Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recalculating…

“Say to them: This is the nation which does not listen to the voice of the Lord, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.” Jeremiah 7: 28

I was driving with some friends recently and we were talking about our GPS devices. We were discussing which “voices” we like to use. Personally, I like “Mandy” because she sounds calm and puts me at ease with her cute little UK accent. Others liked male voices for various reasons. But then we started talking about the GPS devices that “yell” at you or mock you when you make a wrong turn or don’t listen to their directions. One person even knows someone who’s GPS uses the voice of Mr. T from the old A-Team show (“I pity the fool who doesn’t turn left NOW!”). One thing seemed clear though among our group, whenever we took a wrong turn, the device would recalculate and try to get us back on track—but even then we sometimes ignored it.

I think many of us have experienced “back seat” drivers, too. These well-meaning people (sometimes US when we are in the back seat, right?) know EVERYTHING about driving. The fastest way to wherever you are going, which street to turn on, when you are driving too fast (or slow), when you are too close to the person in front of you, where you should stop for lunch or gas and when to use your turn signals. But does the driver often listen to what the back seat driver is saying? Sometimes, but certainly not if the back seat driver speaks with an impatient, harsh or panicked tone of voice. I think if we are driving and someone with us speaks this way, our gut level response (if we are really honest) is to do the opposite just to spite them. Especially when we went the wrong way or our “short-cut” gets us lost.

The point is that none of us likes to be corrected. But none of us are perfect. And so herein lies the problem, if none of us our perfect, that means from time to time we will make mistakes and need to be corrected: by our parents, our employers, our teachers, our friends, our spouses, our relatives—even by our kids. And the reality is that any of us are capable of getting off course or making a wrong turn in life. When this happens, will we have the humility to recognize our need for correction and then accept it when it comes?

How about when that correction has to deal with our spiritual and moral lives? What about when we are told to shape up? What about when we are reminded about God’s commandments or the teachings of the Church? What about when we are living contrary to Scripture? Do we want to be called on this? Are we willing to let God recalculate our souls? This is what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about. It is not just about saying we are sorry and being forgiven, it is also about being given the grace and then doing the penance necessary to recalculate our souls back in the right direction after we have turned down the wrong direction in our sin. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through our conscience, sometimes like “Mandy” and sometimes like Mr. T, constantly reminding us of God’s love for us and whether we have responded in kind to Him or not. When we haven’t, we need to have our souls recalculated in the sacrament of His mercy. This Lent, let’s make it a priority to get to confession and make things right with God.

Dear Jesus, I want to have a humble heart that is willing to take correction from You. Please give me the grace to recognize my need for this correction and to accept it with joy when You offer it. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where You Going?

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those that enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Matthew 7: 13-14

Have you ever gone on a road trip? You know, picked a destination, packed your bags, filled-up the tank and just hit the open road? It’s pretty cool. But the most important thing to know is where you want to end up. Then the second most important thing is to make sure you are on the right road to get you to where you want to be. Right?

For instance, let’s say I want to go to San Francisco and so I pack my bags and get on Interstate 95 heading south and as I get on this highway around Baltimore, MD, I stick my head out the window and shout, “San Francisco, here I come!” And then I drive for three hours. Around three hours later I am driving near Richmond, VA and I stop at a rest area and as I am leaving a trucker asks me where I’m going. “San Francisco!” I reply with gusto. Then I get in my car and head back onto I-95 south and drive for three more hours. Now I am in North Carolina. What’s going to happen if I stay on I-95 south? I’m going to end up in Florida. It doesn’t matter how many times I say I am going to San Francisco, if I stay on I-95 south I will end up in Florida. If I am on I-95 south and want to go to San Francisco, the first thing I need to do is TURN WEST by getting on a different road! In the Christian life we call this conversion.

