I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN An Ascension Reflection

Ascension

When I became a young adult and moved away from home, a visit back to spend time with my parents was a favorite trip of mine. The unconditional love I received along with the yummy homemade food made it hard to leave. I yearned to stay longer and would often delay my parting. Nevertheless, I treasured the way my parents said goodbye when it finally was time for me to go. It was simple and sweet. They would walk me outside, give I-love-you hugs by my car, and as I backed out of the driveway and headed down the street, they would stand there watching and waving. As I looked in my review mirror far down the road, their now tiny silhouettes would still be there- watching and looking.

I now find myself doing the same thing when our grown children leave from a visit home. I stand there watching and waving as they drive away. Happy for the time that we had together, and longing for when we will see each other again.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, I imagine that the apostles had those same feelings. The presence of their loved one was gone and there must have been an emptiness. They looked intently as he departed, longing to keep that connection with him. Gazing and wondering if they would see him again. The apostles’ desire…my desire…your desire is fulfilled in Jesus’ promise. He says “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:22.

Let us pray:

God our Father, make us joyful in the ascension of your Son Jesus Christ. May we follow him into the new creation, for his ascension is our glory and our hope. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal

What Hurt More?

Crown of Thorns WHAT HURT MORE

What hurt more my Lord?
Having the leather whip scream through the air, repeatedly slicing open your back?
Or hearing the crowd scream to release Barabbas instead of you?

What hurt more?
Having your skull pierced with ridiculously large thorns?
Or having the soldiers ridicule and mock you saying “Hail, King of the Jews?”

What hurt more?
Falling on the rocky road with the heavy cross pinning you down?
Or people falling in line along the path to look down at you-like you were some sick form of entertainment for them?

What hurt more?
Nails being pounded into your hands and feet?
Or the pounding of your disciple’s feet as they ran away in fear and abandoned you?

Jesus’ response to all those hurts-and many more hurts-were the merciful words he spoke on the cross before dying for us…”Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

Let us pray:
Dear Lord, I am sorry for hurting you. Thank you for your merciful forgiveness. Please help me to love like you. Amen

STRONG FINISHES for the Oops, Ouch, and Oh My!

Horizontal Strong Finish

As a track coach I preach and preach to my athletes about the importance of strong finishes. Digging down deep and giving it your all as you close in on the finish line can make a big difference. Strong finishes are about determination and courage. Perseverance and focus. Discipline and commitment.

Strong finishes of course don’t just pertain to races on the track, but to projects and commitments we make throughout life, like the finish line that is fast approaching; Yes, the end of Lent is just around the corner with Holy Week and Easter on the horizon.

Jesus arguably had the strongest finish in the history of mankind. His strong finish included temptation and suffering, which he endured for our sake. As followers of Christ, we are called to walk in his footsteps. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. Just take note: Strong finishes are momentous not because they are easy; strong finishes are remarkably significantly because they are hard!

This is a Lenten checkup with suggestions for a strong finish. No, it will not be easy to finish strong, but out of love for the Lord, I ask you to join me in taking on this challenge. If you do an honest reflection you will probably find yourself in one of these three categories: The Oops category, the Ouch category, or the Oh My category. Or, you might fall into several of them. Read and see.

  • Oops!

The Oops category is for those who may be saying, “What? It’s Lent? Oops…I am sorry to say that I haven’t done anything!” Or maybe this is you… “Yeah, I know it’s Lent – I kind of thought about it, but I’ve been overwhelmed with the business of life, and oops, I really haven’t done much to strengthen my relationship with the Lord.”

Strong Finish Suggestion: This one is obvious. You can’t have a strong finish if you’re not even up and going. It is never too late to start! So, get up and go! Don’t despair on the time you have missed, focus on the good you can still do. Make a commitment now to do something in the areas of prayer, fasting or almsgiving. Don’t spend too much time pondering the options, just pick something and get going. Here is a list of ideas to get you started.   What-to-Do-for-Lent

Scripture Meditation: Matthew 21:28-31 “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not.’ But afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will or his father?” They said, “The first.”

Prayer: Lord, I am sorry. I really haven’t done much this Lent so far. I know there is still time. I will start today. I know I can do this with your help. Please fill me with determination and courage to finish strong.

  • Ouch!

The Ouch category is for those who may be saying, “Yes, I know it’s Lent. Yes, I made commitment to do certain things, but I have failed. My attempts to do more prayer, fasting or almsgiving have not come to fruition. I have fallen down on this spiritual journey.” Or maybe you have done OK in some of the areas you were focusing on, and not so good in others.  Remember that Jesus fell down on his journey to a strong finish. Three times!

