Monday, September 9, 2013

What's in Your Ritual?

In a recent conversation, a friend said (more or less), “What the Seven Sacraments have in common is death.”  Each Sacrament calls us into the cross, into suffering, into dying to self.  Ultimately, they call us into resurrection life- but only AFTER death.  No shortcuts, end runs or free passes.  Jesus is clear.  “The man who holds onto his life will lose it.  The man who loses his life for my sake, shall live.”  In case we miss that, Jesus also says, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”  Simple, unqualified and without nuance.  Where did Jesus carry His cross?  To Calvary, where He gave up everything that was within Him as a man, complete death to self.
In the Catholic Church, we are blessed by the gift of the Sacraments, rituals that are laced and loaded with meaning.  Every word, every action within the ritual has meaning and is designed to point us and anchor us to the reality!  But, that reality is a hard reality.  In Baptism, we enter into the family of God, but we reject the enemy and all his evil ways.  Death to self.  In Matrimony and Holy Orders a man covenants himself to his bride, pledging to place her ahead of his own fleshly desires.  Death to self.
Yet, let’s be honest.  Most Catholics are hardly aware that the ritual calls them into such a radical reality.  And even when they do, they often dare not go onto that ground!  I’ve lived much (if not all) of my life avoiding the cross.  And this is what it looks like.  It’s easy for me to trust God in the places where I trust Him.  But, oh, I will pass on trusting Him with the areas of my life where I think He has abandoned me, rejected me and failed to come through for me.  “Thank-you very much,” I say in my flesh, “but I’d rather trust me with this.”
And here is the sad, sad reality that occurs, either by my ignorance, or by my will.  The ritual no longer reflects and points to a reality.  Instead, it becomes a routine, just another mindless check-box item to take care of in a busy life.  Baptism carries the same weight as my birthday, or brushing my teeth.  I am not speaking here to the conferral of grace within the Sacrament, but the human experience and understanding.
Yet, the only place I truly experience life, is where I’m willing to die.  The only vibrant Catholic, the only vibrant Christian, the only vibrant church, is the one that is willing to pick up a cross, drag it to Calvary, be crucified upon it, and die.  And having done that, we shall find only one thing.  Jesus. His life.  His freedom.  “So I set before you life and death.  Choose life.”  So, what’s in your ritual?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

When Your Foot Goes in the Jordan

In the book of Exodus, Joshua and 12 spies crossed the Jordan River into the land that God had PROMISED to Israel.  For all but Joshua and Caleb, the report back was a big “No thanks.”  The giants were too big, the natives too many, and the armies too strong, blah, blah, blah.  Fear ruled the hearts of Israel instead of trust, and into the desert they went- for 40 grueling years.
For those 40 years, Joshua sat outside the Tent of Meeting where Moses met with Yahweh.  For those 40 years, Joshua waited patiently for the thing that he knew should have already been.  For those 40 years, Joshua pitched a tent every night instead of living under a roof.  So, when the Lord spoke to Joshua about entering the Promised Land, he was ready.  No more fear.  No more deserts.  No more dust in his face.  No more lack.
But, oh, wait just a minute.  What about the obstacles?  “Darn it, the Jordan River is flooded!  How will we get across?  Jericho is a fortified city!  How can we possibly win?”  Joshua didn’t know how to cross a flooded river, but he knew that God did- because God told him they were going across!  As for Jericho, God would deal with that as well.  Because Joshua knew God’s voice, he trusted.
My life, and yours too, probably, is a lot like ancient Israel, fearful and mistrustful of God.  We do what they did- avoid their deepest fear in favor of another spin in the desert- cactus, scorpions and thirst.  We are more willing to make friends with the enemies of our heart and souls (sin, despair, fear, abandonment) than we are to step into the River.
To put your foot in the Jordan River is to face the enemy that lurks deepest within you.  Each of us has a deepest fear.  It’s the place within us that we trust God the least.  The voice that protects this fear sounds like, “God won’t come through for you here.”   “You’ll try and fail, and then you will know that you are all alone.”  “You can’t trust God with THAT!”  It is a dark, lonely, shame-filled place.
Find that place, and you’ve found your Jordan River, your barrier to the Promised Land.  1 John 1:5 tells us that “God is light; in Him there is no darkness”.  Invite Jesus into that darkness.  Have the courage to ask Jesus to speak to it.  Trust Jesus to minister to that hurt, and darkness will flee.  The flooded Jordan will recede before you, and you will pass into your own promised land as if on dry land.
I recently put my foot in the Jordan.  I stepped into my deepest fear and the most mistrustful place of my heart toward God.  Jesus has met me every step of the way.  I’m fighting some battles along the way, but He has met me where I didn’t believe I could be met.  He showed up where I was sure he wouldn't.  His light has dispelled the dark place of fear and mistrust in my heart.  And, I can honestly say, “My life will never be the same again”.  The sweet milk and honey of intimacy with our Lord in the parched desert of my wounded heart?  I can’t even describe what happens in my soul.
So, where is your Jordan River?  What are the giants that threaten you?  What are the strong fortresses that you believe are too strong for you to overcome?  Be Strong and Courageous- Joshua 1:8