Jesus clearly tells us that in life there are two roads and that at any given time you and I are on one of them. One is wide and smooth and easy and many people are on it; and this is the road leading to hell. The other road is narrow and hard and few people are on it; this is the road to heaven. The question is: where do you want to be at the end of this journey we call life? The choices are either heaven or hell. That’s it. And if you want to go to heaven (and I think most people want to), then you better be on the right road to make it to your destination of choice. The reality is that we don’t just get to heaven because we want to. While that’s a good start, it is not the criteria. Jesus said if we want to get to heaven we need to go through Him. (see John 14: 6)

If we are travelling on the wide road when we die, we will go to hell, no matter how bad we say we want to go to heaven. In order to be on the narrow road we need to be following Jesus. While this is hard, it is possible because of the grace of God which Jesus merited for us on the cross. The Good News is that God has not left us to our own devices and abilities to reach heaven, but He sent His only Son, Jesus, to become one of us, to walk this earth, to show us the way and to die for our sins to open the door to heaven for all of us. All we have to do is cooperate with this grace and follow Him on the narrow road. And following Jesus means obeying Him and loving Him and our neighbor with passion and purity. It means laying down our lives for others as He laid down His life for us. It means casting off the ways of the world and picking up our cross to go where He leads. It means embracing unconditional love and an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. It means trusting Him. It means saying “no” to ourselves and “yes” to Him. It means a life of greatness for now and a life of eternal glory to come.

Let’s use Lent to examine our lives honestly and see what road we are on in life and where it is leading us. And if it is not leading us to where we want to be, then let’s pray for the grace to get on the right road and begin heading in the right direction.

Dear Jesus, I want to get to heaven. Help me to follow You on the narrow road and stay off the wide road. Give me all the grace I need to finish my journey and be with You forever in the end. Amen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I Thirst

“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” John 4: 13-14

Have you ever been really thirsty? I mean so thirsty that it is all you could think about, all you desired? So thirsty that nothing else mattered but getting a drink? I bet some of you reading this are getting thirsty right now. What a powerful and instinctual urge this is in us. An urge so primordial and integral to us as beings because it keeps us alive, for without water, we would die. It’s interesting to note that the human body can last much longer without food than it can without fluids. This makes sense when you realize that our bodies are made mostly of water. So when we don’t have enough or we need more, our bodies send us this sense of thirst to compel us to quench it. And if this desire has become desperate enough, we will do almost anything to quench it. I have even heard stories of stranded hikers in the wilderness who drank their own urine to quench this thirst.

But you know what? No matter how many times we get thirsty, no matter how many times we quench that thirst and no matter how much liquid we drink at one sitting, we are still going to be thirsty again. Sure, that glass of ice cold water on a hot summer day feels so good, but that satisfaction lasts only but a short while, and then we are left wanting more. This is the way things are in life. Even the good things are given for short term satisfaction and then we want again. Why is this? Because we were created for more than just the things we can see, taste, touch, smell and experience in this life—we were made for the eternal. And as long as we seek to quench or thirst for peace, or love, or happiness in anyone or anything of this world, we will be left wanting more.

However, the Good News is that there is One who can quench our thirst. And not just for a couple of hours, but forever. This water He gives will not quench our physical thirst, but it will quench the thirst of our hearts, a thirst more powerful even than our physical thirst. A thirst designed to be quenched by Him and Him alone! And you know the crazy thing? He thirsts for you and me as well. And it is this thirst for our love that compels Him to love us and is what draws us to Him. At the exact moment that Jesus was pouring out His love for us with His death on the cross He reminds us of His thirst for our love. We quench His thirst when we love others, when we see their needs and attempt to meet them. When we stop looking at ourselves and seek to offer our lives for others as He did for us. Then, in these moments, the thirst of God’s heart and our hearts is quenched simultaneously in the streams of love and mercy welling up within us from God and draws us to the eternal.

