Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sound the Retreat

“After doing so, Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.” Matthew 14: 23

Do you realize that even Jesus needed mountain top experiences of quiet and prayer in order to be refreshed? Yes, even Jesus went on “retreat”. So often we may think of the word retreat from a military perspective and thin that it somehow conveys weakness or cowardice. But the exact opposite is true. Normally when an army sounds the retreat, it is a wise decision, understanding the strength of the enemy and realizing their own lack of strength, numbers, position or determination. Thus they retreat in order to re-group, get reinforced, find better ground from which to fight or obtain better weapons to fight with. And then they GO BACK INTO BATTLE.

And so it is with us in the spiritual journey. We are certainly in a battle. Our enemy is Satan and he does not sleep, rest, stop to eat or back off in his relentless desire to tempt us and see us fall into his snares. And he surprises us and attacks us with noise and stress and the busyness of school, work, family, friends, entertainment and activities. Always keeping us tired and occupied, so that we never stop to re-group or renew our souls.

This is why retreats are so important. A retreat is a chance to take a step back from our normal lives and all the noise and activities, all the electronics and influences of the culture and just BE with God and other likeminded people. It is a chance to be quiet, to pray more, to laugh, to let go of the burdens that cling to your mind, heart and soul. To go up on that mountain with Jesus and breath deeply. Not to run away, not to avoid our lives or our problems. Not to pretend we are not living with hurt or distress or issues. But to climb up to Jesus and let Him heal us, hold us, forgive us, love us. To let Him strengthen us and fill us with His peace. Not so that we can stay on that mountain forever, but so that when we do come back down, we have the perspective and the weapons necessary to fight our enemy with renewed vigor and purpose.

A retreat can be literally and physically going away for a period of days, but it should also be a short period of time each day, where we turn off the phones and computers and TV’s and just spend some time “retreating” with God in the quiet. Where we think about the BIG questions in life and ask for His guidance and direction. A time where we not only talk to God, but also listen to God. It is in these special moments of grace that our lives will change and we will stop losing the battle and gain the strength to fight furiously for our own souls and the souls of others.

Dear Jesus, help me to retreat with You each day and when given the opportunity to spend time apart from my normal life to seek You on the mountain top so that I can come back to my normal life ready and equipped to do battle with the Evil One and reign victorious with You. Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

All For…

“He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” Matthew 4: 19-20

Can you imagine? A guy (maybe you’ve never seen before) walks into your school or place of work, tells a couple of your friends or co-workers to follow him and they drop their school books, or project and immediately leave with him. No explanation, no thought of what lies ahead, no thought of what people might think—they just go! People would think they were crazy. And maybe you would too.

But this is a story that repeats itself in more than one of the Gospels and in more than one situation with different people. And I think we can glean a couple of points for reflection from this. First of all, it appears to me that while Jesus never does things out of panic, or in a rush, He maintains an urgency in all that He does. Whether it is with the fishermen or the rich, young man, He calls them to follow Him NOW. He doesn’t want people who are going to put their hand to the plough and look back or even those who want to bury the dead first. I think He knows His own time on this earth to deliver His message was short, but more importantly, I think He understands how our time on this earth is short compared to eternity and He wants us to live and act with this same urgency, knowing that we have less days than we imagine to become holy and to bring others to Him.

I think we can also see that Jesus wants us to LET GO. This is signified by the fishermen who let go of their nets, or the young man that was supposed to sell his possessions and let go of the money by giving it to the poor. Perhaps the man who wanted to bury his dead was being asked to let go of the shovel. But so often we are hindered in following Jesus because we don’t let go. Maybe we desire to follow Him right away, but then we keep holding on to our past, our sins, our pain, and our regrets. Or maybe we hold onto our dreams and our plans for our lives and our futures. Perhaps we want to follow Jesus, but at the same time continue to listen to the same music we listened to before He called us, or keep watching the same movies, or keep hanging out with the same people. And perhaps we need to let go of everything, even those things near and dear to us, not so much because Jesus wants to take them away for good, but so that we can see all the more what He wants to give us. Perhaps we will never be able to fully appreciate what we have if we are not willing to even consider letting go of it.

Once we are willing to let go of everything and follow Jesus immediately, then I think we are capable of living all for Him. From that point on everything we do will be all for Jesus, all for His glory, all for the redemption of souls, all for the salvation of the world. We will cease thinking of ourselves primarily and begin to think first of Jesus and our neighbor and how every act, no matter how small or insignificant, can be offered all for Jesus to be used to merit grace for the world. And so in this way, our little lives become eternally significant. Our small dash in the history of mankind becomes invaluable for another’s redemption. Our small, daily duties offered for others to Jesus become irreplaceable gifts in the salvation history of the world. Our mission ceases to end with ourselves and our own needs, but extends through time and space to the needs of all of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Dear Jesus, I want to live all for You! Help me to let go of anything that keeps me from doing this and help me to follow You immediately and wholeheartedly at every moment. And please help me to cooperate with Your grace to merit grace for others through each of my daily duties. Amen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who Do You Say That I Am?

