the importance of things each day. It helps us to have gratitude for what we have while at the same time, helping us to put first things first. Nothing in this life is more important than us getting to heaven. Nothing. And in the end, when we stand before the Lord for judgment, no amount of material goods will prove our worthiness for eternal life. It will not matter whether we had two dimes to rub together or not. It will only matter if we followed the Lord and loved as He loved. And whether or not we have chosen heaven or hell by the way we have lived our lives on this earth, at that moment, we will know what truly mattered and what didn’t. It isn’t Best Buy that is going to fulfill us my friends; it is a relationship with Jesus. Even the good things of this world are temporary. And you and I were made for eternal. Let’s live keeping this in mind.

Dear Jesus, help me to keep my eyes fixed on You and give me eternal vision. Give me the grace to be content with what I have and to not place my hopes or desires on anything of this world. Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trusting Jesus

“Many shall look on in awe and they shall trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40: 4b

I believe that all of us were created to trust. I think trusting is natural. If this weren’t true, then how come when someone has a hard time trusting we say they have a “trust issue”? In fact, I think as we go about our days we trust all day long without even being conscious of it. For example: we drive over bridges all the time. And while some of you might have trust issues with large, high or long bridges, most people don’t even think about it when they drive over most bridges. You just simply trust that whoever designed and built the bridge did their job properly so you won’t go plunging into a river at 60 miles per hour (which might put a damper on your day). Or think about the building you are in right now: school, home, a library, etc? How many of you reading this have been sitting around worried about the roof caving in on you? Probably not many. You have simply trusted that those who designed and built the building you are in did their job properly and that you will be safe.

The problem is that we develop trust issues in two ways:
1. People we should be able trust betray our trust. People like parents, teachers, coaches or even clergy.
2. We put too much trust in people who have no more wisdom, knowledge, experience or perspective then we do and we get burned. This is particularly true for young people.

I know many of you reading this have trust issues. I know many of you have been hurt deeply by others. I know there are even some of you who don’t trust anyone, including yourself. And you feel all alone. And you feel overlooked. You might feel little or unloved.

So I want you to picture Jesus on the cross. I want you to see His blood, His pain, His tears. And then ask yourself: who would do this for you? Think about it all: Jesus was betrayed in the garden by one of his best friends. He was beaten and chained. He was whipped until his back was shredded. He was crowned with a helmet of razor-sharp thorns. He was forced to carry a splintery, heavy crossbeam through a gauntlet of angry people up a hill to his place of execution. Once there he was stripped naked, ripping open His wounds. He was thrown down on the ground and nailed to the cross beam through both wrists. He was hoisted up and then had both feet nailed together to the cross. He hung on that cross for three hours, pushing and pulling on the nails in His wrists and feet to get His body up high enough to take each breath. And then, right before He died, He forgave everyone who killed Him (including you and me). Who do you know that would do this for you? The reality is that I don’t know anyone that would do all that for me. But Jesus already did. And we can trust in this kind of love.

So the next time you are feeling alone, or little or overlooked, simply pick up a crucifix and look into the face of love and know that you are loved. And we can ALWAYS trust in Jesus. He already proved it in the way He loved us and continues to love us.

Jesus I trust in You. Amen.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Abusive Relationships

“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” John 10: 10

We’ve all seen it on TV: Dads who curse at and belittle their sons. Mothers who beat their daughters. Parents paralyzed with fear, controlled by their own children. Boys so riddled with jealousy that they treat their girlfriends worse than their dogs. Girls so obsessed with having what they want that they manipulate their boyfriends into nothing more than an accessory to their wardrobe. Or maybe we see it everyday in our own lives?

Take stock of your own relationships. Do the people you spend your time with love you, or use you? Or worse—abuse you? Do you have to change who you are to meet their expectations? Do you have to pretend to be something you aren’t in order to gain their love and acceptance? Do they instill joy or fear into your heart and mind?

Jesus came to bring us freedom. Freedom is found in love. Not lust, or manipulation. Not in belittling or disrespecting. Not in jealousy or envy. Not in anger or violence. Freedom to love and to be loved in return—this is what Jesus wants for you and me. And it isn’t a dream or the musical notes of a Pied Piper. It is Truth.

