Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Power of One

“Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.” James 3: 5b

Several years ago I drove a small group of teens from my parish to visit Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio (I couldn’t do this now obviously because of all the new youth protection policies). The teens were hosted by former youth ministry members who were current students at the university and they had the opportunity to experience some classes, take a tour, eat cafeteria food, be immersed in the amazing spiritual atmosphere on campus and live real dorm life for the weekend. For the most part I left them alone and did my own thing. But on the Saturday night we were there, we all drove to Pittsburgh to PNC Park to watch the Pirates play the Cubs in baseball.

Well, as you can imagine, a game between these two teams got boring pretty quickly (although I do believe Sammy Sosa hit a home run into one of the rivers). In addition, we were in the third upper level way back above left field down the third base line and could barely see the field. Finally, we were with a group of 15-20 crazy Catholic college students who just wanted to have a good time.

At some point in the middle of the game, one of the students said, “Let’s get the Wave going”. For those not familiar with the “Wave”, it is where each section of the stadium stands up, raises their arms and cheers and the sits back down while in the same motion, the next section stands up and cheers just as the section before them sits down. If the whole stadium does it together, it looks like a giant “wave” rolling around the stadium. Now the stadium was packed with over 30,000 fans, so we had a daunting task.

We started by yelling to the people in our section and the section next to us that we were going to do this. Then we would count to three and all stand up, raise our arms and cheer as loud as we could. The first time or two most of the people in our section did it with us and maybe half of the next section, but then it fizzled out. Undaunted, we kept trying to no avail. Finally, we sent two-man teams to spread out at the bottoms of the next 7 or 8 sections after ours in order to act as cheerleaders to help each of those sections join us for the Wave. Once everyone was in place, we counted to three and started. The first time we got about 3 or 4 sections to do it with us, then 5 or 6, then 7 or 8 and then the fourth or fifth time of trying to get this thing going with our cheerleaders in place it took off and we watched in awe as the Wave rolled around the stadium from section to section on all three levels beginning from our very top left field spot all the way down the third base line, rounded behind home plate, sprinted up the first base line and charged around the outfield before sweeping back to us where we stood up and cheered and kept the ball rolling. By the time it fizzled out this time it had gone around the stadium three or four times! 30,000 people all doing the same thing because one person had an idea and a few friends helped to make it happen. 

God wants to use YOU! Never underestimate the power you have to influence, effect, or change others or our culture. Too often we limit the power of God and the good He desires to work through us because we feel inadequate, or fearful, or shy. God’s ability to use us has very little to do with our abilities and lots to do with our willingness to be used by Him. If we can wake-up each day and give God permission to use us we will be amazed at the opportunities we have to love someone, make a difference or to affect change in our world. The power is not FROM us, but the power is IN us if we live in Christ. So no matter your personality, your temperament, your gifts or your weaknesses—God can still use you, and God wants to use you. And a little YOU can go a long way in showing Christ to the world. We may not always see the results of our availability to God, but one day in heaven we will. And what an immense joy it will be to know how we touched others in so many big and small ways throughout our lives just by letting God’s power flow through us.

Dear Jesus, I give You permission to penetrate the deepest part of my heart today and to let Your grace fill me to overflowing so that I can be Your instrument to all I encounter. Amen.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The 8th Day

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine.” Isaiah 43: 1

Happy Easter! He is risen, alleluia!

How was your Lent? Did you accomplish all you wanted to do? Did you keep all of your fasts? Did you abstain from meat on Fridays? Did you offer up all of your other sacrifices and grow in holiness the way you wanted to?

Or perhaps you feel short of your goals? Perhaps you found yourself at the end of Lent wishing you had tried harder, done more and been better. But isn’t it great that while the Church observes forty days of Lent, She celebrates FIFTY days of Easter!! So maybe you didn’t succeed as much as you wanted this Lent. The good news is that there will be another Lent next year for you to try again. But the best news is that we are an Easter People and now is the time to celebrate!

