I’m Thirsty

3rd Sunday of Lent (March 19, 2017)

Exodus 17:3-7

Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9

Romans 5:1-2,5-8

John 4:5-42

Any guesses as to how long a human can live without water? Depending on the environment, 3 to 7 days. After that, you’ll die of dehydration.

Any guesses as to how long a human can live without food? Again, depending on the environment, roughly 3 weeks (but that’s assuming you are still hydrated).

So one could argue that drinking water is even more critical than eating food.

Why? Because 60% of the adult human body is water. Every living cell depends on it. Water lubricates our joints, it regulates body temperature through sweating and respiration and it helps to flush waste out of the body. Water is so important that if dehydration levels cause more then a loss of 10% of your body weight, it’s considered a medical emergency and can lead to death if not reversed.

Why do I bring this up on the 3rd Sunday of Lent? Well… on the 1st Sunday of Lent, we were lead out into the desert to be tempted. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we climbed a mountain to be changed, transfigured actually. And now, on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Jesus is telling us that after all that hiking in the desert and mountain climbing, we’re thirsty and in need of a drink of water.

But not just any water mind you! You see… regular water will quench your thirst, but only temporarily. As I said just a moment ago, at the bear minimum, you need to drink water at least every 3 days. But I know if I don’t drink a glass of water every few hours, my throat becomes dry and I even start to feel tired. Therefore we are always looking… always searching for the next glass of water to drink.

Now thankfully, most of us are fortunate enough to live in an area where finding clean drinking water is not a problem. Not so for the Hebrews in the reading we hear today from Exodus. Moses is leading a very thirsty group of people out of Egypt. The Hebrews complained and complained about being thirsty, so much, that eventually God provided water through Moses. God quenched their thirst.

Water is also not so abundant in the town of Sychar in Samaria that we hear about in today’s Gospel from John. The people of this town all get their water from a common well. As you can imagine, one would probably have to go to the well several times each day. They can’t simply turn on a faucet in their kitchen. Therefore, this well is vital to the survival of the people in the town. If something were to happen to it, the people would have to move away or die of dehydration.

It is at this well in Sychar where Jesus and a Samaritan woman have a brief, but very theologically deep conversation. Jesus says to the woman, “Everyone who drinks from this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Here Jesus is acknowledging what we have already discussed… we get thirsty, we drink, our thirst is quenched for a time, repeat. But Jesus then makes the bold statement that there is a new, living water that will forever quench our thirst permanently. No more going back to the well. No more searching for our next drink.

On hearing this, the Samaritan woman replies, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” This is a fair and honest statement that I think most of us would ask if we were in her shoes at that moment. Who wouldn’t want to be fully satisfied? To not have to search anymore? Sounds like a good deal to me!

In Scripture, John 6 is often referred to as the “bread of life discourse.” So I guess John 4, today’s Gospel, can be referred to as the “water of life discourse.” Jesus is the living water that will quench all of our desires. We need to fully immerse ourselves in this water. If we fully and completely let Jesus Christ, the Living Water, into our lives, into every cell in our bodies, He’ll quench your thirst for all of eternity in Heaven.

And by the way, what’s the opposite of Heaven? Hell. Eternal fire. No water in sight. Eternal thirsting. NOT a pretty picture!

So you have a choice. You can drink from the Living Water and be satisfied… or risk eternal thirst by only drinking from “regular”, “worldly” water.

As we continue our journey through Lent, keep your eyes focused on Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can fully satisfy you. He is our Bread of Life, He is our Living Water, He is our eternal salvation.

So drink deeply from the Living Water and never thirst again!

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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.

Getting Out Of My Spiritual Funk

Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2016)

Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 24:1-6

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-24

Time seems to be flying by like a speeding train and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. What do I mean? Just like that… the 4th candle is lit on the Advent wreath representing the last week of Advent and Christmas in only one week away.

