Worth Revisiting: Everything For Happiness

The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created…. Gaudette et Exsulte

Instead of a half-hearted effort or begrudgingly offering a portion, Christ asks for our all. No more than what he gave on the cross and no less than what we have been given and are capable of. Still, we allocate time to work, family and friends, exercise, play, and even charity all in the pursuit of happiness. Clinging to time reserved for ourselves we resent the moments we have had to relinquish it. “It’s really not a lot of time we say..and now it is no longer mine.” Though, when we think of it where is true happiness to be found?

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Ps. 37:4

We need only turn to scripture to see clear examples of this enduring wrestling with time and resources. (John 6:9 and Mark 12:41-44) As well as, the result of giving the little we have to offer. Multiplied and utilized in the best way possible, our time and gifts suddenly become so much more than we could have ever imagined. And, we not only no longer miss what we have given but now desire to give even more. 

The irony is that the moment we chose to follow Christ, we acknowledged that all of “our” time was now His.  For, the living out of our discipleship is simply to offer back the measure of love and mercy that we have received to others. You see when we start laying claim to that which was never ours to begin with we miss the point altogether. Our Father who set the stars in the heavens and the planets in motion forming heaven and earth-conceived time. Though His time is endless-we strive to break time into parts and pieces assigning value to each.

Yet,what if we looked at the whole and rather than seeing the fleeting constrained aspect of it, saw our place as a fluid expansive invitation? For instance, have you ever began a service of love and discovered that the time spent was so very little compared to the gift received back? That what began with a time frame and a mission could now not be  quantified in time as the effects would continue to reverberate in your life and that of others? This I believe is true happiness, the experience of being fully alive in answering God’s call and will for our lives.

Reflect:

Am I holding back in my offering each day to God? Or choosing to be stingy with time for others? If so, what do I need to do differently? Think about what that day might look like.

Peace,

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From Ordinary to Extraordinary

“When the Jewish leaders saw the boldness of Peter and John and found out that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and realized that they had been with Jesus… God wrought no ordinary miracles by the hands of Paul. ” Acts 4;13; 19:11

Though perhaps missed, ignored or even denied,  everything in life has potential within. From the tiniest seeds to the most enormous creatures, there is a season and purpose for existence. Only mankind has been given the conscious choice to respond or not- to God’s calling into being. So often we look and fail to see what is not be obvious to the eye to make a determination of worth and success. But oh how fortunate we are that God does not take the same cursory glance and standards when he measures potential! Instead he uses the most basic, and sometimes discarded to work the most amazing miracles.

“Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people.” Henri Nouwen, “Bread For the Journey”.

So, let me ask you..how many of you want to be a saint one day? As a catechist, I love to pose this question to a sea of questioning faces young and old.  Inevitably some hands hesitantly raise with uncertainty as to what the correct answer is. “Ok”,I say, ” what if I told you that everyone here was created for sainthood? (With my own hand raised) Who would like to join me in answering the call?” To do so, however, means not focusing on what your eyes tell you but on God’s will and vision for you. Trusting, neither the praise or criticisms of others but solely on God’s promise and plan for your life.

This is perhaps the most challenging part. For, how do we ignore the thoughts, words and action of others that seek to shape the outcome of our future? How to we resist its influence on us, and instead listen to a voice that lies in the stillness of our hearts? And if it is truly this difficult…why even try?

“Let us not be content with the scotch tape and the aluminum foil of this world. Be Holy — wherever you are!” Mother Angelica, Guide to Practical Holiness

As Mother Angelica so aptly put it, though created for greatness..many of us are content to simply be scotch tape and aluminum foil. What is wrong with these you ask? They are both useful and easy to acquire. That is just it they are commonly found, and not unique in any way. In fact it is the item inside each that is considered valuable enough to require tape or wrap. Perhaps you may be struggling to hold the outside wrapping together never daring to open or allow others to see the beauty inside. Or instead, seek to preserve what is itself perishable in this world without thinking about the life that awaits.

If you are still wondering if you have unused gifts, or unable to get past your field of vision.. not to worry, we all do at some point in our lives. It is only through spending time in prayerful conversation with God and other would-be-saints on the journey that we are able to leave behind the ordinary to accept the extraordinary.

Father, thank you for your words of reassurance of the greatness that you have placed within me. Help me to trust your voice and not the wisdom and perspective of others. And when I am tempted to settle to be scotch tape or aluminum foil.. let me be unwavering as your love is for me. 

