Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cross Training

“For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age…” Titus 2: 11-12

Recently I went to an aquarium. It was pretty cool to see all the different kinds of fish and other sea creatures. But what was really cool was the dolphin show. A dolphin show at an aquarium is much different than at an amusement park, because at an aquarium, they use the show not just to show all the tricks the dolphins have learned, but also to teach all the humans in attendance about dolphins and the oceans and how we can contribute to the health or decline of the seas and these majestic creatures. The dolphins are fed very good food and they are treated with respect and are mainly used for research. And other than the fact that they are being held in captivity, they are pretty well-off as far as prisoners go.

What I found most interesting is how they train the dolphins though. It normally takes anywhere from 2-4 years before a dolphin is full trained. And the same 2-3 trainers work with each dolphin everyday during that time. And they use positive reinforcement to get the dolphins to “remember” what they are supposed to do. So eventually, after years of training, all the trainer has to do is blow a high pitched whistle and either make a hand motion or slap the water and the dolphin will immediately do whatever it is they are supposed to do in order to get a fish to eat. The dolphins were able to swim upside down, wave their fins, “talk”, jump and even do flips underwater all by command. It was pretty remarkable.

And so I was thinking about the patience it must take to be a dolphin trainer. They must see a lot of failure before they begin to see results. Then I was thinking about how we expect so much of ourselves in our spiritual life and how frustrated we get when we fail. But I think our God is patient with us because He loves us. Obviously we are more than dolphins and God is not trying to train us to simply do His commands on cue like dolphins in a show. But in many ways progress in our spiritual lives resembles the dedication, repetition and patience that it takes to train a dolphin.

First of all, we often need to initially be taken out of the culture of our world and be surrounded by people and circumstances that will help get us to heaven. Secondly, we need people to walk with us and teach us who are more mature in the Faith to help us along the way. People like holy priests, our bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and the Saints all come to mind. But it might even be people like our parents, Confirmation sponsors, catechists or youth ministers, too. Then we need to immerse ourselves in prayer and the Scriptures every day. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and trust in God that He is leading us to Himself deeper and deeper each day. Finally, we need to be patient with ourselves, as God is, when we fail or when we do not make as much progress as we hope.

God wants us to be happy. We are not His prisoners, forced into captivity to be researched and trained for the entertainment and education of others. We are created in the image and likeness of our Lord and He wants to train us in His ways so we can be like Him and we can find fulfillment and peace. But we have to allow Him to lead us and mold us and be patient and humble throughout the process. Ultimately, His training leads us to the cross and from there to resurrection and new life.

Dear Jesus, I want to be trained by You. I want to be everything You know I can be. Please grant me patience when I fail or do not achieve as much as I would like in my spiritual growth. Amen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

God With Us

“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

Let’s really think about this for a minute: God, who is infinite and perfect and who is complete Love within the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit; God who does not need anything to fulfill Him, decided to create us in order to share His love with us. That’s it. He simply wanted to create us so that we could know and experience the joy and peace and love He experiences. And what did we do? We rejected it from the very beginning. Adam and Eve began the distrust of God in the Garden of Eden, and we have continued to trust ourselves more than God all the way down to the present. And yet God still loves us. And the bond that was broken by that Original Sin was so great that God could’ve stopped there and said, “What was I thinking?” and He could’ve just let the human race kill itself out or He could’ve stopped thinking about us for a moment and we would’ve vanished from existence. God could’ve just kept going on like He has for infinity and never bothered with us again.

But instead, He decided to redeem us and heal the broken covenant in the only way that He could: to humble Himself, take on our humanity and then allow Himself to be killed by the very creatures He had created in the first place. And so during this Christmas Season, we remember that day 2,000 years ago, when our God loved us enough to become one of us in order to save us from ourselves.

He did not come with power or with might (although the angels were probably pretty impressive for the few shepherds that saw them). He was not born into luxury. He did not even have a clean, comfortable little bed to sleep in. The God of the universe came to us amidst filth and horse manure and He slept in a trough meant for the food of animals.

