Monday, November 26, 2012

King for a Day

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom belonged to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.’ So Pilate asked him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king.’” John 18: 36-37a

A question: if you were made king of your country for one day, what would you do or change with your power? I suspect that many of us would make abortion illegal, or stop bullying, or give everyone a job. Perhaps we would make ourselves comfortable for a day or bask in our riches and opulence before we had to relinquish the throne. Maybe even some of us would seek to right as many wrongs and injustices before our opportunity left us.

As Catholics we just celebrated the last Sunday of the liturgical year and the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe. And it really got me thinking yesterday about being a king and all that implies; the power, the responsibility, the authority, the temptation to pride, selfishness and greed that certainly must accompany such wealth and opportunity. What would you or I do in this circumstance? And what would happen if we were not just king for a day, but for a lifetime? And what if we weren’t just figureheads like most current European monarchies, but we had the absolute power once granted to kings? Would we be as noble and charitable as the saintly kings of old, or would we be like the horrible kings of history that were little more than diabolical dictators?

What about Jesus? He is the King of kings and Lord of lords? He is God: all-knowing, all-powerful. He is not just king of the world, but king of the universe. He is the creator and ruler of all the living and the dead, of all the earth, in the heavens and under the earth. And what does He do with that power? He became one of us and died for us in our place so that we would know of His unconditional love and mercy and have the opportunity to get to heaven one day. He took His greatness and lowered Himself to become like us in all things but sin, so that He could raise us up to Himself through His death and resurrection. Amazing!

So Jesus is the king of the universe. I think most Christians are fine with this. I mean, we all know we need to be saved and we all know there are things in the universe bigger than us and our physical or intellectual powers. We do not stand much a of a chance against the forces of nature or the complexities of outer space. And so in some instances, it is quite easy to allow Christ to be the king of all that. But can we allow Christ to be the king of our hearts? To me, this is the bigger question because in our own hearts we like to have a sense of control. We like to hold the reins and chart the course of our own lives, don’t we? We don’t like anyone telling us what to do, or where to go. We like making our own decision, for good or for bad. It’s relatively easy to let God have control of things we don’t have control over, but when it comes to letting go of the things we are holding onto, that is another question.

What things are we holding onto? Perhaps it is our future: where we will go to college, where we will live, where we will work or what our vocation in life might be? Maybe it is a relationship that is bringing us down? We can all be tempted to hold onto our hurts, pains or sins.  Jesus wants control of our hearts. He wants to guide us, leads us and draw us into the greatness that He has created us for. But He will not force us. He will keep knocking, keep inviting, keep asking. But He has given us the power to refuse His love, refuse His leadership, refuse His greatness. Instead we can choose to stumble along in our blindness, pretending to be the king of our own heart, pretending we are in control, pretending we know what is best for us.  This day let us truthfully examine our hearts to the deepest parts and let go of anything that is not under the kingship of Jesus and place our lives completely under His lover, protection and mercy, trusting that He knows us better than ourselves. In this will we find true happiness and in this will our lives achieve greatness.

Dear Jesus, today I make You my King. Today I allow You complete control and reign over my entire heart and over all aspects of my life: past, present and future. May I live as Your faithful follower all the days of my life. Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Up, Up and Away…

“Jesus summoned them and said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Mark 10: 42-45

We all desire to be great, don’t we? There is this constant, internal drive that compels us forward, that causes us to reach higher, that draws us to excellence. There is something burning in our hearts that does not want to settle for second best, for mediocrity. We want to win the gold and come in first place. We want to be rich and famous. We want to be successful and we want to be known. And we want power—the power to control our own lives, our destinies and perhaps even at times the lives of others.

We aspire to greatness and we try to emulate those who are successful in our eyes. We seek to compete in sports as do the greatest of the MVP’s and hall-of-famers. We try to sing and dance and play instruments like the rock-n-roll gods of past and present. We try to dress and act like the pop culture tells us so that we can be as cool and accepted as the famous among us. We believe that we can acquire wealth from imitating those who have acquired it before us.

But what happens after we acquire the wealth? What happens after we make the hall of fame, or reach #1 on the charts, or have our names on the clothes others wear so they can be as cool as us? What then? Will we look back with satisfaction at the journey? Will we be ready to settle down and just lazily enjoy the comforts success and fame has brought us? Or might there still be a nagging in our hearts do something more still?

