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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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!

It’s Game Time

First Sunday of Lent (February 14, 2016)

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Psalm 91:1-2,10-15

Romans 10:8-13

Luke 4:1-13

“Great moments are born from great opportunity.” This was the opening line of what is considered one of the greatest speeches in sports history. Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, gave a speech in the locker room right before USA faced the Soviet Union in the medal round at Lake Placid.

Herb Brooks

Herb Brooks

Let me set the scene for you as to why this speech is relevant for us today and how this underdog story gives us hope. At that time in history, the Soviet Union was considered to have the best hockey team in the world. They won the Olympic gold medal in 1964, 68, 72 and 76. This happened at the height of the Cold War where the Soviets were spreading communion and invading satellite countries bordering the Soviet Union. Our country had a deep dislike for the Soviets and everything they stood for at that time. This meant that all hockey fans in this country HATED the Soviet hockey team with a passion. First, because they represented communism and second, because nobody could beat them. And now, the Soviets were playing hockey on American soil… Lake Placid, New York.

On the other hand, the US hockey team was a young group of players from various college teams whom never played together as a unit before training for that Olympics. They were the new guys, with a new coach heading into the lion’s den of Olympic hockey dominated by the Soviets. Somehow, this scrappy, young American hockey team fought their way to the medal round. All the while, the Soviets crushed every team they faced. This David and Goliath match up wasn’t even for the gold medal. It was a game to determine who would go on to play for gold..

1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team

1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team

So in the locker room just before the historic game, with a country united behind a bunch of college athletes, Herb Brooks gave this speech, “Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game; if we played them ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players – every one of you, and you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Forget them! (I cleaned it up here!) This is your time. Now go out there and take it!” Team USA won that game and won the gold medal that year. In that speech, Brooks gave his team the power for a victory, which inspired a nation.

So here we are, the First Sunday of Lent. Lent is our 40 day journey dedicated to prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. It’s a time we put an extra effort to make sacrifices and turn away from sin. It’s a time we should be focusing on helping others and spending less time pampering ourselves. If we take this journey seriously, it should be challenging. Today’s Gospel shows us just how challenging it can be.

This Gospel reading from Luke is our underdog story. Jesus Christ is our coach. The devil is our competition. This passage from Luke is our motivational speech for Lent, leading up to the victory of Easter Sunday. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. He felt emotions that we feel. He journeyed through the desert and was tempted by the devil just like we are tempted.

Lent is a great opportunity for us to mirror Jesus’ journey through the desert. And that’s what you’ve got here today ladies and gentlemen. That’s what you’ve earned here today. This Lent. You could go through 10 Lents, and 9 of them may not change your life. But not this Lent. Not these 40 days. Today, we walk with Jesus through the desert. Today He is our strength and we shut the devil down because we can. Today, we are the greatest collection of Christians, ready to turn our lives around and change the world. You were born to be alive in Christ. Every one of you. You were meant to journey through this Lent. This is your time. The devil’s time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what the devil wants us to do through all of his temptations. Forget him! This is your time. Now go out into the desert and come out on the other side a champion! By His example, Jesus gave us the power for a victory, now it’s up to us to inspire the world! It’s game time…

Take Away My Blindness

4th Sunday of Lent (March 30, 2014)

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

Psalm 23:1-6

Eph 5:814

John 9:1-41

This past weekend, my wife Angie and I went with 13 middle school students from St. Andrew’s to the Middle School Youth Retreat put on by the Lexington Diocese. There were roughly 70 middle school aged kids that attended this retreat. Yup…70 kids ranging in age from 11 to 14 years old…All together…In one place. Have you ever seen 70 middle schoolers all jacked up on sugar under one roof? It wasn’t a pretty sight. Trust me…Skittles, Oreos, Twinkies and soda should not be a bedtime snack. Then I had to try and fall asleep in a cabin full of boys while they were competing with each other by seeing who could, how do I put this, make the loudest noise with their body. These noises usually prompted laughter from everyone except me. My wife had to sleep in the girls cabin. Since Angie and I don’t have any daughters, I tried to get all the girls to give her a make over, but somehow she managed to avoid it.

This my friends, is what Lent is all about…doing penance. As far as I can tell, I’ve fulfilled my Lenten penance by going on that retreat and bringing back all the kids alive!

