Take Up Your Cross

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Take Up Your Cross pic

“…and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” – Mt 10:38

As I read this passage from this morning’s (Monday’s) Gospel I asked myself the questions, “What does Jesus mean by ‘take up your cross’?”, and, “What is my cross?”. It was like deja vu. I’ve asked myself those two questions a gazillion times and never took the time to reflect upon them.  But, this time the last four words of that verse, “is not worthy of me”, jumped out at me and I decided I really ought to know the answers.

I’ve been thinking about this most of the day.  Here’s what my simple brain came up with:

In the first sense, the cross is a sign of suffering. It’s where Jesus suffered and died and it’s where many were crucified by the Romans before and after Him. Our “cross” is that which causes us to suffer.

We all suffer in some way. It may come in the form of real physical or emotional pain. Perhaps our suffering is a physical handicap, the loss of a loved one, the experience of an injustice, or the loss of a job and the inability to make ends meet.

Or, maybe, our suffering is one of inconvenience – the perceived pain of not getting our way, of being “put out” by circumstances beyond our control.

By “taking up our cross”, I think Jesus is telling us in a round-about way that, no matter what our suffering is, we need to deal with it. Life isn’t a bowl of cherries. In this life there will always be a certain amount of suffering. Not until we find ourselves in heaven will we live a peaceful and painless eternity.

Taking up our cross, then, means to accept that which causes us to suffer. It means we need to take ownership and, in doing so, we need to accept our suffering without complaining, moaning and groaning. But, I think there are two kinds of complaining.

The first, the good complaining, is like groaning that your legs hurt after you’ve just completed the fastest mile you’ve ever run. It’s a hurt that is expected, and one you’re glad to experience because it means you’ve grown/advanced/improved. It’s a hurt for which you’re grateful. There’s no cross to be taken up in this case.

The second, the bad kind of complaining, is when we express our misery because of an unfortunate circumstance: we couldn’t get our grass mowed this week because it rained and then our lawn mower wouldn’t start. The irony is that, if we think about it, we should be grateful for the time we have, while we’re not mowing the lawn, to do other things, like improving relationships, that often get pushed to the back burner. In this regard, I think about the verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ.” By doing this, we’re elevating the circumstance to the first level, the good complaint.

With respect to this second type of complaining, taking up our cross is not making another person, intentionally or unintentionally, feel bad because of our situation. This is where taking ownership comes into play. It’s ours and we can’t make it someone else’s. Asking someone to pray for us and hoping for their compassion is fine. But, expecting someone to commiserate with us and personally feel bad over our personal issue isn’t part of taking up our cross.

On the other hand, there is one person whom we can ask to bear our suffering with us – Jesus. He tells us throughout the Gospels that He is there for us, that we can trust in and turn our troubles over to Him. He will make our burdens light.

Taking up our cross means that, in accepting our circumstances, we realize it is in the past, it’s behind us, and we can’t do anything about what’s already happened. We need to let it die.

It’s now that the second meaning of taking up our cross and following after Jesus comes into play. After we’ve let that which causes our suffering to die, we need to start living again. That’s when we not only take up our cross but we begin to follow after Jesus. It’s a resurrection for us.

Jesus died and, upon His resurrection, went to a better place. By taking up our cross and following Him, we, too, can find a kind of resurrection, a better place. We begin to open ourselves up to finding joy in the every day gifts which God provides. In opening up, we begin to accept His love for us, a love that is independent of our circumstances. Then, ultimately, our resurrection is complete when we begin to love others unselfishly in spite of our personal suffering. In fact, we no longer view it as suffering but, instead, as a unique gift.

You know what? I’m not going to expound on what my cross is. That’s because I can see that I have many crosses to bear. After going through this exercise, I realize my crosses can be different from one day to the next, or even one hour to the next. Some crosses are heavier than others. Some I accept quicker than others. I think the important thing is that I have figured this out for myself and can begin to see my suffering, both the real and the inconvenient, as crosses to bear.

And, I resolve to pray to our Lord, Jesus, for His help in lightening the load of each of those crosses.

Won’t you take some time to think about your crosses and how you take them up in following Him?

