Lent and Donuts

1st Sunday of Lent (February 18, 2018) Year B

Genesis 9:8-15

Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:12-15

Well ladies and gentlemen, how’s your Lent going so far? We are only a few days into our 40-day journey through the desert. Are you going through chocolate or coffee withdrawals yet? Is your swear jar full yet? I hope whatever you picked to give up for Lent this year is both challenging and rewarding. I also hope you don’t look at Lent as “just another thing I have to do as a Catholic.” I pray that you actually get the full experience and all of the graces possible from this journey. In order to help you, I thought it might be good for a little pep talk today since we’re just beginning our desert journey. That way you can evaluate if you’re on the right path or if you may need to fine-tune something. In order to do this, I came up with two questions we need to make sure we understand.

The first question is simply, “Why do Catholics give something up for Lent?” It actually can be taken from today’s Gospel passage from Mark. It says, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days.” And what happens after Jesus’ time in the desert is up? He begins His public ministry. So he needed time away with fewer distractions to prepare for something bigger yet to come. What can we extrapolate from this? We humans, all too often, clutter up our lives with stuff that we don’t need or with stuff we use too often. And unfortunately, these things can divert us from the bigger picture… God. Food, money, technology, stuff. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but often we put too much emphasis on them, which leads us to lose focus on what’s really important.

So we all need to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves, “What do I unnecessarily do or use that could be taking me away from God?” Do I spend too much time on my phone when I could be reading a spiritual book? Do I eat too much of a certain unhealthy food that is leading me to have no energy for works of charity? Do I spend too much time using my speech for negativity rather than prayer? Whatever it is you choose to give up for Lent, it should be challenging. Remember, this is our desert journey. Although I’ve never hiked through a desert, I imagine it is not a pleasant activity.

The second question that needs to be asked and understood is, “Why don’t Catholics eat meat on Friday’s of Lent?” First, understand that when we say “meat” we are referring to non-fish meat like steak, pork and chicken. Back in Jesus’ day, the “common people” lived by the water and ate a lot of fish. It was the food of the poor, it was abundant and it was cheap. The other meat like beef, pork and chicken was for the upper class since it was more expensive. Occasionally, the less wealthy would eat these meats during a special feast like at a wedding.

So not eating meat on Friday’s of Lent, with the exception of fish, reminds us that we are the common people and we’re not celebrating a banquet just yet. We should be using this time to focus on what’s to come…. Good Friday. This act of abstaining from meat on Fridays is something that Catholics around the world do universally and in solidarity with one another. We offer this sacrifice up as a universal Church. The individual things we each give up on our own are a personal sacrifice. These two sacrifices, the universal and the personal, reminds us that we are united as God’s people and that we are not attached to the material things of this world.

Sounds easy right? Nope… not really! Anyone that is willing to change and become closer to God, needs to do it with open eyes. To put it another way, living in sin is easy. Our world allows us the freedom to mess up our lives daily through sin. And once you start going down the path of the “bigger sins,” the “little sins” just keep piling up without a second thought. However, it takes effort to turn away from sin and evil. It takes effort to live with faith, ethics and morals. Why? This also goes back to today’s Gospel from Mark. Remember, we read that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days. Then there are 3 little words in the next sentence that we often skim right over… He was “tempted by Satan.” Yup, just like us, Jesus was tempted by Satan on His desert journey. When you are trying to do better and walk closer with God, it really makes Satan mad. I’m not saying you’ll by physically assaulted by evil or tempted daily, but isn’t it funny how when you decide to give up sweets for Lent, the very next day someone brings donuts to work… hot… fresh…heavenly… donuts.

So use this Lent as a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Detach yourself from the unnecessary material things that you really don’t need. Instead, focus on God. Focus on the Great Banquet that is waiting for each of us after our desert journey is over… Easter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ after Good Friday opened the gates of Heaven for all of us. It gave all of us an invitation to the Great Banquet in Heaven. Use this desert journey to clean up whatever it is that keeps staining your banquet garment. Now is the time to, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” of Jesus Christ!

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Three Gifts For God

The Epiphany of the Lord (Jan 7, 2018)

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13(11)

Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6

Matthew 2:1-12

Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, according to the world, Christmas ended on December 26. But Catholics actually celebrate Christmas until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (which is Monday, Jan 8). And this weekend, we celebrate the Magi visiting the Christ child. Imagine, they had enough faith… that they followed a star to a far off land in search of someone extraordinary. And we all know the story, right? The Magi found the new born King under a star and brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold to represent Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense as a symbol of His priestly role. And Myrrh to point towards the suffering Christ will face later in life since this was an aromatic substance used in embalming.