Dear Jesus, may I always recognize the difference between that which will quench my thirst for a short time and the water that comes from You that will never leave me thirsty again. Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Be Not Afraid

“And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” Luke 1: 28-29

What are you afraid of? Spiders? Snakes? Clowns? Things that go bump in the night? I think all of us have fears, some that are grounded in reality, others not. And there are certainly many things in the world to fear. Cassie Bernall was a teen living in Columbine, CO when two classmates decided to go on a rampage of shooting in their school. As Cassie crouched underneath a table in the library, one of the shooters approached her, pointed a gun at her and asked her if she believed in God. She said yes and he shot her dead. I bet she was scared. But she still professed her faith in Jesus. While most of us will never have to face the business end of a gun to profess our faith, there are a hundred other ways that we can be afraid of following Jesus or acknowledging our belief in Him. And perhaps in some ways, it might seem even harder to admit your faith to your friends, classmates, family, or co-workers, because then they would expect you to live it and you would have to put up with continual persecution.

Or do you think it would be easier to have an angel appear to you in your bedroom tonight and deliver a message from God to you. DO you think you’d be afraid? Mary was not afraid of the angel, or the angel’s appearance, but she was troubled by his message. Perhaps that’s what you and I fear the most too: what is God asking of us? What does He want us to do? Be a priest or nun? Go to a Third World country as a missionary? Or maybe He wants us to give up a friendship or relationship that is keeping us from Him, or stop listening to a certain kind of music or stop watching a TV show we love?

Pope John Paul II’s first words as pope were “Be not afraid” and I have heard it said that a variation of this phrase is mentioned in Scripture 365 times—one for every day of the year! I think God is trying to tell us something. God does not want to take good things away from us. He does not want our lives to be boring and lonely. He does not want us to be removed from the world completely. What He wants for us is LIFE, and life to the full. A life of authentic freedom, the freedom to avoid sin and to do good. A life of self-donation. A life of greatness! May we fall on our knees this Lent and say yes to Him without reservation, as Mary did, so that we can experience all that He has planned for us!

Dear Jesus, calm my fears and help me to trust You completely and without reservation. Amen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pet Peeves

“The Lord foils the plans of nations, frustrates the designs of peoples. But the plan of the Lord stands forever, wise designs through all generations.” Psalm 33: 10-11

Do you have any pet peeves? I know I do. Just today I experienced one I can’t stand: I couldn’t park in the last available parking space in a parking lot because someone decided their car was too precious for one spot and so they took two. I think we all have pet peeves. And at the heart of the matter is that we have things that annoy us. But when we really think about it, is the annoyance the fault of the person who annoyed me, or my own? I know when I was a kid my one younger brother would go out of his way to annoy me with all kinds of things. I would ask him to stop, but when he wouldn’t, inevitably it would end with me hitting him and me getting in trouble. And when I would complain to my mom about what he was doing to me, she would always respond by telling me that no one can annoy us, we can only allow ourselves to be annoyed.

Now I love my mom dearly, but I thought that was horse-pucky. My brother was certainly annoying me, whether I allowed it or not. But you know what, now that I’ve gotten older I have amended my thoughts on this just a little bit. While I still believe that someone can annoy us, I think there are also times when we can allow ourselves to be annoyed. The difference is whether the person is trying to annoy us or not. For instance, in my pet peeve from above, the person was not trying to annoy me. Sure, they might have been being selfish, or at least thoughtless, but they were not thinking of me at all. They were just thinking that their car needed extra space so it wouldn’t get scratched (or they are just really bad at parking). Either way, their intention was not to hurt me, so if got annoyed by what they did, it was my choice.

On the other hand, if someone is going out of their way to try and rile us up or get us upset or annoy us, then they do bear some of the responsibility. But ultimately, I do have to agree with my mother, how I react to them, even if they are intentionally trying to hurt me, is really up to me. I might not be able to help being hurt or annoyed by them, but I can control my reaction. And this is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Sometimes we can get frustrated with God, too. And you know what, when we do it is a sign of spiritual immaturity. We become like toddlers having a tantrum because they didn’t get what they want. Why does God foil the plans of nations and frustrate people? Because He knows better what we need than we do. And sometimes out of love for us, He tells us no. And that can be frustrating. But rather than get annoyed and lashing out at God, why don’t we try trusting His “no”? It will certainly be less frustrating.