“Lord Jesus, I know that You know that I know what my crosses are. And, I know that You’re just waiting for me to turn to You, to place my trust in You to lighten my load. I know You will because You have so many times before. I pray for an increase in faith that it is Your will that is done, not mine. Lord, thank You for all your many blessings, even those which I didn’t recognize as blessings at the time. Amen.”

(Take Up Your Cross was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

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Who Do You Say I am Pic“Who do you say that I am?” That’s the question Jesus asked the Apostles in yesterday’s Gospel (Mt 16:13-19). As I reflected on what God’s Word was saying to me in this passage, I made a resolution to articulate my own answer and understand its weight.

Fundamentally, that is the question Jesus asks all of us. Who do we say that He is?

A few short years ago, in the infancy of my faith formation, a friend read to me a passage from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  It profoundly opened my mind:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic…or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice (emphasis added). Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse….But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

You must make your choice.” Author Matthew Kelly explains in The Jesus Question, “not making a choice is making a choice.” There’s no in-between.

So, who do I say that Jesus is? To begin, I have to mimic Simon, soon to be named Peter, when he answered collectively for the Apostles: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus is God made man, the second person of the Trinity. He came into this world to suffer and die for me (and you), to offer me salvation for my sins, to give me a fresh start and the opportunity to live with Him in heaven for all of eternity.

Jesus is my Guiding Light, my North Star. He shows me the path I need to take in this earthly life to find my way to God, a God whose love for me is never ending and Who, after creating me, desires that I return to Him.

After Simon answered Jesus, Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” I can relate to that.

The Heavenly Father offered His gift of faith to me in a manner I could neither ignore nor refuse, and, through it, revealed to me His love manifested in His Son, Jesus. It was a no-brainer that happened in a nanosecond. There was no learning involved and no teaching required from others to make me believe. It was after my conversion that other men and women, true “flesh and blood”, began teaching me about this thing called Christianity. And, it was only because I had accepted God’s gift of faith that I was able to accept the full revelation of what I was learning.

My faith formation has progressed such that I no longer have to rely on others to show me the way, although I still learn from them daily. I have found a better way – a way that isn’t just about learning, but about building a relationship with God. It’s called prayer. By talking to God through my verbal prayer, and by listening to God through mental prayer and meditating on the Sacred Scriptures, He and I are building an intimate relationship where He reveals Himself to me and I, by revealing myself to him, learn about myself that which He already knows.

It’s a beautiful thing!

When was the last time you stopped to answer Jesus’ question of you, “Who do you say that I am?” Maybe it’s time.

“Heavenly Father, I love and worship You. I give You thanks for Your Grace which has bent my free will towards you. Thank you, Jesus, for leading me to the Father. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for opening my mind and heart to the Word of God that continues to transform my life. Amen.”

(Who Do You Say That I Am? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

A Spiritual Dichotomy

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7d77efabcfa5fc8fec489b03377d783c--baby-jesus-holy-holyI often think I have it tough. But, all it takes to jerk me back to reality is to read about the lives of the Apostles and the saints.

In today’s reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 6:1-10), St. Paul gives us an idea of what life was like for the Apostles. They had to endure through “afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments…”, by employing the virtues of “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, …. love and truthful speech”.

The Apostles were treated as deceivers but yet they spoke the truth; as unrecognized and yet they were acknowledged; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet they enriched many; and, as having nothing yet they possessed all things.”

Paul’s letter is evidence that he and the Apostles practiced what Jesus preached in today’s Gospel (Mt 5:38-42) about retaliation. They didn’t resist being persecuted. Their mercy for others let them set aside the old law of “an eye for an eye” and let them “turn the other cheek”. And, when someone needed help, they went the extra mile.

It’s evident that, from the beginning, living the life of a Christian was a spiritual dichotomy.

I may not be persecuted like the Early Christians. But, I still experience a spiritual dichotomy in my life. Since becoming Catholic, I have found an interior peace like I never knew could exist. But, because I am called to spread to others that peace and joy found only through the love of Jesus Christ, I may never be totally at peace again. At least not in this life. And, that’s okay.

Dear God, thank you for giving us Your Son, Jesus, to lead us to You. Thank You, Jesus, for showing us the way to the Father. And, thank You, Holy Spirit, for filling me with Your love and peace, and for the fire that has burned yet healed my soul. Through Your grace, I pray I may be an instrument for enlightening others to Your love. Amen.

