Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

“Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.” 1 Timothy 6: 9

Do you want to be rich?

I know, being “rich” is a relative term isn’t it? I mean, most of us would not think we are desiring to be rich just because we wish we had enough money to cover all the bills, put food on the table, pay the mortgage, keep the kids in activities and sports they want to do, take a nice vacation every year, have a few nice cars, be able to put aside some money for retirement and pay for our kids’ college—and all without the uncertainty or fear of where the money was going to come from, whether we had enough each month or if we will still have our jobs next month. That’s not too much to ask is it?

Or perhaps as a young person all we want is enough money to buy a car, pay for the insurance and gas, have an iPod and nice cell phone and some money leftover each month to hang-out with friends at the movies or a restaurant. Again, not too much to ask for, right?

I think we have to understand that Jesus is never saying that money or possessions is sinful in and of itself. So having money for all the things mentioned above is not bad. But what Jesus does warn us about in the Gospels several times is the desire for money or wealth or things. And this is where we can easily get into trouble. Why is this desire for financial security sinful? Basically because it implies two things: 1. We need this stuff to be happy and satisfied and 2. We put more trust in money than in God.

Of course we know the reality is that we do NOT need money or things to make us happy. And in many cases having lots of money or possessions actually leads to unhappiness. Think about people who win the lottery. I’ve seen some statistics that within 5-10 years after winning many of them are bankrupt and/or divorced. And what about all the famous movie and rock stars that drug themselves constantly, sometimes to the point of death? Shouldn’t they be happy with all the money and wealth they’ve acquired?

What happens when we place our trust in creation instead of the Creator? We know too well that we were created for the eternal, not the temporary. If we place our hope and trust in money, there is no amount of money that will ever satisfy us. And our God is a jealous God. He created us for Him and Him alone and He will not stand by and watch us make gods out of things He has created. He loves us too much to allow us to live lives of comfortable mediocrity. And so He will call out to us, He will invite, He will knock, He will whisper to our hardened and jaded hearts. He will never give up pursuing us and drawing us to Himself. He knows that when we pursue things other than Him, that it will ultimately lead us to destruction. And so because of His great love for us He rocks our world. He allows us to suffer, to fall down, to get hurt, to fail. In the hope that we would recognize that nothing in this life is permanent and nothing we do or accomplish or acquire will protect us, fill us—save us! He wants us to live a life of greatness and He will not stop until either we say “yes” or go to hell saying “no” for all of eternity. Our heavenly Father wants us to be rich for all eternity, not temporarily in this life.

Dear Jesus, please help me to only desire You. If my heart ever begins to turn from You and is tempted by the gods of this world, do whatever is necessary to bring me back to You. I want to know the riches of Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not Against Us

“Jesus said to him, ‘Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.’” Luke 9: 50

At the end of the American Civil War, many of the Union generals and politicians wanted Lincoln to punish the South very severely and have them pay, both financially and otherwise, for the war that ravaged the nation. But Lincoln was not of that mindset. He was concerned that if he proceeded with justice, that there would never be peace between the North and South. Perhaps to this day there would be hostilities of some kind in our land if not for the foresight of this noble man; so instead of continuing to exact a toll of consequence on the South and its people after the war was over, he instead reached out to the South and had the federal government begin a plan to assist the South in rebuilding. His agenda and goal was clear when he said, “Does not he who becomes my friend cease to be my enemy?”

I think we can learn a great deal about how to live as Christians in the post-modern world from the example of Abraham Lincoln and his response to the South at the end of the war. It is easy (or easier) to look at others not like “us” and consider them outsiders, imposters or cheats. Maybe we look down upon certain kinds of people as stupid, uncultured or backwards. Perhaps we are suspicious of others different in some way from us. But don’t you think there are enough enemies and threats in the world without us creating them?

Certainly Satan is the enemy, not another person. And any person who is doing Satan’s work is to be pitied, not scorned. For surely that person is being used with or without their permission. Did Jesus or the Apostles hate Judas for betraying Jesus? No. The point is that Satan is going to throw things at us our entire lives, both big and small and the best way to counteract his darts is with prayer, humility and love. We have to realize and recognize that God can use ANYONE and He has used anyone. Who WE think He should (or could) use is not relevant. In fact, more often than not, God chooses to use those that we might least expect for the greatest accomplishments.

How often have we prevented someone from becoming what God was calling them to be? How often have we prevented someone from living a life of greatness? How often have we prevented someone from achieving success? All because we held to a prejudice or judgment against that person. God never holds anyone back, but we sure do, don’t we? Perhaps this day we can seek to empower and encourage, to lift up and to advance others, thus created friends, brothers and sisters, where the potential for enemies once stood.