Blessings,

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Worth Revisiting: Be Reconciled

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Not just a prettier or more approachable  version of confession, the act of reconciling is instead, a richer and more complete description of what transpires in this beautiful sacrament. For, reconciliation means“to walk together again”[1] , to reestablish a close relationship in friendship, peace, and love. Confession is just one part of this sacrament replete with mercy, grace and love.  Reconciliation then more fully represents  “what is most important, what Jesus does”. [2]

Growing up protestant, I have heard all of the following questions and consequent arguments against the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. Undoubtedly even for those having grown up in the faith, there still lies a temptation to rest on these as a means of justifying ourselves in our walk with God. However, there is also a challenge here to really consider the effects of sin, the grace that is present here and the freedom in walking humbly with our God.

1.“My relationship with Jesus is good..I can tell him anything. Why would I put a 3rd person in the middle since Jesus is the one who forgives me?  What this question begs is a heartfelt response. Yes, there is solid scriptural basis but the person asking this is seeking to know the soul benefit in uttering and entrusting their sins in this way.  They understand the need for forgiveness and may have a very good prayer life. Coming into the faith as an young adult this was a hurdle I myself encountered. I prayed often, went to church, read my bible and asked for forgiveness daily. So what does the sacrament of reconciliation really provide that is different?

  • In confessing our sins we give voice to that which we have privately carried and share it with the community in the priest who is also representative of Christ. The weight of our sins that we have carried is lifted, the slate with our sins wiped clean and we are free to begin anew.
  • Likewise, in both our sin and sanctity we are a community and are called to help one another in the journey. Our sin which has hampered and even damaged our relationships is removed and so, as a community we celebrate.
  • Receive peace and comfort by the grace of Christ to go forth to both amend our ways and to strive for greater justice and peace in our families, communities and world around us. Our penance is an essential first step to express our commitment towards this transformation.

2. “So, where is the need for reconciliation in the bible?

  • “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
  • Parable of the lost sheep- Jesus’ story of the shepherd and the 1 lost sheep among the 99. Jesus leads us to reconciliation with God and others (Matthew 18:12-14)
  • Prodigal Son explores the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, and helps bring this forgiveness into our daily lives (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Great Commandment- Jesus’ teaching about loving God, ourselves, and others (Matthew 22:36-40)

3. “These priests are human too, how can they hear and absolve my sins, aren’t they just as prone to sin?”

  • As Catholics we believe that Jesus intended to give authority to his apostles to guide, teach, forgive and heal the followers of Christ to come. And, that they in turn in succession handed down this authority.

” And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19.

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

  • Yet, this question also points to the need for forgiveness for all of us, as a result of our human condition and our inclination to sin. St. John Paul II went to reconciliation frequently as did newly sainted St. Teresa of Calcutta who is noted for going 2-3 times a week for even venial sins.

“It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.  Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.” St. JP II[3]

4. Finally, “Didn’t they just go to reconciliation? So why are they still  (*mean, rude etc.) ?

First obviously this question implies a bit of judgement of others rather than looking at our own walk of faith. Yet, to address the intended issue, does this sacrament have the grace and power to effect true and lasting change? Yes, but again we have a propensity and inclination to sin and our sins are not always exactly the same. Reconciliation is a sacrament that is intended to be received again and again throughout our lives either individually or with the community. So, it does not “end with the words of absolution”, but “in order to achieve it’s purpose it must take root in their whole lives”.[4]

In Reconciliation we are giving the opportunity to experience and celebrate God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives and in community. God isn’t as concerned with the “mistakes” but with repairing the relationship that has suffered.

Think for a moment about your relationship with your best friend.

If you think about your relationship with God, how could this be better? Have you made time for your friendship with God in prayer, answered his calls of love and grace? Have you said sorry when you realize that you have chosen to act unloving?

Remember, our choices not only hurt ourselves but effect our relationship with God, and so many others that we encounter daily. Mercy and forgiveness are waiting-take time today to be reconciled.

Peace,

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[1] McKenna, Meagan. (1997) Rites of Justice. New York. Orbis Books

[2] Richstatter, Thomas. O.F.M, S.T.D. (1990) “Ten Tips for Reconciliation: The Gift of Reconciliation”. Catholic Update. Ohio. Catholic Update.

[3] Pope John Paul II,  Conference of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. March 27, 2004.