As many of you know, my wife and I have 5 children at home. A number of years ago, back when we only had 3 children, Angie and I discussed how to try and keep the balance between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. In our modern world, that is a very tough thing to accomplish for parents. Santa is fun and magical, right? He eats the milk and cookies and, most importantly, brings the gifts! Somehow, during one of our discussions on this topic, one of us brought up this same verse that we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel.

We are told that Jesus received three gifts from the Magi. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. We give each other gifts on Christmas (aka Jesus’ birthday). Do you see where I’m going with this? So it was decided, if three gifts were good enough for Jesus to celebrate His birthday, then three gifts from Santa were good enough for our kids as well! So we sat the boys down and explained our decision. After their eyes got really wide and the shock wore off, we reminded them that they still have grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles that also give them gifts (so don’t feel sorry for them!). We then wrote a letter to good ole St. Nick to explain our request: From now on, just bring three gifts per child on Christmas, just like the Magi did 2,000 years ago.

Now I’m not saying that this is for every parent out there. It was just one way for us as a family to keep Christ in Christmas. But then that got me thinking. Does anyone here remember he telling you in my last homily that every weekend, you have homework to do after attending Mass? Remember? You listen to the readings and the homily and then allow them to challenge you the rest of the week to become more Christ-like. Well, I’ve got another homework assignment for you today. And this assignment will take you just under one year to complete. Sorry….

We just began a new year. 2018. This is traditionally a time when people try to begin new habits. Hopefully good habits since we always want to try and improve our lives from last year, right? But rather than making a “New Year Resolution,” I want you to think of offering three gifts. But these won’t be material gifts. Let me explain. To decide on the three gifts, I challenge you to go to prayer. Find some quiet time, close your eyes, and picture Jesus Christ sitting next to you. For a time, just be present to one another. And after a few minutes, ask Jesus, “What can I do to be more like you?” And then be quiet. Allow your brain to wonder with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I guarantee you that, at some point, you’ll be able to think of at least three areas of your life that can be improved. And whatever those three things happen to be in your case… those are the three gifts you will work on all year.

It could be your health. Maybe you need to take better care of yourself so you can help others. It could be your finances. Wouldn’t it be nice to free up some money so you can donate to those in need? It could be to heal a broken relationship or possibly even to end a harmful relationship. Chances are it’s going to be challenging. Change usually doesn’t come easily. But changing for the better is always worth it in the end. And who doesn’t want to change and become more Christ-like?

Christmas is officially over after this Monday. That means we’ll be right back here celebrating Christmas in 11 ½ months. You and I both realize that it’ll be here in a blink of an eye. It always does. So why not start preparing yourself now to celebrate next Christmas in a richer, fuller way. Decide now on what three gifts you want to offer to Christ NEXT Christmas. You’ll have 11 ½ months to work on them. And how amazing will it be to be able to take all of that hard work and sacrifice, all of that positive change, all of that Christian transformation… and then lay those three gifts down at the manger next Christmas…

I realize it’s a long way away. A lot can happen over the next year. There will be a lot of ups and downs. But be like the Magi… let the star of Christ guide you. And once you reach the Star on December 25, 2018, you will approach the manger as a changed person. And with your head held high… with a rekindled faith… you will kneel down and lay your gifts at the feet of our New Born King!

It’s All About God

4th Sunday of Advent (December 24, 2007)

2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16

Psalm 89:2-3,4-5,27,29(2a)

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

I’ve got a complaint to lodge to everyone here today. I got the short end of the straw and need to get this off of my chest! First of all, I take my calling as a Deacon seriously. When I get up here to preach, I spend a lot of time preparing on what to say. It’s actually very intimidating if you think about it. Talking about “religion” can be a very volatile thing if something is said contrary to one’s personal beliefs. Meaning… it’s easy to offend someone when you preach on God’s Word. This is why I go to prayer when I start preparing for a homily. I ask God to use me as a tool. To speak through me. Not my words, but His. This is important because the homily helps “break open” the Scripture we hear at Mass and gives all of you something to contemplate over the week. That, by the way, is your weekly homework. Did you know that? You’re supposed to take what you hear in the Scriptures and the homily and allow it to challenge you throughout the week. To change you and become more “Christ-like.”