(A Spiritual Dichotomy was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Do You Love Me?

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It’s Sunday morning and I’m still ruminating over Friday’s Gospel (John 21:15-19) and what it said to me. It hit me so profoundly that I wanted to let the message sink in so I will never forget it.

When Jesus appeared to the Eleven the third time after being raised from the dead, He ate a breakfast of bread and fish with them. Right afterwards, He pulled Simon Peter aside and asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He didn’t ask only once. No, He asked three times. And, I think, by doing so, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to redeem himself for having denied Jesus three times before His death. I’m sure that is what was on Peter’s mind as he answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”

But, I don’t think Jesus was trying to rub it in. He wasn’t concerned about the depth of Peter’s love for Him, rather, he was looking for commitment from the one He was appointing to lead His church.

Commitment. That’s what He asks of me, too.

It’s taken two days for that to sink in. Jesus asks me in every waking moment, “Jerry, do you love Me?” Especially every time I am on the verge of sinning. I realize now that, at those times when I’m aware of the sin I am committing, my cognizance is actually Jesus asking me, “Do you love Me?” I’m ashamed that, by my actions, I all too often respond otherwise.

Jesus asks of us only two main things to be Holy: to love God, and to love our neighbors. Every sin contradicts one or both of those commandments. Each time an action, a spoken word, or a disrespectful thought, which damages a relationship with another person, damages my relationship with the Lord. That’s not conducive to getting me to heaven.

“Jesus, You know that I love You. I resolve today to make that evident in all that I do. I know I need the help of Your Sanctifying Grace to override my occasional wavering commitment. And, when I fail, as I will, I need Your loving Mercy and Actual Grace to let me try again. Amen.”

(Do You Love Me? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Waiting to Learn – Learning to Wait

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Trinity by Andrei Rublev

The Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Do you remember when you were young and Christmas or your birthday was just around the corner? Perhaps you had a good idea of the presents you might expect to receive and you just couldn’t wait for the day to get there. Remember the anxiety of anticipation?

That is one of the two thoughts that went through my mind as I reflected on Wednesday’s Gospel:

“Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.’” (John 16:12-13)

Once again, Jesus was talking in figures of speech and he dangled a curious carrot out there by declaring they would have to wait to learn what ‘things were coming’. In all honesty, though, what else could He do? There was no concrete way to explain what the Holy Spirit was and even if He did try there was no way the Apostles would understand it. Jesus knew they would have to experience it a little at a time….and when the time was right.

At face value, the Apostles knew Jesus was going away and He was promising to give them something special (and it had to be very special) to take His place. But, there was a hitch – they would have to wait to learn what it would be. Waiting, and its accompanying anticipation, can be agonizing.

The second thought was more personal and immediate as it relates to me, and, I know, many of my cohorts in the Spiritual Mentorship Program. We are two days into our week of training and formation, the first of four sessions over a two year period, and we are on fire! The course work and practicum presented by the two professors from the School of Faith has been the best classroom experience I’ve ever had. They present the material with incredible wisdom and conviction that makes it easy to learn and, naturally, desire more. The Sisters and Brothers of the Apostles of the Interior Life demonstrate a special spirituality that is evident in their generosity, kindness, and desire to teach; and they exude a rare happiness that can only come from an intimate relationship with Christ. We want to learn how to get a little more of what they have!

We know we have a good thing going here and we don’t want it to stop. But, we know it will come to an end on Sunday. At least for this semester. Our mentors know, as Jesus did, that we can only absorb so much at one time, that we will have to ruminate on what we’ve learned so that it will become internal to us before we can move forward to learn more. Alas, in waiting to learn more, we will have to learn to wait. The waiting, and the anticipation of the good things to come, will be agonizing….but worth it.

“Heavenly Father, through Your grace, please instill in us the virtues of Persistence as we learn methods to bring others closer to You, and of Patience as we eagerly await to learn more about our faith and how to be Your disciples. Amen.”

(Waiting to Learn – Learning to Wait was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

You Are Mine

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I’ve been trying to improve my prayer life by making more time to read sacred scripture and meditate on what the Word of God is trying to tell me in relation to my life. I have to admit there are many days when, no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot make a connection. But, at other times, His message is loud and clear. Or, at least, I think it is.

