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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

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Like the sharp, jagged edges of torn metal, I’ve noticed how the negativity of the world has been increasingly cutting into my spirit. Selfish words, destructive attitudes, needless pessimism, paucity of faith – all of this wounds me. I’ve become sensitive to it. I’ve grown to hate and detest it.

The irony here is that I often practice and add to the negativity I so abhor. With my angry words, my criticism, my snarky sarcasm, and my encouragements to discouragement, I become those very edges of metal which cut and tear the tender hearts of others. How sad!

Maybe because of all this, I was recently struck by the words of Psalm 100: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Yes the world is a tough place, yes our Christian faith demands much – even all – from us, yes we can be disappointed by others (even as we disappoint them), and yes there sometimes seems little rationale for hope, but Christ can wipe away our fears and failures with a simple wave of his nail-marked hand. Negativity is not from God, it’s from us. The Christian seeks the light rather than fearing the darkness. We are moving forward into glory, not descending into the horror of hell. So why would there be any other option than to, “serve the Lord with gladness?”

We are blessed, you know. God is working tirelessly in our lives. And it is in the most difficult and trying moments that he often does his most impressive work. But let’s make sure that we are not adding to the Lord’s burden by sowing negativity in his vineyard. Rather than selfish words, maybe we can simply keep our mouths shut. Instead of a brooding attitude, it would be so much better if we sought the good in life (because the good is more pervasive than we imagine). In the place of unhelpful pessimism, let’s try some God-inspired hope. And where faith is in short supply, it may be wise to do the audacious: to believe in spite of our doubts.

Serve the Lord with gladness! He wants to fill us with joy and he wants to carry our burdens. He asks us to be light in the darkness and he asks us to trust in his love. There is plenty of negativity in the world, but far too little inspiration. So as we smile, pray, laugh, avoid speaking ill, and overlook the faults of others, God’s beauty will pervade our hearts, our lives, and our world. This is his promise. Serve the Lord with gladness!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Brothers

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Writing in his Testament, a summary of his life and mission, St. Francis of Assisi uses this intriguing phrase: “When the Lord gave me brothers…” The saint was referring to the men who had joined and followed him, the men that we today call, Franciscans. Francis was giving thanks for these men, but not because the men were continually sources of comfort and consolation, but profoundly, because they were not always sources of comfort and consolation.

Often, maybe very often, the men who Francis lived, travelled and prayed with were also the men who irritated him, frustrated him, and tempted him to anger. Did he love them? Absolutely and without doubt. Did they at times sorely try his patience? Absolutely and without doubt. And yet, in his Testament, he offers thanks to God for these men. What an important lesson for you and me!

We too can ponder that phrase: “When the Lord gave me brothers…” Maybe, through the generosity of Almighty God, we have been given actual blood brothers. Or maybe our blood brothers are blood sisters. Chances are, we’ve been gifted with classmates, teammates and workmates. Those of us in ministry have been given students, youth group members or parishioners.

You teenagers have been given teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors – and yes – parents. The Lord has indeed given us brothers and sisters. Are they a continual source of comfort and consolation? Possibly… sometimes… on occasion. Are they more often a source of frustration, irritation, consternation and even humiliation? Yes, probably so. But, like with Francis in his Testament, those people are the very ones we are asked to give thanks for. Are we able to do so?

I have experienced as a teacher and as a mentor this truth: the kids who have come to mean the most to me are also the kids who can potentially cause me the greatest levels of disappointment and disillusionment. I’ll bet that your experience, whether you are an adult or a kid, is the same. This is especially true in family life. It’s mom or dad or son or daughter – those whom we love deeply and completely – who also cause us the most heartache and the most irritation.

Is the reverse also true? Yes, the successes and achievements of those we love – particularly their “God achievements” – cause great joy and celebration. Such is the complexity and the joy and the sorrow and the “pull my hair out” (actually, I really don’t have sufficient hair to pull on or out, but you get the point) reality of living with brothers and sisters.

What can we conclude from all of this? Consider two points. First, whoever God has brought into our lives, we are called to be thankful. Their presence is not unassociated with God’s providence. Whether they challenge or console us, God is in the midst of that relationship, and he is using the other to draw us deeper into holiness.