The grand irony in life was taught to us by Jesus in His words and through His very life: if we want to be raised high, we need to lower ourselves. If we want to be the greatest, we must be the least. If we want to be first, we must be last. If we want to live, we must die. Bl. John Paul II echoed these words of Christ when he reminded us that the more we live selfishly for ourselves, the less human we become and the more we live lives of self-donation, the more fully human we become.

Jesus showed us His greatness by becoming lower than the angels to take on our form. He showed His greatness by obeying Mary and Joseph and learning at their feet. He showed His greatness by washing the disciples’ feet and giving us His Body and Blood on Holy Thursday night. And Jesus showed His greatness by lowering Himself completely in His passion and death so that we too, could share in the life of the Trinity. Somehow we think we can be great without doing the same?

Dear Jesus, help me to lower myself to where You are at, so that You can raise me up. I want to serve You and others Lord. I aspire to nothing but loving You and giving my life as a donation for others. Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mountain Movers

Jesus said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17: 20

What “mountains” do you have in your life right now? By this I mean situations, people or circumstances in your life that you find impossible to change, heal, correct, rectify, deal with, get over or move beyond.

Perhaps you are paralyzed with fears or worries. Perhaps there is someone in your life that hurts you, belittles you or controls you. Perhaps there is an issue like self-esteem or self-respect that you cannot improve. Maybe you are ill or injured in some way and live in pain with little hope for recovery or relief. Maybe you work in a difficult situation, you live in a lifeless marriage or you are caught in some kind of impossible financial situation. Or maybe you are the greatest barrier to yourself for some reason.

I don’t know what or who your “mountain” is, but I believe we all have them. In some situations these may be crosses that we are asked to bear for a certain amount of time to merit grace for the world. But in other circumstances, these are simply things we need deliverance from. But we so often see no hope, no remedy, no way out and so we despair. In other words, we lose faith.

But in what or in whom are we losing faith? Sometimes we have faith in the wrong things or the wrong person. The bottom line is this: if we put our hope and faith in ANYTHING or ANYONE of this world, no matter how good, we will be let down. What Jesus is saying to us though, is have faith in HIM! If we truly had faith in Him, we would recognize the POWER to move mountains—whether they are literal or figurative. What we so often do, however, is to have faith in ourselves and our own power, or the power of others. And when we (or they) fail, we lose faith. What a trick the devil plays on us!

Faith is not magic. Faith is not a fairy tale. Faith is not voodoo or hoping in some thing to save us! Faith believes in the love and power of Jesus Christ. It’s pretty simple: either we believe in His power over all things, people and circumstances, or we don’t. We cannot have it both ways. Faith is trusting in the Word of God, trusting in His Church, trusting in His Providence. And all we need is a little bit—as the tiniest seed grows into the largest bush, so too does a small amount of faith in Christ grown into more fruit than we could ever imagine. We need to have this faith strengthened, we need this faith to grow and we need to share this faith with others. Then, watch out mountains!

Dear Jesus, as we begin this Year of Faith, may we come to grow more in our personal relationship with You, may we come to learn more about our Catholic Faith and may we become eager to share the Good News with all we meet. Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Are You Happy…Really?

“My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is.” Lamentations 3: 17

So I was creeping on facebook this morning and looking at all kinds of “friends” profiles pages after they had come up on my news feed. There were the typical posts about life: papers due, stress at home, tidbits of mundane activities, funny quips and sublime quotes. And there were pictures. Lots of pictures. Pictures of smiling, happy people at parties, trips to the beach or amusement parks, or at family get-togethers. Then there were the ones of drinking, clubbing, cray-cray madness, YOLO and all that stuff, right? And I found myself in those moments thinking to myself, “Are you happy? I mean really happy? 

On the surface it appears that people are happy. They are smiling. They are hanging out with buddies with beer cans or at a club with drinks in hand. They’re in the arms of “someone” and are kissing or pressing close together. They are dancing, jumping around, goofing off, etc. But as I looked into the EYES of the people in the photos I couldn’t help but wondering if all the “happiness” they seem to be experiencing is not real happiness, but just an experience. We can all be “happy” when with our friends. We can be “happy” doing something we enjoy. People can appear happy while drunk or acting stupid or goofing off.

But what happens when the club closes? What happens when the friends go home? What happens when the game ends or the “someone” is pressed against someone else? What happens when the buzz or high wears off? What happens when it is just YOU and the darkness and you’re trying to fall asleep? When it’s just you and your own heart beating and your own mind racing? Are you truly happy? Or do you realize in those snatched moments of insecurity and fear that perhaps you aren’t really happy and the reason you keep drinking and clubbing and partying and being with all the “someones” is because you are so desperately seeking happiness and no matter how hard you try you keep coming up short. In those moments of unnerving quiet perhaps you realize that all of the “stuff” you post about is simply an attempt to make everyone think you are happy in order to convince your lonely heart that you really ARE happy.