Dear Jesus, please help to let go of my pet peeves. Help me to more acceptable of people and grant me the grace to trust in You and be content when you tell me “no”. Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Where There Is Hatred…

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belong to the world, the world would love its own: but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” John 15: 18-19

None of us want to look like maniacs do we? And so we try so hard to walk that fine line between truly living an authentic Christian life and fitting in with what the rest of the world says to believe. Sure, we want to follow Christ, but we don’t want people lumping us in with the folks from Westboro Baptist Church, do we? So we try to go about our life staying out of trouble and never rocking the boat. But let me ask you this question: will the WORLD let you keep living this way?

I am convinced that we will be criticized, misunderstood, persecuted and, yes, even hated, simply for believing what the Church teaches and living our lives that way, whether we “push it” on others or not. Why? Because the world is not standing idly by, but Satan is pushing his agenda of secularism and relativism and we will not be able to evade this surge without assimilating our beliefs and actions into the currents of our times. We do not need to stand on boxes in our schools and places of work and preach, we do not have to roam the streets wearing signs warning people of the end, we do not have to write blogs and get involved in politics to garner persecution, ridicule and hatred…all we have to do is try to believe in the Truth and live it and we will feel its effects. Even if our message is a positive one of hope in Christ, rather than condemnation, we might still generate scorn: for while condemnation warns man of his impending death and judgment, offering hope reminds man that he is not truly living yet.

Don’t believe me? Then try to explain to people when they ask you why you don’t watch Glee. Try to explain to people why you aren’t having sex until marriage. Try to explain why you think marriage should be only for one man and one woman. Try to explain why you home school your kids, or won’t let them watch certain movies, or won’t let them dress like hookers. Some people will be intellectually honest enough to respect your opinion, but many people will mock you as na├»ve or foolish, either to your face or behind your back. The only way to avoid this reaction is to just live, act, talk, think and believe like everyone else.

But is this what Jesus is calling us to? Of course He is not calling us to be jerks. Sometimes Christians act without love and then claim they are being persecuted for being a Christian when the reality is they are being persecuted for being a jerk. Jesus IS calling us to live in the world without becoming part OF the world. And if you and I are going to do this, then we will be hated. Why? Because they hated Him. People do not want to be confronted with the Truth. People do not want to see that they are living a lie. People do not want to be told what they can and cannot do. And just by the witness of our lives—if we are living authentically Christian—we challenge them and tweak their consciences. And people don’t like that. The great irony is that Jesus offers nothing but love and true freedom and He is hated for it. And if we are going to think and speak and act like Jesus, then people will hate us to. And even in this situation, our call is to love those who hurt us, no matter how hard it may be. This is not a romantic version of discipleship, where we run to our crosses and boldly accept the persecution, it is the hard reality of dying a little bit day to day as we follow Christ in humility. It is hard and it can hurt physically and emotionally. But the only other option is to capitulate and go along with the culture and lose ourselves in the process.

We aren’t asking for this hatred and we aren’t trying to evoke it, yet it still comes. But in weathering it with love, dignity, patience, humility and gentleness, God will use our witness to bring about more good than could have come without it. In this we find our hope and our joy.

Dear Jesus, please help me to live authentically for you, every day, in every circumstance. And if persecution and hatred are shown to me, help me to bear it with patience and to respond in love to any attack, that my life may be a true witness of Your love and power in the world. Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Withdrawal Symptoms

“The beginning of pride is man’s stubbornness in withdrawing his heart from his Maker; for pride is a reservoir of sin, a source which runs over with vice…” Sirach 10: 12-13a

There are a lot of marriages in trouble. And because of this there are a lot of families in trouble. And I observe all this and wonder how two people can love each other so much, pledge their lives to one another before God and from their love create new life and yet, years later, it all begins to fall apart. How does this happen?

