Do What Is Righteous Now

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without shape and God formed it and gave it life. He created light, land, vegetation, animals. He separated the waters and created the moon and the stars. God created mankind and gave us dominion over all the earth: to fend for it, take care of it, and use it according to our needs. Over the many years of mankind’s existence we have learned many things about the earth: how to cultivate food, that it’s warm when the sun is out and cool at night, that different animals migrate throughout seasons, that clouds bring rain. All this and more we have learned, and we’ve used it to grow and prosper in our societies. All thanks to God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is saddened by the crowds because they do not know what time they are in; they don’t know who He is or why He is amongst them. Jesus reminds the crowds that they can easily tell when the earth is changing, when a cloud rises in the west and it brings rain or when the wind blows from the south and it’s hot. God created the earth; the signs that they interpret are God’s signs which He created so long ago. How come it’s so difficult to see God standing before them now and acknowledge Jesus’ miracles which are happening among them in the present time?

It is easy to only see what we want to see.

It is easy to only hear what we want to hear.

I read and think about the crowd in today’s Gospel and I think, how could they not realize the Son of God is among them?! But then I look at myself—how many times did I ignore the signs God gave me? Too many. I have walked down busy streets, I’ve gotten on the subway, and I have sat at my own dining table ignorant of all the signs God gives me of His presence. Signs to remember His commandments, signs to be kind and loving to my neighbors, signs that He loves me. I’ve chosen to be blind and deaf.

The crowds from the Gospel had missed the sign that God was giving them: it’s time to ask for forgiveness. Jesus is urging the crowds to choose what is right—following God—and asks them to repent. It’s important to ask for forgiveness not only from God but also from anyone to whom we might have done wrong. Jesus tells us that if we are in opposition with someone, we should work to resolve the matter on our own in good faith. If we still bicker and cannot soften our hearts to resolve the matter, a court (a higher power) would rule a decision over us, and the judge may throw us in prison. How much worse is this than if we were to settle things on our own? Friends, this is a clear depiction of Judgment Day. If we die in a state of unrepented sin, we risk our souls going to hell. What a terrible outcome this is! My heart breaks at the possibility that anyone’s soul would forever be separated from God the Father, who loves us so much.

Jesus will come again at the second coming, Judgment Day. But as we wait for Him, there are many signs we should be aware of in the 21st century. We live in a broken world where we will be tempted. People will try to deceive us. Our love for God will be tested. In the first reading, Saint Paul is telling the Romans that the law of man is not equal to the Law of God. By following the law of man alone, we are hurting our relationship with God and giving in to sin. Only God’s grace through Jesus Christ can help us repair that relationship.

As you go about your day and encounter different procedures, policies, regulations, rules—think for a moment: are these things of the world bringing me closer to God, or are they keeping me away from His saving grace? We must be able to see and hear the Word of God in order to do what is righteous now, in the present time.

Image credit: The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo. [Public Domain]

Idol Speculations

Earlier this week two activists made something of a splash when they removed controversial carved images from a church in Rome and tossed them into the Tiber River. Subsequently, Catholic social media has been flooded with commentary about the controversy. Who or what were these images depicting? Was it the Blessed Virgin (an early theory later rejected by a Vatican spokesperson); was it a “simple representation of life” in Amazonian art, or was it a “pagan idol,” specifically Pachamama? And the men who did this tossing—were they thieves, stuntmen, or heroes? An anonymous video showing the Tiber toss was uploaded to You-tube and has since been watched by thousands; some with concern and dismay, some with wild cheering.

The action comes during the Synod on the Amazon being held in Rome, which itself is stirring significant controversy, particularly from many who fear that it will be used as an occasion to change church teaching. Cries of racism have also arisen from both right and left. The left is accusing the right of rejecting Amazonian symbols and culture because they “aren’t white enough”; the right is claiming that the left is patronizing the Amazonian people by “watering down” church practices.

It is not the first controversy for our church. The centuries have been filled with contention and crises and wars against the church from within and without.

In times of discord, of scandal, of challenged faith, what is a faithful Catholic to do?

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells His disciples “Do you think I have come to spread peace? No, I tell you, but rather division.” One might think His word is being fulfilled!

But looking closer at today’s Gospel, we see both the real desire of Jesus, and the response He desires from us in the wake of scandal. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

In these times, more than ever, we must pray.

