Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jeremiah 29:11 the Man Has a Plan.....Always

I read a story in the newspaper (well, online on the newspaper's site, anyway) about a New Hampshire man who had jumped off a bridge to his death in Portsmouth. I don't know him or anything about him, but it affects me. It's sad to think that someone can come to a point where they don't value themselves enough to think that they are worth preserving. They think that whatever is facing them is insurmountable, or maybe they just don't have the strength to go on.

There have been times when I have felt those things too. For a period, I think the only thing that kept me from being one of those stories was that I didn't have the 'nerve'. I remember at the time my father had seen one of the poems I had written laying around and any time I was in my room for more than about ten minutes he would knock on the door to make sure I was alright. But eventually I came through it. I was lucky to have the release of time with friends and family that took the edge off of the misery.

But none of us is alone in having those times, having those 'rough patches' and questioning what the hell we are doing here. I still have those times now, only not anything like before. Now I don't see anything as insurmountable, no 'rough patch' that won't eventually, somehow, give way to a new sunrise on 'The Other Side of the Gray'. I have a wonderful wife and two amazing daughters. Not only do they depend upon me, but I wouldn't miss the adventures of our life together for anything. These are the things that make the solution that the poor man sought on the Piscataqua River Bridge unthinkable for me.

While sitting late one night at First Friday Adoration a while ago, I was feeling very unworthy. Directionless, not good enough, kind of like a failure, I guess. And as I sat there it occurred to me that no matter who you are, God had a plan when He made you.
The Creator of the universe, every planet, every star in the cosmos, "knitted you together" in your mother's womb. With all of the things in the universe that are so much larger than we are, He took the time and attention to form you in His image. Wow, you (or I) might not feel like we have a direction, but it seems to me He had a plan for us from the beginning.

" For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

And as if it weren't enough that He made each of us and sent us into the world to fulfill our purpose, He knew that we would fail from time to time, reject Him and rebel against Him. But rather than writing us off as the ingrates that we can sometimes be, He came down to us, became one of us as a helpless infant, suffered and died for our sins so that no matter what happens, if we turn back to Him, we can come home.
I would love to say that these thoughts made me realize that I am worthy and I have not felt like I wasn't good enough since that time, but that's not true. However, since then, whenever I feel that way, I am quick to recall these two powerful truths;

1. God made me for a reason
2. He died for my sins

So even if I don't feel worthy, the care and love that the Lord has lavished on me, truly on every one of us, makes me realize that even when I don't know His plan for me, it is there. When I don't feel like I love myself, He does it for me. And when I don't feel like I am doing 'enough', He thinks that the things I can do are special in their ordinary way and when I do them with His love.

It is not my job to judge where people go when they die, but I hope that God forgives that troubled man, and all that are troubled enough to feel they are not worth his gift of life and reject that gift. I can do my part and pray for them, and all who are contemplating suicide that they may see their worth and the gift that God gives them in the possibility of every new sunrise. There is nothing in this world, no personal failing, no financial catastrophe, no loss, that God's love cannot overcome and bring you through.

God bless,

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dad-to-be Learns Lesson From the Last Supper and His Wife's Dirty Feet

Before we have any out of control rumors, I am not going to be a dad again. At least not as of now. This is something that happened while Kimberly was pregnant with Alicia, and I felt it was appropriate to share as it involved the Last Supper, and today was Holy Thursday.

I've been thinking a lot about sacrifice lately (we are coming up on Easter, after all) and how we are supposed to model our lives in Christ. All throughout the bible, Christ refers often to 'the bridegroom' when He is talking about Himself in parables. Clearly, this is a model for us as husbands and fathers.

As I wrote below, Paul's letter to the Ephesians spells this out for us again, telling us that husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loved the Church. Jesus loved His disciples, the Church at the time, totally, faithfully, freely and fruitfully. Giving of Himself even to His death on the cross, so that love could bear the fruit of our salvation. He was a servant to them, washing their feet on the night of the Last Supper as an example of the humility that they were to display when serving others.

I recently heard a comedian say (and I paraphrase) that marriage isn't about compatibility, it's about commitment. After all, the first time you can't pay the mortgage, what does it matter if you both like red?
It's about waking up every day and intentionally renewing the vow you made to love one another. Because, like us, not every day is going to be perfect.

We need to remember, Jesus did  not say to God, "Okay Father, these poor schleps get their sins forgiven, but what's in this for me?" And if you are looking at your marriage and you're wondering, 'Well great, but what's in this for me?', you're asking the wrong question. The question for both spouses to ask is,' How can I give my total self to you today?'
Again, the bar is set high, and we'll never be perfect, but by aiming for perfection and letting God's grace do the rest, I believe, we can find His peace.

