Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who Am I?

“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.’ 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.’” Matthew 16: 15-17

People spend a lot of time trying to find themselves or figure out who they are, don’t they? We spend years and sometimes thousands of dollars in this search. We try to find our identity in our past, where we came from, our family (whether good or bad), the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the teams we belong to or root for, the people we hang around with or the relationships we are in. And yet for the time and energy spent in this pursuit, we seem to find ourselves more and more lost. Why is this?

The only way we can truly ever find ourselves is to throw ourselves, immerse ourselves—lose ourselves—in the mystery of the mercy and love of Christ and His Sacred Heart. Like Sts. Peter and Paul, our full identity and purpose will be found when we truly encounter Christ and begin to see Him for who He is. Only then can we begin to understand who we are. Before St. Peter’s confession, he was Simon. After he was the rock that Christ built His church on. Before St. Paul was knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus, he was Saul. Afterwards he became the most prolific and zealous missionary the Church has ever seen; all because they lost themselves in Christ.

Perhaps we are tempted to think that God could not use us in a similar fashion because we are too weak or afraid or sinful. But look at these two giants of the Faith. St. Peter began as a lowly, uneducated fisherman, quick to judge and filled at times with paralyzing fear. And yet in Christ he became the first Pope. St. Paul began as an elite, educated man filled with self-righteousness and anger who became the lowest of the low to serve others in his evangelization and preaching efforts. If God could use them, He can use you and me.

And why do we need to lose ourselves in the mystery of Christ’s mercy and love? So we can selfishly bask in the glow of His sight and pull ourselves away from the world? No, so that in losing ourselves in Him, we can find the strength and the passion to lead others to this great mystery as well. Let us this day and always, find the courage to leap into the immensity of God so that our lives will always point others to Him like Sts. Peter and Paul.

Dear Jesus, I want to know who You are so that I can know who I am. Help me to immerse myself in Your Sacred Heart. Amen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

So Long Farewell

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” Job 1: 21

Don’t you just hate goodbyes? I do. I just found out that a really good priest friend of mine has been reassigned and is moving to another state. And it is hard to imagine things here at the parish without him. But goodbyes happen in all kinds of ways don’t they? People move, people die, kids go to college, parents or spouses go on business trips, friends’ parents get transferred.

Saying goodbye is just plain hard. Why? Well first of all I think we like things the way they are. We don’t like change; and also because we get comfortable with our situations. When we find something we like we want to hold onto it—our dream house, our “perfect” childhood, our best friends, a good book or TV series, etc. We don’t want our kids to grow-up, or our parents to get old, our friends to move away or our spouse to die—or our priest to leave. But they do. And this happens more and more the longer we live.

I don’t think goodbyes were an original part of God’s plan. Seriously. The first “goodbye” came when Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden. In paradise there were no goodbyes. Goodbyes are a consequence of sin and the fallen nature of the world. They are also a stark reminder that this world is temporary and our hearts long for permanence. Our hearts long for the eternal, where there are no more changes, no more death, no more goodbyes. And so God allows these times of pain, when our hearts are torn by the separation or the departing, not so that we fall into despair or grief, but so that we long for heaven all the more. It is at these times that God is closest to us and pulls us close to Him and that ache in our heart for the person or thing we miss is actually transformed into the realization that it is really God and our true home we are missing. And from that desire can—and should—come a holy zeal and desire to do whatever it takes to reach heaven so we never have to experience a goodbye again for all of eternity. If we think about it, the eternal goodbye is hell and none of us want that, do we?

Dear Jesus, blessed be Your name when You give and when You take away. I long to be with You forever. Amen.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Holy Humility

“Fear of the Lord warms the heart, giving gladness and joy and length of days. The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, which is formed with the faithful in the womb.” Sirach 1: 10, 12

The seventh and final gift of the Spirit we receive in Baptism and Confirmation is the gift of Fear of the Lord. When you read that what goes through your mind? What emotions does it stir in you? For quite a few modern sensibilities the notion of fearing God seems antiquated or ignorant. Aren’t we supposed to love God? Yes. Does God really want us to wander through life cowering from Him? Of course not. I think it helps to better understand this special gift if we refer to it as “Holy Humility”.

Ultimately this gift helps us to recognize that there is a God and we are not Him. The new atheism, steeped in pride, would say that “there is a god, and he always agrees with me”. This gift gives us the humility needed to realize our need for a Savior and the ability to conform our wills to His. It helps us to be humble enough to admit that we cannot save ourselves; to admit that no matter how hard we try, work, scheme, and dream, we are not strong enough, we are not good enough, we are not smart enough. And that is OK, because He is.