“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'” Matthew 16: 15-16

There are numerous Scripture passages in the Gospels where either Jesus says He is God or it is said about Him and He does not correct this statement about Him. This evidence was enough to convince the well-known Christian writer, C.S. Lewis in his masterpiece Mere Christianity to conclude that Jesus was a lunatic, a liar or the Lord. And if you think about it, there really are no other options. Some will try to say that He was a very good, holy prophet who had nice words to say. Some will try to say that Jesus was simply a teacher who tried to preach a message of peace and hope. But that doesn’t jive with what He said about Himself, or allowed others to say about Him without correction or clarification. The only choices we have about Jesus when we are confronted with the question of who He is are that He was mentally imbalanced, that He was a gifted liar or that He really was (and is) the God of the universe.

So maybe He was crazy?  Except that He never acted crazy throughout His life. His teachings at times might seem unconventional, but no one at the time nor since has really ever claimed that Jesus was mad. He was stable, normally calm and in control of Himself and His faculties. He spoke with passion and clarity. He did not ramble, babble nor act in delusional ways.

Well then, maybe He was a liar? Perhaps, but again, does the evidence really suggest this? I think the most telling evidence against this claim was that He went to His death, as did all of His apostles (except John) as a result of His teachings. Do you really think He (or they) would’ve taken the lie so far that they were willing to die for it when all they had to do was recant and they would have been able to live? No way. I know you and I can go a long way getting tangled deeper and deeper in lies and deceptions, but at the point of death, we would finally tell the truth, wouldn’t we? Would you willingly die for a lie when you didn’t have to? Me neither. And think about how many times when someone is lying that eventually the truth comes out. Jesus was very public about His teachings and ministry and He had many followers. Had He been deceiving people, it would have eventually come out and been recorded.

So the only real conclusion that we can make is that Jesus is the Lord as St. Peter exclaimed. And what a conclusion this is, for in the face of such knowledge our lives can never stay the same. St. Peter’s life changed and he became the first pope and the Church was built on him (the rock). St. Paul’s life changed when he was blinded and knocked from his horse in order to finally see Jesus his Lord and he became the greatest apostle to ever live. C.S. Lewis’ life was changed for he had been an atheist trying to disprove God and Christianity and when confronted with this knowledge of Christ instead embraced Christianity with zeal and his writings have led countless souls to known Jesus.

And so must you and I change after answering Jesus’ question. For if we acknowledge Him as Savior and Lord, we cannot just keep on living as if He is not. We must at this point either begin to accept Him more fully into our lives and reap the rewards or begin to reject Him in our lives and reap the consequences. Ignorance cannot be claimed any longer in our lives and we must now choose between life and death. To be sure, the path of Christ is not the easiest in the short term, but it is a great adventure filled with peace and hope that nothing else in this world can offer. And the retirement plan is out of this world.

Dear Jesus, You are my Lord and my God, please help me to choose You more and more each day. And with Your grace, may my life bring others to the knowledge of Your Lordship. Amen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Close Your Eyes

“The eyes of the Lord roam over the whole earth, to encourage those who are devoted to him wholeheartedly.” 2 Chronicles 16: 9a

A couple years ago I came home from a long day at work and as I opened the front door, my two oldest sons were standing in the doorway blocking my entrance. At the time they were 8 and 6 and they stood there with short black sticks in their hands and they were wearing top hats made out of black construction paper, black pants and shirts and black capes.  As I stopped in my tracks my oldest son said (in a very deep, dramatic voice), “Good evening, Father. Tonight we have a magic show for you, please sit down.”

So I made my way over to the couch in the living room and sat down. They had arranged several boxes in front of the couch and stood behind them. My oldest son again looked at me, held up a stuffed animal and in the same voice said, “Father, I am going to make this rabbit disappear. Would you like to see me make this rabbit disappear?” And I responded enthusiastically, “Heck yeah I’d like to see you make it disappear!” Then he looked at me very seriously and said, “Close your eyes.” 

So I closed my eyes and I could hear him opening a box in front of him and I could hear him shoving the rabbit in and closing the box and then he said loudly, “Abracadabra!” and then told me I could open my eyes. When I opened my eyes, both my sons put their hands in the air and shouted “Ta da!” And being a good Dad I clapped long and energetically, while chuckling on the inside. Then he made his brother disappear in the same fashion, with the same command to “close your eyes”.

While this is a cute story about boys and their imaginations, it is also an illustration of what we do to God sometimes. I think at times you and I tell God to “close His eyes” to things in our lives or our hearts. Perhaps we have a hurt that we have pushed way down deep in our hearts and we will allow God to see everything in our lives but that pain, because we know that if we let Him see it, then we’ll have to deal with it. Or maybe we don’t mind God seeing our lives most of the time, but when we hang out with certain friends we want Him to close His eyes because maybe with those friends we use language we shouldn’t, or we watch movies we shouldn’t or because we do things with them we shouldn’t. Perhaps when we go on the Internet we tell God to close His eyes because we are ashamed of the sites we visit. The reality is that even though God knows exactly what is going on in our lives, He will respect us, like a good Father, and He will close His eyes if we tell Him to, just like I closed my eyes for my sons when they asked me.

All of us can wear masks and fool others about what we are really feeling or thinking. We can fool our families, our teachers, our co-workers, our friends. We can even fool ourselves. But we can’t fool God. So why do we spend so much time trying to do it anyway?  God will not force Himself on us. But He continually knocks on the door to our hearts asking to be invited in. It is up to us to open the door and tell Him He can open His eyes and see every part of our hearts: the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s try to open our hearts fully to Jesus today and be completely honest with Him. Until we can do this, our relationship with Him will always be less than what it could be.