And that’s where my complaint comes into play. Fr. Al and Deacon Bruce preached the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Advent. And they did very well if I do say so myself. I’m even a little jealous that Fr. Al got to wear the rose colored vestments last week when he preached and I didn’t.

But what did I get? The 4th Sunday of Advent. Do you realize how short the 4th week of Advent is? Less than 24 hours. It ends Sunday night with the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord since Christmas is on a Monday this year. So instead of giving something to challenge you all week… I only have to challenge you for a few hours. Then you’ll forget all about what was in my homily because you’ll be too busy opening presents, eating wonderful, delicious food and sipping on wine or bourbon in your ugly Christmas sweaters!

But, like a good Deacon, I put on my big boy pants and decided to prepare this homily as best I could. And like every homily I write, I began this one with prayer and asked God what He wanted me to tell you. As I was in a deep, contemplative, prayerful state, I sat quietly and said, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

And do you know what happened? A voice from the clouds whispered in my ear and said, “Dearest Deacon Brian, I’m sorry that you didn’t get to wear the rose colored vestments this year, it’s not your turn. Yes, the 4th week of Advent is super short. It happens every 7 years. Stop being so whiny. This is not about you. It’s about Me and My flock. So quit dwelling on the negatives and focus on what we will be celebrating is less than 24 hours. Now, go put on your purple vestment and preach the Word of God! But, just like the 4th week of Advent, keep it short!”

So, here goes… it’s not about us. It’s not about stroking our egos. It’s not about how awesome we are in the eyes of others. It’s all about God. Everything. God could have let us all rot down here on earth. He could have turned His back on us and said, you guys screwed up and I’m done with you. Or, He could have come down from heaven like a powerful military general with the entire army of Angels behind Him to annihilate us and start over.

But He didn’t.

Instead… as we hear in today’s Gospel from Luke, He came to us as a baby through the womb of a humble, poor, faithful woman. Why? Out of pure love to save us all.

So here is your homework to contemplate over the next few hours until we meet again to celebrate Christmas:

Let us all be a little more humble like Mary. Let us all be a little more thankful like Elizabeth who thought she was barren. And, like God, let us all be a little more loving.

Don’t Bury Your Talents

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 19, 2017) Year A

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31

Psalm 128:1-2,3,4-5(1a)

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

Matthew 25:14-30

I don’t know about you, but does it seem like our community has felt the sting of death a lot over the past month or two? My mom, (parishioner) Daniel Gagnon’s brother and his father, (our church secretary) Melanie White’s father, (from our community) Jerry Broderick and just last week we received the shocking news of Leon Mayo’s sudden death. To be blunt, I’m almost afraid to answer my phone anymore for fear of hearing who died next.

Our recent encounters with death really puts into perspective just how precious and short life is on earth. That is why it is so incredibly important to listen, and I mean REALLY listen to what today’s readings are trying to motivate us to do with our lives.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians urges them to get ready for the coming of the Lord. Now, I’m sure St. Paul here is speaking of the 2nd coming of Christ, when He will come down from Heaven… but it can also very well refer to when we will see Christ face to face immediately after our own death.

And when will that be? Well that’s a very good question. The answer is simple. We have no idea!

I love the analogy St. Paul uses about labor pains in his letter to drive home this point. Ask a pregnant woman when she’s going to start having contractions. You’ll probably get a funny look from her because she really doesn’t know exactly when it will happen. But it will happen… that’s unavoidable. And praise God that I’m a man, because when that first real contraction hit my wife with our first born, and she felt that pain… things got serious, real quick… there was no turning back… there was no escape… that baby was coming out.

So to with death. 99% of us won’t know when we are going to die. This is why St. Paul tells us to stay alert and sober. We need to be ready for when Christ returns or when we die and will stand before God on our judgment day. But when you pair St. Paul’s letter we just heard with today’s Gospel from Matthew, merely standing around alert and sober is just the bare minimum. We need to do more, which is where the parable we hear from Jesus today is so vitally important.

