Monday, November 11, 2013

In Their Shoes

“Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right…who keeps an oath despite the cost…whoever acts like this shall never be shaken.” Psalm 15: 2a, 4c, 5b

Every culture throughout history has honored their warriors. There is something within the human heart that recognizes greatness, honor, courage and sacrifice. And while war is horrible and something that one of us as people of Faith wish would ever have to happen, the reality of our broken world is that there is sin and free will and evil and therefore, men and women are needed to protect the innocent, the weak, the powerless; to serve the common good and restore order from chaos and establish peace in places of hatred.

As we honor the brave men and women of our current generation and every generation still living that have proven themselves in times of peace and war by always being ready to serve and to sacrifice, we are called to support them and be filled with gratitude for what they have done. But how can any of us truly know what they have done. It has been said that to get to know a man you must walk a mile in their shoes. How many of us will ever wear those combat boots and go off to war or train for battle in peacetime, or go into places that most normal humans would run from—in order to help those in need? We can’t. And so we must be grateful for what we can hardly comprehend.

Except when we do anything in our daily lives that their sacrifice has granted us the privilege to do; the ordinary, and yet by virtue of their blood, sweat and tears, the now extraordinary tasks like voting and worshiping where and how we choose. Being able to speak freely, write freely, assemble freely—without fear of reprisal from the government. Being able to go to work, earn a living, choose a career we enjoy, raise a family, pay our bills, shop, go on vacation, etc., etc., etc.

When we do these things with reflection, with an understanding of how and why we are able to do them—why we are able to live in relative freedom, then we begin to walk a little in their shoes. Any honorable warrior serves for love of family and friends, for ideals of good, for freedom, for peace. So each day, as I walk about my daily tasks and routine, I walk each step in the shoes of one of our warriors who has made it all possible.

And I am reminded that I too, am called to greatness—a greatness that comes from walking in the shoes of others each day as a follower of Jesus Christ. All of us are called to be honorable warriors in the army of God in the battle of good versus evil. May we allow the grace of our Lord to fill us with His courage and Spirit to be ready to do anything necessary to fight sin and temptation in our own hearts and throughout the world.

Dear Jesus, please bless all of our veterans and their families, who have sacrificed so much to serve others. Help me to be inspired by their example to fight sin in my own life and to be victorious with You on the last day. Amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Love’s Capacity

“Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen our hearts…” 1 Thessalonians 3: 11-13a

Do you know what unconditional love is? It is love for Love’s sake.

About six months ago my youngest child was born. And for the first month or so all she could do was eat, cry and poop. She couldn’t smile, couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk. She was not able to laugh or smile. She couldn’t hug me or look me in the eye. In fact, she didn’t even seem to recognize me in any special way at all.

And yet I loved her. I loved her with a love so deep, so consuming, so fierce—all I could was hold her and cuddle her and take care of her. And I got nothing tangible in return. There was nothing she could DO to make me love her more or less. I received nothing in return for my love for her, except the joy of loving her. And that was enough.

As we get older and we experience more of the pain and reality of life, as we see firsthand the effects of sin and witness rage, manipulation, jealously, pride, selfishness and greed, we begin to lose sight of unconditional love. We can be tempted to believe that it doesn’t exist. We begin to believe the lie that we are only lovable when we do something good or achieve something remarkable. We begin to love others not based on their inherent worth and dignity, but based on what they do for us..for what they give us. We can end up spending so much time and energy building layers of protection around our hearts that eventually we entomb ourselves in the bitterness and loneliness of isolation. Ultimately we can even forget the love of God, the love of Love Himself.

We can also be fooled into thinking that love has limits and that we can’t love everyone. We give up on marriage because we fear a love so total, faithful and fruitful. Or we only have one or two children because we assume that we can’t give equal amounts of love and attention to more children than that. Perhaps we engross ourselves so much in our daily tasks, be it school, or work or home, so that we don’t have to face the lack of true intimacy in our relationships with family and friends.

In and of ourselves, it is true…we are not capable of loving without limits. Relying on our own meager efforts, gifts and energies, we cannot do it. Because we are finite, our ability to love does at some point reach its capacity. And yet, when we immerse ourselves I the infinite and unconditional love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…there is no limit to our capacity to love. When the love we seek to give and receive flows from the Love that is always giving and receiving, always self-donating, always unconditional, always now and forever…then we too, can live in a world with limitless love.

Like with a newborn infant, we learn to love for Love’s sake. And nothing more. That’s when our hearts change..and the world changes with it.