Dear Jesus, I give You permission to open Your eyes to every part of my heart today. Come into my heart and make Your dwelling there. And then help me to see as You see. Amen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Playground Faith

“He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18: 2-3

Have you ever gone to a playground and just sat and watched the kids playing? If not, you should, because you can really learn a lot of life lessons doing this. Recently, there was a nice day after months of cold weather and I was at the park with some of my kids. And while I was playing with them and helping them and picking them up, I also found myself unable to not observe the chaos around me. And I realized why God wants us to be like little children.

First of all, little kids go all out. Rarely did I see a kid just sitting there or walking around—and if they were, it was probably from running themselves ragged. Most were running, some with their mouths open screaming for joy and some with a determined look in their eyes. If only we could live our faith with such intensity and vigor.

Secondly, they were not worried. Sure, some of them were more cautious by nature and wouldn’t try some high ladders or go down some “scary” looking slides, but they were not afraid. They knew that someone was looking over them, someone was there to help them, someone was there to comfort them if they got hurt. If only we could live our faith without fear.

Third, they were happy and carefree. They were not burdened with the stress of life. While some of them might have their own little demons, or family problems or hurts, even at their young age, they were able to put them aside and just enjoy the moment. If only we could live our faith with such freedom.

Finally, they were able to reach out to others around them. They talked to other kids they didn’t know, they asked kids to play with them, they exchanged names or dove right into a world of fantasy with one other with ease. They even asked other parents to help them swing or slide if they didn’t see their own parent. They knew instinctively that they would have more fun together then alone. If only we could live our faith with such inclusivity.

Jesus does not call us to be childish, but He does call us to be childlike. Why? So that we can learn to trust Him, to live our faith all out, to reach out to others, to live without fear and to live in authentic freedom. If you are having trouble living with this kind of passion, then spend some time observing at a playground and learn from the innocent, little ones that are so precious to our Lord.

Dear Jesus, give me a childlike faith, that I may totally trust in You and live each day with passion and joy. Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Critical Thinking

“Before investigating, find no fault; examine first, then criticize. Before hearing, answer not, and interrupt no one in the middle of his speech. Dispute not about what is not your concern; in the strife of the arrogant take no part.” Sirach 11: 7-9

Take a few moments to stop and look at the people around you and listen to what they are saying. It might be at home, or school or work, or just out to lunch. The reality is that we live in a culture consumed with being critical. And everyone feels it is their right to criticize whoever they want for whatever they want, whether it is their business, or whether they know the person or not, or whether they have any information that gives them the right to criticize the person or situation.

Look on facebook and many teens are ripping their parents, their teachers, their friends. Go on blogs or YouTube or online articles and the comments are filled with vitriol and hate. For every compliment about an article or video, there are at least 15 criticisms. Watch or listen to the talking heads on radio and TV and most are critical of everyone and everything most of the time. I guess ratings go down when they are nice.

You can even look at the most beautiful paintings, or read the most beautiful poems or hear the most beautiful music and there will be someone out there who will criticize them. And you know what being critical does to others? It steals their joy. Think about it: how often have you been in a good mood, only to be brought crashing down because someone was critical of you, something you like, or something you did. When I was growing-up, I remember my mom saying to me many times (I am ashamed to admit), “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I tended to be an intense kid (still am I guess) and it was easy for me in my pride to find fault in others quickly or to put down something I thought was inferior.

Of course I am not saying that we shouldn’t think critically—in fact it is dangerous not to. Without critical thinking skills, we end up mindlessly following whatever whim or fancy beguiles us from moment to moment and we become complacent and live at the mercy of our ignorance and emotions. But so often this critical thinking turns into a justification to stomp on someone else’s feelings by verbalizing it without thought, without authority and without love. People might argue that Jesus was critical of the Pharisees and that at times He was not nice in His dealings with them. While this is true, Jesus was God and He knew their hearts, investigated their thoughts, motives and actions and then He passed judgment as He has the authority to do. And His rebukes were filled with a righteous indignation born out of a mysterious blend of His justice and mercy that you and I do not possess.

The lesson is that while there are certainly times when being critical are justified, those times are most certainly much fewer and farther between the amounts of times we criticize at present. So the next time you or I are tempted to pass judgment and verbalize a quick and cutting criticism on another’s thoughts, words or actions, perhaps we could stop, take a deep breath, pray and decide if we have listened intently, investigated thoroughly and have the authority to effectively criticize with love so that the result is positive, or if we should just keep our mouths shut.

Dear Jesus, help me to be less critical of others. I do not want to steal anyone’s joy. Help me to be quick to listen and slow to anger. Give me the grace to draw people to You through my kindness and allow You to be the judge of their hearts. Amen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sticks and Stones…

“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so my brothers.” James 3: 8-10

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been hurt by someone’s words. Whether intentional or not, peoples’ words can be used to cut us down and if truth be told, we have probably used words to cut others down as well, even if just returning “fire” for an insult leveled at us.