Such was the case this last Sunday. The Gospel reading was from John 14:15-21, regarding the “Advocate”, the Holy Spirit:

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows it. But, you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you….On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

As I listened to this, I thought, “This is one of the problems in our faith today. People forget that Jesus is with us always by the Holy Spirit that He placed within us. It’s like we forget the whole point of our Sacrament of Confirmation. We remember the meaning of Baptism, we experience Communion every week, and, we are reminded, reluctantly for many, of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But, we forget that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon us at our Confirmation. Imagine the difference we could make if we only remembered this!”

A few minutes later, I joined the congregation of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Shell Knob, Missouri in singing one of my favorite hymns, You Are Mine.  The first verse and refrain simply reinforced my earlier thought:

“I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fears,
“You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice,
“Be still and know I am here.
“Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name.
“Come and follow me, I will bring you home, 
“I love you and you are mine.”

Fast forward to last night, Monday evening. I arrived in Kansas City, Kansas to attend my first, in-residence week of formation, study and practice in the Spiritual Mentorship Program offered by the Apostles of the Interior Life, and the School of Faith of the Archdiocese of Kansas City. I’ve been studying for and looking forward to this week since January. As I knelt in the chapel after night prayers, I felt my nervousness grow. I was afraid – afraid that I won’t have what it takes to become a good spiritual mentor, and afraid that my faith was too new and poorly grounded. I feared not being able to remember everything I will need to remember, and, consequently, be inadequate in the example I set for others.

I prayed for God to open my mind and my heart to what I will be learning this week. I prayed that my detailed and analytical mind won’t blind me from understanding the concepts which will be presented (not seeing the forest for the trees has always been a struggle for me). And, I prayed for the ability to internalize the message so that I will easily be able to relate it to others. I simply prayed, “God, help me do this!”

As I took a breather from my verbal prayer, I became distracted and lost my train of thought. Normally, I get frustrated with distractions while I pray, but this time the distraction – the tune for You Are Mine that was running through my head – was a blessing. As I tried to remember the words to the song, not only it but the Gospel and my thoughts about it from Sunday’s mass came flooding back to me. And, in a moment of humiliation in front of the Lord, I saw that, through my self-righteousness, I was the one guilty of not remembering the point of my own Confirmation. I realized I was asking God to help me do this and help me do that, as if I was in this alone and the burden was all on me.

In that moment I lost the slump in my posture and knelt more upright. I felt a surge of adrenaline. My prayer changed from fear and despair to anticipation and new hope! I prayed, “Oh God, it is You Who led me to discern this opportunity and Who brought me here. I know that, through Your Holy Spirit, You are with me and You won’t leave me hanging. You have ‘come to me in silence’ and You have lifted my fears; I am not afraid because You are with me. I trust in You. I love You and I am Yours.”

“Oh, loving and forgiving God, You teach me in many ways, often uncomfortable ways. You know what I need and You set the stage in advance so that when the moment comes I may learn from the experience. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for living within me. Help me to always feel your presence. Amen.”

(You Are Mine was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Crossing Over to a New Life

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Yesterday was the day. I turned in my cell phone, computer and keys and I retired. Officially retired. Or, as some say, I started my permanent vacation. Although I’ve actually been on vacation and have not worked for six weeks, Monday will be the first day I haven’t been on my employer’s payroll in almost 36 years. I didn’t look back as I drove out the gate. Instead, I was looking forward to my next stop which was to church for my regularly scheduled hour of Eucharistic Adoration.

As I knelt in prayer giving God thanks for the moment and for a long and prosperous career, I willingly laid to rest a life which I no longer enjoyed. I put to stern the stress of my professional responsibilities that had grown to more than I was willing to let my health absorb. I moved the memories of years of travel and separation from my family to my rearview mirror. As I waved goodbye to a life with which I could no longer identify, I programed my GPS with an address of a new life in which I will have time to devote to better health and building more intimate relationships with not just my family and friends, but with Jesus.

Pulling myself away from those thoughts and back to the purpose at hand, of contemplating the life of Christ, I remembered that since it is the Easter Season my intention for the hour was to meditate on Christ’s resurrection by going back and reading those accounts from the Gospels.

I started with Mark chapter 16 and I pondered the fear and wonder the women experienced when they found Jesus’ body missing but found a ‘young man’ instead who told them to not be amazed. I thought about the confusion and excitement they probably experienced when they were told to, “Go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’” (Mk 16:7) I wondered what I would have thought had I been in their shoes.