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Who's the Master of Your Heart?

At the end of chapter 7 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is the guest in the home of a Pharisee.  Jesus is reclining at table, when a woman, a reputed sinner, enters the home and bathes Jesus’ feet with oil.  The Pharisee is, of course, appalled.  We all tend to wag our finger at the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, but there’s another level to this story.  This is the story to the brokenness that is in each of us, and a key that helps to unlock the grace of God’s healing.
In each of us, there are parts of our hearts that we have given to the Lord…and places we haven’t.  Where we carry hurt, where we’re wounded, where we resist God, where we are out of communion with Him, these are places we have not given to the Lord.  These are places of pain that we all experience- fear, abandonment, rejection, despair, hopelessness, hurt from others.  To protect ourselves from this pain, we build structures around our pain to protect ourselves.  Those structures often look a lot like the Pharisee in our story- rigid, hardness of heart and skepticism.  So, this story is the story of God’s redemption and healing, and how to get there.
As I read the story, I found myself asking, “Why is Jesus at the Pharisee’s house?”  It doesn’t appear that Jesus has a particular affinity for this Pharisee, and the Pharisee has no affinity for Jesus at all.  The Pharisee thinks to himself, “If this man [Jesus] were a prophet….”.  So, he is testing the proposition that Jesus might be a prophet.  But, when he speaks to Jesus, he calls him by the rather generic term, “Teacher”.  Yet, Jesus is “reclining at table”, apparently relaxed and quite comfortable.  Then, it hit me.  Jesus is waiting.  He is waiting for HER.
Jesus could have met her anywhere, in the street, in her home, anywhere.  Why here?  Not, as you might be inclined to think, to shame or humiliate her.  Instead, Jesus was drawing out her heart, to help her desire Jesus (healing) more than anything else, to press through shame, self-condemnation, rejection, isolation into healing, into the presence of Jesus.
The Pharisee, and what he represents, stands between the woman and Jesus the healer.  The healer was in the house, waiting, reclining at table.  When we pray for healing, we sometimes say, “Come Lord Jesus, into my hurt and pain.  Heal me.”  We might do better to realize that He’s already inside the house, reclining at table, waiting for us to come in.    It is we who have to step into the interior of our own house, walk through the door of condemnation, rejection, or abandonment, whatever that door is for us.
And waiting on the other side, right there, is Jesus, the healer of my heart and the lover of my soul.  He embraces my brokenness and ministers to my hurt and pain.  As we bring the abject brokenness of our lives to Jesus, he gives us a new identity, the truth of who we really are, the value of our relationship to Him.
In each of us, there are parts of our lives and hearts that belong to God.  And there are parts of our lives and hearts that belong to a Pharisee who we may think is protecting us.  But he is not.  And in each of us is the woman, sinful and hurting, with only a Pharisee standing between us and the grace of healing.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Death of Convenient Catholicism