It’s really amazing that words have so much power. The old children’s saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” is such a lie that we never hear adults saying it to one another, do we? The reality is that some of us have been so hurt by words that we can vividly recall those things that have been said to us, even if they were years ago. I think back to my grade school or high school days and the few physical altercations I was in are like hazy shadows in my memory, but if I wanted to, I could recall with pinpoint accuracy the times I was most damaged by someone’s words.

Words shape us. Words change us. Words capture us and move us. They can also uplift our spirits or dash our emotions in an instant. You can be on top of the world and someone can come along and with one or two words send you crashing down. Or you can be down in the dumps and the right word can give you perspective and hope. Words can send our hearts soaring and bring our emotions into the open. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to great literature, stories and poems that can make women swoon and men girt for battle. And sometimes the most powerful words are the ones not spoken.

And so we who speak and write words have a great responsibility to use our words carefully and not use them simply for our own gain, or popularity, our own notoriety or praise, nor for the desecration of others. We need to use our words, either written or spoken, to uplift, to raise others beyond themselves, to point people to something better, to something grander, to something we all desire but sometimes do not know how to articulate. Ultimately, we must use our words to help one other find Christ.

We can do this by compliments, by encouragement, by congratulations. And we can do it with challenge and accountability and even with criticism, if it is sincere and loving. And sometimes it will be by saying nothing, but letting our actions speak louder than our words: a kind gesture, a warm smile, giving up a seat on a crowded bus or train, helping someone in a pinch, being patient, being calm, being nice. We can do it by not responding to insults with insults. We can do it by making someone know they are loved. People everywhere, whether they know it or not, are seeking Jesus, the WORD of God. We want to make sure that when they read or hear our words, they are a reflection of THE Word, so that in the end, our words do not become a stumbling block to THE Word being spoken in their hearts by the Author and Speaker of all life.

Dear Jesus, You know the pain of sharp words. You felt the poison arrows of lies and insults pierce Your Sacred Heart and You responded with love. Please give me the grace to love those who have hurt me with their words and help me to never use words carelessly or maliciously, but always use them to bring glory to You and dignity to others. Amen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It’s Not Hopeless

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.” Jeremiah 29: 11

Every night at dinner when my family prays grace, in addition to saying the formal grace before meals prayer, we go around and everyone says a prayer of thanksgiving. And my 3 year old son Benny always goes first. I think he is going to grow-up to be a preacher because his prayers are sincere, but long. He normally begins with “Thank you Jesus…” and then he follows with a litany of thank you’s for the yummy food, his family, that everyone loves him, that he loves everyone, that he loves the whole world…but then about this time each night recently he’s been adding, “except I don’t love dragons and monsters and bad guys.” Or some variation of this.

So the other night he is going strong and gets to the part about monsters and bad guys and then concludes with “…and thank you Jesus it’s not hopeless. Amen” Of course we all stopped and kind of looked at him, not sure we and heard him correctly. And so I asked him what he just prayed and he sighed and said with a little frustration, “Daddy, it’s not hopeless.”

Now I don’t know what is exactly going through his little brain and I’m not sure why all of a sudden he has been having some kind of fear or concern about monsters and dragons and bad guys. But I think Benny expressed the way a lot of us feel about life: we live in fears and doubts, especially young people, and perhaps even more acutely when we think of our futures. But despite his little fears and fantasies going on in his head, Benny got it right and he offers this profound lesson to all of us today: “It’s not hopeless”. Benny illustrates the childlike faith that each of us must have as we walk this earth. What he doesn’t even realize yet is that the monsters and dragons and bad guys are real and they get scarier as you get older and know more about the world. And even without the “monsters”, there are bills, health issues, peer pressures, broken families and all kinds of situations that flow in and out of our lives from day to day that can leave us feeling hopeless. But I think if at the end of the day we can confront our fears, disappointments and tragedies and say “It’s not hopeless”, then we will be OK.

How can we do this? St. Catherine of Siena put it well when she said, “There is only one thing to do, then, and that is to invest our affection, our desire, our love in something stronger than ourselves—I mean God, the source of all strength. He is our God who loved us without being loved..[we] have no fear because it is not in [ourselves] that [we] trust. No, all [our] faith and trust is in God, whom [we] love, because [we] see that he is strong, and that he is willing and able to help [us].”

If we invest our affections desires and love in Jesus instead of ourselves, others or things, then no matter what life throws at us, we can live free from fear and despair with the confidence and hopefulness of a three year old.

Dear Jesus, I want to have a childlike trust and hope in You. Give me the grace to let go of my fears and doubts and cling to You above all else. Amen.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lonely Hearts Club

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.” Psalms 34: 19

It’s amazing how lonely we can feel at times, isn’t it? We can be in a crowded room full of people and still feel all alone. We can be surrounded by noise and activity and still feel small and overlooked. A young lady I met recently on retreat told me about how much fun she had in life and how busy her life was with musical practice, girl scouts, sports and youth group, but then the next day her facebook status read “Utterly lonely…again”. I think all of us are searching, yearning for someone to know us, to know our hearts, to see us for who we really are. Not see us for the way we look or dress, not see us for the masks we wear, not see us for the things we hide out of fear, but really, truly know us and see our hearts and souls. And when we don’t have this our hearts can ache. Especially on a day like today, when the world is celebrating love, the irony is that some people feel even more alone than ever. And when we succumb to these very real feelings and dwell on them, then Satan has us just where he wants us.

