Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Heaven

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.’” Revelation 21: 1, 3-4

People have been trying to create heaven on earth for as long as history has been recorded. Perhaps this desire for a paradise on earth is simply a logical result from being kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Maybe there is something within us that wishes we could go back to a place that never will be again. Or maybe we desire it because we know this earth is broken and temporary and that God created us to yearn for wholeness and permanence. But will we EVER find that and be satisfied in this life?

Of course as followers of Christ we should be at every moment seeking ways to bring justice and peace to our earth right now. Just because our hearts and souls long for our eternal home does not mean we should abandon the cries of the oppressed and poor during this earthly journey. We should use our time, talent and treasures to further the kingdom of God on earth. We should seek to serve others and show others the love and hope of the Lord. And yes, we should use our freedom and democracy in America to vote for leaders who will also seek to use the weight and power of the government to join the Church in seeking justice and peace, not only in our land, but around the world as we are able to do.

However, if we think that the government is going to save us, we are sadly mistaken. If we think that some form of economic socialism will bring utopia to the world, we are missing the boat. If we think that we can simply throw enough money, goods and military might around the world and people will be at peace, we are not recognizing the fundamental Truth that every human being is broken, sinful, wounded and capable of giving into the temptations of power, greed, and corruption. There is no human institution, government, military or economic model that will bring paradise to this earth.

Only the grace of Jesus can motivate us and give us the strength to bring any semblance of peace or justice to our world. And occupying the inner cities of the world demanding money and resources and jobs is not going to work either. We need to stop demanding things! We need to humbly SACRIFICE in our own lives and love until it hurts, like Jesus. Then, and only then, will we begin to see true peace and justice in the world. And even then, there will still be brokenness, selfishness and temptations for us to act contrary to love. So does this leave us with no hope? On the contrary, as we continue to cooperate with God’s grace, make sacrifices for others and try to love others by meeting their needs, we also offer hope in a life to come—in a home that is eternal, where no one will go hungry, homeless, naked or in fear; a place where every occupant is completely filled with love, peace, joy and ecstasy forever and ever. Amen?

Dear Jesus, please help me to look at my own life and find ways that I can sacrifice more to help others in need. Help me to fight the temptations of greed and power in my own heart and through my actions to bring others the hope that can be found only in You—the hope of everlasting life in heaven. Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Can Do All Things...But Should I?

“I have the strength for everything, through him who empowers me.” Philippians 4: 13

There is nothing that we cannot accomplish because the grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ lives in us and if we are open to allowing this power to flow through us and animate us then nothing can stand in our way. It is this power and grace of Jesus in and through the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to love, to be compassionate, to lead others closer to Christ, to be patient, to be humble, to follow in His footsteps along the Narrow Road. With Christ we can do all things, but apart from Him we can do nothing. Without God’s grace and power, martyrs wouldn’t give their lives, people wouldn’t repent and conform their lives to the Gospel, no one would answer God’s call as missionaries, no one would preach or teach the Truth and no one would be healed in body or soul.

But just because we can do all things through the power of God, does not mean that we are called to do ALL things. God is not giving you the power to do EVERYTHING, just the power to do His will for YOUR life. This many seem like an obvious distinction, but some people seem to miss it by the way they live their lives. The world is so busy and fast-paced today and we forget that our lives as Christians should be impacting our culture, not merely reflecting it. The reality is that even as Christians, doing Christian things, we can get too busy. We can begin to convince ourselves that because the things we do are for God or the Church, then we are supposed to be doing them.

All things we do for Christ MUST be because Christ asked us or led us to do them, not simply because we think we ought to because they are good in and of themselves. I am not speaking about moral good and evil here. Obviously we need to always do the good when compared to evil. I am talking about all the things we volunteer for, or help out with outside of our families. There will always be people in need. The question is not whether we should help or not, we should. The question is where and how much? And the answer to this not only depends on our state in life and other obligations, but most importantly, where is GOD leading me?