Convenient, Comfortable, Cultural Catholicism is dead in America.  The body may still be warm, perhaps even a post mortem twitch or two.  But it’s dead.  Soon enough, and perhaps sooner that you think- you’ll agree.  Why do I assert such a thing?  Simply put, there is no longer a place for it in the culture.   Soon, “Catholic “will be incompatible with comfortable or convenient.  You need only follow my premise to its logical outcome to understand why.
First, the New Evangelization is under way in earnest in this country.  The Church’s leadership, and numerous apostolates, anchored in the person of Jesus Christ in fidelity to His bride, the Church, abound.  Jesus is remaking His Church, transforming the faith-life of countless Catholics.  The New Evangelization is breeding Catholics who love Jesus, are bold in their faith, and courageous in their convictions.  The call in the New Evangelization is serious and not for the faint of heart.  And if I’m right, we will need every bit of that mettle.
Secondly, our own government has become hostile to all who subscribe to differing beliefs.  The HHS mandate has effectively pushed the matter of faith out of the public square and into the confines of “private life”.  Religious liberty has been deeply damaged.  The IRS scandal has demonstrated that the government will use its legal muscle to pursue political ends.  The fact that any specific demographic would be targeted is unconscionable.  And then, there is the rest.  Homeland Security is running terrorist drills with Christians and homeschoolers as the terrorists.  The FBI, who was apparently too undermanned to keep an eye on the known radical Muslim brothers in Boston, did find the time to visit some of the same people harassed by the IRS.  
A Texas business woman, who applied for tax exempt status for two political organizations, not only found herself under scrutiny for those, but subsequently the target of IRS audits of her personal and business returns.  Then, the FBI paid her several visits regarding her “political” activities.  In the end, she also found herself visited by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, since her company holds a license to manufacture firearms, even though it doesn’t.  
Our own government has clearly crossed the threshold of a willingness to intimidate its own citizenry in order to achieve its purposes.  The Church’s voice will speak for the rights of individuals, for the common good, and against injustice and evil.  The trajectories of our culture and (apparently) our government are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The government has already put pressure on the Church.  The Church (and Christianity in general) is already viewed as an obstacle to be overcome.  Catholicism will soon cease to be a prop, and then, the convenient, cultural, comfortable Catholic will find it too inconvenient, too dangerous, and too uncomfortable.
A smaller and more vibrant Church is being birthed in our midst.  And She will be the light in darkness.  She will share in the trials and persecutions of which Paul spoke.  She will shake off her slumber, and will run and not grow weary.  These are exciting times for the Church, but it will look different than we expect, perhaps quite different.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The American Death Camps

Margaret Sanger was a fan of Adolf Hitler’s eugenics program, a plan that would rid “Aryan” Germany of the socially and genetically inferior.  Hitler’s program began by marginalizing and restricting the rights of Jews in the early 1930’s.  As the years passed, the marginalization of those seen be inferior, increased.  By the time Hitler’s “Final Solution” was implemented, the culture was anesthetized to the persecution of these groups.  It was easy to hide the murderous atrocities “in plain sight”.  The horror was so great that even many Jews did not believe what was occurring in the death camps until the evidence was overwhelming.
The stench of Margaret Sanger’s own special death camps is wafting in the wind of the American landscape.  Just as the atrocities at camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka occurred, for a time, with little public notice, and under the cover of “greater good”, so has been the case with America’s abortion industry, and men like Kermit Gosnell. 
Kermit Gosnell, who butchered live born babies by snipping their spines with scissors, who put live babies in plastic bags to die, who allowed babies to drown in toilets, and who stored the bodies dozens (and perhaps hundreds) of aborted babies in his clinic,  is not an aberration among abortionists.  Reports are beginning to pour in about similar practices and conditions across the country.  This horror has been occurring in our cities and communities for decades, right under our noses.  The reality has been there for anyone to find if they cared, but also “hidden in plain sight” by euphemisms and political and legal maneuvering.   
 And this, of course, brings me to a question to which I, sadly, cannot answer.  Will we, like Germany, refuse to believe the horror of the Auschwitz’s and Treblinka’s in our own country?  Will we even have the courage to look at it?  Or, will we turn a blind eye and a cold shoulder to those on the margin and unable to protect themselves?  The choice is ours.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Dreamliner" or "Dreamliner Experience"