Is this why Lucifer chose himself over God? Because God would humble Himself like this for us? Is this why so many people have a hard time really accepting Jesus as their Savior? Because He didn’t come and destroy all the wickedness with His might? Because He came in such poverty when we crave so much power?

And yet, does not our God relate to us at every moment of our lives? Doesn’t He weep with us and laugh with us? Doesn’t He know our temptations and weaknesses? Hasn’t He done EVERYTHING to show us His love? And we still do not trust Him? This Christmas Season, may we come to really understand what is means to have God “with us”.

Dear Jesus, thank you for loving me enough to become like me in all things but sin, so that I could learn to trust You and Your great love for me. By Your grace may I become more like You. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hurt So Good

“They disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share in his holiness.” Hebrews 12: 10

Many non-believers, and even some faithful, have a hard time rectifying the concept of a God who loves us with all the suffering they see about them in our world. Or perhaps we can accept it until we have to undergo some kind of trial of our own and then we wonder where God is at. It is hard for us to understand that while God does not WILL suffering, that He sometimes allows it or uses it for our ultimate good. And that He promises to bring good out of all suffering.

So why does God not stop all suffering? How come the almighty and all-powerful Lord does not intervene in the world of men and prevent suffering before it occurs, instead of just bringing good from it? Doesn’t it make more sense to not suffer? Some people would argue that there can never be good from suffering. And some Christians would even say that suffering is a direct result of one not being faithful enough to God, as if He were some kind of puppet or vending machine that has to do what we want if we pull the right strings or put in the right amount of change. But is there never a time when suffering is necessary for us to achieve a greater good? I believe there is.

Recently a woman I know told me how her 2 year old was diagnosed with diabetes. The poor little guy has to get 8-10 finger pricks per day to test his blood sugar level and he has to get an insulin shot about 4 times per day. The most painful thing for the mother to go through is that her little son does not understand why she has to hurt him all these times each day. In fact, she told me how it breaks her heart that as she gets ready to do the test or give the shot he begs her not to and promises to be a good boy so she doesn’t keep hurting him. In his small, limited mind, he thinks she is hurting him to punish him. And yet we all know that it is LOVE that compels her to keep pricking him every day. We know that without those finger pricks and insulin shots, he would get very sick and even die. And we don’t think God might have to allow the same for us sometimes?

What if we were heading down a path that led to spiritual sickness or eternal death and God in His mercy, allowed something painful to happen in our lives to wake us up or to help us become more dependent on Him? What if it was only through some kind of suffering that our souls would be saved from hell? I have stood in front of a group of parents and asked them if they HAD to choose, would they rather their child suffer and die from cancer at 10 years old and go to heaven forever, or live in perfect health until 100 but go to hell forever and EVERY one said that in this situation they would rather have their child go to heaven than go to hell.

Like the little child in the story above, we often times see with a limited mind and vision about what is happening to us. But God sees the big picture and He is asking us to place all of our trust in Him, even when He does not prevent or remove suffering from our lives. He wants us to trust that even then, He loves us and that He is going to bring good out of our pain. We may not see it or realize it while on this earth, but we will SEE it someday.

Jesus I trust in You. Amen

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation…” 2 Corinthians 5: 17-18

What does it mean to be reconciled?

It means a complete restoration of the relationship we had with someone before the hurt or sin took place. It means that things have been put back to their original state. It means that we can move forward and not hold onto grudges or use the past to emotionally beat someone up. It goes beyond merely forgiving someone and then avoiding them, but letting go of the pain and seeing that person as you once did.

I think that depending on the circumstances, sometimes this is possible in our relationships and sometimes it isn’t. We have all been hurt. But when we are hurt we need to decide if the person who hurt us is being like St. Peter or like Judas Iscariot. St. Peter denied Jesus three times, but he was acting out of weakness and he was sorry for what he had done. Judas betrayed Jesus and was unrepentant, ultimately choosing suicide over reconciliation. After Jesus rose from the dead, He and St. Peter were reconciled on the shore of Galilee as St. Peter declared his love for Christ three times.

