Monday, January 12, 2015

Jesus, Andrew, Peter, and Peyton Manning

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 1:14-20, here it is from the USCCB website:

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

I’m always amazed at the instant response of these men. They knew very little about the man calling them and they seem to be in the middle of their work day, yet they immediately follow Jesus. During the homily today the priest asked, “What is our response? Are we quick to obey?” My immediate thought was that I never respond with quite the urgency of the disciples, but most of the time I am striving to obey – though not always. The priest then asked about our response to obstacles in life – which led me to a thought explosion for most of the remainder of mass – although not as distracted as that sounds.

Mass ended and I sat and prayed for a bit and thought more about my response and response in general to obstacles. I thanked the Lord for the attitude I’ve been given to respond to obstacles, I wouldn’t say I embrace them, but I endure them, attack them, take them head on. As I’m driving home I hear the news about Peyton Manning’s injury – that’s he’s played through a torn quad muscle for nearly a month. I’m still not sure if I think it was courageous or stupid of him, but he does deserve credit. I pulled my hamstring a few years ago, very slight pull, but I didn’t want to walk to the fridge, let alone get chased by dudes trying to take my head off! (So I guess Peyton was courageous). Man’s response to obstacles in our culture, largely sports, is called “heroic”, “unbelievable”, “amazing”, “unforgettable” and the list goes on. But when it comes to the spiritual, virtuous or moral life – all which require a serious amount of sacrifice, self-denial, service, and above all love – people are laughed at, mocked, and called weak. Self-denial, service and love although laughed at today are the best words we could use to describe the most heroic, unbelievable, amazing and unforgettable person that ever lived, died, rose and lived again.

Nothing in life is easy. College: both socially and intellectually challenging, marriage/vocation: beautiful, joy-filled yet faced with many trials, work: worth it, at times enjoyable yet demanding. Why would the spiritual life and a relationship with Jesus Christ be different? There are amazing highs and painful lows just like anything else in life – yet in the spiritual life why is man’s (myself included) response to obstacles often lazy, lack luster, slothful? Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo (along with many others I’m sure) were willing to risk further, maybe even career threatening injuries for 60 minutes on Sunday. And for what?

I was sad and upset because this puzzles me. In every aspect of life I can think of man’s response is to face obstacles with confidence, toughness, a bit stubborn, some might even say defiant – every aspect of life but the spiritual aspect. Is a Super Bowl ring or another $100,000 really going to deliver something that lasts? That is truly life giving? That is eternal? Without a Google search, who won the Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XXVI? 100 years from now that will mean even less than it does now. Who were the first men to follow Jesus? 2,000 years come and gone and those guys are still being talked about!

Those men in today’s Gospel followed Jesus because they were attracted to Him. Those men saw something in Jesus that promised more than anything they would ever pull into their boat or that they could ever do on their own. It was not always smooth sailing for those 1st men to run after Jesus, but I guarantee you they’re happy they did.

The priest ended his homily with the following questions, something I will continue to think about, “…the obstacle, is it a stepping stone towards or away from Jesus? Jesus meets us in our daily lives, how will we respond?”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ready for Holy Week

This last week during a homily I heard Holy Week referred to as "the greatest week in the history of the world", that is quite a claim, but I think it's hard to argue with. No matter how much time a person spends each week or day, I don't know if we could actually be prepared to enter this week of mystery, wonder, and absolute awe.

To try and prepare for this week I've done a couple of things. One of the things I've done is something I may do leading into Holy Week for the rest of my life. That is to study the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, the Last Supper, and the 4th Cup. I came across this website, 4th Cup. It summarizes the first Passover and Moses leading the people out of Egypt and shows how the time in the desert points to the Last Supper, Jesus, and the Eucharist. I know that before last year, during 25 years as a Catholic, I heard that Jesus establishes a new covenant and fulfills Judaism, but I don't know if I've ever fully understood or realized how He did that in the events leading to His crucifixion. This website as well as books and articles written by Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre show how literally and specifically Jesus leaves no doubt that by His words and actions He establishes something new and gives to us for the rest of time.