We all know the worst seat on a plane-  the middle seat in the very last row of coach,  the non-reclining one gainst the bulkhead.  Directly behind your head is the…well, head, where the aroma of blue bathroom juice swirls in the air.  Add the constant rattling of accordion bathroom doors and cattlecar service, and you have a sensual experience worth forgetting.  Oh, to be a first class passenger, sitting in a cushy wide seat, with warm hand towels, complimentary drinks and the intimacy of personalized service.
Now, the new Boeing Dreamliner is a beautiful airplane.  She oozes grace and style, even sitting on the tarmac.  She is a technological marvel.  She is arguably “THE” airplane!  Yet, if you hold the boarding pass for the middle seat in the last row, it won’t be a “Dreamliner” experience.   Give me a first class seat on a commuter jet instead- anytime!
You see, the sensual experience is an important thing.  As Catholics, we should understand this.  The Catholic faith is meant to be lived sensually, where the lived experience in our body connects to our soul and spirit.  Viewing Michelangelo’s frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a sensual experience of art that moves the soul.  The soaring architecture of cathedrals is a sensual experience of architecture that inspires awe.  Matt Maher’s music is a treat for worshipful ears.  Incense touches our sense of smell.  Yes, Catholicism is, and is meant to be, a sensual experience.
But, when you ask fallen away Catholics why they’ve left the Church, it’s almost never a matter of theology.  It’s about the experience.  Common complaints are bad preaching, bad music and uninspired liturgies.  The architecture of many churches is pitiful, and sacred artwork almost non-existent.   Essentially, nothing in their EXPERIENCE of the Church connects them to their soul and spirit.
You might be crying, “Foul.” at this point.  “We have the Sacraments, and we have real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.”  On behalf of my non-Catholic brothers and sisters, I have only one response to that- “Dreamliner”.  She may ooze grace and style.  In Pope Francis’ words, “a tidy Church… a Church that is nice to look at.”.  But, if the experience of her is the center seat on the back row, many will opt for a first class experience on a commuter jet.
It is to our shame that we excuse poor preaching, pathetic music, uninspired liturgies, bland architecture and amateurish artwork (think banners) because we “have” the Sacraments.  We do not own the Sacraments- they are a gift from Heaven.  Because of the Sacraments, because of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, because the sacrifice of the mass is the source and the summit of our faith, we should accept nothing less than the best.  It should be a sensual experience of music and word and sight that agitates the soul to worship, directing our entire being toward a more intimate communion with God.
The Catholic invitation should not merely be to “Fly the “Dreamliner”.  The Catholic invitation should be nothing less than “Have a “Dreamliner Experience”.  Big, beautiful, bold, expressive, and every seat first class.

