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Remember You Are Dust… Even Now

March 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Even though Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, it is often more crowded than Sunday services. I don’t know what inspires so many people who don’t come to mass when it’s expected of them to come to celebrate the one day out of the year when someone intentionally puts soot on their face, but I have an idea… and that idea gives me hope…

I think everybody who walks into church has a unique history and motivation which has brought them there, but I have a suspicion that more of those unique motivations find their way into the pews on Ash Wednesday because they long for something that those ashes offer. Some of the people may not be a practicing Catholic while others are. Some of them may not care what is expected of them as a Christian while others do. Some of them may have gotten too busy for weekly mass while others haven’t. What is different about Ash Wednesday though, and maybe what they remember about it that keeps them all coming back, is the stark reminder that it offers of something that we all know. This life doesn’t last forever. Once a year, we allow a man to put the burnt remnants of palm branches on our foreheads and remind us that we will die. “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”

We long to hear this though and we need to hear this, but we need it with the perspective that only Christ can give. This undeniable reality is present every day in our lives and in our media. It is portrayed as a tragedy or as a statistic or even as entertainment, but our Church reminds us that the reality of this “dust” is a sign of hope and an invitation. The first reading from the second chapter of the book of Joel is a prime example.

“Yet even now,” says the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.

Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;

gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.

Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare thy people, O LORD, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?’

Then the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.”

The last few times that I have heard it or read it, all of my attention for the better part of the day was wrapped around two words at the very beginning — “Even now”. Joel was talking to a people who were on the brink of disaster, who had gotten themselves into a pretty bad place with God, but his message was not condemnation, but invitation. He was telling the people, “IT’S NOT TOO LATE! EVEN NOW YOU CAN STILL BE FORGIVEN! EVEN NOW GOD WANTS TO MAKE YOU WHOLE. EVEN NOW GOD WANTS TO RESTORE THE RELATIONSHIP THAT YOU WERE MADE FOR.” And that is exactly what happened. There is plenty of death and destruction in the Old Testament, but God is always looking to save His people. The same is true now. Christ invites us “even now” no matter where we have been to return to him, not so that he can save us from death and destruction in this world, but so that he give us eternal life with him in the next.

Lent isn’t about finding a way to make yourself miserable for 40 days. It’s about setting your priorities: God first, everything else later. We make sacrifices to God as a reminder that He is more important than the things we sacrifice. Moreover, it becomes an opportunity for us to unite our sufferings with Christ who sacrificed his whole life because he loved us and he loved the Father that much.

Ash Wednesday is an invitation. Each person decides in their own way how or if they will accept, but it brings me hope to see so many people in the pews listening to God’s offer and bowing their heads to be reminded of their frailty.

AMDG

P.S. Another great example of that invitation is the song that is probably most synonymous with the service. I challenge you to pray the words of this song…

1. We rise again from ashes,
from the good we’ve failed to do.
We rise again from ashes,
to create ourselves anew.
If all our world is ashes,
then must our lives be true,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

2. We offer you our failures,
we offer you attempts,
the gifts not fully given,
the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

3. Then rise again from ashes,
let healing come to pain,
though spring has turned to winter,
and sunshine turned to rain.
The rain we’ll use for growing,
and create the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

4. Thanks be to the Father,
who made us like himself.
Thanks be to his Son,
who saved us by his death.
Thanks be to the Spirit
who creates the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

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“Offer It Up”

September 11, 2012 2 comments

It seems to be something of a catch-phrase in modern Catholic culture, but what do we really mean when we say “offer it up.”? It’s more than just a religious way of saying “Suck it up” or “Quit complaining” (although that’s implied). It’s also more than a simple invitation to prayer. Those three words are an invitation to PARTICIPATE in the gospel.

It’s easy for us these days to read the bible or hear stories of how God worked in the lives of people long ago and think that it no longer applies to us. It can feel as if we got the short end of the stick. It’s tempting to think, “In the old days they had Peter and Paul and JESUS showing them the way face to face; explaining the mysteries, performing the miracles and demonstrating the example of how to live the Christian life. Now we have a book that tells us everything we missed.” What a bummer.

The reality however, is something entirely different. God lives outside of time. Jesus is Christ outside of time. He did not choose one specific instance in time to join us here in this world so that every other generation could realize what it missed.  Instead, he inserted himself into humanity after it had fallen away at juuust such a point when the example of his life, love and teachings could be fully exemplified, documented, transmitted AND PERPETUATED… That’s right, perpetuated.

The gospel is perpetuated through the written word of God in the bible, it is perpetuated in the Sacraments that Christ instituted; it is perpetuated through the Tradition of the Church; and it is perpetuated through our lives.

One of the consistent themes that we see through the gospel is that Jesus does not want to be crowned as king (on this earth) and he did not want the miracles that he performed to be publicized (before the ascension). If you cited the fact that he was “meek and humble of heart” as a reason for this you would be right. If you cited the fact that his “kingdom is not in this world” you would be correct as well. But you would also be missing something.

Jesus kept his miracles and power on the down-low because he knew that they would attract the wrong crowd. You will notice that in EVERY instance of Jesus performing a miracle; it was as a result of faith ALREADY present or a result of compassion distinct to the person or people who he was helping. It was NEVER an attempt to win believers or disciples. “Why not?” you might ask. It certainly would have been effective. Even when he was trying to avoid it, the miracles and authority with which he taught brought many to him, but I suspect they were the same that left him when his teachings became difficult to accept.

