The light within you

What some people would call “charisma” is actually the Holy Spirit. It’s the attractiveness of God living visibly within us. Our job is to let people see the Holy Spirit.

People have an innate longing to see God’s face, even if they don’t realize it. Their hearts are constantly searching for God, like a lost child looking for his mother in a crowd. That’s why our hearts are drawn to people with kind faces. It’s irresistible.

Let His light shine forth from you fully and freely. Let love and concern for every person who looks your way be your first thought. Be a safe place, a harbor in a stormy world, for everyone. Be kind, be present, be patient to everyone within your circle of contact today. Make your words and your actions consistent with the light; pure, illuminating, bringing warmth.

Dark words and dark works hide the light. Don’t let that be your way. Be a lampstand for God’s pure light. Dispel the dark with a strong caring hand or a quiet good example.

“Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier,” were Saint Mother Teresa’s words. Holy and Blessed Good Mother, help me to be a tall and sturdy lampstand today.

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Going to church

My wife and I are going on a trip this week. As I was reviewing our itinerary, I was reminded that we chose a later return flight next Sunday so that we would have time to attend Mass. It took a little jockeying to make hotel checkout, Mass times and flight schedules all coordinate, but at the time it seemed like: a) no big deal; and b) something that simply had to be done. (Going to Mass Saturday night is not an option in this case.)

So, what’s the big deal? It occurred to me that it wasn’t all that long ago that I would have made the flight reservations without a thought about church. Had there been time, I might have gone, but then, I might not have gone either. Church attendance was based more on convenience than necessity.

There’s not much doubt about what God wants. He calls us to remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it Holy. Observing the Sabbath is one of the most ancient parts of our faith, going back thousands of years. But our desire for worldly things calls us constantly to treat it like any other day; or like some sort of bonus day, good for getting in a little bit more work or a little bit more shopping. The most important things all too often get the least consideration when we are making our plans.

Our God is a quiet god. He doesn’t demand our attention. He doesn’t strike us down with bolts of lightning. He waits patiently for us to come to Him; sending us encouragements and guidance. But He doesn’t shout. God whispers.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that small, quiet voice is the most important one in my life. That voice always guides me in the right direction and helps steer my habits toward life and away from death. And it’s really not that hard a life to live. The reality is that it’s a much better, much more joy-filled life than my old “Give it to me, give it all to me, and give it all to me right now!” lifestyle.

But I still need to listen carefully for that gentle voice. In order to hear it, I have to quiet the world, or at least find a quiet place in the world. I have to slow down. And I have to go to church on Sunday.

There’s no time for that

This weekend, God reminded me once again that time is one of those things that we humans fuss about far more than He does. I was grumpy going into the weekend because I had volunteered to do a few things at church and it looked like I wasn’t going to have any free time (or, to put it more accurately, no “me” time). But as I sit here on Monday morning looking back on the weekend, I realize that the volunteer duties were all tremendously rewarding, I got done about three times the amount of things that I thought I possibly could get done in a weekend, and lastly, there was plenty of “me” time.

We hold ourselves back so often, thinking we don’t have the time or the talents to do all that God wants us to do. Or we approach giving of ourselves as if it were a prison sentence. Sometimes, time seems so limited. But the Kingdom of Heaven has no limits. In God’s kingdom, time is not measured in seconds, minutes, hours or even days. Love is all that’s measured.

God will let us live according to our own schedule. We can be miserly with time. If we insist that we just don’t have time for this or that, we won’t. Funny thing, though. I have found that when I hold onto my time as if it were my own little sack of gold, giving away small pieces grudgingly, it runs through my hands like water. But when I forget about time and instead give love, I discover that I’m swimming in an ocean of time. What needs to be done gets done. And there’s time for even more.

Because God measures love, not time, He lives in eternity. And we are free to live there with Him. Anytime.

Is it a coincidence?

Love makes the world a better place. There’s really no argument about that, is there? Can anyone argue that love improves any situation to which it is added?

I’ve been reading a basket of statistics and reports lately that all say variations of the same thing: people who love and who are loved are happier and healthier. The most recent was a speaker from Gilda’s Club, a national nonprofit support organization for cancer patients and their families founded by former Saturday Night Live comedian Gilda Radner. According to the speaker, the quality and speed of cancer recovery is significantly enhanced if the patient has someone nearby who cares about them.

That’s just one example of love being an essential part of our humanity. There are many others.