Friday, May 10, 2013

God is My Enemy... Part II

It’s a scary thing to admit that you’ve made God your enemy.  I can almost hear the internal denials as I write this.  But, that makes it no less true.  Every man makes God his enemy, and every woman, as well.    Pope John Paul II put his finger on it when he said, “...the key to interpreting reality...Original Sin, then, attempts to abolish fatherhood...”  The implications are staggering, but create an amazing lens through which to view our relationships with God.
I make God my enemy, following the Holy Fathers’ logic, because I do not believe that God is a good Father.  Because we do not believe in His goodness, we do not trust Him.  For a woman, her mistrust may look like a belief that God does not “see” her- she is invisible to God.  For a man, it is often a belief that God will not come through for him if he surrenders it to God.  In that case, a man’s failure is complete- he didn’t have what it takes on his own, and he didn’t have enough for God to respond to his plea for help.  When you think like this, the thought creeps in, “Well, who needs a God like that anyway?” So, how does a man (or woman) arrive at such a place in their heart? 
First, they have forgotten where they live. Especially in this modern world, we tend to think that “Life’s a Beach!”, and the beach is bathing suits, manicured white sand, umbrella chairs and pina coladas.  And indeed, life is a beach, or more accurately, a BEACHHEAD.  Like Normandy Beach on D-Day- bombs, mines and bullets, blood, death.  The world you and I were born into is a battle zone, the result of sin.  The enemy has been dug in and waiting since he was cast into the world from heaven (Revelation 19).  His singular purpose is to kill your soul and condemn you to his own fate- eternal isolation, eternal abandonment and eternal loneliness.
Second, people forget who they are.  The enemy projects his ill intent and malevolence onto God.  This leads us to mistrust.  Since we do not trust God, we do not trust what He has to say about who we are.  God says that we are beloved sons and daughters, but we do not belief because of the difficulty of our person circumstance.  Instead of viewing our circumstance in light of God’s nature, we belief our circumstance reveals God’s nature.
In this desolation, it is important to understand God’s nature.  Is He the punisher and withholder, the maker of trouble?  In Genesis, we learn that God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, a place of perfection.  They were “naked and unashamed” because purity and holiness was their experience.  After the fall, shame and the awareness of being naked came in.  They went from being physically “uncovered” and spiritually “covered” to physical covering and spiritual exposure.  Despite the loin cloths that we see on Church crucifixes, we know that Jesus was stripped naked when he hung on the cross.  Jesus was tortured, shamed and humiliated, including the indignity of being naked before others.  This act of selflessness untwists Adam’s sin, restoring us to righteousness (right standing).  Jesus sacrifice demonstrates that God holds nothing back, not even His own divinity. 
It is the enemy that has made your trouble in this broken world.  As you grasp this truth, you can examine your life from a different perspective, through a completely different lens.  The painful memories and experiences of your life will look different.  You might even find yourself thinking, “Now I get it.”  As these lies are revealed, you are ready for healing.  Say to Jesus, “I see now where I have believed wrong about you, where I didn’t trust you.  I repent, and I reject the lies about you, and the lies about myself.  Jesus, I invite you to speak your truth to me.” 
In the deepest, darkest recesses of your heart, where you’ve been hurt, God can heal, God can restore.  I’ve seen it and experienced.  Burdens and lies, carried for decades, wash away in an instant under the touch of Jesus’ hand.  There is hope, despite hopelessness.  There is healing, despite hurt.  Because, as it turns out, God is not my enemy, nor yours.

Monday, May 6, 2013

God is My Enemy...Part I

I had a disconcerting epiphany recently.  I know where I strive, where I hold on and grasp, where I don’t trust God.  Every man (and person) has at least one place where this is true.  Just look for your repetitive sin,  insecurities and fear- that’s where you'll find yours.  For me, the lifelong struggle to trust God has been in my professional life.  While grace seems to flow in my marriage and many other areas of my life, trusting deeply in the Lord in the area of provision has always been a challenge.
Not surprisingly, this striving in my professional life is related to a deep wounding that left me believing that I was “on my own”.  From that grew a deep seated self-sufficiency, trusting only myself to take care of things.  Even as I’ve come into deeper relationship with the Lord, I viewed this self-sufficiency in a benign way.  I knew I didn’t fully trust God, but it didn’t seem like too big a deal.  Then came the revelation of how insidious and scary this really was.
I found three distinct levels in my mistrust.   Level 1:  God is not actively engaged and advocating for me (in my case- material needs).  My life experience (or my perception of it) tells me that God’s goodness has not been overly abundant.  Now, there is truth in this, but not the one I perceived.  The truth is that God’s grace has been pretty hit and miss in this part of life.  But,not because He doesn’t care or isn’t engaged.  It is because I’ve locked him out.  I’ve largely taken care of it on my own, consulting my own wisdom, my own desire, my own strength.  I’ve left Him without much room or opportunity to bestow grace!
Level II mistrust is a bit deeper, a little more malevolent.  Not only do I not trust God to “do me good”, neither do I trust Him to protect me from harm.  Basically, He is an absentee God.  The scripture that says God goes before, stands beside, but I do not believe.  He has abandoned me to my fate.  You may recognize this as a “heresy” in theological terms.  It’s also a heresy of the heart.
Finally, the deepest mistrust of all is the place in my heart where I have made God my enemy.  First, He’s benign, giving me little or nothing that is good.  Then, He’s absent and fails to protect me from bad.  Finally, I impute ill-will or evil to Him.  He is the ‘Withholder’, the ‘Punisher’, the ‘Maker of Trouble’.   At a deep heart level, God is the author of my hardship.  He’s on the other side.  He’s the one who is responsible for my hardship.  Here, in the deepest recesses of my heart, I have found God, and He is my enemy.  He is, in my heart, the author of my pain and suffering.  He is not my “strong fortress”, but the very source of my pain.
Find your own deep pain, your own mistrust, your deepest fear, your own wounding that time and again unsettles you, and you will find the place where you treat God as your enemy.  And when you find it, you’ll know…because you will want to run!  But once you find it, healing and freedom can finally come.   That, in Part II