It gives us the ability to place ourselves in His hands and trust in Him. If the gift of Piety helps us from making the things of this world our god, then fear of the Lord helps us from making ourselves god.

In some places, including the rite of Confirmation, this gift is referred to as “awe and wonder” and we should certainly have a sense of awe and wonder before God. But God is greater than a beautiful sunset, or a rainbow or the Grand Canyon, is He not? When the tsumani hit Japan recently, people were rightly terrified at the 30-60 foot high walls of water rushing in at them destroying everything in its path. So doesn’t it make sense that we should have a respectful fear of the God that can stop that wall of water in its tracks? And doesn’t this go beyond awe and wonder?

We all need something bigger than ourselves, more powerful than ourselves, more holy than ourselves; to show us the way, to guide us, to give us strength and to save us from ourselves. Without this gift of holy humility we would be lost in the arrogance of self and reject the mercy of God.

Dear Jesus, help me to worship You with humility and reverent fear, knowing that You are all-powerful and all-merciful. Help me to see that You are greater than my sin and doubt and that I can place all of my trust in You. Amen.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Holy Detachment

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also is your heart.” Matthew 6: 19-21

The sixth gift of the Spirit we receive in Baptism and Confirmation is the gift of Piety. What do you think of when hear this word? I think we often miss the beauty of this gift because when we heard this word we think “pious” and when we think of people we consider pious we tend to have a negative reaction. Right or wrong, I think we judge people who seem to be a little too outwardly “religious” as trying to show-off, or be better than us or as maybe trying to overcompensate for some big hidden sin by publicly being holy. Are you guilty of these thoughts? I know I am.

But the truth about this gift is that is has to do much more with our interior life than with our exterior life. I like to refer to it as “Holy Detachment”. The idea of detachment as a spiritual practice or attitude is not talked about much these days, but it is so important. It basically helps us to keep our eyes on heaven and not get so absorbed in this life that we begin to make this life and the things in this world our god. How can this happen?

Let’s face it: this world is good! God created it and He said it was good. And He has given us many things in this earth for our happiness and pleasure. But the things of this earth are really just the hors d’oeuvres compared to the wedding banquet of the Lamb in heaven. And just like at a real wedding reception, if we were to fill-up too much on the appetizers, not only would we not be hungry for the main meal, but we might even be disgusted by it because we are so full. It would be easy to get filled-up and distracted by all the good things of this earth if our hearts are not detached from them.

God has given us these things to use in this life and to help point us towards the eternal happiness of heaven. They are supposed to be arrows pointing us to a greater and lasting fulfillment, not become our destination. If we become too attached to them in our hearts, if we seek our happiness and peace in this world, then we might miss out on heaven. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that the things we can see, taste, smell, hear and touch are the most real things of our existence, but we were created for MORE! It is easy to think that this life is all there is and we should try to use as much of it as we can for our own selfish pleasure. But in allowing ourselves to become attached to this world, we risk forfeiting the next.

With this gift of Holy Detachment, our eyes will be fixed on heaven and we will see things with eternal vision. We will use the things of this earth for our journey and we will be grateful to God for them and the happiness and pleasure they bring, without sacrificing our eternal home for things that are passing.

Dear Jesus, I want to see things as You see them. Help my heart to stay detached from the good things of this earth so that I will always desire the eternal happiness and fulfillment of heaven. Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Holy Courage

“Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love.” 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14

The fifth gift of the Spirit we receive in Baptism and Confirmation is the gift of Fortitude. There are a lot of things in life that require courage: jumping out of an airplane with some rope and silk hanging from your back, jumping off a bridge with a big rubber band attached to your butt, dancing with wolves, going in a shark cage…but these things require crazy courage. What the gift of fortitude imbues us with is HOLY courage.

Remember that the gift of counsel helps us to know the difference between right and wrong. And while that it is a good start, we all know there is a big difference between just knowing right from wrong and doing the right thing or avoiding the wrong thing. And so God gives us this gift of fortitude to DO what we know is right and to avoid what we know is bad. It is like fuel for the soul.

In fact, fortitude helps us in two main ways. First, it helps us to do what is right no matter the cost or consequences and second, it helps us to follow through on the commitments we have made before God. How does this work in real life?

There is a lot of pressure out there to do the wrong thing (especially for young people). This gift gives us the holy courage to stand up for our beliefs as Catholic Christians and live for Jesus no matter the flack we might get. Like the Apostles on Pentecost, we will not let fear keep us from living our faith. And people will be drawn to Christ as we live a life of purity, love, and joy. Our actions will be born from intentions based in love.

