Easter is NOT a Finish Line!

If you’re like me, you are usually relieved to make it to Easter Sunday. Finally, all of that Lent stuff is over and you can eat sweets and go back to life as “normal.” For my entire life until this year, that has been my approach to Easter. However, thanks to the coronavirus, this Easter felt totally different and much less like that joyous finish line I had looked forward to. After all, what did we do to celebrate? 

We stayed in, just like everyone else living under the stay-at-home order. 

But then, I was reading in the Acts of the Apostles (1:4-5), and realized that Jesus gave his disciples a kind of stay-at-home order following that first Easter Sunday: 

“And while staying with them he [Jesus] charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

You see, Jesus told his disciples to stay at home in Jerusalem and to wait for the promise of the Father – the baptism of the Holy Spirit! In other words, Jesus tells his disciples to stay put because the best is yet to come! 

So often, and rightly so, we place such a heavy emphasis on the resurrection. It is the trademark belief of Christianity. St. Paul tells us that we are absolute fools to be Christians and not believe in the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). But because of the unfathomable goodness of God, we cannot stop there. There is more!

There is still the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus calls the promise of the Father. The resurrection by itself is not enough – the Lord wants to give us even more. 

If we stop and think of the Israelites, God was not finished with them after the Exodus event. Sure, they defeated Pharaoh and were delivered from the bondage of Egypt, but that was not the end of the story. They eventually were brought to Sinai where the entered into a covenant with God and were given the Law. 

In the same way, Jesus defeats death and delivers us from the bondage of sin by the power of his resurrection, but the promise of the Father and the Law of the Holy Spirit is yet to come. This is what we celebrate at Pentecost – entering into a covenant with the Father written on our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

So, let’s listen to Jesus’ stay-at-home order like those first disciples in the Upper Room. We need to pray and wait with the Blessed Virgin for the promise of the Father to come upon us once more. Certainly, by baptism and confirmation the Holy Spirit was sacramentally poured out upon us – but we can never exhaust the unfathomable and unending riches of God. We MUST ask for more of the Spirit’s creating power – especially at a time like this. 

Here are three suggestions: 

  1. A daily renewal of your baptismal promises – stir up the Spirit already dwelling in your heart. You can use something like this.
  2. Pray the Rosary everyday. Mary was there with the disciples in the Upper Room and is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Where she is, there is the Spirit. 
  3. Pray the Veni Creator Spiritus. It’s one of the Church’s most ancient prayers to the Spirit, and is a very popular prayer in preparation for Pentecost. 

Like I said above, this is not the finish line, so let’s start now!

God is NOT an Insurance Policy

You know the commercials. 

15 minutes could save you 15% or more. 

Like a good neighbor. 

You’re in good hands. 

In this land of plenty, we like to protect our stuff with insurance policies. The more we have, the more we have to insure. The thought of having something which could simply be destroyed or damaged without remuneration is absurd to the modern mind. And certainly, there is a natural sense of justice involved with this notion. If the deductibles are paid, the policy should cover whatever was damaged. Simple enough. On the other hand, if the coverage doesn’t cover what it should, then we move on to find a new policy. After all, it might only take 15 minutes…

When it comes to our relationship with God, however, it should not be a kind of eternal insurance policy. It is possible to slip into this mindset so frequently. For example, if I say my prayers, check off my obligation for Mass on Sundays and holy days, and maybe throw a few bucks in the collection plate, then God should cover me. He should make sure my life is fairly pain free, relatively happy, and ultimately make sure we all get to heaven. In other words, if I pay my deductible by doing what is required, then God should cover the rest. 

Unfortunately, this notion of God as the divine Insurer could not be further from the reality revealed by Jesus. After all, Jesus’ life was filled with the most horrific suffering and death after living in total fidelity to the will of His Father. So, if God is not the great Adjuster, then who is He?

God is Father. He is a divine Person who lives in relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. And through His Son, He has fully revealed Himself to us. And more than that, through His Son taking on human flesh in Jesus, He has invited us into the same eternal communion of love which is the Trinity. In other words, instead of offering a coverage policy in return for meeting our religious duties, God offers His very Self – totally, completely, and unreservedly. 