Dear Jesus, help me to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships. Give me the grace to get help if I am in a hurtful or abusive relationship of any kind. Allow me to love myself as You love me so that I can live life abundantly as You intended. Amen.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Little Bits of Heaven

“See, upon the mountain there advances the bearer of good news, announcing peace!” Nahum 2: 1a

There is an American priest from Philadelphia who has been working in the slums of Haiti since 1996. His name is Fr. Tom Hagen. I had the privilege of hearing Fr. Tom speak at St. Patrick Parish in Malvern, PA on Sunday, June 20, 2010. In his homily, he kept saying that we all have the ability to be a little bit of heaven or a little bit of hell to each person we come into contact with each day. Let’s reflect on this a bit more today.

Obviously we are called to be little bits of HEAVEN. So what does this mean? How does this play out in the “real world”? I think it is pretty simply. We live each day with purpose and resolve that everyone who leaves our presence will be filled with the Good News of Christ. For some it will be our smile. Perhaps for another it will be our encouraging words. For a young person it might mean cleaning your room or doing another chore promptly when asked by your parent (or even without being asked). It might mean letting someone in during traffic, or lifting the spirits of a cashier while getting your groceries. It certainly means treating others with kindness, no matter how they treat you. And in most instances, I think it means to heed the words of St. Francis to “preach the Gospel boldly, using words only when necessary.”

And how can we be little bits of hell to others? We already know this in our hearts: belittling others, gossiping, being unkind, being arrogant and impatient and overlooking people. We also do it by trampling on someone else’s dignity, yelling at them or even thinking others are stupid. The sad reality is that our world has even influenced Christians to be cynical and uncompassionate. When we treat others without the love God has for them, then we bring a little bit of hell into the world.

A little bit of heaven. A little bit of hell. Which will you be today?

Dear Jesus, please help me to love as You love. Help me to have the grace to spread the Good News and be a little bit of heaven to everyone I encounter today. Amen.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thermometers or Thermostats?

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3: 15-16

Do you have a thermometer at your house? Not the kind you stick under tongues or armpits (or in other places), but the kind that attaches to the outside of your window or hooks to a post on a porch? I know my other-in-law loves them. Despite the fact that she watches the news, reads the paper and can tune-in to the Weather Channel at any time, she still wants to be able to look outside her window or door and see for herself whether it is hot or cold outside.

How does a thermometer work? Basically the mercury in the bottom rises or falls based on the air temperature around it and it simply reflects its surroundings. Or in other words, it changes based on what is going on around it.

By contrast I’m sure you have a thermostat in your house as well. It might be digital now and not the old fashioned turn dial kind (although I have both in my house) but they both do the same thing. How does it work? Basically, the thermostat has a thermometer inside to gauge the air temperature around it, but in addition, it also works to change the air temperature when it goes above or below an acceptable level. In other words, a thermostat actually affects change to its surroundings.

How does this apply to our spiritual lives? Well, all of us live in a culture. Culture is made up of the arts, movies, entertainment, music, newspapers, advertising, etc. And Pope John Paul II once said that culture is the most powerful thing on earth—not economics, not politics, not armies, but culture. And the reality we must face is that our culture is not Christian any longer. It may not be as bad in America as in Europe, but each day our culture becomes more and more secular and anti-Christian. So as a Christian living in a secular, often hostile culture, which are you: a thermometer who is influenced by our culture and who reflects our culture to others, or a thermostat who seeks to change our culture?

All of us are called in our own specific ways to be agents of change in our culture today. For too long we have allowed those in power to tell us that we can have the freedom to practice our religion as long as it is stays in our homes and our Churches. We have remained lukewarm about too many things. So how do we become thermostats in our culture instead of thermometers? First of all we pray for the grace. The thermostat doesn’t change the air temperature with its own power, but with the power of the furnace. God’s grace is the power. Secondly, we love. Love God and love our neighbors. Third, we do our daily duties with joy and for the glory of God and not ourselves. In other words, we authentically and passionately follow Jesus, not just at youth group or with our families, but at school, at work, with our friends, playing sports, etc. God has given all of us gifts and talents. Let’s use them to change our culture. It’s not about being in someone’s face with our beliefs, but about getting into their heart. One person at a time—each day. And we will be thermostats of positive change in our culture.