One other thing I've done this last week is to try and live more simply and silently. There were a few reasons other than Holy Week I decided to do this. One reason was some information that a friend shared with me, statistics about our obsession/addiction with social media and smart phones. I started using an I Phone this past July and I know since then I have been more active on Facebook and Twitter. I would hate to know the number of hours I've spent scrolling on Twitter or Facebook on my phone or computer. So much time that I could have spent differently and won't get back. Another reason was thinking about Pope Francis and St. Joseph whose feast day was the 19th last week. Both of these men are incredible examples of simplicity and silence. Joseph, who is very highly respected throughout the history of Christianity does not speak 1 word in the Bible, yet we admire him greatly. Pope Francis who most of the world has only known of for a few weeks has captured our curiosity and our hearts... mostly because of his simple living and how he has embraced poverty in so many ways. Since this past Wednesday I've decided to go without social media and using my phone other than text messages or phone calls until next Sunday so that I may try to emulate the simplicity and silence of St. Joseph and Pope Francis as I enter the greatest week in the history of the world.

May we all have a deep and radical encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ this week and choose to embrace His simple and profound love in a way that propels us to love others in the same way.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


9 days ago I arrived at the airport in Milwaukee, and one of the first things I saw after getting off the plane was a little boy sitting on his dad’s shoulders wearing a cape. As they turned the corner and faced me I saw the boy was also wearing a mask. I couldn't help but smile and laugh a little and  I thought back to my cape wearing days. My grandma made my younger brother and I Batman capes, the Batman sign outlined in different colored paint so we could tell the two apart. Much like the little boy I saw at the airport, my brother and I had no shame in where we would wear those capes. I think there was a short amount of time I actually thought I was Batman.

If you really break it down, isn't our interest with super heroes kind of bizarre? Grown men dressed in tights, wearing masks and capes are adored… huh? Their stories compel us, motivate and inspire us. We idolize and hold these made up characters that run around in tights and capes in such high regard, kids dress up like them, heck even adults do sometimes. We remember “facts” about them, we talk about them as if they are real people, we talk as if we know them personally. We believe in these made up people. Don’t get me wrong I loved the Avengers and I've waited in line more than once to watch a superhero movie at the midnight showing, but isn't there more we can hope in and for? Obviously I would answer yes, Jesus gives us that hope, but what about men we can look to who are living today or who have lived in the last century? Who are the men whose character exemplifies that of Christ, who are truly heroic?

I believe there are many men who fit that description who are currently in Rome about to enter the Conclave, not to be confused with the Bat Cave. These men who are gathered from across the world will meet to play a huge role in the future of the Catholic Church and the world. These Cardinals are merely men who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ in an extraordinary way – as a Roman Catholic priest. The Cardinals have been called on in a special way because of their holiness – their love of the Lord. They assist the Pope in the governance of the Church. Their primary role is to come together as the College of Cardinals to elect the next Pope. Everything about the life of a holy priest is heroic. They sacrifice their wants and often their own good so that they may serve others, they live to serve, they exemplify and radiate Christ. Most of them have had incredible internal struggles of discernment – of whether or not to pursue the priesthood. The men that answer that call are heroic. Yet to a good part of our culture they’re useless, frowned upon, even hated. Those words I used to describe priests above are the same words that come to mind when we think of super heroes: sacrifice, service, struggle, adversity – but priests don’t get that credit. In the picture above I'm not trying to make a prediction here but I had to include Cardinal Dolan's self titled "Batman pose".

I came across this photo this past week on a Catholic Facebook page. He is a hero of mine and I would guess that people across the world are storming heaven asking for his prayers as the Cardinals begin to meet and select the next Pope. This man lived in a way that was an incredible example of Jesus Christ. His story is incredible and this meme captures the beauty and triumph of his life:

Batman went to the Bat Cave as Bruce Wayne and left as Batman, Clark Kent went into a phone booth and appeared as Superman. 115 Cardinals are entering the Sistine Chapel for the Conclave, one of them will emerge after white smoke pours out of the most watched chimney in the world with a new name and new garb and he will be introduced to the world. He will be the Vicar of Christ on this planet, the leader of the Catholic Church, Papa -  Pope. Our world, literally our WORLD, every news station- will stop to look and listen to this man as he makes his first remarks as Holy Father.  No, that’s not a movie or a fictional character I'm talking about, it is real life and it is absolutely heroic.

Let’s pray for the Cardinals and especially for that man whom who will soon represent Christ in a way that very well could affect the course of history. Let's be heroes, let's be Saints!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lenten Reflection: Being the Rich Soil

Earlier this week, I came across the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Matthew.

