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.