Rely on Him

Rely not on your wealth; say not: “I have the power.” Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart (Sirach 5: 1-2).

As a teacher, I often have to tell my students what not to do… I often go throughout the day saying, “Don’t poke your neighbor,” or “Don’t run in the classroom,” or “No! Don’t eat that!” However, in today’s First Reading, it is my turn to be told what not to do. I hear God say, “Don’t rely on yourself,” which is a reminder that I often need.

It is so difficult to let go, to move away from relying on ourselves. Like children, we need constant reminders of what not to do and what we should do instead. In today’s Gospel, we learn how to detach ourselves from self-reliance and different temptations that prevent us from growing closer to God.

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire (Mark 9: 43).

This image really wakes us up to the importance of looking at the world through God’s eyes. The earthly things that we may cling to with our two hands are nothing in comparison to God’s salvation. The Scriptures, along with our life experiences, continually teach us that we cannot rely on our own strength or possessions. Through our joys and sufferings, we learn to fully rely on God.

As Lent approaches, let us pray about what prevents us from following God wholeheartedly. Let us ask ourselves, “What do I need to cut out of my life to follow God more closely, to rely on Him alone?”

Wisdom, Personified

How often do we read or hear something from Scripture, think we’ve wrapped our heads around it, and then later totally get blown out of the water by the same concept? Thank God for His mercy and willingness to teach us the same lessons over and over.

Take a look at today’s first reading:

Wisdom breathes life into her children
and admonishes those who seek her.
He who loves her loves life;
those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord.
He who holds her fast inherits glory;
wherever he dwells, the LORD bestows blessings.
Those who serve her serve the Holy One;
those who love her the LORD loves.
He who obeys her judges nations;
he who hearkens to her dwells in her inmost chambers.
If one trusts her, he will possess her;
his descendants too will inherit her.
She walks with him as a stranger
and at first she puts him to the test;
Fear and dread she brings upon him
and tries him with her discipline
until she try him by her laws and trust his soul.
Then she comes back to bring him happiness
and reveal her secrets to them
and she will heap upon him
treasures of knowledge and an understanding of justice.
But if he fails her, she will abandon him
and deliver him into the hands of despoilers.

-Sirach 4:11-19

How many times have you thought of the word wisdom and already “known” what it meant? To illustrate this point, take a moment to think of the first name that comes to mind of somebody that embodies wisdom.

Who was it? Mr. Miyagi, right? Maybe Morpheus or Gandalf? If you’re lucky, maybe you thought of a spiritual mentor or family member.

Take it a step further: What makes them wise? What does God think is wise?

My wife and I chatted about this one for a while. It’s not really “head knowledge”, nor is it some Hollywood depiction of mysticism. My instinctual definitions of wisdom betrayed the fact that I hadn’t really considered the term from God’s eyes.

So we worked on a better definition, and arrived at 2 key features of a wise person: Peace and Perceptivity. Wise people seem to have an inside source on the way the world works (hm…who might that be?), which allows them to live as the fully integrated version of themselves. They are confident in their worldview and at home in themselves. They are perceptive enough to see movements of the Spirit in everyday events, even when Wisdom “puts him to the test”. Ever thought God was asking you to do something you didn’t want to? I can relate to that. Wise people actually do it.

Take some time to reflect on God’s call to pursue and possess Wisdom today. Think and pray about why today’s reading gives Wisdom the characteristics it does. Why is it a woman? Why does she walk with man as a stranger, then test him, then bring him happiness? I hope that even just a few moments with this dense verse will bless you today.

Fighting Irish

“You’re a natural,” he said with a smile. Though he never explained what location each number corresponded with, I intuitively threw each punch squarely onto his moving mitts. We worked around the ring as I threw a flurry of punches. Breathless and grateful, the timer buzzed.

It’s hard not to love boxing, an artistic and athletic display of grace and strength. However, I’m biased. I’m an Irish Catholic New Yorker and on top of that I’m a red-head. I earned the title of Fighting Irish practically at birth. When backed into a corner, proverbial or literal, my synapses fire so quickly that I’m swinging before I’ve even had time to formulate my animated verbal response. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a Spirit of power.” 2 Tim. 1:7

Then there’s that part where the Gospel mentions to turn the other cheek – an unnatural response in my book to say the least. However, the verse from the second letter of Timothy does not end with the reminder of our strength found in Christ. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self control.” Power is not ultimately found in fighting for its own sake.  Rather, as we fight with strength, may we be directed by the good, guided by love, and harnessed by self-control.

This beckons the question – what’s worth fighting for? How can we spend our time and energy using our talents for that which is good? In order to fight well, we need to first recognize what arena we are called into and which one we need to step out from? Wherever you are called, may you dare boldly to fight the good fight, remembering “it’s not the critic who counts.”

