Worth Revisiting: 1st Things First

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“To believe in Jesus’ divinity today is to make him and what he stands for your God” Albert Nolan

It is to understand Christ as the supreme power in your life, your source of meaning and strength. This approach moves away from a very metaphysical discussion of Jesus regarding the full divinity and humanity found in early church theology to a very practical understanding on the priority we place on Jesus in our own lives and an emphasis is on the lived reality of Christian discipleship. If Jesus is to truly be understood as divine, then there should be a corresponding commitment that places the message of Jesus and his mission toward fulfilling the kingdom of God first in their lives. Indeed it is the very definition of praxis which involves both critical reflection and also concrete steps or choices to the belief.

Therefore, in considering whether Jesus is God for us today..

perhaps that is exactly how we need to look at it, in each and every day. Some days the answer for us will be a yes, and it is then we realize the meaning and strength he provides for our lives and what is being asked of us as well. A couple of days ago a friend came to my door, quite unexpectedly I note because we were to meet later to have coffee. Yet, her family concern could not wait and I realized very quickly that God was asking me to make her concern, and therein God’s concern, my first priority. After we had spoken, we prayed together, and she left at peace. No matter what else I had planned that day, this was where I was meant to be. Putting Jesus in first place, doesn’t have to be accepting a mission in the Congo, although that is a very beautiful choice. It is saying yes Lord, to these opportunities to discover him through those we encounter.

We also begin to see very clearly the recognition of the grace that we receive when we do put God first in our lives. Especially, when the things of this world that we have placed on that high glass shelf for display comes crashing down upon us. It is so often in those moments that we truly realize that those things which we held dear or prioritized cannot give us the power, meaning, or strength when we need it most. Here, I believe, is when we tend to reevaluate that first place position, and recommit to God: recognizing that he is the only one deserving of that place.

This very compelling argument holds that our understanding of Jesus as divine encompasses the formulated creeds and theological concepts that have been worked out but goes even further.  What we witness in the life of Jesus, and through his choices we first come to know the Divine. Yet, Jesus’ divinity is not limited to a particular time but is actively present and experienced whenever we seek to place him first, and wherever there is an inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Therefore, others are given the opportunity to see the divinity of Jesus in the lives that we lead, and the choices that we make. However, if we make other things our “divine”, then our words are merely that..words and not faith in action or revealing of the divine. In this, I am reminded of one of the most memorable quotes of Karl Rahner that says,

“The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.”  So powerful.

Early on in my involvement in ministry, I was told that you could often tell within a few conversations where people placed their priorities. Although, I still find it difficult to use the word idols, it does appropriately describe placing anything above God. The call to discipleship to me speaks to a commitment that goes beyond a faith of convenience- it is a passion of compassion that seeks to actively work even in small ways to bring hope to those with none, and speak for those who have no voice. It means making family mass a priority, and service a part of our everyday lives. So, if we take this understanding to heart, we do have a need to redirect our hearts, minds, and lives to truly placing God first in our lives.

Reflect:

Can I truly say that I see and trust Christ to be the the supreme power in my life today? What things do I place above God in my daily walk of discipleship?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Church on the Margins

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Evangelization

is at the heart of the church- for to share the Gospel is to consistently invite all to continual renewal of heart and to lives committed to the living out of discipleship. This living out of the Gospel in our lives can be the greatest witness to the truth of salvation, and invitation to the world who has yet to know the living Christ. More than a feeling or a philosophical premise for our own individual lives, each of us is called to physical and tangible action. As a church then, together, we bridge the Good News and the social action in the midst of the world that has yet to know the saving power of transformation.

“To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world…The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centered on charity.” Pope Francis, Evanglii Gaudium

The kerygma then has concrete social demands in a world that is hungry, suffers violence, sickness, and indignity- it is the language of encounter. As scripture relates, it is the fullness of love expressed in mercy and justice, not just towards a few but towards all for the good of all. Thus while the Gospel is personal for each one of us it is inherently social.

“Beware then of stopping at a sterile contemplation of God present in yourself . Add action to contemplation; to the sight of the Divine presence add the faithful accomplishment of the Divine will.” St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

Agreeably these demands of the Gospel can be quite challenging at the parish level as we seek more than a few isolated acts of charity and work towards becoming a committed church on the margins. Challenging yes and yet impossible-no.

