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.

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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.”

The Holocaust and Forgiveness

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 19, 2017)

Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18

Psalm 103:1-2,3-4,8,10,12-13

1 Corinthians 3:16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This could very well be one of the toughest actions Jesus teaches us to do.

About a month ago, I was able to see this teaching in real life in an extremely graphic way. Along with others from St. Andrew’s, I went on a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. as part of the March For Life trip this past January. During the pilgrimage, our group was able to tour the Holocaust Museum. It contained four floors of photos, images, videos and actual items that were used during the Holocaust. The museum tells the story beginning with the uprising of the Nazi Party and all of their propaganda, to the rounding up of the innocent victims, to the death camps, to the eventual liberation of the prisoners after the defeat of the Nazi’s. It paints a vivid picture of what hate and persecution looks like in real life.

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Before going to the Holocaust Museum, I previously read stories of people who had survived the concentration camps. I knew the history and how much evil went on there. I even remember hearing a survival story straight from the mouth of a Jewish survivor when I was in middle school. But standing in the midst of the Holocaust Museum, surrounded by all of the memorabilia, it just seemed… I don’t know…thick with heartbreak and unimaginable agony. Literally… hell on earth.

It especially took my breath away when I entered a room that contained hundreds of pairs of shoes piled up on either side of the room. You see, the Nazi’s didn’t like to waste material goods. So before they killed prisoners in the gas chambers, they would strip them naked and either sell their clothes for profit or reuse them. A quote on the wall of the shoe room reads, “We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses. We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers from Prague, Paris and Amsterdam. And because we are only made of fabric and leather and not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.”

As I stood in that room, I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world does one who lived through this nightmare firsthand ever get over it? Furthermore, how does one forgive anyone who willingly participated in these evil events?

I bring up the Holocaust as an extreme example of what hate and evil can turn into. Many of us, thankfully, won’t have to deal with persecution to that extreme. But if there’s even one story of healing or forgiveness that comes from this pit of Hell, then I believe it can help us put our own personal struggles into a better perspective and give us the courage to overcome them.

I came across such a story last week about a Hungarian Jewish woman who was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Her name is Eva Kor. In April of 2015, Eva traveled to Germany to give evidence and testify against a former SS Sergeant named Oskar Groening. Oskar was accused and later found guilty of being complicit in the murder of 300,000 people at Auschwitz (including Eva’s father, mother and two older sisters). In the courtroom, Eva approached Oskar and publicly forgave him for the sins he committed against her family and then shocked everyone when she embraced him with a hug. When Eva was asked how she could have possibly forgiven such a man, she replied, “Why survive at all if all you want to be is sad, angry and hurting? That is so foreign to who I am. I don’t understand why the world is so much more willing to accept lashing out in anger rather than embracing friendship and humanity” (www.telegraph.co.uk, 20 Jan 2016, “Why I forgive the Nazis who murdered my family” by Joe Shute).

This strong woman, lived out what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” By our human standards, Eva had every right to curse, spit on and assault that man. But she chose differently; she chose a better way. A way that lead to the healing of her own soul. This Jewish lady was living out a core Christian teaching that many of us Christians, all to often, chose to ignore.

I am 100%, fully aware with how hard it is to pray for people you don’t like. I am also 100%, fully aware of how hard it is to forgive people who have persecuted you or committed a hurtful act against you. But do you realize how much damage you will continue to cause in your own life, to your own soul, if you cling to the hate?? When you attach yourself to hate, it will eventually overflow into other areas of your life. That will eventually spill out on relationships that you thought were good. Before you know it, your stubbornness to forgive has lowered your quality of life and those around you as well. It quietly consumes your soul.

Remember, Jesus didn’t say, “Come and follow me for I will show you an easier way.” He did, however, offer to show us a “better” way. He wants you to be happy. He wants your soul to shine. Praying for those frustrating people in your life, forgiving those who have wronged you, not lashing out in anger… these are the things Jesus Christ asks us to do.

As I’ve said many, many times before… our time on this earth is temporary. So don’t be tempted to harbor anger and hate in your soul during your short, mortal life. Focus instead on the eternal love waiting for you in heaven.