Coop

So I can face my giants with confidence

This is what I’m talking about

There’s a magic in the sound of her name

Open Hands

“They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth. Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” -Mark 9:20-25

I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.

I remember this moment so clearly. It was my first year in NYC a few years back, and I had already adjusted to the rush of the morning and evening commute after spending my whole life in the quiet Midwest. I was going through a challenging time and had been crying out to God for months, asking Him, “Where are You?” Head down, walking at the New York brisk pace, I made my way through the crowd to head home after a long day, the usual question playing in the back of my mind of if anyone else felt so lonely in the sea of so many faces. When I turned the corner to my block in Queens, I glanced up at the big tree across the street from my apartment and a gust of wind blew through its leaves. Then, out of nowhere, it hit me like a ton of bricks: God had been there with me all along. He never left. He was there in my struggle and there in the sea of faces.

I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.

Have you ever had a moment like that, friends, where God cracks through your darkness with His light just enough to make you realize He’s been there all along? I had been living from a place of unbelief for months, questioning where God was when all I needed was Him to lift the veil from my eyes and help me to see the reality of His love that had been right there waiting for me, aching for me, all along.

I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.

Jesus responded to this humble cry of the father in today’s Gospel with intimate love, presence, and healing. He was there. He is capable. Maybe things seem dark for you right now, maybe your heart is aching, maybe you’ve given up on praying about something. Jesus is there in that. He is there with open hands and has been there all along. Jesus invites us into a deeper relationship with Him. He invites us through all the ways He gives us His grace—the Sacraments, prayer, and the reality of His continual, steadfast presence with us. He aches for you.

I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.

This can be the battle cry of our hearts today. Jesus won’t be disappointed if we ask for His help with our unbelief, because when that is uttered from our hearts, we open our own hands to grasp His open hands in front of us, allowing Him to break through and remind us that He is with us and will never leave.

Awaiting the King’s Return

“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” said Aragorn. “You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.”

“I will, lord,” said Faramir. “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which commemorates Christ naming his apostle Peter as the rock upon which he would build his Church (Mt 16:13-19). This man was the first to fill the chair that would come to symbolize the office of the pope as the bishop of Rome. An actual, ancient chair known as the Cathedra Petri is enthroned in the back of St. Peter’s Basilica to this day. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity” (Angelus, Feb. 19, 2012).

St. Peter was not perfect. He was not learned, like St. Paul, or even remembered as the beloved disciple, like St. John. From the start, he tells Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). When called out on the water, he doubts and begins to sink (Mt 14:30-31). Even after receiving his office, when he rebukes Jesus about the first prediction of his passion, Jesus does not hold back in his response, unleashing words more painful than the ones with which he addressed the scribes and Pharisees. He says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). Later, during that very passion, St. Peter would not be standing at the foot of the cross with Our Lady and St. John—he would deny Jesus not just once, but three times, and his denial would end in bitter tears.

However, St. Peter’s imperfections were not the whole story. We don’t remember saints for being perfect: we remember them for their humility, their perseverance, and their self-sacrificial love. This kind of life was the mission Christ called St. Peter to, knowing the shadows of his weaknesses, knowing that the tears of denial would come. After the resurrection, in John 21:15-19, St. Peter is asked three times to love Jesus and to care for his sheep, and he responds this time with humble love—a love which would later lead to his own crucifixion. He persevered to the end as a shepherd of his flock, as a faithful steward, pointing others to Christ as the best man rejoices in and points to the bridegroom, and received an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4).

Other stewards of the King have come and gone. Some have been saints while others have failed the flock they were sworn to protect. But, through any weariness, sickness, or sorrow, the Church stands firm. We rest in the knowledge that “he knows what he is about” (Bl. John Henry Newman), and that the “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). We take food—his very Body and Blood, given up for us in his passion and shared with us each time we participate in the Mass—and receive courage for what lies ahead. We watch and we wait as a bride eagerly awaits her bridegroom, longing to see his face, knowing that our “hearts will rejoice, and no one will take [our] joy” (Jn 16:22). Our Lord is our King, our Shepherd—and there is nothing more we could want.

 

Listening

A Fr. Mike Schmitz homily about St. Peter: https://bulldogcatholic.org/02-10-19-disqualified-unfit/

Hiding in Paradise

A two-year-old niece makes many things more fun, but Hide-And-Go-Seek is not one of them.  Zippy thinks that if she closes her eyes and can’t see me, then I can’t see her either.   Sometimes, to make it more challenging, she puts something over her face as if for a prolonged game of Peak-A-Boo.  Or, once I’ve really hidden—behind the refrigerator, or the door, or under the bed—she will hide there herself.  Again, and again, and again.  Each time, I am supposed to play surprised.

When Adam and Eve hide in the garden after eating the forbidden fruit, God asks “’Where are you?” Surely the omnipotent God already knows.  So why does God ask?  And why does He follow Adam’s answer with still another question: “Who told you that you were naked?”  God wants them to see them as they are, naked and hiding from Him.