Strong Finish Suggestion(s): Yes, it is hard to get up and try again when we have fallen. The temptation to quit is strong. Our Savior experienced that same temptation on Holy Thursday when the immensity of what laid ahead of him was so overwhelming that he pleaded in prayer, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let our will be done, not mine.” Luke 22:4.

Note that he was in prayer. It is important that we do the same! When we have fallen and we’re on our knees, that is the perfect time to pray and ask the Father for help. He will strengthen us just as he did his son. Keep your focus on doing God’s will and get back up when you fall. Every. Single. Time.

Scripture Meditation: Psalm 118:13 I was falling, but the Lord helped me.                      Hebrews 12: 1-3 Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.

Prayer: Lord, I offer you my failures and my attempts. I know you can give my stumbling direction. I reach out to you in my fallen state and ask for your hand to help me get up, to keep my focus on you, and to persevere for a strong finish.

  • Oh My!

The Oh My category is those who might be saying, “Yes, I know it’s Lent. Yes, I made a commitment to do certain things, and Oh My! I have done pretty good in all my commitments!!”  Maybe you picked some things that were kind of easy, or maybe the commitments you made turned out to be not as hard as you thought they might be. (Or maybe you did pick some challenging things to do and have worked really hard at keeping your Lenten promises. Good job!)

Strong Finish Suggestion(s): Keep doing what you have been doing, but now it’s time to dig down deeper for God. Ask the Lord to show you what else you can do to have a remarkably strong finish. Maybe if you gave up cheese for Lent, he might ask you to ramp it up and give up all dairy products! If you promised to pray more during this holy season, he might challenge you to now ask other people to pray with you. I don’t know what your kick-it-into-high-gear task might be, but if you examine yourself honestly, asking the Lord for direction, he will show you.

Scripture Meditation: Mark 10:17-21 And as he was setting out on his journey a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him… “You know the commandments: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor our father and mother.” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, “Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for the spiritual journey of Lent in which you have traveled with me so far. Thank you for enduring temptation and suffering for me. I accept the challenge of walking in your steps. Please give me an extra outpouring of your grace to strengthen my discipline and commitment that I may finish strong for you.

 

I could finish this piece with words of a coach screaming, “Come on! Give it all you’ve got! Dig down deep! Push! Push!! Push!!!”  I could tell you about the importance of crossing the finish line with maximum intensity so you can hold your head high, knowing that you did your best. I could tell you how strong finishes can strengthen your will and fortify your character.

However….

This is not about running a foot race to earn yourself a medal. This is not about finishing a stellar project at work so you can get a promotion. And it’s not about finishing strong to raise your self-esteem. This is about finishing strong for God! This is not about finishing in 1st place…it’s about finishing with grace!

This is about dying to self. (No, it won’t be easy.) It’s about focus and discipline in doing God’s will. (No, it won’t be easy.) It’s about growing closer in your relationship with the Lord. (No, it won’t be easy.)

This is about preparing for the glorious “finish line” of Easter. But quite honestly, it’s about something much bigger than that.

It’s about life. It’s about striving to finish the race of our life in a manner that glorifies God. It’s about following in Jesus’ footsteps in a way that attracts others to join the spiritual journey. And hopefully when we cross THE final finish line into everlasting life we will hear the words, well done, good and faithful servant!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Just “Bump into” Jesus (And other things we can learn from Berenice)

Touch his tasselA large crowd followed and pressed around him. (Mark 5:24) And rightly so. Jesus had just healed a man possessed with numerous demons and was on his way to the house of a synagogue official who had begged him to heal his gravely ill daughter.

As the crowd bumped into Jesus, hoping to see his next “show stopping” miracle, a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years discreetly made her way through the mass of people. She had suffered much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and was not better but worse. (Mark 5:26)  She secretly touched Jesus’ garment and was healed. Tradition tells us that her name was Berenice.

We can learn from Berenice, especially as we prepare for the upcoming season of Lent. This desperate, penniless, physically-drained woman touched my heart as I listened to the gospel reading the other day. And I would like to present some points to ponder regarding her story:

  • Don’t Just “Bump into” Jesus

Intentionally seek Jesus out. Berenice had an intense desire to get close to Jesus. Do you want to enter into Lent with a desperate desire to get close enough to touch Jesus as Berenice did? Or will you just follow along with the crowd and bump into him periodically throughout the season?

All practicing Christians “bump into” Jesus during their lives, such as when a prayer is said before meals, or when you go to church on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong-those are good things to do. But have you ever thought that Jesus wants you to do more than just “bump into” him?

Being a tourist- a sightseer- through Lent is easy, but going on a pilgrimage, a special spiritual journey during the season is the challenge. Ask God to show you now (don’t wait till Ash Wednesday) what he would like for you to do this Lent.  Then make those plans that will help you grow closer to him during the 40 day spiritual journey.

