Monday, March 28, 2011

Spiritually Impacted

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a Spiritual Impact Retreat in Emmitsburg, Maryland at Mount St. Mary’s University. I committed to attending the retreat earlier this semester, not really sure what I was getting myself into. I have led a few retreats and even a mission trip the past few years, but I can’t remember the last time I went to a retreat just to be filled. The past few weeks I gradually grew more excited as the retreat got closer.

I arrived at the retreat site on Friday night with my fellow FOCUS teammates and one student from Seton Hall. Several FOCUS schools on the east coast attended with students, in all I would guess about 30-40 people were on the retreat. It’s always great to go somewhere that there is going to be missionaries from other schools. We spend a month together during the summer growing so close spending day after day together and then we’re sent to every corner of the country, it’s great to reunite with such joy filled people. (And fun to meet students they’ve been working with!)

Early Saturday morning before the retreat started at breakfast I heard a few missionaries discussing what the retreat was going to be like, one had been on the retreat before and one had not. The person that had attended said that the retreat is a lot of intense prayer and even some healing. The person who had not attended asked him what he meant. He said that people are overcome by the spirit and presence of God; hands in the air, people falling to the ground, healings taking place. When I heard this I was a little skeptical of the possibility of the last 2 happening in a legit and unforced way(people doing it for show). Nonetheless, I wanted to remain open to everything that I would see, hear, and experience during the weekend.

The retreat began with 2 talks; 1 about the Holy Spirit and 1 on God’s Love. I soon realized that I’m very unaware of what these things are on a deeper level; this realization really set the tone for the weekend. I was eager and excited to see how God was going to work in my heart if I let Him.

Lately I’ve been struggling with feeling loved by some very important people in my life. I know they love me, but sometimes it’s just nice to feel it and see it more. After the first 2 talks I really felt like I just needed to let God love me. Some of the men and I talked about this and that as men, we sometimes find it difficult to let ourselves be loved by others, even by God. I knew there was some connection between the people that I’m longing to be loved by and needing to allow myself to be loved by God.

The next 2 talks were on evil spirits & healing. Following the talks we were given some reading materials. During the talks and after I received the reading materials I thought about how I had let the evil one into areas in my life in the past. The devil has mostly attacked me by way of sexual sin; lust & fornication. Meaning that in the past, in my mind I have justified these acts as OK to be engaging in. Certainly there have been other ways I’ve allowed the devil in, but this area of sexual sin is something that I have a lot of regret about and have not fully forgiven myself for my past actions. I know that God is all Loving & forgives us for all our sins, but my human stubbornness has gotten (and still gets) in the way of always accepting that.

Next on the schedule was “adoration, praise & worship, laying on of hands.” I was looking forward to 2 of those 3. I was a little hesitant towards the phrase laying on of hands, but really I shouldn't have been, didn’t Jesus and the disciples do this for all different kinds of healing? To add with my discomfort at the situation, (very selfish of me & petty) we cleared the chairs and we would kneel or sit on the floor. I stood at the back of the chapel until I saw some space that I thought I could spread out in. When I got to this space in the front of the chapel, it wasn’t as much space as I thought and could not even see Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, but I figured that I knew He was present. At this point there were 4 pairs of people going around the room praying for people (the laying on of hands part). 3 pairs were a man and a woman while 1 pair was two women. I started silently praying that no one would come to me to pray. But they did, and it was the pair of women. They asked if I would like to be prayed for, I couldn’t say no. They put their hands on me and began praying, just calling on the name of Jesus. And once I stopped worrying about the words that were being said and focused on Jesus, I was at peace.

In a recent blog I wrote about having a euphoric tingling feeling when I was prayed for when I was in Mexico, I experienced that again this weekend, but in a whole new way. I have no idea how long the women prayed for me or what they all said, but I felt Jesus present the entire time. Once they left, I was praying that another pair of people would pray for me. That didn’t happen but I did have almost two whole hours after the first pair left to pray on my own. Near the end of this time I rolled my head back, looked above me, and realized that the entire time I was underneath a statue of the Virgin Mary. This may not seem like a big deal, except that I’ve been praying to Mary, asking her to ask her Son, Jesus, who she is with in Heaven, to give me the strength to overcome my lustful desires and regret of my past. And then I realized what shirt I had put on that morning, the shirt is the picture you can see above. Through this series of events; 2 women praying over me, being under a statue of Mary, and wearing that shirt, I really sensed God’s forgiveness for my past sexual sin that I’ve been hanging on to. The fact that God sent two women to pray over me when it was women that I have used in the past and the sense of answered prayer from the Virgin Mary, but most importantly from her Son, our Lord, Jesus. I finally feel healed of those actions and have great thanks for Jesus and His Love and forgiveness.

That was not all the spiritual impactivity (word/sp?) that happened this weekend, but all that I care to fit into one entry. So stay tuned for more spiritual impact to be posted soon. Until then, VERSO L’ALTO!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Matthew 26-27

That's Matthew chapters 26 and 27. For the last two weeks this is what the men from the baseball team and I have read during Bible study. If you're not familiar it's the story of the Passion and there is no better time to reflect on the Passion than during the season of Lent.

I decided to read through the Passion with the guys because references to the movie The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel, have been made all year long in Bible study. As we continue through Lent and move closer to Easter; we are going to watch the movie together in a few weeks.