In fact, this is precisely what the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus reveals – that there is not a single moment of human existence in which God does not accompany each and every member of His Church. Think about it. God became an embryo, developed into a man, died, and entered into the grave. The work of Jesus, more than simply being a ministry of justice to repair the damage of sin, inaugurated a covenant in which our weak, frail, and broken humanity is exchanged for the all-powerful, eternally strong, and perfect Son of God. 

In a most jarring way, this is precisely what takes place during Holy Communion at each and every Mass. Instead of Christ becoming part of our own bodies, it is our entire humanity which becomes united to Him. In the Eucharist, there is no change in Christ. We are the ones who become conformed to Him. In the most profound way, it is during this act of Holy Communion that we enter into the very life of heaven now. 

So, why do we go to Mass on Sunday and holy days? It’s not to insure our future or to win the divine comprehensive coverage package. After all, God is not into profits or in need of anything from us mere mortals. Instead, we go to Mass to exchange our very selves for His. We go to Mass because we are members of the very Bride of Christ – the Church. We go to Mass, because we’ve been invited to the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb – heaven. 

In a word, our relationship with God is not like an insurance policy. It’s much more like a Marriage. A Marriage that is not built on keeping scores and counting points but rather on self-giving love and covenantal fidelity. At every Mass, God gives His very self. In every tabernacle, He waits for our company. 

Most simply, He wants our friendship, not our deductible. 

HATE Your Mother and Father?!?!?

Jesus often says radical things in order to get our attention and to shake us out of our false understandings about life. Jesus says in Luke 14:25, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” That is a pretty radical statement!

Disclaimer – Jesus is not giving us permission to treat our families like garbage or to intentionally treat our mothers, fathers, and families with disdain or malice, but that we cannot allow these things to be the center of our lives. 

The first of the 10 commandments that God gave us is to Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind and strength, and that we should have no strange god’s or idols. Now, hopefully we all are doing our best to Love the Lord our God as much as we can, certainly we are all a work in progress here. However do we really assess that second part? Do I have idols in my life or strange gods? Now likely we aren’t worshipping the gods of the Egyptians or have little statues of Zeus or Poseidon or Bahamut in our rooms that we light candles in front of and pray to. But I’m sure if we sat and thought about it, there are things in our life that we spend more time, effort, energy, and thoughts on than God. 

Maybe it is money that is our idol, looking for a way to get a little bit more out of our paycheck. Maybe our idol is popularity, wanting others to think a certain way about me. Maybe it is the hobby that I spend a lot of my free time thinking about. Maybe it is food, or TV, or exercise, our favorite sports team, sleep, or vacation. I think I can say that all of those things have manifested themselves as minor deities in my life. 

None of these things, in themselves are evil, many of them are good; but if we spend our lives pursuing these things INSTEAD of God, that is when it becomes idolatry. Perhaps our idol is our family. I would never say that Family is not important. I love my family, but do I love them more than God, who died for my sins, who offers me eternal life, who I have committed my life to serving as a disciple? So the lesson that Jesus is teaching us today, is detachment. We need to have detachment from things of this world, of things that are not God. Ultimately detachment is what God is calling us to, to not be tied to things that hold us to this world and be free to pursue God, who is the greatest goal. Only in God will I find my true fulfillment, happiness, and satisfaction; why should I settle for anything less than Him. 

The Dying Man in Your Path?

“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky or over the sea, but very near to you.”

This is what is told to us by Moses in the first reading. But I will come back to that in a minute.

In the Gospel from this Sunday we hear a familiar story; the Good Samaritan. A man is attacked by robbers and left to die. Three men walk by. 1 man helps him after 2 ignore him including a priest, a man of God. This reading is always a challenge to me as a priest, as is any mention of priests by Jesus because they are usually the bad example in his stories and parables.

This past week I was working at a catholic summer camp and on the last day I said, “Raise your hand if you think Jesus did something in your heart this week. (All hands are raised) Raise your hand if you think Jesus is calling you to do something great with your life! (those hands stay up)” We can ask ourselves the same question. Truly, we are all called to do something great with our lives. Well the thing is, oftentimes we are looking up in the sky, or across the sea, or in a far distant land, or too far in the future to do something great.