To put it simply, the parable tells us a man is going away on a trip. He calls his three servants and entrusts them with all of his money. Since they are his servants, the man knows what each of them is capable of doing with that money. He probably even has more confidence in them then they do of themselves. The man goes away but eventually comes back. Two of the servants used their abilities to increase the man’s money. The third man, out of fear, didn’t do a darn thing with the money entrusted to him. He instead buried the money, which infuriated the man… so much so that he had the third servant thrown outside into the darkness.

Now, interestingly enough, the money in this parable is referred to as “talents.” A “talent” in Jesus’ day, was a monetary unit of high value. When I read this parable, I couldn’t help but exchange the monetary definition of talent with a different definition of the word talent, which is: a natural aptitude or skill.

Now… using this definition for the word “talent,” a natural aptitude or skill, let’s look once again at this parable.

God created you. He entrusted each and every one of you with a special talent to use for His glory. He already knows what you are capable of and has more confidence in you than you do. He is your biggest fan. He is your biggest ally. But, out of love, He’s not going to force you to do a single thing that you don’t want to do. That’s called free will. However, even though He can’t control you, He is watching over all of you. He’s gazing on you through the eyes of a loving parent. He wants you to discover the talents he entrusted to you when He created you. He wants to watch your life unfold before His eyes as you discover and reveal your love for Him through your actions. He knows that some of you can handle more, so He’s given you more talents. He knows that some of you can only handle a little, so He’s given you fewer talents. But know this… He loves each of you and wants you to use those talents so that you will be able to live life to the fullest.

But, unfortunately, some of you are too scared. For whatever reason, you’ve buried your talents. You, brothers and sisters, are not living to your full potential. You are missing out on the grace and love of God that he freely offers you each and every day. And if you continue to bury the talents entrusted to you by God, you and those around you will NOT experience the true love that God so desperately wants you to feel.

Don’t be imprisoned by doubt, lack of self-confidence or fear. As St. John Paul II famously said the day he was elected Pope, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”

The recent deaths felt by our local community remind us that life is short and unpredictable. Today’s readings remind us to prepare ourselves and to use our God-given talents for the glory of God daily so that we will be ready when our judgment day comes… whenever that may be.

So don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.

Live in fear no more!

Go out, TODAY, and spread the love of God by using your talents to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth until the day God calls you home.

Love God, Love Neighbor (Without Strings Attached)

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 29, 2017)

Exodus 22:20-26

Psalm 18:2-3,3-4,47,51

1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10

Matthew 22:34-40

If I asked you to recite the 10 commandments, could you? I mean, there are only 10 of them, right? Now don’t avoid eye contact with me. I’m not going to quiz anyone today because I don’t want to embarrass anyone in front of the Catholic priest over there. If you struggle with remembering all 10, don’t feel bad… even this Deacon has trouble sometimes naming them all. But if you think remembering 10 commandments is hard… did you know that the Jewish people have 613 commandments?? 10 doesn’t sound so bad anymore, now does it…

In today’s Gospel, referring to the 613 commandments, a Pharisee asks Jesus, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Without hesitation, Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God with everything you have. Heart, soul and mind. Everything. But then, without being asked, he names the second most important commandment. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus goes yet even further and says that all of the 613 commandments are dependant on these two… Love God, Love neighbor.

As many of you have already heard, my mom died unexpectedly three weeks ago. She was 68 years old and without any serious, life threatening conditions to our knowledge. She had a lot of chronic health concerns and underwent more surgeries than most, but it was still a shock when we got the news.

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My mom, brother and I at Ocean City, MD (early 1980’s)

In the funeral-planning book that she gave my brother and I awhile back, it stated that she did not want to have a funeral but did allow for a visitation. My brother took on the task of planning the majority of the visitation and that was ok… because who really likes to deal with those decisions? I was still in shock and those decisions made things seem all too real. And I was fine with not dealing with reality at the moment.

So a little less than a week after her sudden death, Angie and I loaded our 5 kids up in the minivan and headed to Ohio for her visitation. To be honest, I was not looking forward to it at all. I don’t particularly enjoy crying in front of others and I still had a lot of unanswered questions as to “why” this happened. It was going to be a very emotional weekend that I wasn’t ready for at all.

But now, looking back… that visitation was the best thing for me.

Of course it was sad. But it was very healing as well. So many of my mom’s friends, neighbors and church family came up to us, one after another and told us stories of how much my mom helped them in their lives. From going out to dinner, helping with landscaping around the condos, to praying for others at the adult Sunday school she attended…. The stories I heard about my mom’s giving heart put a smile on my face. I didn’t realize just how much she was involved in the community and enjoyed helping others.