This week, our suburban Catholic parish collaborative hosted a community panel of on the ground workers speaking to violence and healing within the inner city of Boston. From the vibrant small Presbyterian church in Roxbury, Rev. Liz Walker has found that the daily struggles of poverty and violence are inseparable from the task of evangelization. Along with fellow vineyard worker Nancy Kilburn, a monthly fellowship was begun to meet the trauma of the families and community affected by violence. In these “Can we Talk” sessions, the church seeks to meet the grief experienced through sharing a meal together, providing mental health support, music and even exercise.  While listening to the story of a mother who suddenly had lost her son to gun violence, our hearts ask how we can ever hope to heal the loss she feels. And yet this church community has helped to ease the loss, by providing the space to give voice to the pain these mothers, fathers and community have experienced.

What is a church on the margins- a church focused on the active work of evangelization?

In short, a home not only where we each experience Christ, but one where we meet Christ in one another daily. The kerygma moves not only within a congregation but through doors that are open, in disciples equipped to share what that love of Christ has done in their lives by committed action to those most in need of love and healing. Perhaps you ask what is the work that I am called to do? Take time today to consider the needs of your greater community that may not be met sufficiently already. For example, in a community where poverty abounds, meal centers are seeds of transformation and healing. Notice how often Jesus came to table?  And still even with a ministry that is presently active, know that there is a way for you too to become involved.

Reflect:

What are ways that I see my own faith challenged in giving voice to the Gospel? Have I given a ready witness to the love of God in my life by my action to love of neighbor? How can my parish community better serve the needs of the larger community, and what role can I serve in working to make this a reality?

Peace,

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Waking Up to Lent

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
Isaiah 60:1

A purple sky gradually taking on the coral, rose and gold tones of the break of day, what  a spectacular sight to behold. Since I was quite small, I have cherished the soft warmth of a sleepy awakening nestled under the protective covers of a new morning. It is where the day before has been put to bed and the new day awaits to be discovered. Hushed stirrings of hope and a renewed resolution to seek a will other than my own. Where my heavenly Father has my undivided attention, and discernment takes shape in the freedom to surrender any preconceived notions of completeness.

And while it may be so tempting to remain where we are, undisturbed by the demands of others, our Father calls us onward constantly to a graced life of encounter. Eyes opened to see Christ in one another and hearts prepared to experience the deep contrition for our failure to love. Here, we are called to live out our discipleship not cloistered away but in the very midst of community. Where knees are made firm, hearts rended and hands strengthened for the work ahead.

In these moments Father, you are lovingly and continually recreating me.

Lent comes to us in the drowsiness of winter and beckons us to be awakened recreated anew.  “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die..”   And still to do so, we must take this essential time with God to search our hearts and steps, to even see the need for change.  To embrace this given space to delve into the commonplace, the habitual, and the un-examined parts of our life to reveal the invitation for conversion. To unearth the sin from the darkest corners that has slowly made its home, to be restored to what God has created us to be. For, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”

Now is the time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving…

Prayer:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions… be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Prayer is a light that reveals, and directs that without it we are truly without a compass in our desire for change. Using this time set apart to pray is likewise an opportunity to reconnect with God. Who, in the hustle and bustle of life may not be our closest companion in our journey.

Fasting:

Why fast? Scripture has a lot to say about the practice of fasting and the benefits of doing so. First of all, it expresses a desire on our part to offer sacrifice and penance for wrongs committed. Yet, it is also proven to be a quickening agent to prayer, providing the perspective to see God’s direction and will. And if done with also an awareness of community, it can lead to the directed efforts to offer the allocated money for food to others who may be in greater need.

Almsgiving:

The giving of money, time, and talents to assist the poor is to be a outward expression of our inner desire for charity. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Therefore, the Christian understanding carries with it more than just helping one another, but in doing so we actually are serving Christ. In this way, it becomes a visible witness of love in action. You need not travel far to identify ways to answer this call to charity.  In the inspiring words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, ” Stay where you are, find your own Calcutta…”

Reflect:

Is there a need in my life to wake up this Lent? Where might God be calling me to grow or serve?

Peace,

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A Storyteller’s Guide to A Grace Filled Life- Blog Tour

In reviewing this book, I cannot help but share a bit about the storyteller as who he is leaps off of every page in a humble, open, sincere and unassuming way. No different in real life, Tony has a profound gift of engaging the heart, inspiring reflection and engendering friendship. Through his eyes we glimpse the lost, lonely and forgotten and through his words we are invited to see ourselves in each of these.

“Since we cannot do good to all, we are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances are brought into closer connection with you.” St. Augustine (p. 27)

Whether close to home, at table with our families, in our daily interactions with others  or in a prison cell… grace is a chosen gift to accept.