I had a single guy refer to me on Facebook once as a 'man with a leash around his neck'. I responded by saying, "Actually, it's more of a yoke.....'For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' Mt. 11:30"

Enjoy the story about my wife's dirty feet!

When my lovely wife, Kimberly, was seven and a half months pregnant, we could not have been happier or more excited! Every day was a blessing of anticipation for our amazing event.

Kimberly, however, is five feet two inches tall, which did not leave a lot of room for ‘Li’l Baby P’ to stretch out. Particularly considering that Alicia, as she's known nowadays, was 9lbs. 4 oz. When she was born that July. As a result, Kimberly had trouble reaching her feet to wash them. I am a good guy, so, of course, I did what I could to help and that included washing her feet.

Two nights after the first time I had done this for her, I noticed that her feet were dirty again. Knowing that she had been wearing sandals, and since I am less than perfect, I blurted out condescendingly, “You would think if you can’t reach your feet to wash them, you would wear shoes and socks so that they wouldn’t get so dirty.”, and then rolled over, quite impressed with myself!

I can’t reach my feet to put on shoes and socks.”, I heard her reply quietly from her side of the bed.

Realizing how true this was, and feeling like a complete jerk, I said, “I’m sorry.", and then, for some reason, added, "Jesus would not have said that.”, and I rolled back over a little meeker for the lesson.

The next morning I awoke thinking of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper. It is an image so clear because the Pastor of our Church chooses 12 parishioners each Holy Thursday, and washes their feet. I then thought of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he said that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church.

Suddenly it hit me that the Lord had given me a stark illustration of my vocation as a husband to my wife. It is not so often that you receive such a clear ‘Eureka’ moment from The Lord. I was so excited, that I spent my lunch break buying a basin, a loofah sponge, and special soap and lotion for soft, smooth, feet so that I could truly pamper my wife’s tired tootsies!

Later that day, I saw a younger guy I worked with, who was getting married in a few months. I had seen him reading the bible regularly on his lunch break, so I related my story. I told him that as his wedding approaches, he will get a lot of advice as to how his household should run and how he should relate to his wife. I assured him that no matter what else he hears about 'men from Mars' and 'women from Venus', he is already reading the right ‘manual’.

Happy Holy Thursday!

God bless,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday or One day you're the hero, the next day, you're the...Lamb

Today was Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday. We celebrate the day that Jesus entered into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with His disciples and, ultimately to begin His passion. We are reminded that when Jesus entered the city, He was met with crowds of people, having heard of the signs He was performing, they spread out their cloaks and cut palm branches to lay in the road before Him proclaiming "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest."

We are also sharply aware that within less than a week, many of these cries of "Hosanna!", turned to shrill demands to "Crucify Him!" How does this happen? How can the perception of Jesus turn in so short a time period?

Certainly, we need to think of the authoritative voices of the time. Caiaphas, the high priest, pointed out to the Sanhedrin that it was better for one man to die than the whole nation. So they set out to get Jesus and brought Him in like a thief in the night for a mockery of a trial. One wonders if they were more concerned about their power fading, or the fact that if things got too unruly, the Romans would bring the hammer down on them. But they, at least, had a motive for turning on Christ, after all, they weren't too fond of Him to begin with. The thing that amazes me is how quickly the people turned on Him.

But I wonder if I should really be that surprised. It still happens to Jesus every day.

Sunday we go to church, sing hosannas, praise God, take part in the Eucharist, then we leave the building, and even after consuming His flesh, somehow we leave Him at the door.

I'll admit that sometimes I don't even make it out of the parking lot before I louse it up! I sit in the pew asking for the grace to be more like Christ, then the next thing you know I'm sitting in the parking lot thinking, "What is this moron doing?!?!"
I have never seen the phrase 'What is this moron doing?' in the red words in my bible, but there I am muttering them under my breath, because I'm in a hurry to get some munchies before the Patriots' game.

But this is small potatoes compared to our true mirroring of the people in Jerusalem. Look at their betrayal. It is led by a few authoritative voices, swaying some of the public and the rest of them just go along with the crowd. And we all do this in a million different ways, every day. Maybe there are people talking about someone else at the office (or school,  if I have any younger readers) and we just sit there quietly as they tear them apart for no reason. Or worse yet, we jump in just so they don't think we're at all like that 'weirdo'. Remember:
 "I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." Mt. 25:40

Jesus did a lot of teaching in the temple that week, but in the end, they turned their backs on His teachings too. How often do we ignore God's lessons? Sometimes it's because we think they are too difficult to follow, sometimes it's just because they don't fit in with what society is teaching, and sometimes it is just because it doesn't fit in with OUR plans. But in the end, when we ignore God's teaching, we sin against Him. I heard a great talk on sin once by a priest who suggested to his male high school students that whenever they thought about sin (particularly of the sexual type) that they should picture Christ on the cross dying for them. (Can you imagine being a teenage boy with your girlfriend, kissing a bit and then....BAM! there's Jesus dying on the cross flashing through your mind. I'm sure that he inspired a few quiet weekends at 'Lookout Point' through this suggestion.)
But remember, whenever we go against His teachings, we sin against Him. We ignore what His hopes are for what we can be. We disregard and cast aside His love for us. We walk Him to Golgotha.