I want you to put yourself in the shoes of the priest here on the journey. But instead of priest, replace the word that would describe you, a doctor, a banker, a mother, a teacher, a father, a student. Now imagine that you are walking on the path and you see the dying man on your side of the path. So often we are looking for somewhere else that the Lord is calling us to be great instead of right where we are.

There are people that are dying right in front of our path and we are walking on the other side of the road because we have something better to do. I want you to think and pray this week about the person who is suffering who is in your path; not in another country, not someone who we’ll see in a month, or someone who needs it more, but I’ll get to them later. Who is on the path with us who needs a companion and a help up? Who at work is struggling with a family problem but whom we’ve ignored because we don’t want to get involved? Who is the person we know who is just in need of a friendly face to ask them how their day was? Who is the person I need to bring Jesus to in my life? Who needs the Love of Christ from you?

In the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”  That is a life that is worth living and a life that is filled with greatness.

The Harrowing of Holy Week

I know this is a little late, but we’re still in the Easter season, so (at least for me) I think that it’s important to reflect on the most sacred time in our Catholic Faith.

This was my first Holy Week as a priest, which was exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Holy Week, from as early as I can remember, is one of my favorite times of the year (I guess if we are excluding Christmas)!  As a seminarian it is an especially joyful and exciting time; being able to follow the bishop around and help serve at the different masses and liturgical services is really beautiful.

I had a tough Lent this year. Long hours sitting in the confessional, turmoil with some of my relationships and my ever-continuing battle with sin made for a desert journey of sorts through Lent. So I was looking forward to Holy Week to bring that crazy Lent to a close and rejoice with the Resurrection and the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week.

The day of the Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, I spent the day with some good friends of mine before the Mass that would begin around 9pm. For some reason there was something that was just irking me all day long; something that made me feel anxious and unsettled. While I was with my friends I was irritated and anxious in a place which usually gives me peace and relaxation. As I was leaving my friends’ house, I recognized that it was simply the devil attempting to steal my peace and joy (which he was partially successful in doing). First I acknowledged that, then I tried to gear myself up to celebrate the Easter Vigil liturgy.

This lack of peace and anxiety continued well into the liturgy until I came to the point where I was to sing the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet). The Exsultet is a long chanted song that beautifully recounts the great deeds of the Lord during the events of the His passion and Resurrection. As I was singing this ancient hymn, there was a beautiful, almost cathartic, movement within myself as I proclaimed the power of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, the King of Kings, and the conqueror of Death! My singing of that hymn was me telling the world, “I choose you Jesus Christ and I reject the lies and temptations of the evil One!” And I began to sing this song as a prayer:

“Let all corners of the earth be glad knowing an end to gloom and darkness (I can rejoice because Jesus has brought light and life to me)!”

“Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father and pouring out his own dear blood wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness (Jesus wiped out the sin that would bring me to hell, and gave me a chance to choose him).”

“This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld!”

Christ has already conquered the evil one, there is no battle left to fight but my choice to live and follow Him. Jesus conquered sin, broke its power over humanity and has given us an opportunity to live in His love. My singing the Exsultet was as if Jesus ripped the Devil’s dirty fingers off of my restless heart and pounded him with a sledge hammer straight back to Hell! I know that my Redeemer lives and that he has saved me from a miserable life as a slave to sin.

That is what this Easter Season is about. “Let the trumpet of Salvation sound aloud our Mighty King’s Triumph!”resurrection2007

Haircuts and Heaven

This past weekend I was able to witness the marriage of a lovely couple professing their vows to one another in the presence of the Church. It was a most joyful day! 

In the midst of the hoopla, I began to look around and couldn’t help but notice how much attention was given to hair! All of the bridesmaids had their hair beautifully styled and the groomsmen looked well kempt. In fact, that morning I happened to get my own hair cut in order to look my best for the occasion. So, too, did a brother seminarian of mine who was also serving at the wedding. 