In addition this gift might help us to keep volunteering somewhere when it gets tough, or keep helping a neighbor when it gets boring or even stay in a difficult marriage when instead of just giving up without a fight as so many people in our culture do these days. It helps us stay committed to God and to others and to think less selfishly and be more generous to give ourselves away in love and service to others.

So often today it is easy to be a “closet” Christian. You know, we go to church and maybe even get involved in youth ministry or Bible studies, but generally we still do what everyone else is doing at school or work or when out with friends. And so instead of being agents of hope and change in our lost world, we simply blend in and go with the flow. This gift of holy courage will help us to be difference makers in our world. It will help us live counter-culturally, not to condemn the world, but to offer something better, something real, something that every human heart is looking for. The question is: will we cooperate with this grace or not?

Dear Jesus, thank You for the gift of fortitude. Help me to use this holy courage to live for You and to show people the joy and peace that comes from following You. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Holy Judgment

“…so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4: 14

The fourth gift of the Spirit we receive in Baptism and Confirmation is the gift of Counsel. Some people also refer to this gift as “Right Judgment”. I like to call it “Holy Judgment” because this gift helps us to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

This is such an important gift from the Lord and so needed in our world today. In every age there has been sin and temptation, but it seems that more than ever we are faced with a growing sense of moral relativism to go along with the daily sins and temptations we face today. What was once sin is now neutral at best and celebrated at worst. Just this week I read a quote in the paper from a teen speaker at one of my local graduation ceremonies and she said, “There are no wrong decisions. Whatever choices you make in life are the right ones because you made them.” What? So if someone from her class was to choose to kill someone that was OK because it was their choice?

We have all kinds of things that our culture has confused us about: abortion, contraception, sex outside of marriage, modesty, homosexuality, cheating…you name it, the culture is trying to tell us that it isn’t wrong, or it is at least morally neutral. There are even some college professors who claim the holocaust was not “wrong” because we can’t really judge what Germany was like right before and during World War II. And still others offer undergraduate classes on human sexuality that include viewing pornography or going to strip clubs as part of the curriculum. And at the same time our culture also labels and attacks the Church as out-dated, hypocritical or even sinister for standing up for moral truth.  

Yet there She stands still proclaiming the Truth no matter how inconvenient. And through the gift of counsel, we begin to be more open to listening to the Voice of Truth through the Church as the Spirit enables Her to proclaim in our world. We begin to grow in humility and we begin to hear the reason and the sense of the Church despite the clouds of confusion sown by the Evil One. We begin to see the foolishness and emptiness of a life lived without morals. And not only do we begin to wish to avoid that for ourselves, but we begin to desire that others might know what we know. Through the power of this “Holy Judgment” we can make moral choices based on faith and reason, rather than the winds and waves of human trickery, folly and emotions.

Dear Jesus, help me to know the Truth in all areas of my life. Help me to root out sin by becoming more aware of it in the world and in my own soul. Through Your grace may I always know right from wrong. Amen.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Holy Hope

“Let your life be…content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never forsake you or abandon you.’” Hebrews 13: 5

The third gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Baptism and Confirmation is the gift of Understanding. This special gift protects us in two ways, one general and one specific. First, it helps us to understand that God loves us unconditionally. What does this mean? It means that He cannot love us more when we do good or less when we do bad. He loves us perfectly all the time. It doesn’t mean He is pleased when we sin, but God does not love us any less when we do. Why is this important for our lives? It protects us from the lies of Satan.

Let’s face it, when we have sinned, Satan is at his greatest level of influence with us. We commit the sin and get knocked down and he is not satisfied is he? No. At this very moment, when we are broken and distant from God through our own choice, he lurks around us and whispers lies into our souls and hearts. Lies like: God couldn’t love you. You’re not good enough. Just give up, you’ll never be holy. Don’t show your miserable face around Church you hypocrite. Sound familiar? But when we have an understanding of God’s unconditional love for us, we realize that in these dark times, in these moments of weakness, that God has not abandoned us, we have abandoned Him. More importantly, we understand that no matter we have done, He will take us back.

The second way this gift protects us is more specific. The tough reality of life is that no matter how we try to avoid it or prevent it, tragedy strikes. People lose their jobs, friends backstab us; relatives get sick; children die. We cannot avoid suffering. The problem is that when you have made a decision to love and follow Christ, there are only two reactions we can have in the face of tragedy. On the one hand we can either fall more deeply into the arms of Jesus, or we can blame God for our problems. And in these most difficult moments of life I think it is very easy to choose the later and blame God and become angry with Him. From there we run the risk of becoming more distant from Him.