Some people hurt us and they are not repentant and they were malicious and they had intent to hurt us and it might be the best thing to forgive them and keep our distance. But others can hurt us because they were too tired or hungry; maybe they got up on the wrong side of the bed, or they are in pain themselves. It doesn’t mean what they did was not wrong. It doesn’t justify what they did. And it doesn’t mean that what they did was not hurtful. But it means that their intent was thoughtless or done out of weakness and that reconciliation is more possible. But are we willing to restore this relationship?

I think as people of faith, we have an obligation to reconcile when possible. Why? Because this is how God deals with us. God does not simply forgive us and then move on and away from us when we have sinned and repented. He does not keep His distance from us, as if somehow we were tainted. No, in fact He loves us so much that He continues to draw us near to Him, even after we have sinned, even before we have repented. And when we do repent and atone for our sins, God restores us to right relationship with Him. We become new creations. Our atonement or reparation for our sins is not to help God forgive us, but it helps us re-orient our hearts and minds and bodies back to the Source. It is part of our reconciling with God.

What Good News this is! That not only does He forgive any sin we are repentant of, but that we are restored completely to Him as His children. And as His children, how can we not try to imitate Him as we relate to our brothers and sisters in faith?

Dear Jesus, please forgive me of my sins and restore my relationship with You today. Please give me the grace to forgive anyone who has hurt me and reconcile as many relationships that are possible. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Can God Use Me?

“In a large household there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for lofty and others for humble use.” 2 Timothy 2: 20

I encounter many people, both teens and adults, who feel that God could not use them. They feel too sinful, or too weak, too insignificant or not talented enough. I think they often compare themselves to others, especially people they consider “holy” and decide that they are not in the same league and don’t even try.

But does God need us to be perfect, or holy, or really talented in order for Him to use us? I would argue that if we waited until we were holy enough to let God use us, that He would never be able to use us. None of us are perfect and all of us sin, and yet in His mercy and in His mysterious ways, God still wants to use us to complete His plans and to bring others to Him…despite our weakness and in some cases because of our weakness.

I think it is a lie to believe that God cannot use us. God can—and does—use anyone who is willing to offer themselves to Him. We don’t have to believe in ourselves, we have to believe in Him! Just look at the Bible to see that that God will use anyone. David was a little shepherd boy who slew a giant, then committed adultery and murder. He was still used by God. Rahab was a harlot, but she was still used by God. Moses had a speech impediment, but God still spoke through him. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and was still used by God. In the Gospel accounts, St. Peter bragged about what he gave up for Jesus, he argued about who was the greatest, he cut-off a guy’s ear, he denied Jesus three times and he kept hiding in the upper room after the Jesus’ death and again after the Ascension—and yet he was the leader of the Apostles and the first Pope. St. Paul persecuted, arrested and killed Christians before his conversion and then became one of the most powerful evangelists of all time.

God is not limited by us, but often times we limit what God wants to do through us. The Truth is that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our sins. He knows our fears and our doubts. And He knows what we are capable of—both for good and for evil. And He wants to use us. He wants to show His power and His love and His mercy through our words and our actions. He wants us to be His hands and feet in our world.

Such an ironic notion really, that the God of all power and majesty, desires to be shown through humility and imperfection, as the rest of the world seeks to gain power by trampling upon the weak. But our God is not like the gods of this world and our God seeks to identify with the weak, the poor, the forgotten. May we never doubt that God can use us. And by allowing Him to use us, He will make us holy.

Dear Jesus, I am weak and imperfect and not only do You still love me, You desire to use me for Your plans. Please give me the grace to be open to You and to allow You to use me for whatever purpose You design for Your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Believing the Lies

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1: 25

Each one of us is capable of getting to the point where we reject the Truth of God for a lie of this world.