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty foldWhoever has ears ought to hear.”

I love how Jesus describes things and how the parables make it easy to visualize what is being said. What I love most about these parables is when Jesus explains the reason for the parable, which He did a few verses later…

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. 20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. 21 But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. 22 The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. 23 But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty fold.”

After reading this I thought about how my faith has grown and also how it is so often put to the test. I thought about a time in the past - a time when I was at each of the stages that Jesus talks about. I've been in a place where I did not understand at all, a place where I got very excited but that excitement would quickly fade. I've also been in a place where worldly anxiety and other distractions have kept me from growing deeper and fortunately I've had the grace of understanding the Word of God and even experienced spiritual fruit.

I shared this passage at Bible study this week with 6 young men. We talked about what it would look like for an athlete trying to live out their faith through their sport at each of these stages. We discovered that for an athlete – like anyone else -the Christian life is not easy. We talked about how often one may start out a season very encouraged to live out the faith through sport but how difficult it can become when one faces adversity, how difficult it is to persevere in the faith and how quick one is likely to abandon Christ maybe because He failed to live up to our expectations. We talked about that if one really wants to commit to Christ and be that fourth type of soil it take a lot of perseverance in those times of difficulties that we must put God first and make time for him every day. Athletes who want live for Christ have no problem working out or getting extra work in before or after a long practice, yet they struggle to make even a little time for the Lord. 

Our conversation came down to a few questions we had to ask ourselves, what do we say our priorities are? And what do our actions actually indicate what our priorities are? Does the line get crossed - when athletics interfere with your spiritual foundation and response to God’s Word? The guys struggled with this, a few asked questions like, “does this mean we shouldn't work out as hard?” It absolutely does not, but the time spent working out should not interfere or be more than the time we spend in God’s Word or in prayer with the Lord. That is hard to hear when athletes are pushed so hard by their coaches, teammates, and family members to be the best and do the best you possibly can, it seems that the best way to do that might be to abandon the Lord and take matters into your own hands.

It’s not easy to be that fourth type of soil, but we’re not called to do easy things, it is difficult to follow Christ – that’s why everyone isn't doing it. This message of perseverance and overcoming difficulty is perfect for the season of Lent. It would be easy to give up on that Lenten fast – in a sense abandoning the Lord’s call to die to ourselves and seek Him. But what type of soil do you want to be? You know what, let’s forget what we want, a better question would be what type of soil is the Lord calling us to be? I’m pretty sure He wants us to be that rich soil, being fruitful, right?

Let’s persevere this Lenten season, continue to pick up our crosses, seeking Him, loving Him more and following Him closely, so that He might be made known to others.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February Catholic Bloggers Link Up Blitz

Here are two posts from this month about my Lenten journey and hopefully at the same time will provide some Lenten encouragement to all!!

"Your faith has saved you"

Since January I've decided to commit in a deeper way to studying and reading Scripture more frequently and thoroughly. I've started by reading through the Gospel of Matthew very slowly. I've used a few different resources to supplement my reading. One is an app on my phone; iPieta. It is an absolute must have for any Catholic with a droid, iphone, tablet, or ipad, it is amazing what you can find on there!! Specifically I have been using a few items under the section "Bible Commentaries" on the app: the Haydock Bible Commentary and the Catena Aurea. This has really allowed me to dig into Scripture and have a better understanding of what is said and what is happening.

I've been amazed at the ministry of Jesus as I've been reading, especially the times Jesus heals people. One thing that really caught my attention while I've been reading is what He says to them after they have been healed; "Go; be it done for you as  you have believed." (Mt 8:13)... "take heart daughter; your faith has made you well." (Mt 9:22)... "According to your faith be it done to you." (Mt. 9:29) ...

I read this and am amazed that just their faith has made them well. What I've read has just been perfect for where I am. We're kind of at an in between point of the semester. The excitement on campus from our students following a National Conference in Florida which 6,000 people attended has worn off in many ways, we begin spring break at the end of the coming week, and there are just over 2 months left of the semester. Lately, I've found that I feel like my faith is being put to the test a bit. Not that I'm doubting anything, just that I feel like I really have to persevere. Which is one of several reasons why I am so glad I've been reading the Bible.