More egregious still, as this played out, nobody spoke up. His own disciples were scattered. Where was Lazarus? What about the paralytic? The man born blind? The Samaritan woman from the well? ALL TEN LEPERS!?! Nobody stood up to witness for Jesus and tell the 'authorities' that what they were doing was wrong. So what do we do when our leaders and authorities go against God's teachings? Are we the voice crying out for Jesus? Or do we hide, thinking that message has no place in the public square?

"Well, God is one thing, but I can't impose my beliefs on other people." To hide behind this, is to deny yourself a voice. And if you're a Christian, then denying a voice to your principles is to deny a voice to Christ. We are lucky to live in a place where we cannot have any body's views imposed upon us. But don't forget, it is also a place where every voice belongs in the public square, and any idea or principle can win the day. It is not fair for anyone to run you out of the public square just because they choose to live in the darkness.

In the end, we all know that without Jesus' passion and crucifixion, we would not have His resurrection to celebrate. We would not have His sacrifice for our sins. It was all part of God's plan from the beginning. But it seems to me there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the way that this innocent, loving, compassionate carpenter turned teacher who just happened to be Emmanuel (God with us) was put brutally to death because the people who loved Him on Sunday, were willing to stand by as witnesses to His murder only five days later. They all scattered and turned their backs on Him. Reflecting on these things, and realizing how much our world needs His teaching, let's try, instead, to come together and turn the world towards Him.

Have a great Holy Week!

God bless!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Confession, or, 'Why wait 'til I get where I'm going? Jesus will meet me where I am!'

"Yeah when I get where I'm going,
there'll be only happy tears.
I will shed the sins and struggles,
I have carried all these years."
-Brad Paisley, 'When I Get Where I'm Going'

I heard these lines while listening to a Brad Paisley song one day and thought, "Why wait?!?"

One of the blessings of being Catholic is that we have held to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus gave the apostles authority to offer forgiveness in His name:

"And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." John 20: 22-23

And since the early days of the Church, Christians have confessed, repented their sins and moved on intending to sin no more. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near perfect in the sinning no more department. So that makes it all the more important that Christ gave this gift to us that we may find absolution, release our burdens and start over with a clean slate. It stops the downward spiral into sin.

As an example, how many of us have started a diet, lost a few pounds, then slipped, just once, and had a few potato chips? The next day, maybe it's a small piece of cake. The next thing you know you're three days into a "BigMacpizzachocolateshakeicecreamsundaenachosGuinnesscannoliDQBlizzardchinesebuffetwhoopiepie" bender and most of the weight you lost is standing behind you with a billy club about to knock you out and invade your body again. (I know of which I speak far too well, trust me...)

This outcome is less likely if you make a plan, keep track of what you are eating, and give yourself some accountability. Reconciliation is the same way. It makes us examine our conscience, see what junk food our soul has been eating, put down the spiritual box of Twinkies, and move on.

Christ tells us to be humble. What is more humble than sitting down with someone representing Him and the rest of your church community and admitting your shortcomings?
Christ tells us to go, and from now on, do not sin any more. If you go to reconciliation with a repentant heart, then that is your intent. Again, this is a very high bar to set for ourselves, but that is the true intent in our hearts when we confess sins. It is an attempt to put them in our past and move on.
And finally, the best part, Jesus tells us to trust in his mercy. When we go to confession we are trusting that no matter what we bring to Him, Jesus is capable of forgiving us and giving us the grace to move past it and put it behind us. Are we telling our sins to the priest who is just a man? Yes, he is just a man. But when he holds his hand up he doesn't say, "Just because I think I'm an important super-special guy, I say you're good too and your sins are forgiven."
No, the priest says, "I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.". He is there as a representative of the church and the community and to exercise his authority, given to him by Christ, as one of the successors of the apostles, as an imperfect man himself, to forgive your sins, clean your slate and send you back into the world with the hope that you'll sin no more. In a way doesn't it make it more amazing that Christ trusted this group of ragtag twelve (oops, I mean eleven) imperfect men, with such an awesome power?