In my last reflection I wrote about the strategies of the Opposition Voice, whose goal it is to separate the Father from His children.  He does this first by getting them to reject God.  His next strategy is to get them to believe that God will reject them.

In tempting them with the forbidden fruit, the Opposition had begun to sow doubt in God’s goodness, and thereby to instill a fear of dependence on God.  Adam and Eve are initially tempted to choose self-sufficiency—achieving God-like status on their own, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Once they have eaten the fruit, the voice continues to promote self-sufficiency versus dependence on God.  They seek to cover their nakedness and dependence, and to hide from God rather than trust in His goodness.

As they lose sight of the God in whose image they are, they lose sight of His image in themselves.  “Guilt says you made a mistake; shame says you are a mistake” notes Gregory Cleveland, OMV.  And so to cover the mistake that they think they have become, Adam and Eve dress themselves in fig leaves.

It is an obvious strategy of the Opposition to make sin appear good, or perhaps necessary, or at the very least, not a big deal.  In a more subtle strategy, after our sin, the Opposition seeks to make our sin bigger than God.

After Genesis 3, we don’t get a visual on the serpent again until the Book of Revelation, when the seven-headed ten-horned dragon is at war with the Woman and Her Offspring.  But the Opposition Voice echoes through the books in between, spoken sometimes from without, and sometimes from within.  The first sin is for man to try to become like God on their own.  The second (and all subsequent) sins is to try to become like God on our own.

This is the mistake of the Pharisees, whom Jesus warns against in today’s Gospel.  “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” He tells His disciples.   The disciples are confused, thinking He has rebuked their forgetfulness (once again, they don’t have enough bread).  He recalls to them to the multiplication of the loaves, and asks “Do you still not understand?”

He is bringing them back not just to a previous lack, but to God’s providence in that lack.  It is God who provides everything.  He provides the grace to avoid sin, but also the grace to repent and to return once we have sinned.  He is the source of good, and the source of mercy when we are not good.

The Pharisees wish to adhere to a system of goodness based in the Law and traditions; to systematize a way to heaven with ritual and righteousness.  They cover themselves with the fig leaves of outer conformity to the Law, but like small children with their eyes closed, they presume that God cannot see the truth within them.

It is not the good deeds of the Pharisees that upsets Jesus; it is their reliance on them, versus reliance on God.  At its heart, it is still denial of God’s Fatherhood.

“Where are you?… Who told you that you were naked?”  Because man is now afraid and unable to approach and depend on God, God comes to earth as a naked baby, completely dependent on us.  And He shows us what dependence on humanity alone will lead to, when He is once again naked, stretched out on the Cross.

 

 

 

 

Other Paradise Trees

 

 

 

Don’t Doubt Your Gifts

“The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.” -Mark 8:11-13

“Don’t doubt your gifts.” This is something that has come up many times in conversations with friends recently, and it’s something that I need to preach to myself, as well. God has given all of us gifts to use to build up His Kingdom. God made us all unique and unrepeatable with unique and unrepeatable gifts that He has etched into our souls at Baptism. Every single person in the Body of Christ matters and plays an integral role in witnessing to the Lord’s love. And brothers and sisters, we are at a time in our Church where your “yes” is needed.

You see, the gifts aren’t about us in the first place, and it’s certainly not about us being “good enough” because we aren’t. The Holy Spirit wills to work through us, broken and imperfect as we are, and God is aching for our “yes.” It’s all Him anyway; we just have to be open. And I feel that therein lies the biggest problem. We end up turning inward and closing ourselves off because we’re afraid, feel inadequate, compare ourselves to others, and worry way too much about what other people think of us. Don’t let the devil try to tell you that if you do the things on your heart that are burning from the Holy Spirit that no one will listen or get it. Nope, not a chance! The moment we open ourselves up and let the Holy Spirit pour through, amazing things can happen. Hearts are transformed by His fire.

Do we look for signs to test God or because we are attune to His will? Do we look for signs when we know what He’s calling us to but we’re just too afraid of what might happen if we say yes?

Today’s Gospel cuts to the core. Jesus had just multiplied the loaves and fish, and here the Pharisees are asking Him for another sign. It isn’t that God wants to make our lives difficult or His plans ambiguous for us, but when He has clearly given us a gift or shown us where He wants us to be, who are we to doubt Him and ask for another sign out of fear? We are faced with the choice of running and hiding in fear like Adam and Eve, or trusting like Mary.

God will show us the way—but when He has—don’t doubt it. I know it’s scary sometimes, and it’s okay to feel afraid. But let your fear fuel you into bold surrender to letting the Lord work in marvelous ways. Trust in His peace, take the leap, and follow, one step at a time. He is with you. Hold nothing back of yourself from the One who gives you everything.

“Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.” -Pope Benedict XVI