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!

Letting Go of the Bell Rope

7th Sunday Ordinary Time (February 23, 2014)

Lv 19:1-2,17-18

Psalm 103

1 Cor 3:16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

Today’s readings are tough to hear…at least for me. I have personally struggled to develop this homily because I know I fail in some way with each point being made in today’s Scripture readings. Here’s the highlights in cased you missed them: Be holy. Do not hold grudges. Our bodies are temples of God. Take no revenge. Give to the one who asks of you. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies and strive for perfection like your heavenly Father. I fully realize that I don’t like these readings because they call me to constantly examine and change my heart and therefore my actions. And change can be very hard.

change_ahead

Seriously…many of us struggle to love our own friends and family, so how are we supposed to love our enemies?? And to turn the other check?? Our culture tells us that only the tough survive and that if someone pushes us, we need to push back even harder! And you can forget about perfection! Every time I sin I’m reminded of how imperfect I am. So how can I possibly be holy?

It was in a moment of prayer that I realized that line of thinking is precisely the problem. I was confusing the world’s definition of perfection with God’s definition of perfection and how it all relates to holiness. Allow me to try and clear this up with a true story.

A Dutch Christian family by the name of Ten Boom was living in the Netherlands when the Nazi regime invaded their county in 1940. The Ten Booms had made a secret room behind a closet wall in the upstairs bedroom to hide Jews if Nazi soldiers ever searched their house.

The secret room behind the closet wall

The secret room behind the closet wall

Corrie, the youngest daughter of four, would go out and bring back food rations for the people they hid in their house. On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazi’s about the Ten Boom family and they were all arrested. Corrie spent 10 months in a Nazi concentration camp in Germany. After her release, she returned to the Netherlands and set up a rehabilitation center to help concentration camp survivors and even the Dutch informants who turned in their fellow countrymen to the Nazi’s. In 1946, she began traveling the world as a public speaker and wrote numerous books. One very powerful story she wrote about happened when she was teaching in Germany in 1947. One of the former Nazi concentration camp guards, known to have been one of the cruelest, approached her. Corrie was very reluctant to forgive him for obvious reasons. But she turned to prayer and described the encounter by saying, “For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.” Corrie went on to say that in her post-war experience with other concentration camp survivors that, “those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.”

“Forgiveness is letting go of a bell rope,” Corrie further explains. “If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”

This story is what holiness is all about. Corrie held no grudge against the former Nazi guard. She could have punched, yelled or spat at him. But instead of hating this enemy, she extended her hands and offered a forgiving embrace. She let go of the bell rope. And in doing so showed us an example of perfect love through her holy actions.

corrietenboom

Isn’t this what Jesus did for all of us? The Jewish people at the time were waiting for their messiah. They assumed he would be a great military leader that would destroy their oppressors with force. Instead, God sent his Son to teach us how to live and love in an entirely new way. Ultimately, when faced with evil, Jesus did not fight back with violence or run away. Neither would have done the world any good. Rather he stood His ground and taught people how to live rightly. This eventually led to his death. A death he willingly cooperated with and by doing so changed the world by showing us a more perfect way.

jesus-love-your-enemies-lg

To drop a grudge, offer forgiveness or to love an enemy is, in my opinion, about as close to perfection as we can get. Why? Because it means you are not worried about yourself. You are not expecting repayment or trying to get approval from someone else. You are simply respecting and loving the other person as God loves. So it is in our holy actions that we achieve moments of perfection.

Granted there will be days when we sin by choosing evil over good. But God, in His infinite greatness, gave us a way to receive His grace and start over when we fall short through confession and penance. The sacrament of reconciliation gives us a clean slate. It is the perfect response in the face of sin.

zamora confession

So perfection in the eyes of God is not having the perfect car, the perfect family or even a perfect credit score. It’s not about making perfect choices every time we’re faced with a decision. The perfection God is calling us to involves making right choices and repenting when we don’t. It involves forgiveness and willing the good of others, even if you don’t like them all that much. God is asking you to be holy because He made you and knows that you are capable of it. You are, after all, created in His image and likeness. And if we will just let go of that bell rope long enough…all of the anger, hate and confusion of this world will one day stop…

So don’t focus on being perfect according to worldly standards, but rather focus on being holy through good actions. That is all God is asking of you. The more you fill your days with holiness, the more perfect you will be in the eyes of God.

Be holy