But there is a better way. There is hope and there is peace. Our hearts were created to search for happiness, love, purpose and peace. Our hearts were created to be filled and satisfied by God alone. When Christ is the center of our hearts and the foundation we build our lives upon, then we can be truly happy, even in the midst of suffering and sadness. Neither the evils, nor the goods, of this world will ever be able to completely satisfy the needs of our hearts, only God.  And during those times of quiet darkness, when you are scared of your aloneness and your heart speaks Truth to your mind, it is there that you will find God. And it is then that your heart will be at peace. Then everything else in life will fall into place, because your center and your foundation will be right.

Dear Jesus, help us to understand that only in You will our hearts be satisfied, that only in You will we be truly happy. And in this knowledge may we reach deeper and deeper in the depths of Your heart, where love and peace dwells. Amen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

God’s Armor

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” Ephesians 6: 10-11

You do realize we are in a battle, right?

Every day, at every moment, Satan and his legion of demons seek to tempt us, scare us, distract us, harm us, fool us, confuse us, dull us and destroy us. At every moment we are confronted with the choice to live for God or to live for ourselves. At every moment we are free to choose to follow the Lord’s commands and plans or to sin. At every moment we can choose to live a life of greatness or a life of mediocrity. The biggest battle of our lives takes place almost silently, invisibly, in and around us every day and our enemy is pure evil with the powers of an angel. He is the master of disguises and the father of lies.

So we stand there like a sand castle against a wave, with a history of defeats to remind us of what to expect and yet we still think that this time we will win. We look insane as we try to fight this battle the same way over and over expecting different results. Because the reality is that if it comes down to me or you versus Satan, we are going to lose every time. Satan has no need for sleep, or food. He does not tire or grow weary. He has the powers of an angel, fallen as he may be. And he relentlessly pursues us.

But God stands there offering us His strength, His mighty power and His armor. Why do we not use it? Pride, laziness, ignorance? How can Satan defeat God? He can’t. And when you and I use the Lord’s strength, the power of God the Father and the armor provided by Him, we can stand firm against the attacks of the Evil One. What is the armor of God? Truth. Righteousness. The Gospel of Peace. Faith. Salvation. The Word of God.

We need to stop fighting with our own power. We need to stop fighting with our own armor. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God. We need to learn and accept the Truth that comes to us from the Lord through the Church. We need to think, speak and act with peace. We need to live a life of virtue and righteousness. We need to believe in the things unseen. And we need to claim our salvation, not in pride or presumption, but in the mercy of a God who loves us beyond compare. When we do this, the perfect, loving armor of God will cast out the fearful tactics of Satan every time.

Praise God that we are not called to go into this battle ill-equipped or unprepared!! The same power that created the universe from nothing, the same power that calmed the raging sea, the same power that heals, the same power that defeated Satan at the cross is available to us. If we would only draw upon it.

Dear Jesus, please give me Your strength and mighty power this day. May I never head into battle without first putting on Your armor. Amen.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Approaching Jesus

“So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” Hebrews 4: 16

The greatest desire of God is that we would be able to come to Him. He desires to be in union with us, in a relationship of love and intimacy with us. And He has done everything in order to make Himself accessible and approachable to us. He does not want us to be afraid of or intimidated by Him. He wants us to search for Him, to reach for Him, to come to Him. And so He first came to us—not on a cloud of glory, but by taking on our frail, human flesh. By becoming one of us. So to experience our temptations, our joys, our sorrows, our anger, our questioning hearts.

And Jesus came to us not a full-grown man, but as a tiny, helpless baby. He allowed Himself to be raised by His own creatures. He had to be fed, to have His diaper changed, to be taught how to speak and eat and walk. What is more approachable then an infant?

As He began His ministry He went to the people. He did not wait for everyone to come to Him. He travelled all over the Holy Land, spreading the Good News. He was most comfortable with the outcast, the poor, lepers, sinners, the broken, the weak. He sought out tax collectors and adulterers. He ate with those rejected by others. He welcomed children.

In the end He offered all that He could for us on the cross. He took the ultimate risk of love by loving us to the point of death. He offered His life for us with the full knowledge that so many would reject His sacrifice. And yet He humbled Himself to take all of the risk, to take the first step, to reach out to us—to show us not only by His words, but by His actions that nothing was more important to Him then loving us and having us share in His love. He is approachable because He takes all of the rejection while never rejecting us for any reason. We risk and lose NOTHING by accepting His love, by coming to Him, by giving Him our lives.