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My mom being introduced to Snapchat filters

Towards the end of the visitation, a man from mom’s adult Sunday school class got up to offer prayers and give a short talk about the Joan Wentz he had come to know. He talked about how my mom loved God, showed concern for others, and was always willing to help out however she could, in spite of her chronic aches and pains. This was comforting to hear because for some reason, she and I never really talked about faith very much. She was proud that I was involved in my faith and became a Deacon. I was proud that she found a church that she loved and got involved in. But we didn’t have many deep talks about God. However, when that night’s visitation had come to a close, there was no doubt in my mind of two things…. My mom loved God and she loved her neighbors.

Now, what about you? Where do you struggle in this intimate connection between loving God and loving your neighbor?

If you claim to love God, but you gossip, hate, hold grudges and ignore your friends, family and neighbors…. you do not truly love God to the fullest.

If you are the life of the party, the person everyone wants to be around and you’re the nicest person in the world to everyone… but ignore God… you do not truly love your neighbor to the fullest.

You see… this is a both-and. Jesus is telling us that the most important thing we can do as Christians is to love God AND love our neighbors. Just a little heads up…. Loving God is the easier of the two in my opinion. Loving some of His creations… a little bit trickier.

The reason for this is because God loves unconditionally and forgives totally. You do something wrong, you sin…. Confess it to God and make an honest attempt to not do it again. God will wipe that sin away and continue to offer His love and mercy without any strings attached.

We are the ones that hold grudges… we are the ones that can be a little judgmental… we are the ones who have trouble telling the whole truth… we are the ones who struggle with forgiveness of others and ourselves.

So on behalf of God, as one of His Deacon’s in the Catholic Church, I’m begging you… STOP IT! Stop living in the struggle. Stop living with grudges and burdens. Trust in the Lord that His plan is greater than yours. Forgive others completely. Love one another fully. Love your family, friends and neighbors without strings attached.

Life is precious…. and as I found out 3 weeks ago… can end suddenly and without warning. So while there is still breath in your lungs and a beat to your heart… smile more, laugh louder, hug tighter, spread joy wherever you go and most importantly… Love God and your neighbor… to the fullest!

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Forgiveness Has No Limitations

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept 17, 2017)

Sirach 27:30-28:7

Psalm 103:1-2.3-4,9-10,11-12(8)

Romans 14:7-9

Matthew 18:21-35

I remember when I was an elementary aged kid…. Oh yes, the good ole days when life was less complicated… back then, if someone made me mad or was mean to me… I would give them the worst possible punishment that I could dream up. Seriously, it was earth-shattering cruelness that would make anyone think twice about crossing me again. If you were mean to me, I’d look you right in the eyes and say, “you’re not invited to my birthday party.”

Yeah, I know… I was pretty extreme back then. But the funny part about it was that within 20-30 minutes of banishing them from coming to my birthday bash, I was right back playing tag with them as if nothing was wrong. But that’s what we did as kids. Someone wronged us, we told them, we calmed down, forgave them and then moved on with life.

But now as adults, what do we do when people wrong us? We pull out our smart phone, open up our favorite social media app and blast away at the person. Then we hold onto that grudge tighter than a winning lottery ticket.

Let’s now turn to today’s Gospel to see what advice Jesus gives us regarding forgiveness… spoiler alert… it’s challenging and not very popular in our modern society.

“Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’” I’ve often wondered why Peter uses the number 7 here. Apparently in those days, many Jews thought forgiving someone 3 times was enough. This is from Amos in the Old Testament (Amos 1:3-13) where God punished foreign nations after three transgressions. Kind of like 3 strikes and you’re out!

So Peter probably thought, if the Jews forgave 3 times, then 7 is above and beyond. Plus 7 is symbolic of “completeness” based on the creation story where God made the world in 7 days. So Peter actually had a pretty logical suggestion by using the number 7.

And what is the response from Jesus? “Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’” I’m positive that when Peter heard this, he had to pick his jaw up off the ground. Forgiveness, according to Jesus, has no bounds… no limitations.

So why is Jesus putting so much emphasis on forgiveness?? Why is it so important?? Forgiveness really and truly has nothing to do with the person who wronged you. It doesn’t. But it has everything to do with healing YOU. When someone wrongs you… and you forgive them… in a sense, you are saying, “I forgive you, you no longer have control over my emotions or my life, I’m moving on to bigger and better things rather then dwelling on your drama.”