Dear Jesus, give me the grace to be a thermostat in our culture today. Help me to be more than just a reflection of my surroundings, but an agent of change that through Your grace and my efforts, I may help build a culture of life and a civilization of love in our world. Amen.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” John 15: 10-11

Aren’t you sick and tired of going to Mass and seeing nothing but sour, unhappy faces? While not everyone is like this, unfortunately it sometimes seems like people would rather be anywhere then Church on Sunday morning. Where is the joy that should be evidence of our relationship with Jesus? Admittedly, there are plenty of times and circumstances in life where we don’t feel very happy. Maybe you’re going through one of them right now. People get divorced. People dump us. People fight. People die. People move. People get sick. How do we maintain joy even in the midst of trials and suffering? Even when he was in prison, St. Paul was filled with such joy that he would sing songs of praise to Jesus. Don’t you want that kind of joy?

The book of Galatians promises us that if we are living according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh, that we will bear fruit. In other words, our life in Christ will be evident to us and to others. This joy is possible because it is not based on feelings or circumstances, but on the Person of Christ and upon the Holy Spirit that He sent to us. When we live the life of the Spirit we see things differently. We see with eternal vision. We are able to put all things into perspective: both the good and the bad. And this ability is what enables us to have joy in our hearts and on our lips even in the most troubling of times and even when we feel sad. Let’s pray that today we may be so filled with the Holy Spirit that we may never lose the joy of Christ no matter what life throws at us.

Dear Jesus, no matter what life throws at me, I want my heart to be filled with Your joy. Please give me the grace to base my hope in You and not in the things or activities of this world that so often leave me wanting or empty. Amen.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

“Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. “ 1 Corinthians 12: 31

OK, let’s admit it: we all love to receive gifts don’t we? Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations—even Halloween has become a time to give gifts—as if all the candy wasn’t enough? But have you ever received a gift that you never used? Like that bright fuscia-colored, hand-knitted sweater from Aunt Ida with the first letter of your name monogrammed front and center? Or the crocheted wall art of your grandmother’s poodle (we actually got this one year for Christmas)? After politely smiling and saying “thank you” you either put it in a closet and never take it out (moths need nourishment don’t they?) or drop it off at the Salvation Army thrift store (and hope your relative doesn’t shop there). But what if you got a really cool gift but never learned how to use it? At Baptism and again at Confirmation God gives us the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. But these gifts aren’t like Aunt Ida’s sweater or grandma’s poodle art. Often we don’t use them because we don’t know what they are or how they are supposed to help us.

In paragraph 1830, the Catechism teaches us that the Gifts of the Spirit sustain our moral life. This means that they specifically enable us to live the life of holiness that God is calling each of us to. Don’t you think we owe it to ourselves to learn as much as possible about these awesome gifts we’ve been given so that they don’t wind up in the “closet” of our souls? I don’t know about you, but when God asks me for an accounting of what I’ve done with the gifts He’s given me, I don’t want to have to take Him to the Salvation Army thrift store to find them.

Dear Jesus, help me to recognize the power of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in my life. Help me to cooperate with the grace they are to me, that I may live for You each day. Amen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

“Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another.” Romans 14: 19


At this point in our culture not much more than a buzz word on the TV news. Something perhaps still hoped for but considered unattainable. Jews vs. Palestinians. Catholics vs. Protestants. Republicans vs. Democrats. Terrorists vs. Everyone. Kids shooting other kids at school, murders in our cities, violence, rape, muggings, hurtful words, bullying. The lack of peace doesn’t seem to end and it seems to begin at a hundred different points.

But is this even the peace that Jesus was speaking of? Or was He speaking of something deeper and more intimate? Perhaps the most difficult, but important place to find peace is in our own hearts? We can’t give what we don’t have. If we are to ever experience peace in the world, then we each have to begin to experience peace in our own hearts first.

And where does this peace come from? Certainly not from our own efforts. Not from acquiring as much stuff and money as possible. Not in being as safe as possible. No, it can only come from a deep, intimate and abiding relationship with Jesus. And only when we have this will we be capable of bringing peace to others. Only with His peace in our hearts will we be able to build others up and be instruments of this peace in our world.

How do we accomplish this? Prayer. Conversation with God. Talking and listening and spending time with Him. The more we do this the more we will become stable, peaceful islands of hope in our chaotic and violent world.

Dear Jesus, please help me to know You and to abide in Your love and peace so that I may become an instrument of Your peace in the world. Amen.