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!

Patience With God

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 16, 2016)

Exodus 17:8-13

Psalm 121:1-8

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Luke 18:1-8

Imagine you are standing at the checkout counter at Wal-Mart patiently waiting for your turn. Your sweet, innocent little child is standing right next to you. The child then turns their head and gazes at all of the delicious, sugar loaded, chocolate covered heavenly treats right at their eye level. The loving child gently turns their head towards you and says, “Hey dad, can I have a candy bar? Dad, just one? Can I have some candy? Dad? Are you listening? I want a candy bar? Can I get one? Please? Pretty please? I’ll be good the rest of the day. Can I have some candy Dad?” To which you reply, “NO.” “Why not dad? Just one? Please can I have a candy bar? Come on…. It’s just one candy bar!” “FINE! But don’t tell your mother!”

This is the image that came to mind after reading today’s Gospel from Luke. In it, there is a dishonest judge that doesn’t really care about God or people in general. We then hear that a widow wants him to render a just decision against someone who did her wrong. The judge only decides to render his decision due to the lady’s annoyingly persistent pestering of him. He didn’t give a decision based on it being the right thing to do. No, he did it to get her to be quiet and leave him alone. Now, in my candy analogy, I’m NOT saying that anyone who gives their child a candy bar in the check out aisle of Wal-Mart is doing it to simply quiet their kid, I’m just saying…. Well, come to think of it, I am guilty of doing that in the past!

My point is this…. I think too often we act like the kid in the check out aisle or the lady in today’s Gospel when we are praying to God. We tell God what we want in our prayers and sometimes have the tendency to get impatient or annoyed when He doesn’t answer us immediately. Are we doing this because we think we know better then God or is it in hopes that God will get annoyed with us and grant us our prayer just to keep us quiet?

And that’s the problem. God is not a genie that is granting us 3 wishes. Oh how I wish He were sometimes! No. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. He knows what is going to happen to each and every one of us. So when we offer up our prayers, we need to do it in faith that God hears us and has everything under control. And if we don’t get that $1 million lottery ticket, that new job or our sick friend that we’ve been praying for dies… know that there is some greater good to come of the situation no matter how dire it appears.

We get anxious and upset though because we can’t see the entire picture like the way God sees it. We live in the here and now. God lives in the infinite.

I have a priest friend that has been helping me through some recent struggles. He helped me realize that I get very anxious and upset when I focus on what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week or next month. You see… I’m trying to figure out how things are going to end, rather then focus on the here and now. He very clearly pointed out to me that in the “Our Father” we pray, “give us TODAY our DAILY bread.” Not our weekly or monthly bread. We are asking Him to give us the strength and the grace to get through TODAY. One day at a time.

So, you want to pay off a debt? Don’t ask, “How am I going to pay off this $5,000 credit card bill?” Instead think, “What expense can I cut out today which will free up some of my money.”

Want a better marriage? Don’t ask, “Where can I take my spouse so we can have a great vacation next year.” Instead think, “What little thing can I do today to show my spouse that they are the love of my life?”

You see, when we work on the here and now… the good days add up and eventually you’ll have a good week. Good weeks lead to a good month. And before you know it, you realize that God has been there all along, giving you the grace to get through your life one day at a time. What may have seemed impossible, paying off the debt, improving your marriage, suddenly then becomes possible…. All with the grace of God.

And when things don’t go smooth… when your have 4 good days then suddenly things fall apart on the 5th day… look to see what God could be saying to you in that moment. See what went wrong. Learn from it and make the next day better.

Thankfully, God doesn’t get annoyed with our prayers the way the dishonest judge got annoyed with the women in today’s Gospel. God can and will outlast us. So if we keep sending up the same prayer over and over again with no immediate answer, maybe it’s time to shift our thinking. Maybe God’s plan is bigger then our immediate need which, I realize, can be incredibly hard to accept sometimes.

So remember this… God made each and every one of you with a purpose. He wants you all to be loved and to return to Him after your mortal death. Your life here is temporary. Your life with Him is eternal. Trust that God has your best interests in the palms of His hands. Trust that God hears your prayers and is answering them in the way that they need to be answered according to His plans… not yours.

Focus on today.

Turn the anxieties of “tomorrow” over to Him.

Breathe, pray, keep focused…

and most importantly,

be patient with yourself and with God.

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.

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.

Faith Like A Child

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23, 2012)

Wis 2:12, 17-20

James 3:16-4:3

Mk 9:30-37

Today’s Gospel reading from the 9th Chapter of Mark is one of those passages where I just want to shake my head and say, “really?”