I have a confession though. Can you keep a secret? I’m not feeling it this year. I just can’t seem to get in the “holiday spirit” for the life of me. It’s been an exceptionally trying year and I’m just worn down a bit. Plus I think the commercial side of Christmas, for me, it also getting a bit old. I mean… it’s the same thing every year. We celebrate Halloween and then all of a sudden, when we should be getting ready for Thanksgiving, that man in a red suit with his reindeer shows up! As we sit down to over indulge in a Thanksgiving feast with family, we turn on the radio for some pleasant background music, and lo and behold “Jingle Bells” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is playing on just about every bloody station! Then it’s a 30 day mad dash starting with Black Friday shopping, putting up the Christmas decorations, making sure everyone on our list has a present, planning meals and family gatherings, finding time to wrap the presents and still have enough money left over to pay our monthly bills. It can be stressful and exhausting.

I’ve been actively trying to get out of my funk but nothing has helped until I read Matthew’s Gospel passage for this weekend. It brought to mind a conversation I had with a Baptist friend of mine a few years ago. We were talking about who knows what when, out of the blue, he looked at me and said, “You Catholics really like Mary don’t you?” A little shocked, I merely replied, “Yup, we think she’s pretty cool.” He then said, “Well I’m Baptist, so the only time we ever talk about her is at Christmas because she gave birth to Jesus. So what’s the deal with Mary and Catholics?” Trying to keep this as simple as possible and without wanting to get into a heated debate, I said something like, “Mary was the first person to say yes to Christ. God told her she was to conceive His Son who would save us. She didn’t fully understand this, but she trusted God and said yes. So I guess you could say that Mary was the first Christian. We honor her yes and try to follow her example by saying yes to God.” Silence filled the room. After a few moments he started nodding his head in agreement and said, “You know…. you’re right. I’ve never thought of Mary in that way.”

With that conversation in mind, let’s look at today’s Gospel from Matthew. Today we hear the annunciation story from the perspective of Joseph instead of Mary. Fun fact…. did you know that Joseph doesn’t speak a single word in the New Testament? He does, however, fall asleep twice. Both times, an angel appeared to him in a dream to give him an urgent message from God.

Today’s Gospel recounts the first of these two dreams. Joseph just found out that his bride-to-be was pregnant… with someone else’s baby. I would imagine this would be problematic to most men in his situation. Yes? It pretty much means that your future bride is already unfaithful and untrustworthy before you have even exchanged the marriage vows. But rather then dragging Mary’s name through the mud, he decided to break off the engagement quietly. And remember, in those days women caught in adultery were stoned. So Joseph, being an upstanding guy, actually saved Mary’s life by keeping everything quiet. He didn’t want revenge or to get back at Mary, he just wanted to let her live her life in peace without him.

Thinking that was the end of the story, Joseph went to bed… probably trying to forget the horrible, stressful day that he just had. It was then that an angel of God appeared and told him, “Joseph, you’re going to have to trust God on this one. Your human brain can’t fully understand it, but Mary didn’t cheat on you. She’s actually more faithful then you can possibly imagine. Mary is pregnant through the Holy Spirit and the child she is carrying is going to save people from their sins. This is God’s plan, not yours. But God still needs you to take care of Mary and His son. Trust Him and do not be afraid.”

Now I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams in my day. I’ve even had dreams that seemed so real, that when I woke up, I had to lie there for a while trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t. But what does Joseph do when he awoke? He doesn’t hesitate at all. According to Matthew, “He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” Bottom line is that God asked Joseph to come out of his comfort zone and trust Him… and Joseph did just that.

So what am I now doing to get into the “Christmas spirit?” Instead of focusing on the worldly, modern view of Christmas, I’ve been focusing on trusting in God through the examples of Mary and Joseph. Neither of them understood fully what in the world God was doing with the birth of Jesus. All they understood was that God’s Son was coming to earth to save us from our sins. They were faithful enough to trust in God and allow Him to use their lives in that plan.

You and I are also part of God’s plan. I highly doubt though, that any of us can fully say with confidence that we know exactly what God has in store for us. That’s where faith comes in. No matter how messy your life may seem, no matter how much you don’t understand what is going on or why, no matter how much you may seem to be in spiritual “funk,” you still have to trust that God’s plan for you is better then anything you can do on your own.

That is what I challenge you to focus on this last week of advent as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Focus on saying, “yes” to God’s plan for your life.

Focus on trusting Him more and you less.

Look to Joseph and Mary as examples of what trusting in God is all about.

If you can do that, then you’ll realize that the best Christmas present is not bought in a store, but rather is found in a manger.

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!