Now hopefully the person you forgave will also realize they were wrong and change their ways so as to not offend again. But sometimes you just need to wish that person well and move on with your life. Granted this can be extremely hard, especially with “big” transgressions. But that’s where you especially need to rely on God and His bigger picture for your life.

However, if you continue to harbor resentment and unforgiveness in your heart, beware, and prayerfully consider what happened to the “wicked servant” at the end of today’s Gospel. The wicked servant was granted full pardon for his wrong doing, but then refused to pardon someone who had wronged him for something lesser. The master found out and, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Remember, forgiveness has no bounds according to Jesus. When someone wrongs you, you’re allowed to get mad. You’re allowed to “uninvite them from your birthday party.” But at some point you need to offer forgiveness so that YOU can heal and move on.

This is possible because God’s loving mercy is unending and overflowing.

So much so…. (walk over to the crucifix) that He did this for YOU.

And if He can do this (point to crucifix) for our sins, the least we can do is offer that same love and mercy to one another.

CrossFit and Jesus

Transfiguration of the Lord (August 6, 2017)

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

Psalm 97:1-2,5-6,9-12

2 Peter 1:16-19

Matthew 17:1-9

I love CrossFit. For those unfamiliar with this term, CrossFit is a form of exercise that involves high-intensity interval training. To put it simply, it’s a combination of lifting weights and doing cardio exercise that makes you drip a lot of sweat in a short period of time. I love it because it challenges me to do things I never thought I could do. After completing the workouts, I feel emotionally and physically stronger…which makes me go back for more punishment, soreness and bruises the next day.

About two weeks ago, we were doing what is called a squat clean ladder at CrossFit. Picture a barbell on the ground with weights on each side. A squat clean is when you lift the barbell off the ground, shrug your shoulders up and then quickly squat down to catch the bar on your chest/clavicle area. Then you simply rise up to complete the lift.

When you’re doing a squat clean ladder, you increase the weight after each lift. Prior to doing that workout, the most I’ve ever squat cleaned was 185 lbs. This ladder involved lifting 125 lbs 9x, 145 lbs 7x, 165 lbs 5x, 185 lbs 3x and then finishing with lifting 205 lbs 1x. I was nervous and a little bit afraid. I weigh 184 lbs. How in the world can I lift the bar 24x and still have enough energy to lift 205 lbs at the end, which is 20 lbs more than I’ve ever lifted before??

Well, after about 12 minutes, I managed to successfully make it to the 205 lb lift. I stood there, starring at the bar, sweating, wondering how I could possibly do this. So I bent over, lifted the bar and then quickly dropped it. It was heavy and I was exhausted. In frustration, I bent over again, lifted the bar, got it to my chest and then dropped it a second time.

Upset and disappointed, I walked over to get a drink of water, to gather my thoughts and stall for time. I even contemplated quitting as I started thinking of all the other things that I couldn’t do or that have gone wrong in my life over the past few years… all of my fears and failures, for some reason, were right in front of my face… laughing at me.

I then glanced over at the 205 lbs lying on the ground. At that moment, it dawned on me, that all of my fears and failures in the past may have knocked me down… may have punched me right in the gut… but they didn’t keep me down. They don’t define who I am today.

As I was slowly started walking over to the bar one more time… I shifted my thinking to the things that I’m grateful for, the positive things God has put in my life… my wife, my kids, my faith, my health, my friends…. And with that in mind… I again stood in front of the bar… bent over… lifted it up… shrugged my shoulders… squatted down and caught it on my chest just right… and then I let out the loudest scream as I raised up… no longer afraid.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples to “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Peter, James and John just witnessed the transfiguration of our Lord. They weren’t 100% sure what was going on. They had fear and doubt…so much fear that it knocked them to the ground. You see…on their own, they couldn’t stand up.

And guess what? On our own, we can’t stand up either. And all too often, we lay in fear as we focus on our failures. We forget that failing at something does NOT make you a failure. We need to focus instead on our strengths. And you know what??? Jesus is our biggest strength. He is our biggest ally. He was sent to earth to show us how to live for heaven…. Not to waste our lives by living in fear and doubt.

So the next time someone or something knocks you down… picture Jesus right behind you, whispering into your ear… “Rise, and do not be afraid.”