Certainly, this is not a shocking revelation. Most folks do get their hair taken care of before a big event. For instance, a new job interview, a wedding, holidays, etc. 

But what does this have to do with heaven?

Hair, after all, is nothing more than dead cells adorning our external bodies. And it’s certainly a great practice to keep ourselves looking presentable. But how much more important is our living and immortal soul? How often do we take the time to clean up our interior life to prepare ourselves for the ultimate wedding – the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (heaven  – see Revelation 19). 

The perfect place to do this, of course, is through the sacrament of penance (confession, reconciliation). Within the sacrament, what is dead and unsightly – sin – is cut off from within us and the beauty of our baptismal garment (just like a bride’s dress) is restored to its pristine purity. 

So, I make a simple suggestion:

When it’s time for a haircut, it’s time to make a good confession. 

From my experience, that’s about once a month, or in the event of a special occasion like a wedding. 

In the spiritual life, “weddings” happen a little more often. We’re invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb every time we go to Mass. That’s why Father holds up the host and says: “Behold the Lamb of God…blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” 

In short, its important to stay in a consistent practice of spiritual upkeep to keep our souls looking good, especially for the reception of holy communion. However, sometimes we might find ourselves in serious sin – kind of like having our hair catch on fire or being the experiment of a three-year old with scissors. 

In that case, I’d recommend seeing a barber, a stylist, and/or a priest as soon as possible! 

Martha, Martha, Martha!

Martha and Mary are two very different people. We read in the Gospel of Luke, the story of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha is working away. Martha complains that Mary isn’t working and should help her, but Jesus says that Mary is doing the better thing. In this Gospel, the two sisters have a very different reaction to Jesus coming to Lazarus’ grave.

Initially Mary is back at home and Jesus meets Martha. Martha says, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give to you.” We can almost hear in the tone of her voice, a hint of bitterness that Jesus wasn’t there, but more strongly a trust in the Lord’s plan.

Mary, who I would say is more struck by grief, says almost the exact same thing to Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” But what is the difference? There is a much greater sadness with Mary than with Martha. We can hear behind her words “Why weren’t you here, you could have saved him! I believed in you and your power, but you didn’t show up. I’m beginning to doubt in your love and care for me.” How many times have we felt like Mary here? “Why weren’t you here God? This doesn’t make sense. You could have prevented this evil from occurring. Do you even care what happens to me?”

Whereas in the previous story Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part, here Martha has the truer faith and trusts Jesus. Mary is treating Jesus like a vending machine: if she has faith in Jesus’ power and has Jesus show up, then she will get what she wants. Whereas Martha has faith in Jesus’ power and in how he will use that power, trusting that Jesus will provide for what she NEEDS and not for what she WANTS. This is the faith that we must have.

I believe that Martha’s trust in Jesus’ plan is what brought about the miraculous raising of Lazarus. The Lord is always able to work great things through those who trust in him.

Martha is one of my patron saints. I was born on her Feast day, she is the patron saint of cooks (and I love to cook!), and Jesus is constantly telling me, like Martha, “You are anxious and worried about many things that are not me.” But what I love most about St. Martha, and something that I need to be reminded of daily, is her reply to the Lord, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ!” I have COME to believe – Not, “I believed the first moment I met you” But after a brawl of difficulties, being corrected, having experienced pain and suffering and loss, you have shown me, gradually, that you are truly and really my savior.

I believe Martha is the model of faith for us. We can say, “Lord I really wish you would have helped me here. But I know that whatever you do, you do because you love me. I have come to believe that you are the Christ and you can save me from my sins and pains.  Jesus, I trust in you, and in your plan for my life.”

St. Martha, Pray for us.

Pain and the Resurrection: the route to Communion

Recently, a loved one of mine has been experiencing relentless pain. It all began with minor aches years ago which have gradually become worse and worse – to the point of interfering with his day to day life. The pain has even affected his ability to get consistent sleep. As you can imagine, this can quickly lead to a vicious cycle. 