Most of the time it begins small like a crack in the earth where a trickle of water is bubbling out. But then, as the lie becomes more imbedded in our psyches and our souls, we begin to believe it, just as the water begins to flow like a little creek down the mountain. Eventually, if unchecked or not confronted, the lie we have begun to believe can become a reality or “truth” for us. At this point rushing and moving through our person like a mighty river heading to the sea.

How does this happen? Well, obviously the Evil One, the “Father of Lies” is constantly trying to fill our minds and hearts with deceptions, doubts, confusion, half-truths and outright lies about everything from who God is and what He reveals to us to who we are and how we are to live our lives. Satan is also trying to use every means possible to spread his filth, especially in today’s culture with the mass media, music, movies, etc. He knows that if he can convince enough people to believe in his lies, that they will become “truths” in our culture. We also have peer pressure—whether this is at school, home or in the workplace—with people contributing to the spread of Satan’s lies, often unknowingly.

The greatest challenge comes in trying to confront the lies either within ourselves, amongst our friends or in society at large because if Satan has been effective, confronting the lies does not come across as loving (no matter how loving one may actually be), but it comes off as intolerance, ignorance or bigotry. And how many of us want to be painted in those terms? So what happens in Satan’s great plan is that he creates the lies, spreads them and then tries to make it almost impossible to challenge them. Of course, this is why he is evil personified.

So what is a believer to do? First we need to pray. And pray specifically for protection from the lies. Then we need to pray for humility; the humility to accept the Truth that comes to us from God through His Church. Finally, we need to pray for the grace to see and love others as Christ does. Secondly, we need to learn what God teaches us. We need to read our Bibles and study the teachings of the Church found in the Catechism and become familiar enough with Truth that it flows from us like sunbeams reflecting off the moon. Lastly, we need to be willing to risk rejection, mockery and isolation by confronting the lies with the Truth when given the opportunity or the responsibility by the Lord to do so—in ourselves, in our homes, in our schools, in our places of work—and maybe even within our church family. Only when the lies of Satan are brought to the light and nipped in the bud, can they be exposed for what they are—death where life is promised and sorrow where happiness is promised.

Dear Jesus, I want to live in Truth. Grant me the humility to see it, the strength to live in it and the courage to use it to confront the lies of Satan in our world. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Inside Out or Outside In?

“But the Lord said to Samuel: ‘Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16: 7

We have all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” and yet this is what we do so often with the people we come into contact with each day. We see someone and make an immediate judgment about them, based on the clothes they are wearing, the style of their hair, the straightness of their teeth or the color of their skin. We decide whether they are good or bad, or someone we can trust or should be afraid of based on the number of tattoos and piercings they have. And we even make confident assumptions about their spiritual life based on brief observations of their conduct. While the reality is that sometimes these judgments prove true, often times we are wrong. Why do we do this?

Well, it’s not like this is a new trend or fad. All you have to do is read the Old Testament to realize that people have been doing this for thousands of years—even when Adam saw Eve for the first time he knew she was pleasing and they hadn’t even spoken to one another. But so often this judgment of others based on outward appearances or actions has a way of keeping us separate from others. It is a defense mechanism used to keep others at arms’ length. It allows us to keep moving along with our busy lives and not get too involved. It allows us to cast someone aside instead of taking the time to get to know them. It limits love.

And yet on the flip side, so many people try so desperately to fit in and have the “right look”. People have made their bodies into a god, going beyond just trying to be healthy, to worshipping the way they look. Driven so often by a desire to be accepted and out of a fear of rejection we begin to look in the mirror each day and judge ourselves based on what we see.  But is this what God sees?

Does God simple look at us and see our sin, or our physical imperfections. NO. He looks into our hearts. He sees us and knows us as we really are. As Pope John Paul II once said, “You are not the sum of your sins, but the sum of God’s love for you.” Does this mean that He dismisses our sins? No, but He can also see into the depth of our hearts and see our love, our weaknesses, our desires, our hurts and all our broken pieces and all the mitigating factors that go into our thoughts, words and deeds—and He judges from the inside, not the outside. And despite all this He loves us. The real question is whether we will love ourselves the way He loves us. And flowing from this love will be the grace to redeem us and all of our hurt and broken pieces and bring us to a place where our desires, thoughts, words and actions seek to honor and obey Him who loves us even when we don’t. Then we will be able to see others as God sees them, too.