In most situations, I believe it begins small, in an almost imperceptible way, when one spouse or the other beings to withdraw their heart from the other. And then we see the parents withdraw their hearts from the children and then the children from the parents, until everyone is cornered into the isolation of fear and hopelessness that only the Evil One can flourish in. This can begin to happen because love requires us to be vulnerable with one another. Love requires us to open our heart and display it for the other. It requires a risk. And when it hurts (and it will), we can be tempted to withdraw our hearts back from the one we love, thinking that it will protect us. But in the end, the protection we seek becomes a wall that separates us from the one we love.

We can do this in our relationship with God as well. He gives us His heart fully and without reservation and asks for our undivided love in return. But this love and relationship has demands that are not always easy. And sometimes we would rather go our own way and serve ourselves than serve the One who loves us. And so we stubbornly withdraw our hearts from the only One who will love us perfectly, thinking that we must protect ourselves even from Him. In these instances, we begin to erect walls of pride, selfishness and laziness around our hearts that isolate us from our Maker. And in the end we can build walls so high and so thick that our hearts become entombed: safe, yes, but buried and cold—and empty. And in its finality, this must be hell: the result of such stubborn pride that we would rather spend an eternity alone with our cold, dead hearts than allow our hearts to be pierced by the sharp sword of love.

During this season of Lent, may we wrestle our hearts out from behind our walls of stubborn pride and abandon them to the raging fury of God’s love. Only in this abandonment can our hearts be truly enflamed, filled and transformed.

Dear Jesus, take away my stubborn pride and make my heart like Your heart. Amen. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

I’m Obliged

“Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” Matthew 16: 17-19

Perhaps at times during Lent we can start to wonder why the Church obligates us to fast, or to abstain from meat on Fridays or to give alms. We may even wonder why during the rest of the year the Church obligates us to attend Mass on Sundays or other certain holy days.

First and foremost, we need to understand that Jesus gave the Church this authority. And with it the Church can release us from our sins in the sacrament of confession, and it can also obligate us to acts of penance, prayer and good works. But many people might wonder how effective this is as a Christian practice. People might question how an act done out of obligation can be spiritually effective in our lives. I have often heard people say that if it isn’t done “from the heart”, then the prayer, act, etc is meaningless. I have heard people say that they will only do something if they feel like it because if they don’t feel like it then they are being hypocritical. And perhaps you and I can think this way sometimes too.

But is that the purpose of obligations? Don’t we have obligations in life for many things? And doesn’t this sense of obligation actually show more importance rather than less? For instance, young people are obligated to attend school. Most adults are obligated to be on work for certain days and times of the week in order to earn a wage. Drivers are obligated to obey the traffic laws or they could lose their license. And most importantly, don’t we have obligations in our relationships with one another? Husbands are obligated to love their wives and not cheat on them. Wives are obligated to respect their husbands and to listen to them. Children are obligated to obey their parents and parents are obligated to be patient with their children and to teach them and correct them as needed. And do we always FEEL like doing these things? Do we always do these things from the heart? No. Sometimes we do them simply because we are obligated to; because LOVE has demands. In fact, sometimes we wouldn’t be motivated to do the right thing without being obligated to.

The idea is that an action initially done out of obligation will hopefully turn one’s heart—one’s feelings—to wanting to do the right thing. Perhaps I don’t WANT to get up in the middle of the night with a sick child. I’d rather sleep. But my obligation to love them and my wife FORCES me to command my body to get up and to care for this little one so my wife can sleep. Initially I may feel frustrated, but by acting on my obligation rather than my emotion, I make a conscious choice to love, and within minutes, as my head clears and the act of compassion continues, it changes my heart in the process. I think the same can be true of things the Church obligates us to do.

How many people would rather not get up and go to Mass on Sunday? How many people would find it easier to not rearrange their schedules to attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation? How many people would rather just eat meat on Fridays in Lent because, really, what’s the big deal? And seriously, how can fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday help me grow spiritually if my heart isn’t into it? But perhaps without the obligation we would never attend Mass on Sunday or holy days? Perhaps without the obligation, Fridays in Lent would be like every other Friday? Perhaps without a couple days of mandatory fasting we would never learn any sense of self-mastery?

