Be A Good Shepherd

4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018)

Acts 4:8-12

Psalm 118

1 John 3:1-2

John 10:11-18

We’re all supposed to imitate Jesus, right? When preparing for this homily, I read the first line of the Gospel, stopped and then just laughed to myself. It reads, “Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd.’” Why does this make me laugh? If we’re supposed to be like Jesus, then we’re supposed to also be good shepherds. In picturing me as a shepherd, for some reason, I thought of what happens right after the final song at Mass. And I mean right after the priest has walked down the aisle and the dismissal song has ended. At that point, I usually gather up my things, tell my family to head for the van and then off we go… after genuflecting of course! Within a few minutes, I’ve said my goodbyes, given Fr. Al a hug at the door, walked outside and just start to feel the sunshine on my face when I realize… I’m all alone.

You see… my wife is still in her pew talking with her friends. Laura is running around giving out hugs to everyone she can find. Oliver is still picking up papers that dropped out of his Sunday school folder while trying to put on his jacket. Jacob has taken off outside like a bolt of lightning with his buddy (cough… Luke Coleman). And Owen and Zach are somewhere in the foyer talking with their high school friends about “teenage stuff.” So apparently I’m not a very good shepherd because I can’t even get 7 people from our church pew to our van in under 20 minutes.

After reading the rest of the Gospel passage, I then realized that herding your family from church in an orderly fashion might not necessarily be what Jesus is meaning when he talks to us about the “good shepherd.” So in order to better understand what we are to learn from this Gospel passage from John, let us first look to Ezekiel 34 in the Old Testament. It reads:

1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. 6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”

In this passage from Ezekiel, God is upset with many of the leaders of the church. They were being very selfish by putting their needs above the people. This led many of God’s people to have a weak faith or to completely leave the faith behind. Reading this in light of today’s Gospel passage, we can now see that Jesus didn’t just randomly refer to himself as the “Good Shepherd” because it sounded good. No, he’s letting the people know that He is not like the shepherds they have read about in Ezekiel. He is not going to lead them astray or cause them to scatter. He is going to feed them with the Bread of Life and ultimately… He’s going to lay down His life for them.

Now remember… we’re supposed to be imitators of Christ which means that we are supposed to also be Good Shepherds. How does that look in our day-to-day lives? Very simply… we put the needs of others above our own. Instead of holding grudges… we hold out a helping hand. We turn the other cheek and help each other heal and move on. We spread the Gospel rather than gossip. We put a smile on our face and go out into the world and actually act like we are Christians.

You see… a good shepherd doesn’t motivate the flock by herding them. A good shepherd leads the flock by example. People want someone to inspire them… To motivate and encourage them to be better. They don’t need more negativity. The world throws plenty of that at us on a daily basis already.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for us, the flock, so that we can have a chance to spend eternity with His Father in heaven. We too can help out the flock by taking His lead. By helping others. By putting the needs of others above our own.

Be a Good Shepherd. Inspire someone. Put yourself out there and enjoy the life that God envisioned specifically for you.

Stop wondering around aimlessly like a lost sheep. Follow Christ. Our Good Shepherd.

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Heaven and Fairy Tales

5th Sunday of Lent (March 18, 2018) Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Psalm 130:1-8

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:1-45

Death can be a very scary thing to talk about. But first, let me clarify. As Christians, there are two types of death we often refer to. The first is dying to sin and being reborn in Christ. This is what happens in the sacrament of Baptism. It’s exciting to know that there are several among us at St. Andrew’s that will be born again in the waters of Baptism at the Easter Vigil this year. They will be further strengthened in their new Christian life that same night when they also receive the sacrament of Confirmation AND receive our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time ever. This is the fun type of death that we can talk about all day long and get those warm and fuzzy feelings because the people who “die to sin” are still with us afterwards.

The second type of death… well…let’s just say… there are not so many warm and fuzzy feelings. I’m obviously referring to the type of death where we lose a loved one, have a funeral and then mourn for days, weeks, even years after their passing.

But the question I’m posing today for your consideration is… WHY? Why do we get so excited to see someone die to sin and be born again into God’s family through Baptism… but so sad when a faithful Christian dies to this world and is granted eternal life with God?