Don't they look so nice and innocent...

Don’t they look so nice and innocent…

So how’s your Lent going so far? We’re past the halfway point. I’m sure many of you have been asked by now from a non-Catholic what the purpose of Lent is or why we Catholics “give up” something during this time period. My simple answer is that we use this time to try and rid ourselves of the things that prevent us from seeing God clearer. That might mean watching less TV so we can spend more time reading Scripture. Or maybe it means eating less junk food so we are healthier and have more energy to use our God given talents for good.

I’ve done the typical giving up chocolate, alcohol, late night snacks, etc in the past. I wanted to challenge myself a little more this year. That’s when I came up with not shaving my face. Hence the scruffiness you see before you.

Fr. Alan Carter (right) and myself (left) before celebrating Mass at the retreat.

Fr. Alan Carter (right) and myself (left) before celebrating Mass at the retreat.

I know you’re probably thinking, “Not shaving? Well that’s just being plain lazy! How can that get you closer to God?” Well, It gets me out of my comfort zone. Every time someone asks me about my beard, it gives me the opportunity to explain to them about Lent and that I’m Catholic. Who would have thought that a beard could be an evangelization tool? But deep down it did feel a little lazy so I decided, in addition to the beard, that I would read 30 minutes from the New Testament each day just to cover my bases! And guess what I found out while reading the Bible? Throughout Scripture, Jesus is trying to open people’s eyes to the Good News. He’s trying to get people out of their comfort zone so they will go out and tell others about Him (whether you have a beard or not!).

That brings us to today’s Gospel reading from John about the blind man. In those days, blindness was a symbol of the fallen mind. If someone was born blind, it was thought that God was punishing him or her for their sins or their parent’s sins. Jesus, however, says this is not true. He then said something that absolutely blew my mind the first time I really understood what he meant. Jesus said that the man was blind “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Did you catch that? The man was born blind specifically so that one day he would meet Jesus Christ face to face and have his sight restored.

How many times do we question God as to why we are struggling or suffering? Maybe it’s with finances, living with a physical disability, not having the perfect house or living a perfect life. This is probably the most common sin I commit. Not having faith in God’s plan for my life. Sure I absolutely adore the plan when it’s going well, but man do I like to complain the moment things get a little shaky.

What if I were to tell you that everything that weighs you down…all of your fears, all of your struggles…could possibly serve a higher purpose? The problem is that we don’t see things the way Christ does. The blind man from the Gospel probably questioned God on more than one occasion as to why he was born blind. Being blind in that era was a tough life, especially when everyone was thinking you were blind because of your sins. Who would have believed that the purpose in life for the blind man in today’s Gospel was to personally witness a miracle at the hands of God and have it recorded in Scripture for future generations to read. That man probably went out into the world on fire for his new found faith! There’s no telling how many people found their salvation in Christ through that man’s testimony.

Christ is the light of the world because He testifies to the Truth. In order to understand that truth, you must study and learn your faith. You must read Scripture on a regular basis. You need to allow Christ to lift the darkness from your eyes so as to let the light in. Christ is the light that gives our lives hope.

wine

That’s why I agreed to chaperone the Middle School retreat. The theme centered on explaining the Mass in a whole new way. I knew the retreat would help lift the blindness from these kids’ eyes regarding their understanding of the Mass. It would take an experience sometimes labeled as “boring” by this age group, and make it exciting. These students are now to go out into the world as a light of Christ to proclaim this excitement to others. It was fun watching them get excited about their faith and become closer to Christ. Just don’t feed them sugar right before bed and expect them to sleep!

Too much sugar, not enough sleep!

Too much sugar, not enough sleep!

So how about you? What struggles are you dealing with? What sins are keeping you from having a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church? Are you having trouble seeing God’s plan and purpose for your life? Maybe it’s time to ask God in prayer to take away your blindness so that you can see things with the eyes of Christ. But be careful what you ask for. Once He takes away your blindness, you will have no other option but to follow His light.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

6th Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2013)

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

Ps 67:2-3, 5-6, 8

Rev 21:10-14, 22-23

John 14:23-29

This weekend at St. Andrew’s we are honoring the graduating high school seniors. They have worked very hard to get where they are and it is only fitting to acknowledge their achievement. I’m sure this is also a time for the parents of these students to be a little anxious about their child moving out to start a new job or going off to college. The parents may have already started asking themselves questions like…will my child make good choices on their own, will they eat well or just live off of pizza and junk food, what about the parties where alcohol or drugs are present, do they even know how to wash their own clothes and OF COURSE… will they stay strong in their faith and go to church without anyone being there to drag them out of bed?