Maybe, just maybe, if we started going to Mass each week out of obligation our hearts would begin to open. Maybe if we abstained from meat on the Fridays in Lent, we would begin to treat every Friday of the year as a day of penance. Maybe if we fasted on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we would begin to need less in our lives and learn to control our appetites, not only for food, but for lust, power and greed as well. Maybe without any obligations on our lives, temporal or spiritual, we would never really begin to grow into what we can truly be.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the Church and the demands of love it places in my life. Help me to always strive for greater understanding of You in my heart and use these obligations as opportunities to expand my capacity to love You and others. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

…Into Temptation

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4: 1

I think we understand that Satan is going to tempt us. And I think we understand that he was going to tempt Jesus. But why did the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert for this confrontation with Satan? This doesn’t seem like something God would do, does it? Or does it? Of course God does not want us to sin and God does not wish or will evil on us, but I think sometimes we need to be reminded of our weakness and our utter dependence on God.

The reality is that none of us is more powerful than Satan. The truth is that apart from God’s grace, we haven’t got a chance. But the Good News is that Jesus came, met the temptations of the devil, won that battle and then died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, winning the war against Satan as well. And with His power, there is nothing Satan can do to touch us.

In our pride we think that all of our good works and efforts are what keep Satan at bay. We delude ourselves into thinking that if we work hard enough or pray hard enough that we can earn God’s privilege or eternal life. But God’s grace cannot be earned or won. God’s love cannot be bought or manipulated. God is not impressed by our good works nor does He hate us for our sins. The ultimate reality of our lives is that God loves us unconditionally at all times. And because of this love He offers us the grace to love Him back.

Surviving times of temptations without committing sin are opportunities to grow ever-more in humility and gratitude for God’s love and grace in our lives. They are times to realize that Satan has no power compared to the power and might of our God. They are times to be reminded that the Son of God endured everything that we endure and that with His power, we can overcome Satan as He did.

Dear Jesus, allow me to dive deeper into Your grace when confronted with temptations. I want to be victorious over sin as You were. Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Naked Without Shame

“No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” Hebrews 4: 13

Why do little kids love to run around naked? I’m telling you, if we let them, almost everyone of my kids—when they were toddlers—would’ve preferred to wear their birthday suit everyday for several years. The reality is that they are not ashamed.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked without shame as well. But then they sinned before God and that action cost them their original sense of shamelessness and brought guilt, fear and regret into the world.

It is interesting that in our world today, the style of fashion is to expose more and more skin, while at the same time trying to rid ourselves of any shame or guilt. But we can only be redeemed to our original innocence by the blood of Christ. Children know this innocence intrinsically and live in it. You and I have grown-up, and like Adam and Eve, have tasted from the tree of good and evil and have developed a new knowledge in our lives—a knowledge that unfortunately includes shame, fear, guilt and regret. And the more we live in this reality, the further away redemption seems.

And so Mother Church, in her goodness, invites us once a year to go into the desert with Jesus for forty days. We go to purge ourselves of self-knowledge and pride, to cast-off our sin and the lies that veil the eyes of our hearts, to expose ourselves to the merciful gaze of our Father and to allow Jesus to redeem us from our present state to the original innocence we were created in. We go to let go of the masks and false pretenses, to seek forgiveness and to relinquish the control we think we have over our lives. We venture into the desert with so much baggage and hope to return with nothing but God.

Let us venture into Lent boldly this year, with a determination and will to let God cut us down to the core, to be stripped of everything that is not of Him, from Him or for Him. Let us be willing to die to ourselves—naked, like Jesus—so that come Easter, we may rise with Him clothed in power and majesty!

Dear Jesus, take me with You on this journey into the desert, so that I can learn to let go of everything in my life and put on Your love and be content. Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fasting

“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting…And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6: 18

Lent is a season of the Liturgical Year that we can really love to hate. Forty days of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving can leave us cranky and sour. But not if we really know their purpose and we embrace the Truth found in these traditional Lenten practices.
           