The problem with pain, it seems, is that it sacks us of our independence and cements the certitude of the fragility of our human condition. In fact, it is this precise point which causes the human soul to feel pain. As creatures in the likeness of God, we are made for eternal glory amid the passing things of earth. Thus, we find ourselves in a constant state of tension – seeking to live the reality of permanent glory now, while enduring the pain and hardship of life encapsulated in the passibility of daily life. It’s no wonder we seek to attach ourselves to so many things like health and happiness, yet constantly find their impermanence in this world. 

In Christ’s sorrowful passion, death, and glorious resurrection, though, it is possible to see the transformation of this tension we call pain. In Christ, the eternal one Himself takes on the total passibility of human flesh. By nature of the incarnation, our Lord Himself became the paradigm of the tension of pain. In the most manifest way, this tension is raised up for the world to see in his saving work on the Cross: the God-man dead. 

It is in His resurrection, though, that we can begin to see the resolution to the problem of pain. In Christ, there was never a point in which He was not in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit – even through his most horrific passion and death. Further, there was never a point following His incarnation that His divine life was not in communion with human flesh. In sum, the communion of Christ with the Father, the Holy Spirit, and human flesh is the reality of the resurrection, and ultimately our own humanity being seated at the right hand of the Father.

What does this do in regard to our problem of pain? It necessarily calls us into further communion – with both the Most Holy Trinity and with human flesh – namely, one another. 

As is so often experienced, pain seeks with reckless abandon to isolate humanity not only from God, but also from one another. Whether it is the skepticism we experience in ever finding healing, or the emotional isolation resulting from our own unforgiveness of our brothers and sisters, pain can be a reviling rival. 

But in the resurrection, Christ Jesus redeems pain and allows it to be transformed in the most ironic way: precisely through vulnerability. 

By becoming a tiny a vulnerable Child, Christ united humanity to Himself. By being stripped naked, beaten, and treated as a criminal who was put to death, Christ retained communion with humanity even through death, so that eternal communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit could be restored to human flesh. Most readily, Christ still continues to be with us under the appearance of a tiny piece of bread to be both handled and consumed. It’s not a coincidence we call this Holy Communion.

From this, it seems vulnerability is the very seed through which the final victory of Christ was grown. So, too, should it be with us. If we truly seek to overcome the problem of pain – we must become more vulnerable with both God and one another. 

I know it’s ironic, but so too is God becoming man and life being born out of death. The more quickly we present our painful wounds to the Trinity and to one another, the more quickly we will be enabled to grow in communion. And as we have seen so marvelously illustrated in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection – communion is the only permanence offered amid the impermanence of temporal life. 

The only reality of heaven on earth, the eternal in the realm of the temporal, is the glorified and vulnerable Christ present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. If we want to share in that impassible glory, we too must become vulnerable so as to enter into His communion. 

Christ always offers us this communion. 

Please, God, give us the vulnerability to accept it. 

Scared of Confession?

You know the feeling – that dread in the pit of your stomach, the tingling in your arms, and those thoughts running through your head: “I’m so embarrassed” or “How can God ever forgive me?” It’s the shame we all experience as a result of our sins, and the thought of having to reveal our darkest moments to a priest seems nearly insurmountable. Though those thoughts and feelings are very real and palpable – let me tell you a secret – they are a big fat lie! Shame is pure deception from the evil one seeking to imprison us in our woundedness and brokenness.

The reality of our Lord and His saving mission is that he came as the Divine Physician – He wants you to experience total healing – mind, body, and soul. If we begin from this outlook, it becomes possible to soberly recognize our own sinfulness and brokenness as symptoms of our wounded nature rather than indications of our identity. After all, our identity is most truly beloved sons and daughters of God Almighty. We are totally unique and unrepeatable – desired to come into existence from all eternity by a loving Father. By our baptism, we truly become partakers in the very life of God. 

So, while there is pain involved in asking for forgiveness from the One you love, we must never fall for the lie of shame. Sin does not define who we are. It only shows our need for a Savior and Healer – Jesus Christ – who stops at nothing to pour out His abundant healing upon our open wounds. Take some time during this sacred season to go to the Divine Physician in the sacrament of His healing – reconciliation. The Father wants nothing more, or less, than to see you – his beloved child – to live in peace and freedom.