St. Andrew's 2013 graduating high school seniors pictured with myself

St. Andrew’s 2013 graduating high school seniors pictured with myself

That last question about going to church made me think back to my freshman year of college. First understand I was not Catholic then, did not have a strong faith and therefore did not go to church hardly at all my freshman year. I was, however, dating a Catholic girl at the time. During Lent I would often suggest that we go out to grab a cheeseburger on Fridays just to see if she remembered that she wasn’t supposed to be eating meat since it was a Friday of Lent. cheeseburgerIf she forgot, I would conveniently wait until she had a mouth full of her delicious, juicy cheeseburger before asking her, “So, how’s that MEAT taste on this beautiful Friday of Lent?” Hey, don’t judge me…it was fun!! And yes I’ve been to confession since then and even ended up marrying that girl (I love you honey!). Funny that I joined the Catholic Church about 3 years later and eventually became a Catholic Deacon. So you see, there is hope for anyone!

Another time that sticks out in my mind from that same year was when my roommate and I were sitting in our dorm room working on homework while our door was open. Two guys walked in, introduced themselves and we started having some harmless small talk. They said they were out trying to meet some of the other freshman and seemed nice enough. Then they broke out a pamphlet and asked me if I had accepted Jesus into my life yet.  Queue the awkward silence as I tried to think of an answer to give them so they would leave and I could get back to my studies. Just so you know, that answer doesn’t exist. I knew if I said no, they would try to sell me on their version of Christianity. I also knew if I said yes, they would try to convert me to their version of Christianity. So I gave the typical, “Welllll, yea…of course I know Jesus” answer. I didn’t think telling the “trick a Catholic into eating a cheeseburger on a Friday during Lent” story was appropriate, but thankfully, I suddenly “remembered” that I had to leave to go to my next class. So I excused myself and left my roommate to deal with them. That was the last time we left the dorm room door open.door-

In a sense, these things also happened back in the early church. We hear about such an event in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. A portion of the Christian converts came from a Jewish background while some came from a Gentile, or non-Jewish background. Some with the Jewish roots were trying to sell their version of Christianity to the Gentile converts. They were claiming that the Mosaic practice of circumcision still must be followed if you were a “real Christian” and therefore saved. So representatives went to the Apostles and elders and asked them to settle the debate. The Apostles listened, prayed and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them to settle the matter.

That is my advice to the graduating seniors, their parents and actually everyone who is ever faced with a situation in need of some assistance and guidance or if someone confronts you about your faith. We all too often forget to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance or to ask one of our elders for suggestions to help us. This is especially important for our young Catholics who are leaving the nest for the first time as they graduate from High School very soon. Temptations are out there…we can’t change that. Someone with a big juicy cheeseburger on a Friday of Lent is just waiting for you to let your guard down. Plus there will always be someone out there trying to tell you that your faith is wrong or unimportant. Hopefully this thought won’t completely freak everyone out and make you want to become a hermit, never leaving your house again. But if it does intimidate you…

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid!”

Jesus-and-Holy-Spirit

We hear in the Gospel of John that our Father in heaven has sent us the Holy Spirit to be with us. He is the keeper of peace and the source of knowledge. However, we need to constantly pray to Him and ask for His guidance. We also need to follow His teachings. Jesus Himself tells us, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my word.” So when in doubt, turn to God’s Word and the Church teachings in a state of prayer to guide you in life. We need to do this because God calls us to be better and not worry about following the latest trends of the world just to be fashionable. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever make mistakes in life.  When we fall, God calls us to get back up, dust ourselves, repent and try again. We need to learn from our mistakes and always strive to live better today compared to yesterday.

So open yourselves up and allow the peace of the Holy Spirit to run through your veins so that He will strengthen you in your time of need to do what is good and right…

come holy spirit copy