I moved to Matthew chapter 28 and read in verse 10 that Jesus, upon meeting the women on their way back to tell the disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty, told them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Then, I read in verse 20, after the disciples went to Galilee and met with Jesus, that He told them, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

I couldn’t imagine what might have been going through the minds of the Eleven. How could they process that Jesus had died but was living right before their eyes? I don’t know how they could fully understand but their strong faith at least allowed them to accept it and believe it. We have proof in the Acts of the Apostles that they did eventually connect the dots and make sense of everything that happened.

Thinking some more about Jesus meeting the Apostles in Galilee, I realized He had planned all along to meet with them upon His resurrection. In fact, it was absolutely essential that He meet them so that they would believe and continue to follow Him and carry out His will of spreading the Good News. The only way He could do that was by defeating death and crossing over into a new life in which He could, indeed, be with them always until the end of the age.

Then I remembered that Jesus didn’t just die for the Apostles, He died for you and me and all of humanity to save us from ourselves. It isn’t just the Apostles with whom He will be until the end of the age. It’s us, too. He crossed over into a new life so that He could have an intimate relationship with me.

I’m feeling pretty good right now about the reasons behind my decision to retire!

“Oh, loving and gracious God, as I move into this new life I give you thanks for the many blessings you have bestowed upon me, even the ones with which I struggled. You knew best. Lord Jesus, in my relationships with others, please help me to see You in them and let them see You in me. Holy Spirit, I pray for Your guidance on this exciting journey. Amen.”

(Crossing Over to a New Life was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Overflowing Love

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This morning, as I held my newest grandson, four day old Myles, my heart was overflowing with love.  I looked upon his perfect face and beheld a miracle.

I glanced away for a moment and gazed upon Myles’ mother, the first of my four daughters, and remembered having the same feeling of overwhelming love almost 33 years ago.  I never knew I could love something so much.

I closed my eyes and counted my blessings:  five grand-children in two and a half years.  I prayed silently, “Thank you, God!  Your love has bestowed so many blessings on my family!”

“Your love”, I repeated.  As I looked at my grandson again with tears in my eyes I realized God was looking at me in that moment, as He does in every moment, with unfathomable and eternal love in His eyes.

“Dear loving and gracious God, thank you for your many blessings, especially the blessing of children and grand-children.  I pray you will watch over them all and keep them healthy and safe.  Amen.”

(Overflowing Love was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Raising Our Eyes to Jesus

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Transfig of Jesus - Raising our eyes

As Catholics, we come to church because we love the Lord. We come to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  We come to profess our faith in the saving Grace of Jesus and life everlasting.  But, I suspect, as in any religious congregation, there are those who come for other reasons:  because it’s what they’ve always done on Sunday mornings; because they feel they need to set the example for their children; or for fear of what might happen in their after-life if they don’t.  And, there are many more Catholics who simply no longer attend church either because they no longer believe or have justified and allowed worldly things to keep them away.

Today is a day we have been waiting for in our parish for several months: we begin our mission for conversion and renewal (for any Protestants reading this, think, “revival”).  Over the next four days, we will have a guest speaker, Deacon Ralph Poyo of New Evangelization Ministries, who will provide insights into what keeps us from becoming the disciples – followers of the Lord – that we are called to be; and how to improve our relationship with the Lord by recognizing those things that block our path.  The hope of the mission is to bring all parishioners, those strong in their faith, the luke warm and the fallen away, into a closer relationship with the Lord.

And, so, as I prepared for mass this morning by reviewing the scripture readings for the day, I couldn’t help but sense that they were cued up by God especially for our purpose.

In the first reading, from Genesis 12:1-4, we hear God telling Abram to 1Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” God goes on to tell Abram how he will be blessed, how from him a ‘great nation’ will be made, and how his name will be made great.  Unspoken is the reality that this would be a tough journey through desert with uncertainty of what lies ahead.  Abram didn’t say, “No, I don’t think so, Lord!  That doesn’t sound like fun.  What about all the things I will have to give up?  What about my other commitments?  No, Lord, I kind of like it right here where I am.”  Instead, without blinking or thinking twice, 4Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

Then, in the second reading, 2 Timothy 1:8-10, we hear St. Paul reminding his beloved Timothy:  8Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.  9He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.”  Here St. Paul is telling us that we are all called to live a holy life; and that it’s not always easy to follow the Lord.  We have to use the strength the Lord gives us to say “no” to our will (the things that keep us away), and “yes” to His will that will bring us closer to Him.