Forgive often. Pray constantly. Love always.

Why Are You A Christian?

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 6, 2016)

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14

Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15

2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

Luke 20:27-38

I attended a youth retreat this past summer and heard a talk from a Fathers of Mercy priest here in Kentucky. If you’ve ever seen a priest wearing a black cassock and a HUGE crucifix on their chest, (picture a crucifix you normally see on someone’s wall at home!) there’s a good chance he is a Fathers of Mercy priest. He said he often gets asked why they wear such a large crucifix around their neck? His answer was simple, “If you’re going to wear one… go BIG!”

During his talk, he posed a question to the crowd, which has stuck with me. He asked, “Why are you a Christian?” People raised their hands and gave answers like: Jesus, serving others, Eucharist, etc. He said those are all good things, but they are not the best answer. Then he said, “There’s only one reason that you can give that ultimately answers the question, ‘why are you a Christian?’ What is it?” And I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “This is so easy, I’m a Catholic Deacon for crying out loud. The answer is obviously…. It’s ummmm, uhhh… well I have no idea where he’s going with this!” So I just sat there… in awkward silence avoiding making eye contact with him as I waited for an explanation.

He went on to say that there’s one event in the life of Jesus Christ that had such a powerful effect on His followers and other witnesses that it altered the course of history. One event that caused devout Jews to leave their strong traditions and follow a new way. One event that was so incredible that Christians willingly died for their newly found faith. One event that is the answer to why we are here today, over 2,000 years after Christ’s death, worshiping together in this Church. So what in the world is that event and ultimately the answer to the priest’s persistent question, “Why are you a Christian?” Answer = the Resurrection.

Why? Because without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is a liar and a fraud. Without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is just an ordinary man. Without the resurrection… Christianity would have been just another fad religion that would have died out with the death of it’s leader. You see… the resurrection is a core belief that gives Christians the courage to go out and spread the Good News!

Seriously, think about it. Imagine you’re an Apostle following Jesus. You hear Him over and over speak of how he was going to conquer death, rise again and go to His Father in heaven. You’re nodding your head as you’re listening but in the back of your mind… it also sounds a little like crazy talk. You then watch Jesus die a horrible, torturous death on the cross. You then wait. Pretend that was the end of the story. Suddenly a Roman solider puts a sword to your throat and asks you if you were a follower of Jesus. “Who me? Sorry you must be mistaken. I’m just going to walk away now and live my life in peace with my head still attached to my body. Good bye!”

BUT… if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead and NOW that Roman solider asks you if you are a follow of Christ… I’d be like, “String me up, cut off my head, I’m not denying Christ, I’m ready for heaven!!” And that’s what happened. The Apostles, with the exception of John, were all martyred because they witnessed the resurrection and could not deny it.

You see… we hear in today’s Gospel that God is not God of the dead, but of the living. The resurrection proved this and started a ripple effect in history that continues to this day through the Holy Spirit and His Church. This should be a cause of great joy for us. Why? Because Jesus didn’t lie about the resurrection. So why would He have lied about anything else He taught? And in case your New Testament studies are a little rusty, here’s the gist of His teaching: God’s Son came down to earth in the form of a baby; Jesus taught by word and example a new way to live; He died a horrible death to pay a debt we couldn’t fulfill; He conquered death and rose to His Father in heaven; and here’s the VERY good news – His death has opened heaven to all who believe in Him.

The resurrection gives us new life. It is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. We can’t be wasting this gift by living a life of sin. We need to ask God to give us the grace and perseverance to live for Him… one day at a time. And when we fall, the resurrection should give us the strength to get back up and take the next step forward… back on God’s path.

Remember, through the resurrection, Jesus proved He was who He said He was. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we too should be able to prove who we say we are through our words and our actions.

May the resurrection of Christ give us the strength to live out our faith each and every day!