Dear Jesus, allow me to love myself and others as You do, from the inside out. Please give me the grace to live in Your love and to conform my desires, thoughts, words and deeds to Your plan for me. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Making Sure

“John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” Luke 7: 18b-19

Have you ever had doubts about anything? I thought so. Ever have doubts about God? Or His Real Presence in the Eucharist? Or where He might be leading you? I think most people have.

Take St. John the Baptist for instance. He was preparing the way for the Lord. He was living in the desert, eating bugs and honey, wearing nothing but animal skins, preaching repentance and baptizing people left and right. And lots of people came to hear his message—from the lowliest Jew to the highest Pharisee. The people were hungry for God and St. John witnessed this hunger first hand. Then one day, his cousin Jesus walks up to him and asks to be baptized. While doing this, out of nowhere, a dove hovers over Jesus’ head and a voice rings out from the heavens telling the people to listen to this man. St. John obviously heard this voice and saw the dove.

And yet it is obvious that he still needed to make sure that Jesus was the Messiah. Why? Well, think about his circumstances. Shortly after baptizing Jesus, he was arrested by King Herod and put in prison. Keep in mind that prison in those days was not like it is now—there was no TV or books, no exercise yard, no meals cooked in a cafeteria. There were no rights for the prisoner, no “innocent until proven guilty”. There was no cell with a little bed and pillow; not even a comfy orange jump suit to wear. It was just you, a cold, wet, hard rock floor with the same for walls and a ceiling. If you were lucky you might have a small, shadowy window. St. John probably got very little to eat or drink and all he had to do was pray and think for hours upon hours until sleep would over take him each day. He had to also have known that very few people, once imprisoned, were released still alive.

So he wanted to make sure that everything he was doing and everything he did and everything he was going to sacrifice, was worth it. He wanted to make sure that Jesus really was the Savior. He wanted to know he was not going to die for nothing. He needed hope. Can you relate? And this coming from the man that Jesus called the greatest who ever lived.

I don’t think that God gets upset with our doubts or our fears. I don’t think He minds our repeated requests for assurance that He is real, that Jesus is the Savior or that we are in need of hope. In fact, I think He longs to fill us with that hope and assurance each day. But I think we need to live our lives as if we have that assurance, even when we don’t. And this, my friends, is called faith.

Dear Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mexican Beauty

“Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.’” Luke 1: 30-31


No, it’s not the daily lotto number. It’s the year that God chose to send His Mother to the Americas in order to show us His love and mercy. It was in December of this year that Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego, bringing her Son’s message of love and peace.

At this time in history, the Spanish had “conquered” what is known today as Mexico. The Aztec Indians for all intents and purposes, had been subjugated by the Spanish. And while there were certainly abuses against this native people, the Spanish also brought with them the Catholic Franciscan friars, who came as missionaries to bring the Truth to these honorable people who nonetheless sacrificed men, women and children each year to their gods.

Our Lady came to offer herself as proof to these people and to the Spanish that the Lord Jesus was in charge. She revealed herself to the local bishop on the tilma (cloak) of Juan Diego, a devout, 57-year-old widower. This image can still be seen in the Shrine near Mexico City.

This image represented many things to the Aztec people, whose written language was rich with pictures and symbolism. From this image, they learned that she was greater than their moon god, greater than their sun god and greater than their star gods. They knew that she was pregnant and that she was the mother of the “conquerors” God. Because of this image and Mary’s appearance, untold graces were unleashed upon the people of the Americas. Within 10 years, over one million native people had become baptized Christians. Because of her great spiritual influence in this hemisphere, Our Lady of Guadalupe has been declared the patroness of the Americas. And because this is the only time that Our Lady has appeared pregnant with the Baby Jesus in her womb, she has been declared the patroness of the unborn.

