Monday, January 31, 2011

Me, Myself and I

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Acts 4: 32

I think if you look back through history and explore the societies and cultures and regimes of our past you will find that many of them had specific, identifying philosophies or characteristics that defined them from others. I think this is also true today in our own time. And I think one of the identifying hallmarks of our culture is an unhealthy attitude or philosophy called individualism.

Let’s face it, people are looking out for #1—themselves. It’s all about ME, right? Think about advertisers and their messages—it’s all about YOU making yourself happy or fulfilled in some way. It’s all about putting your needs and wants before anyone else’s. It’s all about serving the almighty god of ourselves. McDonald’s has told us a billion times “It’s how I roll” or “I deserve a break today”. Best Buy’s ad slogan used to be “You. Happier.” Car commercials on TV talk about cars turning us on and other such drivel.

We have become perhaps the most picky, spoiled, complaining society in history with too much time on our hands and not enough courage in our souls to live differently from the mantras we are fed every time we turn on the TV, log onto facebook or read the newspaper or a magazine. We whine anytime we are inconvenienced in the slightest and we demand perfection from others around us in the way they treat us. We leave no room for failure in others while at the same time we demand accommodations and understanding from others for our mistakes. The point is that many people walk around through this world living primarily for themselves and are left with an emptiness and confusion in their hearts as a result.

We were not made for ourselves; we were made for others, for community. The more we live for ourselves, the less human we become and the more we live for others, the more we actualize our full potential as human beings. When we feed ourselves with ourselves, we are never satisfied, but when we feed off of the donation of ourselves to others, then we become filled to overflowing. While God is One, He is not an individual, He is a community of three Persons we call the Holy Trinity. And being made in His image, you and are were not created for ourselves, but to be in relationship and communion with others.

We live for others when we recognize the needs of others and respond to them. We live for others when we stop talking about ourselves and complaining about our problems. We live for others when we reach out to the new person at school or work. We live for others when we put our agenda and schedule aside to love someone, to listen to someone, to make someone feel as if they are the most important person in the world to us at that moment. We live for others when we stop getting frustrated by other drivers or stop seeing people as obstacles to our success. We live for others when we love our parents and siblings and children as if this is the last day we will have with them. Today let’s commit to emptying ourselves of ourselves and putting more thought, energy and action into giving ourselves away.

Dear Jesus, You completely emptied Yourself for the whole world when You died on the cross. Help me to follow Your example and die to myself so to bring life to others. Amen.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Living Radically

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 3

Blessed are…
the poor in spirit…
they who mourn…
the meek…
they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
the merciful…
the clean of heart…
the peacemakers…
they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness…
you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me…

Not a laundry list of ingredients for success according to the world is it? And yet it was with these words that Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount. It was with these blessings that He began to teach the people in earnest. It was with these “beatitudes” that He used to show us how are hearts and dispositions should be towards our God, our neighbors and ourselves. These few, short utterances give us the blueprint for how to think and act in our lives.

But they are so radically different from what the world is calling us to, aren’t they? The world is calling us to be arrogant, full of ourselves and rich in material possessions. The world tells us to gain as much as we can for ourselves without much thought for others, especially if they are in our way. The world wants us to live however we want, to do whatever feels good, regardless of the consequences. The world says that we should take and eye for an eye, not show mercy. The world seeks to pollute our eyes, minds, hearts and souls with the filth of pornography and every impure and violent act to the point we couldn’t even imagine it on our own. The world does not court peacemakers as much as warmongers and the world most certainly says that if we are persecuted for our faith than we deserve it because we are too narrow-minded.
And yet Jesus still calls us to meekness and to have a clean heart and to make peace in our world. How can one hope to live so radical a life as the one called to by Jesus? With His grace!! By our own power alone, we would never begin to think in the ways of the beatitudes, let alone live them. But with His grace, we can put others first and be humble. We can mourn as those who are far from home, we can hunger and thirst for goodness and Truth and we can show mercy, even to those who deserve it the least or who have hurt us the most. With His grace we can stay pure in our thoughts and actions, we can bring peace to our families and friends and we can love and persevere in our faith no matter what others do to us.