The Jews had experienced centuries of pain and subjugation at the hands of foreign rulers and they had been promised a messiah who would be their redeemer and savior. We see those terms very spiritually and theologically now, but to most Jews of Jesus’ time, they were very physical and legal ones. Much of the Old Testament is filled with a circular theme: God’s people turn away from him; He warns them and then allows them to fall into bondage by a foreign nation; they repent of their infidelity; God rescues them and brings them prosperity (until they fall away again and the cycle continues).  Each time, when His people turned back to Him, God redeemed them and saved them from their bondage in a physical way. When Jesus walked the earth, Jews were the subjects of the Roman Empire and they were greatly anticipating a savior, redeemer and king who would overthrow the Roman government, establish peace, freedom and prosperity in Jerusalem free from pain, hunger and disease. They were missing the point…

This cycle of bondage and redemption that we observed in the Old Testament was only the symptomatic outbreak of a much more pervasive disease – their bondage to sin.  The peace and prosperity that the Jews were looking for (and all of us are looking for too if we are honest with ourselves) cannot exist in a world that is still in bondage – a world that isn’t free to love. This is the subjugation which Christ came to save us from and the freedom which he came to redeem us for. Jesus consistently pointed to the fact that he wasn’t here to remove our suffering – he was here to remove our sins (which causes our suffering). God could have chosen to remove the suffering of His people as He had done in days past. Instead, He did something much more profound – He gave it value. He took Satan’s currency and placed the image of His son as a seal on top of it.

As a result of the Crucifixion, our suffering isn’t gone, but it has meaning – or at least it can. Christ demonstrated by suffering on the cross for our redemption that it is possible for the pains we encounter in this life to be applied as grace to other people or causes greater than ourselves. When we suffer, we have two options: (1) Complain and ask God to make it go away, or (2) thank God for the gift of His son and unite our sufferings to His for the redemption of the world or any specific cause in union with His holy will. Christ said, “Anyone who wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Saint Paul invites us to, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the Lord.” He also mentions how he “makes up what is lacking in the cross of Christ.” All of these statements point to the same reality. The Gospel is not just a series of books, it’s an invitation to a transformed life that participates in the good news of our redemption.

That transformation will show itself in every aspect of a genuine Christian life, but it will shine most brilliantly in the way that we handle suffering: Do we see it as a burden or an opportunity? Are we focusing on ourselves or on God? Is it a chance to complain or a chance to grow in humility, virtue and appreciation of the cross? Will it cause us to worry or to trust, to hate or to love? Will it bring tension to our relationships or union with Christ? Will we allow Satan to claim that instance in our lives for his purpose, or mark his coins with the image of Christ crucified and place them in heaven’s treasury?

 

If this is a foreign concept to you and you want some practical steps or suggestions here is a quick step by step:

  1. Recognize an area in your life which is not ideal.
  2. Pray: Thank Jesus for the gift of his life and offer your inconvenience, pain or suffering in unison with his cross for any cause which he puts on your heart (possibly someone else’s wellbeing, your vocation, a virtue etc.).
  3. Quit complaining: Resist the natural urge to be unhappy about your situation and instead reflect on the cross and be grateful for the spiritual currency to affect your cause. Choose to be positive regardless of how you feel.
  4. Make it a habit: As you go through your day and your life, start conditioning yourself to take every situation that is less than ideal and offer it up in thanks to God for the good news of our salvation and the opportunity to grow closer to Him.
  5. Don’t give up: you may not see results immediately (or ever in this world) for the causes that you are offering up. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that is the end of the story. Remember, God’s timing is much better than ours.

 

That which we desire least has the power to unite us with Him who we desire most. The suffering in our life has the ability to unite us more closely to Him who suffered everything for love of us. I pray we don’t waste the opportunity…

 

AMDG

 

Being a Burden

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

“…man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” ~ GAUDIUM ET SPES

I was recently talking with a friend who recounted how she was worried that she was being a burden; inconveniencing others by taking their time to help her with personal issues. Actually, I can think of three different friends who the above statement applies to. It seems to be a common concern among those with an appreciation for their friends’ kindness and a degree of selflessness. The worry stems from an understanding that they are occupying a considerable amount of their friends’ time and that they might not say anything even if they did feel burdened.

The details are bit fuzzy in my mind, but the conversation that I had with my friend went something like this:

Me: So why don’t you think they would tell you if you were being a burden?

Friend: Because I know if someone needed to talk to me I would never tell them that.

Me: Why not?

Friend: Because even if it was a burden I wouldn’t want them to stop coming to me.

Me: Why?

Friend: umm.. I don’t really know.

Me: Do you think that it might be because even if it was a burden, you would rather bear that burden then leave them alone or let them go without help?

Friend: yeah.

Me: So why can’t you accept that from other people?

Friend: I don’t know. It just seems different.

Me: It’s no different. Plus, you have to remember that when you allow them to help you when it’s inconvenient for them this is also their opportunity to live out the love that they were made for. When the other obligations of our life or our own personal needs require us to take a step back we will say so, but when we sacrifice our own convenience to spend time consoling or helping a friend in need we are growing in a way that we can’t on our own. Read more…

Tips for Being a Better Boyfriend

June 25, 2011 Leave a comment

I should preface these recommendations with a disclaimer: I’m not particularly experienced or qualified in the area. I’ve had three (3) girlfriends in my life and I’m single at the moment so I obviously haven’t figured it all out yet. A much more reliable guide would come from a man who is happily married (and / or his wife). That being said, I feel like I have learned a few things, often enough from my personal failures (and those of other guys that I’ve been around) and I would be remiss if I left you to make the same mistakes. Not to mention, writing these down is a good reminder for when I can make use of them. Most of these suggestions are equally valid for married men as for those in the courting phase. Please feel free to share your own insights, suggestions or criticisms.

Read more…

A Dangerous Prayer

June 18, 2011 1 comment

Have you ever heard the term, “Be careful what you wish/pray for”? I’ve come to highly regard that advice. Read more…