Put Down Your Smart Phone

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 17, 2016)

Genesis 18:1-10a

Psalm 15:2-5

Colossians 1:24-28

Luke 10:38-42

I recently heard on the radio that, on average, people touch their phone between 2,000-3,000 times per day. Adults between the ages of 35-49 watch on average 33 hours of television each week. One article I found claimed that children average 13 hours of video games each week. My point? We live in a very busy world filled with distractions. In the above statements, I didn’t even mention the hours people spend each week at work or at school.

As I am getting older I’m learning that time is precious. We can waste money, but earn it back. We can waste food, but make more. But time wasted can’t be recovered. There is no “do over” when it comes to “yesterday.” We can try to make tomorrow better, but yesterday is spent. So we have to always be conscious of how we are spending our time.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we need to balance the busyness of our lives and spending time with God. And quite often, we have it backwards. The story of Martha and Mary is very relevant to us today. Martha and Mary are sisters who had Jesus over to their house for a visit. During the visit, Martha was running around the house trying to make sure it was clean and everyone had enough food and drinks. Most would claim that she was being a good hostess. Meanwhile, her sister Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on His every word. Martha got irritated because Mary was not helping her and voiced her frustration. Jesus replies to her as follows (allow me to modernize it here), “Martha, put down your iPhone, turn off the television, walk away from the xbox controller, stop worrying about when the next soccer practice is and we have plenty of food…. I need you to take a breath, sit down and spend some time with me.” And in this case, who is “me?” None other… then the Son of God.

Now, the devil wants nothing better than for us to get so busy and distracted with worldly things, that we put God on the back burner. Smart phones, movies, video games, sports and so forth can be good things… but we need to be careful to not put these things before God.

I, like most of you, have a very busy life. I work a full time job, my wife Angie and I have 5 kids (4 of which will be playing soccer this fall), I coach and referee soccer, work with the youth group and I’m obviously a Deacon which entails a lot of behind the scenes things here at church. So I feel very fortunate that I was able to take time out of my schedule to be a chaperone, along with my wife, at the Ignite Your Torch youth retreat in Louisville last weekend. I got to “escape from the world” and surround myself with God for four days.

My wife and I along with our youth group members who attended Ignite Your Torch 2016

My wife and I along with our youth group members who attended Ignite Your Torch 2016

It. Was. Incredible. I can testify first hand that the future of our church is in good hands with our youth. These high school kids had their faith strengthened in ways that brought me to tears on more than one occasion at the retreat. The youth got to attend workshops, listen to speakers, attend daily Mass, participate in Eucharistic Adoration and interact with priests, sisters and other religious from over 15 different orders. Not to mention we saw a dodge ball game between priests and seminarians, watch a break dancing-beat boxing priest, watch nuns from Nigeria do traditional dance from their county and many, many other things you just don’t see everyday.

The guy in the middle of the circle dressed in black... yup, a break dancing priest!

The guy in the middle of the circle dressed in black… yup, a break dancing priest!

The single most moving experience for me was during Eucharistic Adoration at the school gymnasium. All of the kids kneeled down in prayer as one priest came around and gave an individual blessing with our Eucharistic Lord in the monstrance over each kid. A band was playing Christian music in the background and priests were scattered throughout the gym to hear confessions. What moved me the most was that I looked around the gym and noticed the confession lines were full. And when the kids came back from confession, they would kneel back down and wait as the monstrance was processed around to them. When it was their turn, they would then gaze up at our Eucharistic Lord from their knees and receive a blessing. Many of them were moved to tears from this encounter.

A high school student receiving a blessing

A high school student receiving a blessing

The beauty of it all was that there were no cell phones, no TV, no video games, no pressure from sports and no school…. Just time with Jesus Christ. If you ever have the opportunity to go on a spiritual retreat, please do it. It has the potential to change your life.

In reality, many of us don’t have the ability to go on a retreat or at least not that often. So I wanted to leave you with three simple things you can do to strengthen your faith and your relationship with Jesus Christ. However, there’s one caveat. All three things will require you to put down your phone, turn off the TV, unplug the video game, and step away from the busyness of the world… at least temporarily.

  1. Go to confession. Frequent confession will bring you more grace and allow you to feel God’s love in super abundance.
  2. Read the Gospels. These four books are first hand accounts of the life and teaching’s of Jesus Christ. Listen to His words and act on them.
  3. Receive the Eucharist as often as possible. Allow Him to be the food that satisfies your body and soul.