Mary is not Jesus. She is not God. She has no powers in and of herself. Yet God chose her to be His mother and to this day she continues to point us to Him. She continues to appear to select, humble disciples, with messages from her Son. During this Advent season, as we wait for the coming of the Lord, we turn to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who with patience bore the Baby Jesus within her womb for nine months in order to bring Him to us. May we turn to her intercession and guidance in a more purposeful way, that just as in a stable in Bethlehem—or in 1531 or today, she may bring Jesus to us and us to Him.

Dear Jesus, thank you for sending Mary to us and to the people of Mexico. Through her intercession, may all of us in the Americas become closer to You and may the holocaust of abortion stop. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Necessity of Pruning

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” John 15: 1-2

My wife and I used to live in a little house, in a city, with a little fenced-in yard in the back. When we moved in the bushes along the fence were neatly manicured and blossomed beautifully every year. But due to a lack of time on my part and a desire on my wife’s part for the bushes to look more natural (like out in the woods), we never pruned them. Eventually, while they looked more like wild bushes then landscaped bushes, they didn’t produce as many flowers.

I also remember growing up in northern Virginia and for many years my dad would plant a vegetable garden each summer. We would have tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, squash and a variety of other plants. And I can still recall that every year, as the first blossoms would appear on the tomato plants, my dad would go and pick them off so that the plant would have more time to grow and the vines would get stronger in order to produce bigger, juicier tomatoes. We had to wait longer for them, but in the end we got more fruit from the plant by doing it this way.

I think that we all need pruning in our spiritual lives as well. If we are trying to bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus, we need times when the “excess” can be cut from our lives and we are brought back to the basics of our faith so we can get back to work and bear even more fruit for the kingdom. I think we sometimes start out on a project, or a ministry, or even some direction for our own spiritual growth, and we are being led by the Spirit, and then at some point, we take over and either get off track or over-committed or inflated with pride. And over time we can slowly push out the Holy Spirit until what He led us to begin, becomes ours. And at that point we need pruning or else we will become too entangled or over-extended for our own good.

While some people view pruning as God being mean, it is actually a sign of His mercy for us. Nationally-known youth speaker and author, Mark Hart, gives an example of this in his T3 Teen Bible Study when he talks about the Israelites having to wander for 40 years in the desert and some people thinking God was mean to punish them. But as Mark points out that while the Israelites were taken out of Egypt, they still needed Egypt taken out of them. They had to wander in the desert for 40 years so that God could prune their love of false gods and their pride out of them. And God does the same for us, especially during Advent and Lent; when the Church reminds us of our need to get back to the basics of our faith: repentance, prayer, the sacraments, Scripture, trusting in God more, having eternal vision and perspective in life, etc. 

How does God prune us? I think He sometimes allows us to wander in our own deserts of fear or confusion, in order to draw us back to Him. I think He sometimes allows us to fall flat on our faces in our pride so that we can become more humble. I think He will sometimes allow us to fail at things we are trying to do so that we come to a deeper understanding of His Providence for us. It’s not that God is causing bad things to happen to us, because God is good. But in these instances, God will allow these bad things to happen in order to bring about a greater good in us. Let us thank Him for His mercy today and accept His pruning so that we can bear more fruit for Him.

Dear Jesus, I know that I am in need of pruning today, because I sometimes try to do things on my own apart from You. Please give me the grace of Your mercy and bring me more into communion with You so that I can bear even more fruit for Your Kingdom. Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Even Our Swords

“…You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind…” Luke 10: 27

Did you ever think about the basic difference between the Virgin Mary and Charlemagne? I didn’t think so.

Of course now that you are, you are probably thinking about her humility and relatively hidden life versus his worldly success and pride. She was a simple woman of no apparent consequence while he was a well-known ruler called “Charles the Great”. She was born and lived her life in a small portion of the world while he conquered peoples and nations.