You want to live a life of greatness? You want to be radical? Then live the beatitudes. Everything else is following the crowd of mediocrity.

Dear Jesus, I want to be like You, I want to think like You, I want to act like You. Thank you for showing me how and for giving me the grace to do it. Make my heart like Your heart. Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Very Good

“God created man in his image, in the divine image he created them male and female he created them. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” Genesis 1: 27, 31a

Have you ever looked up into a cold, crisp night sky and found yourself mesmerized by the billions of stars in the heavens? Or have you ever had to catch your breath at the sight of a sunrise or sunset that created colors you didn’t think existed? Have you ever stood before the mighty power of the ocean’s waves and felt foolishly weak? Or have you ever been brought to tears while speechless at the sight of any wonder of God’s creation?

Unless we have become so absorbed (or self-absorbed) by our culture with all of our gadgets and beeps and whistles, then I think most of us have spent some time outside or been at least once in a situation where we were overwhelmed by the beauty and vastness of creation. And on more than one occasion we have probably caught ourselves wondering how small or insignificant we must be compared to something like Niagara Falls, Old Faithful, or the Grand Canyon. I’m sure we’ve all recognized our powerlessness over the forces of nature such as tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados or earthquakes. We look around, compare our own minimal contributions to the world and conclude that God must be much more concerned with the “better” things in His creation than us.

And yet, for all the breathtaking beauty, overwhelming wonders and intimidating powers of our world and universe, none is more beautiful, wonderful or majestic in the eyes of the Father than us. For we, as humans, are created in the image and likeness of God. Not even angels can claim this honor. And despite all the amazing things God has created, He only died for us. It was for you and me that Jesus was willing to suffer and offer Himself. It was because God did not want to spend eternity without us. This is how much He loves us.

No waterfall, sunset or mountain vista is beloved to our Lord. Only you and I are. And while this is no reason to be prideful, it is a reason to be hopeful. So the next time you are standing in awe of something our Lord has created, know that when you look into a mirror, you should be even more filled with wonder and appreciation. For in that face, you see the crowning glory of God’s handiwork. And what you see is very good.

Dear Jesus, thank you for giving me a spirit of awe and wonder in the presence of Your creation. Give me the grace to view myself and others with the same sense of majesty. Amen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brother’s Keeper

“Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.” 1 John 2: 9-10

Do you hate anyone?

Have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever been so mad at someone that you said you hated them? I think people have hated one another since the beginning of time. There are many stories in the Bible filled with hatred. History is full of the wars and atrocities that are bred by hatred. And even today, with our “enlightened” minds we still see hatred all over the world. Palestinians and Israelis. Northern Irish and the British. Shiites and Sunnis. Whites and blacks. Muslims and Christians. Democrats and Republicans.

And perhaps even you and I have hated another. Perhaps you and I have been tempted to stop looking at the person and begin to look at their actions, their words, their sins—and hate what we see. But is that how God sees them? It is one thing to hate what someone has done and another to hate them. We are called to hate sin and injustice, but to love even the worst sinner. Even if we are fighting in a war, we should be trying to protect people or stop aggression, but not by hating our enemy.

This is a tall task. How can one not hate someone who has murdered someone they love? How can a soldier not hate the enemy trying to shoot him? How can we not hate the person who always makes fun of us or puts us down? How can we not hate the individual who belittles us or makes our life a living hell? How can we not hate adults who abuse innocent children, or “doctors” that kill innocent babies while still in the womb?

It all comes down to grace and then imitating Christ. We need to recognize that we do not have the power in ourselves to overcome hate, but we must allow the grace of Christ to change us and help us to do the impossible. The reality is that Christ did not hate those who lied about Him, or those who betrayed Him, or those who fell asleep instead of praying with Him. He didn’t hate those who turned away from Him or who wouldn’t listen to His message. He didn’t hate those who tried to trick Him or trap Him. He didn’t hate any sinner that came to Him and He didn’t hate anyone that whipped Him, crowned Him with thorns, made Him carry the cross, stripped Him naked, nailed Him to the cross or watched Him die. He didn’t even hate those who abandoned Him at the end.