As Tony illustrates, grace touches not only the ones we are moved to be attentive to but it can renew our faith, restore our relationships, and change the course of our very lives. What is remarkable is that when encountered, grace seeks not to occupy a corner of our hearts but to consume it entirely. Through prison and homeless ministry, Tony relates time and again our innate need to feel loved, and be reminded of our self worth despite the circumstances we might find ourselves in. Grace calls our name, and provides the reassurance that God loves us regardless of the past and ushers in the hope of change.

Within the family, Tony is key to point out the cultural influences of today that pull us away from deep conversation and allow us to settle for shallow waters of accommodation. Sacrificing both quantity and quality of time we far too often miss out on the numerous grace filled moments that God desires to bless our lives with. And in prizing our own idea of self we neglect to honor or claim who God has created us to be in our varied vocations. To this Tony is not remiss in offering a bit of well earned and honed wisdom from the challenges he too has faced in life.

Yet, more than a prescription, A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life invites the reader following each story to reflect on their own joys, sorrows, weaknesses and gifts to discover or re-discover grace. For grace does not expire, or cease but simply awaits our response to more fully be who God has created us to be. And our unique stories, as Tony so beautifully remarks not only “forms the fabric” for our understanding and struggles in our lives but also “become the glue that connects each generation to the next”.

A word of gratitude to my dear friend and fellow Catholic blogging evangelist Tony Agnesi who continues to share his “Grace-Filled” journey with the world. You are such a bright ray of hope and grace…Thank you for letting your light shine!

To hear an on-air conversation between Tony and I through An Engaging Faith, available on podcast tune in here .

An autographed copy of A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life is offered for a limited time at Tony Agnesi.com  with free domestic shipping. It is also available for purchase through  Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting {Ash} Wednesday

Ash Wednesday Edition!

Today as we begin the season of Lent I thought that this beloved Catholic funny was definitely worth revisiting!  Beyond the obvious, when many of us have left with just a smear across our forehead, I see myself. (As a bit of perspective, I have actually corrected the cross of ashes on my forehead more than once in my life!) For so many years, I have let my own desire of perfectionism determine the outcome of success. It is a fruitless game of never fully being pleased. and where often the reason why we even tried gets lost in our own sense of pride.

True, this time of Lent is intended to work on those things in our life that distance us from God. However, we cannot do this solely on our own, nor were we ever meant to. Rather than seeking control, by forcing a square peg in a round hole, we are to allow God to chip away at our sins and challenges. To shape us in the true image we were always intended to be.

This is why I encourage you this Lent to:

  • Let go of who you think you once were, or who others have defined you to be to allow God to accomplish His work and what he wills within you. We cannot be transformed if we retain our old selves.
  •  Carve out space and time for both quiet reflection and dialogue.These next 40 days are a gift- an invitation to slow down, get away, and spend time with your heavenly Father. Jesus himself recognized the need to leave his everyday surroundings and daily to-do’s for clarification and direction. Yet, without ready access to a desert..we have to create the time and space in our lives apart from the noise.
  • Whatever you choose to do differently, agree to make it meaningful. If you decide to pick up a devotion this Lent, whether it be the rosary, adoration time, daily mass, Bible study, Liturgy of the Hours, or the Examen resist rushing through to check it off your list. Rather than passively going about this time be purposeful in seeking direction and unhurried in reaching a destination. Keeping in mind that our faith is a journey- one in which Our Father not only meets us but leads and indeed carries us home.
  • Oh, and don’t forget..

God Makes Beautiful Things Out of Dust!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Thy Will be Done

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Lately these four words have spoken profound volumes in my life. With the busy fast paced work of collaborative parish life, my own vocation as wife and mother, and the decision of putting our own house on the market,there is such solace in this simple prayer. In an Ignatian practice of pause, time spent in contemplation of each word prayerfully leads us to consider what God’s word means for our lives today.

Thy

All that is within creation is God’s alone. From the smallest grain of sand to the tallest mountain, from the fiercest storm to the most placid waters it is all His and in His control. From the tiniest spark of life placed by the Creator, to the life nearing the end of its days- God is present and attentive to our cry.  In awestruck wonder I stand amidst it all and offer my gratitude both for the grandeur of all I see, but also for my place in His plan.

This week my cousin was fatally killed when struck by an automobile while crossing the street. His childhood was a difficult one growing up on the outskirts of Chicago, and he fell easily into a life of addictions as did his sister who died early of an overdose.On and off again homeless, he did have moments of stability but none lasted very long. With his mother and father now gone too from cancer, there were but a few that were close to him. Though he too, I believe, was loved dearly by his heavenly Father, he longed for that sense of belonging here on earth. The reported images of his passing, struck and laying dead in the middle of the road left me immediately heartbroken. Yet, how could I let my grief consume me when I know the certainty of the love and mercy of God’s embrace? He is Yours now Father. May his struggle here meet your joy and forgiveness, and may he know that he is truly missed.