It's Jesus' mercy that gives them that authority and Jesus' mercy that forgives our sins. It's Jesus' mercy that gives us that hope that tomorrow, we'll do better, and the hope that even if we're not perfect, Jesus will be there in the confessional with open arms, wanting to hear what is troubling us and what we struggle with. He wants us to bring these things to Him and lay them down and accept His mercy.

A lot of people I talk to say, "Why should I tell my sins to another man?". It's not about that other man or even how imperfect he may be. it's about Jesus giving us a way to air these struggles and lay them down. It's a way to acknowledge that there are sins (a truth sorely missing in a lot of the world). It's a way to acknowledge that we are not perfect, but, that we can truly experience Christ's mercy in a tangible way and go back into the world with renewed hope that maybe, just maybe, next time our list won't be so long.

So you can hold on to those sins and struggles until you get where you're going. I'm going to go drop that stuff off now and accept Christ's mercy today. Because when I go and I humble myself to admit my weaknesses and feel His mercy wash over me, no matter what vessel He decides to use, I am born again, every time.

God bless!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

First Friday (04/01/2011) BOUNTY! BEYOND! BELIEF!

Tonight was the first Friday of the month and, as such, my church has Nocturnal Adoration where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed all night. It is a great chance to just sit with Jesus for a while and, as the Deacon at our church reminds me, 'look at Him and let Him look at you.'

This Friday I thought of someone from the gospel whose life was radically transformed by Christ. I was thinking of Peter.

Peter, the imperfect (just like us).

Peter who was the most ardent in trying to 'save' Christ from his destiny.

Peter who cut off a soldier's ear with his sword before being reprimanded by Jesus and then, despite assuring Christ he wouldn't, denied Him three times 'before the cock crowed'.

Regardless of these many failings and outright offenses against Jesus, it was Peter who He chose as the 'rock upon which I will build my Church', simply because through all his failings and imperfections, Peter had a pure love of Christ in his heart.

The incident I thought of in particular, was when Peter was actually called to be a disciple. Picture the scene...

Jesus is being followed by a large group of people to hear His teachings and comes to the edge of the lake. He climbs into the boat that belongs to Simon (Peter) with a look like, 'hey buddy, could you give me a hand here?' and asks if he would put out a little from shore. Peter had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. He was probably beat from casting the nets and then bringing them up again wet, heavy and, worst of all, empty, but he does it. Maybe he was interested in what Jesus had to say, maybe he was punch-drunk and didn't realize what he was doing, or maybe Christ just had a kind look in His eyes. Who knows, we weren't there.

So Jesus teaches the people from Peter's boat and after that, He tells him to put out into deep water to cast his nets. 'Seriously?!?' Peter thinks, 'I've been out here all night busting my hump and this guy shows up, talks from my boat for a while and thinks he's a fisherman?' Again, something tells Peter he should listen to this stranger....and he pushes out into deep water...

His reward for following Christ's plan BOUNTY! BEYOND! BELIEF!
The nets are so full he has to call over another boat to help them pull up the fish! The fish filled both boats so much they nearly sank. I can picture them floating along, water up to the gunwales (even though they weren't called gunwales at the time) limping back to the shore with a huge payload of fish and astounded fishermen.
But before that, Peter recognizes what is happening, falls down at Jesus' feet and lays it all out on the table.
"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" What does Jesus do? He doesn't leap out of the boat and run across the water back to shore, does He? Quite the opposite, He tells him, "Do not be afraid.  From now on you will be fishers of men."
And off Peter goes, giving his life over to Christ.

I thought of Peter that day and how he must have felt. Tired and weary from his own fruitless labors, Jesus comes along and asks a favor. Peter, rather than just finish cleaning his nets and go home, 'Let one of these other guys help him!', decides to stick around and see what the carpenter has to say. And it turns into a life-changing opportunity that provides that BOUNTY! BEYOND! BELIEF! (sorry, I just like that phrase)

How often do you feel that way? Tired, burnt-out, feeling like you're getting nowhere, or worse yet, going backwards! Couple that up with not feeling like you're good enough (Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!) and you're pretty much sitting where Peter was that day. And even though we may not know why he did it, we can learn from his actions that when you feel that weariness and wonder if you can't go on, Jesus shows up. We can choose to keep doing things our way (How's that working for you?) or we can follow Him and His way and get to (here it comes again) BOUNTY! BEYOND! BELIEF!

Now before anyone thinks I'm talking about that whole 'God wants you to be rich' kind of stuff, anyone who knows me knows that I am not rich with worldly wealth. But I am surrounded with love. I have been surrounded by it for a long time and in following Christ (and despite my imperfection and stumbles in that pursuit) I realize that is my (last time) BOUNTY! BEYOND! BELIEF!

And that, my friend, will take you further than anything money can buy.

God Bless!