The second point is this: let’s not pretend that we are never the “thorn in the flesh” of another. With our own, unique set of idiosyncrasies, eccentricities and irritating habits, we may be that brother or sister who has been given to another as a challenge and trial. Kind of sobering, isn’t it? Maybe someone is saying about us right now, “Okay, Lord, I love him/her, but they are a real pain in my butt!” “When the Lord gave me brothers…” Thank you, St. Francis, for reminding us of our realities.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Gold

vine_message

The saying is a bit dated, a little too simplified, and a smidgeon trite, but doggone it, it’s also absolutely true: God doesn’t make junk. When the Word tells us that we – human beings – are made in the image and likeness of God, it’s an indisputable fact! As God is rational, loving, and capable of incredible self-giving – so are we. And as God is beautiful – we are too.

But we sure do struggle to believe we are beautiful.

I’m always amazed, and not a small amount saddened, when beautiful-on-the-inside-and-out people – especially teenagers – genuinely think they are unattractive. When boys feel this way, they may be hesitant to admit it. The number of girls who look at themselves in such a negative manner is probably large. In the field of healthcare we would refer to this as an epidemic. In the realm of spiritual well-being we can call it a tragedy.

What’s the cause of all this? Why do we think we lack beauty or why do we think we are unworthy of being loved? Certainly we can blame the culture, materialism, the media, secularism, and our winners-versus-losers society. But blaming doesn’t solve the problem. Radical love and unshakeable trust in God are helpful remedies. And a little well-done music doesn’t hurt either. Christian musician Brit Nicole, in her single – Gold – sings this:

“This is for all the girls,
boys all over the world,
whatever you’ve been told,
you’re worth more than gold.

So don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not loved,
and don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not enough,
yeah there are days when we all feel like we’re messed up,
but the truth is that we’re all diamonds in the rough.”

Maybe the words are too simplified and maybe they are a smidgeon trite. But they are true. And I love them.

Remember – you are loved! Remember – you are beautiful!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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For God and others

There is no such person as a selfish saint. Every saint, by necessity and by grace, is a mortified and detached person, who to a great degree, has deadened self-love. The saint, like the Lord who enlivens them, is a person who lives and loves for others.

I recently saw a great example of such unselfishness love. During a Sunday retreat in his parish, I ran across the pastor collapsed in a pew before the Blessed Sacrament. He had the look of a man who was thoroughly worn out. He had already celebrated two Sunday Masses in his church. He had stopped by between them to welcome me to the retreat and say a few words to the kids. Who knows what other tasks, worries, and responsibilities were weighing upon his shoulders. This priest’s fatigue was clearly that kind which comes from the inside out. And there before Christ in the tabernacle, he was seeking the strength to do just a little more. “Are you getting ready for Mass?” he wearily asked me. “Yes,” I replied, referring to the Mass with the kids which would mark the end of our retreat day. “I’d like to join you,” was his response.

And join us he did. Helping the servers to prepare. Reading the Gospel. Leading the song. Encouraging the youth with his example and with his prayer. These were his kids after all. He was their pastor. Of course – and despite his fatigue – he needed to join us.

As you and me approach the holy season of Lent, the penitential practices we have to choose from our countless. We can go to daily Mass. We can offer extra prayers. We can deny ourselves food or technology or other simple pleasures. We can strive with particular fervor to overcome a sinful inclination. At the heart of these all, though, is a desire and a will to deaden our self-love. Lent is a powerful reminder of the ordering of the universe: God first, others next, ourselves last. The penances of these 40 days are an attempt to recalibrate that order.

Are you or I living more for ourselves than is right and just? Almost without exception, the answer is a definite yes! Sure we are tired, sure we are burdened, sure we are asked to do much, but like that pastor at the retreat, let’s turn to Jesus for strength. And then, like my priest brother who joined his kids for Mass, we too will be living not for ourselves, but for Almighty God and for others.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Advent


If you are not familiar with the writings and mystical vision of Caryll Houselander, may I recommend that you become familiar. Her experience of Christ strikes a chord in the human heart. Houselander sees and finds Christ, not by looking beyond the personal and everyday, but by looking deeply within her own soul and her own world. She invites me and you to do the same.

Advent, with its darkness and waiting and call to silence, provides a ready opportunity for such deep looking and finding. Writing of Advent, Houselander observes:

It is a time of darkness, of faith.
We shall not see Christ’s radiance in our lives yet;
it is still hidden in our darkness; nevertheless, we must believe
that he is growing in our lives; we must believe it so firmly
that we cannot help relating everything, literally everything,
to this almost incredible reality.
(The Reed of God)

Maybe, if we’ve been seeking Christ in the brightness and cacophony of busyness and hurry, we’ve been missing him. Possibly, as Advent reminds us, we must become small and still, as Life itself became small and still in the manger of Bethlehem. Darkness does not mean emptiness. Treasures untold may be lying in wait within the darkened chambers of our own souls. God dwells there, does he not? Light from within shines brightly when tinged with the divine.