Dear Jesus, help me to see others as You see them and to always seek to win them over by love. Do not allow my prejudices to ever hinder someone from living the life of greatness You have called them to. Amen.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Flip Flopping

“When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” Matthew 21: 32

When most of us hear that someone has changed their minds about something, especially a politician, we assume the worst about them and accuse them of “flip flopping”; which means we question their sincerity about their new position. And perhaps in some, maybe many cases, people do change their minds for expediency sake or for personal gain. But isn’t their plenty of times and situations where being stubborn is not a positive quality, but rather shows foolishness? Wouldn’t it be better at times to change our minds or our positions on an issue or an opinion rather than stubbornly stick to our guns? I could argue that in some cases we might be tempted by the sin of pride to “tow the party line”.

This is what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel today. And once again we see Him challenging the Pharisees who remain so stubborn to their prejudices. Can’t we be like them? We can be tempted as Christians to think that we are better than others, that we have sacrificed so much to follow Christ, that we do so much for Him. We can sometimes think that we deserve more or that others should be punished while we are rewarded. Perhaps, like the Pharisees, we are jealous of God’s mercy. Maybe we would get mad to think that a major public sinner might make it to heaven before we do. Maybe we think God should be harsher on people than He is.

But to think and act like Jesus is to REJOICE when others come to Him. It is to be filled with hope and happiness when others excel in the faith. It is to praise Him when others advance beyond us in spiritual maturity. So many people say “no” to the Lord, including us. How heaven must rejoice with one voice when someone says “yes”. And does it matter whether that “yes” was as a child, a teen, middle age or at the end of one’s life? It seems to matter less to God when we say “yes”, but that we do. And we don’t know when God is really calling someone. We don’t know when He sent the grace needed for someone to heed the call. We don’t know what was going in their lives before they said “yes”.  Often it is those who are broken that have less pretense. And this humility means that when they do say “yes”, it is true and real and comes from the heart, rather than from the lips. May we say “yes” with our hearts and actions and not only with our words.

Dear Jesus, give me the grace to respond to Your call today and to help others hear Your call by loving as You love. Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Skimming the Surface

“Here deep calls to deep in the roar of your torrents. All your waves and breakers sweep over me.” Psalm 42: 8

The other day I was on a retreat and there was a beautiful pond on the grounds. During some quiet time I went down to the dock and laid down looking over the edge into the water. I could see about two feet down before the vegetation and lack of sunlight blocked my view. Curious as to how deep the water might be at the end of the dock, I went back to where there was a tree o the shoreline with branches scattered on the ground. I picked up a long, flexible switch and went back down to the edge of the dock where I proceeded to poke the stick down, down into the inky blackness below. Right about the time the end of the stick began to near the surface of the water, the top of the stick hit the bottom of the pond. It ended up being about five to six feet deep at that point.

As I continued to lay there thinking, I began to swing the stick back and forth across the water in front of me in a giant sweeping motion, just skimming the surface, like making the stick skip across the water. I began to go faster and faster, using more strength as the stick jumped and skipped across the top of the water, causing really cool little waves and patterns in the water. All the while tiny droplets of water would spray into the air gleaming like diamonds as the sunlight hit them just so. It was all kind of child-like and magical until WHAM, I went a little too downward with my swing and instead of skimming across the surface of the pond, the stick plunged a good foot into the water below. Talk about almost ripping my arm out! But I was then curious to see what it would take to pull that stick through the water instead of just skipping across the surface. And so several times I would plunge the stick into the depths and try to swish it through. What I found is that I had to use both hands, more energy and that the results didn’t seem as spectacular as when I skimmed the top. No cool patterns or waves, no magical mists, no gleaming liquid diamonds arching through the air; just a tough struggle to pull that stick through the water and up and out the other side.

I think this is a lot like our relationships or our ministries. It seems easy and fun and cool to keep everything on the surface level, right? We can spend time with someone, do something fun together, work together, minister together, but not get too involved with who they really are on a deeper level. I’ve seen marriages like that, friendships like that, youth ministry like that, Mass done like that, kids treated that way by the parents. But when we have those types of relationships, when we experience that kind of prayer or ministry, don’t we yearn for more?