After reading these miracles I found myself thinking about my own faith, not in a comparing type of why, just in a wondering way. It's the same sort of feeling I had while I was in Rome in the fall, where every corner you turned (it seemed) someone had been martyred for the faith. I wondered then and for weeks that followed...would I have that great of faith? To look death in the face and stand up for what I believe knowing that if I did so I would die... I like to think I would, but that takes a lot of faith! I thought the same as I've been reading through Matthew, would I have the courage, strength and faith to approach Jesus and ask Him for something so great? Again, I like to think I would but in the situation I just don't know.

This past Tuesday I went to confession, thank the Lord for this gift! I confessed my sins, the priest gave me some feedback and encouragement, I was given a penance, I stated an act of contrition, and was given absolution - all the key components to receiving grace we don't deserve from God. Before I left the confessional, the priest said, "Go your faith has saved you." I laughed and thought to myself, THANK YOU LORD! It really was a neat moment, a God moment. I returned to the pew and thought how truly blessed I am to not only know and love God, but to accept and seek His love.

Thursday I had another reminder of how small my faith often is when I heard the Gospel proclaimed during Mass from Matthew chapter 7 verses 7-12...

"Jesus said to His disciples: 'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish? If you them, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.'"

May we increase our faith this Lenten season and continue to grow closer to Christ as we pick up our crosses and unite our sufferings with His.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lenten Reflection 1: Time to pick IT up!

It has been several months since I have posted anything here. An awful lot has happened. One,  I got engaged and now am only 110 days from being married!!  Two, I had the honor and privilege of going on a pilgrimage to Rome with 100 friends and co-workers – I still sit back and think about what incredible places we visited and people we had the privilege of listening to. Three, there is the never ending, always exciting, constantly learning happening in my role as FOCUS Team Director at Seton Hall. This position has allowed me to learn so much about myself and how to serve others well. Four, about a million more things in between!! During this Lenten season, among a few other things I am committing to do (or not do) I will be posting at least weekly during this Lenten season about my journey through Lent as a missionary, fiancĂ© and disciple and lover of Jesus Christ.

Our Church is beautiful, I am constantly reminded about the goodness of God through one of the greatest things he’s given us; the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. Those words alone: “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” should amaze us and always leave us stunned at the incredible gift we have been given. There is no better time to remind ourselves of this gift than during a few very important periods in the Liturgical year, the season of Advent, the Christmas season, the season of Lent, and the Easter season.  Each season stands out to us in different ways; not only by which color the church may be decorated in or which color our priests wear, but during each of these seasons we are asked to change our attitude – to prepare ourselves with expectant anticipation or penance to call something to mind that we normally may not. We are invited to in a greater way consider the acts of Christ Jesus.

Which act of Christ is more important? His birth? Or his death and resurrection? I was asked this about a year ago; I was caught off guard by the question and was unsure how to respond to be honest. Since I’ve been asked I have considered this several times throughout the year. One reason I think the answer is simple because you can simply look at the lengths of time of the Liturgical seasons. Advent is only 4 weeks, Christmas a little over a week, Lent is well over 40 days and the Easter season can be as many as 50 days! Based on that alone isn’t it clear which act might be seen as more important? Anyways, yes, Jesus Christ was born not just to live and perform miracles but to die…to die for us. Jesus Christ was born to die on the Cross to save us from our sin…so that everyone in the world might have a chance at salvation. And of course He died so that He could rise. What a reason to celebrate!!

This year, like always, Lent began on Ash Wednesday and the Gospel reading from that day has been stuck in my mind all week long. Part of the Gospel reading on Wednesday was from Matthew chapter 6 and addresses fasting. Here is Matthew 6:16-18:

“And when you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Each Lent I have to remind myself often why I have chosen to fast from something or to do some additional act of prayer or service… it is not and cannot be to draw attention to myself or to somehow benefit my own physical good – no, but rather it is to more completely align my will with the will of God the Father’s and to unite what little suffering I endure to the suffering of Jesus Christ on the Cross. I need to remind myself that every small act of self-denial should only be directing my thoughts, energy, and actions to the Cross and the Man on it. So this Lenten season there are a few things I want to do, but one of the things I want to do especially well is summed up in Mark 8:34-36.

“And He called to Him the multitude with His disciples, and said to them ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’”

Let’s follow Him well during this season of Lent. God bless you.