The reality is that a lot of sins in the world are committed out of loneliness and a desire to be loved. I think Satan is always trying to isolate and divide and conquer. He likes to get us alone and afraid---afraid we’ll always be alone, afraid of not being loved, afraid of not being worthy, afraid of not meeting whatever passing standards have been set by our ever-changing culture. And so people compromise their beliefs, or put them to the side for a few moments, or cast them aside entirely, so that they can do whatever they want to ease the loneliness in their hearts, if only for a few minutes. But in the end, whenever we do things out of fear, the results leave us feeling more alone and more empty and more isolated than before. And thus begins a vicious downward cycle for many people in hopelessness and despair.

So how do we protect ourselves from this way of thinking and acting? How do we keep positive and free from fear when our hearts desire companionship and intimacy? Well, when I was 18 years old and suffering the emotional pain of a break-up, my parents gave me a framed letter with words from St. Anthony written in 1247 AD. This letter changed my life. Here are some highlights to help all those today feeling lonely, overlooked or brokenhearted:

“Everyone longs to give themselves completely to someone—to have a deep soul relationship with another, to be loved thoroughly and exclusively. But God to a Christian says, ‘No, not until you are satisfied with living loved by Me alone and have an intensely personal relationship with Me alone. I love you, My child, and until you discover that only in Me is your satisfaction, you will not be capable of the perfect human relationship that I have planned for you….I want you to have the best. Please allow Me to bring it to you—just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things—keep experiencing that satisfaction, knowing that I Am. Keep learning and listening to the things I tell you…don’t be anxious. Don’t worry! Don’t look around at the things others have gotten or that I have given them…just keep looking to Me or you will miss what I want to show you. I am God. Believe and be satisfied.’”

What comfort these words brought to my hurting heart. And with them as my balm, I began to stop looking for a love that might temporarily fix my loneliness and instead focused on my relationship with Christ, for months and months, until I was sincerely ready to live my life being loved by Him alone; until the fear of loneliness was smothered by the awesome reality of His love for me. And I was satisfied. Then, and only then, as St. Anthony prophesied, was I ready to meet the human expression of God’s love for me in the form of my future wife.

God does not want us to be lonely. He does not want us to live by ourselves for ourselves. He wants us to first and foremost be in an intimate relationship with Him, so that no matter the circumstances in life, we will never be truly alone. As we celebrate this day of love, let us put more time and attention into our relationship with Jesus, so that from this relationship, all of our relationships, current and future, will be marked in Truth and charity, free from the fear of loneliness and sin.

Dear Jesus, make my heart like Your heart and embrace the fullness of love You have for me. Give me the grace to be satisfied with Your love alone, so that I can experience all the goodness and joy You have planned for my life, free from fear and sin. Amen.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Knowing Jesus

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds all in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me your evildoers’” Matthew 7: 21-23

I bet if I asked you, you could tell me something about George Washington. I bet you could tell me something about Abraham Lincoln, too. And I bet you can even tell me something about Martin Luther King, Jr. Could you even tell me something about Jesus? In fact, many people reading this could probably tell me several things about each of the men mentioned above. But let me ask this question now: how many of you know George Washington? Who of you reading this knows Abe Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Anyone out there know Jesus?

You see, there is a big difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone. And while we can know all about (or think we know all about) people from history, the bottom line is that we can never know them because they are dead. But not Jesus. If you go to Jerusalem and visit the tomb of Jesus it is empty. There is no body because Jesus conquered death and rose again alive from that tomb on the third day. And the reality is that we can know Him. In fact, He wants us to know Him and I think this Scripture shows that it is imperative to know Him, and not just know about Him.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is very important to know about Jesus and our Faith. We should have a working knowledge of what we believe in our minds and we should be ready to articulate it to others (see 1 Peter 3: 15). Especially since there is so much confusion out there about what Catholics believe. I call this head knowledge. But if all we are is walking and breathing Catholic encyclopedias, is that enough? Does it make sense to know the Ten Commandments but never follow them? Is it beneficial to our spiritual lives to know the seven Sacraments but never go to Mass or receive Reconciliation? Of course not.

Jesus wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. He wants us to not only have head knowledge of Him, but HEART knowledge as well. He doesn’t just want us to know about Him, He wants us to know Him. The temptation is to think about Jesus as just another historical figure from the past that said and did some nice things, but doesn’t have any impact on our life today. But nobody asks “WWGD?” (What Would George Do?), while millions around the globe live their lives each day asking “WWJD?” (What Would Jesus Do?). How about you? Do you know Jesus? Is He your best friend?

The history of the Church is filled with the blood of martyrs. No one dies for a list of rules or a book of doctrine. People are willing to die for someone they love though. Jesus died for you and me and the martyrs were privileged enough to be able to love Jesus as deeply in return. In the end, on our judgment day, no amount of prophetic words, exorcisms performed or mighty deeds accomplished will be enough to get into heaven if we are strangers to Jesus. May we live each day trying to know Him more and more.