Finally, the Gospel reading was Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus, Matthew 17:1-9. After Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the mountain, 5a bright cloud cast a shadow over them” and, upon hearing God’s voice say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”, the Apostles fell prostrate to the ground.  Jesus came to them and told them to, 7Rise, and do not be afraid.” Then, 8when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.”  With this last line I thought how wonderful it would be if it was that easy – each time we are fearful, each time we start to let our will take control – to raise our eyes and fix them on “no one else but Jesus alone.”

Unfortunately, we tell ourselves it isn’t that easy. It’s in our fallen nature to do so.  But, through the Grace of God, we have been given the gift of faith which is all that we need to give us the courage to say no to the things that keep us from Him.  Sometimes we just need help being shown the way.

Deacon Poyo, I hope your talks this week enlighten and inspire me, and everyone else in our parish, to build a better relationship with Jesus, and to help our brothers and sisters do the same.

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and we shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.”

(Raising Our Eyes to Jesus was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Seeking Signs

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Some days I simply don’t get a chance to read the daily scripture passages until the end of the day. Yesterday, like most Mondays, was this way.  I got my morning prayers in before I arrived at work, but then the routine of meetings and conference calls began and lasted the rest of the day.  Finally, at about ten o’clock, after a two hour drive and getting settled in my hotel room bed, I had time to read them.

Yesterday’s Gospel was from Mark 8:11-13“The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign?  Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’  Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore.”

The last thing I remember before falling asleep was thinking about how the Pharisees were hell-bent on finding some way to get rid of Jesus so He would stop rocking their boat; and about how He didn’t fall to their trickery. He simply admonished them and sailed away.  Shortly after four o’clock this morning, I awoke still thinking about this story, but, from a personal perspective.

In my state of half-sleep, I remembered a few years ago, before I became Catholic, or even Christian for that matter, how I would sometimes wonder about the presence of God and Jesus. I would ask, “God, if you’re really there, give me a sign so I will know for sure.”  Of course, nothing happened.  What I didn’t know then was that He doesn’t want us to depend on signs.  He wants us to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

I remembered that weekend in April 2012 when I finally accepted God as real and Jesus as my Savior. I told my friend that I didn’t know if I believed or not because I didn’t know how to have faith.  He told me to forget being so analytical and logical and just accept it.  He said faith is a gift God is trying to give me through the Holy Spirit, that it was free for the taking and all I had to do was accept it.  Later that night in the church, I prayed my first real heart-felt prayer, a prayer embedded with real hope.  I believe I accepted, in that moment, His gift of faith because I immediately felt a sense of peace; and, not only were my prayers answered, but I began to see signs of His presence everywhere I looked.

Then, I began to think about times recently when my spiritual life has been a bit dry, when I didn’t feel I could see or feel His presence no matter what I did. I remember praying, “Come on, God, I know you’re there.  Help me out here; I need to feel you with me right now.”  And, then, of course, I ended up disappointed.  I realized God’s not to blame; it’s me and my lack of faith.

Why does faith slip away from me? Why do I not have any trouble trusting my family and close friends but forget about God?  Perhaps it’s because I’m still learning to walk by faith and not by sight.  I can see and hear those people close to me; I have hard evidence that they come through for me; and they are connected to the worldly things which, unfortunately, occupy most of my time.  The shame is that I know God works in my life, too; I’ve experienced it so many times.  His generous blessings are tangible examples of His endless love.  But, I am often blinded by the urgent, less important aspects of life and forget that He is there to lead me through those times.  I am humbled that I am not nearly as faithful as I would like to believe.

Do you get preoccupied and fail to recognize the Lord’s presence in your life? How do you get your faith back on track?

“O, loving and gracious Lord, grant me the Grace to strengthen my faith in You. Help me to never forget that You are only ever one prayer of affirmation away, one whispered, ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’   And, help me, please, to always thirst for You as You do for me.  Amen.”

(Seeking Signs was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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