Recognize. Trust. Try.

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday – April 23, 2017)

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 118:2-4,13-15,22-24

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

For Lent this year, I tried to do something a little different. A priest that I go to for spiritual direction challenged me to focus on 3 areas for Lent: Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving.

Almsgiving – I decided to go through my very cluttered, very full bedroom closet and clean it out. Clothes that I haven’t worn in a long time were donated to Good Will. I managed to throw away three bags of junk and donate 2 large bags of clothes. This exercise made me realize that I have plenty of “stuff” and it’s good to help others. Plus, if you need help organizing your closet, see me after Mass for some suggestions because I am now an expert!

Fasting – It may sound odd, but I decided to fast from negative speech. I fully realize that this is something I should probably always do, but I must admit that I tend to be more negative than positive. So every time I said something negative, I would stop and prayer an Our Father in my head. That first week… was rough. Let’s just say that I probably said enough Our Father prayers for a lifetime. This exercise made me realize that I actually can change bad behaviors. Plus, I feel like I have become more of an encourager rather than a discourager. Who would you rather be around?

Prayer – For this, I decided to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for one week and then start on a book titled, “33 Days To Merciful Love – A Do It Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy” by Michael Gaitley. It speaks of God’s loving mercy as seen through the eyes of St. Therese of Lisieux. It’s a great book that takes 34 days to read. You simply read a short, daily reflection for 33 days and then consecrate your heart to God’s Divine Mercy and Love on day 34 by praying the prayer given in the book. I timed this so that my consecration day would be Sunday, April 23, which just so happens to be Divine Mercy Sunday (today). This exercise helped remind me that God’s loving mercy is really… really abundant and so very easy to receive. However, we tend to makes things more complicated.

So let’s go back to the beginning and try to figure out how to uncomplicate God’s Divine Mercy. Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Simply put, God said to Adam and Eve, “Here’s paradise. Make it your home. Do what you want. What is mine is yours. Just don’t eat from that one tree.” We know that God did this to protect Adam and Eve. But the sly serpent came along and told a well-crafted lie. And rather than trusting God, Adam and Eve trusted the serpent. This was the beginning of our trust issues with God.

This lack of trust can even be seen in today’s Gospel with the Disciple Thomas. Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands… I will not believe.” Jesus told them He was coming back. But Thomas didn’t trust since he didn’t see it for himself. So from to the Garden to the Upper Room to the here and now, we still have trust issues with God.

How then can we try to solve this trust issue with God? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem. Recognize that we aren’t perfect and we have a tendency towards sin. This is probably one of the hardest things to do because each sin, each wound in our soul is a reminder of the original sin, which was caused by not trusting God in the first place.

Once we can recognize we have a trust issue with God, the next step is to trust Him anyway! Trust Him that in spite of our shortcomings, He will still love us. Even when we can’t see Him standing in front of us, like Thomas in today’s Gospel, we have to trust that he’s still there with open arms. Furthermore, when we sin and seek His love and forgiveness in the confessional, even with that one sin that we seem to do over and over again, we still have to trust that His love and mercy is bigger than our fallen nature.

And finally, after recognizing our faults, after trusting that God is in control and has abundant mercy and love for each of us, there’s only one thing left to do… try. Keep trying to do better. Try to make this day better than yesterday.

There is a short paragraph in the book I read that sums this up perfectly. To keep trying “means we have to keep striving to grow in holiness. For instance, it means going to Mass and Confession regularly, taking time to pray, and doing the little things with great love. It means forgiving those who have hurt us. It means being sorry for our sins, making a firm resolution not to sin again, and never making a ‘truce’ with sin. It means not settling for complacency or mediocrity or the attitude that says, ‘Well, that’s just who I am.’ In other words, it means striving to be faithful to examining our consciences every day. Also, it means not giving in to discouragement or, God forbid, despair. It means that if we fall into discouragement or despair, we’ll make an effort to get right back up, right back to trusting in God’s mercy. It means trying to remember and keep before our eyes the infinite mercy of God who never tires of forgiving. It means striving to never tire of asking God for forgiveness.” (“33 Days to Merciful Love” by Michael Gaitley, page 119).

Recognize. Trust. Try. This is the formula that allowed St. Therese of Lisieux to grow in holiness. She realized that you don’t need to do great things to attain God’s great love. You simply need to do little things with great love.

So trust God.

Try to live out your faith and recognize that God’s love and mercy is abundant.

He is offering it to you freely.

You simply need to ask Him and He will fill your soul with His Divine Mercy!