But I didn’t ask about the most obvious difference, I asked about the basic difference. There is a story that I heard recently; it is a legend about Charlemagne and it might not even be true, but based on his life and his deeds, you could imagine it to be true. Either way it makes for a good story. It goes that when Charlemagne was being baptized, that he allowed every part of him to go under the water except for his arm and sword. The concept was that he wanted his soul to be God’s and to ultimately be saved, but that as a worldly king he could not submit his need for war to Christ. He realized that he needed to keep his ability to make war and be unmerciful with his enemies separate from his submission to Christ. In other words, he knew that if he submitted everything to Christ, then he would have to change everything about the way he thought, spoke and did things in his kingdom. It might have meant being able to defend himself and his people, but not the right to go conquer other peoples. It might have meant being able to imprison people for breaking his laws, but not executing them. Who knows, but the point is that like so many of us, Charlemagne wanted to keep part of himself for himself and not give everything to God.

On the other hand, we look to the example of our Blessed Mother, who at the age of about 13 had an angel appear to her and ask her to be the Mother of the Savior. She was a little scared and confused, but despite this she gave a wholehearted “yes”, her fiat being “Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38). So here we have a little girl with no power of her own, no recourse or way to protect herself, saying “yes” to God without holding anything back; truly offering not just her mind and heart, but her whole body to the Lord for His purposes.

We need to look to Mary as an example of faith. It is tempting to be a “Charlemagne Christian” and to keep parts of our hearts, minds, bodies, wills, desires, dreams, etc. for ourselves. So many of us are afraid to give everything to Christ; scared that if we do he will ask us to do something we will hate, or that we can’t accomplish. But this fear is from Satan. We need to have the child-like trust of Mary. Only then can Christ do amazing things through us and only then can we truly bring Christ to others.

Dear Jesus, I want to be like Your Mother: holy, humble and willing to give You everything. Please give me the grace to surrender my heart, mind, body, soul and strength to You for Your glory and Your purposes. Amen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Risky Business

“In return for my love they slandered me, even though I prayed for them. They repay me evil for good, hatred for my love.” Psalms 109: 4-5

To love another is probably the riskiest thing we will ever do in our lives. And I am not talking about romantic love as portrayed in the movies. I am talking about honest-to-goodness, self-sacrificial love that requires the gift of self and the dying to self for the good of another. The kind of love that Jesus has for us. The kind of love that compelled Him to be obedient to His Father. The kind of love that caused Him to endure all of His suffering and stay on the cross when He could have put a stop to it at any time.

So many people are afraid to take this risk of love. They would rather retreat into silence or loneliness than risk the pain that is the constant companion of agape love. Some part of us understands that if we love like Jesus loves, then somewhere along the line we will be hanging on some kind of cross. Others avoid love at all costs, even though we need it to survive. They may have friends and acquaintances—even families: spouses, children, parents. But they stay away from this authentic love and settle instead for substitutes that may feel good but have no depth and no security. They keep everything light and funny and awkward, but never real or honest.

But will this satisfy our hearts? What happens when we avoid living in this kind of love? The famous Christian author and story-teller, C.S. Lewis explained it well in his book The Four Loves when he said
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

So love is going to hurt but the alternative is Hell. To love someone with an honest, real, self-donating love is to risk everything. And so many of us have experienced rejection, persecution, isolation, taunting, ridicule, and suffering because of a choice to love someone as Jesus loves us. Is it worth it? We are all called as people of faith to follow Jesus and try to imitate Him in all we think, say and do. Most of the time in our culture today, laying down one’s life for a friend will not involve physically dying, but the suffering endured at times for this kind of love can make us pray for death. But the alternative is to not live at all. Is this what we really want? To be free from the risk of love by becoming numb to everything and everyone?

I think we all desire to be great! And what is greater than laying down your life for others like Jesus? Nothing feels more alive and nothing helps us grow more dependent on His love for us than to live this way. And ultimately, in the end, it is the only way to bring others to Him. 