If anyone in the universe has a good reason to hate, it would be God. And yet all He does, no matter what we do to Him or each other, is love. And while there are certainly severe consequences for not living according to His commands (including eternal ones), He never hates us, even if we don’t love Him back. As a follower of Christ, called to imitate Him, how can we be any different to one another?

Dear Jesus, there is so much hatred in the world today and it is so tempting to give in to it. Please give me the grace to love others as You do, no matter the circumstances. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Jesus

“He must increase; I must decrease.” John 3: 30

Out whole lives there will be a struggle between how much we allow ourselves to dominate our lives, and how much we allow God to dominate our lives. A struggle between what we want and what God wants. A struggle between our pride and God’s humility. Why is there this struggle? Because we want to be the centers of the universe and because God will allow us to try.

The reality is that God loves us enough to allow us free will. This means that when we accept His unconditional love and seek to love Him in return by giving Him our lives, we allow Him to lead us. But it also means that we have the power to reject Him and go our own way. Free will is the crazy risk of love that God takes each time a new life is created. And some may wonder why He takes this risk. But without free will and the ability to choose Christ, we cannot love Him, we could only at best hope to be some kind of robotic slaves who are forced to do His will. And God is not looking for robots, He is looking for disciples, for followers, for those willing to share in His manifold love of the Trinity in a relationship.

God ONLY wants what is good for us, what is best for us, what will make us the most happy and peaceful, and yet we still choose ourselves over Him. We would rather settle for shadows of His goodness and trick ourselves into feeling in control over our own lives, than to relinquish control and actually dwell in His wonders.

Each day, many times, we are confronted with opportunities to allow Him to increase in our lives, or to increase ourselves. The results of letting Him increase are seen in the fruits of the Spirit that our lives will produce: love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, self-control, chastity, etc. The results of increasing ourselves can be seen in our stress, anger, guilt, humiliations and more. The more we try to increase ourselves, the more we look like a three-year-old having a tantrum.

So how do we allow Christ to increase in us while at the same time decreasing ourselves? First we need to pray for the grace to desire this. Then we pray for the grace to do it. And we do it by putting Him first, by doing His will. We do it by obeying the Church even when we don’t fully understand what or why she teaches something—not in blind obedience, but with a child-like trust that Jesus is in charge of the Church and she will not lead us astray. We do it by putting ourselves after others around us: not trying to get our way, or what is best for us, or what we think we deserve. We do it by not demanding everything we want. We even do it by sacrificing even that what we need from time to time. We begin to accept that we will have to become small in the eyes of the world. We begin to do all things: our school work, our jobs, our hobbies, our sports, etc for HIS glory and not our own. We begin to live our lives in such a way that when people look at us they do not see us anymore, but they see Jesus. And when we are doing this with JOY, then we will know that we are letting Him increase in our lives.

Dear Jesus, I want You to increase in my life and I want myself to decrease. Through Your grace, may I more and more each day allow You to control my life and lead me to heaven. Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Introducing The Next Great…

“I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.” 2 Samuel 7: 9

So what do you want to be? Maybe when you grow-up? Or maybe before you retire? Or maybe before you die? What do you want to accomplish? I think most people have a desire for greatness. People want to be the next great…actor, or writer, or athlete. We want to be famous and unique all at the same time. We want others to know that there is something special about us, something that cries out for attention, something that won’t let us be ignored, or forgotten or overlooked; something that gives us worth and a purpose for being here.

We all love the rags to riches stories don’t we? JK Rowling would not be so interesting if she had grown-up as a blue blood in the lap of luxury. Bill Clinton might not have been elected president in 1992 if he hadn’t hailed from Hope, Arkansas. And we would’ve missed out on shedding some tears if not for the stories-turned-into-movies like Rudy, Hoosiers and The Mighty Ducks (well, maybe not this last one). The point is that we all like to see ourselves as the underachiever, the guy without all the perks in life, the one who has to overcome all kinds of obstacles, works real hard and then becomes famous. Even people who are rich don’t always think they are—because there are always more people richer than them (except for Bill Gates I guess).

