Dig Deep

“To the penitent God provides a way back,
he encourages those who are losing hope
and has chosen for them the lot of truth.
Return to him and give up sin,
pray to the LORD and make your offenses few.
Turn again to the Most High and away from your sin,
hate intensely what he loathes,
and know the justice and judgments of God,
Stand firm in the way set before you,
in prayer to the Most High God.

Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High
in place of the living who offer their praise?
Dwell no longer in the error of the ungodly,
but offer your praise before death.
No more can the dead give praise
than those who have never lived;
You who are alive and well
shall praise and glorify God in his mercies.
How great the mercy of the LORD,
his forgiveness of those who return to him!” -Sirach 17:20-24

Well friends, Lent is coming. And if you’re like me, that means that over the weekend you listened to as many worship songs as possible with “Alleluia” in them. Just kidding. Well…sort of…haha.

On a more serious note, I have two thoughts to share with you as we prepare to enter into Lent on Wednesday:

  1. Dig deep.

I feel like sometimes we can tend to set the bar way too high or way too low for Lent. I’ve marched into Ash Wednesday before with my mile-long list of added prayer and books to read and email devotionals subscribed to and fasting upon fasting. Not that any of these things are bad, but too many of them usually leads to crashing and burning 2.5-3 weeks into Lent, like a New Year’s resolution gone wrong. Or the temptation comes to set the bar low and not really walk with Jesus through Lent because life is too busy and I’m already doing enough “Lent” things in ministry. Friends, I want to recommend what’s possibly an unpopular or uncomfortable opinion here: I want to dig deep this Lent. I want to get to the heart of what Jesus really wants me to sacrifice and focus on this Lent. You see, sometimes we can even distract ourselves with great spiritual things to avoid what Jesus is crying out from the Cross to our hearts. What is that one thing that Jesus is really calling you to receive His mercy in this Lent? What is your heart aching for Him to redeem? What’s the one thing you know you really need to cut back on that is preventing you from saying a fuller yes to Him? Perhaps a bad habit or an addiction, maybe a sin you really need to address and let Jesus uproot, maybe a lot of fear or self-hatred. The rich young man in today’s Gospel was afraid to go there with Christ, and he went away sad. Let’s learn from him and have the courage to go there knowing that Christ went there first. It could get messy to really go there, but take heart in that the redeeming “mess” of Jesus’ blood spilled out from His broken body for you covers a multitude of our messes of sins, wounds, and the parts of ourselves that are most difficult to face. Jesus is greater than any of the darkest, most buried parts of your heart. And He’s already there. He’s already taken all of your mess into Himself on the Cross with so much love for you. He would’ve died for you if you were the only one left on earth.

  1. Focus on the goodness of God’s mercy.

One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is, “Surely Your goodness and mercy will pursue me, all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). Jesus’ mercy is good, loving, and is nothing to be afraid of. He gazes at you with such love—His bleeding, pierced heart aching for yours on the Cross. When He cried out, “I thirst!” on the Cross, His cry was not just for a drink but for your soul. He loves you that much. I feel that sometimes in Lent if we miss a day of what we planned to do, or if we fail all together, we can give into despair and think we are a failure to God. But just like when Jesus fell under the weight of the Cross, we can get back up and keep going when we fall. His mercy is always available for us, and we are not defined by how “good” our Lent is, or that this person did more prayer and fasting than we did. God writes straight with crooked lines, and maybe He will reveal to you a greater plan for your Lent where He wants to transform something in your heart. Don’t fret. Take it day by day, little by little, eyes fixed on our Lord. Give Him your whole heart as best you can each day. Keep going.

So let’s dig deep and keep our hearts turned towards our merciful Savior this Lent. You will all be in my prayers.

Delighting in the Law

Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.
In your statutes I will delight;
I will not forget your words.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of your law.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.
Lead me in the path of your commands,
for in it I delight.
—Psalm 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34, 35

Often we think of the law as something that places limits on our freedom—God’s list of don’ts. But true freedom does not mean we can act however we please without punishment; rather, it means being grounded in the truth, so that we are free to act in accordance with the purpose we were designed for, without being held back by the snares of sin and self-importance. True freedom must be rooted in truth; thus, it must be objective, not bending to our subjective demands. God’s law is not a list of restrictions; it is a recipe for our well-being, meant to help us to thrive.

Whether or not we believe that God’s law is rooted in truth, we will face the consequences if we choose to disregard it. When we begin to see the ways in which God’s law protects us from harm, we move beyond a sense of mere obligation and start to obey out of love for the God who cares for us and keeps us safe. When we find our will is stymied by His law, we will trust that He has our best interest at heart and seek to understand why He has placed that barrier before us. Ultimately, like a parent who places an arm out to keep their child from a ledge, His law is always for our good.

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/