  • Surrender and Prostrate Yourself

Berenice was considered unclean by Jewish law because of her issue with blood. She lived in constant social and religious isolation. This is why she strived to go unnoticed and came up from behind him. (Mt 9:20) She knew of her “impurity” and prostrated herself. She surrendered totally and sought out his healing.

It is not always easy to say that we need help. That we are hurting or struggling, or that we have failed in something. What are your pains? What/who are you tired of dealing with, fighting with? What exhausts you? Maybe it’s a physical aliment like Berenice. Maybe it’s a strained relationship. Maybe it’s a situation at work. Or maybe you have done things that you consider unforgivable.

We can fall into the trap of thinking we need to deal with these issues all on our own. But surrendering totally to Christ and laying our troubles at his feet, is the way to go. This Lent, God is calling you to give him all those heavy burdens. He wants you to give him everything, yes- even those “impurities” you are ashamed of. Empty yourself, and lower yourself before the Lord this Lent.  Surrender and prostrate.  He will heal you completely, just as he did Berenice.

  • Act in Faith/Pray for Faith

If only I touch his garment, I shall be made well. (Mt 9:21) Berenice believed that Jesus would heal her. She did not plead with Jesus face to face for him to touch her. She had confidence that if she only touched the tassel of his garment she would be healed. And of course she was! Then Jesus said to her, daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace. (Luke 8:48)

Having faith is obviously an important thing. And we should grow in our faith. In Luke 17: 5, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. We too can struggle with the issue of faith. We might wonder, do I have enough faith? How can I increase my faith?  Faith is a spiritual gift from God. Faith can be increased by prayer and by acting in Faith (just as Berenice acted in faith by reaching for Jesus’ garment.)

One of my favorite prayers regarding faith is from the father whose son is possessed and pleads with Jesus, “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!” (Mark 9:22-24)  This is a prayer I bring before the Lord often: God, I do believe, help my unbelief. This Lent-and beyond- God would love to increase our faith. We just need to ask him; pray and ask him to help us.

In closing:

  • Seek the Lord intentionally and purposefully this Lent. Make a plan that will help you to grow closer to him.
  • Surrender yourself totally to Christ and bow before him as your God and King.
  • And, act in faith as well as pray for the Lord to help increase your faith.

Berenice (and others in scripture) can teach us so much. Is there anything about her story that left an impression on you? How is the Lord calling you to be more like Berenice this Lent?

Where is the Newborn King?

Where is the Newborn King

Where is the newborn king? This was the question that drove the Magi on their long journey. They were wise, so they went to the most logical place to find the newborn king of the Jews, the holy city of Jerusalem- but unfortunately it was the wrong place!

When in Jerusalem they inquired, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” (Mat 2:2) King Herod heard of their quest and was troubled. So he met with the Magi to ascertain from them what time the star had appeared.

Herod gave the Magi the information that the new king had been prophesized to be born in Bethlehem. He sent them off saying “go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” (Mat 2:8) This of course was a lie; he did not want to worship the new king, but destroy him.

The Magi continued their mission to find the new king with the star leading them. They were overjoyed when the star “came to rest over the place where the child was.” (Mat 2:9) They rejoiced when they finally found who they had been looking for.

The king they were looking for had been born in a stable; a crude and unexpected place for someone of royalty. The king was born into a poor, simple family. Yet the Magi hailed him, and fell down and worshiped him, offering him their gifts.

The wise men initially looked for Jesus in the wrong place, just as we do sometimes. We seek in the wrong places too! We think our spouse, a job promotion, a dream vacation, a bigger house, a smaller waist, popularity, etc. will fill our emptiness. We sometimes get drawn into the impressiveness of “Jerusalem” and lose sight of the star-the light of our true pathway.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Only in God will (man) find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (27) To find the joy the Magi found, to experience deep happiness and peace, we need to keep our focus on the star; the true light from our Lord. Know that he can be found in the most unexpected corners of our world!

And if we make a “wrong turn” as the Magi did, don’t give up. Keep seeking the divine. “Because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.” (CCC 27) Another way to say it is that we have an internal homing device, placed there in our hearts by God, and he never stops drawing us to him; just as the Magi were drawn by the star to Jesus.

Our Lord is calling-we need to keep focus and be diligent in our search; and upon finding him, rejoice! Honor him, and give him our gifts.

To close, I want to pose an interesting question regarding this piece Where is the Newborn King? The Magi found the newborn king in a most unexpected place, so I ask you, if Jesus was born today, where do you think he would be born?

Make a New Year’s Resolution with the Holy Family

Holy Family into Egypt

If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, or even if you have, the Holy Family has something to offer you. This year, New Year’s Eve happened to fall on the Feast of the Holy Family, which provided an excellent opportunity for me to reflect on this humble family, and to consider what they can teach us regarding the resolutions we usually make.