So why do we all have this desire to be great. And why do we all have this image of ourselves as overcoming things? I think because God has created us to be great. And God has created us unique. And God does have a purpose for us. But unlike our culture that uses media, flashy images, movies scores and sound bites to elicit temporary emotions from us, our God has created us for real, concrete and lasting greatness. And what we overcome is sin and the attacks of Satan.

How? Well, Jesus said the greatest in the Kingdom is one who is like a child (Matthew 18). Our greatness does not come from our beauty, our intelligence or our talents. Our worth does not come from how much we can achieve or accomplish. Our greatness comes from our capacity to love and our worth comes from our acceptance of God’s love for us. And we are unique precisely because we are created in the image and likeness of a God who is infinite and who we cannot tame, contain or even fully comprehend this side of heaven. May this desire for greatness compel us to be like Him.

Dear Jesus, You have created me for greatness and You have created me a unique, one-of-kind-individual in Your image. Help me to seek after You in all I do, so that one day I may share in the greatness of everlasting life. Amen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In or Out?

“For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? God will judge those outside…” 1 Corinthians 5: 12-13a

So what really does it mean to be Catholic? Does it mean you were baptized a Catholic as an infant? Does it mean you are registered at a Catholic parish? Does it mean you go to Mass? Does it mean you believe all that the Church teaches?  Or is it more than these things? If all you have to do is get baptized to be Catholic, then Hitler was a Catholic. If all you have to do is be registered at a parish, then what about all the people who are registered, but that never go to church? If all you have to do is go to Mass, then what about the way you live the other six days of the week? And if all you have to do is believe in all the Church teaches, then what if you never acted on those beliefs?

It’s a pretty complicated question and many people get pretty bent out of shape when others start giving their opinions about it. And certainly the Church tells us of our obligations as Catholics. I think it is a really a matter of where we are on the inside—in our hearts and souls, in the core of who we are and who we are called (and hopefully trying) to be. It’s a matter of interiorly desiring to follow Christ with our whole hearts, minds, souls and bodies and realizing with humility and joy, that He has revealed Himself to us through the Church and that with the promised Holy Spirit guiding the Church, we can trust what the Church teaches as True in all matters of faith and morals. And then with the acknowledgement that we cannot believe these Truths, let alone live them, without the help of God, we humbly come to receive His grace in the sacraments in order to be His disciples.

There are over 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but how many of them really “get it” and “live it”. How many live more in line with what the culture teaches than what the Church teaches? How many are living for themselves rather than others? And what about all of the other Christians in the world that are not “members” of the Catholic Church, but nonetheless seek to follow Christ with humility and sincerity? St. Augustine once said, “There are many outside who seem to be inside, and there are many inside who seem to be outside.” And he said that somewhere around the year 400 AD! I believe it can be said even more so about our day and age.

It really comes down to this: what do you want and who do you trust? Do you want to say you are Catholic, but really believe and live however you want regardless of what the Church teaches? Or do you want to really BE Catholic and humbly accept the teachings of the Church as coming from Christ, thereby obeying and following Jesus? Do you think you know more than the Church Christ established 2,000 years ago? Or will you trust that the Holy Spirit is still guiding the Church as Christ promised?  Do you trust yourself more than you trust the Church? In or out: where are you?

Dear Jesus, I desire to follow You in union with Your Body, the Church. Please give me the humility to accept the teachings of the Church and to obey them. Help me to trust You through the Church more than I trust myself. Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What If…

“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” Matthew 6: 27

To be honest, I struggle with worrying. Not about things like finances, or the state of politics, or the fate of the world—with these things I am at peace in trusting God. But I am extremely safety-conscious: I try to anticipate and prevent potential accidents before they happen. I would like to keep my wife and my kids safe and I hate it when I see one of them get hurt. But you know what? I can’t prevent or even predict every possible danger that could harm them.