The only way we can be sure that we are doing the things Christ wants us to do, and no more or less, is to be in prayer and contemplation every day. If we are not always seeking deeper union with Him, if we are not listening to His voice, if we are not slowing down to contemplate and meditate on what is really important, then we risk missing the big picture and doing things for the sake of doing things. And at that point we don’t offer anything of value or hope to a world that so desperately craves it. We only look like a Christian version of everyone else and we end up burned out. Is that what God really wants of us?

Dear Jesus, I desire to serve you with my whole heart and with all my being and I know that with Your power I can do all things. Help me to spend time with You each day so I can authentically discern what exactly it is You are actually calling me to do and what You aren’t. Amen.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Ties That Bind

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Ephesians 5: 31

There is a LOT of talk about marriage these days isn’t there?

Who should be allowed to marry? Why are people getting married later in life? Why are so many people getting divorced? What’s wrong with homosexual marriage? What’s the difference between divorce and an annulment? But are we really asking the right questions? Are we asking the foundational questions upon which the answers to all other questions can be based?

For instance, the best first question about marriage is: who created marriage? If it is nothing more than a contract between two people recognized by the state, then that leads to a host of one set of answers to the other questions we mentioned above. As Christians we do NOT believe that marriage is a human institution. We believe that marriage was created by God. In fact, we read in the book of Genesis (repeated in the passage from Ephesians above), that marriage was the first sacrament, the first sign of God’s covenant with us. Bl. Pope John Paul II called marriage the “primordial” sacrament. Marriage is a covenant between man and woman that binds them together. This covenant is the sign of God’s love for the Church and it is the first thing done after creation is complete. And nothing else in creation marries but the man and woman. No animals, no birds; only Adam and Eve who are our first parents and also represent all of humanity.

The next foundational question we must ask is: what is the purpose of God creating marriage? The rest of the world might say again, that it is a legal contract between two people, any two people, who are in love (and some might argue more than two people). As Christians we believe that the purpose of marriage is unitive and procreative. In other words, marriage is for bonding and babies. Why? In this sacrament, the one man and one woman give themselves to one another in self-donating love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful. They are bonded to one another in the sacramental grace given to them and this selfless, sacrificial love, then bears fruit in the form of another human person.

If we understand and accept the Truth of these two primary and foundational questions, then all of the other questions about marriage can be answered from a place of hope and honesty. Without the knowledge of where marriage came from and what it is for, we are left to the whims and waves of this present culture to determine for each person their own definition of marriage and how to live that out. By understanding that marriage was created by God, not man, we realize that it is sublime and mysterious and that we cannot tinker with it without dire consequences. By understanding that the purpose is to bond man and woman with God and each other in such a deep, covenantal, sacrificial, self-donating love that the marriage becomes a family and communion of intimately connected persons we realize it is more than just a fulfillment of one’s own needs or desires. Let us pray for a greater understanding of marriage and a greater desire to embrace self-donating love.

Dear Jesus, may I always seek to love others as You loved. And with Your help and grace, may the dignity and sacredness of marriage be protected and encouraged in our culture. Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

May the Force Be With You

“Therefore, remember that at one time you…were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community…and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2: 11-13

There are a lot of people in the world, in the United States, maybe in your community or school, who are atheists or agnostics. They do not believe in any kind of God or “higher power”. Most of them subscribe to one form of communism or secular humanism—the belief that this world is all there is, science tells us what is real and truth is really whatever you want it to be. The belief that this life is all that there is, there are no angels, or demons, or any kind of “unseen” powers in the universe and that ultimately when we die, that is the end. So this life is about making utopia for real for now, or else to simply try to live life obtaining as much pleasure as possible.

On the other hand, a lot of other people are “spiritual”. Ancient Greeks were spiritual. American Indians are spiritual. Tribes and peoples in Africa and Central America are spiritual. Eastern mysticism from the Far East is spiritual. Yoga is spiritual. Heck, astrology is kind of spiritual too. At this point in the United States the majority of people would say that they believe in God or a “higher power”. In other words, they are spiritual.  But is just “spiritual” enough?