We are all meant for great things. But we can’t reach our spiritual potential if we keep putting other things before God. So, use your time wisely and don’t be afraid to step away from the world from time to time and focus on the only one that can give you lasting peace…. Jesus Christ.

No More Excuses

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26, 2016)

1 Kings 19:16b,19-21

Psalm 16:1-2,5,7-11

Galatians 5:1,13-18

Luke 9:51-62

No. More. Excuses! That pretty much sums up today’s Gospel reading from Luke. The words we hear Jesus speak today are a direct contradiction to the way our current society acts and believes. Our society tells us that honest answers are favorable, but not really necessary. Our society tells us that it’s almost always someone else’s fault. However, Jesus tells us to…. are you ready for it…. Stop all the nonsense, stop giving excuses, take responsibility for your own actions and follow Him.

Follow me through this for a moment. To Jesus, Jerusalem is the final destination of his earthly ministry. He is to travel there for one reason… to die for our sins. Without His death on the cross, our sins are not forgiven. Without His death on the cross, death cannot be conquered. Without His death on the cross, the gates of Heaven are closed to us. He knew this and He was not going to let anything or anyone steer Him off of this course. No excuses!

With that in mind, Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, a predominately Jewish city. Along the way, they wanted to stop and rest in a Samaritan village. However, the people in the village knew they were going to Jerusalem and therefore they wouldn’t show them any hospitality. This was because the Samaritans were very hostile toward the Jews. So what do the Apostles James and John ask, “Hey Jesus, they don’t like us so do you want us to call down a fire bomb on them?”

This mentality is the one that always cracks me up in our “politically correct, all loving, all inclusive and all accepting society” (I was trying to pour on the sarcasm pretty thick there in case you missed it). How many times do we read about one group of people spewing hate towards another group because of their beliefs? Marriage, abortion, guns, politics. Any of these issues can get heated very quickly and, in a group setting, often ends up with someone getting punched in the face. But what does this accomplish? NOTHING!

But what does Jesus tell James and John to do to these people who don’t like them? He tells them to move on and keep their eyes toward Jerusalem. I’m not saying these “hot button” topics shouldn’t be discussed. But if the listening party only spews hate and violence back at you, it’s going to steer you off of your course so just move on. No excuses!

After passing by the Samaritan village, we next hear of two different people wanting to join the traveling party and follow Jesus. However, both of the people want it on their terms. “Hey Jesus, I’ll follow you to the end of the world…. But let me first finish this honey-do list.” Now it may sound like Jesus is being unloving when the first person is rebuked for wanting to bury his father before following Jesus. The back-story to this is that many scripture scholars believe the potential disciple’s father is probably in good health at the moment and has no plans of dying in the near future. Awkward…

When I felt called to becoming a Catholic Deacon, imagine if I would have said, “Yes, I’ll absolutely be a Deacon…. As soon as my kids are grown, I’ve paid off my student loans, paid off my mortgage and retired from my job… THEN Jesus, THEN I’ll follow you to the end of the world.”

Now… let’s get personal and down to business. I want to challenge you today by posing two questions for your consideration. Ask yourself, “Do I love God?” and “What does He want from me?” I’ve been praying on these two questions for more years than I can remember. Sometimes I think I’ve got the answers, other times the answers seem clouded.

I mean… I know I love God. But for me personally, it’s that second question I struggle with, “What does He want from me?”

It seems that more recently I’ve finally reached an answer that feels right. So, what does God want from me? To be with Him in heaven after I die. God is the source of all love. He created me and wants me to return to him after I die. I have a feeling; call me crazy, that He wants that from you as well!

God is our creator and our judge. Contrary to popular belief, His vote is the only one that matters on our judgment day. The Bible and the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us the teachings we need to follow if we call ourselves a follower of Christ. And news flash, many of these teachings are not easy. Recall last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

So if I want to spend eternity with God, I better live a life that mirrors God’s love. I better start being more faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, I’m just a hypocrite and I’ll have a lot of explaining to do on my judgment day.

What about you? Do you truly love God? Do you feel that He is calling you to follow Him more faithfully? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to cut through all of excuses and live out your faith to the fullest!

No.

More.

Excuses.