Patience With God

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 16, 2016)

Exodus 17:8-13

Psalm 121:1-8

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Luke 18:1-8

Imagine you are standing at the checkout counter at Wal-Mart patiently waiting for your turn. Your sweet, innocent little child is standing right next to you. The child then turns their head and gazes at all of the delicious, sugar loaded, chocolate covered heavenly treats right at their eye level. The loving child gently turns their head towards you and says, “Hey dad, can I have a candy bar? Dad, just one? Can I have some candy? Dad? Are you listening? I want a candy bar? Can I get one? Please? Pretty please? I’ll be good the rest of the day. Can I have some candy Dad?” To which you reply, “NO.” “Why not dad? Just one? Please can I have a candy bar? Come on…. It’s just one candy bar!” “FINE! But don’t tell your mother!”

This is the image that came to mind after reading today’s Gospel from Luke. In it, there is a dishonest judge that doesn’t really care about God or people in general. We then hear that a widow wants him to render a just decision against someone who did her wrong. The judge only decides to render his decision due to the lady’s annoyingly persistent pestering of him. He didn’t give a decision based on it being the right thing to do. No, he did it to get her to be quiet and leave him alone. Now, in my candy analogy, I’m NOT saying that anyone who gives their child a candy bar in the check out aisle of Wal-Mart is doing it to simply quiet their kid, I’m just saying…. Well, come to think of it, I am guilty of doing that in the past!

My point is this…. I think too often we act like the kid in the check out aisle or the lady in today’s Gospel when we are praying to God. We tell God what we want in our prayers and sometimes have the tendency to get impatient or annoyed when He doesn’t answer us immediately. Are we doing this because we think we know better then God or is it in hopes that God will get annoyed with us and grant us our prayer just to keep us quiet?

And that’s the problem. God is not a genie that is granting us 3 wishes. Oh how I wish He were sometimes! No. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. He knows what is going to happen to each and every one of us. So when we offer up our prayers, we need to do it in faith that God hears us and has everything under control. And if we don’t get that $1 million lottery ticket, that new job or our sick friend that we’ve been praying for dies… know that there is some greater good to come of the situation no matter how dire it appears.

We get anxious and upset though because we can’t see the entire picture like the way God sees it. We live in the here and now. God lives in the infinite.

I have a priest friend that has been helping me through some recent struggles. He helped me realize that I get very anxious and upset when I focus on what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week or next month. You see… I’m trying to figure out how things are going to end, rather then focus on the here and now. He very clearly pointed out to me that in the “Our Father” we pray, “give us TODAY our DAILY bread.” Not our weekly or monthly bread. We are asking Him to give us the strength and the grace to get through TODAY. One day at a time.

So, you want to pay off a debt? Don’t ask, “How am I going to pay off this $5,000 credit card bill?” Instead think, “What expense can I cut out today which will free up some of my money.”

Want a better marriage? Don’t ask, “Where can I take my spouse so we can have a great vacation next year.” Instead think, “What little thing can I do today to show my spouse that they are the love of my life?”

You see, when we work on the here and now… the good days add up and eventually you’ll have a good week. Good weeks lead to a good month. And before you know it, you realize that God has been there all along, giving you the grace to get through your life one day at a time. What may have seemed impossible, paying off the debt, improving your marriage, suddenly then becomes possible…. All with the grace of God.

And when things don’t go smooth… when your have 4 good days then suddenly things fall apart on the 5th day… look to see what God could be saying to you in that moment. See what went wrong. Learn from it and make the next day better.

Thankfully, God doesn’t get annoyed with our prayers the way the dishonest judge got annoyed with the women in today’s Gospel. God can and will outlast us. So if we keep sending up the same prayer over and over again with no immediate answer, maybe it’s time to shift our thinking. Maybe God’s plan is bigger then our immediate need which, I realize, can be incredibly hard to accept sometimes.

So remember this… God made each and every one of you with a purpose. He wants you all to be loved and to return to Him after your mortal death. Your life here is temporary. Your life with Him is eternal. Trust that God has your best interests in the palms of His hands. Trust that God hears your prayers and is answering them in the way that they need to be answered according to His plans… not yours.

Focus on today.

Turn the anxieties of “tomorrow” over to Him.

Breathe, pray, keep focused…

and most importantly,

be patient with yourself and with God.