In a way, I believe this is the question Jesus is asking us through today’s Gospel from John. It’s a long passage so I won’t read it again to you. But basically, Lazarus has died and everyone is in mourning. Many of the people blame Jesus for not being around to save him from death. You see… they believe Jesus is the Son of God, but they still don’t yet understand the resurrection since Jesus hasn’t been crucified yet. But Jesus knows. He fully knows what’s to come and has been preaching to His followers that they will have new life in God in this life AND the next.

But still, the people blame Him while they mourn the death of Lazarus. One of my favorite parts of this passage is where Jesus shows us His human side. We read two times that Jesus is “perturbed.” Yes, even Jesus got upset and irritated at people! He is perturbed because people’s faith in His teaching on heaven and the afterlife is very weak. Rather than celebrating Lazarus’ new life with God, they mourned his death and blamed Jesus for not saving him. I can see Jesus’ eyes roll, hand on his forehead, as he gets perturbed and says, “Fine, I’ll give you one more sign but then that’s it! You really need to start believing in what I’m telling you!” Then he turns to the tomb and cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did.

Now, I acknowledge that we mourn over someone’s death because we won’t see them anymore. I get that. It stings greatly. Trust me, I know. But I think we struggle with death and mourn so intensely after losing a loved one because, deep down, our faith might be a little weak when it comes to heaven.

I can see someone get baptized. I can see someone receive the Lord’s Supper. I can see someone get confirmed. But I can’t “see” what happens to someone’s soul after they die.

Death is that one moment where our faith is put to the ultimate test. We are told that we will stand before God right after our bodily death. So death is the moment that we as Christians realize if this whole “Jesus, Church, Bible” thing is true or just a nice sounding fairy tale. And I think that scares us. I know I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time. I would like to think I’m a faithful Christian who tries my best to follow Christian teachings. But I still wonder if at the moment of my death, I’ll be confident in my faith or “hold my breath” (so to speak) as I wait to see what REALLY happens after I die.

I had a very real, very concrete experience that happened to me recently that has strengthened my faith regarding heaven that I wanted to share. We Catholics pray for the “repose of the soul” of someone after his or her death. It’s a very common practice that dates back to the early Church. It’s based on the teaching that people sometimes need to go to purgatory after death, before entering heaven. Purgatory being a final purification stop on the way to heaven. Think of it as a car wash. When we pray for the repose of the soul of someone, we’re asking God to speed up the process, if possible, so they can enjoy life in heaven sooner. After my mom’s death in October 2017, I’ve been praying for the repose of her soul often.

Well… I was at Mass at the Christ the King Cathedral in Lexington this past February. Angie and I were there assisting with the next class of future Deacons. I had just received communion and returned to my pew to kneel in prayer. With eyes closed and hands folded, I prayer, “Lord, I offer up this Eucharist for the repose of the soul of my mother, Joan Wentz.” And then I froze for a few moments. After that feeling passed, I picked up the hymnal and started to sing the communion hymn… but only got 3 or 4 words out and then I froze up again. Still on my knees, I put the hymnal down and closed my eyes again. I couldn’t move… I couldn’t speak. It was at that moment that I felt my mother’s arms around me. It’s as if she was kneeling to my left, giving me a side hug with her head on my shoulder. It was very real and I just kneeled there… enjoying the hug… as I cried silently. A few minutes later, she was gone. I’m not sure if that’s the moment she left purgatory and entered heaven or if God just knew I needed a hug from my mom that day.

I’ve reflected back on that incident a lot since it happened. I have even kneeled down at Mass after communion and tried to “re-create” the incident to see if it was just in my mind. But I’ve had no luck. I truly feel that God allowed my mom to visit me that day for a brief moment. Since then, I’ve had a better sense of peace that my mom is with God in heaven. I decided to tell all of you about it today because, honestly, I think we all could use a little encouragement when it comes to death and the afterlife. Many of us have lost loved ones this past year.