[4] Kane, Thomas. Healing God’s People: Theological and Pastoral Approaches.Rite of Penance 7b.

With an Undivided Heart

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:19-20

What does it mean to have an undivided heart, especially in the fast paced demanding world that we find ourselves in? To live for God’s purposes and will, in His time and not our own? For we are so accustomed to being self-sufficient and multitasking to achieve all that is on our plates that the idea of an undivided heart might seem inconceivable. Yet, in truth, our search for happiness can only be complete when we desire what God desires for us.

This takes surrender-total surrender of outcome and intention allowing God to direct our steps and move our heart for His purpose.  And as we do not live in a bubble, our new heart and spirit effect not just our own lives, but for all we encounter. If God is to be our God and we to be truly his people then there cannot be any less. Therefore, happiness and perfection isn’t self-achievable. Rather, we are only perfected through our complete surrender.

What could I let go of today to receive what he has in store for me today? Control, frustration, imperfections, busyness? In Luke (1:26-38) Mary, after initially pondering the angel’s words,  gave her complete and full yes to God’s will for her life. She did not know what or how the events to come would unfold, but she trusted that God knew better than she did. Being open to receiving, and then allowing that love to root and grow in our lives we too can follow Mary’s example of trust, Or we can, as we so often do,  give a partial yes and in turn receive only part or even none of God’s gifts for our lives.

Pray:

Lord, you have called me here to your side to walk with you, to be still with you. You speak to me not to comprehend your love and mystery with my intellect, but to listen with the ears of my heart. Like a child to open myself fully to all of your gifts-created and un-created. To set aside my tendencies to solve or work through the challenges before me. Instead, to come before you with a childlike trust that you will work all things for good. I understand that while you have given me abilities in administration and planning, that you are asking me to set these aside today and simply rest in you. To be present with you-to be attentive to your voice and to value each unhurried moment found in this time of solitude and silence.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting:Necessary and Indispensable

“Three things are necessary for everyone: truth of faith which brings understanding,
love of Christ which brings compassion, and endurance of hope which brings perseverance. ”  St. Bonaventure

Given the recent turmoil in the church, these last few weeks have been challenging to say the least. Conversations ensued revolving around what hasn’t been done, what should be done and who’s to blame in this crisis. Wounds that had healed in part have been reopened and the hurt and broken trust now visible once again. Especially in a community that went through the worst of it in 2002 with two of the most notable priests having led the flock.

Even personally, I had questions too. How could we not have learned as the universal church from hard fought battles of the past? If you, as leadership, witnessed the effects of what transpired in Boston, Ireland and elsewhere why wouldn’t an investigation within each diocese occur?  Sins incurred do not go away simply because we close our eyes and change cannot occur if cannot face the truth. Shameful and egregious wrongs  must be addressed for healing and trust to return.

Am I angry? Absolutely! This is the church that I love- it is the faith that I chose and that also chose me. Yet, my faith does not rest solely on the actions of man, even holy men, but on Christ.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Cor. 3:5-9

As such, it cannot be shaken for my hope is in God knowing that he has called each one of us to witness to his truth and love in this broken world. We are not, however, left alone. With his Word and Spirit to guide and the Eucharist as our strength together we walk onward allowing God to rebuild us as a people. We need only look to thousands of years of tradition to see that this would not be the first time. Yet, this begins today and with each one of us.

What can we do?

Pray. I cannot emphasize enough how important this first step is. For how can we be the body of Christ in the world, his holy church, if our actions are not discerned and directed by prayer? And by prayer I mean not just tossing up a “God please fix the present circumstances”, but continually spending time with God to learn His ways rather than relying on our own. Consider adoration. It is an incredible time to listen to what God has to say, and to allow him to move your heart, mind and soul to the work ahead.

Fast.  Why fast you may ask, when the sins committed were not ours personally? First, fasting is both a way of expressing our sorrow and also to seek clarity. Secondly, our faith is not a solitary one. Every sin or injury to the body of Christ is felt by the whole. We also take responsibility in calling one another to holiness beginning with each one of us. God will raise holy men and women to be saints- and the time is now.