The Church reminds us that Easter is the 8th Day”—the day that the new creation begins! The reality is that because of Original Sin, all of us are going to fail at one time or another. All of us are going to fail. But the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection allow us to rejoice in the fact that He wants to make us into a new creation! Death has been defeated and the work of our redemption has begun. In Christ we do not simply get covered by the grace of Christ, but the grace of Christ envelopes and penetrates into our lives and by cooperating with this power of God we can be made whole, we can become something new and the old will pass away!

It is time to stop wallowing in self-pity, misery, pain and anger. We need to allow God to heal us, love us, hold us, nurture us, sustain us, empower us, CHANGE us!! Easter is NOT the time for hanging heads, dragging feet or heavy hearts. It is the time for rejoicing and renewal. Our hearts should be light, there should be a spring in our step and our heads should be held high with the joy of Christ’s victory fresh and full on our faces, in our smiles and gleaming from our eyes!

Even if we are suffering from sickness, grief or pain, the Resurrection points to a greater reality for us. We may even be scared or hurt, but the power of Jesus can reign in our hearts as we live in the hope of redemption. While there will still be suffering and persecution I this world, we know that this world and death is not the end! Our redeemer lives and when we are in Him, we live and we will live forever with Him!

So come celebrate with the Church for the next fifty days. Not because you were so good in Lent, but because Jesus was so good on Easter!! O death, where is your sting?

Dear Jesus, thank You for the 8th day, the day when the work of redemption in the world and in my heart was begun. Help me to live in the reality of Your resurrection! Amen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Not I, Lord?

“When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ Deeply disturbed at this, they began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord?’” Matthew 26: 20-22

We are masters at justification, are we not? We can look at something we have done and within seconds we can come up with all kinds of reasons why what we did was necessary, or not our fault, or even good—even if we have caused harm or pain.

It is interesting to see how distressed and defensive the Apostles became at the words of Jesus. Perhaps in some way, big or small, maybe only in the deepest recesses of their hearts they had doubted Him, they had questioned His wisdom, His sanity, His divinity. Was there a time when they thought they had a better idea, a better word, a better way to market or present the message? And so when confronted by this statement of betrayal, they cringed, recoiled and reacted out of guilt, or shame, trying to justify in their own minds with words the betrayal they may have felt in their hearts at one time or another.

They didn’t want to betray Him. They loved Him. And so do we love Him. But often in our own lives we too, ask the question “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?” While Judas betrayed Jesus for a mere 30 pieces of silver, do we not also give up our relationship with Jesus for so little? Do we back down in the face of threats or insults? Do we hide our faith in Christ at work or school? Do we sacrifice Christ to fit in with the crowd, joining our voices at Mass with the Hosannas, but with curses at the mall or with our friends? Do we fill our hearts and minds with words and images that drive us deeper into ourselves or sin and away from Christ? Do we abandon Him with every new relationship or deny Him when questioned about our beliefs?

Despite the fact that Jesus knew the hearts of His Apostles and despite the fact that He knows our often divided hearts, He still died for them and He still died for us. The reality is that Jesus died for Judas just as much as He died for St. Peter or St. John. Jesus does not love you or me more than Hitler. The difference is whether or not we will accept that love and live in it. All of us are capable or betraying, abandoning and denying Jesus. But only He is capable of bringing us back, of healing us, of redeeming us and turning us into new creations. Will we say “yes” to this love today? Will we say “yes” to His grace, His redeeming power? Or will we stay mired in our doubts, our pride, our fears, our sins, all the while confessing our love for Him but surprised when He points out our betrayal?

This Holy Week we have the opportunity to search our own hearts, our motives, and allow Jesus to expose them for us so we can see ourselves honestly. Only then can we begin to truly throw ourselves into the ocean of mercy and grace that awaits us at the cross on Good Friday.

Dear Jesus, expose my justifying heart, my doubts, my fears and my betrayals and bring me to the foot of the cross where I can be set free by Your Precious Blood. Amen.