Dear Jesus, I want to know You. I want to have an intimate relationship with You. I want You to be my best friend. Please give me the grace to open my heart more and more to You each day. Amen.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two by Two

“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two…He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” Mark 6: 7a, 8

There’s a lot of things we think we need to get by in this life, isn’t there? We have so much stuff and I’m not sure we know the difference between what we need and what we want. Just think about all the things we don’t think we could live without that 10-15 years ago hardly any of us possessed, let alone thought we’d need someday: iPods, cell phones, lap tops, PDA’s, texting, GPS systems, etc. 

We have ourselves convinced that we need lots of money, the big house with the perfect yard and the three-car garage for all of our nice rides. I think young people are sure they need fancy cell phones, lap tops, after school jobs and the latest fashions to make it. And so we continue to wander the malls, mindlessly buying more and more while never quite throwing or giving away as much as we purchase. Why do we do this?

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: what is our mission? Because I think if we truly know what we are trying to accomplish in life and where we are trying to go, then it will impact what we need to complete that mission. For instance, if our mission in life is to simply go through each day and have as much fun as possible and to be as comfortable as possible, then having all the latest electronic toys and gadgets and lots of money and things is probably high on the needs list. But if our mission is to get to heaven and to take as many people with us as possible, then I’m not so sure we need a whole lot of what we have right now.

When Jesus sent the Twelve on their mission, all He gave them was a walking stick and a friend. That’s all they needed. Now obviously you and I live in a much different world and we certainly do need more than that. But how much more? I think Jesus made it pretty clear that the most important thing we need on this journey to complete our mission is each other. Are we investing more time and effort and money into things for ourselves, or are we investing more time and effort into one another: supporting one another, challenging one another, holding one another accountable, loving one another until it hurts, being patient with one another, putting one another first? I think this is what Jesus wants us to invest in if we are going about His mission. And keep in mind that the walking stick was a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.  Let’s remember this when purchasing things we think we need.

Your Wii is not going to hold your hand when you are feeling down. Your iPhone is not going to hold you accountable to live the Gospel message. And your lap top is not going to challenge you to follow Christ more passionately. Only a true brother or sister in Christ can do these things. If you have some of these, then praise God and invest more time in your relationship with them. If you don’t, then get on your knees each day and pray for God to introduce you to a Godly friend soon—and He will.

Dear Jesus, I want my mission to be getting to heaven and bringing as many others with me as I can through Your grace. Help me to invest more in my relationships with friends that will encourage, support, challenge and hold me accountable in this mission. Amen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Pick Things Up, I Put Things Down

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15: 13

A lot of people like to live on the edge. Perhaps you and I are among them. We want to be called a Christian, we want to go to Church (at least when it is convenient) and we want to be saved in the long run. But in the short run, we aren’t sure we really want to live all out for God. We want to continue to balance on the fence between living for God or living in the world, or keep one foot dangling in the water of temptation, or ride right along the edge of the chasm of mortal sin and try not to fall into it.

I think young people are especially tempted to live this kind of Christian life because of all the pressure they face to fit in from their peers and from the media. It seems easier to keep one foot in each camp and try to survive, then to really give your heart completely to God. Adults do this too, at work, or even within their families, but young people are the forefront of Satan’s attacks and they have it the hardest.

The way this most often plays out is when a young believer wants to follow Jesus, but at the same time, surrounds themselves with people who are not trying to follow Jesus. While on the one hand they are trying to live a moral life and not get into situations that will tempt them to sin, their friends don’t even consider the idea of sin and so the things they want to do and the situations they want to be involved in are often exactly contrary to what the young believer should be doing. The problem is that in this scenario, so often the young person stands on pride and believes that they will be not only strong enough to withstand the temptation constantly around them, but at the same time, bring their friends to an understanding that what they are doing is wrong. And in some rare cases, where God has given an abundance of extra grace for a specific purpose, this may be possible, but I think in most cases the believer is kidding themselves and using the case for evangelization as a justification to live in both worlds.

But if we live this way, we have to realize that we are most likely going to get burned. Why? Simple. It is much easier to knock someone down than to pick them up. For instance, think of the biggest, strongest guy in your school. Now picture the tiniest girl at your school. If the guy were to stand on a folding chair and you told the girl she could do whatever she wanted to knock him down, it would not take her very long to get him to lose his balance and fall off the chair. But if you asked that guy to lie on the ground and had the girl try to pick him up, it just wouldn’t happen. Perhaps if she had enough friends they could all work together and do it, but not by herself. The same is true in our spiritual lives. If we are trying to follow Jesus and surround ourselves with a bunch of people who aren’t, then it is going to be very easy for any of them to knock us down. On the contrary, if we surround ourselves with others who are trying to follow Christ then we will pick each other up when we fall.

This of course does not mean we should find a little Christian clique and become exclusive to everyone else. But it means we recognize our own weaknesses and the temptations of our world and choose to be with people who are going to help us keep our eyes on the prize while trying to bring others into the peace and joy and love of Jesus that we experience.

Dear Jesus, please help me to be wise in selecting friends. Help me to choose friends that will draw me closer to You, so that when I meet those who do not know You, I will have the strength and confidence to show them Your love. Amen. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Run to Win!

“Do you know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” 1 Corinthians 24-25

Everyone in the world is passionate about at least one thing, if not more. And my definition for something you’re passionate about is that you are willing to lose sleep to do it. For instance, some people are passionate about playing sports. And I have seen young people get up every morning at 5:00am in order to practice their sport if that is the only time they can get into the gym or rink or pool. I have also seen people up and ready to go on a Saturday after a long week of school or work, to travel for several hours for a soccer game, gymnastics meet or basketball tournament.