Work. No place to sit on the sidelines here. We are being asked to step into the messy and difficult tasks ahead. This may be to listen to a friend, co-worker or family member who simply needs to vent or is seriously considering leaving the church. It could also be explaining to others why you choose to stay. Maybe, you feel called to write to your pastor, bishop, cardinal or Pope Francis to speak to this issue requesting further measures be taken as I have done. Yet whatever you do- please do not despair. For, though “We are hard pressed on every side, (we are ) not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:8-9

Today I pray, fast, and work albeit willing to fight for this Church that I call home. Join me and countless others!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Catechesis of Mercy2

There are four core principles in the Catholic Church’s social teaching: respect and protection of the dignity of the human person, the pursuit of the common good, the value of solidarity, and subsidiarity—that matters are if possible to be handled at the lowest level, by those most affected. With each pope in succession, through  papal encyclicals—and most notably in the Second Vatican Council, there has been a reaffirmation of these teachings..  This is why an essential element of a catechesis of mercy involves service and active works of mercy.

Look around your community, are there service learning projects that are already available in your community that you might participate in with your child or if they are old enough that they can join in themselves? There is no need to reinvent the wheel, if a suitable service activity is already up and running. Yet, if none of these seem fitting, consider developing a new service based project. What are needs in your area that aren’t being met? What are some possible solutions? What are the resources that you might can tap into?

There are several types of service..

Direct (whereby the participate is in direct contact with the person/s they are working with. Examples include volunteering at a nursing home to read or visit, doing yardwork or chores for the elderly, or working at a soup kitchen.

Indirect (Involves fundraising, or drives to assist people in need) An example would be a toy drive for a local children’s hospital, clothing drive for a homeless shelter, or making cards or placemats.

Promotion or advocacy (Getting the word out about a cause, and working to convince the government, or organization to make a change in behavior. ) Maybe you have a gift of telling or motivating others to get involved in a cause. If so then this might be where you feel most helpful.

Whatever you choose to do, reflection is a very essential part of service learning both in deciding what to commit to as well as what was taken from the experience. This is where a trained group leader is very beneficial, both to guide the questions but to show the diversity of the experiences.

What did you expect this experience to be like?
Was there anything different from this expectation?
Did you find anything challenging and/or surprising?
Was there an opportunity to talk with those whom you were helping? If so, did you learn anything new?
What is the relationship between your service and your faith?
How does your participation in this activity affect a situation or create change in the lives of those you are with?
Is it important for you to stay involved with this activity?

Remember that it is never too early to begin a catechesis of mercy, and that your child already has that divine love within and the capacity to show that love to others. We have been given a freedom to choose love and goodness in the world, to avoid what is destructive or harmful, and to make these choices quite early in life. And though not always easy choices, it is these moments that help shape us, form us and continue to define us as we grow in our Christian discipleship.

Reconciliation

As mentioned earlier, reconciliation is indelibly linked to mercy. God is loving and forgiving, God is merciful. God forgives us when we have done wrong, when we come wishing to forgiven, and desire to be in relationship once again. If your child is old enough to have celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation before, take the time to discuss its continued importance in the life of the individual and the church.
1. Discuss how to make a good confession and examination of conscience http://www.thelightisonforyou.org/confession/

2. Set aside a time to go to reconciliation as a family. Allowing your child to glimpse the importance of reconciliation for you is an essential way for him/her to see its importance in their own life as well.

3. Reflect on how God’s love and mercy is always present and calling us into relationship.
Look at the broader understandings of reconciliation within the community and world. For ideas visit St Vincent de Paul.org, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and the Childrens’ Missionary Association which is part of the Pontifical Society.
Discuss the importance of and ways to work for peace both locally and global

Mercy is like a small seed that requires our active participation in the planting and growing, allowing God to be the master gardener and harvester of the fruits.[1] To extend this analogy, we cannot plant that which we do not see or understand. Likewise, how could we then tend to the requirements necessary for its growth? Therefore, it is clear that first we must become aware of the poor, and the marginalized and desire to walk with them to understand their journey. Then our hearts and steps are to be guided towards recognizing our own need to take responsibility, and the essential right to a greater voice and participation in society of the least of these. Together, as a people of faith, we can then “water” those seeds planted to witness their rooting within the hearts of individuals, and the communities in which we live. While fully aware of the resistance of many for change, a catechesis of mercy relies not solely on our own efforts. But rather on the power of God for strength, and guidance to accomplish the realization of all efforts. Hope then is what our trust in God provides, it is faith that God’s love and mercy are unfailing, and that we are part of his divine plan for the world.

Peace,

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[1] Brady,Bernard. Essential Catholic Social Thought. Orbis Books, 2008.