Perhaps atheists and spiritualists are really the opposite sides of the same coin. Despite their differences in beliefs about the existence of unseen powers, they both want to live lives according to themselves, without any interference from anything or anyone, be it seen or unseen. In other words, they do not want to be held accountable to any standards not set by their own minds or emotions. Atheists want to advance their lives through science and spiritualists want to manipulate the spiritual world for their own benefit. Both are disconnected from “religion” or a personal, intimate God. Neither recognizes Jesus Christ as our Savior and neither feels compelled to live according to an objective moral standard or worship anything outside of themselves.

Living by either of these philosophies can be dangerous. The secular humanists offer little hope and the spiritualists offer too much. What the worlds needs is Jesus. We need to become so intimate with Him that others cannot dismiss Him. Our words need to be His words, our thoughts His thoughts: our deeds, His deeds. Without an intimate relationship with Christ grounded in a joyful, obedient presence in the Church, we offer the world nothing different than secular humanists or spiritualists.

I think it is very easy to see that world is not devoid of spiritual powers and beings. I think it is easy to see that these spiritual powers and beings must be more than some impersonal “ying-yang” force. And yet, so many people miss this reality and settle for believing only that which can be understood or manipulated by either the mind or the heart. May we have the humble courage to show them another way, a way of authentic hope and true freedom.

Dear Jesus, help me to reflect You in all I think, say and do today. May my relationship with You expose the reality of the spiritual world to those who do not believe and may my presence in the Church expose those who believe in anything to be grounded in the Truth. Amen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It Takes All Kinds

“The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.’” Luke 10: 41-42

It appears from this passage about Martha and her sister Mary that Martha gets a bad rap, doesn’t it? Here she is serving Jesus and the apostles, feeding everyone, taking care of everyone’s needs, washing the dishes, etc. and all the while Mary just sits at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. At first when Martha complains we sympathize and expect Jesus to chastise Mary for her apparent laziness and inconsideration to her sister. And yet, somewhat surprisingly to some people, Jesus actually gentle challenges Martha to spend less time worrying and trying to control things and to let go and rest in His presence like Mary. Wow! Didn’t see that coming at first, did we? Especially in America, where hard work and productivity are highly praised and someone without work is labeled as lazy (many times unjustly).

But is Jesus really praising the fact that Mary is doing nothing? Of course not. It’s not so much that she is doing nothing, but she is doing something that has more value at that moment. There is a time for everything and when in the presence of Jesus, He is telling us to simply let go of our worries, put down our burdens, forget about what people think of us and allow Him to speak to our hearts and be refreshed in His presence.

However, if we look a little deeper into Scripture we find another story about Martha and Mary. In the Gospel of John we learn that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary has died. Jesus goes to the tomb and when Martha hears about His coming she runs to Him and talks to Him and shows her faith in Him as the Savior. She still has hope at this moment of grief. She is bold and she is trying to solve the problem. All the while this is going on, Mary, the one who basked at the feet of Jesus, is not even able to go to Him now. She stays at home wallowing in her grief until Jesus calls her.

What this tells us is that there are all kinds of people and personalities. Martha is more of a go-getter, a doer, perhaps a leader. But her weakness is that she tries to control everything and trusts herself too much. In addition, she judges others easily because she expects others to be as productive and attentive as she. Mary on the other hand appears to be more free-spirited. She loves deeply, feels deeply and has dramatic emotional highs and lows. When she is feeling “up”, nothing can stop her, but when she is feeling “low”, nothing seems to give her hope. Perhaps this is a weakness for her. One is not better than the other. The reality is that God has made all kinds of people and He calls each of us to Him and while we respond in different ways, there is much that we can learn from one another. Where our weaknesses lie, another might have strengths and vice versa. Instead of attacking, judging and condemning one another, let us learn from one another as we all seek to respond to the Lord’s call.

Dear Jesus, both Martha and Mary loved You. Both had to learn to trust You and let go of what they were holding onto. Please give me the grace to trust You, to let go of what I need to and to follow You every day. Amen.