It is not enough to be a chorus of curses against the darkness. We must BE light. A lightbulb on its own is useless—it gives light only when it is plugged into a source greater than itself. We too must receive from a genuine and literal Higher Power.

Prayer is not merely petition, not merely giving voice to our anger or anxieties. Rather it is to sit in the presence of God, to become one with Him, to learn His mind and His heart and receive His Spirit so that we might bring Him to others.

Our mission is to be conduits of grace to the world. If a stone statue of an idol can bring harm, how much more can a living vessel of the Holy Spirit bring good?

To offer anything less than Jesus is a tragedy. Certainly if apparent idols are presented in the church as alternatives to God, that is a grave scandal. But who do people encounter when they meet us? What are we offering through our lives? In my experience both “outsiders” and we ourselves are much more scandalized by the selfishness, hypocrisy, apathy of any individual professed Christians. We must ask ourselves, when people meet us, who or what do they encounter?

The first work of the Christian is to pray, to become and do the good that God asks of us as individuals.

I do not say this as an excuse to avoid the struggle against evil, to avoid taking sides. Rather, I say that we must not limit that fight to the evil in others.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

That something other than Jesus might be worshipped, that something other than His Mother be honored as ours, is indeed disturbing. But what idols need to be exorcised from our own hearts?

Who do people encounter when they meet us?

Every conversion I have ever heard or read about has been born of encounter and attraction. Sometimes a direct encounter with God, often, first, an encounter and attraction through the life of a Christian. Always it is a movement toward some good, toward joy, toward peace, toward love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Round

“If you want me to go another round I will; but, if I’m being honest I don’t want to.” As I silently prayed, the stubborn resistance softened as tired tears rolled silently down my cheeks. I saw the bloodwork. I knew before she called. It would be another protocol, another experiment that hopefully is not mere trial and error. Obviously, there is enough reason to hope. But when you’ve ridden the roller coaster of almost and maybes, it’s natural for there to be a hesitation. The cloud of disappointment can shadows one’s willingness to try again.  

What areas of your life are darkened by previous disappointments? Where are you challenged to see the reality that the Lord works all things out for the good of those who love Him? How can we bravely begin again? On the feast of JPII, may we imitate the Holy Father who persevered in trial emphatically reminding us “we are not the sum of our weaknesses but rather of the Father’s love for us”. 

Verso l’alto, 

I wanna see you be brave

Even in suffering, I have to believe it

Promise-keeper

“Brothers and sisters:
Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God
and was fully convinced that what God had promised
he was also able to do.” -Romans 4:20-21

Sometimes life can seem so discouraging, right? Sometimes we feel ourselves looking around at everything around us and saying, “What is going on?” Other times we wait and wait for so long that we feel forgotten and ignored by God, as if He doesn’t care about the very desires He has placed on our hearts. Sometimes, it seems like there can’t possibly be a way out of what we’re struggling with, and we’re left wondering if things will ever get better.

God is too good to leave us there, dear friends. He is simply too, too good.

Through it all, He is on the throne. He has got this. He is on the move: working, loving, present, and focused on you, handcrafting a story of glory. We can never get too far off course for Him to not provide and to not come through on a promise. We aren’t powerful enough to lose ourselves beyond the repair of God’s providence. Praise God that He uses His almighty power to bring us back over and over again.

Today’s first reading challenges us to press in, to cling to God as our source of hope, and to know that He keeps His promises. Abraham was promised children when it seemed impossible, and yet he was “fully convinced” that God would keep His promise. It made zero sense given his circumstances surrounding him, but he knew that the impossible is possible for God.

God is our promise-keeper.

God is always, always, always good. In fact, He is too good for us to give into despair. In the light of His wild love, we can trust that at each moment we are held secure, and that He will deliver on His promises to us.

Through it all, God is our constant. When the storms of life swirl around us and toss us about, He is our anchor. God is our steady source of love and hope. And when we keep our hearts laser-focused on His, we can rest secure in His perfect peace. Surely the Lord will keep His promises. He is too good not to.

Is anything too impossible for the Lord? Absolutely not. Take heart.

Holy Spirit, help us to rise up with a new intensity of Your fire today to say a firm “no” to the temptation to despair and to doubt God’s promises. Help us to press into You and rely on You more, knowing that in each moment, You are with us, giving us our very breath. We renew our trust in Your promises today, Lord. We trust that You always come through, that You always make a way. We trust that any impossibility is always possible for You. Thank You for being infinitely good to us, no matter what. Amen.