While the gift of understanding might not help us understand why the bad thing happened, it offers us Holy Hope. It helps us to realize that God did not will or cause the suffering in our lives. It helps us to realize that He is right there with us, crying with us, holding us, down in the mess and the grief and the sorrow with us. It helps us to know that despite our feelings or the circumstances, He is THERE! This gift is like a bridge over the chasm of despair, as Jesus carries us to the other side of our sorrow.  So whether we are in sin or a time of suffering, this gift offers us protection from despair and destruction in the arms of Jesus.

Dear Jesus, thank You for always being with me and for never abandoning me. Help me to understand Your unconditional love and to recognize Your presence with me in times of suffering. Amen.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Holy Intimacy

“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” John 10: 14-15a

The second gift of the Holy Spirit we receive in Baptism and Confirmation is knowledge. I like to call this gift “Holy Intimacy”. I think on the surface, when most people think about the word knowledge, they think of head knowledge or what we can know intellectually. But with the gift of knowledge, God seeks to give us something much deeper than brain power; He wants us to have a relationship with Him and an understanding of the Truth.

Let’s face it, we live in a world of relativism where it is hard to see the Truth. And yet it is there. And we know that the real Truth is not a list of rules or laws or doctrines, but the Person of Jesus.  Of course it is important to know our Faith, but God is not looking for us to become walking, breathing Catholic encyclopedias. He is looking for intimacy with us. A knowledge of one another that goes beyond the surface to the core of our being—a relationship that defines who we are by who He is.

The gift of knowledge helps us to see Truth, no matter how much confusion the devil has strewn about. By knowing, loving and then living in the heart of Jesus—in Truth Itself—we will be able to see things as they really are, for what they really are and then live and walk in that knowledge. It is like putting on a special pair of spiritual X-ray goggles that causes us to view the people and events of the world through the eyes of God instead of through our own.
Ultimately, this gift will help to sustain our moral life by bring us deeper and deeper into relationship and intimacy with Christ. And the more we get to know our Savior, the more we will want to know about Him and all that He has done for us and all the ways He loves us. And we will desire to love Him back with purity and a zeal that others may not understand because they do not know Him. Then, hopefully by our example, they will want to know Him.

Dear Jesus, I want to really know You, not just know about You. Help me to spend time with You each day so that we can grow in intimacy. Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Holy Insight

“Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory…” (1 Corinthians 2: 6-7)

In the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation we receive an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are the same gifts mentioned at the beginning of the book of Isaiah and they are given by the same Spirit and with the same power as the first Apostles received them on that first Pentecost 2,000 years ago. The question is: do we use them in our lives or do they sit on some kind of spiritual “shelf” in our soul gather dust?

Each of the seven gifts of the Spirit is given to help us grow in holiness in some area of our lives. The first is Wisdom. I like to call this gift “Holy Insight”. Scripture clearly points out that there are two different kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Which are we following today?

The wisdom of the world is flashy and loud and often preys on our feelings and emotions. Advertisers use it all the time to get us to buy things. And we listen to it every time we do something we want, even though it might not be what we need or what is best for us or someone else. It often tempts us to “go for it” without thinking through any of the consequences.

On the other hand, the wisdom of God is more subtle, yet more powerful. Kind of like a giant river. It might not look like much is happening, but try throwing a tractor trailer or a house into it and see what happens. We have to really LISTEN to hear the wisdom of God amidst the noise of the culture. We need to spend time in quiet to hear God’s wisdom in our hearts.

The wisdom of God is telling us to live for something more than just ourselves. To make decisions based on more than just what “feels good” at the moment. To put God and His righteousness first in our lives, rather than push God aside until we decide we really need Him. Wisdom helps us to have a holy insight into the mind of God. To think the way He thinks so we can act the way He acts; especially in right versus right decisions. These are times when we need to decide between two things and neither thing is morally wrong—like our vocation, or where to go to college; things that require discernment to know God’s will and direction in our lives.

If everyone listened to the wisdom of the world, there would be no one like Bl. Mother Teresa or St. Max Kolbe or Dorothy Day. All we would see in our world is people living for themselves and the moment and what a sad place this world would be then.

Dear Jesus, help me to hear Your wisdom in my heart. Help me to seek You in quiet each day so that I can follow Your direction and not the voices of the world. Amen.