I think some people are passionate about shopping. They get up at 2:00am the day after Thanksgiving and join the thousands upon thousands of folks trying to snag a sweet deal on electronics or other stuff for themselves or for holiday gifts. I think some people (especially young people) are very passionate about friendships and relationships. They text thousands of times per month, they stay up late chatting on-line and they are constantly checking their facebook accounts.

And while I believe there are certainly some things in the world that are morally unacceptable for us to be passionate about, the types of things I just mentioned are not bad to be passionate about. But ask yourself this question: am I just as passionate about my relationship with Jesus as I am about…sports…shopping…friends…or…fill in the blank? I think this is a legitimate question we need to ask ourselves. Because when we die and stand before the Lord to see if we are worthy of entrance into heaven, it is not going to matter how many goals we scored, how much money we saved at the store or how many facebook friends we have. The only thing that is going to matter is did we love God and love others with passion? Did we run the race of faith like we were trying to win? Or did we run after so many things of this earth that we had not the time nor interest in our Lord?

Even teams that have won the Super Bowl want to win it again, and again, and again. Why? Because that awesome feeling and experience of being the world champions is fleeting and before you know it, the heroes of the Super Bowl are changing their kids’ diapers, taking out the trash and doing the dishes just like you and me. And they probably don’t feel like Super Bowl champs in those moments. And then come summer they are back in training camp running two-a-days with coaches screaming in the faces and I am SURE they don’t feel like the champs then. Then they go through another hard season of injuries and pain and time away from their families and they want something to show for all of that sacrifice. But in the end, how many people could name who played in Super Bowl IX off the top of their heads without looking it up? The point is that the feeling is passing, the Lombardi Trophy is a perishable prize, as are all of the accolades, awards and accomplishments of this world.

So am I saying we should not strive for excellence on the playing fields, or try to get good deals on things we buy, or stop putting effort into our friendships? Of course not. But if we have more passion about these things than we do about loving and following Jesus, then we are deluding ourselves and putting too much energy and effort into things that will be here today and gone tomorrow. We were made for the eternal, for the permanent, for things that are imperishable. Do our desires, thoughts and goals acknowledge this, or are we settling for prizes that will leave us empty in the end?

Dear Jesus, I want to live my life with passion for You. Help me to always keep my eyes on the prize of heaven and do everything with this goal in mind. Amen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Minimum vs. Maximum

“We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises.” Hebrews 6: 11-12

What is the minimum I have to do to get the maximum amount of return?

This is a question that people ask themselves all the time. And in many instances, we then act on the answer we find. If given the choice to work as hard as possible, or work as little as possible, but still receive the same amount of pay and not get fired from a job, or not get an “F” in school, which would you choose? I think this kind of attitude points to another hallmark or defining ideology of our current world. It is called minimalism. The idea is that I walk through life doing the bare minimum I have to in order to live, to earn a living, to survive, to keep my marriage intact, to love my kids, to love my parents, to maintain my friendships, etc.

It’s about cutting corners and trying to get the most out of the least amount of effort and time. It is a fear of commitment. And ultimately, it can cause us to take this approach in our relationship God: what is the minimum I need to believe, I need to do, I need to say…in order to be a real Christian, or to call myself Catholic without feeling guilty about it. We say to ourselves, “I don’t need to be a Saint, I just need to do the basic necessities to follow Christ”. We stop trying to get to heaven and instead aim for purgatory.

But the problem with setting the bar low is that we rarely live up to the bar no matter where it is at. So we need to set the bar high and then if we fall a little short, we have still excelled. Living a life of minimalism is living a cheated life. It is living a lazy life. It is often leading a life of quiet desperation. Rather than living a life of greatness, we settle for less than mediocre and in the end we sluggishly trudge through life thinking that this is all there is. We seek to survive rather than to thrive. And this is not what God created us for. God created us for greatness! God created us to live life and to live it to the full.  He does not want us to simply wander through life getting away with whatever we can, with doing the least instead of our best.

Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be fulfilled? Do you want to be great? I thought so. Then go beyond the lie of a minimalistic life and strive for holiness, strive for excellence. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom, a lawyer, a student, a soldier, or any number of other occupations or positions in life—live life to the full.  We ARE called to be Saints and there is not one Saint that did the minimum in life. There is not one Saint that just tried to get away with what they could. Every Saint thrived, no matter their circumstances.

And if Jesus had given the minimum, would He have died on that cross? I doubt it. He would probably have given up right before the scourging. I’m sure the suffering He endured in the garden or at the hands of those who arrested Him would have been more than most people would have done. But not our God! Our God has given us His ALL. How can we not do the same?

Dear Jesus, help me to give my all each day as You did. With the help of Your grace, may I live life to the full, rather than settle for mediocrity and desperation. Amen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator…” Romans 1: 25

“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus. And Jesus had answered him the night before during the Last Supper when He told the Apostles, “I am the way, the truth and the life…”. In our culture today the very idea that there can be Truth, not truths, but capitol” T” universal Truth that applies to everyone in every situation across history is becoming obsolete. The savvy people, the people in the ivory towers, those who are enlightened will say that there are absolutely no absolutes. Are you sure?  But this represents yet another hallmark or defining philosophy of our current culture—the idea of relativism. And it is so pervasive at this point that Pope Benedict XVI has even referred to it as “the dictatorship of relativism”. It holds that there is no right or wrong for everyone (except saying that there is actually right or wrong—which is wrong).