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Sweet Smell of Sheep

If you think sheep are cute, white, fluffy, cuddly, Little Bo Peep type creatures, you’ve missed the meaning of Pope Francis’ admonition to clergy to “know the smell” of their sheep.  In short, sheep stink!  Cows, pigs, and chickens are downright “aromatic" compared to the smell of sheep.  And for a shepherd, the smell of the sheep becomes a part of him.
And this is just the point of the Holy Father’s comment.  In essence, he is calling his brother priests to live close to the lives of those they serve.  He is calling his priests to live in an intimacy with their people, to know them, their hurt, their pain, their brokenness.
The New Testament tells us, definitively, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and that we are His sheep.  And, this is true so far beyond the caricatured imagery we often see in church.  Jesus did more than live among His sheep, He experienced His sheep.  He lived in intimacy with “the smell” of our sin, brokenness and woundedness.  More than that, He took the smell of sin onto Himself.  His humanity suffered the full weight of our broken world: doubt, pain, hunger, fatigue, despair.  He even bore our sin, the full weight of our “smell”.  Jesus lived in the smell of His sheep, never turning up His nose or running from the ugliness.  Instead, He pressed in, drew closer, loved more deeply.
As men, we are called to be Jesus: to our wives, to our children, to our friends, to those we serve in ministry.  That means, knowing the smell of our sheep.   The truth is, most of us don’t particularly care for the smell of our own sheep.  We’d rather keep our distance from the messiness of others’ lives, and we’d rather keep others out of the messiness of our own lives. 
Smelling our sheep means stepping outside ourselves.  It requires getting close the brokenness in others, and a willingness  to let others to “smell” you.  I’ve seen men in accountability groups who don’t smell each other.  Sure, they “check in” and hold each other accountable, but they don’t truly live in the messiness of their brothers lives.  I know men who don’t know the smell of their wife, fearful of deep intimacy, afraid they won’t understand her heart and know how to love her.  I routinely see men who don’t know the smell of their children, held back by their own inadequacy as men.  
To smell your sheep takes courage.  It takes strength.  You have to be willing go out and kill the lion, as David did.  You have to be willing to fight off bandits.   If you want to know the smell of your sheep, you'll experience pain, despair, fatigue and doubt.  But, it will never be empty.    When you smell your sheep, Jesus happens!  Healing happens!  Encouragement happens!  Freedom happens!  Love happens.  It’s the only life that is truly worth living. It is, indeed, a sweet, sweet smell.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bullets, Bombs and Babies