I think a lot of us struggle with worry. It might not be about the same things, but it is something, right? I know many young people that worry about grades, peer pressure, being popular, having a zit, not getting asked to prom, getting into the college of their choice or making the team. Many adults struggle with worrying about paying the mortgage, providing for their families, being good parents, having well-adjusted kids and retirement. We all spend too much time thinking about things that we ultimately have little control over.

What creates or contributes to these feelings of anxiety? Advertisers like to remind us that we aren’t good enough without…(fill in the blank). Movies and TV shows tell us that we are missing out in life if we don’t have the cars, the big homes, the girl (or guy), or enough money for exotic vacations. Watching the news can cause us to buy a gun and put an extra lock on all our doors.

But ultimately I think it is a matter of control. As a human people, we seem to be obsessed with having control over our lives, don’t we? We vote, we choose, we decide. It’s our bodies, it’s our rights, it’s our future. We don’t want anyone having a say in our lives. We want to do what we want, when we want and we don’t want anyone or anything getting in our way. The problem is that as we become older, we begin to suspect that we really control very little. We realize how fragile life is, how easy things can go wrong, how short a distance it is between success and failure or life and death. And we worry. And where does this get us? We begin to even more frantically run, search, work, conquer, invent, struggle—you name it, all in futile effort to control that which we cannot.

But the solution is not to try harder and harder and to become more and more anxious. The solution is to LET GO. The solution is to SURRENDER. The solution is to ACCEPT. To let go of our hold on the illusion of control and let God lead us. To surrender the obsession we have to be fulfilled and allow God to fulfill us. To accept that even when suffering or tragedy strikes, that God is still in control and that He will carry us through anything that life throws our way. While we cannot control anything, we can place our hope and confidence in the One who does. And we can then be at peace.

Dear Jesus, I know that the more I seek to control everything in my life, the more I lose control and begin to worry. Please grant me the grace to let go of my worries, to surrender my life to You each day and to accept Your guidance and will for my life. Amen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

People Get Ready

“So now I will deal with you in my own way, O Israel, and since I will deal thus with you, prepare to meet your God…” Amos 4:12

Is it snowing where you live? Or is snow forecasted for your area? Or have you ever lived somewhere that the forecast was calling for snow? Because let me tell you: people get cah-razy! You know what I’m saying? Try going to the grocery store for your regular shopping. Try getting to the gas station. Try getting home from work or school on time. People start getting ready like it is the end of the world. There could be less than an inch predicted and things get cancelled, people purchase 8 gallons of milk, toilet paper shelves are stripped bare and people purchase snow shovels, ice melt, ice scrapers, and sand by the boatload. And we won’t even go into the lines at the video rental stores and kiosks. It seems as if some kind of preternatural state takes over in peoples’ minds and they stop thinking rationally and simply prepare to bunker down for days on end. I often wonder how much food gets thrown out across the northern regions of America days after a small snow storm.

Of course the reason why all of this seems so crazy is because we know that except in certain cases or in severe snow storms, the trucks and plows with road preparation materials are out doing their important work the minute the snow starts (and sometimes even before) and that in fairly short order considering what they are dealing with, most major roads around civilization are fairly passable and safe within a day of a storm.

But wouldn’t it be great if we all worked as hard as this in preparing to meet the Lord? Jesus told us that He did not know the hour or day when He would return. He also told us that day would come like a thief in the night. Are you ready? And taking it one step further, maybe the end of the world and the Second Coming are still thousands of years away—but what about your own death? Are you ready to meet God? Because when we die it will be the end of our time. And will that day find us watching and waiting—even with joyful anticipation, or will it surprise us? Will our hearts leap at meeting the Lord, or will we cower, knowing we were not ready?

Does it make sense to prepare so thoroughly and urgently for an approaching snow storm, but not prepare at all (or very little) for the approaching judgment of our lives? Make no mistake, we will be asked to answer this question: did you love Me?

How do we prepare ourselves to meet the Lord? We love others as He has loved us. We put ourselves second and try to destroy the greed and selfishness that can creep into our lives. We fill our hearts and minds with things that are true and beautiful and real. We align our desires with His desires. We weep for what makes Him weep. Our hearts break when His does. When His will becomes our own. When His grace becomes our breath and His Body and Blood become our own. When we detach ourselves from this world, even the good of this world, in order to seek Him and only Him. Then we have begun to prepare to meet Him. For in the eternity of heaven, we will be enveloped in the Beatific Vision and immersed completely in the love of the Trinity. If we don’t start living that reality here on earth, why would we want that reality forever?