Dear Jesus, I want to love as You love. I am willing to risk everything for the sake of love. Please give me the grace to keep loving, especially when it is hard. Amen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Remain in Me

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” John 15: 10

I think we sometimes have a hard time understanding the love of God for us. I think we sometimes think that God loves us the way others love us or the way we love others. But the reality is that God loves us unconditionally—that is, without any conditions or expectations or caveats. Practically, what this means is that He does not love us more when we are doing good and He does not love us less when we are doing bad.

So in light of this understanding about His love for us, how is it that we cannot remain in His love as implied by the Scripture from John above? Well, a relationship of love is based on freely choosing the other and it is a two-way street. While God always loves us and will never stop, no matter what we do, the fact is that we do not always love Him back. And if we decide to choose not to be in a relationship of love with Him, then while He still loves us, we do not remain in the love. We choose to remove ourselves from that relationship.

How does one do this? By living in disobedience to the commandments of God. Let’s remember that God is still God and He has given us commandments, not suggestions. And even though we have free will to follow His commands or not, there are also consequences for choosing not to follow His commandments. And principal among these consequences, is the weakening of our relationship with Him (venial sin) or the breaking of our relationship with Him (mortal sin). How do we know what is sin and what is not? Follow the teachings of the Church. Plain and simple.

We so often think that when we sin, God stays away from us, but the reality is that when we sin, WE move away from God. The Good News is that no matter how far we move away from God in sin, He is always one step behind us, chasing us and calling out to us. He is always running after us, searching for us, ready to welcome us back with the open arms of His unending mercy. Satan tries to convince us in our sin that we are worthless and that God could never want us or love us. But at every turn, Christ remains unconditionally in love with you and me. Let’s pray that we do not receive this love in vain and that we will desire to always love Christ back in gratitude for the unconditional love He always shows us.

Dear Jesus, I love You and I always want to remain in a relationship with You. Please give me the grace to always desire You above all things. Amen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Steadfast Faith

“My heart is steadfast, God; my heart is steadfast.” Psalms 108: 2

Have you ever had a day or a week or a month—or maybe even years, when you just feel down in the dumps? When you just feel kind of defeated, kind of overwhelmed; perhaps even ready to just give up? At times like these our hearts can be so heavy with sorrow, or pain, or despair. We yearn for freedom from our pain, but at the same time, we are sometimes not sure how to achieve it or what to do to get out of it.

Aside from clinical depression, what is the cause of these feelings? Obviously an event or circumstance that has left us hurt in some way. Or perhaps a series of events: People making fun of us at school or work. The death of a loved one. Losing a job, not getting on the team, getting cut from the musical. Having a boyfriend or girlfriend dump us. All of these things can be the cause of disappointment, pain and sorrow. The truth is that sometimes in life our hearts are just heavy. We acknowledge this when we pray the Hail, Holy Queen and we refer to this earth as a “valley of tears”.

And as a person of faith, how do we cope with these feelings, with this heaviness of heart? Well, I think first of all, it helps to realize that God must have a heavy heart at times. While we cannot certainly hurt God, it must break His heart to see His children wander away searching after so many things that will not satisfy them, rejecting His love no matter how much He pursues us. We can also be comforted by the knowledge that in our weakness and in our pain, Christ is with us. He is close to us. He carries us through these times. He has NOT abandoned us nor forgotten about us.

Ultimately, it is our faith and hope in Jesus that will bring us out of our sadness. Even if we are still feeling sad, the hope of Jesus will help make us steadfast in faith so that we do not lose heart. Being steadfast has nothing to do with feelings. It has to do with a desire of the will and the decision to put that desire into action in our thoughts, words and deeds. It is putting our eyes on Christ and not looking away. It is allowing Him to carry us, without trying to get out of His embrace. It is about allowing Him to uplift us and give us the courage to get up one more day and take one more step towards Him, as little as that step might be.

Dear Jesus, help me to be steadfast of heart today. Allow Your grace to transform any heaviness or burden of suffering on my heart into a firm decision to follow You more deeply today and to hope in You. Amen.