This song that declares God’s constant goodness was on my heart as I was writing this.

Called to Belong

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” –Romans 1:5-7

Our restless hearts wrestle with the deepest questions: Do I matter? What’s my purpose? Where is my place in this world? Who is God calling me to be?

We desire to belong, to be wanted, to be noticed and seen. We want to be loved as we are. We search for that feeling of home among pockets of family, friends, church communities, and nostalgic places. We tuck into our hearts conversations and moments that remind us of who we are and why we’re here.

Sometimes the striving takes over and the search for belonging becomes a competition of comparison, envy, insecurity, and pride.

Our anxious, searching hearts can find rest in the God of the universe who calls us His own, who enfolds us into His arms and says, “You’re Mine.”

Each human heart is etched with the longing for God. We always belong with God, and not only that, but He calls us to belong. He wants us.

And so we can rest in Him, never having to doubt who we are and if we fit. Never having to feel the impostor syndrome, the lies, the endless questions. In His gaze, all of that fades away because we are His own, and we always belong.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” -Catechism of the Catholic Church 27

Whom Will I Serve?

But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you….
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

—Luke 11:17–20, 23

Each day, every one of us is presented with a decision: Whom will I serve? Will I offer my day up to God, or will I seek to satisfy my own desires and agenda? In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus warns us that we must choose one or the other—we cannot have both. Even in responding to our own needs, wants, dreams, and goals, if we don’t invite God into those areas of our lives, we will find ourselves working against Him, and all our efforts will be futile.

God has entrusted us with an incredible gift in allowing us to have free will, to make choices that have real consequences in our lives and in the world around us. If we continually offer this gift back to Him, seeking to carry out the will of Jesus, then all the powers of heaven stand alongside us. But if we hold part of ourselves back, trying to keep God out of some aspect of our lives, then we become a house divided. This tension within our soul will cause us to stagnate, holding us back from fulfilling the mission God has placed upon our hearts.

The greater our knowledge, the more responsibility we have to guard ourselves against selfishness and sin, for humans are always tempted to use their gifts for themselves instead of in service to our God and Creator. We must always remember that these gifts do not come from ourselves but are given to us by God, and our truest happiness can only come from offering them back to God in gratitude. To drive out the demons in our lives and curb our tendencies toward sin and self-centeredness, we can choose to be grateful and look for God’s presence in every circumstance we encounter. We can open our hearts to invite God to enter into every aspect of our lives. When we give Him permission, He can and will do great things in us, and through Him, we we will begin to discover our true purpose and identity.

If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having….

When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: “Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?” The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all….

The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race….What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Mary always wins.

“The rosary is a long chain that links heaven and earth.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

Mary is with us. The rosary is a powerful, powerful weapon against the attacks of the evil one.

I love Our Lady and I love my rosary, because my grandpa made it for me when I received my First Communion. I carry it with me everywhere–it sits out wherever I’m with my youth ministry teens, I hold it when I’m giving a talk or leading worship, I have it by my laptop when I have a grad assignment to do, and it sits by my pillow every single night. It’s a constant reminder of Mary’s protection and just how much I need her Son.

Though I will admit I’m not the best at praying it as often as I should, just having my rosary there is like having Mom with me. Holding the rosary is like holding the hand of Mary, and she always leads us to Jesus.

I feel like sometimes the devil tries to distort the rosary to seem monotonous or boring because he’s afraid of just how powerful a weapon it is. In difficult moments, or moments where I feel lost, I notice myself instinctively grabbing my rosary to pray, and there is always peace. When we find ourselves too weak to call out to Jesus, Mary does it for us, with so much love in her heart.

Mary is our fierce warrior Queen, fighting for us because she wants more than anything for us to know the love of her Son and to be with Him in Heaven forever. We put her Son on the Cross, and she chooses us anyway because He chooses us.

Over the summer, I heard a story of a priest who is an exorcist. While he was praying to cast out a demon, he noticed that the demon got agitated every time he called for the intercession of Mary. When the priest asked the demon why this was, it responded, “Because Mary always wins.”

Amen, friends. Mary always wins. And as St. Maximilian Kolbe said, we don’t have to be afraid of loving her too much, because we will never be able to love her more than Jesus.

Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, friends! Let’s ask for Mary’s intercession today to help us find Jesus in whatever we need.

For a beautiful reflection on Mary’s motherhood, check out this song.