Dear Jesus, I want to be with You forever in heaven. I want to love You by loving others at all times and by preparing my mind, heart, body and soul to be immersed in Your love for eternity. Grant me the grace to tirelessly serve You and be prepared to meet You at anytime. Amen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting Up

“By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s fury, for he persevered as if seeing the one who is invisible.” Hebrews 11: 27

Have you ever been knocked down and felt like you couldn’t get up? Perhaps it was during a sporting event, or in an accident. But what about emotionally, mentally or even spiritually? I think all of us have times when we sin, when life gets too hard, when someone dies, when someone betrays us, when the rug is pulled out from underneath our little world and we feel like we are falling, falling, falling into a dark abyss and when we hit rock bottom, we are not sure which way is up nor how we could ever claw our way back to the top. And of course, this is exactly where Satan wants us to be. Because it is down in this pit, this hole, this darkness of our souls and minds, that he makes his camp and begins to whisper his twisted poison into our hearts—a poison that threatens to steal our hope.

So how can we get up from this?

Today I was watching my one-year old walking around the narthex at Church during Mass. He has just begun walking and he is very unsteady. I would put him down on his feet, he would steady himself, take a few steps and fall. Then he would smile again, push himself up on his feet and take a few more steps—and fall again. Then he would laugh, get up and take a few more steps—and…you guessed it—he’d fall again. This was the pattern for about 20 minutes. But the key is not how many times he fell, but that he always got back up. And he seemed to relish the challenge, rather than get frustrated by it.

Jesus fell too you know. Scripture and Tradition tell us that He fell three times on his way to Calvary carrying the cross. And you can imagine how difficult it must have been to walk that road. He could barely see, His face was swollen and blood and sweat were clouding His vision. He had lost a lot of blood during the scourging and the cross weighed hundreds of pounds. And don’t forget His prize for finishing the walk was to stripped and crucified. It’s a miracle He made it to the top really. It’s no wonder He fell. But no matter how many times He fell, He got back up. I once heard a priest say that the difference between a Saint and a sinner is that a Saint gets up one more time then they fall.

We can imitate Jesus by getting up. When we sin, go to confession as soon as possible. When someone hurts us, forgive them. When we find ourselves suffering, give to someone suffering more than you. Like Jesus, we need to try to stop thinking of ourselves and get up by thinking about others. This does not mean we cannot grieve or be in pain, but it means we push through it and get up by keeping Him close and not pushing Him away. And it means letting others help us, like Simon helped Jesus. We all fall, but when we do, let’s get back up right away so that we do not leave enough time for Satan to keep us down in despair.

Dear Jesus, please help me to get up right away whenever I fall. Send me others who will help me walk this journey of Faith. Through Your grace, may I stay close to You. Amen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Can God Be Little?

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’” Matthew 3: 13-14

If you and I are really supposed to be imitators of Christ then we have certainly got our work cut out for us, haven’t we? Let’s face it, God is humble and we are not. As much as we realize that we need humility, it is so hard to achieve. Perhaps this knowledge should be enough to keep us humble—that no matter how hard we try, it is beyond our grasp, our power, our efforts. Only in Christ and His grace and by continually asking Him for this gift, can we ever hope to grow in humility.

But grow in humility we must, for if we want to be like God, then we have to be humble. If we really, really dwell on the Scriptures, it should amaze and astonish us at how humble God is. Why? Because He does not need to be humble. Think about it: when we are being proud, we are going to either end up looking stupid or like a jerk because either we aren’t as good as we think we are, or if we are, others don’t need to be reminded of it by us. But God is perfect love, He is all-powerful, he really DOES know everything. So He can’t look stupid and He won’t be a jerk. And yet He is humble. Why?