Caryll Houselander’s, A Child in Winter, makes for excellent Advent reading. Her words also make for excellent Advent meditation and prayer. But wherever your heart may lead you this Advent season, do not forsake the stillness and shadows of the season. Winter is not wholly death, but the stirrings of new life. And as Christ once leapt from heaven to bathe the shepherds of Israel with his light, so still does he come to you and me, in the mundane of today, and in the dark corners of our souls.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Loving Mary

You have to love the Virgin Mary!

Well, um, yes – literally – we have to love the Virgin Mary. She is God’s mother after all! But that’s not what I mean here. What I mean here is this: isn’t the Blessed Virgin Mary simply, incredibly amazing!? Can we ever grow weary of contemplating her virtues!? Is it possible to go to her and not come away a better Christian!? Consider a case in point.

During the moment in history we call the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), God sent the archangel, Gabriel, to tell Mary, an unsophisticated teenager, that she would miraculously bear a son. More than that, this son would actually be the Son, God’s Son! “He will be great . . . and his reign will have no end (Luke 1:32-33),” and it is the very power of God that will do all this! Talk about a moment where one might be tempted to pride and a little self-congratulation. Me or you would probably change our Facebook status to “the King’s mom!” or maybe tweet a little mocking tweet such as, “so you getting followed by #angels?” At the very least, we’d probably slip into a conversation or two that God had chosen us over everyone else (meaning, of course, that I got picked and you didn’t . . . ha!). But not Mary. What did this simple, poor, uneducated teenager do? She immediately – “in haste” – went to serve her pregnant cousin. The King’s mother humbly went to serve.

I guess we should not be surprised by Mary’s humility and her heart for service, for already this chosen woman was reflecting the grace of her unborn Son. Years later, Jesus would remind his friends and enemies alike, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45).” Jesus served others – even to the point of giving his life. Mary too served others, and most especially in seemingly small, hidden ways. Just picture her preparing lunch for Jesus. Imagine Mary doing the Lord’s laundry. These were simple but important moments of service. Therefore, we too can be confident that it is a beautiful thing to serve others in seemingly small, hidden ways. Here are some examples.

When the popular kid at school sits with the quite unpopular kid at lunch – and does it without any fanfare whatsoever – that’s service. When a religious sister patiently teaches the catechism to a not-so-interested student – that’s service. When dad quietly cleans up the kids’ mess at home because he knows that mom is simply worn out – that’s service. When the parish pastor, without announcing his intention, quietly spends the day in prayer and fasting for his parishioners – that’s service. When the dying, elderly woman offers her pain and fear to the Lord for the conversion of sinners – that’s service. Jesus served in just such ways. The Blessed Mother served in just such ways. Hopefully, me and you too, are serving in just such ways.

And remember, you have to love the Virgin Mary!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Peace be with you

Thankfully, you and I don’t have to deal with any stress in our lives . . . . . . (long, confused pause) . . . . . . ha ha . . . ok . . . just kidding! Of course we are stressed; we have a thousand things going on all at once; we are perfectionists who cannot handle failure; people expect the impossible of us; life isn’t fair; there are not enough hours in the day; the sky is falling; lions and tigers and bears are chasing us . . . . . . Ahhhhhh! . . . . . . . kind of scary, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we aren’t making this up. Many of us are indeed stressed in a very real way. Academics, family life, relationships, work, sports, Church stuff, homework, practice, chores, rehearsal, college visits, decisions, illness, appointments and the like add up and weigh down. We live in a world that moves fast. We live in a world that demands much. We live in a world in which production is valued more than compassion. It’s sad.

But let’s come on back to the center.

In the midst of our struggles and in the midst of our stress, even when we are locked away in some upper room for fear of what may come next, the Risen Jesus passes through the walls we’ve erected, stands in our presence, looks us lovingly in the eyes, and says: “Peace be with you.” He really does. And remember, the peace that Christ offers is a peace that the world simply cannot give. It’s a deep and bountiful peace. It’s a peace that doesn’t necessarily remove the causes of our stress, but it’s a peace that allows us to meet our responsibilities and duties in a placid, purposeful, prepared way. It’s a peace that is filled with the very person of Christ.

How do we attain that peace? Prayer. The Sacraments. Scripture. Christ is waiting for us, arms open, gifts wrapped, warm cinnamon buns in hand. He wishes us to slow down, laugh at ourselves, appreciate the beauty around us, and most of all, accept his gift of self. “I love you, I am with you, and together we can do this,” he tells us reassuringly.

Let’s come on back to the center. Let’s come on back to Christ.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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