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Be A Bonfire

2nd Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday (April 7, 2013)

Acts 5:12-16

PS 118

Rev 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17-19

Jn 20:19-31

This weekend we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. Most Catholics have at one point seen the image of Jesus associated with this day. For those that haven’t, Jesus has His right hand raised in a blessing and His left hand is touching his garments just above his heart. Red and white rays shoot out from his heart, symbolizing the blood and water that was poured out for our salvation and sanctification. Just below the image of Jesus are the words, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

Divine-Mercy-Sunday

The thing that strikes me the most about this image are how the rays have kind of a 3D effect coming out of Jesus’ heart. This is reminiscent to when Jesus, hanging on the cross, had blood and water shoot out of His side when the soldier pierced him. He is so full of love, so full of mercy that he was willing to empty Himself and bath us in His divine love and mercy. And if we are open to receive Him, if we are open to trust Him with everything, then we can hopefully one day fulfill the very desires of our hearts…eternal love with our Father in heaven.

The problem is, at least for now, we have to live in a world that is constantly telling us that following the Gospel is optional. We hear things like, “Do what you want; do what feels good; only worry about yourself, God’s mercy doesn’t exist.” But to live in the Gospel means that we must admit that it’s not all about us. We also need to admit when we have sinned, do good things and treat others with love and respect. This is not always an easy thing to do, especially when one of God’s children is tailgating you on the highway while flashing their lights and shaking a fist at you! To live in the Gospel means you also must be ready for the world to try and extinguish the flame you have burning in your heart for God…and honestly…some days it will feel like a losing battle.

retreat

The St. Andrew’s gang on retreat!

I recently went on retreat with 75 middle school kids from the Lexington Diocese, 10 of which were from St. Andrew’s Church. The theme of the weekend was “Out of the Darkness” and focused on how to find joy in one’s life. One of the presenters, at the end of the retreat, wanted to stress to the kids to not let the joy they found on the weekend fade out come Monday morning. She described how people’s joy and excitement following a retreat could be understood in relation to different types of lights. For example, some people will leave the retreat and be like a lighthouse. They’ll stand tall and beam out to the entire world but only attract the eyes of those already looking for them, much like a boat searching for the light of a shoreline. Then there are the flashlights. Very bright and focused, but only on whom they choose to shine their light on. Unfortunately, these people tend to shine their light only on the easy targets while ignoring the ones they know will resist them or call them crazy Jesus freaks. And what happens if you leave a flashlight on too long…the batteries will start to weaken and the light will begin to fade. Next are the candles.

The church altar where we celebrated Mass after the sun went down

The church altar where we celebrated Mass after the sun went down

Catholics love candles; we use them at every Mass! They are bright and can even light up an entire room. While on retreat we went to Mass after dark in a church without electricity that was lit only by candles. It was a beautiful experience. But what happens when you take those candles outside and the wind blows? The flame flickers and may even go out if the wind is strong enough.  Then there are the 4th of July sparklers. They tend to be very bright when first lit but fade out quickly. But for that short period of time you can really see their energy in motion. Finally, there’s the bonfire. It’s large, bright and can provide warmth for all who stand nearby. A bonfire tends to burn for a long period but also can start to fade away over time. But every good camper knows how to get a fading bonfire going again…just add more wood and step back!

We as Christians need to be like bonfires. Always on fire for our faith, drawing others close to us so we can spread the message of Christ to them. We need to be a source of warmth for those that are in need of God’s love and mercy. However, we also need to recognize that there will be times when our flames are starting to dwindle or when someone’ s trying to extinguish it. That’s why it is so important to have a steady supply of wood nearby to fuel our fires so we will continue to burn bright. You want to know the best sources of fuel from the Church??? Daily prayer, scripture, attending Sunday formation class from age 4-104 (yes, even the adults!), attending Mass as often as you can, going to confession, receiving God’s grace in the sacraments as frequently as possible.

Another extremely powerful way to fuel your fire is Eucharistic Adoration. adorationIf you are looking for a quiet way to pray and find peace, then spend an hour on your knees or sitting in silence in front of the God of the Universe during Eucharistic adoration. For those unfamiliar, this is when we take some of the consecrated host (the Body of Christ) from Mass and put it on display in a monstrance. Interestingly enough, most monstrances that I’ve seen are golden and shaped like a sun and have rays coming out from the center… a lot like the rays in the Divine Mercy image. So when I sit there in silence, I very often bow my head, close my eyes and put my hands out palms up. I’m trying to imagine that I am soaking up the divine rays of God with my entire body. I’m trying to add fuel to my fire so that it will blaze brightly once again. The great thing about Eucharistic Adoration is that during that time you can either pray, read a spiritual book or just be quiet and do nothing. Simply being in God’s quiet presence can have a profound effect on a person.

So which kind of light do you want to be? Here’s my suggestion…. Don’t just be a lighthouse whose light only reaches those already looking. Don’t just be a flashlight that only shines your light on a select few and ends up with dead batteries. Don’t just be a candle that flickers or goes out when the wind blows too hard. Don’t just be a sparkler that quickly fades. Only a blazing bonfire can provide the light and warmth needed for you and everyone around you. Actively keeping the bonfire of God’s love burning in your heart is the key to finding true joy in this life while we await the next. So be a bonfire!

bonfire