Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017)

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

Psalm 66:1-3,4-5,6-7,16,20

1 Peter 3:15-18

John 14:15-21

Actions speak louder than words. How many times have we heard this phrase before? It is an absolute truth in my opinion. If you say one thing, but your actions prove otherwise, you are living a lie. It’s that simple.

Another word that comes to mind is “integrity.” My definition of integrity is: doing the right thing, even when no body else is around to see it. For example, if you are at Walmart and see a man unknowingly drop his wallet in the parking lot… and you pick the wallet up but keep it for yourself because no one else saw it… you lack integrity.

This is one of the basic Christian teachings that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel from John. “Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you say you are a Christian, you should do the things I tell you to do.” Actions speak louder than words.

Being a Christian can be a struggle… I get it. Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. Some of the teachings from Jesus are… let’s just call them, “challenging.” Why? Because many of our Christian beliefs go against the grain of the world. But that doesn’t make them impossible to follow or at least try.

Jesus himself knew that we would struggle in this area after he ascended to Heaven. That is the very reason he promised to give us an Advocate to be with us always. This Advocate is the third person of the Trinity, better known as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is who guides us and strengthens us in our day-to-day lives. He’s the one who we should be relying on to help us when we have to choose between doing right or doing wrong in any given situation. And the more we choose to do right, the more He will strengthen us.

Just like an athlete training for the Olympics. If they train and eat right faithfully, they’ll perform at their best come game time. But if they cheat on their training regiment and on their diet over and over again, they will fail miserably when it really counts.

So too with us. If we consistently live out our faith in word and action, those ethical and moral challenges we will face later won’t see some overwhelming. But if we continue to choose poorly in little things, we’ll fail miserably when we are really challenged.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you by now. I’m sure there’s at least one person out there saying, “Yup, I fail daily with little things. My integrity stinks. I’m doomed.” Well chin up buttercup! Go to confession and get a fresh start. That’s the great thing about our faith. We serve a merciful God who LOVES giving us a fresh start because He is overflowing with his divine mercy. We just have to ask for forgiveness and try again. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

Love God. Learn your faith. Live out that faith. Ask the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance. It’s really that straightforward. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father.” So please, let us all show Jesus how much we love Him by learning and living out our faith more and more each day.

Advertisements

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!

Be A Beggar

2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27, 2014)

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 118

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

It only seems fitting that as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday today, we focus on the significance of what happened in today’s Gospel reading from John. I’m not talking about Thomas, the poor guy makes one mistake and he is labeled for eternity as “Doubting Thomas.”

doubting thomas

No, I’m talking about the significance of Jesus breathing on the disciples and how that relates to God’s never-ending mercy. Where else in the bible did God’s breath do something truly incredible? When He breathed life into Adam, the first human. And now God again breathes His Spirit onto the disciples. This should be a clue for us to pay attention here! Right before Jesus breathed on them he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” How did the Father send Jesus? With all divine authority including the ability to forgive sins (cf Mark 2:5-12). Now in John’s Gospel, Jesus is giving this authority to the disciples (cf John 20:21-23).

sending

But let’s be specific as to what authority Jesus is giving to the disciples at this moment. It’s in the very next line, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The only way for the disciples to have known which sins to forgive and which to retain is if the sins were orally spoken. This is why from the early church, confession was said out loud. Now why in the world would Jesus entrust the ability to forgive sins to His disciples? It is out of mercy! While Christ walked the earth, only He could forgive sins. But His time to ascend to His Father was near and He wanted us to be able to still receive His divine mercy though His forgiveness via one of His priests (cf James 5:14-16).