God is humble because He wants to allow us to have free will and to use that freedom for good, to accept His love and to ultimately love Him back by loving others and by obeying His commands. And of course all this takes humility. So God does not simply teach us about humility, but He SHOWS us humility by His example time and time again: coming to this earth as a helpless infant to be cared for by His own creatures, being born in a dirty stable without fanfare, living in relative obscurity for 3o years (except for that one “get-lost-from-your-parents-for-three-days-and-go-back-to-Jerusalem-and-preach-to-the-elders” thing), by allowing John to baptize Him, by washing the disciples’ feet, by allowing His own creatures to torture and kill Him. And ultimately for continuing to love us time and time again when we do not love Him back. He forgives us and His mercies are new every morning. We should be blown away by the awesome humility of our God!

And yet it is in this “littleness”, in this emptying of Himself for us that God proves His greatness. Unlike the gods of mythology who use their power for selfish interests or to destroy, the Almighty God of heaven and earth seeks so much to be in love with you and I that He brings Himself to our level, to be even smaller than us, so that He can be accessible to us and so that we can truly experience relationship with Him. And in responding to this love, we come to realize His greatness and His goodness which should move our hearts to imitate the Great One.

Dear Jesus, as You made Yourself “little” for me and emptied Your life for my salvation, may I be willing to humble myself and sacrifice myself for others. With Your grace, all things are possible. Help me to imitate You today. Amen.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

For What?

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

We work hard don’t we? Gone are the days of the 9-5 jobs. It seems as if the onslaught of technology that tempts to make our lives simpler has only succeeded in making us capable of doing more and more and more—leaving us more stressed and tired than in the first place. Think about it, years ago, unless you were a doctor, for the most part work could be left at work. Now everyone has a “pager” with cell phones, blackberries and droids running our lives. And we are expected to be on call at all times and be able to connect with work no matter where we are or what we are doing. Even young people have less time than before with school, homework, activities, sports, part-time jobs, etc.

So is this meditation an attack on technology? Or working hard? No. But when we examine our busy lives it begs the question: for what? What are we hoping to achieve? Because from where I’m sitting we aren’t achieving much; we’re like gerbils on a wheel, or flying in an airplane that is going really fast, but with no destination. I think we are trying to achieve peace through prosperity, security through wealth, self-worth through promotions and happiness through the acquisition of things. Or we’re simply trying to just have enough money to entertain ourselves constantly.

But at what cost? Are our marriages better? Do parents and children (especially teens) get along better with each other? Are we less stressed? Are we more peaceful, secure, happy? Do we like ourselves more? I think for many people the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no”. We are actually more stressed, feel less secure, are sadder and hate ourselves more and more. Why?

Because we are pursuing things that will never satisfy us while neglecting that which will. We pursue these things because we often get immediate satisfaction. But is what we might gain in the short-term worth the stress in life or worth the potential losses in the long-term (think heaven here)? I think it is time for us to start investing more in things that will bring peace and joy in our lives now, while leading us closer to the ultimate goal of heaven after this life. We were made for the eternal. Why do we spend so much time neglecting what we were created for? We need less time with the iPhone and more time with Scripture. We need less time with the HDTV and more time with the Catechism. We need less time with the computer and more time in prayer. We need less time at work and more time with our spouses. We need less time in the gym and more time with our kids (or parents)! Let’s invest in people, not things. Let’s invest in others, not ourselves. Let’s invest in God, not in things that are passing.

The great Christian author C.S. Lewis once wrote something along the lines that depending on where we end up in eternity (either heaven or hell) we will be able to look back and see that our lives were already living in one or the other before we died based on what was important to us, how we acted, what we desired, etc. So, for what are living—death or life? You decide.

Dear Jesus, help me to stop trying to gain this whole world and work more on my soul. Give me the grace to accept Your love and to use it to bring others to You. I want to invest in the eternal and live my life for You. Amen.  

Monday, January 3, 2011

Nothing to Give?