Here’s what I mean. By this point in Mark’s Gospel Jesus has already cured a demoniac, cured Simon’s mother-in-law which lead to countless other healings when word got out, cleansed a leper, healed a paralytic after his friends literally tore open a roof top so they could lower him into a crowded house where Jesus was preaching, made a man’s withered hand normal again, calmed a storm at sea, drove another demon named Legion out of a man who was so strong not even chains could hold him down, cured a woman who was suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years, fed 5,000 men with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish, walked on water, healed a deaf man, fed another 4,000 men with 7 loaves of bread and a few fish (apparently this group was a little more hungry than the first group), Jesus then returned vision to a blind man by rubbing his spit in the man’s eyes and finally was transfigured on a mountain top in the presence of the Apostles Peter, James and John.  One would think that anyone who witnessed these incredible events would realize they were in the presence of greatness!

That brings us up to the Gospel passage for today. In it, Jesus explains to the Apostles that he will be handed over to be killed, but will rise from death three days later. To which the Apostles looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said:

“I have no idea what this guy is talking about.”

“Why don’t you ask him what he means?”

“I’m not asking him, you ask him.”

“No you do it, I don’t want to make him mad.”

“Just forget it. What’s really important is that we all understand that I’m the greatest Apostle here anyway.”

“No, I’m greater than you!”

“Oh yea, how many demons have you driven out because I’m up around 25.”

“Well I was the one who helped pass out all of that bread the other day, remember? There were at least 5,000 people there!”

And on, and on, and on… Then comes the awkward moment. Jesus turns to them and asks, “soooooooo, what were you guys arguing about back there?” You can almost hear the crickets in the background as they realize they were just busted.

Why do we do this? This is not a phenomenon unique to Jesus’ time. Sometimes, we let our own pride get in the way of our mission. It’s like we make a checklist for the week to make sure we cover our minimum duties and are ready to pull it out to prove we are better than “that guy over there” because at least we did this stuff! Sunday Mass, check. Prayed before meals, check. Said my Rosary, well one decade, so half a check. Put some money in the collection basket, check.

But the real questions are these: Were you actively paying attention during Mass? Did you really put your heart and mind into your prayers and have a deep conversation with God? Did you make a prayerful contribution to the collection basket or just throw in a few bucks? Did you ask God what His will is for your life? What about the other six days of the week? Being Catholic is not about checking boxes off a list and doing the bare minimum. It’s about having faith in Jesus Christ and His Church and showing that faith in our daily actions. It’s about service to God and His people. What God-given talents are you using to help promote the Gospel? How much time are you giving back to God?

Jesus knew what the Apostles were arguing about that day. He could have easily just walked up to them and asked, “have you not been paying attention? Have you not seen all of the charitable deeds I have been doing? Do you really still not know who I am?” Instead he tried to refocus their minds and basically said, “You want to be the greatest? Then go serve others. Make yourself less so that others can be elevated. And while you’re serving, serve like a child because a child loves unconditionally. A child represents innocence and doesn’t get caught up in prideful ways like some adults. They are pure of heart. They have not yet been corrupted by the world.”

This really clicked for me a few years ago. Angie (my wife) and I went to our first Christian rock concert up in Lexington and saw Jeremy Camp. We were sitting there enjoying the music, when the gentleman next to me raised one of his hands during a song. I didn’t know if he was trying to ask a question or was waving at someone. Then he slowly raised the other hand and stood up. So both arms up, eyes toward the ceiling and slowly swaying back and forth. Feeling very uncomfortable, I leaned towards Angie and asked, “what’s the deal with him?”

It wasn’t until I read something from St. Therese of Lisieux a few years later that it dawned on me what was going on. St. Therese described her faith like that of a child. She said this because she never considered herself great or mighty but yet she always had unconditional love for her Father in heaven no matter what life sent her way. Then she described what I witnessed at that concert. What happens when a child raises their arms up to their father in love? The father’s heart melts and he has no choice but to reach down and pick up the child. And he doesn’t just lift the child up, but will often raise them up over his head, higher than anyone else standing near by as he gazes into their eyes with pure love. The man beside me was caught up in the prayerfulness of the music and was worshiping God like a little child, with arms raised. This is what Jesus was trying to get the Apostles to understand. We need to be a servant to others and remain pure of heart like a child. Perform acts of kindness because it’s right, not so we can brag about our good deeds to others. Serve the poor, help those less fortunate, protect those that can’t protect themselves, donate money to a good cause and let your good actions influence others to do the same. If you do this and have pure intentions like a child, then we can confidently raise our hands up to our Father in heaven and He will lift us up out of the depths, dirt and grunge of this place and elevate us above the world to be united with Him in our heavenly home.