Love is essential for our well-being. Love keeps us healthier.

God is love.

Is it a coincidence?

It’s time for a cold shower

There’s no natural gas service to my house this morning. While we were out of town, the gas company had to replace our gas meter, and needed to wait for us to return before they can turn the gas back on. As I sit here sipping my microwaved morning coffee and contemplating the prospect of an “invigorating” morning shower, I read Jesus’ warning about becoming too comfortable with the things of the world. Jesus has a terrific sense of timing.

In Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a story of a rich man whose land produced such a bountiful harvest that he decided he should tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then he could, “eat, drink and be merry,” because all of his worldly cares would be covered. But God whispered to him that he would die that night, and asked to whom all of those worldly goods would belong.

No matter how much time we spend acquiring things of the world, there will never be enough. I earn enough to be “comfortable,” but it only takes the twist of a natural gas valve to eliminate a substantial amount of my comfort. A broken water pipe, downed power line or any one of a thousand other natural or man-made incidents could erase my “comfort zone,” in a heartbeat. And that’s without God lifting a finger.

Too often, we define our world by the size of our barn or by how early we can retire (or by the temperature of our hot water). We judge the measure of our success by the number of dollars in our bank account. Any one of those can be taken from us in a moment. Even if they’re not, they can only assure that we will be comfortable for a few more years. Once our heart stops beating, and one day it surely will, the only account that matters is our eternal bank account.

The man from the gas company showed up just now. As I expected, it only took a few minutes for him to restore my home’s service. My water heater is quietly burbling away in the basement again, brewing up warm water for today’s shower. I think I’ll take a cold one anyway, to remind myself what matters.

I got nothing

What do you do when your spiritual gas tank is on “Empty”? When your prayers sound like you’re talking in an empty auditorium, with nothing but a hollow echo in response. When it looks to you like the bad guys are going to win and the good guys will be humiliated. What do you do with that sadness inside that won’t go away? What do you do?

This phenomenon is not new. Even Jesus, God’s one and only flesh and blood “begotten” son experienced the pain of feeling cut off from God. Mother Theresa lived in that blackness for decades. It’s a mystery, but it’s also a real part of the Christian experience. What do you do?

I start by praying. Even though my prayers don’t seem to have the response they used to, I stick to my prayer routine. Time and the experiences of Jesus and the saints has proven that God hasn’t gone anywhere; we’ve just lost our own personal feedback loop. Your prayers are still getting through; have faith and stick to it.

I look for someone who needs my help. It’s a basic truth even though it doesn’t seem to be logical. The best way to overcome your own sadness is by making someone else happy. It’s dark inside; look outward.

I have faith. God’s creation is immense, complex and mysterious. No human can take it all in or truly understand how one thing affects another. But God does, and his plan is for our benefit. Because he loves us.

So, when I have nothing else, I know that I have God’s love. And that’s more than enough.

Who is my mother?

This is another one of those sayings of Jesus that really bugs me. When told that his mother and brothers were trying to get in to see him, Jesus sweeps his arm around the crowded room and replies, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” (Lk 18:21). We’re talking about the Blessed Virgin Mother! It goes against my grain to see Mary treated with anything less than total veneration, even by Jesus. He should have told the crowd to “Make a hole!”

Jesus is a master of timing. This particular Gospel reading showed up yesterday and, as always, it unsettled me. When Jesus says something that irks me, I’ve learned to recognize it as a signal that something inside is not as in tune with the Lord’s will as it should be. I asked for a little spiritual guidance.

As I prayed about it, it came to me that one of my spiritual weaknesses is a family-centric selfishness. I prefer to give my time to causes and events that involve me, my wife or my children. Everything else gets second priority. I do participate in non-family causes, but they get more scrutiny than giving of my time and talent to something that involves family, even if the particular family event is watching a rerun on TV. We’re “empty nesters” now and 3 of our children live many states away from us. Simply put, we have time available to give.

Jesus’ comments were not a dig at his mother; far from it. They were His reminder that our family is the Body of Christ; it’s much larger than our biological lineage. And my whole family deserves all the love of my nearby family.

That’s the revelation for today. Stay tuned to see whether I actually turn the lesson into practice. (And pray for me!)

More later.

Get up. Again.