Adam Lanza, the Tsarnaev brothers, and Kermit Gosnell all hold something in common.  Much has been made of Adam Lanza’s shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary and the Tsarnaev brothers bombing at the Boston Marathon.  Kermit Gosnell, of equally gruesome repute, if not notoriety, is an abortionist on trial for conducting horrific abortions, and killing at least one woman.
These four men, contemporaries of each other in history, hold a single proposition in common.  All of them rejected the notion of the sanctity of human life.  Lanza believed that the lives of elementary school children were not valuable, not sacred.  The Tsarnaevs believed that the lives of whomever happened into the blast zone of their bombs were not valuable, not sacred.  Kermit Gosnell used scissors to snip the spinal cords of aborted infants who were born alive.  He’s even accused of leaving an infant to struggle for its life, and eventually drown, in a toilet: not valuable, not sacred.
As a culture, we have allowed and embraced a commoditization of human life.  For well over a generation, we have measured human life against the value of other things: money, convenience, comfort, ideology.  While the deeper roots of this commoditization preceed Roe v. Wade, that decision, and our willingness to embrace of killing unborn infants, is a clear point of demarcation that anyone can see.  The message is unmistakable, regardless of how you try to argue, nuance or position the argument.  Not all human life is sacred.
The value of human life is no longer assumed.  Instead, some person, whether court, or politician, or whomever, is now the arbiter of what human life is valued, and what is not.  Those without value may be disposed of for good reason, or for whim, it matters not a bit.  In a culture where “man” obviously set the criterion by which human life is valued, Adam Lanza simply, and if I might be so bold, logically applied a different criterion.  The Tsarnaev’s decided to apply a different measure of value to human life than the courts, or the prevailing law.  Kermit Gosnell decided that unborn infants, even when born alive and viable, were not entitled to life.
We have made a commodity of the human person, and human life.   We should not be surprised then, that some among us choose to measure the value of life against their own criterion.  In the heart of God, for whom all human life is equally sacred, these events are all equally horrific, equally evil.   When our utilitarian and capricious valuing of human life is replaced by an awe and holy respect for every person, we can begin to rest easier and feel safer. Until then, we should expect more of the same, and sadly, worse.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tossing Rocks from the River- Living into Healing

When Jesus heals, we must engage it and appropriate it. I learned this valuable lesson while riding down the interstate on a rainy Monday evening, while returning from a retreat.

As I talked and prayed with my travel-mates, Jesus brought healing to a deep hurt in my life.  That hurt, and the lies I believed as a result of it, had been a source of pain and a hobbling fear throughout my life.  As Jesus spoke His truth to me, I knew immediately that He had done a deep work in my heart.  I could feel the ‘river of living water’ running through this part of my life where there had been a dam, blocking God’s grace.  The stagnant, stenchy wastewater of bondage was was blown open and FREE!

I rested in that healing for a couple weeks, feeling the grace and freedom.  But then, I heard Jesus say to me, “There are still rocks in the river.”  I knew EXACTLY what he meant.  No hiding behind a feigned “What Lord? I don’t understand.”    That hurt, now healed, had accomplices that wanted to steal Jesus’ gift: broken behaviors, broken emotions, broken thoughts and broken beliefs- all of them, rocks in the river.

Jesus had blown open the dam, but there were still rocks in the river- the remnants of a previous life, previous beliefs, previous expectations, previous lies, previous vows.  All of them, creating eddies, whirlpools and diversions to the River of Life.  

So, I’m tossing rocks from the river.  Tossing out the behaviors (and lack of them) that used to keep me frozen…silencing the voices of condemnation…living more boldly...relying more deeply on Jesus.  Day by day, I’m applying my healing.  I’m gaining confidence, faith actually.  I woke up this morning, looking for the next rock to toss from the river.  And everyday, the current of God’s healing grace runs a little stronger, a little truer, and a little sweeter.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Danger of the Damascus Road

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe

This quote summarizes St. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus: a brief encounter with the risen person of Jesus Christ.  He experienced Jesus, personally and intimately.  In that moment, Jesus revealed the fullness of the scriptures to Paul, a good and studied Pharisee.  Paul saw how Jesus was the Word, and the Word was Jesus.  It was not an educational moment, it was not even an enlightening moment.  It was a moment of transformation.  He fell in love with Jesus.  Jesus seized his imagination.  And it affected everything.

I grew up with, and spent a good part of my adult life in a Christian experience that did not look like this.  Great parents, Catholic grade school, high school seminary, Jesuit university, fairly well formed.  Yet, in the deepest levels of my being, in my heart of hearts, the passion and love for Jesus described by Fr. Arrupe, and experienced by Paul, were not my mine.  They were my yearning, but not my experience.