I know that we can’t—and shouldn’t be—truly deep with everyone we meet. But does that mean we have to be as shallow as possible all the time? I think people stay on the surface because things start getting messy when you break the surface. We start to let down our guard, we show our weakness, we share our pain and sorrows, we admit we aren’t perfect and that we need help. People stay shallow to protect themselves. But when we do ministry this way, or never attempt to go deeper with others, then we are missing something special in our lives. Yes, it is harder, no it isn’t as flashy. Yes, it requires more time and attention and gift of ourselves. No, it isn’t as fun. But in the end, the more we attempt to connect with people on a deeper level, the more enriched both lives will be.

Certainly God is looking to go beyond the surface of our hearts today. Have we let Him? Or are we keeping the Lord from reaching into the depths of our hearts. Maybe it’s time to open wide the doors to the deepest part of our hearts and let God call out to us and show us His love, so that in turn we can do the same for others.

Dear Jesus, I want don’t want to be shallow. Help me to go deeper with You today. I want to experience You below the surface so that I can relate to others at a deeper level. Amen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This is the Message of the Cross

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3: 14

Our sin is greater than we can imagine.

After everything that God has done for us, all out of love, we still choose to follow ourselves and to reject His love. Even the weight of one venial sin would be enough to condemn us to hell, let alone the countless mortal sins committed every moment around the world.  Yet for all of this sin and all of the punishment that it deserves, our perfectly just God is also a God of infinite mercy. And so instead of allowing us to go to hell for all of eternity because of our sin and inability to atone for it, He loved us in the most profound, most perfect, most sacrificing way by allowing His Son to die on the cross in our place. Only the atoning sacrifice of CHRIST could cover the justice our sins demand. And freely, out of unconditional love for you and me, Jesus humbled Himself, took up His cross and allowed His own creation to kill Him.

We really cannot begin to grasp the immeasurable love it took to do this. We truly cannot fully comprehend the grace merited for us and for all people through this supreme act of selfishness on the part of our God. And there is no way we can ever repay it because it is so exulted above anything we can offer. There is nothing we can say or do, no holiness that we can achieve, no sacrifice we can offer—even our own lives—that can equal what Christ did for us.

All that we can do is to accept this love. The real difference between someone who chooses hell versus a person who chooses heaven is whether or not they were able to humbly and fully accept this love of God. That’s it. But God will not force us to accept His love. So, are we humble enough to accept the love offered us from the cross? Are we willing to admit that we cannot save ourselves? Are we honest enough to confess our sins?

To sin in any capacity is a rejection of this love, but to reject this love is to reject the gift of eternal life offered with it. And for those who reject this love to the end, there is no remedy.

Dear Jesus, thank You for saving me through Your sacrifice on the cross. Help me to accept Your amazing love and gift and to love You back as best as I can. Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


“The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear…” Isaiah 50: 4

Have you ever heard a sermon or a speech that woke you up, put a flame in your heart, or ignited some passion that was buried deep within you? Have you ever read something or heard a piece of music or a song that struck right to the center of your heart and moved you to tears or made you get up and dance?

I think the human soul has a great capacity for emotion and honor and ideals. I think we all aspire to something better, higher, greater. We are elevated by eloquence and beauty, by passion and determination, by Truth and loyalty. We recognize goodness and we want it. We yearn for peace and love. We hope for compassion and mercy.

But the culture of death seems to strike at these aspirations at every opportunity. People are mired in sin, people hate, they murder, they tear down and make fun of one another. People don’t forgive, they hold onto grudges, they want revenge. People are stressed, marriages are falling apart, we work too hard, we strive for things only to watch them crumble before our eyes through divorce, lay-offs, broken promises or natural disasters. And so as the ideals and aspirations of our souls collide with the realities of life thrown at us each day, we get weary. We get overwhelmed. We stop dreaming, stop hoping, stop trying and settle for mediocrity and “just getting by”.

This is not the life that Christ has called us to. Even in times of real sadness and strife, real pain and loss, the light of Christ should still burn deep in our hearts and bright enough for others to see. Recently Pope Benedict XVI said that Christians were not living faithful lives and that people are missing Christ because we fail to show Him to them. How do we do this?

Let’s start with the simple task of trying to daily rouse others. You know the person I am speaking about: the guy at work that is always down, the girl in your class at school that walks around with that painted smile on her face. The people you see in the grocery store, the mall, at the post office, driving around town. That kid on your soccer team, the elderly next door neighbor, the harried waitress serving you lunch. The words, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language we use has the power to rouse these people from their weariness. Can we solve all their problems? No, in fact we won’t even know what all of their problems are. But for the moments they encounter us, they will experience a kindness, a smile, an uplifting word. We might make their day or just give them a small moment to feel special, to feel noticed, to feel unique. To feel LOVED. And who knows, once they are roused from the burdens weighing them down, even for one brief second, the grace of God through that encounter might take root in their souls and remind them of the aspirations for beauty and Truth and greatness. And maybe, just maybe, they stop settling for second best, for mediocrity, for just getting by, and they wake up the next day and begin to change the world.