Always Choose Love

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept 18, 2016)

Amos 8:4-7

Psalm 113:1-2,4-6,7-8

1 Timothy 2:1-8

Luke 16:1-13

Back when I was a “baby” Deacon, I would usually write out my homilies about a month in advance. That way I could fine-tune them over and over again and try to get them in my head as much as possible. That was in 2012. Now, 4 years later, I pretty much wait until a few days before I preach to put them together. I’m glad I did that this month because I had some good “homily material” happen to me about a week ago that fits perfectly with today’s reading from 1 Timothy.

For my Facebook friends out there, you may have already heard this story so please bear with me. As I was coaching my U14 soccer team last week in Lexington, I heard screaming from the field behind me so I turned to see what was going on. Apparently the referee blew his whistle for a hard foul. As the ref was reaching for his yellow card (caution), the U14 player started mouthing off to the adult referee. The referee then correctly pulled out his red card instead (ejection). At that point the head coach started screaming and had to be restrained from running out on the field by his assistant coach. Now he wasn’t screaming at his player for the foul or use of inappropriate language… No, he was screaming at the referee for ejecting his player. The referee calmly walked over to the coach and, I assume, explained the reasoning for the red card. The coach stood there long enough to listen but then quickly walked away yelling again all the way back to his bench. The coach should have been ejected but wasn’t. My point…. it’s U14 recreational soccer. These are 12-13 year old kids…. One of which committed a bad foul, then argued with the referee using disrespectful language. His coach reinforced the player’s bad behavior by acting like a screaming baby and 4 teams and all of the fans in the area witnessed it. And we wonder why there’s a shortage of referees in youth sports….

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with the reading today from 1 Timothy? Paul is asking us to pray for everyone, “that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” That coach was not quiet, he was not tranquil and he was lacking in dignity at that moment. You see, being a Christian extends outside of these four walls. It’s easy to act like a “good person” when you are sitting here at church for an hour on a Saturday or Sunday. But out there in the real world is where our “Christianity” is put to the test. I have no idea if that coach was a Christian. I have no idea if he was just having a really bad day and lost it in the heat of the competition. I’ve been at that point many times in my life. Trust me. I’m no saint! But what gives us the right to act like “angels” on a Sunday in Church, but then tear into each other the other 6 days of the week?

It’s taken me a very long time to realize the root of many of our problems, in my opinion, can be traced back to one thing… anger. Paul tells us today that, “It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” Anger is a very tricky thing. It seems like so many people are full of anger these days. I mean come on… just look at the presidential race for example. It’s nothing but anger being spewed back and forth between the candidates and, unfortunately, many of their supporters. Why? It’s so much easier to hate someone than it is to love them. Love takes putting some of our own needs on the back burner while you try to help and support others. Love means being respectful of another person’s views, even if they don’t necessarily line up with your own. Love means praying for sinners rather than condemning them.

But the good news is this… loving rightly often leads to quiet and tranquility. Love leads to dignity. Love leads to peace and communication instead of arguing. And guess what?? Paul tells us in 1 Timothy that, “This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” And what is that truth? Jesus Christ gave himself up as a ransom for all.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Love.

Ok, now allow me to bring this full circle. What are we doing here in church today? We are praying and worshiping the God of the universe. We are uniting together to honor our Heavenly Father who gave us His Son…who died for our sins so that we may have eternal life. We are offering our prayers for each other and for those that are not here with us today… those who are currently outside of these walls. We are praying that all of us, along with the people “out there”, will come to feel and know the love of God in our hearts so that we will have peace.

We do this so that when we are faced with challenges “out there” we will hopefully stop and think about how we should act vs. lashing out at others with anger or frustration. By being “here” in church, we are asking God to give us the Grace to act more Christ-like “out there” in the face of sin and temptation. We are asking God to give us the restraint to not yell at the nice referee who just ejected our player for a just reason, but rather allow us to use restraint and model good behavior to all of the fans, parents and athletes watching us.

This is not easy at all. But neither was the love Jesus showed us as he hung on the cross. Loving with that intensity forces us to die to our own ways. This is painful and there’s no short cut. It is a marathon, not a sprint. A marathon that leads us to eternal love with God in Heaven.