How many times have you heard the parable of the seed that fell on fertile ground? You know the one I mean; from Chapter 8 of Luke, verses 4-15. “ While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:  “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.  But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

I must have heard that particular parable and Jesus’ explanation of it hundreds of times. It’s a good, sturdy, reliable story. But the part that never struck me until now was the last phrase; “by persevering, produce a good crop.” Once again, God is calling me to keep at it.

Earlier this week, our men’s faith sharing group was reading Dan Burke’s book on prayer called, “Into The Deep.” While describing the challenges of meditation as a brain filled with noisy monkeys (it’s a great analogy), Dan acknowledged that, “The world, the flesh and the devil are all arrayed against you. Even so, God is greater than all these forces, and if you cooperate with him and get up every time you fall, you will find greater success than you ever imagined possible.”

I have a rule in my faith. If I see a message twice within a few days, my rule is that God is trying to get my attention. He got it on this one. I don’t have to win. I don’t have to succeed every time I try. God doesn’t hold me accountable for the results. God just asks me to keep the faith and to keep on trying. In prayer, in love, in pursuit of sainthood, victory isn’t achieved through greatness or strength or brilliance. Victory in faith comes when we simply keep returning to Jesus. No matter how we’ve failed, or even how we’ve failed to try; all God asks is that this time we get up once more and accept his love and try again.

Keep the faith.

It really is that simple

You’ve heard this said before in different ways, but it always bears repeating. This version is from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Chapter 13 to be specific). Paul told the new Christians in Rome, “The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

That last sentence in particular hit home for me this time. Love does no evil to the neighbor, and hence love is the fulfillment of the law. In other words, if you love your neighbor, you won’t do any harm to your neighbor, and that’s what Christianity is all about.

There are millions of words in the Bible; tens of millions of words in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and even more millions of words in all of the sermons, meditations, books, lectures, pamphlets, etc. And they all guide us back to this same very simple and very profound truth. If we love one another, we will care for one another, and if we care for one another all will be well.

It’s just that simple.

It’s okay to fail

Christianity was built for imperfect people because it was built on imperfect people. Take as the first and greatest example Peter. “The Rock” that Jesus chose to be the foundation of the Church had a habit of saying things that annoyed Jesus. At one point, Jesus called him “Satan,” and said, “Get behind me, you are an obstacle to me.” Peter lost his nerve when Jesus invited him to walk on water and adamantly denied knowing Jesus after The Messiah was arrested. He ran away in fear. Pope #1 was not a model of perfection.

And yet Jesus put him in charge of the movement that became The Way that became Christianity. The Apostles never questioned Peter’s leadership. His voice was the last word in a debate. The Church has accepted from its earliest days that Peter was the first among equals; the first servant.

The Bible is filled with the fallibility of people. From Genesis to Revelation human beings prove over and over again that, “to err is human, to forgive divine.” God wanted to make it clear that, while He doesn’t want us to make mistakes, He understands that we will. And more than anything else He wants us to always turn back to Him.

Sometimes we make mistakes that embarrass, even humiliate, us. We do something so bad, so wrong that we cannot forgive ourselves, let alone seek forgiveness from others. We hide, hoping someday that everyone else will forget what we did.

But we don’t forget. Those mistakes fester within us, eating away at our self-confidence, chewing up our energy, and pushing us away from God. One mistake seems to breed another, and another, and we treat them all the same way; hide them, push them down, hope they will go away. None of them do.

Jesus came into the world because God knows that our nature leads us to make these sorts of mistakes. But also because God knows that we need, and will always need, a divine helping hand. He knows that when left to our own devices, we will try to swallow guilt and make it go away from within. That never works, but we humans always try it anyway. He knows that guilt needs to be removed for us to be free.

Jesus paid the price for all of our guilt. God, eternal, almighty and ever-living God, submitted to human beings. He let them accuse Him, convict Him, humiliate Him and kill Him. He watched as His friends, including His closest friend, Peter, ran away during His hour of need. People put Jesus to death, and with Jesus dying breath He asked God to forgive them, because they didn’t realize the magnitude of their error. To send the message that God Always Forgives.

The next time you make a mistake, commit a sin, or live less charitably than you should, offer it up to God. Own it, don’t make excuses for it, but acknowledge it and ask Him to forgive you…knowing that he will because he already has. And then let it go.

St. Peter was the first Pope not because he was perfect. He was the first Pope because he allowed God to work through him. He may not have understood everything that Jesus taught, but he understood the most important thing. Jesus is the Son of God and to succeed all Peter had to do was keep coming back to Him.