It has been such a blessing to read through these chapters with the guys. It's amazing what stands out to you in Scripture even when you've read something several times. The guys have really been focused as we've read through the chapters. They've asked a lot of questions and made a lot of comments about things they've never realized that Jesus went through on His way to the Cross.........things He chose to go through for each one of us.

Throughout Lent I have challenged the guys to use their Lenten fast as a way to draw closer to Jesus. That when they are tempted to have a soda or beer, or whatever they gave up to pray to the Lord and rely on Him for the strength to overcome the temptation. Last night I challenged them to read over Scripture, especially the Passion narratives, which are in each of the 4 Gospels. Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, and John 18-20.

I don't believe that there is a better way to grow closer and deeper with Jesus than to read His Word, especially when the Word is about His life.

My prayer is this Lenten season that we will all fall more deeply in love with the Lord as we reflect and anticipate the greatest sacrifice of all.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stay with me Lord

To continue to draw closer to Jesus this Lent I want to share a prayer with you that I pray often and I think is especially fitting for the Lenten season.

The prayer comes from St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. He was a priest in Italy from 1910 until his death in 1968. Not only is he a Saint in heaven but he is a canonized Saint of the Catholic Church. He is someone that touched many lives while he was here on earth and because of his great witness and selfless life that he committed to Jesus Christ, he continues to be someone that Catholics and Christians look up to today. Here is a link for more information about St. Padre Pio. I know that every time I read about him or listen to someone talk about him I am surprised to learn something that he did or something that happened to him.

The prayer that I am sharing here is a prayer that someone shared with me and is part of what is known as "Padre Pio's Prayer after receiving Holy Communion". It is a prayer that I find a lot of meaning in and it really hits my heart when I pray this after receiving Communion, which as Jesus tells us in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, that He is the Bread of Life and that Holy Communionis is His Body and His Blood. Here's the prayer.........

Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You.

Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need all Your strength, that I may not fall so often.

Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life and without You I am without fervor.

Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light and without You I am in darkness.

Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.

Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You.

Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You very much and always be in Your company.

Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.

Stay with me, Lord, as poor as my soul is I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of Love.

Lord, may this prayer draw us closer to you as we approach and prepare for You this Easter Sunday.

"Pray, hope, and don't worry." - St. Padre Pio

St. Padre Pio, Pray for us.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Break

First of all Happy Ash Wednesday and Happy Lent!!!

Leading up to spring break this year I had a great few weeks on campus. Its been great getting to spend more time with the guys on the Seton Hall baseball team. It started in the middle of February when the guys on the baseball team told me that we had to move our weekly meeting time for Bible study because they had to attend their inaugural 1st Pitch Dinner, kicking off their season. The day after they told me about this I received a phone call from their coach inviting me to the dinner. He asked me to attend and say a prayer before the meal. The dinner was great, there were several alumni, all the current players were there and a number of their parents also made it. It was a fun night and a great way to start the season. Since then the guys have been on the road for about 10 games since and are a few games below .500. I'm excited to get back to school and watch a few home games.

Spring break this year has been a different experience for me compared to the last few. Three years ago I was in Sabinas, Mexico and for the last two years I have traveled to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This year I did something I never hoped to do again on a spring break, shovel. The picture is similar to what I saw when I woke up this morning. I'm ready for spring that's for sure. But last week and since I've been on spring break I've been doing some reflecting on my past spring breaks and the impact they had on me and I wanted to write about them. I want to share these memories as a witness to a time when prayer was almost irrelevant to me, to being open to God and Jesus, and to a point where I’ve realized the need and power in relying on God and need for prayer. I think it is a good time to share now since it is in the season of Lent. A time when all Christians should be preparing for Easter Sunday and drawing closer to Jesus and strengthening (or starting) a relationship with Jesus.

The fact that I went on the mission trip to Mexico was a bit of a miracle in itself, but as I've reflected I figure my week in Mexico to be the first time that I acknowledged experiencing Jesus. I have a few very vivid memories from this trip. The first was the night we arrived, a Saturday around midnight. The pastor was showing us around the property, one thing he pointed out was a cement basing and faucet. He explained to us in Spanish that it was for us to use to clean up after we worked and before meals. He pointed out that it often backs up, pointing to the dirty water in the basin. He told us not to worry but just to use the bleach next to the basin which would help it to drain and also make the water less dirty. His next words are what struck me the most, in Spanish he said, “This cleansing is like the cleansing that Jesus will do in your heart this week.” When he said this it was well after midnight and after 30+ hours of driving, I’m glad that I was somehow still alert enough to catch that, but wow did the pastor end up being right.

The second memory was at Sunday evening service the next day. The entire service was in Spanish and despite my 7+ years of Spanish in school, I had a hard time following what was being said. But I found that there is one language, or way of communication that is universal; prayer. Near the end of the service the pastor invited the group I was with up to the front of the church so that the church members could pray for us. Before this instance I was very hesitant and unsure of public prayer. Earlier that year I attended some Bible studies and I remember being intimidated/weirded out how some people could pray so convicted that anyone was listening. But that night in Sabinas, Mexico, I let my guard down and let go of those reservations and the Lord stormed my heart. He had been knocking but I finally let Him in and He took over. I watched as the church members prayed, they talked so fast it was hard to understand, but their prayerful expressions said it all. I remember my body feeling overwhelmed. God filled my heart so much that it forced tears out of my eyes and a euphoric tingling feeling was throughout my body. Needless to say that Holy Spirit was present.

My prayer is for everyone to fall deeper in love with Jesus Christ this Lenten season, God Bless you.