So what is the point of making our bodies hungry, causing us to be in some physical and mental pain for a day? I mean, isn’t that a bit archaic? To be sure. Fasting is a spiritual practice that goes back thousands of years. Jesus Himself did it numerous times. The most famous time was right before He began His public ministry. Jesus went out into the desert and fasted for forty days. The Bible says that at the end, he was hungry. I love the Bible. Really, after forty days of fasting, He was hungry? No way!? Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. The question is: why did Jesus fast? Was He some sort of New Age guru doing a yogo-like practice of cleansing His body? Of course not. Jesus fasted for the same reason we are asked to fast in Lent today, 2,000+ years later. He did it for strength. And so should we.

Fasting affords us the opportunity, if done in and with prayer, to rely more on the presence of God within us. We learn to “hunger” for God and His grace at least as much as we do our next meal on a day we are fasting. Think about when you have ever been really hungry or thirsty (and for Americans this is nothing compared to real hunger around the world). You would have done just about anything to get your next meal or drink, wouldn’t you? Are we willing to do anything to receive the grace of Jesus in our lives?

Do we live lives that are hungry for God? Or are we so filled-up on the things of
this world (even the good things), that God is more of an afterthought than our most deliberate thought? When we are hungry and thirsty, food and drink become our most important thought and getting them become our all-consuming passion. Wouldn’t it be nice if our practice of fasting this Lent could develop in us this same desire for Christ and His Kingdom? The next time you fast and feel hungry, ask God for the grace to want Him just as bad—if not more, than the food you desire at that moment.

Dear Jesus, I want to deliberately desire You every day, more than anything else in my life or this world. Help me to strive for you with all of my heart and soul. Give me the grace to fast during this Lenten Season, so that I may desire You more perfectly. Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Do Guardian Angels Get Paid Overtime?

“For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Psalms 91: 11-12

If they don’t, they should. I recently had the opportunity to do “playground duty” at my two oldest children’s school. Allow me to describe the scene as best I can:

At least 50 kids (grades k-6) all running around the same small patch of black top for 30 minutes. Two simultaneous football games being played in the very middle of the parking lot (using the same boundaries and end zones), often overlapping kick-offs, passes, etc. Several kids playing basketball on one or more of the three basketball hoops set-up on the perimeter. Some kids just running around chasing one another or laughing. A whole group of girls playing with jump ropes—and by playing I do not mean “jumping” with them, I mean swinging them around in a circle at eye level while the other girls tried to duck or jump out of the way.  Other girls had a line of at least 8 girls jumping on the same rope along one of the football sidelines. And then there were random kids just kicking or throwing soccer balls, footballs, basketballs or volleyballs as hard as they could in any direction with no target in particular.

I saw at least fifteen (I stopped counting at this point) near misses of balls hitting kids in the heads or eyes, a few kids hit by balls that bounced off of them with the same effect a breeze would’ve had on them, a couple kids trip and get right back up with nary a scrape and plenty of other bumps, falls, and bodies crashing into one another. In my opinion it is a miracle everyone survived. And they do this every school day!

And then it hit me—as I looked at the organized chaos of kids running around me with my eyes, in my mind’s eye I began to visualize their guardian angels chasing after them, batting balls out of the way, stopping them right before a crash, picking them up after a fall they cushioned, or re-directing the flight path of a football so that it missed the child under their watch. In my imagination I could see them breathing heavy and sweating (if angels could). And I had to smile as I thought of them beseeching God to bring recess to an end so they could go back to floating over the kids while they sat quietly in class.

Then I began thinking about how grateful I am for my guardian angel and how we should be more appreciative of all that they do for us. And thankful to God for loving us so much to give each of us our own personal protector to watch over us and keep us from harm. May we seek to know our guardian angels and begin to recognize their workings in our lives.

Dear Jesus, thank you for my guardian angel. May I always be filled with gratitude for the concern You have for MY life and well-being. And help never to take my guardian angel for granted. Amen.