Relativism tries to convince us (often by bullying us) that not only is there no such thing as right or wrong when it comes to moral behaviors, but that there is no Truth when it comes to belief as well. In other words, there isn’t any Truth that will lead us to God, there are many “truths” or paths that each person can choose and each of these paths is equally valid in helping us to find God or get to heaven. The problem is that this is not the way the world operates in any other area. There is natural law, which is true at all times. And there is certainly universal Truth to be found in science and math. For instance, no matter how much you might personally believe otherwise, 2 + 2 will ALWAYS equal 4 and nothing else. So if there can be found universal Truth in these areas, then it holds to reason that there must be Truth in other areas like faith and morals.

The real reason that relativism has spread so far and wide in our culture today is simply because people want to do whatever they want or believe whatever they want or say whatever they want and they don’t want to be held responsible for any of that nor do they want to feel guilty in any way. Relativism is a license to ignore your conscience and to form it in another fashion—a fashion that ultimately does not destroy universal Truth, but simply makes the individual the decider of what this truth shall be for them. This way there is really no need for God, for Church, for authority, the Bible, parents, government, etc. We can all just do what we want whenever we want and everyone will be happy. But will we?

Are we happier without a moral compass? Are we happier when we have no foundation of Truth to stand on, when our lives have been built on the shifting sands of opinion? Absolutely not! We become more paranoid, we get more easily depressed, we become more anxious and we end up spending a lot of time trying to figure out the difference between what is real and what is fantasy. Certainly this is exactly where Satan wants us. The reality is that it is so much more peaceful living in the freedom of Truth, of knowing what is right from wrong, of being confident that there is a God who loves us and who wants us to be with Him. Without boundaries, children become insecure and without the boundaries of Truth in our world, the dictatorship of relativism has created a society of insecure, often depressed people, running around all the time trying to find reality in a world of illusion. We need the light of Truth to cut through this relativistic fog. We need to be salt and light in our world, to show those around us that there really is a reason to live, that there is hope, that there is a path that really does lead to fulfillment.

Dear Jesus, enlighten my conscious with the knowledge of right and wrong. Open my heart to the Truth You give us through the Church. Allow me to live in this Truth and to be a witness to Truth through the way I live and love. Amen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

If It Feels Good…

“People will be self-centered and…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power…” 2 Timothy 3: 2a, 4b-5

These are harsh yet prophetic words from St. Paul today in his second letter to Timothy. And I think he is describing our culture perfectly. For another hallmark, or defining characteristic of our world is hedonism. Hedonism is living for pleasure and holding that enjoying oneself is the highest goal to achieve.

If we take an honest look around us, I think we would have to agree that many people have ascribed to this way of living and seek pleasure at all times. Obviously this is most illustrated in the way our society has perverted the beautiful and holy gift of sexuality that God has given us. What we often fail to miss is that sex was not created for pleasure, sex was created for union between spouses and for the procreation of the human race. The fact that it also happens to be pleasurable is part of the gift God has given us. But if one seeks sexual intimacy as a means to pleasure, as opposed to pleasure being a by-product and fruit of the conjugal act, then one has placed sexual gratification on the altar of hedonism.

Likewise, the purpose of eating food is not pleasure, it is so that our bodies can have the fuel we need to survive and to do our daily work. The fact that eating is enjoyable is not the point, it is again, a gift that God has attached to the process. If one were to eat only for pleasure, then one would be abusing the gift that God has given us and will have placed eating on the altar of hedonism.

So what else have we placed on the altar of hedonism? Each of us needs to take a hard, long and honest look into our own lives and with the grace of God examine our motives for our actions and see where we are simply doing things for the pleasure they give us. If we don’t, then we risk compromising our beliefs and convictions at the expense of feeling good. Of course it isn’t that God does not want us to enjoy the things He has given us, otherwise He would not have attached pleasure to them, but we want to make sure that we are using the goods of this earth in accord with His designs and not simply for our own enjoyment and pleasure. 

Are you afraid of any kind of pain for yourself or those you love? Do you do everything possible to minimize any potential hurts? Do you run away from confrontation or hard work? Are you lazy? Do you desire the goods of this earth more than you desire righteousness or following God’s will and commands? Tough questions; questions that might cut to the heart of our motives. But the reality of life, especially the life of a Christian is that there will be suffering. There will be death and sickness and loss. Life doesn’t always feel good. And sometimes life really, really hurts. And if all you’ve been living for is pleasure, then how will you cope with the dark times and how will you survive to the next day when the rug is pulled out from under your life?

Christ did not live for pleasure. He lived to love others. He accepted His suffering rather then run away from it. He was not afraid of hard work or confrontation. He did not compromise who He was or who He was created to be in exchange for the fleeting pleasures of this world. As His followers, how can we strive for anything different?

Dear Jesus, I want to use Your good gifts according to Your purpose for them. Help me through Your grace to always be pure in my motives and actions and to accept the suffers and hardships of life with patience and joy. Amen.