So yes, don’t be afraid to mourn for those that have passed away. But as we approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday… really pay attention and allow all of your senses to be flooded with LOVE. Because it is with LOVE that Jesus offered His body to us on Holy Thursday. It is with LOVE that he died for us on Good Friday. It is with LOVE that He overcame death and opened the gates of heaven for all of us on Easter Sunday. And if you can see with open eyes what Jesus did for us on those Holy Days… then you will absolutely realize just how much He loves YOU. And that love WILL continue into the next life because it is NOT just a fairy tale.

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.”

Peace and Forgiveness

Pentecost Sunday (June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1,24,29-30,31,34

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

John 20:19-23

 

The Understanding Widower

After a long shift at the fire department, Matt Swatzell fell asleep while driving and crashed into another vehicle, taking the life of pregnant mother June Fitzgerald and injuring her 19-month-old daughter. Fitzgerald’s husband, a full-time pastor, asked for the man’s diminished sentence—and began meeting with Swatzell for coffee and conversation. Many years later, the two men remain close. “You forgive as you’ve been forgiven,” Fitzgerald told Today.

Interesting….

 

The Unbelievable Friend

During a night swim with girlfriends, bride-to-be Rachelle Friedman was horsing around and got jokingly pushed into the shallow end of the pool, where her head hit the bottom. She cracked her neck and has not been able to feel anything below it since. Despite the life-changing injury, Friedman went on with her marriage and has said she never harbored resentment toward her friend about the freak accident. “There is no use in being down in the dumps and depressed. It’s not going to get you anywhere,” she told Today in an interview.

Very interesting…

 

The Unexpected Connection

Sandra Walker, a mother of two, lost her husband in a car accident that also caused her to have a life-changing brain injury. At the trial for the accident, in her court statement Walker said she sympathized with the woman who crashed into them—who herself lost a child in the accident—and gave her a hug. “I know she is going through as much pain as I am feeling. I wanted her to know that I forgive her for what she did,” Walker told WSB-TV.

Very, very interesting…

 

The Compassionate Officer

Steven McDonald was a young police officer in 1986 when he was shot by a teenager in New York’s Central Park, an incident that left him paralyzed. “I forgave [the shooter] because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart,” McDonald stated.

Very, very, very interesting…

 

These are four very powerful, real life stories of what can happen when forgiveness and peace are fully realized. And this, my friends, goes to the heart of what Jesus did for us in today’s Gospel from John.

The Risen Jesus offers us two gifts in today’s Gospel. Both of which have the potential to change our lives. Peace and forgiveness.

Jesus stands in the midst of the Apostles and says, “Peace be with you” as he shows them his hands and his side. It’s almost as if Jesus is reminding them that, in spite of the torture He suffered, He still offers peace, not vengeance. He says a second time, “Peace be with you.” The peace Jesus is offering us here is not just the absence of war, but of a complete calmness of mind and body. No more worry. No more stress.

In order to achieve this type of peace, we have to use the second gift Jesus offers us… forgiveness. In the four stories I shared with you, the people who were wronged had a choice. Harbor hate or offer forgiveness. Each one of them chose forgiveness. I couldn’t imagine how much their lives would have been altered if they chose hate and resentment. Those negative things tend to bleed over into other aspects of your life. Before you know it, you’re not only mad at the person who wronged you, but everyone else as well. It leads to unhappiness.

So I ask you… do you want to have peace in your life? Then you need to take a very close look at whom you need to forgive, or whom you possibly need to ask forgiveness from. And yes, as we’ve all heard it said before, forgiveness doesn’t always mean forgetting. If you forgive someone, but they are not healthy to be around, you should stay away from them. But true forgiveness means you are not allowing another person’s words or actions to control you or rule your mind. And that, my brothers and sisters, leads to peace.

Today, on Pentecost, Jesus offers us the gifts of peace and forgiveness before he ascends to heaven. And in His supreme wisdom, He also leaves us the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us on our journey so we are not alone!

So I ask you one more time… do you want to fully experience the peace of Jesus Christ??? Then open your heart, allow yourself to forgive and be forgiven. Find peace in our risen Lord. Find peace through the Holy Spirit. Allow your bodies to fully surrender over to God’s loving mercy and fear no more….

Peace be with you!

 

*The four stories above were found here:

http://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/extreme-forgiveness/