“…and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2: 11

What treasures do you have to offer the Christ child? I think many of us think we have little or nothing to offer Him. That if we truly took our hearts and examined them and then offered them to Christ that either He would find them so broken or spoiled that He would be able to do nothing with them, or that He would find them so stained by sin that He wouldn’t want them. If only we could be like the Magi who came to pay Him homage with such treasures as gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And while I think it is true that if we love someone we want to offer them our best, what if our BEST is broken, and stained and little? What if it seems worthless? Will He still accept our offering? I think the truth is that Christ is not as concerned with what we offer, but that we offer generously. He wants it all, even if the “all” is little, or insignificant or broken or stained. How can I say this?

Think about the story from the Gospels about the feeding of the five thousand and try to use your imagination. I picture the apostles standing there talking among themselves after Jesus had told them to figure out a way to feed all the people. And perhaps as they were discussing this dilemma, a little boy about 6-7 years old overhears them and decides to help by offering his lunch to Jesus. Not wanting to make him feel bad, they take his small offering of a few small loaves of bread (more like rolls) and a couple of dried fish. Soon after Jesus asks what they have come up with and with nothing else to show, they show him the little lunch offered by the boy, thinking it will be a token measure. And yet then what happens? Jesus takes this small, seemingly insignificant parcel that was offered with such generosity and He multiplies it into enough food to feed over five thousand men, women and children and 12 baskets of leftovers.

We soon forget about this little offering because it was not treasure like gold, and it was not nearly enough for any rational mind to think it could be helpful in the situation. But it wasn’t important what the little boy offering, it was that he offered it ALL. Perhaps today we can begin to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and what we think they offer Jesus. Or maybe we can begin to stop thinking that what we have to offer would be useless. And maybe we can just start offering, whatever it is, with a joyful and generous heart, trusting that if our God can take a few loaves and fish and feed five thousand, that He can take whatever we offer and transform us as well.

Dear Jesus, I want to offer You my whole heart today, with all its brokenness, wounds and stains. Give me the grace to trust in Your love for me and allow me the privilege of seeing You multiply my gift for Your glory and purpose. Amen.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Luke 1: 43


Theotokis! The Greek word means “Mother of God”. Why would anyone want to celebrate the Mother of God? A holy day of obligation? On New Year’s Day? Doesn’t the Church know that all of us were up past midnight last night? It’s sometimes hard simply waking up for the first day of the New Year, let alone getting a shower, getting dressed, brushing our teeth and going to Mass. They’re kidding, right?

Uhhh…no, not really. Believe it or not, there are some people in the history of the world (and currently, no doubt) that do not believe that Mary is the Mother of God, or that at best, she is the foster-Mother of Jesus, but nothing more. But if Mary were not the Mother of Jesus, than was Jesus truly Man? (Do you see how every question about Mary ALWAYS brings us back to Jesus?)

And why is it important to know that Jesus was truly Man and not just God? Because we need to know that He understands us. Of course as God He always understands us, but we don’t always believe that. Just like you may forget that your parents were once teen-agers and that they really do remember what it was like, even if they forget sometimes. Our bodies and minds and hearts yearn for Jesus in all of His humanity. We need to know that He skinned His knees as a child; that He had to learn how to walk and talk, that He felt lonely and sad. That He knew how it felt to run through the grass in your bare feet or squish sand between your toes.

If Jesus were just some vaporous spirit, we might doubt His love for us. We might doubt His sacrifice. We might begin to believe that even though He created us, He doesn’t know what we are going through. But He does! He was like us in all ways except sin.

And like each of us, He had a Mother. A mother who bathed Him and changed Him. A mother who hugged away His loneliness and who cheered Him on in whatever He was doing. A mother who poured out Her life for Him, showing Him an example of the love that He had created in her, so that His humanity could offer the purest expression of love in the fullness of time.

Maybe you don’t have the best mother in the world. Maybe your mother left you, or has passed away. But Mary is still your mother. Jesus gave her to you and I at the foot of the cross. Let’s honor her today and learn to love her more deeply for the mother that she is to us. She was good enough for Jesus, why not you?

Dear Jesus, help me to love Your mother as much as You. Help me to emulate her example of love for You and for others. Through Your grace, may I come to bring You to others, as Mary brought You to me. Amen.