As I thought about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all they went through, one thing kept coming back to my mind over and over again. A virtue that I noticed they all possessed. A quality that seems to be lacking in our world, and something that God has challenged me personally to work on. It is something most people don’t like, and it is usually considered a vice rather than a virtue. What is it you may wonder? What trait did all members of the Holy Family have, but we need to work on? Obedience. It is the virtue of obedience.

Ouch! The word has a bite to it I know. Mainly because we value our individual freedom and independence. We want to do things our way. We ask selfish questions such as “Is this in my best interest?” Or “What’s in it for me?” Imagine if Mary told the Angel Gabriel that becoming pregnant before she was married to Joseph was not in her best interest? Or if Joseph told God after the angel visited him in a dream that there was nothing beneficial for him in this big mess and that he was bailing ship? Even though what was happening to them didn’t make sense, they trusted in the Lord and obeyed.

Mary’s words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to our word.” (Lk1:38) is a beautiful example of obedience. She obeyed “blindly,” having faith that God knew what was best. And Joseph gives us a good example of immediate obedience. After Jesus was born, an angel came to him in a dream at night and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you: for Herod is about to search for the child and destroy him.” (Mt 2:13) Joseph rose and took Jesus and Mary immediately out by night on the long journey to Egypt.

Jesus also showed obedience in his childhood- to Mary and Joseph, and then on into his adulthood. For example, when Jesus was experiencing tremendous agony in the garden before his crucifixion. He pleads with his heavenly Father “If you are willing, remove this chalice from me; nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours.” Lk (22:42) Not my will be done, but yours. That was the prevalent motto of the Holy Family. Accepting the will of God with total obedience to their Father.

The Holy Family is a model for us to imitate. Obedience is something we can all work on. So, I invite you to join me in working on obedience in 2018. It won’t be easy, but with help from the Holy Family we can grow in this virtue. One way to bring the virtue of obedience with you into this new year is to reflect on something that you struggle with obeying. Maybe you struggle with following a teaching of the faith. You just don’t “get it,” or you think that following the teaching is not really in your “best interest.” Your prayer can be God, it is hard for me to be obedient. Please help me to trust like Joseph. Help me to say yes like Mary, and help me to do your will like Jesus.

Or maybe this New Year instead of asking yourself, “What can I do to become a better person this year?” Why not ask God, “Lord, what do you want me to do this year to become a better person?” Yes, ask him to let you know what New Year’s resolution you should make! Then listen; be attentive. He will let you know.

Truth be told, saying YES to God’s plan and saying no to your own plan is difficult. It is a yes to love, but also a yes to sacrifice and hardship. It will be hard to confront our seemingly unyielding defiance towards obedience. So prayer; the quiet listening kind, like in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, is paramount in this undertaking. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to God’s grace, then amazing things will happen. For his plans for us are way, way bigger and better than any plans that we can create or imagine for ourselves.

Know that if you make a New Year’s resolution with the Holy Family regarding obedience, you will have the best teachers in the world as your companions through these next 12 months. And though it will be a demanding and challenging journey, take to heart what the angel told Mary-it is a message for all of us. That “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) With God being the key words. We can’t do this on our own.

May God shower us with grace as we strive to grow in this virtue.

Have a blessed (and obedient) New Year everyone!

Stretch Out Your Arms

Stretch Out Your Arms

One of my favorite things about going to Mass during the Christmas season is seeing the nativity set. My most favorite piece, the one that always mesmerizes me, is the infant Jesus.

The infant Jesus at our church has his arms extended – reaching out with love to embrace us – as if the baby already knows his role. His arms reaching out to serve, his hands ready to heal. The young arms of this child will grow and stretch out on a cross to show us how much he loves us. The tiny hands of this babe will have bloody holes in them to save us. That’s what I always saw. The beautiful Christ Child reaching out to me and showering me with his love.   A love that I joyfully accepted, but usually kept for myself.

Then, a few years ago, it changed.

No, they did not change the nativity set. All the figures and the baby Jesus were the exact ones they had always used. But this particular Christmas I saw something different when I looked at the Christ Child with his arms outstretched.

Infant Jesus looked at me and pleaded with me, “Will you embrace me? I need you to pick me up and love me.”  The “me” I realized he was referring to was all those in my life who I was struggling with loving. Jesus wanted me to embrace his love, and then share it with others. The Baby was inviting me to change; to stretch out and give his love to those who needed it most.

So consider this when looking upon the infant Jesus in the manger this Christmas:

  • Yes! Embrace and accept his love, but don’t stop there….
  • Ask yourself–Who does that meek and helpless baby represent? Who in my life needs me to embrace them with the love of the Christ Child?
  • Then stretch out your arms and ask for the grace to do it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!