Do not lose sight of this.

Because I don’t know about you… but I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of being frustrated…

I desire quiet, tranquility and peace. I desire God to fill my heart completely and totally.

So please, join with me today in prayer and ask God to give all of us the grace to always choose love.

Time is running out

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 21, 2016)

Isaiah 66:18-21

Psalm 117:1,2

Hebrews 12:57,11-13

Luke 13:22-30

The clock is ticking. Time is running out. The door is closing and will soon be shut and locked… for good…

It is with this serious and urgent tone that Jesus speaks to us today through Luke’s Gospel. Jesus Christ loves you more than you could possibly ever imagine. In spite of all of our sins and shortcomings, our fears and failures, our addictions and frequent negative attitudes… He still died for YOU. Please don’t take that lightly!

Jesus suffered an unimaginable amount of pain when he was tortured and crucified. Most of the images and crucifixes we see don’t do justice for what Jesus actually went through on that Good Friday 2000 years ago. Mel Gibson’s movie, “Passion of Christ,” is probably the most accurate depiction that I’ve seen of what a scourging and crucifixion actually looked like at the hands of the Roman Empire. I personally can’t watch that movie very often because of how graphic it is. But when I do, I cringe constantly and always end up in tears.

Why then, did Jesus endure this sort of death for us? To give us life. To give us hope. To give us a chance to experience eternal love with him and our Father in heaven. And now, through His Church, Jesus gives us the opportunity to “enter through the narrow gate.” Jesus’ Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us all of the resources we need to have a better relationship with God.

What, you may ask, are the resources the Church offers us? The bible, Sacred Traditions, Apostolic teachings, lives of the Saints, the Eucharist, reconciliation and forgiveness, mercy, the priesthood, baptism, marriage, confirmation, prayers, anointing, the Mass and so much more. These resources, when acted on and used properly, lead us closer and closer to the doors of heaven. They keep us focused on what’s important and strengthens our faith.

Jesus speaks to us with a sense of urgency in today’s Gospel because the gates of heaven won’t stay open forever! This is a reality that I think we fail to talk about often enough. Jesus wants us to take our faith seriously NOW and live it out NOW before it’s too late. However, we keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow” but I’m telling you, “tomorrow” is no guarantee.

And take heart, even Jesus acknowledges that this is no easy task. Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” It takes determination. It takes learning the faith (yes, even after confirmation). It takes living on God’s terms, not our own. God gave us the sacraments, the bible, Church teachings and so forth to give us the grace we need to persevere to the end. He gave us the Saints as role models to imitate and to give us hope that if they can do it, so can we.

Through the Church, Jesus has laid out for us a road map to follow. And when we don’t use this map, it’s like slamming the door on Christ. We do this out of fear or sometimes because we think we know better. But who could possibly know better then the one who created us? Please, as the saying goes, “don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” We already know what to do; now it’s just a matter of doing it and doing it faithfully.

If we follow this road map, we will be living in a house built by God. If we do it halfway or worse, ignore the map completely, then we will be living in our own self-made house apart from God. This is the warning Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel when He says, “I do not know where you are from.” It’s because the people knocking on His door, after it was too late, have been living away from God rather then in the house He designed.

So, like Jesus, I’m up here today trying to convey a sense of urgency for everyone to re-evaluate their lives (myself included!). Nobody is perfect. We all can improve something regarding the way we are living out our faith.

As a Deacon, I was ordained to serve Jesus Christ and His Church. I was commissioned to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. I undertook a mission to help Christians better understand Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation that He offers to each and every one of you. The last thing I want to hear on my judgment day is, “Hey Brian. You know… not bad. Not bad at all. You did the basics. For the most part you followed my teachings. But let me ask you this Deacon. How many times did you shy away from preaching the truth to my people? How many people were motivated by your preaching and by your example to turn away from sin and improve their lives?”

Kind of a scary thought, isn’t it??

So please, take this Gospel passage seriously. Get to know God better TODAY, not tomorrow, TODAY. Evaluate your life and improve the areas that may be lacking…before it’s too late.

I would hate for you to be locked out of the greatest gift of all…. Your Salvation!