Will

Here there is a beautiful recognition that God is God and I quite simply am not. Truthfully, I do not want my life to follow my own inclinations, despite my repeated attempts to persuade or otherwise take the reins at times.

This week in bible study we turned towards Genesis-walking in the peace of the Garden, and experiencing the pain of our disobedience and prideful use of will. Do we too desire to have the wisdom of God? Whatever would we do if we did? I do not know about you, but I haven’t always made the best decisions when I have acted on my own. What are the consequences even when we have achieved our immediate desire? The key can be found in the search itself- the longing for happiness.  So often, we look for happiness not eternally, but rather satisfy ourselves with temporary happiness. Those things which pacify us but disappear quickly are our forbidden fruit. In consuming them they give us a feeling of self-empowerment, and control and cloud the reality of our utter dependence on God.

Oh, Lord please help my will to align with Yours! Please make straight my crooked paths and set everything right when I have forgotten your loving ways. Though I do not know the way ahead, I trust that you do.

Be Done.

Release of the outcome to the One in control of it all is essential in a life directed towards God’s will. His time, His direction, His edits and our “YES!”. Are we saying yes daily but our more accurate response is a maybe?

As anyone who has gone through the process of selling a home can attest to..one wishes not only for a good price but for the pain to end quickly. Living in a constant state of readiness and cleanliness is a work of wonder with a family of boys and a playful German Shepherd. Only week two and I who began this quest in an open surrender am already petitioning God to walk the right family through our home. I know, that God’s answer might be yes..but it may be a no, or perhaps later. After we do all that we can do to prepare each day, what remains for each of us is for the resolve of the situation to “Be done”.

Reflect: How do we respond when situations are slower than unexpected, or end unfavorably for what we would have desired? Can we let God who has the big picture take the lead? If not, what could we do differently?

Peace,

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Remembering Whose We Are

“What I think is more important than what others think..The more you trust my love the less you care about their (opinions). Remember, Eli said, you are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.” You are Special, Max Lucado

As you reread these words again for a moment pause, and ask yourself if you could hear these words said by anyone who would you want for that to be? Truth is, from our very birth we have been created to seek affirmation and approval. The difficulty is that we choose, far too often, to seek it from all the wrong places. Am I smart, talented, pretty or successful? What is it that others see, and is that what truly makes me special?

In and of themselves these qualities are worthy to be appreciated, and yet they will never be the sole measure of our worth. For as we all know beauty fades, success wanes, and talents can come and go in an instant. Even the praise received by family, friends, and peers can quite easily be matched by criticism given time and circumstance. This is true too for quite the opposite. Some of the most creative minds in history have lived unnoticed quiet lives before their discovery. Prompting the world to ask , where on earth have they been?

So back to our original question, who and what are we living for?

As the youngest of three, with an incredibly beautiful sister and a successful brother ahead of me, I had decided to work on being the “smart one”. This was motivation for me to consistently aspire for the highest grade, receive recognition in the community, and be admitted to one of the top undergraduate schools in the nation. Pushing myself in this way for so long, there came the recognition that this was an endless pursuit that had not only taken a toll on me, but was no longer fulfilling. If it ever really was in the first place. There was so much more in life that lay unexplored including who I was at my core and had been created to be in this world.

While my faith had always played a substantial role in my life, somehow I had compartmentalized my interior and exterior life. Rather than approaching God to see who he wished for me to be, I was instead coming to God asking him to validate or not who others saw me to be. In doing so, I was not living like I was loved but in fear of the next critical word and anticipation of the next word of praise.  This has been, for me, a lifetime of reaffirming self discovery with God leading the way.

“You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

And still, what time and experience have revealed is the profound need for these words to permeate deep within the soul of every one of us in our lifetime. Yet, in order to do so we must keep our eyes and trust on him. It entails spending time with our Creator, and allowing him to remind us who and whose we are. The more often we do this, the less we care what others think whether good or bad in nature. We were created with and for an extraordinary purpose- the continual revelation of which has been, for me, an unimaginable source of true and lasting happiness.

Reflect:

Do I rely too much on the opinions or affirmation of others for an assessment of my self worth? How often do I seek God’s evaluation and affirmation in my life? 

Challenge:

Spend 15 minutes today in silence, free of distractions allowing God to remind you of your purpose and value.

Peace,

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