And even today, after 2,000 years, He still comes to us in humility, hidden behind the cloaks of bread and wine. Coming to us in the Eucharist, not in all of His glory. Because we could not handle His glory. He knows we would be afraid of His glory because of our sin. And out of His great and crazy love, He comes to us in such a simple, unpretentious manner, so that we can approach Him.

Jesus wants nothing more than for you and I to know Him and experience His love for us. He has done and continues to do EVERYTHING to make Himself approachable. On the last day, we will be judged for whether or not we approached Him who has made Himself approachable in all ways!

Dear Jesus, give me the grace to see You as You really are. I desire to be one with You all the days of my life. May I confidently approach You at every moment, sure of Your love for me. Amen.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lessons from Sebastian

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!” Psalm 139: 13-14

Last week was hard. While in the middle of conducting a retreat for our parish middle school students, my wife called to tell me that she was having a miscarriage. I was able to leave the retreat early and drove home to grieve with and support my wife and other children. It was tough. It still is. But at the same time, the grace of God has been blowing me away this past week and I have been trying to soak it all in. What I realized as the days went by was how much my son, Sebastian Luke, was able to teach the world in his short, 17 weeks of life.

Lesson #1: There IS a human baby in the womb, not just a bunch of cells. I was given the privilege of preparing Sebastian’s body before we took him to the funeral home. I washed his frail, almost perfect, little body and placed him in a satin-lined box. Most of his older siblings had the sublime experience of seeing his ten perfect toes and fingers, his little ears and nose (he had an Anthony nose). There was no mistaking his miniature form as a human, not a potential human, who simply needed time and nourishment before looking exactly like you and me. I don’t know what the future holds for each of his siblings that were able to gaze upon his body, but I know they will NEVER believe the lie that what is inside the womb is not a human life.

Lesson #2: Tragedy bonds us in ways that nothing else can. It was moving to see my oldest son overcome with grief for his little sibling that he would never know or play with in this life. In the safe cocoon of our home and family he did not have to be ashamed about lettings his emotions out. Sebastian taught his older brother, and all of us, that life is precious and sacred and that it is right to express sorrow when life is destroyed or lost or disrespected. Sebastian taught us that we need to be more compassionate towards one another and that we need to be more passionate about showing love to one another.

Lesson #3: Life is short and we need to cherish each moment. Whether you live only 17 weeks in the womb or you live to be 117, life is going to seem short. Especially when compared to eternity. What Sebastian taught us is that we need to stop sweating the small stuff and start living each day with eternal vision, recognizing that each day could be our last and that we will be meeting the Lord sooner rather than later. Sebastian taught us to live for HEAVEN—the place where we will one day meet him. Sebastian taught us to have our priorities straight.

Lesson #4: Funerals are important. It was an honor to be able to pray over his little body, carry his coffin and to help place it in the ground and cover it with flowers and dirt. As I shoveled the earth into the grave I was reminded that we came from dust and that we would return to dust. Sebastian taught me humility in that moment. Who is Scott Anthony? Nothing more than an imperfect child of God, imperfect husband and father, imperfect son and brother and imperfect youth minister and Catholic speaker; in fact, in 150 years, no one living now will even have a clue about who I was. But God knows me and He has given me THIS day, THIS moment, THIS time in salvation history to be His follower and to learn to love as He loved. Sebastian taught me that everyone is important and known by God and that I need to cherish each moment and live each day to serve Him.

Lesson #5: Sebastian taught all of us that EVERY life matters, no matter how small. There is NO ONE who is insignificant in the eyes of God and EVERY life has a purpose and plan. While Sebastian’s life was very short and he never even lived to see the light of day or the faces of his family members, he sees more clearly now than we do. While the rest of the world might say that his existence was worthless or a waste, they are wrong! Sebastian taught us all this and so much more. And most importantly, we now have another intercessor in heaven cheering us home. We can never underestimate the eternal value of his prayers for us still struggling to find our way. He taught us that EVERY life is gifted with the ability to love and to help others see God and get to heaven.

Sebastian Luke lived a short life, not long enough to even be measured by the standards of the world, but he lived a life of greatness when measured by God’s standards. May we all strive to live as rich and meaningful of a life as my precious little Sebastian Luke.

Sebastian Luke, pray for us!