Dear Jesus, please help me to live in the reality of Your unconditional, always-present love so that I can love others without limits. Amen.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Go Hard or Go Home

“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” 2 Timothy 4: 7-8

I have to admit it: I love sports! I especially love the NHL (hockey), the NFL (football) and college football. And I have always played and loved to watch soccer (futbol). The grace, power, skill, speed and intelligence of the players combined with the mental and physical determination and perseverance it takes to compete at such high levels compel me to watch even when my favorite teams are not involved. And nothing is better than the play-offs: go hard or go home; where one game, one second, one play, one point, one hit or one mistake make the difference between moving forward toward the goal or going home for a long and depressing off-season.

Sports can be a positive and rewarding experience on so many levels. Individually it teaches us to master ourselves, achieve success past our self-perceived limitations, to strive for a goal. Collectively, it teaches us the value of teamwork, communication and selflessness. No wonder St. Paul uses sports in his letters as an analogy for the Christian walk.

Yet more and more throughout the world, it seems that on some level, with more than a few people, sports has become our new religion—we have our cathedrals (stadiums), our vestments (team jerseys in team colors), our hymns (team fight songs), our liturgy (pep rally, tailgating, season ticket seats, post-game dinner), liturgical seasons (off-season, pre-season, regular season, post-season), choirs (marching bands), rituals (wearing the same shirt every game or sitting in the same seat, etc.)—you get the idea…and in the most negative vein, we even have violence being perpetrated in the name of sports—beating up people that support other teams simply because they root for the other team.

As the victors are rewarded the ultimate prizes—the Vince Lombardi Trophy or Lord Stanley’s Cup, the crowd screams in unison and delirious frenzy. The trophies are handled by tuxedo-donned men with white gloves and the victors cradle the prize, caress it…even kiss it.

For what?

A fleeting feeling of accomplishment. A temporary experience of greatness that will pass into memory or forgotten all together more quickly than it took to come into reality. How many people reading this know off-hand who won Super Bowl XIII without looking it up on Google? Maybe a handful. But even then, how many of those few could name all of the players and coaches from that winning team?

It does take an immense amount of hard work, natural ability, drive, perseverance, determination and grit to win a championship of any kind, that’s for sure. And I have nothing but admiration and respect for those people who are able to accomplish something that I never will or who are great at something that I won’t. In fact, I believe that God has endowed us with this desire for greatness. We all want to be great at something. We all want to prove ourselves, our worth, our abilities for a sense of accomplishment, or for others to affirm us, or to be remembered and not forgotten.

But the desire that God places in us for greatness cannot be measured by what we DO, but rather by who we ARE.

We are great because our God is great! And deep down, whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, we desire to be like Him. What does this mean? It means to love others without condition, to be humble in our own estimation, to pick up the basin and the towel and wash one another’s feet, to lower oneself so as to raise others, to become all things to all people, and ultimately, to die to ourselves so that others may live! When we begin to live in this reality and with this purpose, we will surely live lives of greatness, not just for a few moments, minutes or months, but for all time. That’s what it means to be on God’s team!

Dear Jesus, my heart desires to be like You in all things. Although I am imperfect and not capable of being on Your team, You still picked me, chose me and it is You that will enable and equip me to answer Your call. Thank you for wanting me and for loving me into a life of greatness. Amen.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

American Idols

“Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” 1 Peter 1: 17-19

The other day when I was in adoration a middle-aged woman entered the chapel. She reverently knelt before the Lord for a few moments before quietly asking me if it would be alright for her to change the altar linens. She proceeded to put on a pair of white, cloth gloves. As if carrying an infant, with great care and love in her eyes, she gracefully moved the monstrance off the altar and into the raised tabernacle above it. With movements that seemed to correspond to internal prayers, she delicately folded the corporal and altar cloth, folding each one with precision before placing them into a clear plastic bag. She then took a small, soft, clean white towel and slowly wiped the top, sides and legs of the altar (I am sure the most luxury car in the world was never cleaned with such care). Then she meticulously placed a crisp, unwrinkled new altar cloth on the altar, making sure the edges were the same length and perfectly apportioned from front and sides before gently laying a new corporal onto the center. Finally, she again lifted the monstrance from the tabernacle and set it down in the center of the altar as if nothing else in her life was as important as that moment. Then she silently knelt before her Lord for several minutes, grabbed her things and left the chapel.

What was certainly “routine” in some ways for her simply blew me away. Before she came in my thoughts had been wandering a bit had my prayers and been genuine, but not focused. As I watched her work I was humbled and inspired. Her love for Jesus and His Presence made me wonder about the things in our lives that become idols—things and people that we worship with more passion than we do God.  

What do you and I reverence? What do we hold dear? What is most important to us?

We are often embarrassed to kiss the crucifix on Good Friday. We sometimes come to Mass without a conscious thought of being truly present. Often at church we expect to be entertained and fed and ministered to, without actively giving God our attention, our hearts, our love or our worship. We want to receive without giving and consume without cost. 