Over the last few years, I’ve had my own Damascus Road experience.  I’ve encountered Jesus, His mercy, His love, His compassion, His strength, His power, His counsel.  Those encounters with Jesus, where I open myself to Him and receive His grace, are places of healing.  The Sacraments and the life of the Church have become a place of encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, where He meets me in all the messiness that is my life, where He heals, where He transforms.

I’ve been witness to many others who have had a Damascus Road experience as well.  A woman I know recently said to me, “The lie that I’ve been believing is that I’m invisible to God.  Now, I know…that He sees me…”  That is a Damascus Road experience.  Transformation.  Jesus spoke a simple truth to a deep-seated lie, and everything changed.  Where her heart had been broken, there was now joy and gratitude.

Transformation is not for the faint of heart.  It is not for those seeking the safety and comfort of complacency and worldliness, because Jesus has more for us than that.  Jesus offers Life, Freedom, and Love.  It is, for me, an essential dimension of  the “New Evangelization”.   Personal encounter with Jesus- true, honest, deep encounter is the very heart of the Church.  Simply because:
 it will seize your imagination, 
it will get you out of bed in the morning,
 it will decide what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends, 
what you read, whom you know, 
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. 
Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything!

Welcome to the Damascus Road

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Of Catfish, Eagles and Crows

For we know we know that every creature growneth and travaileth in pain, even till now.  Romans 8:19

Yesterday, a 10” long channel catfish fell from the heavens with a heavy thud as it landed on my neighbors’ driveway, wiggling, wet, and very much alive.  Had I not seen it myself, I’d think this fish tale was just a bit too fishy!  Yet, there it was.  Sometimes, the oddest things happen, rare even, almost unbelievable.  And, when this odd circumstance occurred, it seemed to reflect a state in my life.

As it turns out, the oddity of the circumstance was easily understood- if you had the benefit of the events that immediately preceeded it.  There was a great deal of squawking and cawing overhead.  A magnificent bald eagle, catfish in tow (or talon I suppose) was flying overhead, relentlessly pursued by two crows.  The crows were diving, attacking and harassing the eagle, presumably because they wanted to steal the eagles meal.  The eagle, distracted by his current circumstance, loosened his grip on the slippery, wiggling soon-to-be meal, relinquishing the fruit of the thing for which he was designed(he’s a bird of prey, after all).  In a sense, he let go of his destiny, no doubt groaning and travailing in the pain of what would become an empty stomach.

At times in my life, I wonder, “How did I get here?” or maybe more accurately, “How did I get in this mess?”.  I’ll pray, “Father, where did I miss You?”.  As I pondered this in the light of a catfish in the driveway, I found a connection.    The imagery is perfect.  Crows have long been associated with evil and darkness.  And, of course, who among us doesn’t want to “soar like an eagle”. How many times have I let go of God’s destiny for my life because I was distracted by crows?  More than I can count, and more than I know.

Those crows had no intention of a full on frontal assault of the eagle.  They were perfectly aware of the power, strength and weaponry of the eagle.  Their plan was to distract, confuse and harass the eagle.  They made noise.  They feinted attack, constantly approaching from the eagles blind spot.  Eventually, distracted, and perhaps tired, the eagle let go of the prize.  In the end, the eagle ended up with nothing but an empty belly for all his effort, for seemingly accomplishing the thing for which he was designed.  Did the crows really want the catfish?  No, they continued to harass that eagle, leaving the fruit of the birds destiny to wriggle and die in the driveway, coming to waste and nothingness.

So, where are the crows in your life?  What are the crows in your life?  Around what circumstances to do you become confused?  When do you feel harassed?  What are the voices that speak failure, despair and condemnation in the lonely and disconnected moments of your life?

Every person who pursues God encounters ‘crows’.  The enemy is driven to cut us off from our destiny, from our purpose, from Jesus.  All of creation groans in the pain of separation from the heart of God.  If we have the eyes to see, we can understand the battle, understand the adversary, and see the path to victory.