Dear Jesus, please help me to see beyond my own pain and suffering and become a word to others each day. A word that will rouse them from their weariness and instill a desire for greatness in all that I meet. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Famous Last Words

“Let the words of my mouth meet with your favor, keep the thoughts of my heart before you, Lord, my rock and redeemer.” Psalm 19: 15

Today we remember and we will never forget.

What is stressing you today? What is bothering you? Is there anything causing you to lose sleep or fell anxious with worry? Do you believe the lies others tell you about yourself or are you trying to live up to standards that others have set for you? Do you feel like a failure? What is the measure of “success” that you are striving for? Perhaps you wonder what life is all about or if what you work so hard for is worth it?

I have a feeling that these were the kinds of questions that daily crossed the minds of many of the people who perished on September 11, 2001 in the Twin Towers. That is, until they were faced with imminent death and the stark reality of their own fragility, their own helplessness, their own mortality. And in those moments, between when the planes hit and the buildings fell, many of them were able to make phones calls and talk to loved ones, 911 dispatchers or leave voice mail messages. And you know what? At THAT moment, under THOSE black and white, life and death instances, each of those people talked about family, about love, about God, about forgiveness. They told parents and spouses and friends to take care of those left behind, they said good-bye, they saw in fine detail the only real important things in life. And they spoke the Truth.

With their last words and last breaths, they reminded us to have perspective and to see the BIG picture, the eternal picture. The reality that life is precious and precarious. That we need to let things roll off us, that we need to stop sweating the small stuff. That we need to live for others, not for what others think of us. That we need to love and love big and love deeply and love unconditionally. That we need to forgive and stop holding grudges. That we need to be prepared to meet our Lord at anytime.

What started for so many that morning as a “normal” day ended with the dawn of eternity. And their greatest legacy is what they left behind for us: their courage, their hope against hope, their voices, their now famous last words. May we never have to endure something like this again, but may we also never lose sight of the Truths taught to us by strangers caught in the fleeting moments between life and certain death.

Dear Jesus, welcome into Your eternal Kingdom all the innocent victims of this horrible day. May we honor them by remembering their last words and living for You with the knowledge that each day could be our last. Amen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

You’ve Been Warned

“If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” Ezekiel 3: 18

Anyone feel like being a prophet today?

If you do then you probably haven’t read much of the Old Testament and don’t know what normally happens to prophets: they aren’t popular, they don’t have many friends, they aren’t too liked, they are attacked from every direction, they are often in trouble with the government or leaders and more often than not were either sent into exile or executed because they wouldn’t shut-up. So again, anyone feel like being a prophet?

The world is in desperate need of prophets right now. And we’ve had some good ones recently like Blessed Mother Teresa, Blessed Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI and our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. But how many young people in your school, or on your sports team, are listening to the pope? How many of your friends search the Internet for the writings of JPII or Paul VI? How many teens are really going on retreats and conferences where Truth is being spoken and where they are being show charity in the form of warnings about sin and its consequences? How many teens are being respected enough by the adults in their lives to be challenged to live in the manner they were created for? Who are the prophets that the Lord is calling up in your school, your town, your parish? Could it be you?

I think all of us are called to be prophetic in one way or another. I doubt if many of us are called to jump up on the table in the cafeteria at school or work in the middle of lunch and start shouting out spiritual warnings to our peers. But perhaps being prophetic is to live our lives with such holiness and love that people want to be like us (which really means they want to be like Jesus, right?). Perhaps there is a friend in your life that is heading down a wrong path that really needs you to show them the way.

We all want to be liked, but is that the highest calling we have in our lives? Is that what will fulfill us the most? Is that what we want to be able to hang our hat on at the end of the day? Is that what we want our obituary to say about us: that people liked us? Because honestly, it is pretty easy to be liked. But most of the time it involves compromising who we really are and avoiding all conflicts. And in the end, we might be liked, but will we be able to respect ourselves?

Many people in our world today are caught in sin and don’t even know that they are spiritually dying. But they know they are unhappy and unfulfilled. They are desperate for someone, anyone, to show them a better way. Will it be you and me? If so, here I am Lord, ready to do Your will.

Dear Jesus, give me the grace to be prophetic today. Allow my life to reflect Your Truth and love and when I need to speak warnings, let me do it with courage and with love, so that I may help others. Amen.