Perhaps we have lost a sense of reverence in our world. And as this reverence for God evaporates from our daily lives, so does our reverence for one another. Rather than stand in awe of God and of one another, we merely live to exist for ourselves and for pleasure. Wrapped up in our cocoon of desires and pursuits, we fail to stand in reverence of anything outside of ourselves. In the end though, we risk not only the loss of true freedom, but ultimately even the ability to experience happiness. This is not God’s desire for us.

When we spend time in prayer, before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and at Mass, and we allow ourselves to go beyond ourselves to a true encounter with Christ, we are raised from our lowliness and immersed into something bigger than what and who we are. When we begin to live this reality in our daily lives, we will begin to live in reverence—in awe—of the world and people around us as well. At that point, we will begin to understand that the pursuit of happiness does not lie in being entertained and experiencing pleasure, but in bringing happiness and peace to others and in being content with what we have, who we are and the knowledge of Who loves us.

Dear Jesus, may I always approach You with a reverent heart so that my thoughts, words and actions may flow from a place of awe and wonder. Through Your grace, may I experience the happiness and peace that comes from seeing You and others through eyes of reverence. Amen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


“So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus…Therefore I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.” 2 Timothy 2: 1, 3 and 10

Revelry sounded but I did not wake up. I was already awake. All of us were. I rose from my bunk in slow motion, each strain of my muscles etched in my memory. All around me men were silently getting dressed, lighting cigarettes or rubbing the weariness from their faces. None of us shaved.

Breakfast was a quick affair. The darkness enveloped me as I ate, finished getting dressed and grabbed all of my gear. As I boarded the truck to move us to the shore I heard a bird calling out a good-bye through the sound of the engines, men and machinery.

The drive through the countryside was bumpy. Most of the guys sat in silence or closed their eyes for a few moments of rest. A few bumped along with the red glow of their cigarettes illuminating their faces like dirty jack-o-lanterns suspended in the darkness.

All too soon I was climbing down from the truck, my joints cracking and my muscles angrily fighting against their use so early in the day. Then I saw it: line after line after line of grey-green men quickly moving in rhythmic cadence onto the waiting vessels, like snakes entering their dens.

Within moments I was rushing onto my ship and taking my place near the rear of the hold. The door was raised and clanged shut as the guys on the shore called out well wishes to us. As the engine revved to life, a priest leaned up and over the wall of the hold and holding a crucifix in his hand, we received his blessing.

As I cruised through the dark, choppy waters of the Channel that grey, misty morning, I was lost in my thoughts. I could see my childhood home with the big trees and the flowers in front that mom would plant every spring. I saw Main Street on the 4th of July, with all the red, white and blue bunting, the parade, and the children…laughing. Always laughing. I saw my high school sweetheart and felt her grasp my hand tenderly.

As we crested a wave I came back to reality. A bird flew over our heads, its black shape silhouetted against the increasingly grey-light sky. I smelled the breeze: salty, with a hint of…melancholy. I saw other guys vomiting as the sea began to take its toll. All I heard was the monotonous drone of the ship’s engine, carrying us forward to our destiny.

And then suddenly, like someone sneaking up behind you and screaming in your ear, the sound of artillery, the staccato of machine gun fire and the thud of explosions overtook the sound of the engine. The landing craft jerked to a stop, suspended between the ebb and flow of the crashing waves charging and then retreating from the beach around us. The door of the hold slammed down into the surf with a large splash and I was off, my training kicking in as my body moved on autopilot in one motion with the men around me.

As I jumped into the water the young guy beside me slipped off the side of the ramp and I saw a brief glimpse of him as he disappeared beneath a wave. I turned back to where I was heading, and the guy in front of me recoiled as a bullet tore through him and he splashed haphazardly into the surging froth. I lept over him and ran towards the shore line; my eyes fixed on a small huddle of men hunkered down behind a small sand dune.

Bullets and bombs whizzed past my body and the salty spray of the ocean stung my eyes as I madly dove to the relative safety of the dune. I caught my breath and looked back toward the sea and all I saw was carnage. Bodies, destroyed ships, barbed wire, blood—everywhere as far as the eye could see. I am sure I saw hell.

In what seemed like an instant, a sergeant was beside me screaming orders for those us around him. He jumped up from behind the dune, compelled us to follow and jumped over the dune towards certain death. Instinctively, I pulled myself up, let out a scream, and ran forward to meet Jesus.

How are you going to live a life of greatness today?

Dear Jesus, help me to live each day with my eyes fixed on You. No matter the cost or price, help me to be strong enough, brave enough, crazy enough, to follow You with everything in me. Amen.