This is of the utmost importance because mortal sin kills the soul just like poison kills the body. You can have perfect physical health while your spiritual health is on the verge of death. Confession is spiritual medicine for us. It cleanses us. And if you’ve ever tried to convince yourself that your sins “aren’t that bad,” take some time meditating on a crucifix. God’s love put Christ on the cross for even the smallest sin we commit. Pope Francis said in his Easter homily that in the cross we see, “The immensity of God’s mercy that does not treat us as our sins deserve, but according to His mercy.”

francis good friday

Pope Francis

Why then are we so afraid and embarrassed of going to confession if our souls can be restored to a state of grace through it? Think about it for a second. A priest is ordained to help bring the love of God to the people. He is bound by the seal of confession to never be able to speak a word of what is said in the confessional to anyone….ever. And if he does, he will lose his ability to be a priest. He will be permanently fired from the priesthood. Furthermore, he’s heard it all before and probably worse. So get over yourself! Your sins aren’t so bad that he’s willing to lose his job by posting them on Facebook!

Plus, the words of absolution are so extremely powerful. For those that don’t know this terminology, this is the prayer the priest says at the end of the confession. It is probably the most beautiful Catholic prayer I’ve ever heard – “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Don’t let pride keep you from hearing these words. Hearing these words on a regular basis will change your life because your soul will be constantly filled with God’s grace and love. Beg for His mercy in the confessional. We should all strive to be beggars before the Lord.

I want to close with a true story I heard from the well known Catholic author Scott Hahn. A priest was over in Rome attending a conference at the Vatican. He was walking to a local church for his evening prayers. There were many beggars on the church steps, which is common in Rome.

beggars

He thought he recognized one of them and asked him, “Do I know you?” “Yes, we went to seminary together,” was the reply. “What happened?” asked the priest. “I crashed and burned, leave me alone.” The priest realized he was running late to the last conference and simply said, “I’ll pray for you” as he walked away from the beggar. At the very end of the conference, each person in attendance got to go up and briefly meet the pope; at that time it was John Paul II. This priest went up and told the pope about what had happened with the beggar he just met. After the meeting the priest went back to try and locate the beggar. Thankfully he was still on the church steps where the priest last spoke with him. “I’m so glad I found you. I spoke to the pope about you and he has invited us to dinner!” The beggar was in disbelief and said, “I can’t go. I don’t have nice clothes and I’m dirty.” “You don’t understand, you are my ticket to dinner. If I don’t bring you, I’m not getting in! You can shower at my hotel and I have clothes you can wear.” So they got cleaned up and together they went to St. Peter’s. They were led to the dining hall by the Swiss Guards where John Paul II was already seated at the table.

John Paul II

Pope St. John Paul II

Towards the end of the meal, John Paul made a motion with his hands and suddenly one of the other men asked everyone to leave the room except the priest’s beggar friend. The priest stood in the hallway with everyone else for about 10 minutes wondering what in the world was going on inside between John Paul II and his friend. Then the doors opened, everyone sat down and finished with dessert. They all said their good byes and left St. Peter’s. “What happened in there?” the priest asked. “You’ll never believe me if I told you.” “Try me.” “When everyone left, the Holy Father asked me to hear his confession.” “Well, what did you say?” asked the priest. “I told him that I’m just a beggar.” “So am I,” replied John Paul II. So as the Bishop of Rome, he reinstated the beggar so that he was back in good standings with the church. After John Paul confessed to the priest, the former beggar then asked the Pope to hear his confession as well. John Paul then gave the reinstated priest his first assignment…to go back to the streets and minister to the other beggars. This man’s life was restored, physically and spiritually, through the sacrament of reconciliation.

We are all beggars that have been adopted by God’s love. He wants to heal our souls through the sacrament of reconciliation. We just need to be humble enough to walk into that confessional. Remember, it’s not an interrogation. It’s God trying to pour His love and mercy into us.

In the words of Pope John XXIII, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”

J23

Pope St. John XXIII

The sacrament of reconciliation can and will do this. It can take your fears, your frustrations and your failures and turn them into new hope. So for the sake of your eternal salvation, go to confession often. Be a beggar before the Lord and allow God’s loving mercy to bathe new life into your soul!

 

(Much of this homily was inspired by a talk I heard on a CD by Scott Hahn titled, “The Healing Power of Confession” published by Lighthouse Catholic Media.)

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